Home > New Testament > Hebrews 6:1-8, Part 1

Hebrews 6:1-8, Part 1

Let me begin by making two points.

1.) I know this passage is very difficult to understand, so I present my view humbly, knowing that it may provoke strong reactions.  Although my position is open to criticism, I have not come to it lightly, but have labored for many years seeking to understand this difficult, but important portion of Scripture.

 2.) I encourage feedback and interaction.  It is through challenging each other in love and submitting to Scripture that we fine tune our theological beliefs, so interaction is encouraged.  My views are not infallible, but I hope that my view will provide another perspective that some of you may have not considered. 

Let me set forth two points for the purpose of context.

1.) These believers were experiencing real temptation to return to Judaism.  They had come out of a system that taught the need for perpetual sacrifice for sin.  They had come out of a system that exalted Moses, the old covenant law, the Levitical priesthood, the present Jerusalem, and the divine right to an actual piece of land.

2.) The writer of Hebrews seeks to demonstrate that Jesus is not only better than the old covenant system, its institutions, and leaders, but he is the fulfillment such things.  Jesus is the final revelation of God and has inaugurated the new covenant promised in the Old Testament.  Therefore, these saints should press on toward that heavenly city whose architect and builder is God.

It is important that we keep these two points at the forefront as we look at Hebrews 6:1-8. 

Before moving into the heart of the letter (Heb 7-10, which gets very deep theologically) the writer will begin with an exhortation (Heb 5:11-6:20) and end with one in chapter ten (Heb 10:26-39).  In this section the writer shows that resistance to solid food may lead to falling away and he seeks to renew their confidence by arguing that the promise of God given to Abraham has guaranteed the high priesthood of Jesus.  The logical progression is to discuss Melchizedek more in depth in relation to Jesus, but first he has to briefly exhort them before moving on.  Essentially, he says that while the issue of Melchizedek is important, they are not in a position to grasp it because they have become sluggish in their faith (not because of ignorance or bad teaching).

The writer states that some of them ought to be teachers, which is a clear indication of their immaturity and failure to move on.  He also states that they need to be taught the very basics of the Christian faith all over again.  They have come to need milk, not solid food.  The idea of milk versus solid food is a popular illustration in the New Testament, which simply denotes their immaturity (cf., 1 Cor 2:7ff; 3:1ff; contrast 1 Pet 2:2, where Peter states that the word is pure milk).  They were not moving on in the things of God.  Their immaturity actually is the cause for the writer to question their appreciation for the deep things of God.  Their immaturity meant they were not acquainted with the teaching of righteousness, which moved them to righteous living; thus, they were not trained to discern evil from good by constant practice of responding to God’s revelation.

The writer states that though they are immature, they need to leave the elementary principles behind and press on to maturity.  Despite being immature he is going to feed them with solid food (i.e., Heb 7-10), which becomes an important point to understanding Hebrews 6:4-6.  The elementary principles these saints had come to know were:

1.) Repentance from dead works.
2.) Faith toward God.
3.) Instruction about washings.
4.) Laying on of hands.
5.) The resurrection of the dead.
6.) Eternal judgment.

Thus, in the case of those who have grasped the elementary principles, and have:

1.) Once been enlightened.
2.) Tasted the heavenly gift.
3.) Been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.
4.) Tasted the good word of God.
5.) Tasted the powers of the age to come,

“If they fall away it is impossible to renew them to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame.”

These things were spoken of in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament.  Thus, these saints, God willing, should move on and grow up in Jesus.

While there are many views on this passage (and I do mean many), there are four popular views.

1.) Losing your salvation: This view stems from equating “falling away” with losing your salvation or in a similar vein, if you do fall away, you cannot be forgiven.  This view is indefensible given the rest of biblical data.  The Scriptures clearly teach eternal security for those who genuinely believe.

2.) They are not really Christians: These are people who have come close to salvation, but never truly believed.  This view is predicated on the idea that “tasted” means they have enjoyed such truths, but never truly embraced them.  However, the writer has insisted that his readers are believers and calls them brethren and uses the first person plural (us, we) to designate his association with them in like faith (Heb 3:1; 4:1, 11, 14, 16).

3.) Hypothetical threat: The word “impossible” is hypothetical in order to scare these saints from rejecting Christ.  In other words, the writer is suggesting that if you do fall away it is impossible to renew you, although this is really not the case.  However, his exhortations are never merely hypotheticals, but always realities based on God’s final revelation in his Son (cf., Heb 2:1-4; 4:1-13; 10:26-31; 12:25-29).  There exists a genuine and fearful expectation of judgment for those who do not believe.

4.) Do not apostatize: This view is perhaps the most popular, which is a warning not to apostatize or abandon the Christian faith.  This view is different from the previous view in that it understands the word “impossible” to be real and not hypothetical.  If someone continues to apostatize then there can come a time when it is impossible to bring that person to repentance.  In other words, that person has reached the point of no return in regard to salvation.  While this view rightly identifies the writer’s warning, the problem resides with the failure to take seriously the word “impossible.”  If this view is taken to its logical conclusion, it states that if you fall away, it is impossible to renew you to repentance.  However, examining the rest of Scripture makes this view wrong.  If someone does fall away, but then later repents, God will forgive them (e.g., John-Mark; Acts 15:37-38; 2 Tim 4:11).  Furthermore, how many times can a person commit apostasy before they have reached the point of no return?  If a person continues to apostatize then they were never a believer to begin with; thus, leaving the hope of salvation still available.  Even Demas who deserted Paul and loved the world, could still be restored to the faith as far as we can tell (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:10). 

In my next (and final) post I will present my view with some practical thoughts.

Categories: New Testament
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