OVERWHELMING GRACE, AND “UNPARDONABLE” SIN
THE CLAIM against our teaching on this theme is usually set forth thus: “The Bible says that those committing this sin ‘shall not be forgiven’ (Luke 12:10, AV); whereas the Concordant teaching is that, eventually, all such sinners shall be forgiven. Since such a teaching contradicts the Bible, therefore it is wrong.”
It is sad that most cannot detect the fallacies in such “logic.” It is sadder still that most are ready to assume the worst, gullibly presuming that such a representation of our teaching together with the issues in question, constitutes a fair and adequate representation thereof.
Any such caricature of the true issues, however, is simply begging the question, and is most misleading. Besides its inaccuracy and lack of fairness, it assumes what is at issue, which is whether by the words “shall not be forgiven,” it follows that some will be subjected to unending divine wrath, even as interminable estrangement from God. It is also a straw man, for it only disproves that which we do not deny, the proposition that if some were to lie under a penalty consisting of unending divine wrath, it could not also be true that no one, actually, would ever be subjected to such a penalty.
However expressed, the gist of the argument often set forth by believers in the eventual salvation of all concerning this question of the sin that shall not be pardoned is that it is not to be understood categorically. It is claimed that the Lord’s statement about a sin that will not be pardoned is not absolute or unqualified. The sin, it is explained, will not be pardoned only within the present eon and the coming eon, not beyond. This supposition is inferred from the words, “neither in this eon nor in that which is impending.” It is then further claimed that, following the coming eon, the penalty which formerly had applied to this misdeed will then be rescinded. It is said that such sinners will then be pardoned, so that, at the consummation, they may finally be saved.
Conversely, believers in eternal torment, besides claiming that the duration of the penalty for this sin is “eternal,” not eonian, also place great stress on the account in Luke 12, which simply declares of such sinners that they “shall not be [being] pardoned” (v.10), making no mention of either the present or the impending eon. Since the record in Luke is in the form of a declarative sentence ending in a period, one in which it is therein affirmed simply that this sin “shall not be pardoned,” it is claimed that not only will this sin not be pardoned either in the present or in the coming eon, but that it will not be pardoned–period.
Remarkably, all such believers, whether in the salvation of all or in the eternal torment of many, are united in the supposition that if those committing the sin of the blasphemy of the spirit are not pardoned from the penalty of this sin, then they cannot be saved. Hence, the universalist believers seek to prove that, eventually, such pardon will be granted, while the partialist believers seek to show that it will not.
This issue, however, in relation to the question of final destiny, is a false issue; yet it is the one that is nearly always debated concerning the so-called “unpardonable sin.” The issue is not whether pardon will or will not eventually be granted. The issue is, instead, whether the revelation of Scripture, elsewhere stated, concerned with the accomplishment of Christ’s sacrificial death, affirms (1) that all those for whom Christ died will be saved, and (2) that He died for all.
To put this another way, If it is really true, concerning mankind, that, Even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified . . . the last enemy death being abolished . . . that God may be All in all (1 Cor.15:22,26,28), then we may be certain that whatever the negative truth may be concerning a sin that shall not be pardoned, it will not deny the positive truth that God shall be All in all mankind.
Will those for whom Christ died be saved? And, Did He die for all? If so, then all will be saved; if not, then all will not be saved. Whether we answer in the affirmative or in the negative to these questions, in either case, any question concerning the sin which shall not be pardoned is a moot point, one without significance insofar as these far grander questions are concerned.
Still, it is well to understand the subject of the sin that shall not be pardoned. Yet in their preoccupation with issues of final destiny, those arrayed on both sides of that much more consequential question, often have failed to resolve significant issues of this lesser subject at hand.
The simple fact is that the present and the coming eons are the only periods in which pardon is offered; and, during these periods, this sin under consideration will not be being pardoned. It follows from this, then, that this sin will not be pardoned. Period. However, it does not follow from the fact that those committing this sin will not be pardoned–that is, released–from the penalty which Justice deems fit to impose, that they will not be saved. The Scripture never declares that the punishment imposed upon any sin is that of endless punishment. And, neither in Matthew 12, Mark 3, Luke 12, or any other chapter of Scripture, are we told that a penalty which includes unending divine wrath even as interminable human misery, shall accrue to those who blaspheme the spirit.
Wherever we read that a sin shall not be pardoned, or forgiven, the sense is simply that whatever the just penalty may be for such a misdeed, it will not be remitted, or let go. It does not follow, however, from the phrase, concerning him “that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost,” that “it shall not be forgiven” him (Luke 12:10, AV), that that from which he shall not be “forgiven” (i.e., released) is a penalty consisting of abiding estrangement from God in the presence of eternal burnings.
Where we read in this verse, as in the Concordant Version, that “the one who blasphemes the holy spirit shall not be pardoned,” the implicit idea, conveyed through the figure of ellipsis, is that such a one shall not be pardoned from the penalty which justly accrues to this sin. From a literary standpoint, it is simply incorrect to interpret such texts as if their sense were, “shall not be pardoned,” from a penalty consisting of or incorporating a specific woe, namely, that of eternal separation from God.
Such verses say nothing as to the nature of the penalty for such disobedience; to claim that they do manifests a deficiency of reading comprehension. Or, in the case of any who are aware that these texts, indeed, do not reveal the nature of the penalty which accrues to this sin and yet argue as if these texts did contain such information, the error then becomes that of circular reasoning, assuming what is at issue as if it had been proved. Such an error is exacerbated by making such arguments on the basis of our texts under consideration (i.e., Matt.12:31,32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:8-10), ones which are incapable of answering such a question.
In accord with English idiom, the Concordant Version translates aphiêmi as “pardon” when used of a king or governor, and as “forgive” when used in familial or other interpersonal relations. It is a word of wide usage denoting broadly “let off” or “away.” Its elements signify “FROM-LET.” The idea is to “let” something go, or let someone off. When used of matters of penality, one who is “FROM- LETed,” is one who is exempted from whatever penalty would otherwise be due; likewise, one who is not “FROM- LETed,” is one who is not exempted from whatever penalty would otherwise be due.
Even in English, this sense is clear when the Greek term is translated as “pardon,” since we are familiar with matters of governmental pardon. Likewise, in the case of a loan that is not “forgiven,” all that is meant is that the obligation to repay remains, since the obligation is not “let go.” Indeed, the primary definition of “forgive” is “to grant pardon for or remission of (something); [i.e., ‘to refrain from exacting or inflicting, as a penalty’]; cease to demand the penalty for.” 1
Thus the blasphemy of the spirit shall not be pardoned. The fact that this is so neither in this eon nor in that which is impending, simply brings before us those eons in which “every sin and blasphemy shall be being pardoned,” in the case of those obtaining pardon. The reason, however, why the one who is blaspheming against the holy spirit shall not be pardoned, is not because such a sin is some sort of mysterious “super-sin,” but because such a sin precludes Christward repentance. Any who maintained such blasphemy unto death, blocked off the only pathway leading to their pardon. Therefore, instead of obtaining pardon, they became “liable to the eonian penalty for” this very sin.
THE WORD AIÕNION
Those who are aware of the pertinent issues concerning this word, will not merely slavishly copy the lexical claims of others, in support of their own opinion, making no mention of other scholarly sources affirming contrary opinions. Being well-versed in the literature, they will be well aware that, as on practically all issues, here too, scholars differ among themselves, even among those of common tradition.2
Indeed, no one who is well-informed on this subject, claims that the essence of the word aiõnion (“eonian,” CV), itself, consists of the idea of endlessness, since at least certain texts are stipulated as being incapable of such a signification. Likewise, all such ones acknowledge that, at least in some cases, the word is used of finite duration. Therefore, the only objective idea inherent to the word itself is that of “pertaining to (inherently unspecified) duration.” Hence, even if one should, on hermeneutical grounds, claim that the referential meaning of this word, in certain contexts, is the notion of endlessness, he nevertheless may not affirm that such a notion is inherent to the word itself, in its essential meaning.
Faithful translation must ever seek to use neutral expressions in representing the Original; not renderings which are of an interpretative nature. Hence, it follows that aiõnion (1) must not be translated as “everlasting,” but simply, somehow, according to the sense of “durative” (i.e., “of the duration”), even if it should be the judgment of an interpreter that “of endless duration” is its referential meaning, in a specific case. Since “durative” would be an awkward rendering, the best solution is simply to transliterate aiõnion, in anglicized form, by the English word “eonian.” Insofar as translation is concerned, however, which simply represents what the word says, not that to which it refers, “eonian” should not be understood as “pertaining to a period of time,” nor to the notion of endlessness, but simply as, “pertaining to an [inherently unspecified] duration of time.”
NON-EXEMPTION FROM PENALTY
Wherever we read that a sin shall not be pardoned, we should always ask ourselves, Not pardoned from what? The answer to this question, of course, is, Not pardoned from whatever the penalty may be to which those who commit this sin shall be subjected.
Much of the confusion surrounding this subject arises from the uncomely custom among men of declaring to certain of their offenders, “I’ll never forgive you.” They imagine that by the Lord’s words that there is a sin that shall not be pardoned, He means to convey essentially that which they themselves mean by their own phrase, “I’ll never forgive you.” Any such presumption, however, is surely a gratuitous opinion.
By such assertions, men mean to affirm that because of a certain misdeed committed by the other party, they have resolved to impose a certain policy on that other party accordingly. Their policy here, it is claimed, shall consist of their never forgiving him of his wrongdoing. In turn, by this they mean to say that they will always hold it against him while acting in a way toward him consistent with such interminable unforgiveness.
The Lord Jesus, however, in declaring of the sin of the blasphemy of the spirit that it shall not be being pardoned, says no such thing as this, speaking either of Himself or of His God and Father. Instead, He simply affirms that the one committing this sin will not be released from whatever penalty it may be that God has appointed unto such sinners. Specifically, He does not say, nor do His words entail, that the penalty which God has appointed unto such ones is that of unending misery and wrath.
Should the penalty, however–as is indeed the case–which has been appointed consist of the forfeiture of eonian life, even as subjection to divine indignation in the day of judging, then that is the penalty from which such an offender will not be released (i.e., pardoned or forgiven).
Only if, on other grounds, it could be proved that the penalty of this sin were that of interminable divine indignation, could it then be said that such sinners would never be released from such a penalty. Even in that case, however, it would still be incorrect to say that any such woeful judgment is revealed here, within our texts in question.
Hence the claim that the word of our Lord’s testimony on this theme (cf Matt.12:31,32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10), entails it being so that those committing the sin of blasphemy of the spirit will be subjected to a future consisting of never-ending misery–eternal punishment by and everlasting estrangement from God–is perfectly mistaken. Any such claim is merely a misreading of the Scripture. No such notion either inheres in or follows from the Lord’s own carefully-chosen words.
Thus, from Jesus’ words concerning the sin of the blasphemy of the spirit, we simply learn that this sin shall not be being pardoned, or let go; accordingly, the person himself who blasphemes against the holy spirit shall not be being pardoned. Hence, anyone committing this sin will not be released from whatever penalty should be imposed on this very misdeed, according to the divine determination.
To say any less than this about these texts, is to deny that which the Lord has plainly set forth. Yet to say any more, is to address issues not inherent in the text itself. All that the Lord is affirming here is that those committing this sin will not be exempted from its due penalty–whatever that due penalty may be, and for however long it may be imposed.
“The blasphemy of the spirit consists in attributing the works of Christ, done by the power of God’s Spirit, to demons or unclean spirits. As these works were the means used to produce repentance and pardon, and this was essential for entrance into the kingdom [prophesied by Israel’s prophets], it is readily seen that pardon is impossible in such a case. The time, however, is limited to this eon or the coming eon of the kingdom. Eventually, all mankind will be far more than pardoned. They will be justified (Rom.5:18) and reconciled (Col.1:20). But this will not take place until a full eon later, when the kingdom is given over to the Father (1 Cor.15:24).
“We cannot commit the sin against the holy Spirit because our salvation is not based on miracles and signs. It follows faith, not sight. And, [before God as our Judge,] we are not pardoned, but justified (Rom.3:24,26). Condemnation is impossible (Rom.8:1). Moreover, we are explicitly told that, in the latter eras, some will be withdrawing from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons. Any spirit manifestation [or ostensibly ‘spiritual’ teaching] not in perfect accord with the scriptures should be given the most severe tests, lest we be among those who are deceived by them.” 3
Similarly, just as our Lord declared that those who blasphemed against the holy spirit would not be being pardoned, He likewise affirmed that the indignation of God “is remaining” on those “being stubborn” as to the Son (John 3:36). Yet even as this latter passage does not address what will be the consequence, in relation to indignation, should such stubbornness be removed, the former texts do not address what will be the result consequent to the time when one who was not pardoned is nevertheless judged.
We should not reason if a sin should go unpardoned, that therefore those who do not obtain pardon but instead enter the judging, will never be saved. Even in human systems of justice, many who never obtain a pardon, who instead must undergo the full penalty for their lawless deeds, after they have done so, are released from prison, having paid their debt to society. It does not follow because they were never pardoned, that they were never released from prison. Even in the case of the most serious crimes where the death penalty is imposed, the state, at that juncture, considers justice to have been met. It does not sentence the criminal to “eternal” death, but simply to death. Should God resurrect and eventually vivify one thus put to death (and He will!), the state could have no objection that the demands of its justice had not been met, in any such case.
Warnings concerning the sin that is not being pardoned, are not addressed to the members of the body of Christ. Instead, Paul’s message to us is that we are not appointed to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we shall be saved from the indignation of God (1 Thess.5:9; Rom.5:9).
Further, we are not saved because we believe, but we believe because we are saved. While it is true that we must believe if we would be saved, this is so simply in light of the fact that salvation is not apart from faith. It is not, however, that we are “required” to believe and accept Christ, for our salvation is in grace, apart from law. Instead, we are graciously granted to be believing (Phil.1:29); God parts a measure of faith to each of His chosen ones (Rom.8:33; 12:3).
God saved us out of our unbelief. Even as in the case of Paul, the “faith and love in Christ Jesus,” “overwhelms” our unbelief (1 Tim.1:14,16). Like self-control, faith is a fruit of the spirit (Gal.5:23); not a prerequisite of salvation. Our salvation is not a matter of our making some sort of “responsible” decision in favor of a requirement, but of being chosen and predesignated of God, before the disruption of the world (Eph.1:4,5).
As presented in Paul’s evangel, eonian life is a gracious gift (Rom.6:23). Hence, in granting us eonian life, God displays not the generosity of His reward, but the transcendent riches of His grace (Eph.2:7). In this provision, He makes known not His integrity as a faithful Rewarder, but His vast love as a gracious Saviour. Hence, as many do, to make our eonian life hinge on our own obedience, is egregiously to misrepresent Paul’s evangel at its very core.
For us, Grace reigns, for life eonian (Rom.5:21), any forfeiture of an allotment in God’s kingdom that may be incurred by us for unfaithfulness, notwithstanding (cp 2 Tim.2:11-13; Gal.5:21).4 Thus, in this connection, where sin increases, grace superexceeds (Rom.5:20). God has designated us beforehand for the place of a son for Him through Christ Jesus (Eph.1:5), having chosen us, foreknown us, called us, graced us with faith, and justified us as well, all unto this glorious end (Rom.8:30; cp 1 Cor.1:24).
This is the evangel of our salvation; it is the evangel which Paul heralded among the nations (Gal.2:2). It is in accord with the delight of God’s will and for the laud of the glory of His grace (Eph.1:6).
Beyond these marvelous considerations as to our own salvation, may we indeed also come to realize the glorious truth that our Saviour, God, wills all mankind to be saved, and to come into a realization of the truth (1 Tim.2:4). That is, God has formed the decision that this should occur; and, He is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11). All His counsel shall be confirmed, and all His desire will He do (Isa.46:10).
God is not exclusively the Saviour of believers, but especially the Saviour of believers. Those who believe, enjoy a special salvation, with unique blessings for the eons to come. God is not only our Saviour, but is also the Saviour of all mankind (1 Tim.4:10). The fact is that God will one day abolish death and become All in all (1 Cor.15:26,28). It is His purpose as well, through Christ Jesus, to reconcile all, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens; thus, “making peace through the blood of His cross” (Col.1:20).
All contrary claims such as that all “Christ-rejectors” or sundry other sinners will be eternally lost, must be repudiated. Those who make such claims are simply mistaken.
Such ones do not have a realization of “the grace of God in truth” (Col.1:6), nor of “the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man, Jesus Christ” (Rom.5:15). Yet it is only thus, in gratuitous grace, that “Christ Jesus . . . is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all” (1 Tim.2:6). And, it is also only thus, consequently, that, “even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified” (1 Cor.15:22).
In the question of human destiny, those who oppose the grace of God in truth, either deny that Christ died for the sake of the salvation of all mankind, or, alternatively, represent salvation as a reward for obedience, while merely calling it a “free gift.” “As to the faith, they swerve” (1 Tim.6:21), in advocating any such false teachings.
May we be given eyes to see and ears to hear “the truth of the evangel,” the evangel which the apostle Paul heralded among the nations. “Now may the God of expectation, be filling you with all joy and peace in believing, for you to be superabounding in expectation, in the power of holy spirit” (Rom.15:13).
1. Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary, p.522 (Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1966).
2. Extensive information concerning the words “eon” and “eonian” and the various issues related to these words, is contained in many of our publications. These include the booklets, “ ‘The Ages’; ‘Eon, as Indefinite Duration’ ”; “Whence ‘Eternity’? ”; “Eternal Torment or Universal Reconciliation?”; “The Saviour of All Mankind”; and the books, ALL IN ALL; and THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL.
3. A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.27.
4. It does not follow that if we do not enjoy an allotment in God’s reign, that we therefore will not live under its jurisdiction. Basileia (translated “kingdom”) is simply the corresponding noun of the verb basileuõ (translated “reign”). It will be helpful for us to be aware that even as basileuõ literally means “reign” (used as a verb), thus also, basileia also literally means “reign” (used as a noun). The former means “to exercise a king’s sovereignty”; hence, the latter means “the sovereign power pertaining to [a king’s sovereignty].” It is only when basileia is used metonymically, as a figure of speech for “a realm ruled by a king” (or the territory or people thereof), that it should be understood in the common sense of the English “kingdom” (i.e., dominion). Yet it is on this basis, that of the common English usage of “kingdom,” that it is claimed that those who do not “inherit the kingdom,” must necessarily either be dead or in hellfire. Any such notion related to basileia here, however, is not only unwarranted but mistaken, for it contradicts the glorious truth that “the allotment of life eonian” (Titus 3:7) is an expectation in grace.
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