What Exactly is Blasphemy?
My friend, Mark Eaton, has shared with me many of his thoughts and studies which he has put together over the years from his own study and from conversing with others who understand Hebrew and Greek. This has deepened my understanding of blasphemy, and so I thought it would be helpful to share what I have learned from him.
The only way to avoid blasphemy in general is to know God, His works, His plan, and the way in which He intends to accomplish His will.
We get our English word blaspheme directly from the Greek word blasphemia. Perhaps its definition is best summed up as “to malign, slander, or vilify,” that is, to make God a villain, rather than as a God who rules by Power, Love and Wisdom. But if we look deeper at the word, we can see a more literal meaning.
Blasphemia comes from two Greek words, blapto and pheme.
Blapto means “to hinder” (by implication, to injure or hurt). Pheme comes from the same root as phos, “light,” and phaino, “to lighten, to shine.”
Blasphemia, then, is “a hindering of light that brings injury” (Jonathan Mitchell’s definition). More broadly, blasphemy is a misrepresented image that brings injury to you by hindering the light that might otherwise reveal God.
“With all these English words in mind, how are we to understand the root idea of ‘hinder the light?’ When a person’s reputation is ‘smeared,’ what he represents or says (what we might call the ‘out-raying’ of his particular light, his ‘glory’ or reputation, his message) is hindered.” (quotation from Mark Eaton’s letter)
We are the light of the world, Jesus tells us in Matt. 5:14. But if our light is placed under a basket (Matt. 5:15), that light is hindered and prevented from shining in the darkness. This is the word picture behind blasphemy. And so, when men vilified Jesus before men, they were attempting to hinder the light that shined from Him as He ministered and taught the people according to His revelation of the word.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines blasphemia as “detraction,” which is a malicious discrediting of someone’s character and accomplishments (New World Dictionary).
Jesus’ detractors attempted to create a false image of Jesus, a misrepresentation of His character and calling that would hinder the light from piercing the darkness and reaching the people. This hindrance injured the people, making them victims of Phariseeism. One of Luke’s primary purposes in writing his gospel was to show how women and non-Jews had been victimized by the Jewish traditions that were based on their misunderstanding of the Law.
When Paul and Barnabas preached at the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, they shed light on the word and the divine plan. We read in Acts 13:45,
45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.
We then see the apostles’ response:
46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal [aionian] life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”]. 47 For thus the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a LIGHT for the Gentiles [ethnos], that you should bring salvation [Yeshua] to the end of the earth’.”
The apostles were referencing Isaiah 42:6, which is a messianic prophecy, but they applied it to themselves as part of the body of Christ. The word “salvation” is from the Greek word soteria, which is equivalent to the Hebrew word Yeshua, or Jesus. An apostle is one who is sent to bring the light of Christ to the nations. Light implies revelation from God, who is the Source of light. As we see throughout the book of Acts, the Jews opposed this calling violently, because the apostles treated the ethnos as equals in the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) that God was forming in place of the original Adam.
The Jewish opposition was called blasphemy because they were attempting to hide the light of Christ under a basket of slander and vilification to prevent people from receiving that light. Those who believed their slander were injured.
Blasphemy as a Way of Life
Mark Eaton also tells me,
“However, the Hebrew concept of blasphemy is more than just words; it is a lifestyle against the Law. It is more than just words that are hurtful; it is a complete misrepresentation of God’s Law and Love in a lifestyle. Luke would have known this…. He that is not for me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23)
Every sin violates every law in some way, but blasphemy specifically violates the Second Commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Deut. 5:8). An idol is a false image of God created by men’s faulty understanding. Heart idolatry is the root of blasphemy, for such people create false images that misrepresent God and His character.
So what about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Jesus said in Matt. 12:32,
32 And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man [Jesus Himself], it shall be forgiven him…
To blaspheme Jesus can be forgiven in this age and in the age to come.
32 … but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
What is different about blaspheming the Holy Spirit? The context shows that these Pharisees had attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Beelzebul. In their zeal to slander Jesus, they found it necessary to slander the Holy Spirit, by whose power Jesus had just cast out the dumb demon. In doing so, they deliberately misrepresented God, identifying Him as Beelzebul, Lord of the Dunghill, or the King of Heart Idolatry.
Those Pharisees prided themselves as being avid followers of the Law, but in fact they were followers of men’s carnal understanding of the Law. They had put away God’s Law in order to follow the precepts of men (Matt. 15:3, 7, 8, 9). That lawless lifestyle simulated lawfulness, for they claimed that their doctrines presented God’s character and plan accurately. But if they had truly known the Law, they would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, for He fulfilled every word in the Law and the Prophets.
Those Pharisees will have to face divine judgment at the Great White Throne. They will not receive aionian life (life in The Age), because they will not be among those raised in the First Resurrection. They will be raised at the general resurrection at the end of The Age, where they will face the judgment of the “fiery Law” according to their works. They will not be forgiven, but they will be “sold” (Exodus 22:3) as debtors to the Law until the Law of Jubilee finally sets them free into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
In a general sense, all of humanity is guilty of misrepresenting the character of God. Many (if not all) have attributed His works to others. The Pharisees attributed Jesus’ works to Beelzebul, and many Christians in the past century have attributed the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the work of the devil. Though certainly in some cases such may be true, we know that God invented Pentecost. The devil can only counterfeit it.
In the days of the apostles, the gospel was opposed not only by the Jews but also by a counterfeit Christianity known as Gnosticism. According to church history, Gnosticism was founded by Simon Magus (Acts 8:9), who desired to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18, 19). Gnosticism was a “spiritual” religion that attempted to merge the beliefs of various religions into one “true religion.”
The Gnostics adopted the Greek view of matter (material creation), which taught that the devil had created matter. Matter was therefore evil, and only spirit was good. Contrary to this, the Hebrew view in Scripture says that God created both heaven and earth—both spirit and matter—and when finished, He pronounced it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
The Gnostic view said that because matter was evil, a good God would never taint Himself by inhabiting human flesh. Hence, Jesus was not God in the flesh, and the flesh of mankind could not be filled with the Holy Spirit. Neither could our bodies be temples of the Holy Spirit. The Gnostic goal was to separate spirit from flesh, whereas the biblical goal is to be filled with the Spirit, merging the Spirit with human flesh.
The Hebrew, biblical goal is for the material world (and human flesh) to glorify God and to manifest the Holy Spirit in all things. The goal is for the glory of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. This is the core of biblical teaching about the feast of Tabernacles. But the Gnostic goal is for the spirit in humanity to be separated, in order to live in heaven apart from an “evil” material body.
The Gnostic view is based on the widespread Greek view that attributed the work of creation to the devil. This view was perhaps the most widespread blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in the first century. Through Gnosticism, which secretly infiltrated the Church, it has continued to work its leaven in the Church throughout the centuries.
The point is that if most Greeks believed that the earth was created by the devil, then who among them could be “forgiven” of their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Yet we see that many Greeks were converted to Christ. How do they differ from the Pharisees who were guilty of the same blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? The only answer, as I see it, is that the Pharisees knew better and yet blasphemed deliberately. The Greeks believed what they had been taught since childhood and blasphemed without realizing it until they received the light of the gospel of Christ.
For this reason, I believe that God looks at the intent of the heart. There is indeed forgiveness for inadvertent blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But there comes a point when men see the light and reject it, preferring to blaspheme the Holy Spirit than to admit their own error. That is the moment, known only to God, when He holds men fully liable.