Summary: For 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 possible.
New in 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 "
This 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.
- However, 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
Often 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.
Yet 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)! Indeed:
αδελφος (brothers, but meaning brothers and sisters ; 3:32) I offer this word as an example of what forgiveness does: It creates a new family.
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.
13:11 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.
12:36 David 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." '
One 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.