This is the anglicized form of the Greek word bla·sphe·miʹa. The Greek term basically means injurious, defamatory, or abusive speech and was used with reference to such speech whether directed against God or against humans. (Compare Re 16:11; Mt 27:39.) The English word “blasphemy,” however, is usually restricted to irreverent or abusive speech against God and sacred things. It is thus the antithesis of words of worship directed to the Divine Being.—See ABUSIVE SPEECH.
In view of the name Di·aʹbo·los (meaning “Devil” or “Slanderer”) given to him, it is evident that the first one guilty of blasphemy was God’s original adversary. Though his speech to Eve in Eden was veiled and subtle, it, nevertheless, portrayed the Creator as untruthful. (Ge 3:1-5) Satan has been, therefore, the prime instigator of blasphemy from then till now.—Joh 8:44-49.
The “calling on the name of Jehovah” that started in the time of Enosh during the pre-Flood period must not have been of an upright and proper nature, for Abel long before that had undoubtedly been directing himself to God by the divine name. (Ge 4:26; Heb 11:4) If, as some scholars hold, this calling on God’s name was in the sense of misusing it and improperly applying Jehovah’s name to humans or to idolatrous objects, then this would constitute a blasphemous act.—See ENOSH, ENOS.
Faithful Job was concerned lest his children had at some time “cursed God in their heart” by sinful thoughts; and, when made to undergo great adversity, Job himself “did not sin or ascribe anything improper to God” in spite of the Adversary’s blasphemous attempts to cause him to ‘curse God to his very face.’ (Job 1:5, 11, 20-22; 2:5-10) Job’s three companions, either wittingly or unwittingly, misrepresented God and ‘pronounced God wicked,’ while insinuating that Job had spoken and acted blasphemously.—Job 15:6, 25; 32:3; 42:7, 8.
Blasphemy Under the Law Covenant. The first three commandments of the “Ten Words,” or Ten Commandments, set forth Jehovah God’s unique position as Universal Sovereign and his exclusive right to worship, warning also: “You must not take up the name of Jehovah your God in a worthless way, for Jehovah will not leave the one unpunished who takes up his name in a worthless way.” (Ex 34:28; 20:1-7) Calling down evil upon God and cursing a chieftain were condemned. (Ex 22:28) Thereafter the first recorded instance of spoken blasphemy was that of a son of mixed parentage who, in a struggle with an Israelite man, “began to abuse the Name and to call down evil upon it.” Jehovah decreed the penalty of death by stoning for the offender, and He established this as the due punishment for any future “abuser of Jehovah’s name,” whether a native Israelite or an alien resident among them.—Le 24:10-16.
Soon afterward the great majority of Israelites became guilty of disrespectful murmuring against Jehovah. As a result, they were sentenced to wander 40 years in the wilderness, and those from 20 years old upward were sentenced to die there. (Nu 14:1-4, 11, 23, 29; De 1:27, 28, 34-39) Their blasphemous attitude brought them to the point of talking of stoning God’s faithful servants. (Nu 14:10) While the abusive speech of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was actually directed against God’s representatives, Moses and Aaron, yet, prior to God’s execution of these men and those of their households before their tents, Moses told those observing: “You will then know for certain that these men have treated Jehovah disrespectfully,” by disdaining his theocratic appointments.—Nu 16:1-3, 30-35.
Even where there were no spoken expressions against God, one’s actions against the laws of God’s covenant evidently could amount to “speaking abusively of Jehovah” or a blaspheming of him. Thus, while merciful consideration was given to the unintentional violator of God’s law, the individual committing deliberate, willful offenses, whether native Israelite or alien resident, was to be put to death as having spoken abusively of Jehovah and as having despised his word and commandment.—Nu 15:27-31; compare De 31:20; Ne 9:18, 26.
Other acts of blasphemy recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures were those of priest Eli’s sons (1Sa 3:12, 13) and that of the pagan Assyrian official Rabshakeh. (2Ki 19:4-6, 22, 23) Innocent Naboth was convicted of blasphemy and put to death on the basis of testimony by false witnesses. (1Ki 21:10-13) In later times, God condemned the false prophets who reassured those disrespectful of Jehovah. (Jer 23:16, 17) Jehovah gave positive warning that his reproachers would be rendered their due reward “into their own bosom.” (Isa 65:6, 7; compare Ps 10:13; Isa 8:20-22.) Because of Israel’s apostate course, Jehovah’s name came under reproach among the nations.—Isa 52:4, 5; Eze 36:20, 21.
In time rabbinic teaching fostered the erroneous view that Leviticus 24:10-23 prohibited as blasphemous the very pronunciation of the name Jehovah. Talmudic tradition also prescribed that when the religious judges heard testimony setting forth blasphemous words supposedly used by the accused, they were to rend their garments, following the example at 2 Kings 18:37; 19:1-4.—The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1976, Vol. III, p. 237; compare Mt 26:65.
“Blasphemy” in the Greek Scriptures. The apostle Paul showed the basic meaning of bla·sphe·miʹa by using the related Greek verb bla·sphe·meʹo at Romans 2:24 when quoting from Isaiah 52:5 and Ezekiel 36:20, 21, cited above.
Blasphemy includes the act of claiming the attributes or prerogatives of God, or ascribing these to another person or thing. (Compare Ac 12:21, 22.) The Jewish religious leaders accused Christ Jesus of blasphemy because he said that the sins of certain persons were forgiven (Mt 9:2, 3; Mr 2:5-7; Lu 5:20, 21), and they tried to stone him as a blasphemer because of his declaring himself to be God’s Son. (Joh 10:33-36) When Jesus made a statement to the Sanhedrin concerning God’s purpose toward him and the high position to be granted him, the high priest ripped his garments and accused Jesus of blasphemy, for which Jesus was condemned as worthy of death. (Mt 26:63-66; Mr 14:61-64) Having no authority from the Romans to implement the death sentence, the Jewish religious leaders shrewdly changed their accusation of blasphemy to that of sedition when taking Jesus before Pilate.—Joh 18:29–19:16.
Since Jesus was God’s Son and direct representative, the things spoken against him may also properly be defined as blasphemy. (Lu 22:65) So, too, since the holy spirit or active force emanates from God and is intimately connected with God’s person, Jesus could speak of “blasphemy against the spirit.” This is stated to be the unforgivable sin. (Mt 12:31; Mr 3:28, 29; Lu 12:10) Blasphemy is shown to originate within one’s heart (Mt 15:19; Mr 7:21, 22); hence the heart condition, manifest in the willfulness involved, must relate to such blasphemy against the spirit. The incident that led to Jesus’ statement concerning the unpardonableness of such sin demonstrates that it refers to opposing the operation of God’s spirit. This would not be because of deception, human weakness, or imperfection; but the opposition would be willful and deliberate. The Pharisees clearly saw God’s spirit at work in Jesus to accomplish good, yet for selfish reasons they attributed this power to Beelzebub, Satan the Devil, thereby blaspheming God’s holy spirit.—Mt 12:22-32; compare Heb 6:4-6; 10:26, 27.
Like Jesus, Stephen was martyred on a charge of blasphemy. (Ac 6:11-13; 7:56-58) Paul, as Saul, had been a blasphemer and had tried to force Christians to make “a recantation” (literally, “to blaspheme”). However, upon becoming a disciple himself, he suffered blasphemous contradictions from the Jews, and in Ephesus his teaching was possibly labeled by certain elements as blasphemous against the goddess Artemis. (Ac 13:45; 19:37; 26:11; 1Ti 1:13) By a disfellowshipping, Paul handed Hymenaeus and Alexander “over to Satan that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” (1Ti 1:20; compare 2Ti 2:16-18.) James showed that the rich, as a class, were prone to “blaspheme the fine name” by which the disciples were called. (Jas 2:6, 7; compare Joh 17:6; Ac 15:14.) In “the last days” blasphemers would abound (2Ti 3:1, 2), as the book of Revelation also foretells by statement and by symbol.—Re 13:1-6; 16:9-11, 21; 17:3.