“People will be forgiven for every sin and defaming word, but the defaming of the Spirit will not be forgiven.” These words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 12:31-32 (cp. Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10) are very direct: “every” sin and defaming word can be forgiven except one, a sin he referred to as “defaming” or to “speak against,” the Holy Spirit. The definition of “defaming” includes slander, speaking against God, or verbal abuse, and it is clear from comparing the above two verses that Christ is defining defaming as “speaking against” something.
Jesus said there is one form of defaming against God that will never be forgiven, and he was referring to a specific defaming, not just speaking against God in general. Many people have at some time been angry at God due to the horrific circumstances of this fallen world, and many have spoken very harshly about God and/or to Him. In fact, it is safe to say that most people have even cursed at God, and yet when they ask for forgiveness, He forgives them. The same is true of other kinds of sin. Many people sin horribly against God but are later forgiven. But there is a defaming that will not be forgiven.
What we learn from the scope of Scripture is that the defaming that cannot be forgiven is a person saying, and truly meaning in the depths of their heart, that Satan is the true God. The Bible reveals that the Devil can have “children,” that is, people who have a unique relationship with him that makes them different from other sinners whose sins can be forgiven. People who are children of the Devil have sinned in such a way that they are no longer redeemable, that is, they cannot be forgiven, and it is not possible for them to be saved. The world is full of sinful people, and some of those sinners do very horrible things. Nevertheless, in the spiritual world, there is a difference between people who sin and can be forgiven and people who cannot be forgiven because in their heart of hearts they have taken the Devil as their god and have become his “children” and are true enemies of righteousness.
The Bible has much evidence of the “unforgivable sin,” which leads to the everlasting death of the individual who commits it.
1 John 5:16 (KJV): If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
This verse reveals the same basic truth Jesus spoke about: there are sins that are “not unto death,” and there is a sin that is “unto death.” The Word of God directs us not to pray for those who have committed the sin unto death because they cannot be forgiven.
Scripture shows a link between the unforgivable sin and those referred to as “children of the Devil.” When speaking to some of the religious leaders, Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44 NASB). These leaders were in a different category than “regular” sinners like the prostitutes and tax collectors, who Jesus never referred to as “children of the Devil.” Jesus always reached out to sinners like prostitutes, tax collectors, and even the thief on the cross. He actively tried to win them to salvation and to living a life of righteousness. In contrast, there is no evidence Jesus attempted to evangelize those he referred to as being fathered by the Devil. Instead, he told his disciples, “Leave them alone! They are blind guides” (Matt. 15:14). Jesus’ teaching does show us that a person can be “religious” and be a child of the Devil, but upon examination, it can be seen that the person’s so-called religion is hurtful, oppressive, and contradicts the heart of God.
The Apostle Paul also encountered a child of the Devil. Confronting the false prophet Bar-Jesus, he said by revelation: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything right” (Acts 13:10). Paul confronted many stubborn, sinful, hard-hearted people on his journeys, but this was the only man he called a child of the Devil. The fact that the text tells us that Paul was filled with the holy spirit when he spoke alerts us to the fact that this was not just his opinion, but came from the Lord. Those people who commit the unforgivable sin become children of the Devil.
Interestingly, there is a lot of folklore about people who “sell their soul to the Devil.” The folklore usually goes something like this: a person wants something really badly, like money, power, fame, or love. So the Devil comes to him and says, “I will give you what you want at a very reasonable price—your eternal soul.” The person, blinded by desire, makes the deal with the Devil and then at the end of his life has to go to “hell,” with no chance of “heaven.” Most folklore has some basis of truth in it, and this folklore is no different. Throughout history, many people have sensed that, in contrast to the majority of sinners who are simply caught up in their sin, some people are truly evil to the core and are somehow connected to evil spiritual forces, and many of those people are indeed “children” of the Devil, just as Christ said.
Some people so strongly lust for what they want that in their heart they make Satan, or one of his many fronts or idols, their “true” god and provider, and thus become his “children.” These self-centered people turn to Satan in order to quickly gain their desires, and in so doing turn away from the true God. The Bible does not describe exactly what a person does to become a child of the Devil, but it gives us some important information. Because Christ categorized it as a form of blasphemy, we know it is something that is said, either audibly or by speaking to oneself, but it cannot simply be saying, “I hate God” or “I love the Devil,” or something such as that. It has to be fully believed in the heart as well as in the mind. From what we see in Scripture, it occurs when someone completely turns away from God, and confesses and believes in their heart that Satan, or one of his many forms—such as money, power, fame, or love—is the true “god” by being their sustainer, provider, or the “lord” of their life.
The Bible makes it clear that committing the unforgivable sin is a decision of the heart, not just something people say or act out without being heart-committed to it. The world is full of many kinds of egregious sinners—murderers, rapists, and much more—who later repent and get saved. That includes many people who dabble in the black arts, magic, spells, divination, and such. We know from Acts 19 when Paul was in Ephesus that many of the people who had been involved in magic got saved (Acts 19:18-20). Although some people are frightened that because of the sins they have committed they might not be able to be saved, the scriptural evidence is that if a person wants to be saved, or is concerned about not being saved, then they have not committed the unforgivable sin. The people in the Bible who had committed the unforgivable sin, such as Cain, the religious leaders Jesus was talking to in John 8:44, or Elymas the sorcerer, had no desire to humble themselves to God and get saved. In contrast, Simon the sorcerer got saved despite his background in magic arts because he had never made a heart-commitment to Satan (Acts 8:13).
In the context of the unforgivable sin, it is important that Christians understand “god” in its more basic meaning of sustainer, provider, something that is worshiped or idealized, and something considered of supreme value. To blaspheme God does not mean one has to believe that the Devil is actually the Christian God and Father. Nor does it mean a person has to know that the Devil is a fallen angel who opposes the true creator God. To commit the unforgivable sin a person only has to truly take the Devil or one of his fronts as his own true god and provider. For example, it is unlikely that the Pharisees who were children of the Devil had taken “the Devil” per se as their god, but rather that they so highly valued their prestige, power, and position that they had in their hearts made that their god, and in doing so completely turned away from the true God and turned to the Devil via one of his fronts.
The unforgivable sin can be committed by believing and saying in your heart, that Satan or one of the forms he hides behind and supports is the true sustainer, provider, or object of supreme value in one’s life. No doubt that was what Satan was asking Jesus to do when he offered him all the power of the world if Jesus would worship him (Luke 4:6). The Devil was not asking Jesus to think that God did not exist or that Satan somehow was in fact God, but rather that Satan would be Jesus’ true sustainer and provider, the true god of his life. The Devil wanted Jesus to become a child of his, which would have been the ultimate coup, but to do so Jesus would have had to “worship” the Devil, not just in form, but in the depths of his heart.
It is not specifically stated in Scripture what happens to a person spiritually, mentally, and physically when he becomes a child of the Devil such that he is unable to repent and be saved. We have no way of knowing what actually happens, but one possibility is that when a person commits the unforgivable sin, a demon enters them and gains access to, or perhaps even takes control of, the portion of the brain that controls freedom of choice, and the demon continually blocks the person’s ability to repent.
The Bible has a lot to say about the people who have committed the unforgivable sin and become His enemies, and it can be found throughout the Scripture. Cain committed the unforgivable sin and was a child of the Devil, see commentary on Gen. 4:8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15; 1 John 3:12. The sons of Eli the High Priest were also sons of the Devil (1 Sam. 2:12).
Some people who have greatly sinned or been very angry with God are afraid they have committed the unforgivable sin, so it is worth repeating that if a person desires to repent and follow Jesus then they have not committed that sin. In the Bible, the children of the Devil are enemies of God and they reflect the Devil’s nature. They are envious, murderers, liars, and show no genuine godly concern for humankind (Gen. 4:8-9; 1 John 3:12). They lead people away from God and into idolatry or false systems of worship (Deut. 13:13); they rape, murder, and instigate wars (Judg. 19:22-28; 20:11-14); they defame God and the things of God (1 Sam. 2:12-17); they lie (1 Kings 21:10, 13), and they resent godly leadership and work to weaken it (1 Sam. 10:27; 2 Sam. 20:1); they sow division (1 Sam. 30:22; 2 Chron. 13:7). They do the works of the Devil (John 8:44) and try to pervert the ways of God (Acts 13:10), and they work to make it hard for people to obey God (Matt. 15:3-9; Luke 11:46). Children of the Devil will never repent, so believers should follow Christ’s guidance and leave them alone. In contrast, if a person wants to repent and follow Jesus, they are not a child of the Devil.
[For more on “sons of Belial, see commentary on 1 Sam. 2:12. For more on Elymas the sorcerer being a child of the Devil, see commentary on Acts 13:10. For religious leaders at the time of Christ who were sons of the Devil, see commentary on John 8:44. Also see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil,” under “Belial” and “Father”].
“defaming word...defaming” Greek noun blasphēmia (#988 βλασφημία), and the verb blasphēmeō (#987 βλασφημέω) are transliterated (not translated) from the Greek into English as “blasphemy.” There is a problem with that, however, because “blasphemy” in English has a different meaning than blasphēmeō and blasphēmia do in Greek. In English, “blasphemy” is only used in reference to God. It is insulting God or a god, insulting something considered sacred (like defacing a cross or statue of Jesus), or claiming to be God or a god in some way. However, in Greek, blasphēmia and blasphēmeō did not have to refer to God or a god, but were common words that were used of someone speaking against another. The primary meaning of them as they were used in the Greek culture was showing disrespect to a person or deity, and/or harming his, her, or its reputation. In the honor/shame society of the biblical world, that was even more heinous an act than we would think of it today because honor and reputation were at the very core of societal status and were the basis of all social interaction. [For more on blasphēmia and blasphēmeō, see commentary on Matt. 9:3].