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The unforgivable / eternal / unpardonable sin

Does it really exist?
Is it truly permanent?

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Does a truly unforgivable sin exist?

Ron Graham of Simply Christians Australia notes that the terms "unforgivable sin" and "unpardonable sin" do not exist in the Bible. Thus, salvation is permanent: once saved, always saved.

He cites Mark 3:29 which says:

"... whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." (Revised Standard Version), or

"... he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation" (King James Version)

Note that the penalty -- guilt of sin or danger of damnation -- is different in these two translations.

He suggests that this passage, and others in the Bible, refer to an unforgiven sin, but not necessarily a totally unforgivable sin. He writes:

"Jesus spoke of sin that is 'unforgiven' and 'never forgiven.' He did not say it was unforgivable. Just as we do not assume that an unloved boy is unlovable, or an unused tool is unusable, so we should not say that an unforgiven sin is unforgivable. When Jesus calls a sin unforgiven, even when he says it can never be forgiven, let us not put words into his mouth and call the sin unforgivable 1

Graham may have a point. It can be argued that The Revised Standard Version of Mark 3:29a could be interpreted as saying that someone blaspheming against the Holy Spirit never has had forgiveness. But the sinner could conceivably be granted forgiveness in the future. Mark 3:29b may imply that he/she may still be guilty of an eternal sin, but that guilt could be eventually be forgiven.

Mark 3:29a's wording in the King James Version and in the Revised Standard Version are identical. Mark 3:29b might be interpreted as saying that the sinner is "in danger of eternal damnation." However, damnation is not necessarily certain. There might be some wiggle room here.

A search of the King James Version of the New Testament reveals:

bullet17 occurrences in the Gospels of the word "forgive" and 5 of "forgiveness" (not including Mark 3:29), 13 occurrences of "forgiven" (not including the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke.
 
bullet3 occurrences in 2 Corinthians of "forgive"
 
bullet2 occurrences in Acts of "forgiveness" and 1 of "forgiven"
 
bullet1 occurrence in 1 John of "forgive," in Ephesians of "forgiveness" and Colossians of "forgiveness"
 
bullet5 occurrences in various Epistles of "forgiven" and 2 of "forgiving"

With over 50 references to the concept of forgiving in the Christian Scriptures, one might conclude that forgiveness is a major theme throughout. God forgives humans for their sins, and urges humans to do the same to each other.

If Christians adopted Graham's interpretation, then Mark 3:29 and the two parallels in Matthew and Luke would no longer appear to conflict so radically with the rest of the Christian Scriptures.

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Is it permanently unforgivable?

Matthew 12:31-32 ends with the statement attributed to Jesus that "... whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come." (ASV)

Some theologians have suggested that Jesus was speaking during the Jewish Age, and that his reference to the world to come is to the today's Christian Age. This passage remains silent about forgiveness after the Christian Age, in our future.

If forgiveness were extended to sinners of the unforgivable sin in the future, then the three Gospel passages on this sin would be brought into harmony with the general theme of forgiveness found elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures.

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Ron Graham, "The Unforgivable Sin," (2005) at: http://members.datafast.net.au/

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Copyright © 2006 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2006-OCT-25
Latest update: 2013-JUN-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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