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More Questions on the Book of Hebrews

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Question #1: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

There appears to be such close congruence between these passages that it makes me wonder if Paul really wasn't the author of Hebrews. However, the passage from Hebrews offers more theological complexity. In the Romans passage, Paul seems to equate hope with faith. The word "look" in the 2 Corinthians passage appears to imply faith. I'm wondering how you would translate these.

"For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it."
Romans 8:24-25 NASB

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible."
Hebrews 11:1-3 NASB

"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NASB

Response #1: 

Hope and faith are, of course, very closely related, the expectation of the fulfillment of God's promises and the trust that they will indeed be fulfilled go hand in hand necessarily – and our attitude towards the Lord (loving Him) is to a large degree a function of how completely we are looking forward and how completely we do believe Him; so the basic virtues, faith, hope and love, are in fact inseparable (at least for Christians who are responding to the Spirit as we should). A side note on this; the Romans passage has some textual issues and is as a result often mistranslated (because of working with an incorrect text). Here is how I render it:

For it is in this hope [of the resurrection of our bodies] that we have been saved. Now a hope that is visible is not [really] a hope. For why should someone wait expectantly for what his eyes can see? But we have set our hope on what cannot be seen, and so are patiently awaiting its fulfillment.
Romans 8:24-25

And yes, the Hebrews passage is close in diction and sentiment, just as there are many similarities between Hebrews and the Pauline epistles . . . because Paul did write Hebrews (see the link).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)

I'm not clear as to why Paul presents the argument of our Lord being the great high priest in this particular place. Until now he was exhorting us to enter the faith-rest and in the verses immediately preceding he makes the point that the word of God has the judicial power and God sees everything, which should encourage us to be faithful. He starts verse 14 with "therefore", so it seems the link must be direct here also, but I'm not sure what it is.

Response #2: 

Hebrews is a somewhat difficult and much misunderstood book. Part of the reason for that is that it is written to Jewish Christians who were slipping away from the faith and being drawn back into the Law and temple rites. Paul therefore has to address the problems he perceives in a way which would not be second nature to gentiles of the first century – how much less modern Christians. We also have to keep in mind that in addition to putting things into that peculiar (to us) frame of reference, Paul is also refuting by the way he makes his arguments the contemporary interpretation of the Law which was the original "default setting" of these Jewish believers living in Pharisaical times , and to which they are being pressured by circumstances to return.

To see how that affects the passage you ask about, it will be helpful to expand here the thematic outline I have posted for the first part of the book (see the link):

Chapter 1: Jesus is superior to angels (contrary to Jewish teaching);

Chapter 2: Jesus became a human being to accomplish atonement for sin (so that the animal sacrifices are just symbols);

Chapter 3: Jesus is superior to Moses (who mediated the Law containing the sacrifices);

Chapter 4: Jesus is the Initiator of the true Sabbath (as opposed to the Sabbath of the Law);

Chapter 5: Jesus is the true High Priest (so that His spiritual sacrifice is the true sacrifice);

Chapter 6a: These are all basic things "you in Jerusalem" ought to know;

Chapter 6 our passage: "you are behaving like the Exodus generation who started well but fell away; you can be restored, but not 'while you are crucifying the Son of God afresh' (that is, continuing in the rites which have now been fulfilled)".

So you can see from a quick perusal of the above that Paul is concerned to reassert Christ as the center of all things in the thinking of these believers about whom he is very concerned, and to do so by demonstrating Christ's superiority, centrality, and fulfillment of the Law. In this part of chapter four which you ask about, Paul, having just prior to this shifted the focus of the discussion from the Law per se to the Sabbath, and having shown its greater spiritual significance and fulfillment in our daily walk with Christ, now zeroes in on the One who has fulfilled all the ritual meaning of the Sabbath (all the festivals) by His incarnation and by His blood ("Therefore, since we have a great high priest").

There are two links here which may not be obvious immediately. The first is that Joshua is a type of Christ, and Paul moves from the symbolic Joshua who brought the people into the land, into a "rest" which was not ultimate, to the Last "Joshua", our Lord Jesus who has brought us all into a permanent, spiritual rest. The two names are identical in the Hebrew and in the Greek, but that is not obvious of course from an English translation. The other bridge is Paul's praise of the Word of God in Hebrews 4:12-13. He moves from the spiritual and real Sabbath which is greater than the symbolic Sabbath to the High Priest who made it possible through His death (as opposed to earthly ones who only symbolize these primary truths) by way of reminding us of the penetrating power of the Word of God which is able to distinguish and illuminate the difference between the weak, temporary (and now replaced) from the inherently powerful, real and permanent. So the "therefore" of verse fourteen I would take to mean something like "now that you understand that our Jesus is the real Messiah who gave us real rest and who fulfilled all the shadows with His actual coming into the world – distinctions which the Word of God in its power should have made clear to you" . . . "let us grab firm hold of our confession of our Lord . . . since we do have just such a real and effective High Priest [of High Priests] . . ."

Question #3: 

Thanks again. In the days of Abraham, is there a biblical reference to snow being apart of the weather? Also, if Melchizedek was already king, prophet and priest of Salem, is it possible GOD already established a covenant relationship with the people in Salem in those days? My thinking is, Salem becoming Jeru-salem like Abram becoming Abraham. Hard to be a priest (tithing by Abraham), if there is no order of worship and hard to be a prophet, if there is no people to prophecy to.

Wondering about your take on this.

Response #3: 

Hello Friend,

We can be sure that there was snow in Abraham's day as there is today (the word occurs in Job, e.g., which represents a time before Abraham most likely; cf. also Gen.8:22 after the flood).

A covenant is an agreement (see the link), and the fundamental covenant God has made with the human race is salvation through the blood of Christ (as Paul points out passim). The main difference between the New and the Old (and all other manifestations of covenants before the giving of the Law of Moses) is that the New is the reality of Christ's death for us, while the Old (and other manifestations of it) were shadows which anticipated His sacrifice by representing it with animal blood. Before Abraham, the Lord apparently treated with the human race through the priesthood of heads of families (cf. Noah and his offerings to the Lord), and by extension heads of countries/cities (as in the case of Melchizedek). Please see also the links:

Christ the First-Born, High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek and the high priesthood of Christ

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Hi Bob,

Me again. I know you are getting tired of my emails but you are the only source I go to in order to validate what I am learning scripturally. I hope all is well with you and your family. May God continue to bless you and your family as well as your ministry.

I heard a sermon explaining the order of Melchizedek and how he typifies Christ and was actually a human rather than a type of Christ. I agree with that but also what struck me was the fact that he was explaining how Melchizedek was actually Shem, son of Noah. See attached document. Please take some time and read it. It is only 15 pages long and rather easy read. This is part of Hebrew verse by verse studies. In summary, in 2 Pet 2:5, the actually literal Greek translation was that Noah was the 8th person of righteousness. God always had at least 1 person of righteousness to represent the true priestly order and not based on the Aaronic priesthood.

Basically Noah was the 8th person in the order of people called righteous. If Noah was the 8th person to hold the office of Melchizedek, then the succession backwards leads to Adam. Then the argument states that Christ was the last person to hold the office and because He never died, He is the perpetual office holder.

Let me know your thoughts Bob. I appreciate your help in my studies. God bless.

Response #4: 

I'm always happy to hear from you, my friend. I think the considerations you are weighing vis-a-vis your job situation are the right ones. We do need to provide for our families, but after that is done, time (for those who are trying to use it diligently to please the Lord) is a very valuable quantity indeed, one to be treasured and guarded if at all possible.

On the Melchizedek article, he certainly was a real human being, but also a type of Christ (these two things are not mutually exclusive: David and Moses are also typical of Christ in biblical prophesy; see the link: "Typology"). The author of the piece you link to makes some good points to explain why Melchizedek had to be a human being and not a Christophany (as is often wrongly supposed), but the idea that this is Shem can't be supported by scripture, and the speculations in which the author engages are not warranted.

First, Genesis 14:8 says that "Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, for he was a priest of God most high". In the Hebrew, "Melchizedek" appears as a personal name. That is shown also by the fact that this person is then described by two further designations which are in fact titles rather than names: "king" (of Salem) and "priest" (of God most high). Since the argument depends on making the name Melchizedek itself also a title, it falls on this point alone.

Second, the translation the author wants to impose on 2nd Peter 2:5 is erroneous. Greek says things differently than English does. Translating it supposedly "literally" as author does is translating it incorrectly, because we have to do here with a common Greek idiom used to count up the number of any group by referring to the last member of the group by his/its number. So all the translations of this verse you will find in every version are correct: "Noah the eighth" means "Noah and seven others" – not "Noah was the eighth preacher of righteousness". An additional "fly in the ointment" for that mistaken view is that there is no definite article present in the Greek. If Peter was making the point that Noah was THE eighth anything, he would most definitely have used the word THE (which he does not). The point is that in not sparing the world as a whole God did spare Noah preeminently – and the seven others with him.

Third, the whole point behind "the order of Melchizedek" in Hebrews is to contrast it with the Aaronic priesthood of the Law: they are fundamentally different, and that fact demonstrates the superiority of Christ's priesthood (which is more analogous to the previous pattern than the one then being wrongly perpetuated in Jerusalem in Paul's day). But author's theory makes the two essentially identical in that they would then both be dependent upon human, physical descent. Paul uses this comparison to show that Christ's priesthood is superior precisely because it is an appointed one coming directly from God the Father, and is not based upon human physical descent (the point behind "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life"). Adopting author's theory would turn Paul's whole argument on its head and have the effect of enervating this otherwise very strong argument for Christ's divinity and the superiority of His priesthood over the Levitical priesthood.

Fourth, Abraham was promised the Land of Israel, not Shem. Abraham is the one God called and told to leave the Tigris-Euphrates valley and move to Palestine. Putting Shem and his descendants in the land before that makes Abraham's call of much less effect and importance. Besides, how did Abraham's line end up back in the east if his ancestors had migrated to the west many years before?

Fifth, while there are no doubt other arguments to be made against this interesting, inventive, but incorrect and potentially dangerous theory, suffice it to say in closing that there is nothing positive in scripture to support it. That is to say, it is entirely derivative and speculative. To adopt such a theory, even if the prior points could be answered (they cannot), one would want at least one verse in the Bible which pointed to some such office / order of "preacher/priest of righteousness" that was passed down, especially something beyond Noah and Melchizedek. N.B., "preacher of righteousness" is not the same as "priest". The former is an evangelist / witness; the latter represents mankind before God.

Keep fighting the good fight, my friend.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior, the truly Righteous One.

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Thanks Dr. Bob. Quick question, why did God institute two different priesthoods? I understand the superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood, but why institute the Aaronic priesthood? Is it because that priesthood is the only priesthood where we can know we are sinners and hence the introduction of the Law?

Thank you much for your response. God bless

Response #5: 

I wouldn't put it quite this way. Melchizedek was a priest, but there was no official priesthood established in writing in the Word of God until the Levitical one. Before Israel, before the Law, heads of family (and heads of clans, nations, etc.) were the ones responsible for representing their group before God (for those who chose to do so). The Levitical priesthood was a special institution based upon genealogy wherein the priests were not to be "heads" of Israel (although in the inter-testamental period the high priesthood was abused in this way). Christ's priesthood is absolutely unique. It is not the same as Melchizedek's, even though Paul uses that earlier priesthood as a comparison. To paraphrase, "If you think Melchizedek was special compared to the Levitical priests, and he was, then how about Christ who was appointed by the Father and who will never give His priesthood up!"

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

An Interesting Paraphrase from The Message version of the Bible:

"Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears." (Hebrews 12:16)

Response #6: 

Esau is a much mistaken model and this a much misinterpreted passage. Esau was never a believer. He did not regret what he did; he only regretted the outcome. He wanted the blessing; he didn't regret having no respect for God. He never repented in the biblical sense of truly changing his thinking and returning to God in his heart.

Question #7: 

Hi Bob,

Whenever I read the story of Esau, I can't help but feel sorry for Esau. The misfortune that falls upon Esau is justified by the fact that he gave up his birthright to Jacob, but that's not the entire story. Jacob also stole his blessing from Isaac in a manner such that Esau had literally no control over this transaction, and yet this transaction is accepted as legitimate.

There's also the quote from Malachi: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Well, I cannot imagine a more terrifying fate than being hated by God from the moment of your creation. Please explain what this verse really means, as I cannot accept that the same God who states that He is love would literally means that He is capable of hatred.

Sincerely,

Response #7: 

On Esau, no need to feel sorry for him since he got what he wanted and what he deserved: he was never a believer and was never going to be a believer. God cannot pretend He is not God. God knows what people are going to decide before they are even born. Esau didn't care about his birthright at all – he was a hunter used to long privation and yet he couldn't wait ten minutes to have his mother whip something up for him? The bargain with Jacob just goes to demonstrate his utter contempt for all things spiritual and total lack of faith in God. He didn't repent of his unbelief later; he only was sorry for his loss. All unbelievers are going to be sorry for their loss in the lake of fire – but that won't make them any more willing to submit to God.

Question #8: 

Am sitting here in the middle of the night knowing I have grumbled, although I would call it more like berated God. You (God) don't care about me, how come I am suffering alone, nobody at my church has to suffer the things I do. Nobody at my church cares...well not the ones who would understand. Nobody loves me - not that I deserve love you understand. My life before I believed in Jesus, not hoped in Jesus, but really truly believed in Jesus was the worst...and I do mean seriously the worst. I have deliberately and willfully sinned. I am fed up with my life and in my mind at that particular time I 'didn't care anymore' sort of like I was angry at God. Now I can't believe now that I did that, am crying and ashamed and know that I have let my lovely Jesus down (again) although this time didn't feel like a fail so much as a rebellious act which really does scare me because I know that is so much worse. Especially after all he has forgiven me for and I keep saying sorry and promising never to do that again.

I read again tonight Hebrews 10.26 - 31 about deliberate and willfully sinning and treating Christ with contempt heartbroken and angry with myself and scared and I really do need somebody to tell me that I can be forgiven for this. Please tell me (only if it in line with Gods truth) where I can find a promise of Gods that will forgive me. Have I only to expect the raging fires of hell? I am really scared now that I have re-read those verses. I find it so hard to believe that I knew these verses and still did what I did. Please help me. I am so very sorry and promise to be more diligent in the future. Make more effort in serving and growing, to be more trusting when things are tough...to not blame God..to seek help , even if it's embarrassing. Will God forgive me...will Jesus still love me...

In tears

Response #8: 

Dear Friend,

I'm sorry to hear about your struggles, but I do wish to assure that Hebrews 10:26-31 does not mean what you (and many others in similar struggles) pessimistically take it to mean. These verses were written by Paul to the Jerusalem congregation of early Christians of Jewish origin who were slipping back into the shadow worship of the Law. But for those who abandon Christ, who become reluctant to admit they know Him, who want to have it both ways for social and economic reasons, well, in spite of the fact that they were foolishly going back to the Law there was no longer any sacrifice of the Law to restore them since Christ is the end of the Law for all who believe (Rom.10:4). In other words, these verses taken out of the context of chapter and book in some translations are often misapplied. But we do several things from scripture that ought to lead us to see that clearly.

First, there is no so such thing as a sinless Christian (e.g., 1Ki.8:46; Prov.20:9; Rom.3:23; Jas.3:2; 1Jn.1:6-10):

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV

Second, we also know that the Lord forgives us unconditionally when we confess any sin that we may have committed (e.g., Ps.51:1-19; 130:4; Is.1:18; 43:25; Dan.9:9; Mic.7:18-19; Matt.6:14; 1Jn.1:9; 2:1-2).

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Psalm 32:1b-2 NIV

Third, we know that as believers, we have been redeemed from all sin (Eph.1:7; Col.1:4); we have life eternal which no one can take away. All believers are saved; it is only unbelievers who are not saved:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:18 NASB

So fourth, and finally for now, our sins and failures are only an issue if we choose to continue down the wrong path (i.e., if we persist long enough we may do serious or even irreparable damage our faith – and only believers are saved; please see the link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"). But if at any time we turn around and come back to the Lord, no matter how far we have strayed, He always receives us back with open and outstretched arms:

"The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ "But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate."
Luke 15: 21-24 NIV

Rare is the believer in Christ who has not had one or more "prodigal son" experiences. What we need to remember when we do come to our senses and recognize our failures for what they are is that Jesus loves us beyond words – He died for all of our sins in order that we might live with Him forever. The Father is not wishing for any to perish (2Pet.3:9; cf. 1Tim.2:4) – how much more does He not desire all believers to persevere in faith unto eternal life! No one has ever gone to hell apart from their own desire to do so. Not than any desire hell, but most have no desire to be with the Lord, to worship the Lord, or to acknowledge the Lord as Lord – they would rather be gods to themselves. But as for you, dear friend, as Paul also says in Hebrews, "we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation" (Heb.6:9).

Here are some links you may find helpful inasmuch as many Christians have similar struggles in this world:

No, Hebrews does not teach that you lost your salvation.

Doubting Salvation and Questions of Sin

In Need of Guidance and Encouragement.

All about Ichthys: Mutual encouragement in the Lord

Mutual Encouragement in Christ.

Christian Trials and Testing

On the Firing Line: Encouragement in Christian Trials

Fighting the Good Fight of Faith.

Faith and Encouragement in the midst of Fiery Trials.

Mutual Encouragement in Christ II

Salvation and Sin

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #9: 

Thank you so much for replying. I just can't shake off the feeling that I am like Esau in Hebrews and that I have treated Jesus with so much contempt thinking I can do what I like and always be forgiven because he loves me. I know now that's wrong thinking but I did think it and use it to sin (I did think even...I am so ashamed to say that Jesus was a bit of a mug who would let you get away with everything...I know that's not true and an awful thing to think and it's only because he loves you that he forgives you but I am wondering now if I have passed a/the point of no return...I know John says if we confess 'all unrighteousness' will be forgiven, and I really do want to be a Christian, and love people more and have the peace that I get snatches of but this really is a sticking point for me. I am looking for reassurance, and praying and hoping that I did not harden my heart so much (by thinking those thoughts) that I can come back and be forgiven and serve him totally and love him and trust him because otherwise it's just works. Does he forgive me for even that? Is there anywhere in the bible that says you can't come back and start afresh? Esau in Hebrews 12 sought with tears and 'could not take back what he had done. please. Robert, tell me the truth. Thank you so much for your time and I'm sure, prayers. Am very shaky about this. Can you help me? Am praying you can because I am obviously very worried about this but haven't completely given up hope. I need solid ground. Can you help me again please?

Response #9: 

You're very welcome. I think if you will read some of the links provided last time, you will be comforted by the fact that many Christians have similar concerns, and also will find in these writings many more principles of comfort from scripture.

Many people do bring up Esau as a supposed parallel for "no return", but that is another incorrect reading of scripture. Esau was never a believer. Like all unbelievers, he wanted the blessings of God without God. That is the fundamental reason why unbelievers go to hell. They like what God provides – Esau wanted his birthright – but they don't want to have anything to do with God Himself – Esau wasn't willing to worship or acknowledge God (cf. Job 21:14; 22:17). That is why the blessing was allowed to pass from Esau to Jacob, and why Isaac was allowed to be deceived so as to bless the younger over the elder in accordance with the prophecy: it all had to do with the choices that the two young men made (Jacob for the Lord; Esau against Him). And that is why God chose Jacob (based on the decision He knew Jacob would make to choose for Him) and rejected Esau (based on the decision to feel only contempt for the One who made Him and provided Him with "live, breath and all things"; Acts 17:25). The incident with trading his birthright for "a mess of pottage" merely serves to demonstrate the contempt he had for anything spiritual. If he couldn't touch it at the moment, it meant nothing to him. Later, he was jealous of his brother receiving the blessing, but only because he had been deprived (not because he had any regard for God). This example serves as a warning to believers, not because we can lose salvation (Esau was never saved), but because we may in an analogous way fail to appreciate what we have in Jesus Christ and waste our lives and opportunities for spiritual growth, progress and production, the threefold mandate for the Christian life whereby we earn eternal rewards (and in extreme case suffer even worse; see the link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death").

Finally, it is important to remember that "feelings" mean nothing, and in many cases are false guides. Guilt is the devil's ace trump, and therefore Christians should always be wary of interpreting anything through a prism of guilt. If we sin, we confess; if we confess, we are forgiven; we may be disciplined for our sins, but only by a loving Father who is comporting Himself towards us as children He dearly loves, those for whom Christ died (Heb.12:1ff.). Once we have returned to Him in truth, we are told to forget the past and move forward:

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 NIV

Spiritual growth consists in large measure of getting to the point of knowing, believing and being able to apply the truth we have learned from scripture regardless of what or how we may feel – or even what we may see or hear. Spiritual growth is the "R/x" for your condition, and I encourage you to commit yourself to an aggressive program of Bible reading and Bible study from a good source of the truth. You are certainly welcome at Ichthys anytime.

Here are some additional links:

Confession of Sin

All about Ichthys: Mutual Encouragement in the Lord

The Battlefield within

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Hello Robert,

Thank you again for helping me. I understand what you are saying and telling me and I believe it is biblically sound which is so reassuring. With the kindest intentions sometimes people tell you what they think and it's not really helpful, well not in the long run. I have to put into practice by faith, trust in the promise that 'all unrighteousness' can be forgiven and to not condemn myself but trust in His love to be big enough even for my hard heartedness. And when I trust in just how much he loves me my heart swells and allows and completely softens and compels me to love others, I cannot lose that and will be more careful in future.

I only wonder why Esau was mentioned as I thought Paul (I didn't think it was sure if it was Paul who wrote to the Hebrews) was writing to Jewish Christians who were in 'danger'. If Esau was not a spiritual person why bring him in? And he talks about sexual immorality and blessings before he mentions him too? Can you clarify this at all for me? If you have the time, which I do again really thank you for.

You say I am welcome at Ichthys, but how do I do that?

Is there anything I can pray for you?

Love, in Christ

Response #10: 

Hello Friend,

In this section of Hebrews chapter twelve, Paul speaks of three categories of sin which traditionally plagued the Jewish people. The first is idolatry (that is the "root of bitterness" in Heb.12:15; cf. Deut.29.17-18); the second is sexual immorality (often associated with idolatry); the third is godlessness, represented by Esau, and common in Israel's history in their honoring of God with their lips but in truth being unbelievers – like Esau. Esau is in fact the perfect example to use because he is the son of Isaac just as Jacob is – but Jacob is the "seed of promise" because he is of the line of faith (Paul does the same thing in Romans 9:13 in demonstrating that "not all Israel is Israel"). Esau, though biologically of Isaac, is nevertheless an unbeliever, and that is what Paul is saying, warning about. His audience must not count on their physical heritage of being Jewish since it is only the spiritual heritage that means anything to God. They should not live as if they are unbelievers, abandoning Christ. The situation is different for them than for Esau, true, but the analogy is close. If they continue on their path they may reach the "sin unto death" and from there they may be taken out of this life even though they rue their course (please see the link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"). No doubt these Jewish Christians bridled at this comparison, but that is Paul's point in being rather severe with them: to get them to wake up to the dangerous and ungodly Esau-like course they were steering in embracing again the temple worship and shadow manifestations of the Law, the doing of which, since Christ had now come and died for them, was in effect proclaiming that they doubted His Messiahship and did not esteem His sacrifice.

There are many cases of believers doing terrible things and coming back to the Lord (even king Manasseh!); there is no biblical case of a believer wishing to return to the Lord but not being accepted in doing so. After all, our Lord told the parable of the lost sheep repeatedly – and the point of the parable is how much He loves that lost sheep and so far from not accepting it back leaves the other ninety-nine to fend for themselves while He seeks it out.

You are very welcome to all the materials posted at Ichthys (there is enough here to keep you busy for many years, I think), and also welcome to write me back any time.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #11: 

Why does the writer of Hebrews say "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins"? (Heb 9:22) It's noteworthy that the first part, which is about purification in the Levitical system of sacrifices, is distinct from the second part, dealing with forgiveness. There are no Levitical sacrifice provisions for forgiveness.

Response #11: 

It's an excellent observation. Even the Greek word for forgiveness used in Hebrews 9:22 (aphesis) is never used in this sense in the LXX's translation of the Torah (although the corresponding verb sometimes is; cf. Lev.4:20; these correspond to the Hebrew root salach).

. . . Jesus Christ, whom God foreordained as a means of atonement [appropriated] through faith [and validated] by means of His blood (i.e., His sacrifice on the cross) to demonstrate His righteousness in overlooking the previously committed sins [of the world].
Romans 3:25

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Hebrews 10:4 KJV

Actual forgiveness was impossible without the shedding of the blood of Christ (His spiritual death for all sins on the cross in Calvary's darkness). The Levitical sacrifices provided restoration of the relationship with the Lord for the community of faith, but actual forgiveness would have to wait until the Savior of the world came and died in our place (as in Rom.3:25 above).

Yours in the Name of the One through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of all of our sins, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Bob L.

Question #12: 

Can you please explain Hebrews 6:4-6:6?

Response #12: 

Here is my translation of the passage:

(4) For, in the case of those who have been enlightened (i.e., have become believers, "light in the Lord": Eph.5:8), and who have experienced the heavenly gift and become partakers of the Holy Spirit (i.e., have been baptized with the Spirit so that He indwells them, and by the Spirit into union with Christ), (5) and who have experienced that the Word of God is good, and [who have experienced] miracles [foreshadowing] the age to come, (6) it is impossible to restore them to [true] repentance after having fallen [into sin] as long as they keep crucifying the Son of God afresh and exposing Him to open shame (i.e., they can't repent as long as they are stubbornly continuing in their sin, the particular sin in question here being continued participation in the sacrificial rites of Law which foreshadowed Christ's work on the cross and suggesting by that participation that His work was ineffective).
Hebrews 6:4-6

In a nutshell, these verses describe the impossibility of restoration for those who are involved in sin from which they refuse to repent. "Crucifying afresh" is continuing to sacrifice animals which activity spoke of the coming death of Christ . . . so by continuing to do this (in order to fit in with their old crowd of unbelievers) the Jerusalem believers of Paul's day were denying the cross by their actions (a terrible witness). You can find all the details, including the grammatical explanations, at the following links:

Are those in Hebrews 6:4 who "crucify the Son of God afresh" lost?

The Grammar of Hebrews 6:4ff.

No, Hebrews does not teach that you lost your salvation.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #13: 

Your are the best. I just published my latest "How does Heb. 6:6 show eternal security", on http://emethbiblestudies.org/Guestbook.php and can't even give you a chance since getting ready to ask you. I am privileged and am about 10 years behind paying back the favor, but I will look

Thanks, Your Friend in Christ likewise

Thanks!

Response #13: 

You're most welcome! As to your latest posting, a couple of observations:

1) I certainly agree that the key to all the questions people have with Hebrews chapter six is the fact that Paul is addressing Jewish believers in Jerusalem who had fallen back into the rituals of the temple and the Law; by this time they should have known better, even though earlier on in the apostolic period it was perhaps more understandable (Paul and of course Peter made the same mistake earlier on; Acts to a great degree is given to us to chart the transition from Jewish ritual to the economy of the Church Age; see the link). But now after learning so much and suffering so much they are headed the wrong way rather than continuing to learn and grow as they should be doing.

2) The fact that these passages do not teach loss of salvation (they do not) does not mean, however, that apostasy is not a potential problem (it certainly is; see the link).

3) The two really critical grammatical features of Hebrews 6:4-6 are the tense and syntax of ἀνασταυροῦντας (anastaurontas; "re-crucifying") and the meaning of the participle παραπεσόντας (parapesontas; "falling aside") both in verse six. To take the latter first, it doesn't mean apostasy; rather it means spiritual regression (in the manner of the prodigal son). The word is a hapax in the NT (i.e., occurring only once: here), and while "falling" is never good, it doesn't always indicate apostasy (e.g., Prov.24:16). As the context shows, it can't mean that here. That is due in no small part to the first participle which is really the key to understanding the whole idea of the passage. I translate "while they are crucifying afresh". This is a circumstantial participle but the relationship is temporal, not causal: as long as they do X ("crucify"), Y ("restoration") is not possible; implication: if they do stop doing X, Y is possible. That would, incidentally, be the case as well even if "since" (i.e., a causal relationship) were to be understood (it just muddies the waters a bit more to say "since", and as anyone who has dealt with this passage knows they are plenty muddy enough).

So the problem is "re-crucifying", whatever that means, and the solution is to "stop re-crucifying". You rightly understand the transgression as being involved in rituals which say by their nature that the Messiah has not yet come or that at least that Jesus' sacrifice was insufficient, and it is Paul's whole purpose in this epistle to combat such false notions. Finally, there is no point in writing divinely inspired epistles to people who are apostate with no hope of restoration: the entire point of Hebrews (and this passage) is to motivate believers to repentance and spiritual reform – so it must be possible.

I can't tell you how many emails I get from believers who are concerned that they've lost their salvation because of guilt attacks based on this passage and also on Hebrews 10:26, and it seems that there is no shortage of evil individuals out there in cyber-space willing to exploit those fears (always "for a good cause", "to get them to stop sinning"). I can certainly understand how absolute-no-matter-what-you-do-eternal-security would make this easier to deal with. Problem is that is not the truth either. Only believers are saved (see the link):

"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed (i.e., is not in a state of belief in: pf. tense) in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
John 3:18 NKJV

Here are a couple of salient links:

No, Hebrews does not teach that you lost your salvation.

Does Hebrews 10:26 Teach Loss of Salvation?

Are those in Hebrews 6:4 who "crucify the Son of God afresh" lost?

Hebrews 10:26.

Deliberate Sinning.

Your friend in our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #14: 

What does the part in the Bible mean where it says "It is impossible for those who have tasted the heavenly gift to be renewed unto repentance" (Heb.6:4-6)?

Response #14: 

There are a couple of passages in the book of Hebrews (this is one of them) which are also often misconstrued and thus cause unnecessary panic among believers who (wrongly) fear that they have lost salvation because of some sin they have committed.

I have written a great deal about this and related passages and will give you the links below (please do read them). Suffice it to say here that in the book of Hebrews Paul was writing to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem; they were in spiritual trouble because they were drifting back into Judaism, including participating in the rites of the temple. That was a problem because by sacrificing animals they were saying, in effect, that Christ died for nothing. That is because the animal sacrifices represented His future death on the cross – but of course at this date Christ had already died for the sins of all. So when this verse is quoted, the context has to be understood. You have quoted it out of context, leaving out the most important part (for the purposes of your question):

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
Hebrews 6:6 KJV

By continuing to sacrifice, these believers were, in effect "crucifying afresh" our Lord, and "putting Him to an open shame". This was a terrible witness, and they knew it. As a result, they could not be restored while still sinning – but none of us can be restored while we are still in the process of sinning and have absolutely no intention of ceasing our sinning. If we take that attitude, we will not be forgiven and restored (until we repent and confess), and our spirituality will suffer greatly (see the link: Apostasy and the Sin unto Death).

Here are those links:

No, Hebrews does not teach that you lost your salvation.

Does Hebrews 10:26 Teach Loss of Salvation?

Are those in Hebrews 6:4 who "crucify the Son of God afresh" lost?

Hebrews 10:26.

Deliberate Sinning.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #15: 

Thank you. If there is someone I can talk to that really understands the Bible it is you. But one question, did the Pharisees know that Jesus was son of God when they did what they did or was their conscience dead?

Response #15: 

As our Lord said to them:

Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
John 9:39-41 NIV

They had blinded themselves. They had hardened their hearts. The truth was manifest before their eyes, but they hated the truth and refused to accept it. It is therefore not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of choice – as all truly important things in this life really are. To "know" in the full biblical sense (epignosis) is to believe the truth of what God tells us. Without that faith, we will have mere knowledge – and even that can be denigrated and denied so that the conscience, as you rightly discern, also becomes befouled (through the poor choice of refusing to accept God's truth).

Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1st Timothy 4:2 NIV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #16: 

What could the pharisees have done to repent on their unforgivable sin?

Response #16: 

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved".
Acts 16:31

Question #17: 

Do you believe in that case that Hebrews 12:14 is something that we should do or do you believe that is an appeal to the law?

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14 NIV

I note in the Bible a distinction is made between ignorant and deliberate sin. What does scripture OT/NT mean by ignorant? Does it carry more than a lack of knowledge or is there more to the meaning of the word? Does the Hebrew and Greek carry a broader meaning?

What are the ways in which we can be ignorant when we sin?

Thanks,

Response #17: 

These are commands in Hebrews 12:14. The question is, "what do they really mean?" "Pursuing peace" is a positive thing accomplished mainly through spiritual growth, since our peace is first and foremost dealing with our eternal relationship with the Lord and then also our day by day walk with Him following salvation (Is.26:3; Jn.14:27; Rom.5:1; Eph.2:14; Phil.4:7; Col.3:15; 2Thes.3:16; 1Pet.1:2). Pursuing sanctification is the spiritual "defense" to complement the spiritual "offense" of growth in peace commanded in the prior part of the verse. It is put second, not first, because only through positive steps can we ever hope to live better. We cannot expect to do things inside out (like the Pharisees) and achieve true sanctification. We have to change on the inside for the outside changes that result to be genuine and based on grace rather than self-righteousness.

Hebrews is mainly about the Law having been largely replaced, and the epistle is directed to the Jerusalem community of believers who were, apparently in large numbers, falling back into the earlier legalistic practices. Thus, the "willful" vs. "ignorant" sin issue, while primarily an Old Testament distinction, is found uniquely in Hebrews (Heb.10:26) as a deliberate reference to the Law used to turn the false arguments of those who might oppose Paul's epistle back against them.

All sin does come from the will, whether or not we are aware of it. The main reason one finds these terms in the Law is to distinguish between sin for which there is no sacrifice and sin which could be atoned for (ceremonially – sin can only effectively be forgiven through the blood of Christ). In fact, almost all of the sacrifices for sin in the Law are for sins of ignorance (variously described; cf. Lev.4:23; 4:28). The sacrifice of the Day of Atonement is the major exception since it is a blanket forgiveness even for things for which in the Law there is no sacrifice (essentially, "willful" or "high-handed" sin).

If all that sounds difficult from the point of view of keeping the Law, keeping right in sacrifice and living right and being forgiven, that is the underlying spiritual point: no one is good enough to be forgiven and saved, even should said person go to great lengths in sacrificing. The point of the Law is to prove that we are all sinners through and through and need God's special intervention in order to be saved (Rom.3:19-20; 7:7). The only way to look at the Law and not draw that conclusion is through a warped lens, as the Pharisees did, using "private interpretation" to excuse the things they wanted or needed to excuse (2Pet.1:20). But in fact, "by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified" (Gal.2:16 NKJV).

In truth, sin is much wider and deeper and broader than even most Christians realize. That is one reason why sins of ignorance are such a large category: we may not realize that doing X is sinful (since it may not be specifically mentioned in the Bible), or that the effect of saying Y is sinful, or that by allowing our minds to contemplate Z we are sinning. Blessedly, 1) Christ died for all our sins, whether or not we even ever realize we committed them, and 2) we are forgiven everything when we honestly confess everything we realize we have done (1Jn.1:9).

Sin is a very big topic in scripture, so I direct your attention to Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology, the Biblical Study of Sin; and in particular you might check out the section, "Sins of Ignorance versus Sins of Cognizance".

Yours in the One who died for every sin we have ever committed or ever will . . . "that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him".

Bob L.

Question #18: 

Hello, hope you are well Robert.

I have been doing ok and am diligently working on my salvation issues. There is something I would like to ask you to read and tell me what you think. The man who wrote it references a lot of the Greek rendering and I know you read the scriptures in both Hebrew and Greek so you are not ignorant of these things. The site reference is:

http://www.thenarrowtruth.com/what-is-apostasy.html

I would really appreciate your view of this.

Thanks Robert. Again, hoping all is well.

Your friend,

Response #18: 

Good to hear from you as always. It is a very good rule of thumb, if you read or hear something that makes you feel guilty or uneasy . . . and yet you are not sure from the piece exactly why you should be, that all such teaching should be avoided like the plague. I went over this stuff you link several times and I'm still not sure what the person's precise position on the issue is (only sure of a few things he thinks are "not" correct). Whenever a so-called teacher produces material that can only stoke doubts without giving the person upon whom those doubts are inflicted either 1) a clear delineation of what precisely the "danger" is, and 2) how to avoid it or correct it, that so-called teacher is a false prophet. Cults thrive on making people feel guilty without resolution. There is a very good reason for that. If a person makes the mistake of listening to their teaching and feels guilty, then wants relief, the only way to get it is for the group/person who has caused it to say "there, there, it's alright". But cults never let you off the hook. You never find out just what you've done wrong or how you might get out of the guilt trap you are in – because then you would not need the cult anymore.

The gymnastic trick here seems to be equating apostasy with backsliding and backsliding with sin – "willful sin", that is (a set of biblically incorrect and unjustified conclusions however these terms are defined). But what is "willful sin" really? The person who wrote this doesn't understand apostasy, nor backsliding, nor willful sin, nor, apparently, grace and forgiveness. But he is very eager to make other people feel bad for offenses he apparently doesn't like (which ones is not stated – making for a more open-ended "Rorschach test" of a person's guilty conscience). The truth is that apostasy is the death of faith – no faith left whatsoever so that the person is no longer a believer in Jesus Christ because he/she does not believe in Jesus Christ at all any more. The truth is that this is very different from sin and sinning – and in fact our Lord tells us that facing opposition to being a believer and being unwilling to bear it is the most likely cause of apostasy (Matt.13:21). A person who has a loved one die and that disappointment then puts their faith to death is an apostate; someone involved in gross sin who still believes is not (though in danger of "the sin unto death"; see the link). "Backsliding" in scriptural terms is the process of returning from whence a person came, that is, going back to the world. The term and concept in scripture does not presuppose the end. That depends on the person in question. In the Old Testament we find this a lot precisely because the Lord was ever wooing Israel back from going in a bad direction (and some did come back).

As to "willful sin", almost everything we think of as sin is "willful". The point in the distinction made in the Law is to demonstrate through ritual that we are so steeped in sin that we need continual sacrifice for the sins we aren't even aware of – so most sacrifices are for ignorant sin. Therefore the Day of Atonement is necessary for these and everything else (i.e., the cross).

The person who wrote this piece is a sinner (aren't we all?), sins willfully on a regular basis (don't we all?), and is in my opinion in the process of a slow (at least) "backslide" (heaven forbid this should happen to us all!). I can't imagine anything more spiritually dangerous (or indicative of a poor spiritual status) than to post a disheartening message on the internet, chock-full of inaccuracies and untruths, written for the purpose of making other believers feel guilty without giving them any help (even if some who read do have a problem or two that needs to be resolved there is no guidance here). And, by the by, he is completely misunderstanding Hebrews (as they all seem to do). Here are some links:

Apostasy

Willful sin

Hebrews 6

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #19: 

Thanks Robert,

He seems to make some pretty convincing points using the tenses from the Greek. Am I picking up wrong on this?

Response #19: 

I didn't see any. Feel free to cut and paste what impressed you and I'll be happy to respond.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #20: 

I guess I cant say that since I don't read Greek :-).

Reason I ask is because there seems to be 2 prevailing opinions of what constitutes apostasy. I have read your articles. The one opinion is that it is high handed intentional sin (willful sin like Numbers 15 sin). The other is the death of faith.

What do you see in the Hebrew and Greek that makes you sure it's the latter?

Response #20: 

They are not the same words at all nor etymologically related. In this fellow's text, he only makes the connection by sleight of hand (referenced before). Apostasy is apostasy. Sin is sin. Willful/deliberate sin is any sin that we realize we are committing (however small). Numbers 15 is an "inaugural" incident to demonstrate to the community of the faithful the inadvisability of violating the religious precepts of the Law – for a community that has a mixing of secular life and religious life (as only Israel did). A loose analogy can be found in the incident in Acts five of Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead. I have seen plenty of Christians guilty of all manner of sins and deceptions, but I haven't seen that yet.

I recommend BB 3B: Hamartiology, where all of these issues are addressed. It's very easy to pull out a single verse or an incident out the Bible and build a theology on it – trouble is, that's only helpful if it is right, and that is rare.

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #21: 

Robert, after rereading a few times, when God called Israel back repeatedly wasn't it only the 'righteous remnant' that were actually still saved and forgiven? Also, isn't there a distinction between willful sin (sin knowingly committed but struggled against) and defiant sin (sin not struggled against)? Or is that just semantics?

Thanks and blessings,

Response #21: 

Everyone who returns is among "the remnant"; those who don't aren't. Everyone who believes in Jesus is elected; all who don't aren't. God knows all our actions ahead of time – in fact He entered them into His decree before creation.

As to willful vs. deliberate sin, these words are different in English; but I don't find this distinction in the Bible. People get into trouble when they start building theology inductively from translations apart from actual passages of scripture. I'm happy to discuss any individual verses you have in mind.

In the meantime, things are actually very simple. If we believe, we are FORGIVEN all of our sins from the beginning to the end. If we sin as believers, we are forgiven when we confess and our fellowship with our Lord is restored. If we deny the Lord – total loss of faith to the point that we are no longer in any sense believers – He will deny us. If we maintain our faith in Him solid until the end, we will be saved, resurrected, rewarded, and live with Him in New Jerusalem forever.

The Christian life is about moving forward. No doubt we have done many things that we don't remember and/or don't even bother us about the past. God doesn't expect us to "put ourselves on the couch" and try to recover and regurgitate all that past history. God expects us to move forward in His plan for us aggressively, learning, believing, and apply the truth of His Word in the cause of His Son our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #22: 

I recently fell back into sin, but I repented. Ben Witherington (don't know if you've heard of him - he's a Wesleyan Arminian -writes a lot of books) has always maintained that anyone who falls back into willful unrepentant sin has committed apostasy and absolutely is beyond God's forgiveness.

I don't know how there can be such different interpretations of Hebrews 6 and 10. Many people understand it as you do.

Hope you are well.

Response #22: 

It's been a minute. If you had written me "I have not sinned since last we spoke", I would have to conclude that you were either 1) lying, or 2) didn't have a clear idea of what constitutes sin, biblically speaking. Now it is true that some sins are worse than others, that some have greater consequences, both in terms of the nature of life and also in terms of divine discipline, that some are more of an affront to the Lord, that some are more damaging to our spiritual life and relationship to Him – but all sin is sin and needs to be repented of and confessed for spiritual growth to continue. In my observation, experience, and reading of scripture, this is much more of a daily thing than, say, a once in a decade thing (if sin is seen for the sin it is).

As to your Wesleyan Arminian friend, I have never heard of him. I would want to ask him what he thinks "willful unrepentant sin" is, exactly – as opposed to not willful repented sin. Whenever I've dealt with these types before, this "horrible sin" as opposed "nothing to worry about sin" usually tends to be sin which the person in question feels that he/she is superior to (or is secretly addicted to); often it involves sex of some sort. Sexual sin is particularly damaging (1Cor.6:18), but it is certainly not as if that is the only sort of sin or even the only sort of dangerous and damaging sin. Types like this also usually include on their "bad list" things that aren't actually sin; and they always exclude things that are sin (and can be deadly) which they themselves do all the time. Such is the essence of legalism.

Without God's forgiveness, we would all be lost. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the litmus test. All believers are saved; only unbelievers are not saved.

"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
John 3:18 NKJV

The way sin comes into this picture is that it erodes faith, especially if the believer who becomes entangled does not seek to extricate him/herself through the divinely provided means and begins drifting away from the faith as a result (as the prodigal discovered, the farther one goes, the tougher it is to come back – because of the way we are not because of God's loving embrace of us like the prodigal's father when we do come back). Sin can thus be instrumental in the death of faith, and it is faith through which we are saved by grace (Eph.2:8-9). Please see the links:

Apostasy and the sin unto death.

Salvation Lost and Found

Being Saved: Security, Apostasy, and the Sin unto Death

Legalism, Past and Present

Doubting Salvation and Questions of Sin

Sin, Atonement and Forgiveness II

Sin, Atonement and Forgiveness I

There is a lot of misinformation out there these days – a sign of the times in this last era of the Church.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #23: 

Hi Robert, here is the article by Ben Witherington I was telling you about...

"There has of course been debate amongst commentators as to wherein lies the impossibility. Does the author mean it becomes psychologically impossible for an apostate to repent? Is it the case that a person who has rejected the saving death of Jesus has repudiated the only basis upon which repentance can be extended? The problem with this view is that it does not say it is impossible to repent, but rather it is impossible to restore a person who commits apostasy. That leaves one to consider whether what is meant is human efforts to restore them, or divine efforts. Koester suggests it is the latter, not meaning that God doesn=t have the power, but that God would refuse to do so if someone‘crucified Christ afresh=.4 This may be correct, but we must bear in mind that our author is deliberately engaging in dramatic rhetorical statements for the purpose of waking up the audience. The function is not to comment on something that is impossible for God, and some commentators have reminded us of Jesus= remark that what is humanly impossible is not impossible for God, for all things are possible with God (Mk. 10.27). The description of the person who is impossible to restore is said to be one who has: 1) once (hapax)5 been enlightened; 2) has tasted of the heavenly gift; 3) has become a sharer of the Holy Spirit; and 4) has tasted the goodness of God=s word and the powers of the age to come. A more fulsome description of a Christian would be hard to find in the NT. In the first place the term enlightened is regularly used in the NT for those who have come out of darkness into the light, and so have gone through the necessary conversion of the imagination and intellect (cf. Jn. 1.9; 2Cor. 4.4-6; Ephes. 1.18; 2 Tim. 1.10; 1 Pet. 2.9). In the second place, the verb ‘tasted= means genuinely experienced as we have already seen in Heb. 2.9 which speaks of Christ experiencing death. In the third place the term metoxous has already been used in this discourse in relationship to the heavenly calling of Christians (3.1) and to Christians being sharers or partners with Christ. Having >shared in= the Holy Spirit is the hallmark of being a Christian as Heb. 2.4stresses along with numerous other NT witnesses, particularly Paul (see 1 Cor 12), and Luke (see e.g. Acts 2 and 10). The phrase means to have taken the Spirit into one=s own being.6 If it were not perfectly clear that our author is describing someone with the divine presence and power of God in their life our author goes on to add that this person has experienced the goodness of God=s Word and also the eschatological power of the age to come. Paul it will be remembered called such experiences the foretaste of glory divine that only Christians experienced (2 Cor. 1.22; Ephes. 1.14). AIn this and the three preceding participles, the writer withholds nothing in reminding the addressees of the abundance of God=s investment in them. Upon them God has poured out more than they could ever have asked or imagined.@7 There is some debate as to whether we ought to match up what our author says in vss. 4ff about some of the initial things one has experienced in Christ, with the elementary elements mentioned a few verses before. That is, enlightenment could refer to baptism, partaking of the Holy Spirit would correlate with the laying on of hands, tasting of the goodness of God=s word and the power of the age to come would correlate with the teaching about resurrection of the dead which in this case would have to mean something like spiritual resurrection at the new birth, which is unlikely, and renew unto repentance would correlate with the initial repentance of faith. There may be some force in this argument, but it should not be over-pressed. De Silva tries to cut the Gordian knot of this problematic text here by stressing that for the author of Hebrews salvation is a (purely) future and eschatological matter.8 This however is not quite correct. While the clear emphasis in Hebrews is on ‘final= or ‘eschatological salvation= (see 1.14; 9.28) and de Silva is quite right in his criticism of those who try to read Ephes. 2.6 into the discussion which speaks of initial salvation through faith, as though that text refers to eternal security, when it does not (rather the subject there is conversion)9 it is false to say that the author of Hebrews only thinks of salvation as something future. At the very least one must give the last clause of Heb. 6.5 its due--- he speaks of those who have already tasted the powers of the age to come. They are working retroactively. In other words, future salvation and its benefits have broken into the present and one can presently begin to experience its benefits--- in the form of enlightenment, life in the Spirit, empowerment with the power of the eschatological age, and so forth. This is surely a description of a person who is saved and converted in the initial sense of the term saved. It is then a distinction without a difference to argue that our author agrees he is speaking about a Christian who has every advantage presently available through God=s grace and characteristic of a Christian, but then to insist our author doesn=t prefer to say they are saved. They have partaken of the heavenlygiftCthis is surely the same thing as saying they are saved at least in the sense that they have been genuinely converted and are Christians at present.10 And then our author says what seems almost unthinkableChe uses the verb parapipt˘ (a verb found nowhere else in the NT) to speak of falling away, not in the sense of accidentally or carelessly falling down, but in the sense of deliberately stepping into a black hole. In the LXX this verb is used to describe acting faithlessly or treacherously especially in regard to the covenant (Ezek. 14.13; 20.27; 2 Chron. 26.18; Wis. Sol. 6.9; 12.2). "The act of falling away is not so much against a dogma as against a person, at 3.12 against God, at 6.6 against the Son of God. The remainder of v. 6, crucifying again the Son of God and holding him up to ridicule, makes this abundantly clear. Apostasy, yesYthe sin of abandoning God, Christ, and the fellowship of believers (10.25)."11 It is possible that our author means by ‘crucifying the Son to themselves= that they have cut themselves off from the Son, or have killed off his presence in their lives. They have thereby ended their relationship with Christ. He is dead to them. But the two clauses are related because ‘to make a public spectacle/paradigm= of someone was one of the functions of public crucifixion on public roads (see Quintilian, Declamations 274). Our author is then suggesting that to commit apostasy is to publicly shame Jesus as well as snuff out one=s personal relationship with him. Heb. 10.26-29 suggests that we should not try to alleviate the severity of the judgment spoken of here in regard to the apostate for it says that for such a person there no longer remains a sacrifice for their sins, but rather a terrifying prospect of judgment. Koester says that we should read the stern remarks here in the light of equally stern ones in the OT, which served as a warning against apostasy and tried to prevent it rather than being definitive statements about perdition (so Philo, Rewards 163). In other words these words were intended to have a specific emotional effect, not comment in the abstract about what is impossible.12 We may also note that it would appear that the wilderness wandering generation and their fate lie in the background here (see Heb. 3.7-19), and the argument here is very similar to the one found in 1 Cor. 10.1-4 where the fate of the wilderness wandering generation is used to warn Corinthian Christians against assuming apostasy was impossible for them since they have been converted and had various divine benefits and rituals. 13 As Johnson stresses however, it is not just from rituals that our author says they are in danger of falling away, it is from actual Christian experience itself—"the enormity of apostasy is measured by the greatness of the experience of God it abandons. That is why it is impossible ‘to renew to repentance= people who have proven capable of turning away from their own most powerful and transforming experience.@14 It is right to note how Heb. 12.17 will use Esau as the model of the apostate who sold his birthright for a single meal and "even though he sought it with tears, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity to repent@. Our author chooses then to describe apostasy in horrific termsCto abandon one=s loyalty to Christ is the same as crucifying him all over again or standing and ridiculing and deriding him as he dies on the cross. In an honor and shame culture this is intended to be shocking language about the most shameful behavior imaginable for one who has been so richly blessed by God in Christ. We must of course compare the similar language about defection that crops up throughout the discourse (cf. 2.2C>turn away=; 10.38-39---‘shrinking back=; 12.15—‘falling short of God=s gift=; 12.17--->selling one=s birthright=). It will be well if we take very seriously the word‘impossible= in this text, without suggesting that anything is totally impossible for a sovereign God. Our author does seem to believe that one can go too far, past the point of no return and of restoration. This text then cuts both ways, against either a facile notion that forgiveness is always possible no matter how severe the sin in question is, but it equally must count against the ‘eternal security= sort of argument as well. Our author clearly emphasizes the future and eschatological dimension of the pilgrimage to being fully and completely saved, and short of that climax one is not viewed as eternally secure, for one is not yet securely in eternity. But at the same time he is perfectly capable of talking about initial salvation in the terms we find here in Heb. 6. As Howard Marshall succinctly puts it in regard to Christians committing apostasy: "The writer is dealing with a real,if remote, possibility"

Also believes that the Ezekiel passage about " the wicked man who turns from his sin and practices righteousness, his wickedness will not be remembered" and Proverbs 28 "he who covers his transgressions will not prosper but he who confesses and forsakes them will find pardon" do not apply to my situation. Different covenant and dispensation.

Response #23: 

The snippet you include is a fine example of what has always been wrong with learned evangelical exegesis – it often cannot see the forest for the trees, and ends up confusing itself and others (which is the real tragedy).

Yes, Christians can become apostate. That is no news. Our Lord said it very clearly:

Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
Luke 8:13 NIV

What is the basis for "falling away"? Clearly, it is that, though they did "believe", that was only "for a while" – and now they do not believe. In other words, believers are saved; unbelievers are not. If a believer stops believing, stops being a believer, that is the basis of apostasy, viz., falling back into the state of unbelief. This is very clear from the above and accords perfectly with the rest of scripture:

"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son."
John 3:18 NIV

In the snippet, the author misses the most important point of all, namely, the qualifying participial phrase in Hebrews 6:6, "if/while they continue to crucify the Son of God afresh". Clearly, if I tell my son, "Little Johnny, if you don't stop doing that, you will be spanked!", I am certainly not going to spank him if he takes warning and refrains. And that, after all, is the whole purpose of this passage (and of the book of Hebrews). Paul writes this book to believers who are in spiritual trouble in order to get them to reform their ways. Why would God commission a book to people who had no possibility of changing? Why would Paul try with such determination to get through to them if that were ipso facto not a possibility? The existence of this book and of this passage proves that those who are in spiritual trouble can reform. However, this is written not to apostates but to believers who are in a spiritual tail-spin – specifically in their case for continuing to engage in the sacrifices of the Law, sacrifices which proclaimed a Messiah not yet come and therefore whose continuation after the cross implies that Jesus died in vain. So "if/while" they keep doing this terrible thing, they cannot be restored; but if/when they stop it, they can be. Likewise for us today, we cannot expect to be forgiven while in the process of committing sin, while engaged in a sinful course of action and with no intention whatsoever of giving it up – first we need to repent of that thinking and stop that sinful conduct before we can begin the process of spiritual recovery.

"Falling aside" in the same verse is a hapax (only occurs once in scripture, here in this verse) but it does not mean "stopped believing"; rather it refers to this spiritual backsliding into which the Jewish believers of Jerusalem had fallen. Author's references to the LXX are not determinative since it is not inspired and since the word doesn't occur elsewhere in the NT. There are examples of "falling" not meaning apostasy (e.g., Prov.24:16). Falling is not "good" (e.g., Rom.11:22 – and even there we find the possibility of restoration "if they do not persist in unbelief": Rom.11:23), but it does not necessarily mean apostasy, not etymologically, not metaphorically, not in biblical usage. In example of Luke 8:13 above the verb translated "fall away" is actually aphistemi, the word from which our "apostasy" is derived, and means literally "stand aside" or "rebel". Similarly, when Paul in Hebrews actually is speaking about apostasy he uses different verbiage:

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
Hebrews 2:1 NKJV

A pretty clear analogy in both cases: "stand aside" = very deliberately abandon the Lord and the faith; "drift away" = allow oneself to move away from any contact with the Lord and with the faith. Here's the analogy in Hebrews 6:6: "fall by the wayside" (para; rather than absolutely) = you were on the right road and moving forward but you stumbled and fell by the side of that road; you'll never get anywhere unless and until you get back up and get back on the road. The reason for even including the participle parapesontas here is to demonstrate that the people in the hypothetical (Paul's correspondents for the most part, but perhaps not all) are in fact in this dire situation of having stumbled, and are thus in need of this repentance and reform: "stop doing what you are doing!"

As to Ezekiel and Proverbs, I find the entire Bible to be consistent on all these issues, rightly understood. Salvation has always been "by grace through faith", and all who maintain their faith firm until the end are saved (Matt.10:22). "Dispensations" refer, properly, to the means and economy God is using in a given era to "dispense" His truth; a covenant is a promise from God to mankind, and there has only ever been one: eternal life through faith in the sacrifice and Person of the Son of God (foreshadowed before the cross; revealed after the cross); see the links.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #24: 

Thanks Robert, I understand that. What I don't understand is if apostasy is only considered no longer believing, why would these people be "left with only a fear of the coming judgement"? If they no longer believed they wouldn't fear that. But if they denied Christ knowing it was true because of pressure from the synagogue and not wanting to lose everything they owned so going back in order to keep it, then it makes sense why they would fear the judgement. And to take it a step further, whether one goes back to the synagogue or the world or whatever, isn't it the same thing? Doesnt God consider you to have abandoned Christ like Demas and so considers you unforgivable like those in 2 Peter 2:20? Peter says only condemnation for them. He never mentions the possibility of forgiveness if they repent...

Response #24: 

Most unbelievers are well aware that 1) there is a God; 2) He is righteous and they are pathetically sinful in His eyes; and 3) they are going to die and then will have to face Him. These things are part and parcel of the natural revelation God has written into the warp and woof of the creation, and into the hearts of all mankind as well, in order that all who are so inclined may seek Him out so as to be saved (Acts 17:25). It is true that many unbelievers profess agnosticism or atheism, but this is either a big fat lie rather than what they really know to be true in their heart of hearts, or else they have so hardened their hearts against the truth that they have come to believe their own lies – but at some point they knew the truth (as Romans 1:18-32 makes sufficiently clear).

As to the spiritual state of the believers in Jerusalem at the time of writing of Hebrews, obviously not every single person would have been in the same place. No doubt some were in fact not only not in danger of apostasy or the sin unto death, but were doing what they should be doing (or close enough) in terms of walking with the Lord. As in the case of all sin, sin is only a symptom. Sin does not condemn us because Christ washed it all away with His blood; but that forgiveness belongs to believers only, those who choose to stand on His merits and not their own, those who are saved by grace through faith (Eph.2:8-9)

I think we've talked about Peter 2:20 before. The end is worse than the beginning for all who turn away and abandon the faith – but Peter does not, in fact, say that they could not yet turn around again and come back to the Lord (cf. Rom.11:23: "And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again"); rather, Peter is describing the state of apostasy. Such a return may be unlikely, but it is not impossible (until death takes away their opportunities to come back). Let me put it this way, if a righteous man is within only a few months of his death, could he yet turn away from the Lord, could he yet become an apostate?

"But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. "Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die."
Ezekiel 18:21-24

It may be very unlikely, but people do in fact apostatize (and many marginal believers will do so in the soon to come Tribulation). The possibility of change of status – from good to bad or from bad to good – remains in place as long as we are in this life. Otherwise, why are we in this life? Determination of eternal status is the reason we are here. And for those who have believed, who have switched from the world to Christ, we are making efforts to earn eternal rewards (or should be); and for those who have chosen not to believe, or who have switched from Christ back to the world, they are here to confirm their choice and God's justice in condemning them. This is all about free will responding to God's grace in the gift of His Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Blessed you and I and many others have fled to Him for deliverance, and we are saved – even if imperfect – through our faith by the grace of God.

Yours in the One who died for us that we might have eternal life forever with Him, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bob L.


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