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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Blasphemy (2)

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BLASPHEMY (βλασφημία; for derivation of word see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. i. p. 305a).—This word is used in the Gospels, as in other parts of the NT, for abusive speech generally, as well as for language that is insulting to God. Thus we read of ‘an evil eye, blasphemy ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 railing), pride,’ etc. (Mark 7:22), where the position of the word indicates human relations. The evil eye is followed by the evil tongue, the one by look and the other by speech expressing malignity towards a fellow-man. Two questions concerning blasphemy come up in the Gospels, viz. the teaching of Jesus Christ on the subject, and the charge of blasphemy brought against our Lord.

1. The teaching of Jesus Christ concerning blasphemy.—Using the term in the general sense, our Lord does not always formally distinguish between insulting speech with regard to God and abusive language towards men. βλασφημία in any application of it is sin. As railing against our fellow-men, it comes in a catalogue of sins together with the most heinous—‘murders, adulteries,’ etc. (Mark 7:22). In this connexion it is treated as one of the ‘evil things’ that ‘proceed from within, and defile the man.’ Thus it is taken to be the expression of a corrupt heart, and as such a defilement of the person who gives vent to it. Nevertheless it is not beyond the reach of pardon. With one exception all revilings may be forgiven (Mark 3:28-29, Matthew 12:31). The comprehensive sentence must include blasphemy against God, although that is not expressly mentioned. In Matthew 12:32 there is a reference to blasphemy against the Son of Man, and in both cases the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is mentioned; but in neither case is there any reference to blasphemy against the Father. Perhaps the safest thing is to say that this was not in mind at the time, so that no direct pronouncement was made concerning it; and, further, it is to be observed that Trinitarian distinctions do not appear in these teachings of Jesus. Jesus is here the ‘Son of Man,’ not ‘the Son,’ i.e. of God, and the Holy Spirit is God in His manifested activity. Still, it must be implicitly contained in St. Mark’s emphatic sentence, ‘All their sins … and their blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme (ὅσα ἂν βλασφημήσωσιν).’

To ‘speak a word against the Son of Man’ is taken as one form of the blasphemy or reviling. Here, therefore, the word is not used in its relation to God. It does not stand for what we now understand by ‘blasphemy’ in our narrower sense of the word. Jesus is not here standing on the ground of His divinity, to insult which would be blasphemy in this modern sense. He is speaking of Himself as seen among men, and referring to personal insults. But, since the term ‘the Son of Man’ appears to be a veiled reference to His Messiahship, for Himself and for the enlightened among His followers He must have meant that those who insulted Him, even though He was the Christ, were not beyond pardon; cf. ‘Father, forgive them,’ etc. (Luke 23:34, om. BD*, etc.). Some doubt, however, is thrown on this reference to ‘the Son of Man’ because (1) it does not occur in the Mk. parallel passage; (2) in Mk. but not in Mt. the phrase ‘the sons of men’ occurs in an earlier part of the saying (Mark 3:28).

The nature of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10) must be learnt from the context. This excludes such notions as rejection of the gospel (Iren.), denial of the divinity of Christ (Athan.), mortal sin after baptism (Origen), persistence in sin till death (August.). The form of the blasphemy is given in the words ‘because they said, He hath an unclean spirit,’ and the occasion of it was Jesus’ casting out of demons. Jesus declares that this is done ‘by the Spirit of God’ (Matthew 12:28), or ‘by the finger of God’ (Luke 11:20). To ascribe this action to Beelzebub is to be guilty of, or to approach the guilt of, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because it is treating the Holy Spirit as Beelzebub. Jesus did not expressly say that the scribes who put forward this Beelzebub theory of His work had actually committed this sin. He judged by thought and intention, not by outward utterance. A prejudiced, ignorant, hasty, superficial utterance of the calumny would not contain the essence of the sin. This must be a conscious, intentional insult. If one mistakes a saint for a knave, and addresses him accordingly, he is not really guilty of insulting him, for it is not actually the saint but the knave whom he has in mind. If the presence of the Holy Spirit was not recognized, there could be no blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But when it was perceived and yet deliberately treated as evil, the action would indicate a wilful reversal of the dictates of conscience. Our Lord warns His hearers that such a sin cannot be forgiven either in the present age—the pre-Messianic, or in the age to come—the Messianic, that is, as we should say, the Christian age. The condition of such a person will be that he is guilty (ἔνοχος) of an eternal (αἰωνίου) sin (so Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 of Mark 3:29, following א BL, etc., ἁμαρτήματος; not ‘damnation,’ as in Authorized Version, after the Syrian reading ἁμαρτήματος;, A, etc.). This cannot well mean ‘a sin that persists, a fixed disposition,’ as Dr. Salmond understands it, because (1) the Greek word ἁμαρτήματος; stands for an act, not a state; (2) there is nothing in the context to indicate persistency in the blasphemy; (3) the Jewish current conception was that a sin once committed remained on the sinner till it was atoned for or forgiven. He had to bear his sin. Therefore one who was never forgiven would have to bear his sin eternally, and so would be said to have an eternal sin. Wellhausen understands it to be equivalent to eternal punishment (‘schuldig ewiger Sünde, d. i. ewiger Strafe,’ Evang. Marci, 28).

At the same time, while this must be understood as the correct exegesis of the words, the saying should be interpreted in harmony with the spirit of Christ. Now it is characteristic of legalism and the letter to make a solitary exception, depending on one external act. The Spirit of Christ is concerned with character rather than with specific deeds, and it is contrary to His spirit that one specific deed should be singled out for exclusion from mercy. Then, elsewhere, the breadth of His gospel indicates that no genuine seeker would be rejected. Therefore we must understand Him to mean either (1) that to be guilty of such a sin a man must be so hardened that he never would repent, or (2) that such a sin cannot be overlooked, forgotten, and swallowed up in the general flood of mercy. It must come up for judgment. Against (1) and for (2) is the fact that our Lord says nothing of the offender’s disposition, but only refers to the sin, its heinous character, and consequent never-to-be-denied or forgotten ill-desert. See, further, art. Unpardonable Sin.

2. The charge of blasphemy brought against Jesus Christ.—This charge was brought against our Lord on three occasions—two recorded in the Synoptics and one in the Fourth Gospel. In all of these cases the alleged blasphemy is against God, actual blasphemy in our sense of the word. The first instance is at the cure of the paralytic who had been let down through the roof (Matthew 9:3, Mark 2:7, Luke 5:21). Jesus had just said to the sufferer, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee.’ Upon this the scribes and Pharisees who were present complained that He was speaking blasphemies because only God could forgive sins, that is to say, that He was arrogating to Himself a Divine prerogative. In His answer He distinctly claimed this right on the ground of His enigmatic title of ‘the Son of Man,’ and held it to be confirmed by His cure of the paralytic. The second occasion is that recorded by St. John, where the Jews declare that their attempt to stone Jesus was ‘for blasphemy,’ adding ‘because that thou, being a man makest thyself God’ (John 10:33). This was just after He had said, ‘I and the Father are one (ἕν).’ The third occasion is at the trial of Jesus. According to Matthew 26:65 and Mark 14:63-64 when Jesus, after being adjured by the high priest to declare if He were the Christ, declared that they would ‘see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven,’ the high priest treated this as blasphemy, rending his garments as a token of honor at the words. Yet the claim was not for more than the Book of Enoch assigned to the Messiah. But the Messiah in that Apocalyptic book is a heavenly being. Such a being Caiaphas would understand Jesus to claim to be, and he reckoned the profession of such a claim blasphemous. This was the formal ground of the condemnation of Jesus to death by the Sanhedrin. The first charge, that of threatening to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, had broken down because of the inconsistency of the witnesses. The second charge is suddenly sprung upon, Jesus by the high priest on the ground of His words at the council; and, on this account, as guilty of blasphemy, He was condemned to death, although it was useless to cite the words before Pilate, who would have dismissed the case as Gallio at Corinth dismissed what he regarded as ‘a question about words and names’ (Acts 18:15). Therefore a third charge, never mentioned in the Jewish trial,—laesae majestatis, treason against Caesar,—was concocted for use at the Roman trial.

It is to be observed that there is one common character in all these accusations of blasphemy brought against Jesus. He is never accused of direct blasphemy, speaking insulting words about God. The alleged blasphemy is indirect, in each case claiming more or less Divine rights and powers for Himself.

Lastly, it may be noted that Luke 22:65 Authorized Version has the word ‘blasphemously’ for the way in which the mockers spoke of Jesus; but Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 has ‘reviling,’ which is the evident meaning. There is no reference to our narrower sense of blasphemy as insulting the Divine; the word (ἁμαρτήματος;) is used in the common wider sense.

Literature.—S. J. Andrews, Life of Our Lord, 505–514; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Blasphemy’; Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lex. s.vv. βλασφημία, βλασφημὲω; and in particular on blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, Martensen, Christian Ethics, ii. p. 123ff.; Gloag, Exegetical Studies, p. 1 ff.; Expositor, 2nd ser. iii. [1882] p. 321 ff.; A. Maclaren, Christ’s Musts, 44–54.

W. F. Adeney.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Blasphemy (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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