NAS Hebrews 6:4-8 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.
6:4–6. This passage has been interpreted in four ways: (1) that the danger of a Christian losing his salvation is described, a view rejected because of biblical assurances that salvation is a work of God which cannot be reversed; (2) that the warning is against mere profession of faith short of salvation, or tasting but not really partaking of salvation (The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1315); (3) that hypothetically if a Christian could lose his salvation, there is no provision for repentance (The Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1736); (4) that a warning is given of the danger of a Christian moving from a position of true faith and life to the extent of becoming disqualified for further service (1 Cor. 9:27) and for inheriting millennial glory. The latter is the interpretation adopted here. The entirety of these verses constitutes a single sentence in Greek as well as in the English of the NIV. The central assertion is: It is impossible for those who have … to be brought back to repentance. Following the words “those who” is a description of the persons whom the writer affirmed cannot possibly be brought back to a state of repentance. The description he gave shows that he had Christians in mind.
IN MY YEARS OF STUDYING THIS PASSAGE AS A PASTOR AND SEMINARY PROFESSOR, I HAVE CONCLUDED THAT GENERALLY THE BOOK OF HEBREWS WAS ADDRESSED TO HEBREW CHRISTIANS WHO WERE STRUGGLING WITH QUESTIONS REGARDING THEIR RECENT CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY TO THE POINT OF CONSIDERING APOSTASY AND A RETURN TO JUDAISM. I WILL AT ONCE SET ABOUT CONDITIONING THIS STUDIED AND UNDOGMATIC OPINION BY PRIMARILY QUOTING FROM A NUMBER OF RESPECTED EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES WHOSE WRITERS HOLD DIFFERING VIEWS, NOT ONLY ON THE BOOK’S RECIPIENTS BUT ON A NUMBER OF OTHER SUBJECTS RELEVANT TO THE BOOK. AS I HAVE REMARKED SEVERAL TIMES IN INTRODUCTORY BLOGS TO THIS PASSAGE, THIS IS A VERY DIFFICULT SECTION OF HEBREWS.
“THE DANGER OF KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT FAITH (6:4-8). This solemn warning marks one of the great theological battlefields of Scripture. Here the clashing proponents of Calvinism and Arminianism have wheeled and charged unleashing thunderous volleys of acrimony against one another, only to generate much heat and little profit. The Calvinists, mindful of the doctrine of the preservation of the saints (eternal security), seize upon the words It is impossible… if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance. ‘These cannot,’ they say, ‘be truly Christians, no matter how strongly the descriptive phrases of verses 4-5 seem to imply they are, for otherwise they would not fallaway into irremediable apostasy.’
APOSTASY IS the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief. The Greek word literally means a falling away.
CALVINISM IS the Protestant theological system of John Calvin and his successors, which develops Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and emphasizes the grace of God and the doctrine of predestination.
ARMINIANISM IS related to Calvinism historically. The distinction is whether God allows His desire to save all to be resisted by an individual’s will (in the Arminian doctrine) or if God’s grace is irresistible and limited to only some (in Calvinism).
“On the other hand, the Arminians focus on the descriptive phrases and say, ‘It is impossible to portray true Christians any more powerfully and accurately than is done here; therefore, since they are said to fall away, it is clear that regeneration can be lost after it has been attained.’ A third group of interpreters insists that the question of eternal salvation is not in question here at all, since it is only a matter of urging new Christians on to further understanding of their fellowship with Christ.
“As in the case of many clashes over Scripture, there is truth in different views. We are helped here by viewing the readers not as a homogenous who must all be classified in one category or another. Rather, they are a mixed assembly, among whom were many genuine believers needing a degree of prodding to go on in their experience of truth. There were also some who professed faith in Christ but who gave no evidence in their behavior or attitudes that they were truly regenerate. This is the case in many churches today and has been so in every generation of believers from the first century on. No matter what careful expedients are employed to make sure that all church members are born again, it is almost certain that there is no congregation which is not just such a mixed multitude as the writer of Hebrews addresses. The ratio of true believers to apparent believers may vary widely, but since we cannot distinguish these by observation (or even careful testing), we must view these warnings as applying to us all. Just how far religious experience can go and yet still fall short of regeneration is described by five phrases in verses 4-5.” – Steadman
I THINK STEADMAN’S BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SITUATION THE WRITER TO THE HEBREWS HAS BEGUN TO DEAL WITH IS VERY GOOD FOR WHAT IT IS – JUST A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SITUATION. WHEN I STATE THAT I BELIEVE THE WRITER’S AUDIENCE WAS PRIMARILY JEWISH, THAT, OF COURSE, IS NOT TO SAY EXCLUSIVELY. THE ORIGINAL RECIPIENTS, WHILE VERY WELL MAY HAVE BEEN MAINLY JEWISH, ARE BEST DESCRIBED, AS STEADMAN DOES WELL, AS BEING A MIXED GROUP COMPRISED OF PEOPLE FROM THE BROAD SPECTRUM OF VARIOUS STAGES OF BELIEF AND SPIRITUAL REALIZATION.
FROM THE BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY’S EXCELLENT INTRODUCTION OF CHAPTER 6 QUOTED LAST WEEK, DEALING WITH THE FIRST TWO OF THE FIVE ASSERTIONS:
To begin with, he described them as individuals who have once been enlightened. This is a natural way to refer to the conversion experience (cf. 2 Cor. 4:3–6). The writer’s only other use of the verb “enlightened,” is Hebrews 10:32, where the reference to true Christian experience can hardly be doubted. In also calling them people who have tasted the heavenly gift, he again employed familiar concepts related to initial conversion (cf. John 4:10; Rom. 6:23; James 1:17–18). The effort to evade this conclusion by seeing in the word “tasted” something less than full participation fails—in view of the writer’s own use of this word (Heb. 2:9)—to describe Jesus’ experience of death. One might also compare 1 Peter 2:3, which quotes Psalm 34:8.
NAS 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
NAS Hebrews 10:32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,
NAS John 4:10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
NAS Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
NAS James 1:17-18 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.
NAS Hebrews 2:9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
YES, BUT… THOUGH STEADMAN MAY BE CORRECT IN HIS ARGUMENT FOR THIS PASSAGE BEING WRITTEN BY THE WRITER OF HEBREWS WITH CHRISTIANS IN MIND AND MAY END UP CONVINCING ME HE IS RIGHT, AS ANY GOOD SEMINARIAN KNOWS, JUST BECAUSE A WORD IS USED ONE WAY IN A CERTAIN VERSE, DOES NOT GUARANTEE IT IS USED THE SAME WAY IN ANOTHER VERSE. MACARTHUR, FOR EXAMPLE, WILL ARGUE THE POINT STEADMAN IS MAKING AS WE WILL SEE IN NEXT WEEK’S BLOG…
– Professor Thomas A. Rohm