In Mark 3:29 Jesus speaks about an eternal sin, for which no one will be forgiven. It states that whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will be condemned. Is the word 'blasphemes' written in a present tense -- i.e. a person who continues to blaspheme and, not repenting, will never be forgiven -- or does it refer to anyone who has ever blasphemed against the Holy Spirit? -- Alyssa Patel (New York University)

Excellent question, and one which we will shortly return to. And yet, to begin with, I would like to make a comment to all our readers, and especially those who are even a little bit familiar with ancient Greek.

I personally would not make too much of a particular tense in the Greek. In Koine Greek, the present is usually a progressive, just as the aorist indicates a specific time, but this is not always the case. The New Testament is full of contrary examples! Bottom line, Greek grammatical issues are not usually resoluble without a good working knowledge of Greek -- best obtainable with a minimum of three years of language study at the university level. We need to resist the temptation to only dabble in Greek, as though a mere knowledge of the alphabet or possession of an interlinear somehow qualifies us to reason on the level of experts who have devoted their lives to the study of this beautiful language.

To your question: Since Paul says he was a blasphemer (1 Timothy 1) -- directly as well as one who attempted to force others to blaspheme -- he is as good a candidate as any for one who may have committed "the eternal sin." And yet the Lord forgave Paul! I believe this shows us that regardless what we have done in our past, there can be forgiveness and genuine hope for change. (See also 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.)

It is also important to consider the context of the passage. In Mark 3, religious leaders, who had seen the evidence of Jesus' identity and authority with their own eyes, still refused to believe. This demonstrates a hardness of heart (as in Proverbs 29:1), from which there was no recovery. And yet, you may ask, was not Paul in a similar condition when he, as Pharisee and church persecutor, strove with all his might to oppose the church? Apparently he had not "crossed the line"; he had not hardened himself irretrievably. We should resist the urge to "play God," assessing who has and who has not committed "the eternal sin."

Finally, it is an eternal sin because of its consequences in the next age. In Greek (as well as in Latin), the words age and eternal are related as noun and adjective. "Eternal" carries the sense not so much of infinity as of the world to come. For we cannot reject and refuse God in this life and expect a share in eternal life in the world to come.

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