27 July 2010

What exactly DOES Hebrews 6:4-6 mean, anyway?



When dialoging with Arminians and others who teach that a person can be "lost" after they have been truly born again, one of their pet passages is Hebrews 6:4-6--4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

Now, at face value, it does sound like the writer of Hebrews (hereafter referred to as "The Writer") is saying that a person can be saved and then fall away to the point that they cannot be saved again. But is that really what Writer is saying? No, it isn't, and we will see why.

The first thing we must do in order to study this passage properly is to get rid of the chapter and verse divisions and any paragraph formatting. While these tools help us to find where certain passages are located, they were not in the original manuscripts and can, more often than not, interfere with our understanding of Scripture. What happens, many times, is our mind sees the numbers, separates Scripture from Scripture, and we put up mental walls around the texts and chop them up into separate thoughts, rather then seeing the constant, continuous flow of thought the writer intended. We also tend to chop paragraphs apart form each other, instead of seeing that the author was writing one long paragraph (for example, Ephesians chapter 1 is actually one long paragraph, rather than a bunch of smaller ones).

That said, in order to understand what The Writer is saying in Hebrews 6:4-6, we actually need to go back and start at chapter 5, verse 12 and read through chapter 6, verse 8. So, here is Hebrews 5:12-6:8, with no breaks--

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

What is the idea that The Writer is trying to get across to the reader? Well, he starts off by saying For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. These people had been taught, over and over again, the first principles of Christ. By now, they should have had a better handle on the truth than what they actually had. But, for some reason, they were not growing in their knowledge, so the writer had to go back over it again. This is the state that many in the church find themselves today. They walk into a fancy building on Sunday morning, they sit in a nice, comfy chair, and a glorified pop-psychologist feeds them some regurgitated, ground-up mush that he calls a "sermon"--while neglecting his duty to take the people deeper into God's word.

The Writer, however makes it clear that those who do not go deeper into God's word will not grasp what true holiness is. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. How is a person going to know how to spot the heresies if they don't have a full knowledge of the truth? Ephesians 6:14--Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness. Notice how Paul links truth with righteousness?

He puts the two side-by-side because they are linked arm-in-arm. Think about it: when Johnny Pewsitter gets a knock on his door, and a couple of finely-dressed young men present him with "the gospel that was restored by the prophet Joseph Smith", and Johnny doesn't know how to respond to their claims because he hasn't been taught anything more than "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life"--when Johnny hears this new "plan", he's gonna get sucked in and dragged away into error. It's like Spurgeon said--"Discernment is not so much knowing the difference between right and wrong. It's knowing the difference between right and almost right."

But The Writer isn't going to go back over those things that the Hebrews should have already learned. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. In other words, "Look, if you haven't understood the most basic things, you aren't gonna understand the deeper things of God; go back and learn them and get back to me. Repentance, the uselessness of works, the resurrection--you know these things. And if you don't, you should. But I'm moving on."

And now, we get to the heart of the discussion. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. What is the first word in this section? "FOR." What does the word "For" signify? Well, it means that Writer is using the previous thought as a springboard into his next thought. And if we read this in its full context, this is what we get: Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. So, what is The Writer saying?

What he's saying is this: if a person has heard the most basic principles of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, if they have been taught that we are not saved by works or by baptism or by anything else but the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--and after having heard and been taught all those things, if they "fall away" or "turn away" from these things (literally, "fall beside, slip aside, deviate from the right path, turn aside, wander, fall away from the true faith") and if they deny these things--then it is impossible for that person who has once learned these things, and has rejected them, to awaken themselves to their need for repentance.

This is a person who has given final, definite proof that he will not accept the truth. The phrase translated "once enlightened" is the Greek άπαξ φωτισθέντας (hapax photisthentas), and literally means "once for all enlightened." They have heard the truth more than once, and in fact they have heard it for the last time that God will let them hear it. They have been adamantly stiff-necked toward God, and should they hear the truth 1000 more times, it will make no impression on their heart.

The Writer is not talking about a person who has been saved--he is talking about a person who was never saved to begin with. He is not talking about a person who at one time accepted these truths and is now rejecting them--he is talking about the person who never accepted the most basic truths of salvation in the first place. The one who is "falling away" heard the truth of Christ but never accepted that truth. They took in the truth of the Living Water, and it produced nothing but a barren tree, which is why he goes on to say, For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. Here he compares the one who accepts the truth with a tree that bears good herbs that are fit for use in the kingdom of God. But the one who rejects the most basic truths of the gospel is a tree that doesn't produce anything but thorns and briers, and is only good for kindling.

"But," the Arminian will say, "what does Writer mean when he talks about those who have become partakers of the Holy Spirit? Doesn't that refer to someone who is saved?" The answer to that question is "No." For there are many who may have claimed to have been saved, but were only fooling themselves and others. Those are the ones that the apostle John says went out from us but...were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have continued with us (1st John 2:19). There were many who went out, who even performed miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, yet who were not truly regenerate. Or what else would our Lord be speaking of when he warns us that "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'"? (Matthew 7:22-23). Or why does Paul tell us that you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:9). Many there are who have had truths revealed to them by the Spirit of God, but who were never truly indwelt by Him and quickened by Him. Thus, they were 'partakers' of the Holy Spirit, but never children of God.

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God...For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened...to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated...but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

I hope this has enlightened (no pun intended) those who think that we can lose what God has given us. Because we did nothing to save ourselves, and we can do nothing to keep ourselves saved, how could we ever do anything to lose what we have been given? John 10:27-29--"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."

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