Apostasy ~ Part 3
In my last post, we began to unpack Hebrews 6:4-6 by looking at two commentaries. In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into Hebrews 6:4-6 with some experts that have a different take on what the author of Hebrews may have meant when he wrote this passage.
“For when people have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh, and tasted the goodness of God’s Word and the powers of the ‘olam haba [this age] — and then have fallen away — it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep executing the Son of God on the stake all over again and keep holding him up to public contempt.” ~ Hebrews 6:4-6
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” ~ Hebrews 6:4-6 (NASB)
The authors of the Life Application Bible Commentary have this to say, in part, about Hebrews 6:4-6:
“There are four main interpretations of this passage.
- One interpretation states that this passage means Christians can lose their salvation. According to this interpretation, the four phrases describe Believers. … This salvation allows them to “taste the heavenly gift”; that is, they have come to know Christ, the one who came from heaven, so they experience salvation and the gifts that the Spirit gives … While we can agree that the phrases may describe Believers, we cannot accept this interpretation that Christians can lose their salvation. This idea is dismissed by other portions of Scripture (see John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39).
- Some interpret this passage as hypothetical: “if it were possible.” This interpretation, however, is unnatural and does not fit into the greater context of 6:7-8. If this passage were only hypothetical, then the warning would be unnecessary. Because the warning is urgent and real, we dismiss this interpretation.
- Another interpretation is that the writer may have intended to illustrate someone who seemed to be a Christian but really never was a true follower of Christ. All of the descriptive phrases could describe someone who is not really in the faith. That person could be “enlightened,” for the word was used by the early church to describe Christians who had been baptized and had professed Christ. The person could have “tasted the heavenly gift,” if this phrase refers to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The person could have been a “partaker of the Holy Spirit,” if that phrase means that they fellowshipped alongside true believers and witnessed the Spirit’s work. Non-believers (even Judas Iscariot) saw the Holy Spirit work, heard the “good word of God,” and saw the “powers of the age to come.” … This interpretation is acceptable when considered in the greater context. Hebrews 3:16-19 reviews how each Jew living in the wilderness had seen God’s great power, had eaten manna, had accompanied God, and had looked like God’s people, yet they never entered the Promised Land. The writer did not want the Christians to fall into the same category and experience the same fate.
- Another reasonable interpretation arises by linking this portion of Scripture with 10:25-31 (another severe warning). The writer of Hebrews was warning against a specific kind of apostasy: forsaking Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for sins and returning to animal sacrifices as a means of atoning for sins. Thus, the severe warning is for those Jewish Christians who had originally accepted Christ’s redemption through his shed blood and then reverted to offering up the blood of bulls and goats as a means of cleansing their sins.
In the first century, a pagan who investigated Christianity and then went back to paganism would make a clean break with the church. But for Jewish Christians who decided to return to Judaism, the break was less obvious. Their lifestyle remained relatively unchanged. But by deliberately turning away from Christ, they were cutting themselves off from God’s forgiveness. Those who truly believe are glorious saints; those who reject Christ are un-believers, no matter how well they behave—thus, this warning not to “fall away” (Hebrews 2:1; 3:12).
It is impossible for people who have professed to be Christians and have experienced all of the beautiful gifts described in these verses, then have turned away from Christ to turn around and repent again since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. It is impossible because these people show contempt for Christ through their deliberate actions. It would be like personally crucifying Christ again. Many have argued whether someone who turns away from Christ can be restored to Christ. Some point to this passage to prove that a backslider cannot be restored. But “backsliders” are not the subject here. This passage refers to people who walk with Christ for a while and then deliberately turn around and walk the other direction, rejecting Christ. Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins“ (nrsv). These people can never be restored because they will not want to be restored. They have chosen to harden their hearts against Christ. It is not impossible for God to forgive them; rather, it is impossible for them to be forgiven because they won’t repent of their sins.”
Here is my favorite paragraph in their commentary on this passage (emphasis added):
“In the final analysis, having a debate about the meaning of these verses should not be a priority for churches today. What matters most is the warning against apostasy, and the warning must be taken seriously. The passage describes people in our churches who act like and seem to be Christians, but who have not truly believed. When those assumed to be believers turn away, the debate may take place afterward, ‘Were they originally believers or not?’ But people reading these words must heed the warning, not just debate the issue.”
The authors of another favorite commentary I check frequently, “Hard Sayings of the Bible,” have this to say, in part, about Hebrews 6:4-6:
“Most Christians know of individuals who for one reason or another have left the faith. They may not have actually denied the faith, but they are certainly not practicing the faith. For such people this is a very troubling passage. Is there anyone who cannot be brought to repentance? Can a person have shared the Holy Spirit and then be lost? And are these people really eternally lost? Is this really a description of a Christian?
First, this passage is not unique but rather is part of a group of passages concerning people who cannot be forgiven or brought to repentance. Mark 3:28-29 refers to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. … In 1 John 5:16 the author speaks of a “sin unto death” (KJV) about which, the elder implies, prayer is useless. Finally, the verse under consideration here refers to a class of people who cannot “be brought back to repentance.” The issue is not whether God would forgive them if they repented, but whether there is any way to bring them to repent at all. The answer is no.
Second, the people under discussion are fully initiated Christians. In the preceding passage, the author contemplates whether he should discuss Melchizedek, a difficult teaching, or return to the basic teachings of the faith. … But he will not return to these teachings, for he knows these readers. They are fully initiated Christians. There was nothing defective in how they were brought to Christ, so there is no use in going back over the basics.
Third, what is the author’s concern about these people? Hebrews 6 is an excursus [an appendix or digression that contains further exposition of some point or topic] the author inserted into the argument because he is afraid that when he gets to the difficult subject of Melchizedek the readers will “turn him off.” … Throughout the book he is concerned that they will leave their Christian faith and return to Judaism. … The author is warning them before he brings the difficult teaching not to apostatize, because the consequence of such an action is damnation.
His warning comes as a description of what it would mean to apostatize. That he is talking about full-blown apostasy is clear, for he uses the phrase “they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:6). That is, they once confessed that Jesus was Lord and Messiah, which means they repented of the injustice of the crucifixion. Now in rejecting the faith they are declaring that the crucifixion was correct after all – Jesus was a blasphemer and not Messiah. Such a public recantation exposes Jesus to public disgrace.
What, then, is the author of Hebrews saying? … His arguments to keep them in the faith must come from deeper truth, not from a clarification of the foundational truth. He then points out by way of warning that if fully initiated Christians turn their backs on Christ, they will so harden themselves that nothing anyone can do will bring them back to repentance. Their end result will be eternal damnation. … They may be on the verge of apostasy, but they have not made the decision and crossed the line.”
Although we have spent three posts on this topic of Apostasy, and we will come back to it before the series is completed I’m sure, it is time to move on. However, as much as I want to move into examining Calvinism and Arminianism, I want to delay until we examine a related topic to Apostasy ~ God’s Sovereignty and Free Will.