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Hebrews 6

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Warning Against Apostasy     Warning Against Abandoning the Faith The Author Explains His Intention
(5:11-6:12)     (5:11-6:12)  
5:11-6:8 The Peril of Not Progressing Exhortation and Declaration of Purpose    
  6:1-8 6:1-8 6:1-3 6:1-8
  A Better Estimate   6:4-8 Words of Hope and Encouragement
6:9-12 6:9-12 6:9-12 6:9-12 6:9-12
God's Sure Promise God's Infallible Purpose in Christ   God's Sure Promise  
6:13-20 6:13-20 6:13-20 6:13-20 6:13-20

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS for 5:11-6:12

A. Because of the use of the pronouns "We/us" in 6:1-3, "those/them" in 6:4-8, and "you" in 6:9-12 and 5:11-12, I believe that two distinct groups are being addressed in chapter 6: believing Jews and unbelieving Jews. Also, the Jewish (not Christian) nature of the basic doctrines of 6:1-2 must point to truths shared with Judaism. There seem to be three groups mentioned.

1. the author and his/her mission team ("we" and "us," vv. 1-3,9; 5:11)

2. unbelieving Jews ("those" and "them," vv. 4-8)

3. the believing Jews ("you," vv. 9-12 and 5:11-12)

 

B. There have been several theories about who is being addressed.

1. it is a hypothetical (which usually supplies an "if" in v. 6)

2. it refers to Jewish unbelievers

3. it refers to true apostasy (Jewish believers about to return to OT hopes and procedures instead of continuing faith in Jesus as the Messiah)

4. it refers to the first-century situation only (which understands the historical setting as a synagogue setting of believing and unbelieving Jews)

5. it refers to OT examples of unbelief, not current believers

 

C. The warnings of 6:1-12 must be related to the previous warnings to

1. beware of being carried past the safe anchorage, 2:1

2. beware of willful unbelief (as OT Israelites), 3:12-19

3. beware of remaining immature believers, 5:11-14

 

D. The current debate in the church over "once saved always saved"; "saved, lost, and then resaved" and "once out always out" revolves around:

1. the use of isolated texts (proof-texting)

2. the use of logical deduction (priority of reason over Scripture)

3. the use of systematic theological grids (Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, etc.)

 

E. There are numerous biblical examples of people with problems related to their faith (see Special Topic at 6:5), but there is no easy answer that covers them all.

1. believers become unfit for service

a. carnal Christians or lazy Christian leaders (I Cor. 3:10-15)

b. baby Christians (Heb. 5:11-14)

c. disqualified Christians (I Cor. 9:27)

d. unorthodox Christians (I Tim. 1:19-20)

e. unfruitful Christians (II Pet. 1:8-11)

2. false professions of faith

a. parable of the soils (Matt. 13; Mark 4)

b. fruits without personal relationship (Matt. 7:21-23)

c. false teachers (I John 2:18-19; II Pet. 2:1-19)

3. possible apostasy

a. Saul (OT)

b. Judas (NT)

c. false teachers (II Pet. 2:20-22)

d. later interpreters (Revelation 22:19 )

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:1-8
 1Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3And this we will do, if God permits. 4For 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, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and 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. 7For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

6:1-2 This list of doctrines relates to issues shared by Judaism and Christianity. However, they are primarily Jewish (i.e., washings and laying on of hands). These would be doctrines that believing and unbelieving Jews would agree on easily. They are not the important theological issues related to Jesus of Nazareth as the prophesied Messiah.

There is a plausible theory that the first phrase should translate archē (elementary teachings) as "origins of the Messiah" (cf. A. B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 197). Could it be that a group of Jews were disillusioned with the growing Gentile flavor of Christianity and were questioning how Jesus had fulfilled OT prophecy and expectations? Could the list of Jewish doctrines be the focus of a discussion about a possible return to the Mosaic covenant for salvation, instead of Jesus?

6:1

NASB, NJB"elementary teachings about the Christ"
NKJV"the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ"
NRSV"the basic teachings about Christ"
TEV"the first lessons of the Christian message"

The Greek term archē has a large semantical field (see Special Topic at 3:14). The basic thrust is the beginning of some thing (the first cause of authority/rule). It is the contextual opposite of teleios ("maturity" v. 1b).

The problem of understanding this phrase is that the principles enumerated in vv. 1-2 do not relate to the Messiah as much as traditional teachings of Judaism. This is one of the textual reason for the supposition that the book was written to a Jewish synagogue audience (cf. 10:25) of both believing and unbelieving Jews (cf. R. C. Graze, No Easy Salvation).

▣ "let us press on" This is a present passive subjunctive, "let us be borne." The focus is on the continual provision by a divine agent! They will advance toward maturity if they allow the Spirit the freedom to motivate them. This very Greek term was used by the Pythagorean philosophers for advancing to a higher stage of understanding (cf. A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, p. 373).

NASB, TEV"maturity"
NKJV, NRSV"perfection"
NJB"completion"

This is a form of the Greek term teleios, which is used only here in the NT. See Special Topic at 7:11. It is the contextual opposite of archē of v. 1a (basic principles). These believers must move beyond those theological topics which they have in common with their Jewish friends and co-worshipers.

▣ "repentance. . .faith" These are the old and new covenant obligations, one negative and one positive. Repentance is a difficult topic because of the confusion over its meaning. The Hebrew term reflects a change of action while the Greek term reflects a change of mind. Repentance is the turning from a self-centered, self-directed life to a God-centered, God-directed life.

1. Jesus connected lack of repentance with perishing (cf. Luke 13:3,5 and II Pet. 3:9)

2. repentance is linked as the companion obligation to faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38, 41; 3:16; 19; 20:21)

3. God is even affirmed as being the source of repentance (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; II Tim. 2:25)

 

6:2 "washings" The plural is never used for Christian baptism, but for OT ceremonial ablutions (cf. Mark 7:4; Heb. 9:10). These three pairs of doctrines are not uniquely Christian. They seem to be common doctrines with Judaism, particularly those which Pharisees shared with Christianity.

▣ "laying on of hands" This is used in several senses in the OT and NT. It shows association with

1. setting one aside to God's chosen task (cf. Num. 27:18,23; Deut. 34:9; Acts 6:6; 13:3; I Tim. 4:14; 5:22; II Tim. 1:6)

2. identifying with a sacrifice

a. priest (cf. Exod.29:10,15,19; Lev. 16:21; Num. 8:12)

b. laypersons (cf. Lev. 1:4; 3:2,8; 4:4,15,24; II Chr. 29:23

3. identifying with a stoning victim (cf. Lev. 24:14)

4. praying for blessing (cf. Matt. 19:13,15)

5. praying for healing (cf. Matt. 9:18; Mark 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 8:23; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; Acts 9:17; 28:8)

6. praying for receiving the Spirit (cf. Acts 8:17-19; 19:6)

 

▣ "the resurrection. . .eternal judgment" The Pharisees and Essenes (i.e., the Dead Sea Scrolls community) held these eschatological doctrines in common with Christianity.

SPECIAL TOPIC: ETERNAL

6:3 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence which means potential action. God will permit, if they will cooperate!

6:4-6a "have once been. . .have tasted. . .have been made. . .have tasted. . .falling away" All of these participles are aorists, while v. 6b begins a series of present tense verbs. These are such strong statements. The meaning seems to be clear: they knew God on some level, but they rejected full faith in Christ. However, two contextual issues need to be examined: (1) the presence of three groups ("us" [vv. 1-3], "those" [vv. 4-8], "you" [vv. 9-12]) and (2) the Jewish nature of the doctrines in 6:1-2. These point toward a synagogue in which believing and unbelieving Jews worshiped and studied together. The unbelieving Jews have clearly seen the power, glory, and truth of the gospel in the Scriptures and in the testimony and changed lives of their believing friends.

There seem to be two warnings in Hebrews: (1) to the believing Jews to take their public stand with the persecuted church and not turn back to Judaism and (2) to the unbelieving Jews to embrace Christ. In many ways the first warning is unique to this book, but the second is very similar to the unpardonable sin of the Pharisees in the Gospels and the sin unto death of the false teachers in I John.

6:5 "the powers of the age to come" Another example of the lost involved in the power of the age to come is in Matt. 7:21-23. They had power without the necessary personal relationship. This same thing could be said of Judas Iscariot (in the Gospels), Simon Magnus (in Acts), and the false teachers (cf. I John 2:18-19).

See special topic at 1:2.

"have fallen away" This is an aorist active participle. This is the theological climax of the Greek sentence that begins in v. 4. See Special Topic: Apostasy at 3:12.

6:6

NASB"and then"
NKJV"if"
NRSV, TEV"and then"
NJB"And yet in spite of this"

There is a disagreement among Greek scholars whether this is a mild conditional structure or a consistent parallel structure from verse 4. Those who insist on a conditional structure do so for the theological purpose of asserting that verse 6a is a hypothetical situation. However, all these grammatical features imply that all have occurred.

1. the repetitive pattern of aorist participles (been enlightened, tasted, shared, tasted and fell away)

2. the repetitive use of "kai" (and) with the last three

3. the one accusative masculine plural article in v. 4 which relates to all the participles of verses 4-6

 

NASB, TEV,
NJB"impossible" (v. 6)
NKJV, NRSV"impossible" (v. 4)

The term appears in v. 4, but the larger context includes v. 6. This is the Greek term dunatos (able) with the alpha privative (unable). These two terms are used with the connotation of what God does and does not do! It is used in the Greek Papyri found in Egypt of (1) men not strong enough to work and (2) witnesses unable to testify. It is used four times in Hebrews.

1. impossible to renew them again to repentance (6:4)

2. impossible for God to lie (6:18)

3. impossible for OT sacrifices to save (10:4)

4. without faith it is impossible to please God (11:6)

In each case the term means impossible. Therefore, it is surprising that Lowe and Nida's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament says "In Heb. 6.4 the use of adunaton seems to be an instance of hyperbole in view of the warnings against apostasy (see Heb. 5.11-6.12). Therefore, one may translate adunaton in Heb. 6.4 as ‘it is extremely difficult to'" (p. 669). This seems more theological than lexical when all other uses of the word in Hebrews demand "impossible."

The reluctance to take this term literally is because it leads to the theology of "once out always out" if this refers to believers abandoning their faith. Those denominational groups that teach apostasy also preach repentance and reinstatement. This text seems to depreciate this position.

In many ways the historical setting is the key to the interpretation.

1. two groups addressed (believing and non-believing Jews)

2. one group (believing Jews who have not matured and are now contemplating returning to Moses)

This is a similar heresy to the Judaizers in Galatians who were tempted to trust in OT rites (plus Christ). Paul asserts that they had fallen from grace (cf. Gal. 5:4).

"renew" See Special Topic following.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Renew (ANAKAINŌSIS)

▣ "they again crucify to themselves" The Greek compound (anastauroō) can mean "crucify" (or "nail up," this intensified form is in JB, NEB and Moffatt translations) or "crucify again" (NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEB, NJB, NIV translations). The Greek-English-Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, says "in extra-biblical Greek this term always means crucify" (p. 61). Tertullian used this passage to assert that post baptismal sins were not forgivable.

The early Greek Fathers understood this context and the compound with ana to demand "crucify again," which is followed by the majority of modern English translations. How does this relate theologically to apostasy? It implies believers; however, if the intensified form "personally nail up" is followed, then unbelievers are possibly the referent. Interpreters must allow the text, not their theological biases or theological systems, to speak. This text is so difficult to interpret definitively. Often we think we know what it should or should not mean before we struggle with

1. the book as a whole

2. the four warnings specifically

3. the specific context

However one interprets these texts, the warnings are serious!

▣ "put Him to open shame" This term is used in Matt. 1:19 for Joseph's not wanting to publicly disgrace Mary. How would this relate to the context? It may simply refer to Jesus' initial crucifixion as "public shame" without the implied "again."

6:8 This may be an illustration taken from Gen. 3:17-19 or Isa. 5:1-2 or possibly even the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. Fruit-bearing is the normal evidence of a valid profession! Fruit-bearing (cf. John 15:5-6), not germination, is the evidence of a true relationship with Christ. The fruit is the evidence of, not the means to!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:9-12
 9But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

6:9 "beloved" This paragraph shows the intense love and care that the author has for the readers. Verse 11 mentions (1) "desire," which could be translated "great desire" and (2) "each one of you," which shows individual concern.

▣ "we are convinced of better things concerning you" This is a perfect passive indicative plural. The author was confident that this group of readers were Christians and would continue to act appropriately.

For "better" see full note at 7:7.

NASB, NKJV"things that accompany salvation"
NRSV"things that belong to salvation"
TEV"that belong to your salvation"
NJB"on the way to salvation"

This Greek phrase is literally "having (present middle participle) salvation" which defines the "better things" of v. 9.

6:10 "so as to forget your work" God will judge fairly based on

1. the book of life (cf. Exod. 32:32-33; Ps. 69:28; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27)

2. the book of deeds (cf. Ps. 56:8; 139:16; Isa. 65:6; Mal. 3:16; Matt. 25:31-46; Gal. 6:7)

 

▣ "the love which you have shown toward His name in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints" Although these believing Jews had not fully identified with the Church, they did help the Church in its time of persecution (cf. 10:32-34). Remember the Synagogue was considered legal, while the church was illegal in Roman law of this period!

"Saints" (hagioi) is theologically related to the OT term "holy" (kadash), which meant "set apart for God's service" (cf. I Cor. 1:2; II Cor. 1:1; Rom. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1). It is always plural in the NT except for one time in Philippians 4:21; even there, it is used in a corporate context. To be saved is to be part of the covenant community of faith, the family of believers.

God's people are holy because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 4 and II Cor. 5:21). It is God's will that they live holy lives (cf. Eph. 1:4; 2:10; 4:1; 5:27; James 2:14-26; I Pet. 1:16). Believers are both declared holy (positional sanctification) and called to a lifestyle of holiness (progressive sanctification). This is typical of the NT theological tension between the "already of the Kingdom of God" and the "not yet of the Kingdom of God."

SPECIAL TOPIC: SAINTS

6:11 "full assurance" Notice this is related to lifestyle action (cf. James, I Peter, and I John). Assurance is not primarily a doctrine to affirm, but a life to live (cf. Matt. 7).

▣ "until the end" Perseverance is as true a biblical doctrine as security. By their fruits you shall know them (cf. Matt. 7; James 2:14-26). See note on perseverance at 4:14, also note Special Topic at 7:11.

6:12 "sluggish" This is the same term as "dull" (cf. 5:11). It is used in contrast to "diligence" in v. 11. The believers had not grown into Christlikeness nor Great Commission Christians as they should have (cf. 12:1-3).

▣ "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" This may alude to the roll call of the faithful in chapter 11. These faithful OT believers held out to the end amidst great conflicts and trials, often resulting in physical death (cf. often in chapter 11 and possibly in 12:4). God's promises are the focus of the paragraph, 6:13-20. They are sure and faithful because He is sure and faithful!

SPECIAL TOPIC: BELIEVERS' INHERITANCE

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:13-20
 13For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14saying, "I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you." 15And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. 16For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 17In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. 19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

6:13-20 This is such a powerful promise of security and hope based on God's character and promises (cf. v. 18a), if we will only respond appropriately (cf. v. 18b).

6:13 "when God made the promise to Abraham" Abraham is mentioned because he is considered the father of the Hebrew nation to whom YHWH made many covenantal promises (cf. Gen. 12,15,17,18,22), and also because of his relation to Melchizedek (cf. Genesis 14). His faith in God came before the law and is used as a NT paradigm of all those who exercise faith (cf. Romans 4).

It is also theologically possible that Abraham was chosen because God's promises to him were not based on his performance, but on God's unconditional promise (cf. Gen. 15:12-21; as is the "new covenant," cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38), while the covenant with Moses is based on obedience, a conditional covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28).

▣ "He swore by Himself" This refers historically to Gen. 22:16-17 (Abraham's offering of Isaac) or contextually to Ps. 110:4 (cf. 7:17,21). God's oaths and promises can be depended on (cf. vv. 16-17). This is the theological thrust of the paragraph. Our hope is in the unchanging character (cf. Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8) and promises of God (cf. Isa. 40:8; 55:11). These are the "two unchangeable things" of v. 18!

6:14 This section of Hebrews involves the author's use of OT quotes to Abraham. God made promises to him about many descendants through Isaac. The theological problem is that not all of Abraham's natural descendants were faithful followers of YHWH. They were "covenant," "chosen" people, but all did not exercise personal faith (cf. v. 18b).

6:15 This does not describe Abraham's perfect faith (he had children by several women, he tried to give Sarah away twice to save his own life) concerning God's word but his faithful heart and obedience. Abraham, like all humans, is a strange mixture of faith and fear, good and evil.

6:18 "two unchangeable things" This refers to God's oath (i.e., Ps. 110:4 quoted in 5:6; 6:20; 7:17) and God's promise (cf. v. 14). God's word is our assurance (cf. Isa. 55:11; Matt. 5:17-18).

▣ "in which it is impossible for God to lie" This may be an allusion to Num. 23:19 or I Sam. 15:29. This same truth is affirmed by Paul in II Tim. 2:13 and Titus 1:2. See full note at 6:6.

▣ "we who have taken refuge" This may relate to

1. the OT cities of refuge (cf. Num. 35:6; Deut. 4:41-43; Joshua 20)

2. a metaphor for a safe harbor in a storm (cf. 2:14; 6:19)

3. a metaphor referring to God as a strong fortress in which His people take refuge (cf. Ps. 18:1-2; 31:3; 91:2,9; 94:22; 144:2; Isa. 17:10; 25:4; Jer. 16:19; Joel 3:16; Nah. 1:7)

 

▣ "would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us" In verse 18 we have the theological balance of a strong, trustworthy, sovereign God (cf. v. 18a) to whom humans must respond, and continue to respond by faith to the end (cf. v. 18b).

6:19 "an anchor" This was an ancient Christian symbol for safety, security, and hope. It has been found on the walls of the Roman catacombs. This word brings to mind the hymn,

"I've anchored my soul in the haven of rest,

I'll sail the wild seas no more.

The tempest may sweep o'er the wild stormy deep,

but in Jesus I'm safe evermore."

▣ "steadfast" See Special Topic: Guarantee at 2:2.

▣ "one which enters within the veil" Here the anchor of hope is paralleled with Jesus the high priest entering the heavenly tabernacle (cf. 8:5; 9:23), even into the holy of holies, which symbolized the very presence of God. The hope of believers is in the character and promises of God and the finished work of Jesus Christ.

This is not Platonism (earthly forms versus heavenly ideas), but the heavenly tabernacle pattern shown to Moses on Mt. Sinai (cf. 8:5; Exodus 25-40). This type of dualism is also found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This type of reasoning (i.e., an earthly copy of a heavenly thing) predates the Greek philosopher Plato. It speaks of our invisible but sure hope in Christ (cf. 9:23ff).

6:20 "as a forerunner" This Greek term was used of (1) a scout going before, learning and marking the right path (i.e a pioneer) or (2) a small ship leading a larger ship into a safe harbor. Jesus has gone before believers in every necessary way—overcomer, intercessor, savior, priest, and perfect sacrifice!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Are verses 2-4 a list of Christian essentials or truths of Judaism?

2. Does the book of Hebrews teach "falling from grace"? Why or why not?

3. Why is the historical setting of this book so important to a proper interpretation?

4. Does the Bible teach that the truly redeemed will hold out until the end or that those who hold out in faith to the end are the redeemed?

5. Are those spoken to in verses 4-6 believers or unbelievers? Why?

6. How are the "you" of v. 9 related to the "those" of v. 4?

7. Describe the persecution the believers were facing.

8. What are the two unchangeable things of v. 18?

9. How are both God's sovereignty and human freewill balanced in v. 18?

10. How are the character of God and the finished work of Christ related in vv. 13-20?