15 The “Unpardonable Sin” and a Shift to Parables

Dr. Doug Bookman

Note: By harmonizing the Synoptic accounts, it is possible to trace the events of one remarkable day late on the second tour through Galilee – remarkable primarily for the spirit of rejection which manifested itself on this day. This day is clearly a turning point in Jesus’s ministry; indeed, it marks the beginning of the end of that ministry – and thus of an extended period during which Jesus’s focus has been public presentation of Himself to the nation.

A. The “Unpardonable Sin” and Jesus’s Response

Scripture: Matthew 12:22-37 and Mark 3:20-30

Notes: Most basic to this day was the wickedness remembered as the “unpardonable sin.” It is widely acknowledged that this event functions as a basic turning point in Jesus’s ministry, and it is essential to understand why that is so.


  1. This event is precipitated by a miracle done by Jesus, a miracle specifically foretold of Messiah (cf. Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 35:6).
  2. Notice very carefully the question asked by the people who witnessed the miracle in Matthew 12:23.
  3. There is much discussion as to the specific character of the sin of “blaspheming the Holy Spirit”; it is an important discussion, but don’t miss the undeniable emphasis of this passage – in committing that sin, the masses have chosen to believe the lying excuse of the Pharisees and thus to reject Jesus’s claims concerning Himself, in spite of the unimpeachable evidence He has just given them in this remarkable miracle.

B. The Reaction of the Pharisees

Scripture: Matthew 12:38-45

Notes: The Pharisees again demand a sign, but Jesus refuses and speaks even greater condemnation upon them.

Questions/Observations: This is the first of at least three times that Jesus refuses any sign but that of Jonah (cf. Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:30).

C. The Reaction of Jesus’s Family

Scripture: Mark 3:31-35 and Matthew 12:46-50

Notes: This is a remarkably difficult time for Jesus, as His own family – including His mother – come to take Him home, thinking Him to be out of His mind (cf. Mark 3:21)


  1. Contemplate the travail of soul Jesus must have felt as word came that His own family thought Him crazy.
  2. Understand that in Mark 3:34-35, Jesus is living up to a very difficult but very clear Old Testament ethic.
  3. An interesting question: could the perception that Jesus was “out of his mind” have anything to do with the strategy He was employing at this time? (See below.)

D. Jesus Begins Teaching in Parables

Scripture: Matthew 13:1-52 and Mark 4:1-34

Notes: As you read these passages, note carefully the movements of Jesus and His apostles – and the consequent audience of the various portions of the text.

E. Jesus Selects 12 from among His Disciples to be His Apostles

Scripture: Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16

Notes: This is rather late in His Galilean ministry, and Jesus does this because His enemies are growing sufficiently enraged and emboldened that Jesus knows the time He will have to move about freely in Galilee is short.


  1. Notice the astonishment of the apostles when Jesus began teaching in this fashion and the words of Jesus in response to that astonishment. Give special attention to what Jesus said was the purpose of His speaking in this way.
  2. As you ponder the significance of these parables, measure that against the backdrop of the situation in which they were spoken. (The great key to understanding Matthew 13: it comes right after Matthew 12!) Clearly, something previously understood regarding the Kingdom (i.e., a mystery) is made (cryptically) known here; the issue is, what is that mysterious insight never before understood, but now made known?
  3. Notice carefully the concluding parable (Matthew 13:51-52) intended to give instruction as to how the truth of the former parables is to be received.

Adapted from the Life of Christ study notes of Dr. Doug Bookman, professor of New Testament Exposition at Shepherds Theological Seminary (used by permission).