BLASPHEMY is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning literally “to speak harm.” In the biblical context, blasphemy is an attitude of disrespect that finds expression in an act directed against the character of God.
Old Testament Blasphemy draws its Christian definition through the background of the Old Testament. It is significant that blasphemy reflects improper action with regard to the use of God's name. God revealed His character and invited personal relationship through the revelation of His name. Therefore, the use of God's name gave the Israelites the opportunity of personal participation with the very nature of God.
Leviticus 24:14-16 guides the Hebrew definition of blasphemy. The offense is designated as a capital crime, and the offender is to be stoned by the community. Blasphemy involves the actual pronunciation of the name of God along with an attitude of disrespect. Under the influence of this interpretation, the personal name of God (Yahweh) was withdrawn from ordinary speech and the title of Adonai (Lord) was used in its place.
Israel, at various times, was guilty of blasphemy. Specifically mentioned were the instances of the golden calf (Nehemiah 9:18) and the harsh treatment of the prophets (Nehemiah 9:26). David was accused by Nathan of making a mockery of God's commands and giving an occasion for the enemies of Israel to blaspheme—to misunderstand the true nature of God (2 Samuel 12:14).
The enemies of Israel blasphemed God through acts against the people of God. The Assyrians claimed that God was powerless when compared to their mighty army (2 Kings 19:6,2 Kings 19:22; Isaiah 37:6,Isaiah 37:23). A contempt of God was shown by the Babylonians during the Exile, as they continually ridiculed God (Isaiah 52:5). Edom was guilty of blasphemy when it rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 35:12). God responded with judgment (2 Kings 19:35-37) or promised judgment (Isaiah 52:6; Ezekiel 35:12-15) to defend the dignity of His name.
New Testament The New Testament broadens the concept of blasphemy to include actions against Christ and the church as the body of Christ. Jesus was regarded by the Jewish leaders as a blasphemer Himself (Mark 2:7). When tried by the Sanhedrin, Jesus not only claimed messianic dignity, but further claimed the supreme exalted status (Luke 22:69). Such a claim, according to the Sanhedrin, fit the charge of blasphemy and, therefore, deserved death (Matthew 26:65; Mark 14:64). However, according to the New Testament perspective, the real blasphemers were those who denied the messianic claims of Jesus and rejected His unity with the Father (Mark 15:29; Luke 22:65; Luke 23:39).
The unity of Christ and the church is recognized in the fact that persecutions against Christians are labeled as blasphemous acts (1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Peter 4:4; Revelation 2:9). It is also important that Christians avoid conduct that might give an occasion for blasphemy, especially in the area of attitude and speech (Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:4; Titus 3:2).
The sin of blasphemy is a sin that can be forgiven. However, there is a sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven (Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). This is a state of hardness in which one consciously and willfully resists God's saving power and grace. It is a desperate condition that is beyond the situation of forgiveness because one is not able to recognize and repent of sin. Thus one wanting to repent of blasphemy against the Spirit cannot have committed the sin.
Jerry M. Henry
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.