The Unforgivable Sin: Mark 3:20-30


He came home. Again (the) crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus is again confronted; by the scribes this time. It’s not about doing good “works” on the sabbath, no not this time. It’s not about what  He is doing but, about who  He is!

First we see, that He has come back home, and that His relatives are ready to seize Him. Why? …for they said, “He is out of His mind.” Evidently, they had been listening to the scribes who came down from Jerusalem, for they were the ones saying Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul, and that by the prince of demons he drives out demons. All this, sets the stage for Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin .

There are a few interpretations of these verses that merit deeper study. They explain on different levels this blasphemy, and it’s affects on us.

The most common interpretation of this text today, is that this unforgivable sin  is the total rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

1864
“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.

We see from the text itself though, that this unforgivable sin  is connected with something a little bit different – for St. Mark adds; For they [scribes] had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Thus this verse can also be interpreted as attributing the power of God, to the power of Satan. This is the charge that Jesus responds to in the last part of the parable[s].

But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.

But, the main point of this text may be lost, if we simply glance at  it and not dig into  it. Division is opposed to unity. Even Satan’s house, in it’s evilness, could not remain without unity. For, if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. This brings us to an interpretation by St. Augustine, from Book IV, Sermon XXI, [LXXI.BEN] in paragraph 35.

“Not that this is a blasphemy which shall not be forgiven, forasmuch as even this shall be forgiven, if a right repentance follow it; but because, as I have said, there arose hence a cause for that sentence to be delivered by the Lord, since mention had been made of the unclean spirit whom the Lord shows to be divided against Himself, because of the Holy Spirit who is not only not divided against Himself, but who also makes those whom He gathers together undivided, by forgiving those sins which are divided against themselves, and by inhabiting those who are cleansed, that it may be with them, as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul,” (Acts 4:32).”

An affront to the Triune God who is prefectly united, is the disunity of His people. St. Augustine goes on to explain in paragraph 36:

“But in this passage according to Matthew (12:32), the Lord far more plainly explained what He intended to be understood here; namely that he who speaks a word against the Holy Spirit, who with an impenitent heart resist the Unity of the Church, where in the Holy Spirit is given the remission of sins. For this Spirit they have not, as has been said already, who even though they bear and handle the sacraments of Christ, are seperated from His congregation.”

So indeed, a house divided against itself, as Jesus said, shall surely fall. Yet, there was only the Catholic Church in St. Augustine’s day. What about today? There are tens of thousands of denominations that indeed call themselves Christian, yet are seperated from the Catholic Church. What about them?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this perplexing question this way:

“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
 
 
 
 846
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

    Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
847
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.
848
“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
Often misunderstood by Protestants and Catholics alike is this: The Church is the messenger of the Gospel of Christ. Whether you heard and responded to the Gospel in a Baptist church, a Lutheran church or the Catholic Church, this Gospel was delivered by Christ to the Apostles for the Church to proclaim. So all (true Christian) churches proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ; born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, died, and was burried, and on the third day, rose again conqurering death and sin.

So in this vein, let us realize our unity. That even within our differences, God can and will unite what man in his sin has strained, or even ruptured. For the Church is a Divine institution, as well as a human one and within whichever ecclesial communion we are placed, their should be unity. Again the Catechism of the Catholic Church understands this, and therefore states:

838

“The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”

So this week, let us think about unity, and how we as believers, can demonstrate to one another, not to mention a lost world, the power of unity with the Holy Spirit. Let’s be instruments for our churches to work together for the betterment of society (as in the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy) as well as in our families. Fathers working in unity with their wives, and vice versa. Children with their parents and parents with their children, working together in love to live in the truth of Christ’s calling.

Can you think of other ways we could be showing the unity of Christ? I would love to hear them, and I’m sure others would, too. Now, let us go and serve our  Lord!

Amen.

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8 Responses

  1. Well said and explained.
    Amy

  2. Thank you, Amy.

  3. Tim,

    Regarding this quote:

    “This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

    Am I to understand this to mean that a person who has never heard the gospel and never made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ but who has made an honest striving toward God, can (according to the Catholic Church) still be saved?

    Also, can you explain what is meant by “properly baptized” in your quote of the catechism (section 838)?

    Finally, being ignorant of most Catholic publications, when was this catechism published?

    Thanks,
    Carl

  4. Sure Carl,

    Before I get into all that though, thanks for the visit and the comment. Feel free to check everything out. I was once a Protestant, too. I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. I have my entire conversion story here, if you really, really get bored one day! 🙂

    Anyway,

    The Church is very careful not to declare whether a person is in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. That is God’s judgement alone. The Church does however, possess the authority (from Jesus of course) to declare some saints who have entered into Heaven. Having said that, The Church entrusts each soul to the mercy of God; from aborted babies, to Hitler himself.

    This understanding is developed from the teaching of Sacred Scripture in Acts chapter 10. This is, of course, the story of Cornelius’ conversion. The set-up is much too long, so I’ll shorten it a bit.

    Cornelius is described in verse 2 as “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually.” Well, he sees a vision of an angel and is told to send for Simon (Peter). He does and when Peter arrives, he says he started not to come, but the Lord told him nothing was unclean, and Cornelius gives him his story and Peter says to him in verse 34-35, “” And opening his mouth, Peter said: I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.

    It’s all God’s mercy and grace that saves us to begin with, and those who have never had an opportunity to hear what His Church teaches, the Church prays that God have mercy on their souls.

    Properly baptized refers to 2 things:
    1.)The use of water, and
    2.) baptizing “IN the name of The Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ” as commanded by Jesus in Matt. 28:19 and as the early Church describes it in the Didache:

    PART 2. A CHURCH MANUAL

    Of Baptism

    7. The procedure for baptizing is as follows. After repeating all that has
    been said, immerse in running water “In the Name of the Father, and of the
    Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. If no running water is available, immerse in
    ordinary water. This should be cold if possible; otherwise warm. If
    neither is practicable, then pour water three times on the head “In the
    Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. Both baptizer
    and baptized ought to fast before the baptism, as well as any others who
    can do so; but the candidate himself should be told to keep a fast for a
    day or two beforehand.

    The copy of The Catechism of the Catholic Church I have and quote from was published in 1994.

    I hope that helps your understanding of Catholic theology and thought.

    Thanks again for coming to visit! Come back anytime!

    Tim

  5. Tim,

    Thanks for making a Protestant feel welcome 🙂 You are certainly making me amend my thinking on Catholics in general. Most of the Catholics I know are either Protestant ex-Catholics or lukewarm Catholics at best (not “bad” people, just not committed to learnign about the faith they profess). I wonder if your fervency has anything to do with being a Catholic convert rather than growing up in the church…anyway.

    Thanks for the explanations. I do have one teency-eency little question. I can appreciate the part about reserving judgment about the state of people’s salvation. No one but God knows the state of a person’s soul. My favorite example of that is to suppose someone were to go back in time to see King David during his Bathsheba days. If all you knew about David was his adultery with Bathsheba and his complicity in Uriah’s murder, you would conclude he’s a sinner going straight to hell. Our judgment is limited and sketchy at best.

    Anyway, my question: The reference to Cornelius isn’t really a good example of someone who has never heard of Christ, is it? True he was a “true seeker,” but he didn’t die that way. We don’t have to wonder about his state of salvation because as a result of his honesy seeking, the Lord providentially arranged for Cornelius to hear the gospel from Peter. Cornelius made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and was baptized. Therefore, I contend this isn’t a good example of “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

    Blessings,
    Carl

  6. Carl, I’m glad you feel welcome here. As a former Baptist, I guess I can work both sides of the aisle! 🙂

    As to your question: you are correct that he didn’t die that way (as in never hearing the gospel) for we are told Peter does that when he arrives.

    Let us think for a moment, reflecting back on verse 2; what if God hadn’t sent Peter to Cornelius? Would a man worshipping the true God in the wrong way be condemned? Just as God’s choise of Israel to be His people didn’t mean He withheld His divine favor from other people; Is not the mission of the Church the same as that of Israel? As Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, so the Church is to be the “light of the world.” Was all outside of Israel condemned to hell?

    What if we’d never heard the story of Rahab? She had heard of the mighty deeds of God, but she wouldn’t have had the way of knowing how to worship Him, and by that I mean, she wouldn’t have had the “law” of God perse, but a conscience awareness of right and wrong. How many other Rahab’s are there throughout history? How many Cornelius’ who didn’t have a Peter to respond?

    However these people may be “saved,” it is only through Jesus Christ that they can be “saved.” As II Peter 3:9 states, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

    Don’t get me wrong, this ain’t that universal salvation heresy, where everyone ends up in heaven no matter what. There are just some situations, in which only God knows, that those who haven’t heard the Gospel, yet “fears” the true God and does what is right, is acceptable or welcome by Him” Acts 10:35.

    So I would contend that it’s a good example, if looked at in this way.

    Some things are way beyond our judgement, and better left to God’s judgment.

    Does that make sense?

    And by the way, I’m thankful for the Baptist tradition in which I was raised, it provided me a great love of Scripture and an understanding of a personal relationship with Jesus, that I think a lot of Catholics lack. I’m glad that God is using me to “amend” your thinking of Catholics. I enjoy our dialogues.

    Peace to you, Carl.

  7. i was wondering i cursed the holyspirit by saying he gets its powers from satan that means is not that god wont forgive me?? but he will if i repent is this right please say yes and explain to me 🙂

    your erik linerc@peoplepc.com

  8. Lincoln,
    We have all cursed God at one time, or in one way or another. If you repented, from your heart, and have turned away from cursing God to praising Him and sharing Him with others – revealing His love through you – then I would say, “Yes, you’ve been forgiven.”

    Let us go now, and sin no more.

    Have a blessed Advent season.

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