Blasphemy is an Anglicized form of the Greek word βλασφημία, and in its technical English sense signifies the speaking evil of God (in Heb. יהוֹה נָקִב שֵׁם, to curse the name of the Lord), and in this sense it is found Ps 74:18; Isa 52:5; Ro 2:24, etc. But, according to its derivation (βλάπτω φήμῃ quasi (βλαψιφημέω), it may mean any species of calumny and abuse (or even an unlucky word, Eurip. Ion. 1187); see 1Ki 21:10; Ac 18:6; Jude 1:9, etc. Hence in the Sept. it is used to render בָּיִך, Job 2:5; גָּדִŠ), 2Ki 19:6; יָכִח, 2Ki 19:4; and לָעג, Ho 7:16, so that it means " reproach," "derision," etc.; and it has even a wider use, as 2Sa 12:14, where it means "to despise Judaism," and 1 Macc. 2:6, where βλασφημία = idolatry. In Sir. 3:18 we have it applied to filial impiety, where it is equivalent to "accursed" (Schleusner, Thesaur. s.v.). In the Auth. Engl. Vers. "blaspheme," etc., occasionally represent the following Heb. words: בָּיִך, barak'; גָּדִŠ, adaph'; חָרִŠ, charaph'; נָקִב, nakab'; נָאִוֹ, naats'.
I. Among the Israelites injurious language toward Jehovah was punished, like a heathenish and capital crime, with stoning, as in the case of the son of Shelomith (Le 25:16; Josephus, Ant. 4:8, 6; comp. Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 104 sq.). This, however, did not include any prohibition of blasphemy against foreign deities (Ex 22:28; Le 24:15), as Philo (Opp. ii, 166, 219) and Josephus (Ant. 4:8, 10; Apion, ii, 33) suppose, the practice of which among the Jews seems to be alluded to by Pliny (13:9: "gens contumelia numinum insignis"). The injunction against disrespect in Ex 22:28, refers to magistrates (אֵֹלהַים); comp. Selden, Tus nat. et gent. ii, 13; Michaelis, Mos. Recht, v, 158 sq. The Jews interpreted the command in Le 24:16 as prohibiting the utterance of the divine name under any circumstance (comp. Nu 1:17; see Hartmann, Verbind. d. A. wld N.T. p. 49 sq., 434; also Philo, Opp. ii, 166), and hence never pronounce the word JEHOVAH SEE JEHOVAH (q.v.), a superstition that still has its analogous customs in the East (see Rosenmuller on Ex 3:13; Michaelis, Mos. Recht, v, 163 sq.). They also construed Ex 23:13 so as to hold themselves bound to give nicknames to the heathen deities; hence their use of Bosheth for Baal, Bethaven for Bethel, Beelzebul for Beelzebub, Ho 4:5, etc. When a person heard blasphemy he laid his hand on the head of the offender, to symbolize his sole responsibility for the guilt, and, rising on his feet, tore his robe, which might never again be mended. (On the mystical reasons for these observances, see Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. Mt 26:65.)
II. Blasphemy, in the theological sense, consists in irreverent or insulting language toward God or his perfections (Blasphemia est locutio contumeliosa in Deum; and Augustine, De Morib. Manich lib. ii, c. 11, Jam vero Blasphemia non accipitur nisi mala verba de Deo dicere). Primarily, according to Dr. Campbell, blasphemy denotes calumny, detraction, reproachful or abusive language, against whomsoever it be vented. It is in Scripture applied to reproaches not aimed against God only, but man also (Ro 3:8; Ro 14:16; 1Pe 4:4, Gr.). It is, however, more peculiarly restrained to evil or reproachful words offered to God. According to Lindwood, blasphemy is an injury offered to God by denying that which is due and belonging to him, or attributing to him what is not agreeable to his nature. "Three things," says a divine, "are essential to this crime: 1, God must be the object; 2, the words spoken or written, independently of consequences which others may derive from them, must be injurious in their nature; and, 3, he who commits the crime must do it knowingly. This is real blasphemy; but there is a relative blasphemy, as when a man may be guilty ignorantly, by propagating opinions which dishonor God, the tendency of which he does not perceive. A man may be guilty of this constructively; for if he speak freely against received errors it will be construed into blasphemy." SEE CAVILS.
There can be no blasphemy, therefore, where there is not an impious purpose to derogate from the Divine Majesty, and to alienate the minds of others from the love and reverence of God. The blasphemer is no other than the calumniator of Almighty God. To constitute the crime, it is also necessary that this species of calumny be intentional. He must be one, therefore, who by his impious talk endeavors to inspire others with the same irreverence toward the Deity, or, perhaps, abhorrence of him, which he indulges in himself.. And though, for the honor of human nature, it is to be hoped that very few arrive at this enormous guilt, it ought not to be dissembled that the habitual profanation of the name and attributes of God by common swearing is but too manifest an approach toward it. There is not an entire coincidence: the latter of these vices may be considered as resulting solely from the defect of what is good in principle and disposition, the former from the acquisition of what is evil in the extreme; but there is a close connection between them, and an insensible gradation from the one to the other. To accustom one's self to treat the Sovereign of the universe with irreverent familiarity is the first step, malignly to arraign his attributes and revile his providence is the last.
As blasphemy by the old law (Ex 20:7; Le 19:12;. 24:10; Deuteronomy v, 11) was punished with death, so the laws of Justinian also directed that blasphemers should be put to death. The Church ordered their excommunication. In the Church of Rome cases of notorious blasphemy are reserved. By the laws of England and of many of the United States, blasphemies of God, as denying His being or providence, and all contumelious reproaches of the Lord Jesus Christ, profane scoffing at the Holy Bible, or exposing it to contempt, are offences punishable by fine, imprisonment, etc. (Blackstone, Ccmmentaries, bk. 4,ch. iv). By the statute of 9 and 10 William III, ch. 32, if any one shall deny either of the Persons of the Trinity to be God, or assert that there are more than one God, or deny Christianity to be true, for the first offence, is rendered incapable of any office; for the second, adjudged incapable of suing, being executor or guardian, receiving any gift or legacy, and to be imprisoned for years. According to the law of Scotland, blasphemy is punished with death: these laws, however, in the present age, are not enforced; and by the statute of 53 George III, ch. 160, the words in italics were omitted, the Legislature thinking, perhaps, that spiritual offences should 'be left to be punished by the Deity, and not by human statutes.
The early Christians distinguished blasphemy as of three kinds:
1. The blasphemy of apostates and lapsi, whom the heathen persecutors had obliged not only to deny, but to curse Christ.
2. The blasphemy of heretics and other profane Christians.
3. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. The first kind is referred to in Pliny, who, in giving Trajan an account of some Christians that apostatized in time of persecution, says, "They all worshipped his image, and the image of the gods, and also cursed Christ." That this was the ordinary mode of renouncing the Christian religion appears from the demand which the proconsul made to Polycarp, and Polycarp's reply. He bade him revile Christ, to whom Polycarp replied, "These eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any harm: how, then, can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?" Heresy was sometimes reputed blasphemy, and was punished by the same penalty.
III. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is variously understood. Some apply it to the sin of lapsing into idolatry; others to a denial of the proper Godhead of 'Christ; others to a denial of the divinity of the Holy Ghost. Others place this sin in a perverse and malicious ascribing of the works of the Holy Spirit to the power of the devil. Augustine resolves it into obstinacy in opposing the methods of divine grace, and continuing in this obduracy to the end of life. The passages in the N.T. which speak of it are Mt 12:31-32; Mr 3:28-29; Lu 12:10. These passages are referred by many expositors to continued and obstinate resistance of the Gospel, which issues in final unbelief. This, they argue, is unpardonable, not because the blood of Christ cannot cleanse from such a sin, nor because there is any thing in its own nature which separates it from all other sins, and places it beyond the reach of forgiveness, but simply because so long as a man continues to disbelieve he voluntarily excludes himself from mercy. In this sense, every sin may be styled unpardonable, because forgiveness is incompatible with an obstinate continuance in sin. One principal objection to this view is that it generalizes the sin, whereas the Scripture represents it as specific, and discountenances the idea that it is of frequent occurrence. The case referred to by Christ is this: He cured a daemoniac who was blind and dumb. The Pharisees who stood by and witnessed the miracle, unable to deny the fact, ascribed it to the agency of the devil. Not only did they resist the evidence of the miracle, but they were guilty of the wicked and gratuitous calumny that Christ was in league with the powers of darkness. It was not only a sin of thought, but one of open speech. It consisted in attributing to the power of Satan those unquestionable miracles which Jesus performed by "the finger of God," and the power of the Holy Spirit; nor have we any safe ground for extending it to include all sorts of willing (as distinguished from unwilling) offences, besides this one limited and special sin. In both the cases referred to, speaking against is mentioned as the sin. "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man;" "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost." The Spirit dwells in Christ, and, therefore, such imputations were calumnies against the Holy Ghost. The sin betokened a state of mind which, by its awful criminality, excluded from all interest in Christ. There is no connection between this awful sin and those mentioned in Heb 6:4-8; Heb 10:26-31. There may be dangerous approximations to such a sin. When men can ridicule and contemn religion and its ordinances; when they can sport with the work of the Holy Ghost on the human heart; when they can persist in a wilful disbelief of the Holy Scriptures, and cast contemptuous slanders upon Christianity, which is " the ministration of the Spirit," they are approaching a fearful extremity of guilt, and certainly in danger of putting themselves beyond the reach of the arm of mercy. Some persons, when first awakened to discover the awful nature and aggravations of their own sins, have been apprehensive that they have fallen into this Sin, and in danger of giving themselves up to despair. This is a device of the devil to keep them from Christ. The very fear is a proof they are free from the awful crime. The often misunderstood expression, " It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world," etc., is a direct application of a Jewish phrase in allusion to a Jewish error, and will- not bear the inferences so often extorted from it. According to the Jewish school notions, the person blaspheming the name of God could not be pardoned by sacrifice, nor even the day of atonement, but could only be absolved by death. In refutation of this tradition, our Lord used the phrase to imply that " blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven; neither before death, nor, as you vainly dream, by means of death" (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc.). It is difficult to discover the "sin unto death" noticed by the apostle John (1Jo 5:16), although it has been generally thought to coincide with the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; but the language of John does not afford data for pronouncing them one and the same. The first three Gospels alone describe the blasphemy which shall not be forgiven: from it the " sin unto death" stands apart. (See Lucke, Bripe d. Apostels Johannes, 2d.ed. 305-317; Campbell, Preliminary Diss. Diss. 9,pt. ii; Olshausen, Comm. pt. 453 sq. Am. ed.; Watson, Theol. Dict. s. av.; Princeton Rev. July, 1846, art. ii). SEE UNPARDONABLE SIN.