The Unpardonable Sin

by J. W. Williams

PROBABLY most people under biblical influence have been either perplexed or distressed by this alarming phrase. The fear has been aggravated by the way modern evangelists use this idea, finding it a very convenient one with which to frighten those they wish to persuade to seek salvation according to their formula. They will tell their hearers that if they do not respond promptly to the sermon, the holy spirit may cease to operate upon them for conversion, and in that case they will be eternally lost and doomed. One man so taught declared that he was sure he was going to hell, because the spirit had ceased to plead with him to become a Christian. Many others have gone insane and suicidal as a result of this entirely needless worry.

For it is needless, because "unpardonable sin" is not found in the Scriptures. And though there are a few texts on which this traditional fear is based, these do not teach the thought as it is being forced upon people in this needless way.

The popular conception of this subject is that there is just one particular sin never to be forgiven, as signified by the word "THE" in our title, and that if a person commits that sin, his case is irrevocably and endlessly beyond redress. Just why one particular sin is thus "unpardonable" has never been explained. The idea seems unreasonable, to say the most favorable thing about it. The unreasonableness of the assertion is all the more evident when we realize that a number of conflicting sins are given as being the one that puts the doer into such a hopeless state. We shall consider the ones that have come to our notice as being so dire.


First, we shall examine the common evangelistic alarm and warning referred to above, that "the unpardonable sin" is "resisting the spirit" by refusing to go forward to the altar in response to the appeal of the evangelist or his helpers in the audience. One case of evangelism was reported to the writer, in which the personal workers seized those with whom they pleaded and dragged them forcibly forward, justifying this with the injunction in the parable to "compel them to come in."

The passage usually cited in order to prove the "unpardonable sin" concerns the Jews who asserted that the Master cast out demons by Beezeboul, their chief (Matt.12:24-32; Mark 5:22-30). The sin here was blasphemy of the holy spirit. Blasphemy must be expressed in words. Their words attributed the spirit's work to Beezeboul. How then can sitting still in an audience in silence, instead of going forward to an altar, be blasphemy? And how could even words of refusal to personal workers be blasphemy of the holy spirit, when no blasphemy is spoken and the holy spirit is not mentioned? The Pharisees did really speak blasphemous words against the spirit by which the Master cast out the demon (Matt. 12:28), when they attributed the healing to Beezeboul.

Their blasphemy was primarily against Him for they said that He had an unclean spirit; but while they did not name the holy spirit, He interpreted their words as being against it, because He did His healing in its power. Thus by their words they secondarily attacked the spirit of God. So, although they spoke seemingly "against the Son of man" (and--as He said--all words and blasphemies against Him will be forgiven) and not against the spirit, yet He disregarded Himself and put the spirit ("the finger of God," Luke 11:20) into preferred prominence, because He healed by it alone (Matt.12:28). So, when He mentioned words "against the Son of man" as being forgiven, He evidently meant against Himself personally, when the spirit was not involved. Thus He distinguished between Himself and the spirit, not only by saying that He healed by it, but that any words or blasphemies against Him would be pardoned, yet that those against the spirit would not. Mark (3: 30) emphasizes this point by saying that this warning was spoken to them "because they said, `He hath an unclean spirit.'" These quoted words of theirs show the gist of the whole matter. Their sin was that of disbelief and denial of His Messiahship, when one purpose of His miracles was to prove it (John 5:36; 10:25). So, as long as they did not believe in Him as the Christ on the evidence of such powerful deeds as this healing, they could not be forgiven, because forgiveness comes by faith (Acts 10:43; 13:38). But when blasphemers in unbelief, because of ignorance, become believers, they can be, and are forgiven, as three thousand of this same nation of blasphemers were in one day (Acts 2:37-41), and as Saul, the worst sinner of them all, who was also a blasphemer (1 Tim.1:13), obtained mercy because of that ignorance.

Disbelief might therefore in a sense be said to be "unpardonable," provided we see that such lack of pardon need not be fixed and endless, "in this eon or the eon to come," because pardon is received through faith. But disbelief can be changed to belief. It was so in the case of the three thousand and of the "chief" of such sinning blasphemers. So even if we say that disbelief is unpardonable, either in this eon or the next one, it is not so endlessly or hopelessly, because disbelief ends as well as every age does. The words, "neither in this world (eon), neither in the world to come" do not, therefore, express endless hopelessness, nor endlessness in any sense, but only declare that so long as people disbelieve there can be no pardon. But when the same people change to a believing attitude, there can be. The fact is that neither in this eon nor in the next can disbelief be passed over, so as to make pardon possible. But eventually the whole world will be brought to God, many redeemed by faith, the rest freed at the jubilee.


What is generally meant by "unpardonable sin" is scripturally called "sin unto death" (1 John 5:16). Since death is the penalty for sin, unpardoned sin would entail death. But if we are going to use unscriptural language anyway, instead of saying "unpardonable sin" it would be better to say "unpardoned sin," as we just have, and not to make it seem endless. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was unto death. But they will have a resurrection, for all the dead in hades (or the unseen) and the grave are to come forth (Rev.20:13). Thus the case of such sinners unto death is not hopeless. Many a criminal appeals to the executive for pardon of a prison term and is refused. But after serving his term he automatically goes free. So with the unforgiven dead. Their sentence was not "endless death." The fact that their death-penalty is lifted by resurrection is a fact of pardon, so that they are at least temporarily pardoned. If their penalty had been endless death, there could be no resurrection of the "unsaved" to judgment. And no living Saviour, for that matter. For those who speak of "unpardonable sin" generally believe in substitutional sacrifice, which would involve our Saviour in the same endless death hypothetically imposed upon sinners. And even though substitution is an erroneous view of His sacrifice, yet he was made "a sin offering for our sakes" (2 Cor.5:21, CV), and so died the same death that was put upon sinners, so that if that death were endless, we would be without a Saviour even in the true view of inclusion instead of substitution. The only way to fix hopelessness upon those who sin unto death would be to make the death penalty endless. Such is the view of brethren who think that there is no hope for the mass of humanity. But fortunately their view is mistaken. The divine Judge did not attach the word "endless" to the death-sentence on Adam (Gen.3:17-19). Nor did He put "torment" in place of "death" in such an endless sentence. If He had done the latter, endless torment should have swallowed up our Saviour as effectively as endless death would have done, and more terribly. How fortunate that men are so often mistaken in spite of their efforts to understand God! So then, the penalty of sin was not endless death nor endless hell torment, but just death, beyond which a resurrection is a certain prospect.

There is no article before "sin unto death" in First John five. The Concordant Version recognizes this by translating verse 17, "there is a sin not to death." If we put the article before each occurrence, we imply that there are only two sins possible, one to death and the other not to death.

The first sentence imposed upon sin (Gen.3:17-19) made the penalty double--suffering in the flesh and death. So, then, after unpardoned (not "unpardonable") sinners pay the penalty of (temporary) death for sin, they must rise out of it and pay the other part of it. And that future judgment is for their salvation, not for a hopeless mockery of their feelings, nor for "satisfaction to justice," which is an unscriptural theological phrase, reflected from the sternness of human implacability. These sinners will stand in judgment before the great throne that is "white," not black and forbidding.

If there were no future time when evil men's accounts are balanced, the problem of the uneven lot of the righteous as compared with that of the unrighteous would overwhelm the faith of the godly. This problem was raised by Job (21:7-12), David (Psa. 73:2-14) and Solomon (Ecc.8:11-14), all of whom found the solution in the certainty of a future judgment for sinners, when they will answer for their evil in a way they do not now, as it is pointed out by these three patriarchs of old.


What may be called "unpardoned sin" is discernible in the case of Israel in the wilderness. They were warned that they would not be forgiven when they sinned at that time (Ex.23:21; Joshua 24:19). But that did not mean hopelessness, for God forgave them from Egypt to Kadesh-Barnea (Num.14:19-21). The sense in which they were not pardoned, as they were warned in the two references cited above, was that the two penalties imposed upon sin (suffering and death) were inflicted upon Israel in the time of the Judges, as in the wilderness. They suffered many severe troubles, and in many cases, death. But remember that it was temporary death, until their future resurrection.

We have said that what is called "unpardonable sin" should be named "unpardoned sin." And we should note that it is only temporarily unpardoned, as in the case of Israel just cited. That such sin is merely "unpardoned" can be shown from Hebrews 10:28, for here such offenders are only "dying without pity," but not to remain in death endlessly without hope of relief, as we shall see in a moment, from the case of Moses. When we realize that such withholding of pardon is only for the time being, the gloom of those misinterpretations of Scripture, that we have been considering, vanishes, and room is left to rejoice in the infinite mercy and love as manifested on Golgotha. That the unpardoned state of Israel is only for a season becomes evident when we read the new covenant, which promises pardon and forgetfulness of her sin. "I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy." Then He will have compassion on those on whom He did not have compassion, and say to those whom He had called Not-My-People, you are My People (Hosea 2:23).

A resurrection of sinners to judgment shows that their death-sentence was not for eternity, because any resurrection is at least a temporary parole, as it removes the death-penalty for sin.


Moses was one of the Israelites included in the warning of not being pardoned for sin committed in the wilderness (Ex.23:21), and he came within the seemingly hopeless condition stated in Hebrews 10:28. For though his sin was not against the law of Sinai, it was a direct disobedience of a command given to him personally, and he died for it, as stated in this last citation regarding his fellow-sinners at that time. At least his sin came clearly under the warning in Exodus 23:21. He angrily smote the rock the second time, instead of speaking to it, as instructed, and took to himself the credit for the miracle. For this double sin he was sentenced to die before going into the promised land. When he sought pardon and remission of the sentence, God abruptly told him to quit praying for it. So he died penally, not of age, but in the full strength of his body. He sinned "unto death," as John later termed such a transgression. And just as John said not to ask concerning, pardon for such, so Moses found it of no avail to pray for remission.

Was Moses therefore hopeless? Some have hastily so concluded. Did God merely taunt him unmercifully by making him see what he missed when He showed him the beautiful promised land? So people reason who say that there will be no probation for those raised to future judgment. One young minister, when asked why then should they be raised, told the writer that it will be a cause of rejoicing to the saints in the kingdom to see the wicked punished, citing Revelation 18:20 as evidence. He believed in a resurrection of only part of the dead, to a hopeless judgment. But if that limited judgment affords joy to the saved, why does not an indulgent Father raise all and so increase their joy? Jonathan Edwards went farther and said that it will increase the bliss of the saved in heaven greatly to see the victims of divine wrath writhing in hell. Why not switch to his doctrine and find greater joy yet? The spirit of Jonah is not dead. And the spirit of divine compassion cannot die, for it resides in our Father. But, no, Moses is not in a hopeless state. He is in the list of those who will be perfected at that day (Heb.11:40). "Sin unto death" does not mean an unpardonable and hopeless state, but only the certainty of paying the penalty of temporary death, beyond which is the other blessed certainty of a resurrection to mercy.

Having to die "without pity" need not imply endless hopelessness, for a person can be temporarily without a certain blessing, and later enjoy the possession of it. This is shown by the very idea of hope, or rather expectation itself, for we read in Ephesians two that the nations, who once had "no expectation" were later made partakers of it by being brought "near" to that from which they were formerly distant.

The idea of Israel's being temporarily unpardoned is made clear by the language cited (Num.14). God had threatened them with death (seemingly so, probably as a test to Moses, verses 11, 12). Moses prayed for their pardon (v.19). God replied that He had granted it, (v.20). Nevertheless, He immediately sentenced them to forty years of wandering in the desert till death came in a natural, instead of an earlier penal way. He remitted the threatened death verdict, but imposed the penalty of wandering in sorrow to end in death at another time and in a different way than He had just before warned them of. So they died under the pardon assured in verse 20. Thus, strange as it may seem, they were not pardoned according to the first references (Ex.23:21 and Joshua 24:19), yet were pardoned after all. They were not pardoned, in that the penalties for disbelief and disobedience fell on them, consisting of the judgments that over-took them in the desert (Ex.23:21), and later through the conquests by the nations (Joshua 24:19), as recorded in the book of Judges. But they were pardoned at Kadesh-Barnea and not summarily slain, as, had been threatened. So it should be emphasized that while they were not to be pardoned according to the warning mentioned, their case was not hopeless, else they would not have been pardoned even at Kadesh-Barnea. Nevertheless those who speak of unpardonable sin might well claim that they had committed it. But they suffered their penalties in the desert under divine mercy, for a resurrection awaits them, though it be to shame and eonian contempt (Dan.12:2). But having served their jail- sentence, will they be kept still in jail, or be worse off than citizens of America, who are constitutionally assured of immunity from a second punishment for the same offense? As to their non- pardon, of which Joshua warned them, it did occur in their being subjected to the pagan nations in Canaan during the rule of the Judges. Such calamities came unerringly whenever they sinned. But though that again should be called "unpardonable" by those who thus speak, the fact is noteworthy that those sinning Israelites were still shown mercy whenever they cried out under the yoke of those foreign masters, and pardoned, when God answered by raising up a judge who delivered them from the yoke. In all their troubles and dying there was the prospect of eventual mercy in resurrection. "For his mercy endureth forever."


Another case of unpardoned sin may be considered--that of King Saul. God took mercy away from him (2 Sam.7:5). When that was his doom, he was "put away," as this scripture says, and died in the battle of Mt. Gilboa. But all death is temporary, therefore the acts of those who thus sinned unto death are not "unpardonable."

King Saul's case should enforce unfailingly upon our conviction the comforting assurance that if we had sinned unto death, we should not be kept alive long weary years, worrying about it. If we had sinned unto death we should be dead. But in this dispensation of transcendent grace to us of the nations, God is not smiting people dead as He did in other eras. No one is now sinning unto death. That makes so-called "unpardonable sin" impossible at this time.


The same idea as that concerning Saul is seen in the case of David. If God had not "put away" his sin, he would have died (2 Sam.12:13). He unwittingly sentenced himself to death (v.5), as the law of Moses, of which he was the royal judge, provided it for his double sin of adultery and murder. His death then would have been penal, inflicted for "sin unto death." All who were thus condemned by the law of Moses had to die "without pity" (Heb.10: 28). So here in David's case there was "sin unto death" that was pardoned at once, and the offender did not die, after all. The divine Judge could modify the sentence as He saw fit.

Another thing about David's case should be noted carefully, and that is, that after he was pardoned, he was immediately sentenced to four other penalties than death for his double sin; two penalties for a sin, which is the divine order for that time. Though the death-penalty he pronounced upon himself was remitted, his sins were sorely visited with these four judgments: the death of Bath-sheba's child and the adultery of his wives in the future as a consequence of his adultery and life-long wars and rebellion in his own family as a result of having Uriah slain in war, Absalom's rebellion being the sorest trial of the four. He was unpardoned from these four visitations. But while those who say "unpardonable" instead of "unpardoned" temporarily, should call David's state hopeless, yet the divine Judge has already settled his case favorably in the verdict that David is assured a "better resurrection" and being "made perfect" (Heb.11), when he will again be king over Israel (Ezek.37:24).

In the gospel sense, Israel, Moses, Saul and David were neither pardoned nor unpardoned, much less "unpardonable," because they were merely subjected to temporary penalties outside the jurisdiction of the gospel. Israel's expectation, against which they sinned, was that of the privilege of entering Canaan, not of being saved to future life, and their penalty for disobedience was temporary death until future resurrection. The sin of Moses was not disbelief of the gospel, but disobedience of the command to speak to the rock the second time instead of striking it as in the first case. His death sentence, like Israel's, is temporary, for he is listed in Hebrews eleven as an heir of future glory. And the sin of David was disobedience of the sixth and seventh commandments of the law, not disbelief of the gospel. The death-penalty he unwittingly pronounced upon himself, which was remitted, left him still open to the four penalties visited upon him. But these four penalties all pertained to this present life, and have no bearing at all upon his future except that they fitted him for that glorious destiny by perfecting him through suffering.

Then let those who have been anxious over whether they have committed "the unpardonable sin" take comfort, encouragement and hope from the very evident fact that if they had sinned "unto death" they would be dead, and not alive and worrying over their too limited view of God's goodness and mercy, for even if they had been smitten dead for "sin unto death" (which does not occur in our time of visitation under grace, not law), there would still be the future resurrection to look forward to.

This covers the case of suicides, also. It is unfortunate that some people cannot see that every stormy cloud has sunshine after it, and do not realize the words of the wise man, "If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. "Our homes and schools devote much time and attention to physical and intellectual education, but entirely neglect training in emotional control, though that lack is the chief cause of suicide. There is always something good to look forward to. Let everyone who faints in the day of adversity remember that, seek strength from above and realize that if we hold on a little while we come to better things, when we shall be very glad that we did not give up in despair.

Some interpreters hold that suicide is "the unpardonable sin." So with all these variant and contradictory assertions, it is time that the Bible-reading public wake up and realize what an unscriptural tradition has been heaped on the heads of the heirs of the apostasy, and see if "unpardonable sin" is a scriptural phrase, or one invented by those who insufficiently search God's Word, and wrongly divide much of what they do read.


Some small denominations that do not believe in the direct work of God's spirit in conversion, and therefore do not hold the general view that resisting the spirit's call to it is "the unpardonable sin," generally think that such sin is "backsliding" from the gospel, that is, from what they think is the gospel, which would be backsliding from their denominational teaching. They base their conclusion upon gloomy interpretations of three sections in the Hebrew epistle (chapters 6, 10 and 12:17). We shall therefore examine these citations as our next part of this study.

Esau's "no place of repentance" was not in the gospel sense, but only failure to change Isaac's blessing. He did regret, but his father could not turn back. The idea of backsliding is based upon the word "fall away" (Heb.6:16) and the supposedly hopeless condition of such backsliders is explained by the interpretation put upon the warnings to such as "sin willfully," for whom there remains no more sacrifice for sins (10:26).

In studying this matter we should first of all remember that this epistle was not written to us. We are not "Hebrews." Therefore, when these scriptures are used to worry us, there is a wrong dividing of the Word in its "application," as people call it. What would you think of a poor simpleton who had cut himself by a careless use of the sword of the spirit, and would now immediately go to the medicine cupboard, get a mustard plaster and attempt to remedy his wound by "applying" it to the spot that hurt? That was made and intended for very different patients, to whom it would be very valuable. Well, that is precisely what these do who worry themselves with such dark writings. It is time we learn not to "apply" mustard to ourselves when we are not the proper subjects for it.

The next thing necessary for understanding these ominous warnings is to discern the general purpose of the Hebrew epistle, for that throws light on any portion of it.

The purpose is not stated in just so many words, so we must examine it as a whole, to discern it. When we do that, we find the following facts:

The believers in the gospel of the kingdom, chosen from among Israel, expected it to come in their life-time (Luke 19:11,38; Mark 11:10). So when the King was crucified they gave up hope. Then, when their faith and expectation rose from deadness at His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3), they thought the kingdom might come immediately (Acts 1:6), and His answer to their question about it did not enlighten them enough to know that it would not. The need for encouragement in their uncertainty is therefore evident, and Christ's answer to them implied that at the coming of the spirit at Pentecost there would be further light on the matter. So the writer of Hebrews would be expected to give them that encouragement.

Turning now to that epistle, we do find just such a background. At the end of one of the very sections we are studying, we find such encouragement (10:32-39), pointing forward to the return of the King. And in 12:28 there is more encouragement, definitely promising that kingdom, as one that cannot be shaken by the political earthquake cited in Haggai's prophecy there quoted. This promise follows a warning similar to those we are studying (12: 25), and another threat is given at the close of this section (12:29).

A general survey of the Hebrew epistle shows the same idea of encouragement to faithfulness permeating the whole book. Eight things are pointed out that are "better" than what they had under the law. Also the writer takes up the superiority of the King over every other of the various ones with whom He is compared-- messengers, Moses, Aaron, sacrifices, tabernacle, law, and every other consideration that might cause disappointment over their wait for the kingdom. Then, in conclusion, follows a list of examples of faithful ones in like circumstances (ch.11), called "witnesses" (12:1) in probation like theirs.

Their expectation that the King would set up the kingdom in the days of His flesh was based upon the sight of the kingdom miracles that were a foretaste of it. Therefore, if they gave up in disappointment, after seeing the wonders they saw, nothing greater could be given to them to renew them to faith. They had been renewed once after the resurrection of the King. They had seen the greatest that could be seen so far. But the fact that they had "backside" once into loss of faith when He was crucified, should show modern interpreters that backsliding is not "the unpardonable sin," for those backsliding disciples were renewed when the King rose from death. But if, after that, they gave up because of weariness in waiting, or from persecution for "hyphenated loyalty" (Acts 17:7), nothing more could be done at that time to renew them. The greatest evidence of the divinity of their hope was the crucifixion and resurrection of their King. If, therefore, that did not hold them, they would be asking, so to speak, for a renewal of the cross, and that is probably why the writer speaks of crucifying the Lord afresh.

Those Hebrew disciples had "tasted the heavenly gift" of the miraculous powers of the holy spirit, "the powers of the future eon" (6:4,5). That was the acme of evidence then. Lapse from faith at that time would be incurable until greater sights could be given in the kingdom itself.

Since it was unbelief that crucified Him the first time, the unbelief that threatened these believers was spoken of as crucifying Him afresh, which would thus "put Him to an open shame."

Notice that we say that nothing else could be done for them "at that time." This does not mean that nothing can be done for such in the future. The millennium will convince by much greater evidence, because of sight for then the kingdom will be here in reality, and not only in foretaste. And since Sodom would have repented if it had seen the kingdom miracles (Matt.11:20-24), it is clear that a progression of greater and greater wonders would, and will convince all that come under such influence. Therefore, in the future kingdom, those who backslid because of insufficient sight to hold them by the power of the kingdom signs, can be yet impressed then. The only reason for not giving them such a "second opportunity" (or shall we say third, since they gave up at the crucifixion) is stern justice that would say, "You had your opportunity once, and lost out, so now begone."

We have not tasted what they had. We belong to the nations and are not "Hebrews." We cannot sin against sight, as they did. We walk by unadulterated faith. We cannot backslide from the transcendent grace given to us (Rom.8:28-39), nor from gifts we never possessed, nor from sights we never saw.

The sinning "wilfully" (10:26) is connected in the context with this same idea of faith (v.23), and at the end of the chapter it is designated as "drawing back" in unbelief, or as we say, to backslide (v.38). Here again faith is cited as the contrary. And, as in chapter six, the idea is now pressed that there is no more sacrifice for sin than that at Golgotha, so that, if that did not hold these Hebrew disciples, no other sacrifice could be given to preserve them in faith.

These considerations should prompt us not to filch Israel's scriptures and make ourselves trouble by "applying" stolen irritants to our wounds, when we have the balm of Gilead that heals all our ills.

And since all these cases of unpardoned sin or "sin unto death" were different, it should be evident that there is not just one unpardonable sin," but "an" unpardoned one in each separate case.

So then, after paying the double penalty of death and suffering that the divine Judge has imposed upon sin, all previously unpardoned (not "unpardonable") sinners will be like criminals that an executive official cannot pardon, but who go free after serving their sentence. After they have endured the future judgment, they will be free to a finality, because penal law will have no further claim upon them.

It is to be hoped that this exposition may contribute something to the peace of mind of any readers who may have been distressed over this matter, as so many have, even to despair. Nothing in all the universe can separate you from God's love (Rom.8:35-39). You cannot even separate yourself from it by your sin, for it was for needy sinners that a Father's love sent His Son (John 3:16). It is a "fourth dimension" love--length, breadth, height, and depth (Eph.3:18), for it is as long as the ages, as broad as the human race, as high as heaven and deeper than hades.

So let any who have worried over "unpardonable sin" cast away all fear in perfect love, and rejoice in the infinite mercy of a heavenly Father's loving kindness, that never wearies and that will accomplish the full salvation which His wisdom has designed.

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