025: The Big Picture – How the Whole Bible Points to Jesus

The Bible is comprised of 66 books, written over a period of 1,500 years, in three different languages, by at least 40 authors, and yet it is one cohesive story of God’s redemption of the world. Ryan Lehtinen talks with Doug Dawson about his journey to understand the big picture of the Bible and how the gospel of grace found in Christ is the culmination of the entire biblical narrative.

RESOURCES:

The Holy Bible

Big Picture of the Bible class

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughn Roberts

Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy

The Scriptures Testify about Me by D.A. Carson

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund P. Clowney

The Bible Project

Exploring My Strange Bible (Podcast)

Help Me Teach The Bible (Podcast)

 

The Unforgivable Sin

Are there things we can do that God can’t forgive? Is there an “unforgivable” sin? What does it mean to blaspheme the Spirit?

These questions usually arise after reading Matthew 12:22-32,[1]

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to [Jesus], and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

The narrative here is pretty straight forward. Jesus healed a demonically-oppressed man and the religious leaders accused Christ of accomplishing the feat by the power of Satan (referred to here as Beelzebul). Jesus highlighted the ridiculousness of their accusation by asking why the Satan would want to thwart his own agenda. The reality was, in expelling the forces of darkness, Jesus demonstrated that he was establishing the kingdom of God. In short, Jesus was clearly the Messiah sent from God the Father. Christ’s entire earthly ministry up to that point – work the religious leaders witnessed with their own eyes – undoubtedly pointed to that truth.

So, it was in that context, in the middle of those undeniable demonstrations, when Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come,” (Matthew 12:31-32).

It appears Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were blaspheming the Holy Spirit by rejecting the Spirit’s testifying work about who Christ is.[2]Even worse, not only did these religious leaders reject the Spirit’s work, but attributed it to Satan himself. It was this specific blasphemy from which Jesus said there is no return. 

This should make some sense if you consider the greater context of the passage. When the Pharisees said Jesus was from Satan, they were rejecting the only path God offers humanity for forgiveness. Therefore, denying what is really the work of the Spirit in Jesus and attributing that power, instead, to Satan, is ultimately a product of unbelief. Simply put, the Pharisees’ stubborn rejection of Jesus and the Spirit’s testimony of him was a stubborn rejection of the gospel. This is what is meant by the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. As biblical scholar Graham Cole notes, “The blasphemy against the Spirit is that self-righteous persistent refusal to embrace the offer of salvation in Christ.”[3]

This is invaluable for believers to understand. Unfortunately, we hear Christians (and sometimes Christian leaders) warn the church about the “unforgiveable sin” as if there was something we could do as believers that would remove us from the family of God. Consequently, some get nervous wondering what sins might expel them from the kingdom. However, this is where we should remind ourselves of the context of this passage. Theologian and scholar R.T. France said, 

It is [the Pharisees’] diabolical opposition to the good purpose of God which is ultimately unforgiveable. The point needs to be emphasized, since the language of this saying has been incautiously applied to real or supposed offenses ‘against the Holy Spirit’ which have nothing to do with the blasphemy of these Pharisees, and serious pastoral damage has been caused. This saying is a wake-up call to the arrogant, not a bogey to frighten those of tender conscience.[4]

Frankly, some scholars wonder if this text can be applied today at all, thinking it unique to the Pharisees, if not limited to the earthly ministry of Jesus.[5]Others believe the specific blasphemy of the Spirit isn’t so much a doubting of the truth about Jesus, but a rejection of the Spirit’s clear and direct testimony the individual knows as true in head and heart but rejects it still.[6]Thus, while there may be differences in the particulars concerning blaspheming the Spirit, the general idea is that this sin is the unbelief and rejection of who Jesus truly is and what he does. 

Therefore, when others ask, “Can a Christian commit the unpardonable sin?” the clearest answer is “no,” because to be a follower of Jesus is to believe and accept the testimony of the Spirit – that Christ is Lord – which is the exact opposite of the Pharisees’ response. Thus, the sin of blaspheming the Spirit is one which a believer cannot commit. 

It is true that Christians should live lives that seek to flee from sin, yet when we do disobey, we ought not to be so distraught as to think we’ve committed an unforgiveable sin. The gospel reminds us that Christ’s cross has taken the penalty of all our sins. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 should encourage us at this point: 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Christ is our righteousness. His redeeming work at the cross has forgiven us all our sins, where our trespasses aren’t counted against us anymore. For those who believe, there is no sin we can commit that is unpardonable. The gospel is bigger than the failure of all our sins. This is where our confidence should lie; not in us, but in Christ for us!

Theologian Louis Berkhof offers a pastoral thought for Christians who fear if they have committed the sin of blaspheming the Spirit, writing, “In view of the fact that this sin is not followed by repentance, we may be reasonably sure that they who fear that they have committed it and worry about this, and who desire prayers of others for them, have not committed it.”[7]Cole offers counsel as well, saying, “Any Christian disturbed as to whether they have committed this sin needs to be encouraged to think that they have not. Rather, such warnings, I suggest, are used by the Spirit to recover the drifting Christian and to encourage perseverance in the faith. The tender Christian conscience is a sign of hope, not evidence for despair.”[8]

Follower of Jesus, rest well in Christ. He has obeyed for you. You are clothed in his righteousness. Your sins are forgiven. This is the good news of the gospel! Know that you can never blaspheme the Spirit and commit the unforgiveable sin. On the contrary, you live by the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, and may you be continuously filled with the Spirit. 


[1]See also Mark 3:29-30; cf. Luke 12:10

[2]It could be possible that Jesus, seeing the trajectory the Pharisees are taking with him, is warning them not to commit this blasphemy.

[3]Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit, Crossway, 2007, 29.

[4]France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT, Eerdmans, 2007, 482-483.

[5]e.g., Chrysotom and Jerome.

[6]cf., Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, Baker, 2006, 156. See Louis Berkhof with almost exact statement in his Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1938, 253.

[7]Berkhof, 254.

[8]Cole, 34.

Resources on Faith & Science

This is a modest list of resources for further study into issues of faith and science. This is by no means exhaustive but hopefully a fair representation of the different interpretive views within orthodox Christianity. As previously stated in our ‘Faith & Science’ series, CCCC doesn’t hold to a specific interpretive position. With that said, the listing of resources here is not an endorsement (indeed, these works disagree with each other). On the contrary, we encourage you do the work both personally and in community in order to discover which of these resources makes best sense of the two books of God: his Word and his World. It should also be noted that descriptions were taken from other sources such as the publishers.

Faith & Science in General

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins is for believers, agnostics, and atheists alike. The Language of God provides a testament to the power of faith in the midst of suffering without faltering from its logical stride. Readers will be inspired by Collin’s personal story of struggling with doubt and faith and as well as his experiences as a genetics researcher with discussions of science and spirituality, especially centering around evolution.


Quarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion by Sir John Polkinghorne draws on discoveries made in atomic physics to make credible the claims of Christianity, and helps refine Christian perceptions through the knowledge that the new science brings. He discusses belief in God, chaos, evolution, miracles, and prayer, and gives an answer to the question: Can a scientist believe?


Science and Religion: A New Introduction by Alister McGrath. This popular textbook introduces readers to the central questions in the field of science and religion. Ideally suited to those who have little or no prior knowledge in either area, it examines the historical, theological, philosophical and scientific aspects of the interaction between religion and science. Takes a topic-based approach which fits into the existing structure of most courses, and includes explanatory material not found in other works of this kind, making it highly accessible for those with little scientific or religious background knowledge.

Interpretive Views of Creation

Literal View (Young Earth Creationism)

Gap View

Day/Age View

Literary Framework / Ancient Near East View

CCCC’s “Understanding Creation” Presentations

Other Faith and Science Resources

Conversations Between Different Viewpoints

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah B. Haarsma, and Stephen Meyer. Presents the current “state of the conversation” about origins among evangelicals representing four key positions: 1) Young Earth Creationism – Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), 2) Old Earth (Progressive) Creationism – Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe), 3) Evolutionary Creation – Deborah B. Haarsma (BioLogos), 4) Intelligent Design – Stephen C. Meyer (The Discovery Institute). The contributors offer their best defense of their position addressing questions such as: What is your position on origins – understood broadly to include the physical universe, life, and human beings in particular? What do you take to be the most persuasive arguments in defense of your position? How do you demarcate and correlate evidence about origins from current science and from divine revelation? What hinges on answering these questions correctly?

Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos by Kenneth Keathley (Editor). Christians confess that God created the heavens and the earth, but they are divided over how God created and whether the Bible gives us a scientifically accurate account of the process of creation. Representatives of two prominent positions – old earth creation (Reasons to Believe) and evolutionary creation (BioLogos) – have been in dialogue over the past decade to understand where they agree and disagree on key issues in science and theology. This book is the result of those meetings that touches on many of the pressing debates in science and faith, including biblical authority, the historicity of Adam and Eve, human genetics and common descent, the problem of natural evil, and methodological naturalism. Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? invites readers to listen in as Christian scholars weigh the evidence, explore the options, and challenge each other on the questions of creation and evolution. In a culture of increasing polarization, this is a model for charitable Christian dialogue.

Intelligent Design

Discovery Institute website

Darwin’s Black Box by Michael J. Behe helped to launch the intelligent design movement: the argument that nature exhibits evidence of design, beyond Darwinian randomness. It sparked a national debate on evolution, which continues to intensify across the country. From one end of the spectrum to the other, Darwin’s Black Box has established itself as the key intelligent design text — the one argument that must be addressed in order to determine whether Darwinian evolution is sufficient to explain life as we know it.


 

The Signature in the Cell by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. Meyer presents a convincing new case for intelligent design (ID), based on revolutionary discoveries in science and DNA. Along the way, Meyer argues that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as expounded in The Origin of Species did not, in fact, refute ID.


Evolutionary Creation

Biologos website

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science by Applegate and Stump (Editors). Many evangelicals have come to accept the conclusions of science while still holding to a vigorous belief in God and the Bible. How did they make this journey? Here are the stories of 25 people who have come to embrace evolution and faith, including Francis Collins, Scot McKnight, John Ortberg, James K.A. Smith, Jennifer Wiseman, and N.T. Wright.


 

Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science by Dennis Venema and Scott McKnight. Genomic science indicates that humans descend not from an individual pair but from a large population. What does this mean for the basic claim of many Christians: that humans descend from Adam and Eve? Leading evangelical geneticist Dennis Venema and popular New Testament scholar Scot McKnight combine their expertise to offer informed guidance and answers to questions pertaining to evolution, genomic science, and the historical Adam. The authors address up-to-date genomics data with expert commentary from both genetic and theological perspectives, showing that genome research and Scripture are not irreconcilable. It should be noted that some readers found Venema’s first half of the book sounder than McKnight’s conclusions in the second half.