Essay: Hebrews 6:1-8

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Of the numerous difficult passages which commentators have wrestled with over the years, perhaps none has been more controversial and received more diverse interpretations than Hebrews 6:1-8.

As the apostle Paul stated to the younger Timothy ‘All scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.'(2 Timothy 3:16-17). However, several passages in Hebrews present difficult and unique challenges in ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting’ nature of scripture. Certainly Hebrews 6:1-8 is one of those challenges for us today. Guthrie summarizes this writing ‘It is no exaggeration to designate the passage we now consider as one of the most controversial in the book of Hebrews.’ With this careful understanding ahead of us, this paper offers every verse with commentary providing explanation to the unique tensions thereof while offering solutions to the tensions.
Verses 1 and 2
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,
Instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

The first word found here is ‘therefore’. It is always of importance to go back to the verse ahead of these and find out what the ‘therefore’ is referring to. In the following verses the author of Hebrews has given a warning to the readers not to fall away from the faith as some have. He gives them a challenge saying ‘by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again’. (Hebrews 5:12). The author then continues on with mature teachings of the faith. The author does not seem to think that all of the believers were immature.
Based on Hebrews 6:1, the author assumes that the listeners are able to ‘move beyond these elementary teachings about Christ’ to more advanced theory. By telling them to ‘move beyond’ elementary teachings, the author is not dismissing the teachings. The author believes this foundation is so solid the need now is building on it, not repeating it. Bruce however, is not as convinced with this hypothesis about the Hebrews spiritual maturity.
In context, he asserts, one expects to find the opening word, and therefore the concept of these verses, to be nevertheless??. The use of the word therefore?? (Greek: Diov dio), is the authors way of stating, their minds need to be stretched, and this will stretch them as nothing else can. Guthrie agrees with a portion of Bruce’s argument. With regards to this maturing process, the author of Hebrews has the desire to assist this maturing process by pushing the listeners into a more mature understanding. Summarizing, Guthrie clarifies, ??they are not responding to their circumstances as spiritual grown-ups, therefore it is time to move from the children’s to the adults menu, leaving behind fundamental teachings.
The author believes this foundation is so solid, the need now is building on it not repeating it.

Bruce is not so convinced with this hypothesis regarding the Hebrews?? spiritual maturity. In context, he asserts, one expects to find the opening word, and therefore the concept of these verses, to be ??nevertheless??. The use of the word therefore?? (Greek:
diov io), is the authors way of stating, their minds need to be stretched, and this will stretch them as nothing else can.

Quoting part of Bruce’s argument, Guthrie agrees. The author of Hebrews has the apparent desire to assist the maturing process by pushing the readers into a more mature understanding.
The fundamental teachings presented are grouped into three: 1.

??repentance from acts that lead to death?? and ??faith in God??, 2.

??instruction about cleansing rites?? and ??the laying on of hands??, 3.

??the resurrection of the dead?? and ??eternal judgment?? (Hebrews 6:1b-2)

In light of these six elementary teachings, Lane and Bruce specifically address the acceptance of the variant reading in verse two. (The teaching) Given this acceptance that virtually all modern translations accept, the six issues are now seen in a different light. The foundation that was laid in these Hebrews lives included ‘catechetical instruction’. In part, their faith in the finished work of the Messiah found impetus in the instruction they received. Under this interpretation, the remaining four areas of elementary teaching are the result of faith and the repentance they showed.
Verse 3
‘And God permitting, we will do so.’
This verse serves as a summary sentence to verses one and two and is much more an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty. It is also a statement of the mission God called the author to and reminds his readers that the following material is presented by God Himself. The author then connects the material in the following verses to the previous statement about the need to ‘move on beyond the elementary teachings. (Verse 1). After this, the text crosses over into one of the most difficult section. Basically verses one through three served out as a prelude to what is to come in the next phrases.
Verses 4-6

The remaining four areas of elementary teaching, under this interpretation, are a result of the repentance and faith they exhibited.
Verse 3
‘And God permitting, we will do so.’
Serving as a summary statement to verses one and two, this sentence is more than an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty.

Furthermore, it is a statement of the mission God called the author to and reminds his readers that the following material is presented at the permission of God Himself. The author further connects the material in the following verses to the statement made previously about the need to move ??beyond the elementary teachings?? (verse 1).

After this transition, the text crosses into the section with the greatest difficulties. In a technical sense, verses one through three have served as a rehearsal for the complexities contained in the following verses.
Verses 4-6
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
Who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age?
And who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace

With regards to this passage, Bruce opens it with a call to balance: ‘this warning has been both unduly minimized and unduly exaggerated. Even a cursory reading of these particular passages causes one to stop and read them once again. The idea behind them is quite troubling. The author says ‘it is impossible for those’to be brought back to repentance.’ (Hebrews 6:4a, 6b). The basic premise is supported by several ideas, the basic concept is present. Here it seems unable for someone to repent. This separation of the single thought by complementary phrases is not meant to soften the statement but meant for a rhetorical device used to build the emphasis on it. Putting the Greek word translated ‘impossible’ at the beginning of the sentence, for emphasis, the author of Hebrews makes a list of positive statements. He is able to link the ideas presented in verses four to six back to verse three with the conjunction gavr (gar). This is an explanation of his confidence in this information being in the Lord’s will. Being able to understand this concept, then and now is of utmost importance to Christian’s. In a contradictory sense, the emphasis on the ‘impossibility’ seems to overshadow the ‘possibility’ that one can fall away. Here is the root of the complexity of this passage. Bruce says this is more than a theoretical possibility, but can be, and maybe always has been a reality. As humans on earth today, we know there is evidence that some folks do turn away from Christ. Bruce maintains that the author of Hebrews does not use these kinds of hypothetical arguments at any other point in his writing. It is highly implausible that he would do this now. This sharpens the intricacy and its need for a solution. If this is more than a theoretical exercise, the issue needs to be clearly understood, lest a Christian finds himself in this position. Lane adds to this view that each of the statements describing the phases of salvation is described by the use of a Greek word a {rax (hapax) translated ‘once’ this conveys the notion of definitive occurrence. Lane’s conclusion is that this is not a theoretical exercise in apostasy, but rather a real possibility for those the author is speaking to. Although Guthrie does not speak directly to this concept of theoretical verses, his commentary leaves no room for doubt: those who have experiences the benefits list in these verses can ‘fall away’.
The 1984 edition of The New International Version translated the critical phrase ‘as if they fall away’. (Emphasis added). Guthrie provides a challenge to this translational as it creates a conditional clause (in English) while the Greek word is normally translated ‘and’. By using ‘and’ this provides a serious challenge to this phrase. The 2011 edition of The New International Version translates the phrase ‘and they fall away.’ (Emphasis added). Speaking of the words ‘to fall away’ Guthrie says:
The verb ‘to fall away’ (parapipto) can mean simply ‘to go astray’ but the harshness of the descriptions that follow (crucifying the son of God and ‘subjecting him to public disgrace’) demand that it be understood in terms of a serious sin that of rejecting Christ.
Here we find that one must wrestle with the tension of rejecting Christ. Bruce tells us that all of Scripture reminds us that we deal with the whole of sin be it deliberate or accidental. He states further that the author of Hebrews has the intentional rejection of Christ as the sin of falling away. Knowing this, the author of Hebrews is saying that the people cannot find repentance from Christ. Lane emphasizes this falling away also. It is not an accidental rejection of Christ. Lane points to the use of the aorist tense of the verb translated ‘to fall away’. Lane says this represents a ‘decisive moment to commitment of apostasy.
This could be thought of as an issue of logic. Since Jesus has been rejected as Messiah, Savior, and Lord, there is no salvation available for them because ‘Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6). Peter says ‘Since Salvation is found in no one else’.there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12). There is not a way to obtain salvation. Whatever repentance they may choose to exercise would be futile. Jesus is the only way to the Father. This is the spirit of the author’s argument. To turn ones back on Christ is to turn away from the only source by which forgiveness and eternal life can be granted. The last two verses of this passage continue to add to author’s mystery of the meaning.
Verses 7-8
Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

As we read and study this section of the Scripture, we ask ourselves at this point, are the people really regenerated? If they were not brought into the light of God’s grace before they fell away, then much of the tension disappears. N.T. Wright reminds us: ‘And the solemn warning about ‘falling away’ in these verses 4-8 fit here as a way of saying if you learned the ABC’s of Christianity thoroughly, and have started off enthusiastically on the Christian path, you can’t be expected to be restored if you renounce it and then go another direction.’ Cockerill speaks of these verses in his commentary ‘They could almost feel the timely rain falling gently on fertile ground. Such was an abundance of grace received from the Lord.’ If these then, were genuine Christians who consciously and intentionally rejected the gift of grace the author is implying that their sin is impossible to forgive. They would become the ‘land that drinks the rain’ only to become barren and useful to be purged.
Yet a third option is the individual who interacts with Holy Spirit but does not take part in salvation. Acts 8 provides an example of this with Simon Magus. This issue is at the core of soteriology. Without an understanding of what this passage in Hebrews is saying, the passage becomes intertwined with various theological thought patterns.
Verses seven and eight are based on having an understanding of verses four through six. Bruce gives us a summary of his commentary with verses seven and eight by providing an understanding of verses four through six. A believer’s life is marked by the fruit he or she bears. Jesus said ‘By their fruits you shall recognize them’. (Matthew 7:16). Bruce does not reveal his opinion one way or the other, this argument seems to underscore that the fruit of one’s life does not earn salvation but reveals the true state of the heart. In Guthries commentary he suggests this passage is dealing with those who are unbelievers. This is reflective of the third option listed above. They appear to be Christian on the outside; however, they have not truly had a conversion. Their falling away then, is when their actions on the outside truly match what has always been on the inside. ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you be in the faith; test yourselves.’ (2 Corinthians 13:5a).
Earlier in Hebrews, the author reminds the people of the active and living nature of the Word of God. (Acts 4:12). The author of Hebrews reminds us both then and today the importance of the nature of and understanding or applying God’s word to our lives. Falling away from the good news or the gospel is a reminder that the soil on which it was originally planted was not fertile.

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