Question from a Site Viewer
What the heck is the aorist tense?
In Matthew 12:32, I always thought the word “speaks” meant constantly speaking, or continually speaking. It made sense (and still does) that if a person is continually speaking against the Holy Spirit, then that person will not be forgiven. But I recently learned that the word “speaks” is in the aorist tense. The aorist tense means that it’s a one-time act, right? I think I’m guilty of doing that. I feel sick, heartsick, broken, hopeless, and terrified. I wish it said in the Bible, “If you are concerned that you committed the unpardonable sin, then you haven’t.” But the Bible doesn’t say that. And everyone defines the unpardonable sin differently! I want to have peace knowing that I have asked the Lord for forgiveness, and He will forgive me. I try my best to hold onto John 6:37 — “no wise cast out” — even though I don’t really understand those words . . .
Thank you for asking the question about the unpardonable sin. You have apparently read some of our articles on this subject, but you have other questions. Let me try and answer them for you.
First, contrary to what you may have been led to believe, the Greek aorist tense does not possess any time aspect to it, except in the indicative mood, where it references past time. The aorist tense does not mean that it is a one-time event. It does not mean that it is an ongoing thing. It does not mean that it is an iterative thing. Outside of the indicative mood, the aorist tense says absolutely nothing about time. And even in the indicative mood, all it tells us is that it is in the past. We do not know whether it is an ongoing action in the past, a single action in the past, or an iterative action in the past. Thus, Moulton states that the aorist represents “an event as a single whole, without regarding the time taken in its accomplishment.” Robertson says the aorist treats “the act as a single whole irrespective of the parts of time involved.” Dana and Mantey states that the aorist denotes action simply as occurring, without reference to its progress. Burton states that the aorist denotes the action as an event.
So no Greek grammarian would agree with the conclusion that Jesus meant a one-time act when he used an aorist tense. But, probably more to the point, Jesus did not likely speak in Greek. He spoke in Hebrew (my view) or most scholars would say Aramaic. Neither of these languages have the present or aorist forms of their verbs. Thus, Matthew is translating what Jesus said into the Greek and Matthew uses an aorist subjunctive form of the verb “to speak.” Mark translates out the same encounter and uses an aorist subjective form of the verb “to blaspheme.” Luke translates a similar statement of Christ with an aorist participle. Each one is consistent in letting us know that Jesus was not referencing a one time event or a continuing event. He was referencing what we say or blaspheme in our lives.
Second, if everyone who ever spoke against the Holy Spirit was consigned to hell, who would be in heaven? Jesus in these passages is speaking in relation to the Pharisees who said that Jesus cast out demons by the ruler of demons. They were ascribing to Satan the powers of Christ. In doing so, they were denying the true power that was working in Christ. This is what Jesus references as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit or speaking against the Holy Spirit. Failure to acknowledge that the works of Christ were done by the power of the Spirit is blasphemy, in the view of Christ. Yet, this is the very thing that the Apostle Paul did before his conversion. He blasphemed, as he himself states in 1 Timothy 1:13. And in that he denied the true power working in Christ, his blasphemy would have been against the Holy Spirit. He, as a Pharisee, did exactly what the other Pharisees were doing at the time when Christ spoke these words. And, yet, he was converted. Stephen said in Acts 7:51 that the Pharisees there were always resisting the Holy Spirit. Paul was one of those who were there (Acts 8:1-3). Paul was saved. And we all, before we come to Christ, are by our lives denying and speaking against the fact that the Spirit was working in Christ’s life. Yet, Jesus came to bring salvation to us.
So, I reject any notion that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit or the speaking against the Holy Spirit means that if we one time say something against the Holy Spirit, we are forever doomed. Even if we actively resist the Holy Spirit, we can be saved if we will repent and turn to Christ. I continue to believe that the speaking or blasphemy is in relation to the life as a whole, and those who end life without ever acknowledging the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ, will die in their sins.
I think the bigger issue is not the blasphemy or speaking against the Holy Spirit, but rather the commitment to Christ. If we come to Him, He will not cast us out, as you yourself quote. And the King James Translation “no wise” is simply an attempt to translate a strengthened negative in the Greek. It literally means “I will never, never cast out.” And though living the Christian life on our own is not possible, gaining the help we need to live the Christian life is as simple as calling out to God to help us (Hebrews 4:14-16). So, I beg of you, do not sit back and wait for God to do something in your life. Rather, take it upon yourself to aggressively pursue God. Pray. Trust in His Son. Obey what He says. Reform your thinking by memorizing Scripture (Psalm 119:9-11). Think about the things Philippians 4:8 tells us to think about. Learn to control thoughts. Do not be sluggish in your mind, but gird up the loins of your mind (1 Peter 1:13). And seek to be a blessing to others, especially those in need.
God did not send His Son to this world to leave us in our sins or condemn us. He sent His Son because He wanted, more than we will ever understand, to save us. This is who He is, a God of mercy. So, my encouragement to you is not focus on your possible sin, or on yourself at all. Rather, focus on the greatness of Jesus and get as close to Him as you can get. As you do so, you will find the Spirit of God infilling your life and providing you those God signs in your life that confirm to you that you are His child. You will find answers to prayer, little and big things that God does everyday for us.
May the Lord Jesus guide you as you commit your life to pursuing Him and His mission.