“Therefore I am saying to you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be pardoned men, yet the blasphemy of the spirit shall not be pardoned. And whosoever may be saying a word against the Son of Mankind, it will be pardoned him, yet whoever 1 may be saying aught against the holy spirit, it shall not be pardoned him, neither in this eon nor in that which is impending.” (Matt.12:31,32)
“ ‘Verily, I am saying to you that all shall be pardoned the sons of mankind, the penalties of the sins and the blasphemies, whatsoever they should be blaspheming, yet whoever should be blaspheming against the holy spirit is having no pardon for the eon, but is liable to the eonian penalty for the sin’– for they said, ‘An unclean spirit has he.’ ” (Mark 3:28-30)
“Now I am saying to you that everyone whoever shall be avowing Me in front of men, him shall the Son of Mankind also be avowing in front of the messengers of God. Now he who is disowning Me before men will be renounced before the messengers of God. And everyone who shall be declaring a word against the Son of Mankind, it shall be pardoned him, yet the one who is blaspheming against the holy spirit shall not be pardoned.” (Luke 12:8-10)
Two statements in the passages quoted above have been seized upon to prove that there is no salvation for those who blaspheme the holy spirit. These are, “the blasphemy of the spirit shall not be pardoned” (Matt.12:31), and “the one who blasphemes the holy spirit shall not be pardoned” (Luke 12:10). These passages, we are told, utterly disprove the salvation of all (1 Tim.4:10) and universal reconciliation (Col.1:20). We are told that here are passages which we refuse to believe. To the superficial reader, this seems to be true. But, as God grants grace for realization, one who carefully and objectively examines these passages will find that they do not by any means deny other portions of our God’s infallible revelation.
First of all, anyone reading all of the passages attentively will see that the time of action is circumscribed. It is confined within the boundaries of only two eons. With considerable circumstance, we are informed that the pardon is not possible–neither in this eon nor in that which is future. This is in exact accord with the facts in other scriptures. Pardon has its place in the millennial kingdom and in its proclamation. The question of pardon does not arise at any other time. After that time is the great white throne judgment, when all unbelievers will enter the second death. Pardon can have no place in the new earth. At the consummation men are not pardoned, but justified. An intelligent study of the Scriptures will confirm the limiting of pardon, in this passage, to this eon and that which is impending. There is no pardon in these for those who blaspheme the holy spirit.
The question now arises, Do the two statements which are not explicitly confined to these eons contradict this limitation, or are they in harmony with it? The negative used is absolute, not relative. How shall we understand “shall not be pardoned?” We realize that, according to common speech and especially, popular reasoning, most will conclude from their consideration of this phrase that there can be no possibility of such a thing as the universal grace of the consummation.
However, the simple solution is that those not pardoned of the penalty which is their due, will nonetheless be justified (Rom.5:18) and reconciled (Col.1:20), which is infinitely more. It is the due penalty of the day of judging from which such sinners will not be being pardoned; not some mythical penalty of an eternity spent in hellfire destitute of all hope of God’s mercy and grace.
It will be helpful to note the form of the Greek verb used, which we will now seek to make plain to all, even though they know nothing of Greek. The verb, in Greek, is divided into three great classes, as shown on page 25 of THE GREEK ELEMENTS. These are the Indefinite, the Incomplete, and the Complete. The first simply states a fact, as “the Son of Mankind has authority on earth to pardon sins” (Matt.9:6). Here there is no question of time, for the verb is indefinite. The last form, the Complete, tells of the state resulting from an action, as, “Child, your sins have been pardoned you” (Mark 2:5). The second form, however, the Incomplete, deals with an action in progress, as, “we ourselves, also, are pardoning everyone who is owing us” (Luke 11:4).
The complete re-analysis of the Greek verb in the course of compiling the Concordant Version brought to light several facts which are not to be found in the usual grammars and lexicons. Among other things, it was observed that the future forms, which have the endings of the incomplete, partake of the nature of this form, and speak of an action in progress, and limited to the time of the context. All of these forms are distinguished by the ending –ing in the English sublinear of the CONCORDANT GREEK TEXT. Therefore the passages which we are considering should really be rendered “shall not be being pardoned,” as it is in the sublinear. It is a pity that this cannot be readily carried over into the Version. Yet even in the Version itself in cases where the –ing form does not appear in the main text, it is noted by a superior vertical stroke as an indicator of this verb form.
That the future form of the verb may be limited is evident from the fact that the very same form (aphethêsetai) is used in Matthew 12:31 and 32. Much patient investigation, and years of experience since this fact was first observed, have convinced the compiler of the Concordant Version that the Greek future with a negative is always limited to the time of action. It does not deny at all times. If the reader will check this by the Greek or by the sublinear of the Concordant Version he will arrive at the same conclusion, and it will be a source of much satisfaction to him, for it really settles, and that conclusively, some most important questions. It will help us to believe all that God has said, so as not to array one part of His Word against another.
How instructive and important this fact is may be seen from another passage. In John 3:36 we read, “He who is believing into the Son has eonian life, yet he who is stubborn as to the Son shall not be seeing life, but the indignation of God is remaining on him.” The phrase “shall not see life,” wrenched out of its context, has hindered many from an acceptance of God’s glorious goal. This has its root in the mistranslation “everlasting,” for, if eternal life is in question in one part of the sentence, then “shall not see life” can have no limits. But if eonian life is promised to the believer, an intelligent reader will see that it is eonian life also which the stubborn shall not see. And this is made absolutely sure by the form of the Greek future. It deals not with a fact but an incomplete, limited action. The context, the form of the verb, and definite declarations of God in other portions of His Word are in delightful agreement. If we take “shall not see life” as a fact for all time, we must clash with the context, we must ignore the form of the verb, and we must deny God’s great assertions that death shall be abolished (1 Cor.15:26) and that, in Christ, all shall be made alive (1 Cor.15:22).
It is glorious to be able to revel in all that God has revealed! We do not need to worry about contradictory passages. They do not exist! Only in our ignorance of the exactitude of Holy Writ will we bring up texts to bolster up our unbelief in God’s glorious ultimate. To test such facts as these, let us not fall back upon traditional scholarship. It has long been stereotyped and dares not acknowledge its own deficiencies. I have never seen a Greek grammar which clearly distinguishes between verb forms which are indefinite and those which are incomplete, or, in process. The incomplete form, however, simply speaks of an action going on, at whatever time is in view, as specified or otherwise indicated.
Therefore, we simply affirm that the sin against the holy spirit will not be pardoned in the time specified, the only time when pardon is offered, in this eon and in the next, according as it is written. (Moreover, it is concerned with the proclamation of the kingdom to Israel, and not with the present grace.) The statements where this time limit is not directly included imply the same thing in the form of the verb. Besides, the fate, after the next eon, of those who commit this sin, is not determined by these passages anyway, but by other explicit declarations.
Those committing the sin against the holy spirit will not be released from God’s own just judgment of this sin. Hence we say concerning it, not that it will be pardoned (Luke 12:10), but, instead, that it will be judged. Those who commit it will stand before the great white throne and will suffer the penalty imposed by our Lord for this sin. Subsequently, they will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. Thereafter, when death is abolished, and all are made alive at the consummation, they, with all the rest of mankind, will be justified and reconciled to God through the blood of Christ’s cross.
Were the Word of God a great hymn, as indeed it is, my ear could never bear the jazz that theology has made of it. But now that my heart has heard its heavenly harmony, and my spirit is inspired by its sweet symphony, it is torture to hear the jangling discords of hard and stubborn hearts, which, selfishly satisfied with their own safety, imagine that if they would have “eternal” life, others (those who die in unbelief) must have “eternal” punishment.
The crude reasoning that concludes that those who are never “forgiven” 2 will never be saved is a good example of how reasoning from ignorance breeds unbelief and enslaves men in fear and utter despair. How many have morbidly imagined that they had committed this sin and spoiled their whole career? On the contrary, since Christ died for all that all might live, and all who will be saved, will be saved by grace, it follows that eventually all will be saved, that God may be All in all (cf 1 Cor.15:20-28). May the reader be granted a realization of this very truth, even as a spirit of thanksgiving to God in recognition of His vast love and saving grace for all mankind.
A. E. Knoch
1. Like all universal expressions, in all contexts in which they appear, “whoever” (even as “each,” “every,” and “all”) refers to all without exception who come under the purview of the subject of the context. It is not such words themselves, but their present usage which determines their scope. In some instances, in cases in which the subject of the context itself is universal, such terms refer to all universally; but in other instances, such as our present text, such terms refer solely to all of a limited class. Our Lord’s earthly ministry concerns the evangel of the Circumcision; it does not contemplate the untraceable riches of Christ for the nations through Paul, or God’s ultimate purpose for all, where, in each case, transcendent grace apart from law is the only consideration.
2. The essential meaning of the Greek phrase itself, ouk aphethêsetai (“NOT it-WILL-BE-BEING-FROM-LET”; Matt.12:32), is simply that of “non-rescission” (of due penalty). The notion of abiding personal hostility and estrangement, as is commonly associated with the English term “unforgiveness,” is foreign to the Greek essence. The English “pardon” (or “remit,” or “release”) comes closest to capturing the essence of the Greek word, aphiêmi, which simply says “let off.”
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