BY: JONATHAN MITCHELL
Mark Eaton recently brought this word to my attention, and our email discussions resulting from his research, together with some of the definitions that he pointed out, have prompted me to study some of its contexts to see the significance of this word for us.
The verse that Mark first presented, and which started our conversations, was Eph. 4:31. Here is how I previously had translated it:
“Let every bitterness, swelling negative emotion (inherent fervor; or: natural propensity, disposition and impulse; or: wrath), enraged impulse, clamorous outcry, and blasphemy (slanderous or abusive speech; desecration) be at once lifted up and removed from you folks, together with all worthlessness (that which ought not to be; that which is of bad quality; malice; ugliness; badness; depravity)!”
Col. 3:8 presents a similar imperative from Paul and the normal lexical definitions “slanderous or abusive speech” or “desecration” give a good understanding of the general character of the word, but Mark is digging deeper, since this word is used not only about people, but about God and His Word. Thus I decided to seek out the root idea behind its various contextual applications. Blasphemy is a loan word from Greek, and is a transliteration of the Greek noun “blasphemia.”
Blasphemia is a derivative of Strong’s #’s 984 and 5345.
984: blapto, properly means: to hinder; (by implication: to inure or hurt)
5345: pheme, “fame,” comes from #5345, which is properly the same base as #’s 5457 and 5316:
5457: phos, “light”
5316: phaino, “to lighten; to shine.”
Thus, blasphemia, at its base, is: a hindering of light in a way that brings injury. In contextual usage it can mean slander, defaming communication, injurious speech, vilification, misrepresentation, abusive speech that gives a false image of the subject, or, as the Concordant Concordance gives, “harm-averment.”
With all these English words in mind, how are we to understand the root idea of “hinder the light”? When a person’s reputation is “smeared,” what he represents or says (what we might call the “out-raying” of his particular light; his “glory,” or reputation; his message) is hindered. We see this often happening in the political arena. When someone attempts to be a light in the darkness, blasphemy can hinder the ability of his light to shine – and as being joined to Christ, we are the light of the world.
The Pharisees accused Jesus of having a demon and being in league with a pagan deity (Mk. 3:22). In Lu. 11:53-53, the scribes and Pharisees tried to provoke Him to say something of which they could accuse Him. In both Mk. 3:29 and Lu. 12:9-10, Jesus associated their speech and behavior as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” which in both passages He said would not be forgiven. So we are dealing with a topic that is of serious concern. In fact, many a person has lived with the fear that they had at some point committed what in tradition has been called “the unpardonable sin.” This is understandable since in the last part of Mk. 3:29, the KJV (Authorized Version) tells us that if a person does this he “hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”
Now a more accurate rendering of these phrases is: “continues not having a release (not holding a deliverance or a divorce; not possessing a forgiveness) – on into the Age. But rather, he continues existing being one caught (or: held) within an eonian effect of a mistake (or: within a result of having missed the target in the eonian realm; in the midst of an age-lasting result of a sin or of error; in union with an effect of failure with respect to things which pertain to [the realm of] the Age; in the midst of the result of a deviation with regard to the [Messianic] eon; within the effects of an error that will last for an indefinite period of time).”
Note that such a one is “caught and held within an eonian EFFECT of a mistake (or: within a RESULT of having missed the target, etc.).” Jesus is saying that sowing such words will bring a harvest that has an effect, and brings a result that can last a long time. The KJV word “never” is not in the Greek. It is simply the word “not.” This “sin” or “error” or “failure” or “deviation” or “missing of the target” or “mistake” brings judgment: an evaluation and a decision by God (by implication, in the passage). So although it is not an “eternal” judgment, nor is it “damnation,” it is still a very serious matter for us to consider. We should keep in mind that Peter tells us that judgment begins at God’s house – i.e., with His people.
If we consider the above definitions of “blasphemy,” it becomes apparent that the scribes and Pharisees were creating a “false image” of Jesus. Such a false image of Him, or a misrepresentation of Him, would hinder the light that He was bringing to the people. It was one way in which they “shut up the kingdom” and hindered people enter it (Matt. 23:13). If in what they said they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit – in their criticism of His work – they were in fact defaming and slandering God Himself.
Another use of this word is seen in Lu. 23:39 where the criminal being crucified with Jesus “railed on” Him (KJV). He “began speaking abuse and insults to Him.” What he said was, “Are not you, yourself, the Christ? [Then] save yourself, as well as us!” He, in speaking blasphemy, was casting a shadow of doubt over the light of the cross of Christ, he was and doing the same thing that Peter had done by here saying “save yourself.” Peter had objected to Jesus going to the cross (Mk. 8:33), and his words contradicted the will and purpose of God, thus hindering the light of the cross. Although Jesus did not say that Peter was blaspheming, he was acting the part of the adversary, by thinking from a human perspective. But here in Luke this speech is called blasphemy.
In Acts 13:44-45 the Jews “began contradicting the things being spoken by Paul, while repeatedly speaking abusively (or: arguing with slander and invectives; speaking light-hindering misrepresentations; defaming with accusations of villainy).” You see that I gave a broad spectrum of the semantic range of this word for your consideration. They were blaspheming the message given by Paul and Barnabas.
Paul uses this word in Tit. 2:5 where he says, “… to the end that God’s thought and idea (God’s Logos; God’s Word; God’s message) can not be constantly blasphemed (abusively defamed; misrepresented).” Misrepresenting, defaming or giving a false image of God’s Word, idea or message was Paul’s concern in this context. He is speaking to the church about how their behavior could potentially have an ill-effect upon Christ and His message – and thus “hinder the Light.” Peter gives a similar word to Paul’s, speaking of false teachers “on account of whom (or: because of which ones) the Way [other MSS: the glory] of the Truth and Reality will be blasphemed (vilified; defamed; misrepresented with abusive slander; or: have its light hindered)” – 2 Pet. 2:1-2
In Rom. 2:24, Paul quotes Isaiah about God’s Name (= honor; reputation; image) “being blasphemed (vilified; misrepresented; slandered; given a false image which hinders the Light) among the ethnic multitudes” by Israel‘s behavior. It is the name and reputation of God that has been the heart of Mark Eaton’s research into this word blasphemy. The question now comes to us, not only about our behavior, but also about what we say about God. Do our teachings vilify God? Do our traditions give a false image of the God that Scripture describes as Good, and as BEING Love? Does what we say about God, in our defining His justice hinder the Light of His Love? Have we let pagan notions misrepresent Him? Is His Name being blasphemed among the non-Christians because we have, like Peter, been instruments of the adversary and misunderstood God’s purpose and the all-inclusive work of the cross? Dare we, as some sects of Christianity do, say that God loves only “the elect,” or only those who believe like we do? If we defame His brothers (who are our brothers), we defame Him (cf Matt. 25:40). If we cast out of our own group someone for whom Christ died, are we not casting Him out?
We noted that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Who is God) is a serious offense. May we examine ourselves to make sure that we are not “loaded (freighted) with names of blasphemy (which hinder light; of injurious, abusive slander; or: from a misrepresented image)” (Rev. 17:3)
BLASPHEMY [Jonathan Mitchell] 1