Sunday, August 28, 2022

Unpardonable Sins – Sins unto Death (Matthew 12:31-32, 1 John 5:16)

By Gerald Cowan   


    The idea that there is a sin which, once committed, can never be forgiven is terrifying, but often misunderstood. There is a similarity but a significant difference in “sin unto death” and “unpardonable sin.” There are a few facts and principles that must be recognized if we are to arrive at the truth in dealing with any sin and about the consequences of failing to deal with it properly.



    One of the most interesting (puzzling to some) things about the Greek language is that although there is a definite article there is no indefinite article.  In English and in most languages both definite (the) and indefinite (a, an) articles are used. When a particular or stipulated one is intended the article the is used to specify it and separate it from all others. When an indefinite article is expected, the syntax of the Greek sentence just gives the noun itself without the definite article. It is up to the translator to supply the indefinite article or to leave it out, depending upon the context.

    The definite article never appears with regard to unpardonable sin or sin unto death. In 1 John 5:16 we read, “If anyone sees his brother sin a (any) sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He [God] shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” The ASV translates the last part of this verse as follows: “There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request.” It makes better sense to leave out the article in this case. Even to say a sin unto to death is to imply that there is one, a specific one. To say “there is sin not unto death” and “sin unto death” indicates that there is a kind or category of sin that is forgivable and a kind that is not forgivable. Many sins may fall into either of the categories but the category is not limited to that or any other particular sin. In Matthew 12:31-32 (parallel in Mark 3:28-29) we read that any and all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – that particular sin shall not be forgiven either in the present world or the world to come, but brings eternal condemnation.



    There is no sin that does not lead to spiritual death. The idea of irrelevant or unimportant sins – venial sins and mortal sins, big sins and little sins; sins automatically forgiven and sins that require confession and repentance for specific forgiveness – is not true. The whole concept is invalid. The wages of any and all sins is death (Rom. 6:23).  Any sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. According to James, any temptation can lead to sin and death (James 1:14-15). The death due to sin is spiritual – separation of the soul from God – not physical. In fact there may be many sins that do not cause physical death at all, ever. But any and every sin causes a separation from God until it is acknowledged and repented, and forgiveness is obtained.  The question is, how can one avoid that result? How can one escape the death that is justly due to his own sin, whatever it is?



    The idea that sins committed by Christians are not counted against them is false. There is not one shred of biblical evidence for that. Name any sin – lying, stealing, adultery, idolatry, sins of commission or omission – all sin is sin no matter who the guilty person is. Ignorant sin is still sin. Many sin inadvertently, not knowingly or willingly, but because they do not know at the time that the matter is wrong.

    Relationship of grace to forgiveness: Although it is not the point of the present lesson, it must be noted that grace covers inadvertent sin for those who are consciously striving to be faithful but who miss some part of the standard of God without knowing or intending it.  However, when the sin becomes known repentance and correction are required for forgiveness, just as it would be in deliberate and willing sin (1 John 1:7-9).



    Logically, one cannot repent of anything he does not acknowledge or confess. All manner of sins and blasphemies can be forgiven -- if confessed; if repented, if one quits doing it. Unconfessed or unrepented sin will not be forgiven (1 John 1:8-9, Luke 13:3, 5. Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19).  One cannot continue in a sin and expect that it will be forgiven (1 John 3:9). It is not that a Christian cannot sin, or that nothing a Christians does will be called sin. Sin is sin, no matter who the guilty person is (1 John 1:8, James 5:16). The “cannot sin” in 1 John 3:9 is a continuing action participle. It means one cannot be forgiven if he continues in sin. Compare Rom. 6:1. How shall we who died to sin live/continue any longer in it?     

    Any sin that one commits and continues in, does not repent and receive forgiveness for, is a sin that results in spiritual death. If sin is not forgiven during one’s life it becomes an eternal sin – it will never be forgiven, not in this world or what comes after. When a sin is forgiven it is no longer a sin unto death, a sin that brings spiritual death. How can one avoid sinning a sin unto death? Confess it, repent it and pray for forgiveness from God – fulfill all other requirements God may impose, such as restitution in some cases. When we know one does not repent or confess a sin, that sin is “unto death” and we cannot ask God to forgive it. Only if one repents can we pray that God will grant spiritual life.



    It is called blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is not simply saying something derogatory against the Holy Spirit. This may be done in ignorance (1 Tim. 1:12-13). It is not simply insulting or slandering the Holy Spirit – showing disrespect or spite against the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29).  It is not ignorantly or mistakenly attributing the works of the Spirit to the devil, as in the context of both references. Nor is it attributing the works of the devil to the Holy Spirit, which some actually do – claiming tongues and other miraculous powers, for example. See 2 Thess. 2:8-10 (claiming a gift or power the Holy Spirit denies is a blasphemy against the Spirit of God).  As Jesus implies (notice the context carefully), the unforgivable blasphemy is steadfastly maintaining an erroneous charge against the Holy Spirit when one knows it is not and cannot be true. In the context he shows them that their contention that he works for and by the devil is illogical, unreasonable, and impossible.  Note: some people never let logic or rationality deter them from what they want to believe or practice, and an irrational position is often the excuse for refusing to believe and accept and do what one does not want. But even blasphemy, whether ignorant or deliberate, can be forgiven if one can and will repent. It is possible that maintaining a blasphemy can so harden one that he cannot repent.  In that case the sin becomes permanently and eternally unforgivable (Heb. 6:4-6). We too are admonished: Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart (Heb. 3:7-8, 4:7b).



    The lesson is simple: listen and learn while you can still hear; repent while you still can; obey while you still can. The time is coming at death and beyond, when one will want to obey and will not be able, will not be allowed to do so. The time may come during life when one will want to say yes, but not be able.  The time may come when one will not be able to repent and change – one may actually be in an unsaved and unsavable condition. If you will not or cannot repent and obey, no matter how much you know and believe of the truth of God, then you cannot and will not be saved.  Hear the word of the Lord; believe it and confess it. If you can and do call upon Him in obedient penitent faith, you will be saved. Rom. 10:13

- Gerald Cowan, a longtime preacher and missionary, is retired from full-time pulpit preaching. Gerald publishes an e-mail newsletter entitled GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICAL WRITINGS. He is available for Gospel Meetings and he may be contacted at

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