AS I HAVE STATED, THE PASSAGE WE ARE ENTERING, HEBREWS 5:11-6:20, IS A MOST NOTABLE SECTION. This is primarily because it contains, not only one of the 5 major warnings in the book of Hebrews, but also because it is one of the more difficult passages in all the New Testament. This is the exceedingly difficult passage…
NAS Hebrews 6:4-6 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.
MOST SCHOLARS AGREE THAT THERE ARE FIVE PROMINENT WARNING PASSAGES. While some, like Schreiner, favor four, after preaching through the entire book of Hebrews for more than year and teaching through the thirteen chapters for another year at the seminary in Intermediate Greek, going into this third major study, I lean toward there being six warnings. While the exact parameters are debated, the five popular warning passages in the book of Hebrews may be said to be 2:1-4; 3:12-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:26-39; and 12:25-29. As Schreiner correctly – in my opinion – notes of these warning passages…
“HERE WE FIND THE MAIN PURPOSE OF THE LETTER. IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE WARNINGS WITH ALL THEIR DIVERSITY, ESSENTIALLY MAKE THE SAME POINT. IN OTHER WORDS, THE WARNINGS SHOULD BE READ SYNOPTICALLY, MEANING THEY MUTUALLY SHED LIGHT ON ONE ANOTHER.”
“HENCE THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER BECOMES CLEAR, FOR THE WARNINGS URGE READERS NOT TO FALL AWAY. THEY MUST NOT TURN AWAY FROM JESUS AND THE NEW COVENANT AND REVERT TO THE MOSAIC LAW AND THE OLD COVENANT.”
WHILE I WILL CONTINUE TO RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CHANGE MY MIND ANYTIME THE FACTS OF SCRIPTURE CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE, AT THIS EARLY POINT IN MY COMMENTARY ON HEBREWS, THIS IS MY STUDIED OPINION.
THROUGHOUT THE REMAINING OF MY BLOGGING ON HEBREWS I INTEND TO WRITE EXTENSIVELY ABOUT THE NEW COVENANT AND WHAT I BELIEVE THE BIBLE TEACHES ITS APPLICATION IS TO CHRISTIANS.
WHEN ALL THINGS ARE CONSIDERED, ASIDE FROM SALVATION ITSELF, IT IS LIKELY THERE IS NO MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION FACING CHRISTIANS TODAY.
BRIEFLY, I BELIEVE THE BIBLE TEACHES CHRISTIANS ARE IN THE NEW COVENANT TODAY!
I RESPECTFULLY BUT AT THE SAME TIME EMPHATICALLY ASK, HOW DOES THE BOOK OF HEBREWS MAKE SENSE IN A DIFFERENT MANNER? Yes, the majority view today, the traditional, conservative, exegetical answer many scholars would probably give – including many at the seminary in which I have the privilege to teach. It is the view I, myself held for 25 years.
I HUMBLY BELIEVE THE NEW COVENANT PROMISED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT HAS BEEN INAUGURATED AND REALIZED – NOT YET IN ITS TOTALITY – “ALREADY-BUT-NOT-YET” – IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. That is the driving purpose behind my personal return to Hebrews, proving my contention one way or the other, yet again, to my satisfaction. Hopefully, the Lord will use this time together in some way to your benefit as well.
AS SOON AS I WRITE THESE WORDS. I IMMEDIATELY WANT TO RESPECTFULLY RECOGNIZE THOSE STUDIED, CONSCIENTIOUS CHRISTIAN WHO DISAGREE WITH ME, including my esteemed colleagues at my seminary. Just as the New Covenant may well be the most important question – aside, of course, from the question of life itself – one can contemplate – so too, as I’ve been saying all along in this Hebrews commentary, may it be the most challenging. For these and other reasons I’ve decided to devote a great deal of the time the dear Lord may graciously grant me in these last days of my life to attempting to answer it.
ANOTHER QUESTION, CLOSELY ACCOMPANYING THE SUPREMELY CHALLENGING ONE OF THE NEW COVENANT AND CHRISTIANS, THAT MAY BE ALREADY OBVIOUS TO SOME IS WHY? Have not others with more impressive credentials than mine already taken this same question and answered it and to the satisfaction of many? A quick answer I will attempt to answer more fully in the days and months ahead is that the explanations out there are respectfully not to my satisfaction, and apparently not to the satisfaction of many others. Else why would so many books on the New Covenant and the Christian’s relationship to continue to be written and the subject continue to be argued, often dogmatically so?
AND WHAT’S MORE, MODERN BELIEVERS TEND TO WRITE BOOKS, ESPECIALLY SEMINARY PROFESSORS AND PASTORS. I feel quietly confident my argument, while not new, will be sufficiently researched and straightforwardly put forth that it will attract attention that will prove valuable to the ongoing scholarly debate.
IN THIS PARTICULAR BLOG, HOWEVER, I WILL BE EXEGETING THE PASSAGE BEGINNING IN HEBREWS 5:11. IT IS EITHER THE THIRD OR FOURTH WARNING…
NAS Hebrews 5:11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
“WITH 5:11-6:3 THE AUTHOR BEGINS BY CONFRONTING THE CONGREGATION WITH THEIR SPIRITUAL CONDITION. Having used both the positive examples of others, e.g., Heb. 3:1-6 and 3:7-19, he now gets down to addressing their conduct. Thus, he fittingly confronts them with the chief concern on his mind – their spiritual condition – at A KEY POINT IN THE BOOK. This rhetorical approach speaks more to the author’s packaging of principles than to the principles themselves.” – Guthrie
THE “HIM” IN V. 11 IS NOT A REFERENCE TO CHRIST, AS SOME MAY BE TEMPTED TO THINK. The antecedent is Melchizedek. This is shown to be the case by the close proximity of his name in the previous verse…
NAS Hebrews 5:10 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
IN SPITE OF THE REAL COMPLEXITIES IN THIS PASSAGE, SURELY THE BEGINNING OF IT WE CAN ALL UNDERSTAND. The readers were not where they were supposed to be. The writer’s words are clearly a solemn warning, a warning against apostasy. “Apostasy means literally to stand apart. In this context, of course, it means to stand apart from God. This warning is a warning against falling away, reverting to the Old Testament system of works and sacrifices, abandoning the New Covenant in Christ.
MORE THAN A FEW PEOPLE HAVE INTERPRETED THIS PASSAGE TO MEAN THAT A CHRISTIAN CAN LOSE HIS OR HER SALVATION. Perhaps if you read this passage and this passage alone without viewing it through the clear lens of the context as well as the totality of Scripture itself, you might reach that conclusion. But that is a wrong conclusion. We will discuss this key subject and the possibility of a Christian “falling from grace” in detail.
AT THE END OF THIS BLOG, REGARDLESS OF WHAT I MAY BE ABLE TO SAY TO YOU, I MUST REGRETFULLY DISCLOSE THAT THERE WILL SURELY BE MUCH MORE I COULD HAVE SAID, such is the deep, far-reaching, and complex subject of Hebrews to the Christian. It is so difficult and debatable; it covers so many major complicated and intertwined doctrines of the Christian faith; it requires a great deal of understanding of the relevant O.T. texts; that at least several months would be needed. And yet, I feel that in the normal time allotted me for several blogs I will be able to present to you in a reasonable manner both the situation and the solution. May God bless me as I seek to do that in honor of His Word.
NOW LET’S LOOK AT THE ENTIRE CONTEXT and let’s see how the passage sounds. Interpretation should always start with a study of the context, the paragraphs surrounding the verse or passage under investigation…
NAS Hebrews 5:11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. NAS Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we shall do, if God permits. 4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. 7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. 9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
THIS ENTIRE PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE DEALS WITH MATURITY. The key to interpreting correctly the difficult verses in this passage is to allow the opening verses of this passage to set the tone…
NAS Hebrews 5:11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
THE WRITER WANTED TO TALK MORE ABOUT MELCHIZEDEK. Remember Melchizedek from our previous blogs? But the readers, we learn, had grown dull of hearing. The Greek word for “dull” (νωθρος no-thrass) means to have no push, to be lazy or sluggish in hearing and obeying the Words of God. The writer’s discussion, his intention in this part of his letter or sermon, had to be temporarily ended at Hebrews 5:10, where we left off in our last message the week after holidays, because the readers were not mature enough to digest it. So, he was forced to digress. Our passage this week, Hebrews 5:11-14, is a purposeful digression. In this purposeful digression the writer issues a stern warning. In essence, the warning is “Don’t fall away; go on to maturity in your faith!” The writer, or preacher, will resume his letter, or sermon, dealing with Melchizedek in chapter 7, which we look at in the weeks ahead. Here at the end of chapter 5 and through chapter 6 he is appealing to the Hebrew Christians to recognize their “backslidden” condition and return to focusing their spiritual eyes solely upon Christ. Although a popular word often used, I don’t really like using that term “backslidden” when I am talking about Christians. “Backslidden” is an O.T. term; the word is never found in the N.T. However, the concept is certainly legitimate, especially in this context. Plus, the term communicates the concept well. I think we are all seeing the same picture when we think of the word.
EVERY CHRISTIAN MUST MATURE IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND AND PROPERLY RESPOND TO THE DEEPER THINGS OF BIBLICAL DOCTRINE.
MATURITY IS THE WRITER’S THEME IN OUR PASSAGE.
I THINK YOU WILL AGREE THAT IT IS EASY TO SEE THE PROBLEM. The Hebrew Christians were not progressing in their faith; they were not maturing.
THERE MAY BE SEEN, I BELIEVE, A CERTAIN SADNESS AS WELL AS A DIFFICULT TO DENY A CERTAIN SCALDING SARCASM IN THE WRITER’S WORDS. These are not new believers who would have an understandable difficulty with the deeper things of God. A careful reading of the book of Hebrews clearly reveals the fact that these readers were very knowledgeable of the basic realities of both their Jewish heritage and their faith in Christ.
“IT IS COMMONLY ASSUMED ON THE BASIS OF 5:11-6:3 THAT THE COMMUNITY ADDRESSED HAD FAILED TO MATURE IN FAITH AND UNDERSTANDING, AND CONSEQUENTLY REQUIRED RUDIMENTARY INSTRUCTION RATHER THAN THE ADVANCED EXPOSITION OF CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD AND SACRIFICE PRESENTED IN 7:1-10:1. THIS IS WRONG. The problem with this reconstruction of the situation is that it is not supported by the detail of the text. The biblical interpretation and the presentation of Christology in 1:1-5:10 presuppose advanced Christian instruction and a level of understanding that corresponds to the adult consumption of solid food and not to a diet of milk. In addition, the writer shows no inclination to review with his hearers the foundational elements of the Christian faith. HE CLEARLY REGARDED THE HEARERS AS MATURE. Their regression to infancy must represent a quite recent development. THE PURPOSE OF 5:11-6:12 IS TO PRESERVE THE COMMUNITY FROM SUCH ABERRATION BY REMINDING THEM OF WHAT THEY HAVE EXPERIENCED AND WHAT THEY POSSESS THROUGH THE GOSPEL.” – Lane
NAS Hebrews 5:13-14 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
“THE READERS HAD BECOME UNSKILLED IN ‘THE WORD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS’. Although there are alternative interpretations of this phrase, THIS IS PROBABLY A REFERENCE TO THE HEBREWS’ FAILURE TO VIEW THE SCRIPTURE THROUGH NEW-COVENANT EYES. Thus Hughes believes that the ‘word of righteousness’ is ‘the teaching about righteousness… THE INSISTENCE ON CHRIST AS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. The Hebrews lacked skill in reading the Old Testament and could not discern therein ‘the righteous which is from God by faith.’” – Andrews
FAILING TO APPLY WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY LEARNED, pulls the plug on maturity and ensures the likelihood of remaining spiritual babies…
– Professor Thomas A. Rohm