In Colossians 3:8 Paul identified blasphemy as one of the sinful behaviors that Christians are to “put off.” It is identified in a list that included anger, wrath, malice, and filthy language. These latter behaviors are familiar to us, but blasphemy is a behavior that is somewhat foreign to our twenty-first century culture since the term is rarely used. So, what is blasphemy and how might we commit it?
The word blasphemy is an Anglicanized form of the Greek noun blasphemia, which derived from two other Greek terms, namely blapto, which means “to injure” and pheme, which means “to speak.” Thus, blasphemy can simply be defined as “injurious speech,” much like slander. In fact, the terms “blasphemy” and “slander” are both used to translate blasphemia in certain New Testament passages, depending on which translation you read (e.g. compare Colossians 3:8 and Mark 7:22 in the NKJV and ESV).
By its very definition blasphemy implies a sin of the tongue; however, it does not necessarily imply a sin against God. Any form of injurious speech directed against another person could be considered blasphemy. Verbal blasphemy against God occurs when His existence or His deity is either denied or demeaned. Consider the following examples.
- Peter stated that there will be false teachers who “bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). He then indicated that “because of [these false teachers] the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2). Notice that the false teachers are guilty of “bring[ing] in destructive heresies” and causing “the way of truth” to “be blasphemed.” What is the connection between the false teachings and blasphemy? The connection is that some of the false teachings promoted “denying the Master who bought them.” Thus, it appears that Peter equated a denial of God’s existence and/or a denial of God’s involvement in salvation, since he referenced the Master’s redemptive effort, as a form of blasphemy.
- Elsewhere, Paul told Timothy that he had “delivered [Hymenaeus and Alexander] to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). How did these two individuals blaspheme? Based on the context of the preceding verse, they blasphemed God by rejecting the faith. In 1 Timothy 1:18-19 Paul instructed Timothy to “wage the good warfare,holding faith and a good conscience.” He then wrote, “By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith.” Peter seemed to indicate that a rejection of the faith led some to a spiritual shipwreck. If such is the case, then a rejection of the faith, which implicitly denies God’s sovereignty, appears to be another form of blasphemy.
- Additionally, we have the example of King Sennacherib who in 2 Kings 19:22 is accused of blasphemy by God. Venturing back to 2 Kings 18:32b-35, we see that the king blasphemed God via his messengers who ridiculed God for His inability to protect Judah and belittled God as an inferior deity who will not be able to stand up to his power just like the gods of the nations he already defeated. Based on this situation, we can deduce that an exaltation of self above God and a demeaning attitude toward God are blasphemous. In fact, this is the basis of the Jews’ accusation against Jesus when they said, “you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33).
So, are you a blasphemer? Well, that depends upon your attitude toward God since blasphemy is predicated on a denial of His existence or a demeaning of His sovereign position. But a more important question might be, are you causing blasphemy?
Most of us are careful not to verbally blaspheme God. We understand that God is not to be ridiculed or demeaned. But, according to biblical examples, our involvement in the sin of blasphemy is not relegated to what we say. We can also be guilty of causing blasphemy via our disobedient and hypocritical behavior.
In Ezekiel 20:27, the prophet Ezekiel, speaking on behalf of God, said, “In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me, by being unfaithful to Me.” In this instance, blasphemy is not identified as a verbal sin but a behavioral one. God indicated that the disobedience of the Israelites caused blasphemy to occur.
This is not new to us in Scripture. Blasphemy and disobedience have been linked elsewhere. Such was the case of David’s affair with Bathsheba. It was Nathan, the prophet, who made the connection when he said, “by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14).
The point that both Ezekiel and Nathan were making is that when the people of God fail to obey Him they give everyone else a reason to reject and ridicule Him. Thus, blasphemy and disobedience are linked, not so much because disobedience is a form of injurious speech toward God but because disobedience can cause injurious speech to be directed toward God.
The apostle Paul recognized this correlation. In Romans 2:17-24, he admonished his Jewish readers for living hypocritically and stated that because of their hypocrisy “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles.” In fact, it is because such disobedient behavior could give rise to blasphemy that Paul provided specific instructions to individuals who operated in subservient social roles. For example, he instructed servants to “count their masters worthy of all honor” in order to prevent “the name of God and His doctrine” from being blasphemed (1 Timothy 6:1), and he instructed wives to behave righteously toward their unbelieving husbands so that “the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5). Paul’s objective was to prevent believers from causing blasphemy of God to occur as a result of their disobedience.
As followers of God we must not only be careful to avoid verbally blaspheming God by denying or belittling Him, but we must also be careful not to vicariously blaspheme God as a result of our unfaithfulness. As has been seen, Scripture presents a correlation between the behavior of God’s people and the perception of God Himself. Therefore, the goal of every Christian is to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). May we never be guilty of causing blasphemy toward God but, instead, always be guilty of bringing glory to God.