Matthew 12:32 – Is the Word “Speaks” in the Aorist Tense?

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 . . .

Tim’s Answer

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.

a pilgrim
tim's signature for the article on the aorist tense

7 thoughts on “Matthew 12:32 – Is the Word “Speaks” in the Aorist Tense?”

  1. Hey Tim,
    I have a question regarding what you said about the “aorist subjunctive form” of blasphemy in your response. Could you please clarify your conclusion which stated “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.” What do you mean by “He was referencing what we say or blaspheme in our lives”?

    1. Hi Jon,

      This is Nathan replying. Let me see if I can help. I think Tim was saying that finding a reference to repetition (“whoever continually speaks against…”) or one time action (“whoever even just once speaks against…”) in this aorist subjunctive is unfounded. The biblical authors were referencing an action as simply occurring. The question for us as interpreters then becomes, “What if I speak against the Holy Spirit just once?” Since the grammar here doesn’t address that question, we look to the context and the Bible as a whole to see what it says. As Tim showed above, it is clear that God’s love and forgiveness extend to all who turn to Him in repentance, even someone like Saul (Acts 7:51).

  2. Tim – your answer above was very thorough and intelligent. Commitment is the key. I’ve always struggled with that and no different in my walk with the Lord. I had a lot of doubts and questions, but I was doing the best I could to walk the faith, with what faith I had. The Lord spoke to me thru the word one day and gave me direction. I knew what He was asking/saying. I did just the opposite and it took my life off the path of walking with Him into the wilderness. I can’t just go back, it’s not one of those things. I bypassed the Holy Spirits leading and conviction and chose to do this. That wasn’t following. I’m still in the wrong place and I can feel it. No presence of the Holy Spirit, empty prayers, lots of fear and…

  3. There is always fear and anxiety when the Lord is absent. I hardly knew the depth of my condition until about a year ago and the blinders just came off. That was God too, because I couldn’t have orchestrated how that came to pass. I have asked for forgiveness and told Him how much I love Him (I do!), But I made a choice to not follow 23 years ago and it was comprehensive. Blasphemy is best broken down to “sin”. My sin was to reject the Holy Spirits witness, even tho I knew nothing about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit back then. But I absolutely knew that I was going against God. I didn’t have a moments peace and not too many since. I do not see at all, that I haven’t committed this unpardonable sin.

    1. Teresa,

      I understand that when we sin knowingly against God, we feel a great burden of guilt and shame. I myself have experienced this. I believe that this is actually a gift from God. He wired us to feel guilt and shame over our sin. On top of that, the Holy Spirit works to convict us of sin (John 16:8). The issue is that we need to respond to it rightly. Like the Corinthians, we need “godly sorrow” for our sin (2 Cor. 7:10). It is sorrow that turns to the open arms of Jesus for forgiveness and life. Every day we have a choice to follow him, no matter what we’ve done. What the Apostle Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:15 is something we should not forget: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” If God can save and use Paul for His good purposes, there is still hope for you.


  4. I need to learn Koinè Greek. Why does the previous verse [Matthew 12:31] say the same thing using nouns? How is the part (in verse 32) about the holy spirit anything but redundant?

    1. David,

      I’m not sure what translation you are looking at when you observe that verse 31 is just using nouns. In the Greek, the same future tense passive verb, “will be forgiven,” occurs twice in verses 31 and 32. Regarding the repetition you mentioned, I would agree! They are very similar, with the exception that verse 32 gets more specific by adding “whoever speaks” and substituting “blasphemy” with “speaks against.” Sometimes we repeat ourselves for emphasis and clarity. Perhaps Jesus was doing something similar here?


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