Blasphemy

Preaching and Worship Resources about Blasphemy

Blasphemy is defamation of God, whether by direct or indirect assault on God's holiness.

In Scripture

"One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death" (Lev. 24:16).

"I have told [Eli] that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them" (1 Sam. 3:13).

"How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever?" (Ps. 74:10).

"[Jesus] was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, `Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?' Jesus said, `I am; and

"you will see the Son of Manseated at the right hand of the Power,"and "coming with the clouds of heaven."'

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, `Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?' All of them condemned him as deserving death' (Mark 14:61 - 64).

"Just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, `Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.' Then some of the scribes said to themselves, `This man is blaspheming'" (Matt. 9:2 - 3).

"I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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" (Matt. 12:31 - 32).

"The Jews answered, `It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God'" (John 10:33).

"The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, `It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles'" (Acts 13:44 - 46).

"You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, `The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'" (Rom. 2:23 - 24).

Points to Ponder

Direct slander or defamation: In its rawest form, blasphemy is direct slander or defamation or dishonoring of God's holiness, i.e., God's moral purity and uniqueness as the Ultimate Being. For example, someone might say that God is the most malicious and corrupt figure in ancient fiction. The accusation attributes to God both evil and unreality. One often detects in blasphemy something much more personal than indifference toward God. To some, God is more an enemy than a mere fiction. And it's easy to see the root of the enmity: If God is real, then God is our boss. To autonomous, self-ruling human beings this idea is an insult — hence the bite in their attitude toward God. They bitterly reject the notion that the universe is such that they are not their own rulers and lawgivers.

The death penalty for blasphemy (Lev. 24) sounds harsh to modern ears. It is harsh. But consider that God was Israel's champion and king. God was their savior and provider. To insult God was to injure Israel's only source of life and hope. Understandably, Israel considered blasphemy to be a grave national threat, almost a form of suicide. What if the blasphemed God were to withdraw or turn hostile?

Challenging God's uniqueness: One can blaspheme by asserting that God is corrupt. This is an assault on God's moral purity. But one can also blaspheme by challenging God's divine uniqueness. This is why in Matthew 9, Mark 14, and John 10, Jesus' religious enemies condemn Jesus to death. He claims for himself special, even divine status, therefore (to his critics) rejecting God's unassailable uniqueness. To them, Jesus' blasphemy may have been indirect, but it was also unpardonable. Who but God can forgive third-party sins? Who but God can name his Messiah? Who is equal to God but God? Because Jesus could plausibly be understood to identify himself as forgiver, Messiah, and equal to God, his enemies invoked the old Levitical law to condemn him.

The unforgivable sin: In Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:28, and Luke 12:10, Jesus identifies blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as the unforgiveable sin. Centuries of Christians have tussled with this idea. Why is the Holy Spirit seemingly more sacred and therefore worse to blaspheme than the Father or the Son? And what, exactly, does blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consist of? Various speculations have been offered. But a rough consensus centers on the context in Matthew 12, where Jesus' religious enemies accuse him of exorcism by the power of the devil: "`It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons'" (Matt. 12:24). Jesus' enemies (they call him "this fellow") attribute Jesus' life-giving work to the power of evil within him, but Jesus says he exorcises by the power of "the Spirit of God." This is a crux. Is it good or evil within Jesus that powers his work? Jesus considers this question to be central because his enemies' perversion, if persistent, renders them impervious to the recognition of the kingdom of God drawing near in Jesus' work, and therefore impervious to forgiveness. "It is the ultimate defiance, the ultimate lie, the ultimate paradox, which leads to the ultimate judgment."

Any form of lawbreaking: Finally, it's sobering to recognize that by the time Paul writes to the Romans, blasphemy is conceived as any form of lawbreaking. The law is, after all, God's law, God's command, God's will for human life. To break it is to disrespect God. This puts all of us at risk of blasphemy. And if we imagine God's law as interpreted by, say, the Heidelberg Catechism, the bar gets very high for our behavior. The Catechism interprets the ninth commandment, for example, to forbid not only bearing false witness in court, but also much else: I must "twist no one's words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause" (Q&A 112). Imagine Christians in contemporary political debate. No gossiping? No slander? No twisting of anyone's words? No joining a political condemnation without a hearing or just cause? We may have been merrily blaspheming away almost every day, and without any pause or any twinge of conscience.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.