What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Blasphemy is the act of expressing a lack of reverence for God.
Surprisingly, blasphemy is still technically a civil crime in some U.S. states and in Britain. However, we understand that, with each passing year and the steep slide in morals, both charges and convictions of the crime of blasphemy have become fewer and fewer until today they are virtually nonexistent.
Swear Not at All!
This commandment requires serious reflection. Like the second, it includes a warning that God will not hold us guiltless. It seems that sometimes God deliberately understates things for subtle emphasis and to ultimately magnify the meaning.
To understand this commandment better, we need to explain four words:
Take, throughout the Old Testament, is translated into English from seventy-four different Hebrew words. This one means "to lift up," "bear," "carry," "use," and "appropriate."
Vain has the sense of "desolating"; "that which lacks reality, purpose, value, or truth." It may also be translated "lying," "false," "worthless," "profane," "foolish," "reproachful," "curse," "blaspheme," or "useless."
Guiltless means "free," "clear," "innocent," "clean," "blameless," "unpunished."
Name means "a mark or sign standing out"; "a word by which a person, place or thing is distinctively known." Its Hebrew root denotes "high," "elevated," "a monument." It indicates majesty or excellence. A name identifies, signifies, and specifies.
This commandment has nothing to do with the proper pronunciation of God's name, which no one knows anyway since it was lost in antiquity. It has nothing to do with superstition or magical uses of a name. Its application is far broader.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)
This is the unpardonable sin. It says if a Christian commits blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, there is no forgiveness for it. What does He mean? He is pronouncing the terrible fate of those who choose the wrong side. If we blaspheme the Spirit of God, which is God's power and the agency by which He works, we have determined that God has no power. This is, of course, a lie, because, as He just explained in the Parable of the Strong Man (Matthew 12:29), God is the most powerful Being.
If we deny God's power, it is denying God Himself. He says a person can blaspheme the Son of God, but try blaspheming God's power! Doing so makes Him into something else—it changes His nature (Romans 1:22-23)—and that is unforgivable. So we must choose our side carefully, because if we blaspheme what God is able to do, guess where we end up? In the Lake of Fire.
There is more to the unpardonable sin, but this is part of it.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
This transgression is commonly called “the unpardonable sin,” something so grave that it will not be forgiven, either in the present age or in the next one, even though God is normally eager to forgive.
Blasphemy is not talked about much these days, since our culture cares little about the things of God. The word “blasphemy” comes from two roots that together mean “injurious speaking.” Granted, speaking (or writing) that causes injury is quite common these days, but blasphemy belongs in a separate category because it has God or something sacred as its target. Thus, blasphemy is “a dishonoring of God or sacred things,” whether done deliberately or not.
Jesus' words in Matthew 12 are a strong enough warning by themselves, but the parallel account in Mark 3:29 makes the consequences of this even more plain: “He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (emphasis added).
The wider context of these verses helps us to understand this stark warning, beginning in Matthew 12:22 with Christ healing a demon-possessed blind-mute. Because of the Pharisees' hard hearts, they would not accept that this had been done through the power of the Holy Spirit, so they tried to diminish this work of God by claiming it was performed by the power of Satan.
In verse 33, Jesus says to evaluate a matter based on the fruit that is produced. The Pharisees should have been able to see the supremely positive fruit that He was producing, and at the same time, He was pointing out that the fruit they were producing was rotten. In verses 34-35, their speaking evil against the power of God reflected the evil in their own hearts. While the Pharisees belittled the miracle that had just taken place, Jesus says in verse 36 that even idle or careless words must be accounted for in the Day of Judgment. Verse 37 warns that our words will either justify us or condemn us, putting the Pharisees on thin ice.
Notice, though, that He does not state directly that these Pharisees had committed the unpardonable sin. They did commit blasphemy serious enough to evoke a thunderous warning, but it appears that Jesus may have made some allowance for the Pharisees because, in His taking on the form of a bondservant (Philippians 2:7), they were confused about who He was. His true identity as the Son of God had not been revealed to them (as it had been to the disciples; Matthew 16:16-17), so He declared that they could be forgiven the blasphemous things they said about Him. He did not mean that blasphemy or other sins are no big deal, but rather that it is possible for those things to be forgiven upon repentance, in contrast to a transgression that cannot be forgiven at all.
Remember, the Pharisees triggered this warning by attributing the outworking of God to the Lord of Flies (Beelzebub). It included a rejection of God's nature, power, and activity. The conversation between Christ and Nicodemus shows that some of the Pharisees would acknowledge that Jesus was a Teacher sent by God (John 3:1-2). Yet, Matthew 12:14 states that these Pharisees were plotting against Him, so they had malicious intent.
Even so, a measure of ignorance remained. Paul says in I Corinthians 2:8 that if the rulers of the age—which would include the Pharisees—had full comprehension, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. Despite their attitudes approaching the point where they would be unable to repent, their lack of full comprehension of who they were opposing meant that repentance could still be possible once their eyes are opened. Due to their ignorance, they were not guilty of conscious rejection of the Spirit of the Most High God.
David C. Grabbe
What Is Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
The woman in the Parable of the Leaven is interesting because in all the other parables a man is the main character. What is "a woman" in Scripture?
In Revelation 12, a woman is symbolic of the nation of Israel, and in Revelation 17 and 18 she represents the false system of Babylon. In Isaiah 47, a woman is again symbolic of Babylon (whether the nation or the system of Babylon). In Galations 4:21-31, Paul uses "women" to symbolize the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In Ezekiel 16, God uses a woman to symbolize Israel: "Aholah" is the kingdom of Israel and "Aholibah" is the kingdom of Judah.
What can we understand from this? Every time a woman is used as a symbol, the common denominator is the idea of a system of beliefs and practices that influence other people. A church or religion is a system of beliefs and practices. A nation has a character and way of doing things. This world as a whole has a system of beliefs and practices that go contrary to God. To find out what kind of system is being referred to, we must look at the context to see how the system works, how it reacts, and what it does.
What are the characteristics of this woman in the parable? First, she took leaven. This is the common word used to mean "to come into possession of." It is a common Greek word, but it can also have the connotation of "to seize," "to take by force." The text does not say which connotation is correct here.
The next verb is "hid" (Greek, enkrupto), an interesting word. It means "to hide in" or "to mix." Enkrupto is used only this way here. Enkrupto is the same word from which we get our word "encrypt." A general tells his lieutenant, "Encrypt this message and take it to the colonel at the front line." What does the lieutenant do when he encrypts it? He mixes up the letters according to a code, and only a person with the key to the encryption knows what the message is saying.
The root word for enkrupto is krupto, which means "to cover, to conceal, to keep secret." Its major connotation is "to be sneaky" or "to be secret, covert, or surreptitious." It seems from the usage of these words that this woman is up to no good whatsoever. First, she takes something, then she hides it. She is a bad lady, a bad system.
She hides the leaven "in three measures of meal." That Jesus uses the very phrase "three measures of meal" is quite interesting—and it is a key, because this told His Jewish audience something that He did not have to explain, as they were familiar with it. It was a normal practice and meant something to them.
It has been suggested that He used this amount because it is the average quantity of meal a housewife would employ in her daily baking. This suggestion is pretty ridiculous when we consider that three measures of meal equal about two gallons of meal (7.3 liters)! That seems like a lot of bread each day.
An average loaf of bread contains about three cups of flour. Two gallons of meal, which is the equivalent of about eight quarts or thirty-two cups, would make nearly eleven loaves! Even the most bread-gorging family on this earth would not eat eleven loaves each day. Normally, one loaf would suffice for one person for a day, if he ate nothing else. Jesus, then, is probably speaking of a special occasion.
Genesis 18 contains the first biblical usage of "three measures of meal." This is the occasion when the One who became Jesus Christ and two angels came to Abraham, and he made them a meal. Jesus tells him in verse 5, "Go ahead and make a meal." "So Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal'" (Genesis 18:6).
What was "three measures of meal"? There is a principle of Bible study (the law of first mention) that says, "The first time a thing—a word, a phrase—is mentioned in the Bible influences how it should be interpreted throughout." Here, "three measures of meal" is used in the context of a fellowship meal—giving hospitality, in this case, to God—so it has a spiritual connotation.
The law of grain offerings in Numbers 15:8-9 provides some instruction. We need to learn a little bit about Israelite dry measures. The smallest unit of measure is an omer. Three omers equal one about one seah. This seah is what is translated "measure" in Matthew 13:33, except it is in Greek saton. There is also the ephah, which is ten omers. Three seahs made up of about three omers equal one ephah. These verses show that the smallest meal offering that could be given was one seah, one-third of an ephah. It had to be of fine flour. Abraham gave three seahs, three measures. He went above and beyond what was required for the meal offering.
Judges 6:18-19 shows Gideon's offering to the Lord. How much did he give? Gideon gave an ephah, three measures of meal. I Samuel 1:24 tells of Hannah's thank offering. How much? Hannah's offering was one ephah, three measures of meal. In Ezekiel 45:24 and 46:5, 7, 11 are the offerings given at the Feast during the Millennium. How much is given? An ephah, three measures of meal, is given.
With these examples in mind, we can understand that Christ's use of this phrase would have made His Jewish audience think immediately of the meal offering in Leviticus 2, and they would have been absolutely shocked out of their shoes to find that someone had the audacity, the blasphemy, to put leaven in a meal offering! That was not kosher! It simply was not done! A person who did so could expect to be zapped by the next lightning bolt out of heaven. It was sin. What, then, would the normal Jew have thought? He would have understood immediately that the Kingdom of Heaven would be subverted. Something good had been corrupted.
"Three measures of meal," the meal offering, represents the offerer's service and devotion to fellowman, and it is typified by what Christ did throughout His whole life by offering Himself in service to fellowman. Symbolically, it represents the second great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." It is devoted service toward others.
If "three measures of meal" represents our love, service, and devotion to fellowman, this parable warns us that the false system will make a concerted and covert effort to corrupt the true church through false doctrine aimed at how we treat each other. It will lunge directly at the church's jugular—how we treat one another.
The "three measures of meal" represents the church's teachings. This squares with our understanding of what Christ is. He is the Word, and one of His titles is "the Bread of life." The church's teachings come from the Word of God, which is our daily bread. Fine meal is the major component of bread. Satan would try to corrupt the word, the teaching, so that church members would not treat each other well, offend one another, and maybe some would lose their salvation.
And the woman succeeds! Jesus says, ". . . till it was all leavened!" Sobering, is it not?
The church has been fairly successful in guarding the major doctrines that have to do with its identity: the Sabbath, the nature of God, the identity of Israel, the holy days, God's plan. Where has the church shown its greatest weakness? In the area of personal relationships. What do we hear about among and within the congregations? Distrust, offense, marriage problems, disunity, selfishness, gossip, rumor, tale-bearing, judging and condemning, comparing ourselves among ourselves, giving place to wrath, etc. These are the works of the flesh—they reflect how we treat one another. All of these are part of the meal offering—our service and devotion to each other. In these areas we need to focus our greatest attention, overcoming how we treat each other, growing in our devotion and service. We must get along with one another as God intends, or we might not be around to enter His Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
The first parable in the chapter concerns the response of people hearing the Word of the Kingdom. Only those who hear and understand it respond in a positive and sustained manner (Matthew 13:23). The eighth parable also hinges on understanding. Jesus prefaces it with the question, “Have you understood all these things?” After the disciples respond that they have, He proceeds with the final teaching of the occasion, the responsibility of “every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven.”
In general, the scribes of Jesus' day were negative figures, despite the office itself being an honorable one. The term “scribe” (or “secretary”) could refer to any official writer. The first usage dates to the administration of King David (II Samuel 8:17). The role of scribe began with those skilled in writing—and more importantly, recording accurately—but it took on additional significance under Ezra, “a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given” (Ezra 7:6; emphasis ours). Because the scribes were responsible for accurately copying the Scriptures, they knew well what the Scriptures said. They thus became teachers of the law.
The gospel writers frequently group the scribes with the Pharisees and priests because they had become part of the apostate religious leadership of Christ's day. They also frequently opposed Jesus and His teaching, as human traditions had infused their learning and methods of interpretation. Those who should have known the Scriptures best—and recognized the Scriptures' Author and Object—were as unseeing as the other religious leaders.
Jesus does not apply the eighth parable to all scribes but specifically to those instructed in things related to the Kingdom. To paraphrase this parable, every teacher of God's instructions who is a disciple of the Kingdom is like the head of a family—the master of a house—who “brings forth” out of his “treasure”—or more properly, out of his “treasury” or storeroom. What is this treasury? This parable builds on the previous chapter, where Jesus castigates the Pharisees for their blasphemous words in attributing His power to Satan. Jesus responds, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35).
The Pharisees had generated evil things—blasphemy—from their treasuries, their hearts. In contrast, a scribe who is a true disciple of the Kingdom will deliver good things out of his heart. These things will be “new and old.” What is in view are new things in terms of character or quality (kainos). For instance, the New Covenant is not new simply in terms of time (neos) but is of a completely different—higher—quality than the preceding covenant with Israel (Hebrews 8:6-7).
Therefore, the disciple-scribe will bring forth from his heart—from his God-given understanding—both what has come before and what is new in clarity and righteous application. This reinforces Jesus' earlier declaration that He had not come to destroy or abolish the law but to fulfill it by demonstrating its intent in His life (Matthew 5:17-19). After His resurrection, He “opened [the disciples'] understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45; see also verse 27). With inspired understanding, the disciple-scribe will maintain the instruction given in the “Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44), but he will also distill its intent.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Four)
First, note the sign He gave them and all those who claim to follow Jesus: Our Savior keeps the Sabbath. Second, the more arresting sign, everyone in the synagogue understood His reading from Isaiah 61:1-3 to refer to the Messiah's responsibilities, and Jesus boldly stated, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” By this, He claimed divine anointing (messiah means “anointed”), and He declared that He would set them free from what held them in bondage, another sign of the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph and Mary—the Man who lived next door, as it were—announced with beautiful words and great conviction that He was the Messiah.
For this reason, the townspeople quickly turned against Him and attempted to kill Him by casting Him off a cliff. To them, His words were blasphemous, making Him deserving of death. God spared Him, but three-and-a-half years later, the Jews insisted that Pilate crucify Him on the same basic charge.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Eleven): Signs
2 Thessalonians 2:4
This man is so egotistical that he becomes the enemy of everything worshipped as god. He even sets himself up in the Temple of God. Why does he do this? To receive the recognition that he feels is his due. There are several clues here that help us to identify this person further. The first is that he exalts himself above every so-called god. Notice what this same apostle says in another place:
For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods, and many lords), yet for us [Christians] there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (I Corinthians 8:5-6)
What we have clarified, when compared to II Thessalonians 2:4, is that there is, in reality, only one God. But there are many so-called gods—that is, demons or inanimate objects that people worship as gods. The man of sin exalts himself over the true God and the so-called gods. When this is compared with the last clause, "he sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God," there is no other honest conclusion that can be reached but that this is the Temple in Jerusalem.
The apostle is using language that is in no way figurative. Everything that has been given so far, as part of this sign, is literal. The man is literal, the falling away is literal, and are we now asked to suspend that literality and believe that the Temple is suddenly figurative? That the Temple is the church?
The temple is located in Jerusalem, which is the focal point of three religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This means the man of sin will play a prominent role in the city of Jerusalem—which is real and literal—in the future, which emphasizes that these are events of worldwide significance. The contrast the apostle makes is between this man, who exalts himself against so-called gods, and the wretched blasphemy of comparing himself as greater than the Reality, God Himself.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 3)
2 Timothy 3:1-5
Just as the signs of Matthew 24 give us indications of the last days, so do the attitudes listed here by Paul. He says, "Know this!" because it is important in identifying the signs of the times. When he finishes with his litany, he writes, "Have nothing to do with such attitudes!"
Unfortunately, we can see these attitudes in today's youth. This discourse does not intend to ridicule but to analyze them. Nor does it intend to paint everyone between 15 and 35 with the same brush. Many do not fit the general type, but it may be surprising to learn how many of this world's attitudes have rubbed off on us and our families.
According to the authors of the book, 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, everyone born between 1961-1981 belongs to the 13th Generation, the thirteenth since the birth of the eldest of America's Founding Fathers (e.g., Benjamin Franklin). The authors, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, admit that their findings are generalities. Not every person fits the mold of a 13er, as they call members of this generation, but 13ers typically follow certain trends, attitudes and ways of thinking.
Sadly, II Timothy 3 lists many of them. Here are some examples of how these attitudes appear in society today:
Lovers of Themselves
This attitude heads the list because it is the root cause of all the others. We could also use the terms "selfish," "self-centered," and "self-absorbed." These are the young people of "Beverly Hills, 90210," "The Cosby Show," and "The Simpsons." Their selfishness has many different facets:
Clothing: the grunge look, the 70's-retro look, the designer-GQ-Mademoiselle look.
Body Sculpting: steroids for bulking up and anorexia/bulimia for slimming down.
Body Accessories: rings in the ears, nose, navel, nipples, tongue, lips, eyebrows, and other places; tattooing.
A Soaring Suicide Rate: Suicide is a totally self-centered act. Tragically, 10% of adolescent boys and 18% of adolescent girls admit they have attempted suicide, and one million of them succeeded. In the 13er movie Heathers, a teacher says, "Whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make."
Lovers of Money
David Leavitt, a 13er writing in Esquire, reasons, "It's okay to be selfish, as long as you're up front about it. . . . We trust ourselves, and money. Period." Their greed has put many of them into debt. Two 13ers, Anne Gowen and Sean Piccoli, write about their contemporaries in a Washington Times article, "A Generation Lost in Time":
They are little Drexel Burnhams, little S&Ls: free-spending in the '80s, when they got their first taste of plastic; broke now. . . . Their parents are like ATMs, hit up regularly to pay for plane tickets and help tame credit-card debt.
Daniel Smith-Rowsey, a 13er, brags in Newsweek:
We're street smart, David Letterman clever, whizzes at Nintendo. We can name more beers than Presidents. Pop culture is, to us, more attractive than education.
In fact, the authors of 13th Gen say that 13ers proudly think of themselves as the "clean up" generation, out to right the wrongs and clean up the messes of their elders. "We're not trying to change things. We're trying to fix things. We are the generation that is going to renovate America. We are going to be its carpenters and janitors," says 21-year-old Anne McCord of Portland, Oregon.
Modern Bible translations render this word as "railers," "defamers," "abusive," "contemptuous," and "given to bitter words." Who do 13ers rail against, defame, and abuse? Baby Boomers, who, they say, ruined everything for them. One 13er vents:
Drugs, crime, sexual diseases and family stress is all stuff you [Baby Boomers] blame us for, when you are the ones that raised them all to an art form. You blame young folks for having no concept of the higher ideals in life, when you're the ones who trashed most of them. . . . Your gnatlike attention span has produced a culture of ideas that is far junkier than any video game we could ever waste an hour playing.
Disobedient to Parents
Some translations read, "disrespectful to parents." Growing up, this generation faced the highest divorce and abortion rates ever in America. They were the latchkey kids whom the television baby-sat. Their parents indulged them with expensive clothes, cars, stereos, and games because they felt guilty for spending so little time with them. As a result, most 13ers have no respect for parents, and many feel they know more and are more mature.
13ers appreciate neither what their parents have provided for them nor the tried-and-true methods for prosperity that have a long and successful history. Howe and Strauss write:
Twenty years ago, the biggest fights between adolescents and their parents were over global "values" involving politics, war, and religion. Today, surveys show their biggest quarrels are over "how they spend their money" and "what they do with their leisure time." . . . 13ers collectively lack that strong attachment to the familial, educational, and economic institutions that once helped move older generations from here to there on the ladder of adult success.
Other translations have, "without piety," "irreverent," "having no religion," "irreligious," "wicked." Pollster George H. Gallup reports, "Religion ranks behind friends, home, school, music, and TV as factors teens believe are having the greatest influence on their generation."
13ers make up a large portion of those who are fleeing churches and taking up witchcraft, New Age religions, or becoming totally secular. A professor at Cal-Berkeley says, "TV is their collective dream machine, their temple." An ethics report reads: "An unprecedented proportion of today's youth lack commitment to core moral values like honesty, personal responsibility, respect for others and civic duty."
This is the generation most heavily influenced by the baby boom idea that "God is dead." They do believe in sound bites, rap lyrics, and advertising slogans that become their mottoes: "Just do it." "Do the Dew." "Life is short. Play hard." "All the sugar, twice the caffeine." "Life is a sport. Drink it up." "Image is everything." "Why ask why?"
Other translations read, "callous," "inhuman," "without natural affection," "hard-hearted." This is the generation of inner-city gangs, Neo-Nazis, carjackings, and Lyle and Eric Menendez. They were raised on Dirty Harry, Rambo, and the Terminator. Syndicated columnist William Raspberry writes:
Their casual acceptance of violence, the attitude (often reinforced by their parents) that any means is okay to get what you want, and the fatalism that kills their hope of the future is turning them into a generation of animals.
Quotations and statistics can easily be found to support the ten other attitudes Paul lists in II Timothy 3. For now, it will suffice to read what 13ers say about themselves:
» We are clueless yet wizened, too unopinionated to voice concern, purposefully enigmatic, and indecisive.
» Mine is a generation perfectly willing to admit its contemptible qualities.
» We are an impatient, quick-and-dirty generation.
» Our generation is probably the worst since the Protestant Reformation. It's barbaric.
» It's only wrong if you get caught.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 2)
Find more Bible verses about Blasphemy:
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