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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Blasphemy

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βλασφημια , properly denotes calumny, detraction, reproachful or abusive language, against whomsoever it be vented. That βλασφημια and its conjugates are very often applied, says Dr. Campbell, to reproaches not aimed against God, is evident from the following passages: Matthew 12:31-32 ; Matthew 27:39 ; Mark 15:29 ; Luke 22:65 ; Luke 23:39 ; Romans 3:8 ; Romans 14:16 ; 1 Corinthians 4:13 ; 1 Corinthians 10:30 ; Ephesians 4:31 ; 1 Timothy 6:4 ; Titus 3:2 ; 1 Peter 4:14 ; Judges 1:9-10 ; Acts 6:11 ; Acts 6:13 ; 2 Peter 2:10-11 ; in the much greater part of which the English translators, sensible that they could admit no such application, have not used the words blaspheme or blasphemy, but rail, revile, speak evil, &c. In one of the passages quoted, a reproachful charge brought even against the devil is called κρισις βλασφημιας , Judges 1:9 ; and rendered by them, "railing accusation." The import of the word βλασφημια is maledicentia, in the largest acceptation; comprehending all sorts of verbal abuse, imprecation, reviling, and calumny. And let it be observed, that when such abuse is mentioned as uttered against God, there is probably no change made in the signification of the word: the change is only in the application; that is, in the reference to a different object. The idea conveyed in the explanation now given is always included, against whomsoever the crime be committed. In this manner every term is understood that is applicable to both God and man. Thus the meaning of the word disobey is the same, whether we speak of disobeying God or of disobeying man. The same may be said of believe, honour, fear, &c. As, therefore, the sense of the term is the same, though differently applied, what is essential to constitute the crime of detraction in the one case, is essential also in the other. But it is essential to this crime, as commonly understood, when committed by one man against another, that there be in the injurious person the will or disposition to detract from the person abused. Mere mistake in regard to character, especially when the mistake is not conceived by him who entertains it to lessen the character, nay, is supposed, however erroneously, to exalt it, is never construed by any into the crime of defamation. Now, as blasphemy is in its essence the same crime, but immensely aggravated by being committed against an object infinitely superior to man, what is fundamental to the very existence of the crime will be found in this, as in every other species which comes under the general name. There can be no blasphemy, therefore, where there is not an impious purpose to derogate from the Divine Majesty, and to alienate the minds of others from the love and reverence of God. The blasphemer is no other than the calumniator of Almighty God. To constitute the crime, it is as necessary that this species of calumny be intentional, He must be one, therefore, who by his impious talk endeavours to inspire others with the same irreverence towards the Deity, or perhaps, abhorrence of him, which he indulges in himself. And though, for the honour of human nature, it is to be hoped that very few arrive at this enormous guilt, it ought not to be dissembled, that the habitual profanation of the name and attributes of God by common swearing, is but too manifest an approach toward it. There is not an entire coincidence: the latter of these vices may be considered as resulting solely from the defect of what is good in principle and disposition; the former from the acquisition of what is evil in the extreme: but there is a close connection between them, and an insensible gradation from the one to the other. To accustom one's self to treat the Sovereign of the universe with irreverent familiarity, is the first step; malignly to arraign his attributes, and revile his providence, is the last. The first divine law published against it, "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord," (or Jehovah, as it is in the Hebrew) "shall be put to death," Leviticus 24:16 , when considered along with the incidents that occasioned it, suggests a very atrocious offence in words, no less than abuse or imprecations vented against the Deity. For, in what way soever the crime of the man there mentioned be interpreted,—whether as committed against the true God, the God of Israel, or against any of the false gods whom his Egyptian father worshipped,—the law in the words now quoted is sufficiently explicit; and the circumstances of the story plainly show, that the words which he had used were derogatory from the Godhead, and shocking to the hearers. And if we add to this the only other memorable instance in sacred history, namely, that of Rabshakeh, it will lead us to conclude that it is solely a malignant attempt, in words, to lessen men's reverence of the true God, and, by vilifying his perfections, to prevent their placing confidence in him, which is called in Scripture blasphemy, when the word is employed to denote a sin committed directly against God. This was manifestly the attempt of Rabshakeh, when he said, "Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord," (the word is Jehovah, ) "saying, Jehovah will surely deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Iva? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who are they, among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?" 2 Kings 18:30 ; 2 Kings 18:33-35 .

2. It will naturally occur to inquire, what that is, in particular, which our Lord denominates "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit," Matthew 12:31-32 ; Mark 3:28-29 ; Luke 12:10 . But without entering minutely into the discussion of this question, it may suffice here to observe, that this blasphemy is certainly not of the constructive kind, but direct, manifest, and malignant. First, it is mentioned as comprehended under the same genus with abuse against men, and contradistinguished only by the object. Secondly, it is farther explained by being called speaking against in both cases: ος αν ειπη λογον κατα του ανθρωπου ,—ος δ ' αν ειπν κατα του πνευματος του αγιου . "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man."—"Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost." The expressions are the same, in effect, in all the Evangelists who mention it, and imply such an opposition as is both intentional and malevolent. This cannot have been the case of all who disbelieved the mission of Jesus, and even decried his miracles; many of whom, we have reason to think, were afterward converted by the Apostles. But it was the wretched case of some who, instigated by worldly ambition and avarice, slandered what they knew to be the cause of God; and, against conviction, reviled his work as the operation of evil spirits. This view of the sin against the Holy Ghost is confirmed by the circumstances under which our Lord spoke.

If we consider the Scripture account of this sin, nothing can be plainer than that it is to be understood of the Pharisees' imputing the miracles wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost to the power of the devil; for our Lord had just healed one possessed of a devil, and upon this the Pharisees gave this malicious turn to the miracle. This led our Saviour to discourse on the sin of blasphemy. The Pharisees were the persons charged with the crime: the sin itself manifestly consisted in ascribing what was done by the finger of God to the agency of the devil; and the reason, therefore, why our Lord pronounced it unpardonable, is plain; because, by withstanding the evidence of miracles, they resisted the strongest means of conviction, and that wilfully and malignantly; and, giving way to their passions, opprobriously treated that Holy Spirit whom they ought to have adored.

From all which it will probably follow, that no person can now be guilty of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, in the sense in which our Saviour originally intended it; but there may be sins which bear a very near resemblance to it. This appears from the case of the apostates mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, to whom "no more sacrifice for sins" is said to remain; whose defection, however, is not represented so much as a direct sin against the Holy Ghost as against Christ, whom the apostate Jews blasphemed in the synagogues. It implied, however, a high offence against the Holy Spirit also, with whose gifts they had, probably, been endowed, and their conduct must be considered, if not the same sin as that committed by the Pharisees, yet as a

consenting with it, and thus as placing them in nearly, if not altogether, the same desperate condition. Even apostacy in the present day, although a most aggravated and perilous offence, cannot be committed with circumstances of equal aggravation to those which were found in the case of the persons mentioned by St. Paul; and it may be laid down as certain, for the relief of those who may be tempted to think that they have committed the unpardonable sin, that their horror of it, and the trouble which the very apprehension causes them, are the sure proofs that they are mistaken. But although there may be now fearful approaches to the unpardonable offence, it is to be remembered that there may be many dangerous and fatal sins against the Holy Ghost, which are not the sin against him, which has no forgiveness.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Blasphemy'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/b/blasphemy.html. 1831-2.

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Monday, June 1st, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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