This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year B, most recently Summer of 2015.
this week I have intensely looked at 3:29, "Whoever blasphemes against
the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven." While many other images and
motifs stand out in this passage, I have noticed my lay people gravitate
toward this passage. First a correction in translation and then an
explanation. Long story short: Forgiveness is complex, but awesome and
New for 2015: I added a bit more on the Holy Spirit.
First, a correction in translation: 3:29
NRSV/NIV, etc, read: "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin "
is not correct. The Greek literally reads: "Whoever blasphemes
against the Holy Spirit, he does not have forgiveness eternally and is
guilty of an eternal sin."
To make clear:
* The verb forgive is not used
* The word never (or its Greek equivalent ου μη) is not used
The "But" to start of the sentence is δε, a very weak conjunction,
often not translated; it normally indicates a change in subject more
than a change in thought.
What this means:
Jesus never denies the possibility of forgiveness; he says this person is not in a state of forgiveness at when he/she deny the Holy Spirit.
denying the existence of the Spirit, which means denying the work of
God to forgiveness sins, make the church and raise the dead, is not
simply an earthly matter, but an eternal one.
Third, Jesus says
that all sins can be forgiven (even eternal ones); however, one cannot deny the existence of
God's activity in this world (the Spirit) and still receive this
forgiveness. I would argue here that experiencing forgiveness is an act
of faith. See Babylonian Captivity of the Church if you think this is
not Lutheran. But to really solve this dilemma of forgiveness, let's
More on forgiveness
Liddell-Scott offer a few images of this word in classic Greek:
1) a letting go, dismissal
2) a quittance or discharge from a bond: exemption from service: a divorce
3) a letting go of horses from the starting-post, and then the starting-post itself
times we as (Lutheran) Christians have focused on the second notion of
forgiveness. "The debt is paid." Perhaps some Buddhists focus on the
first -- simply "let go" of your anger. But I think the third point is
perhaps the most Christian: Forgiveness is the letting go of us,
setting us free for life in the Kingdom.
In this sense,
the words of Jesus make the most sense. If you don't believe in the
Holy Spirit, and God's work of forgiveness, holiness, the church and
resurrection, then you will never be free. Ever.
ironically, this passage shows the Spirit at work; the church is being
created, brothers and sisters in Christ, over and against hostility,
disbelief and betrayal (vs 19)!
More on the Holy Spirit
ο πνευμα ο αγιος ("The Holy Spirit"; 3:29)
Mark only references the Holy Spirit a few times besides this episode in chapter three (NRSV):
1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand
about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time,
for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit
at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet." '
could argue that the Holy Spirit is conferred in Baptism and gives the
ability to proclaim the Word of God (1:8 and 13:11). However, it seems
that this far too domesticates Mark's sense of the Holy Spirit. The
Spirit pops up in times of conflict: the ministry of John the Baptist
(who will be beheaded); the temptation against Satan in the wilderness;
casting out demons in chapter 3 and conflict with teachers of the law;
prophecies about oppression; David's declaration about victory over
enemies. The Holy Spirit is still a source of comfort, but more in the
battle medicine kind of way. I think this speaks to Mark's theology of
the cross. Where is holiness found? In the midst of turmoil.