“Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matt 12:31-32)
“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.” (Mark 3:28-29)
When the scribes attributed the power that Jesus had to cast out demons to Beelzebub, the prince of demons, Jesus sternly responded with this warning. Therefore, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit consists of seeing an evident manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit and attributing it to the devil, knowing it was the Holy Spirit.
The majority in the Church today would say that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a sin that will never ever be forgiven by God, and for that reason have called it “the unpardonable sin.” Since it is difficult to pin down exactly what constitutes the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, many live in constant fear that they may have committed the “unpardonable” sin. The traditional understanding of this passage has caused emotional breakdowns and numerous sensitive individuals have even committed suicide because of it. Many more have gone back into the world without hope of salvation, thinking that in some way they have committed this sin. These passages, as traditionally translated and preached from some pulpits, have become an instrument in the hands of the accuser, causing despair in the hearts of many throughout history.
It is worthy of note that many of the early Church Fathers who spoke the same Greek in which these words were originally written, did not understand this sin as “unpardonable.” Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 295 to AD 373) wrote: “If they repent they may obtain pardon, for there is no sin unpardonable with God to them who truly repent.”  Saint Chrysostom, AD 386 said: “We know that this sin was forgiven to some that repented of it.” 
How could it be that those who lived closer to the time of the Apostles believed that it was possible to be forgiven for the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, while today the majority deny the possibility of forgiveness? They were familiar with the Scriptures in the original language and defended Scripture’s absolute authority even as we do. I see three main reasons.
In the first place, the Greek Fathers were not reading a translation influenced by tradition, but were reading the New Testament in Greek as originally written. The influence of the traditional doctrine of eternal punishment can be seen in the majority of our translations when compared with the original. Let’s take a closer look at these verses. Mark 3:29 has been translated in the following manner:
“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.” (Mark 3:28-29 NKJV)
We see that the translators translated aión which means “age” with the word “never,” giving the impression that there would never be any possibility of ever receiving God’s forgiveness. The text simply says, “he does not have forgiveness into the age (eis ton aiona).” There is a lot of difference between “into the age” and “never.” The phrase rendered “eternal condemnation” is aionios krisis “eonian judgment.” That means that one who blasphemes the Holy Spirit is guilty of a sin with age during consequences. The word aionios, here rendered “eternal” has reference to a long but indefinite period of time, “that which pertains to an age,” and should not be translated “eternal.” I further demonstrate this in my blog: The Duration of Punishment. A literal translation of verse 29 communicates better what Jesus actually said:
“but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness to the age, but is in danger of age-during judgment. (Young’s Literal Translation)
Reading a literal translation, we can now understand how the Greek Church Fathers could say that the “unpardonable” sin was pardonable. Now let us examine the words of Jesus according to Matthew:
“Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 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.” (Matt 12:31-32)
First Jesus says in verse 31 that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, without saying for how long. In verse 32, He explains that one will not receive forgiveness “in this age or in the age to come.” He did not say that one would never ever be forgiven for all eternity but that one will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the coming age. “This age” was the age in which Jesus was ministering. The coming age would be the millennium or, according to some, “the Church age.” That is far from saying that one will never ever be forgiven. Even if He would have said “into the ages of the ages” the time of forgiveness would eventually arrive because ages are segments of time and have no relationship to eternity. The end of the ages will eventually arrive.
Also, not receiving forgiveness does not automatically mean exclusion from the kingdom of heaven in hell. When Michal despised David for dancing before the Lord, the Lord made her barren for the rest of her life. Though she wasn’t forgiven for the rest of her life she continued as the queen with many privileges as David’s wife (2Sam 6:14-23). We should not interpret “will not be forgiven” as being synonymous with going to hell forever. If I were to hire a brother to do some work in the church and discovered that he was stealing building materials, I probably wouldn’t give him employment again anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that I would forever exclude him from the fellowship or that he would cease being my friend.
The second reason why the Greek Church Fathers had no problems with believing that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit could be forgiven was because they knew the merciful and forgiving heart of God. From the Scripture they knew that “the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (Lam 3:31-32); that He “will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever” (Ps 103:9), and that “His mercy endures forever” (Ps 107:1). That “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:13). There are many examples in the Scriptures of God, in His infinite mercy and great kindness, relenting of punishment declared against people, and the Church Fathers had no reason to think God had changed.
One example is Nineveh. The word of the Lord declared against Nineveh was: “yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). However, when the people of Nineveh repented, the Lord relented of the punishment He had declared against Nineveh. When Jonah realized that God had repented of the evil declared against them, he was very angry and he said to the Lord: “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, one who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2). Both Jonah and the early Church recognized something of the nature of God that the traditional Church today still needs to rediscover - that God is abundant in loving-kindness, One who relents from doing harm.
Another example is the case of Coniah (or Jeconiah cf. 1Chron 3:17). God swore an oath against him, saying that none of his descendants would rule again in Judah:
“As I live, ‘says the Lord,’ ‘though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off’; 30 Thus says the Lord: ‘Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah.” (Jer 22:24,30)
God said that even if Coniah were the signet ring on His right hand, he would pluck it off. He even declared him childless. These words didn’t leave room for any hope that any of his descendants would ever again reign in Judah. But was the curse pronounced against him and his descendants carried out as declared, or did God relent of the punishment He had pronounced? Coniah was carried away captive to Babylon where he died. But when the 70 years of captivity were fulfilled, the king Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. God relented of the evil declared against the descendants of Coniah, and his grandson Zorobabel was placed as ruler of Judah (cf. 1Chron 3:17-19). The Lord prophesied through Haggai declaring a total reversal of the curse declared against Coniah and his descendants:
“And again the word of the Lord came to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, 21 ‘Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying: ‘…I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the Lord, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Hag 2:20-23)
Here we can see that truly God is a God full of mercy who relents of punishments declared against the sons of men. He clearly declared to Coniah that He would pluck him off the throne like a signet ring off His hand and that none of his descendants would ever rule in Judah. Now, 70 years later, He says to his grandson: “I will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you.” This declaration is a direct repeal of what was declared against his grandfather Coniah 70 years earlier.
The Greek Fathers, before the influence of Saint Augustine and the institutionalized Church, still saw the Lord as being a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, One who relents from doing harm (Jonah 4:2). They still believed that mercy triumphs over judgment. However, the Church, under supervision of the governing authorities, changed the face of God and introduced the Church to the cruel god of the dark ages.
So, we can see that the Greek Fathers, reading the warnings of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in the original text, would not have had any problem accepting the possibility of eventual forgiveness of all sins, including the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. This, combined with a knowledge of the forgiving heart of God, knowing that He doesn’t reject forever and that He is merciful and full of lovingkindness and relents of punishment, brought them to the conclusion that God will eventually forgive all sins, even the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
This article is an excerpt from my book The Triumph of Mercy.
 Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant
 Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant