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The Unforgivable Sin and Purgatory

In my previous post I discussed one of the passages of the New Testament that has traditionally been used to support the idea of Purgatory, the place that most of the “saved” go after death to be purged of their sins (Matt 5:26  “you won’t get out of there until you have paid the last penny”).  In my judgment this passage is not talking about what happens in the afterlife, even though it has been read that way.   With another passage, the matter is not quite so clear.

In a famous passage, again in Matthew, Jesus talks about the “unforgiveable sin”:  “Therefore I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven; and whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven, either in this age or the ages to come.”

As you might imagine, over the Christian centuries there have been numerous interpretations of what that *one* sin was, especially by concerned believers who were worried to death that they had already committed it and so are destined to hell.  I’ve heard all sorts of suggestions, some of them rather bizarre (It’s premarital sex!  It’s masturbation!), and others not bizarre but equally scary (It’s any sin committed by a Christian after they have been filled with the Holy Spirit!).

As with most passages of the New Testament, the surest way to provide an interpretation of what Jesus is talking about is …

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Who Invented the Idea of a Suffering Messiah?
Did Jesus Teach About Purgatory?



  1. Avatar
    mikezamjara  April 7, 2018

    Hi Dr. Ehrman I continue watching your debates. I have an important question, Dr Carl Sagan popularized the phrase “millions and millions”, You have popularized the phrase “copies of the copies of the copies”. Haven’t you thought making shirts or something?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      Hey that’s a great idea!

    • Avatar
      Jim  April 8, 2018

      I’d agree. Lots of sports teams make royalty money off of T-shirts, caps and other merchandise. The key is getting an attractive one designed. And come to think of it, I’d make every blog member have to buy the T-shirt if they want to continue their membership. 🙂 🙂

      • Avatar
        The Agnostic Christian  April 10, 2018

        You can’t make people buy a t-shirt. That would turn people off, but clothing with clever, ironic or funny statements is always popular.

  2. Avatar
    jogon  April 7, 2018

    Off topic Bart but what do you think of L Michael White? Just started reading his book Scripting Jesus and it seems pretty good!

  3. Avatar
    nbraith1975  April 7, 2018

    The very core of Jesus’ teachings about god was his forgiveness; yet there is no forgiveness available for those who reject god – only an eternal fiery death. You might expect a little leniency from an all-loving god.

    “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

    “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

    “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…”

    “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

    “But I say to you, love your enemies…”

    “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God…”

    “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you…”

    “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also…”

    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you…”

    “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

    • Liam Foley
      Liam Foley  April 10, 2018

      To me it makes logical sense that if a loving, all-knowing did exist he would be able to have compassion, understanding and empathy toward people who were not able to believe in an invisible God.

  4. Avatar
    forthfading  April 7, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What was Paul’s understanding of life after death? Where would he have got his views, since the OT does not present a view?


  5. Avatar
    ask21771  April 7, 2018

    Do we know for sure if the canon gospels came from oral traditions

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      The only option is that the authors made up the stories themselves, which is implausible since some sources *independently* have the *same* stories in different words.

  6. Avatar
    Tm3  April 7, 2018

    A few months ago one of our assistant pastors explained that casting out demons was really the same as healing the sick. The rationale for this was that possession was mental illness. Our bible study class really liked this viewpoint. Of course no demons then no dualism or pessimism. Nothing to imminently vindicate. Another hidden strike against apocalyptism. Anyway, will I go to purgatory for thinking “Idiots”?

  7. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  April 8, 2018

    Are you tweeting all the recent posts? I have it set to push all your tweet notifications to my smartphone but I don’t seem to be receiving all of them recently.

    Also what resources would you recommend to someone trying to come to a reasonable conclusion on whether the Resurrection actually happened. When it all boils down to it, this is the issue most Christians say separates Christianity from everything else. And they believe the Bible proves it.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      Yes, they are all set up automatically to tweet. Sources. Well you might think about watching the debates I’ve had with Mike Licona on the subject.

      • Avatar
        The Agnostic Christian  April 10, 2018

        If you check your Twitter, the last tweet about was for the 6th anniversary. Tweets about other things are still going, but not about the blog.

  8. Avatar
    Eskil  April 8, 2018

    It seems that there is again similarities between Essenes and later Christian doctrines about the Holy Spirit.
    Essenes: God “will cleanse him [man] of all wicked deeds with the spirit of holiness [Holy Spirit]; like purifying waters He will shed upon him the spirit of truth (to cleanse him) of all abomination and injustice”.
    Christians: “He [Jesus/God] will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”
    Could Essenes’ views explain the importance of Holy Spirit in this contexts?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 9, 2018

      My sense is that most Christians who developed the idea of the Holy Spirit were not in contact with Essenes.

      • Avatar
        Eskil  April 9, 2018

        Wouldn’t they have at least known about their existence based on the writings of Philo and Josephus?

        For me it is hard to imagine any learned gentile men to convert into Jewish fate (future Christianity) without first being influenced by something like the writings of the two. The story that “the way of life practised by the Essenes was introduced to Greece by Pythagoras” could have also helped. I can imagine it has been easy for the early converts to confuse the two groups being the same like Eusebius confused the Therapeutics to be Christians.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 10, 2018

          There’s no evidence to suggest that hte early Christians read Philo or Josephus, and considerable reasons for thinking they didn’t.

  9. Avatar
    Stephen  April 8, 2018

    I had a special revelation that the only folks guilty of the unpardonable sin are the producers of those God’s Not Dead movies.

  10. Avatar
    Jayredinger  April 9, 2018

    Hi Bart,
    Have you come across Francesca Stavrakopoulou, she makes some interesting observations about the old and new testaments, what is her level of expertise?

  11. Avatar
    Tobit  April 9, 2018

    Very interesting. What do you think of the Didache seeming to interperet the unforgivable sin as condemning a true prophet speaking ‘in the spirit’?

  12. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  April 14, 2018

    Doesn’t the author of 1st John say that denying the Incarnation, that “Christ has come in the flesh,” is unforgivable? Can this be reconciled with Matthew?

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