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The Blasphemy Challenge

August 28, 2007

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What is the blasphemy challenge?

The blasphemy challenge is a self-condemning mantra, which if chanted, will demarcate one from religion, superstition, or more specifically, Christianity. As long as one states “I deny the Holy Spirit” they will have officially committed what they believe Scripture to teach as being the unforgivable sin.

This mantra is encouraged by the Rational Response Squad (RRS) [link], as a means of exposing what they perceive to be false dogmas within Christianity. “If we talked about religion the same way we talk about science, history or other fields involving truth claims, dogma would wither in the light. The Blasphemy Challenge, by addressing a truth claim of Christianity, is intended to provoke this sort of conversation.” [link]

One particular dogma of Christianity that they would like to provoke is the belief of Hell, which is an eternal place of punishment for sin, according to the Bible (Romans 2:5) and Christian Orthodoxy. It seems the Christian doctrine on Hell is what they oppose most vehemently. I gather this to be true from the actual blasphemy challenge website [link] where the instructions on how to publicize your blasphemy sarcastically reads: “There’s only one catch: We want your soul. It’s simple. You record a short message damning yourself to Hell…”

In addition, on their FAQ page [link], it is stated: It isn’t just adult Christians who are indoctrinated with the frightening ideology of Christian belief.” And then “That 2000 years ago a man died, stayed dead three days, rose from the dead and then flew into the air above the clouds– and right now this man is with them as their invisible companion and savior from Hell, if only they will submit to him.”

Therefore, for some reason, it seems the notion of Hell is at the crux of their discomfort, thereby advertising one’s carelessness about it will supposedly produce liberation from such discomfort.

The blasphemy challenge mantra is formulated from the Christian Bible, based off Mark 3:29 which says “…but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (ESV). The same passage is located in Matthew 12:32 and Luke 12:10, but the RRS emphasizes Mark’s version, perhaps because they first found it in Mark and went with it.

Is the blasphemy challenge committing the unforgivable sin?

The answer is no. The RRS gives its own defense of its interpretation under the FAQ section [link] on their website. The brief explanation simply states:

In the response to the Blasphemy Challenge, many evangelical Christians are turning cartwheels to try to re-define blasphemy out of existence. The very idea of an unforgivable sin is so harmful to their recruiting efforts that to play it down they will even compromise their view of the “infallible” Bible. It is true that in the gospel of Mark the Jesus character introduces his clear lesson about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in response to criticism from Pharisees. However, to say that Jesus’s lesson about blasphemy applies only to Pharisees, or only to those making the specific accusation the Pharisees were making, is a bit like saying that the directive “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” applies only to Jews who stone adulterers. In the gospel narratives, virtually all of the Jesus character’s lessons arise in a specific story context, and Christian leaders rarely limit those lessons to that narrow context — unless they find those lessons inconvenient

No one has to turn cartwheels to understand how far off the blasphemy challenge is from committing the unforgivable sin. The RRS needs Mark 3:29 to teach what they assume it does. If this passage really did teach what they believe it to, they would have a sufficient bases for their efforts. Even if those efforts are farse and anti-Christian.

But this is not the correct interpretation of the unpardonable sin. Chanting the actual words “I blaspheme the Holy Spirit”, according to Scripture, does not mean someone is committing the unpardonable sin. For one, this holds a very Roman Catholic view of sin, to where sin is likened to subtracting money from a bank account. The more you sin, the more you subtract from your own spiritual bank account, and thus need the 7 sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church to build your spiritual account back up. Hence, it is believed if one states the mantra “I blaspheme the Holy Spirit” they are completely emptying their spiritual bank account, and thus committing an unforgivable sin.

But Scripture does not view sin in this way. What is sin according to Scripture? Sin is a court room term and is synonymous with breaking the law, but more specifically God’s law or moral law. Romans 7:7 “Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” Romans 7:12 “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” 1 John 3:4 “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.”

So is it possible to commit such an act against God’s law, so as to never be forgiven by God? Is blaspheming the Holy Spirit such an act? It is only if it is committed in the same context that it is committed in the synoptic gospels. Notice how in each instance in Mark 3:29, Matthew 12:32, and Luke 12:10, that the Pharisees never even state the actual words “we blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus, who is God, states that blaspheming the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, He is speaking in the context of performing healing miracles with authority over evil spirits. This would testify that 1. He is doing God’s work, not Satan’s, and 2. the Holy Spirit power is clearly made visible.

The Pharisees were denying the testimony of the Spirit’s power, as it pointed to Christ as being whom He claimed to be, thus, were blaspheming God against all possible proofs of Christ’s Lordship, and so proved the reprobate status of their souls. The reason their sin is unforgivable, is not merely because it is a lawless act to the infinite degree, but rather, their blaspheming the Holy Spirit signifies that all of their sins will forever condemn them. The original greek literally reads “He that blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness, but is danger eternal damnation.” By translating this to english, of course, we would throw in a conjunction (in) and a preposition (of) to make it more readable. “…is in danger of eternal damnation”, enochos aionios krisis (while some manuscripts use amartematos instead of krisis, meaning the same as damnation). The original text is commanly mistranslated as ascribing a single sin to be an eternal sin; however, the original greek more accurately states that those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit remain unforgiven of all their sin. This is not to say that the unforgivable sin is unbelief, but more specifically that those who commit this sin indicate for themselves that they will never have forgiveness.

All of our sins are lawless to the infinite degree before God. He demands perfection of all sinners, and nothing less is exceptabel because He is holy and just. This is the gospel. James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Deut 27:26 “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” But the good news states that while we were as dead in our sins, Christ provided a way of freedom. Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us”

But now let’s look at Mark 3:29-30 “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” (NIV – improper rendering) He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” It would be more consistent with Scripture, and with the context of Jesus’ words, for YouTubers to video record themselves saying “I believe Jesus had an evil spirit when He was casting out demons” to biblically blaspheme the Holy Spirit. The RRS falsely believes that simply stating “I deny the Holy Spirit” is committing the unforgivable sin because they assume this is what the Bible actually is teaching. Thus, they hold, to a degree, to Scripture’s objective teaching; yet the only objective claims they tolerate are the one’s which they can use for their own evil efforts to throw back into Christian’s faces.

On the other hand, if they were to align their mantra to what Scripture is actually teaches, they would have to change their mantra to “I believe Jesus had an evil Spirit when He was casting out demons.” I don’t find this to be very likely since they believe Jesus to be a fictional person and would have to assume that Jesus did what the Bible claims He did. But for the sake of argument, even if they did make their mantra Biblical, this would still not be blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

No one today can see Jesus perform miracles with their own eyes, and deny Him and His work, as is happening in Mark 3:29. The Holy Spirit in these passages was demonstrating God’s power so dramatically that it would unquestionably testify of Christ being whom He said He was. Those who chant the blaspheme challenge do not have this great display of the Holy Spirit’s power before them, as the Pharisees did, and thus are not genuinely blaspheming the Holy Spirit as the Pharisees actually were.

What have Christian’s taught in the past?

Christian’s have rightly interpreted these passages for centuries. We can even see this, for example, by consulting John Calvin’s [link] and Matthew Henry’s [link] commentaries.

John Calvin quotes “Having proved that the scribes could not blame him for casting out devils, without opposing the kingdom of God, he at length concludes that it is no light or ordinary offense, but an atrocious crime, knowingly and willingly to pour contempt on the Spirit of God. We have already said, that Christ did not pronounce this decision on the mere words which they uttered, but on their base and wicked thought.”

Matthew Henry quotes “The awful warning Christ gave them to take heed how they spoke such dangerous words as these; however they might make light of them, as only conjectures, and the language of free-thinking, if they persisted in it, it would be of fatal consequence to them; it would be found a sin against the last remedy, and consequently unpardonable; for what could be imagined possible to bring them to repentance for their sin in blaspheming Christ, who would set aside such a strong conviction with such a weak evasion? It is true, the gospel promiseth, because Christ hath purchased, forgiveness for the greatest sins and sinners. Many of those who reviled Christ on the cross (which was a blaspheming of the Son of man, aggravated to the highest degree), found mercy, and Christ himself prayed, Father, forgive them; but this was blaspheming the Holy Ghost, for it was by the Holy Spirit that he cast out devils, and they said, It was by the unclean spirit”

Should Christians be ashamed of doctrines such as reprobation and Hell?

The RRS states on there website [link] “Some liberal Christians may throw out the parts of the Bible that they don’t like, but Christians who believe in the Bible as the word of God do believe that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the single unforgivable sin.”

The issue of the unforgivable sin is one which has been debated for centuries, especially among Protestants and Catholics. In fact, many issues in Scripture are continually debated upon, and this particular issue isn’t even a fundamental one to Christian Orthodoxy. It is an ignorant statement to say that “Christians who believe the Bible as the word of God do believe that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the single unforgivable sin.”

How do they come to this conclusion? One only has to ask a variety of Christians what the unforgivable sin is to get a plethora of opinions and uncertainties. Here we see a perfect example of the RRS abusing Christianity, in order to abuse Christianity. I would like to know, what moral system they consult which says it’s OK to do this.

What the RRS and many unbelievers fail to acknowledge is that many faithful Christians are not ashamed to preach on things such as sin, law, judgment, Hell, and death. This is to be an act of love in order for people to be fully aware of their predicament before the Lord. These things are part of the gospel, and are called the bad news of the gospel.

But Jesus Christ is where our greatest fears meat our greatest hopes. Christ is the good news of the gospel because only He bring the true liberation that all are searching for, especially pardon from Hell. Things such as the blasphemy challenge are expected to co-exist with Christianity because the one true gospel is naturally hated by those who are not right with God.

Christians are to realize that it isn’t covering up truths like sin, judgment, and Hell, which will cause people to seek salvation, but rather by sharing these offensive truths with a heart of love so that they might turn to Christ. God uses this unwavering form of preaching to actually bring about the most converts. It is not the other way around. If the RRS, or anyone else, seeks to challenge the Christian community about its hard doctrines, then as Christians, we ought to be the first one’s to admit that our doctrines are in fact hard to swallow, yet are true. And as the old saying goes, “truth is so much better, when it’s true”.

What are the motives behind the blasphemy challenge?

It is interesting that while the RRS’ constituents are non-Christian, and oppose the Bible’s teachings (especially those on Hell), they are nevertheless adamant about upholding their interpretation of Mark 3:29. If Mark 3:29 doesn’t really teach what they believe it to teach, then the blasphemy challenge would be stripped of its power to produce an unforgiving sin on behalf of its chanters, and thus its shock factor would be reduced to polite smiles on behalf of Christians.

The very thing the RRS undermines, namely the Bible (especially its teachings on Hell), is also the very thing they are attempting to uphold, namely, a single interpretation of the Bible. This single interpretation of Mark 3:39, if upheld, gives them a platform to be sacrilegious. Granted, there are many ways to be sacrilegious, but they are willing to enforce their interpretation of Mark 3:39 in order to be sacrilegious to the utmost. They would have every ignorant person who chants the blasphemy challenge conveniently believe their misinterpretation of Mark 3:29. That way, to them, the blasphemy challenge can maintain a valid and “bold” rejection of Christianity.

My question is, since when did the RRS care so much about defending Scripture, such as Mark 3:29? That is an odd hobby for a group of people who mock everything else the Bible teaches (especially the passages on Hell). The parts which they seek to use for their anti-Christian bandwagon are sought to be upheld, while the parts that are offensive are conveniently written off as superstitious. This seems more like a childish approach to Scripture, rather than a mature one.

If I disagree with the claim that Santa Clause exists, I don’t assume certain truths of the Santa story, only to trash the very truths I am accepting. Parents tell their children to be nice throughout the year so that Santa will give them toys. I don’t video record and upload myself to YouTube declaring “I’m going to be bad this year Santa so that I don’t get any of your toys! Oh yeah, and I’m not afraid!” I wouldn’t go through all this trouble just to make a broader point that Santa Clause doesn’t exist! I’ve never seen anyone, not even the RRS, set out to refute the Easter bunny, unicorns, or Santa Clause in the same ways they are Christianity, yet they are all believed by atheists and the RRS to be equally superstitious!

Is the Rational Response Squad trying to convert unbelievers into reprobates by advocating that self-condemnation will induce personal liberation?

Again, as stated above “an unforgivable sin is so harmful to their recruiting efforts that to play it down they will even compromise their view of the “infallible” Bible.” This statement seems to touch on the very heart of the blasphemy challenge, namely, to avert Christian efforts in converting unbelievers. If an unbeliever has shut themselves off from Christianity, by making it impossible for them to become a Christian down the road, then the RRS may feel they have successfully fulfilled their anti-Christian agenda. This agenda consists of converting unbelievers into reprobates in the name of religious freedom.

With use of the blasphemy challenge, we see the RRS using clever tactics, such as misinterpreting the Bible, to do their anti-Christian work for them. Instead of primarily using rational argumentation as their main polemic, they attempt to show off their “we don’t care about Hell” attitude to the Christian community. Funny how this is so, especially when “rationality” is what they pride themselves of.

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2 comments

  1. So basically I can blaspheme all I want and still might not end up in hell.

    AWESOME!

    I wouldn’t want to end up in a “heaven” run by a petulant little child that demands unquestioning constant praise. But a heaven run by a cool god that doesn’t care if I blaspheme? Win win!


  2. You’d still end up in hell, but just from a different context.

    As for you not wanting to end up in heaven, you beautifully demonstrate the doctrine of total depravity, and your actions are aligned with the Biblical anthropology. A god that doesn’t care if you blaspheme would be more like Satan. But he gets fried in the end. Congratulations.



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