Investigating the Bible: What is the one sin that’s unforgivable?


A Sunday school teacher asked his class of 6-year-old boys if any of them knew the difference between a mistake and a sin. One his students volunteered this: “I think if I hit my sister, it’s a mistake. But if I kick the dog, it’s a sin.”

Some of us adults have similar issues with minimizing our own shortcomings. However, some fear they are permanently damaged goods who cannot be fixed and their sins are unforgivable. This was the belief of one of the twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot. He decided he had committed an unforgivable sin after he betrayed Jesus. He went to the Jewish authorities, who had arrested Jesus, and said. “‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and he went out and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:4-5, English Standard Version used throughout.) Judas had committed a great sin, but even that sin could have been forgiven. Suicide was not the solution.

Another disciple also sinned greatly against Jesus. While Jesus was in custody, Peter was in the courtyard, where he was asked three times if he knew Jesus.

As Jesus had predicted, each time Peter denied he ever knew him. “And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26:75. Not long afterward, Peter was forgiven and became the rock-solid foundation of the church.

Jewish authorities twice commanded that Peter stop preaching about Jesus. He didn’t, saying, “… The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5: 29-31).

Jesus taught that there is only one sin that is unforgivable. “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32). The context before that quote helps us understand what Jesus meant.

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of healing a man with a withered hand by the power of Satan. Jesus had explained, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28). The Pharisees had spoken against the Holy Spirit by denying the healing power of Jesus, who was filled with the Holy Spirit. They would not even consider that Jesus could be doing the work of God. They assumed that he was a fraud and his every act was interpreted with that bias. In doing so, they shut any door of forgiveness and blinded their eyes to seeing the power of God in Jesus.

Forgiveness begins with the recognition that one must be forgiven. The Pharisees and other religious leaders were like men and women after a sumptuous meal with no hunger. The ministry of Jesus was for those who recognized their need and hungered for forgiveness. He explained why he ate with tax collectors and sinners, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick … For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13).

Judas decided no one, not even God, could forgive his great sin. The Pharisees and Sadducees decided they had earned righteousness before God. Both were wrong.

Today, the clear sign that a person has not committed an unforgivable sin is their fear that they may have committed an unforgivable sin. Like Peter, God’s forgiveness is available to anyone who asks.

David Carlson Pastor (yes, that is his last name but not his profession) is an Oregon resident and graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in Minnesota (M.Div., M.Th.)


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