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Interpreting and Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8, part 9

DavidAllen2

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Learn more about Dr. Allen, HERE.
Follow @DavidLAllen on Twitter
HERE.
Follow on Facebook HERE.

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Preaching & Interpreting Hebrews 6.1-8.

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We now consider the “Loss of Rewards” view concerning Heb 6:4–6. Essentially, the Loss of Rewards view interprets the group in Heb 6:4–6 as referring to genuine believers who “fall away” in the sense of willful disobedience to God. They do not commit apostasy in the traditional theological sense of the term. They do not once and for all deny Christ. They do fail to press on to spiritual maturity by virtue of direct disobedience to God’s will and word. The judgment that these believers incur does not involve loss of salvation. Their judgment is more accurately designated “discipline,” which involves both a temporal and an eschatological aspect. It is not final judgment in the sense of eternal loss. Temporally, this discipline involves loss of opportunity to go on to maturity in the Christian life, loss of effective service for Christ in this life, loss of the blessings of God that come from an obedient life and in some cases perhaps premature physical death. Eschatologically, it involves loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom 14:10–12; 1 Cor 3:10–15 and 2 Cor 5:10). These are genuine believers who are in danger of forfeiting some new covenant blessings in this life as well as rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

This interpretation incorporates several contextual factors within Hebrews. First, in the immediate context of Heb 5:11–6:8, the author is addressing genuine Christians who were failing to press on to maturity (6:1). The context of the passage is not salvation but sanctification. Second, ascribing genuine believer status to the people described in Heb 6:4–6 favors this interpretation as well. Third, the immediately following verses, Heb 6:7–8, support this interpretation. The author follows the warning with an illustration introduced by gar connecting it with the previous context and showing that the previous audience continues in view. This agricultural illustration speaks of a single plot of land, not two different lands as is implied in the NIV translation. The word “land” occurs only once in the Greek text—v. 7. It is not two kinds of land being described, but rather two possible outcomes from the same land. The ground has received the rain necessary for cultivation and growth. Verse 7 speaks of the positive result of fruitfulness when the rain falls on the land and the result is vegetation. Verse 8 speaks of the same land, which received the same rain, but “thorns and thistles” are the result, not fruit.

In actuality, the contrast is not between two different groups of people as two possibilities that may affect one group of people. This is evidenced by the illustration of two different results occurring to the same land in Heb 6:7–8. The author is using this illustration to depict in somewhat of a typological fashion the two possible outcomes of Christians: those who press on to maturity through obedience and those who willfully continue in disobedience. Verse 8 describes the three-fold result of the land that brings forth “thorns and thistles: It is “worthless,” “near to being cursed,” and “its end is for burning.”

Upon first blush, one might assume by the use of the word “curse” that eternal loss is in view in Heb 6:8. But the text does not say the ground is “cursed” but in danger of being cursed. If the reference is to apostasy, then the reference is not to those who are “near” to being cursed, but to those who would indeed be cursed with eternal loss. In Scripture, “fire” can be used in context of the unregenerate in hell, and it can also be used to speak of God’s judgment of Christians. The latter is clearly the case in 1 Cor 3:10–15 where the focus is on the nature of the believer’s works at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The quality of the work is tested by fire, but the result for those who do not pass the test is not eternal damnation. It is works of “wood, hay and stubble” that are burned up, not the individual, who entered heaven “as by fire.” The context of Heb 6:10, where the author mentions the “works” of his readers, make the comparison to 1 Cor 3:10–15 all the more appropriate. The “burning” of land that did not produce vegetation was a common act in the 1st century AD. The purpose was to cleanse the land of the “thorns and thistles” so it would bring forth fruit. The land was not destroyed in the process. By analogy, the author of Hebrews is not suggesting that those who had “fallen away” were eternally destroyed. The better interpretation is to take Heb 6:7–8 as referring to loss of rewards.

There is an interesting correspondence between Paul’s description of the wilderness generation’s privileges in 1 Cor 10:1–4 and Heb 6:4–5. Five positive things are stated about the wilderness generation, followed by a negative statement, just as we find in Heb 6:4–6: (1) all were under the cloud; (2) all passed through the sea; (3) all were baptized into Moses; (4) all ate the same spiritual food; and (5) all drank from the same rock that followed them, which was Christ. Then follows the negative statement in v. 5: “but God was not pleased with most of them and they were scattered in the wilderness.” Paul does not state they were “apostates” or that they were “cursed” by God and removed from their covenant status. Other parallels occur between 1 Cor 10:1–13 and Heb 6:1–8. Hebrews 6:5 speaks of the “age to come” and 1 Cor 10:11 speaks of “the ends of the ages” having come. First Corinthians 10:3 speaks of “eating” and Heb 6:4–5 speaks of “tasting.”

The deaths of the rebels in the exodus generation are no indication they were unconverted, since both Moses and Aaron also died in the wilderness as a result of God’s discipline for their disobedience. It is significant that the same Hebrew words in Deut 9:23–24 and Num 20:12, 23 are used to describe their sin as are used to describe the sin of the exodus generation. They forfeited the blessing of the Promised Land but this had nothing to do with their eternal spiritual condition.

The author appears to affirm the redeemed status of the wilderness generation in Heb 11:31 when he says: “by faith they passed through the Red Sea.” Hebrews 6:9 also points in this direction. Notice the author does not say “we are persuaded of better things concerning you, namely, your salvation.” Rather he refers to “things that accompany salvation,” contextually a reference to fruitfulness that accompanies salvation.

Those who affirm that Heb 6:6 refers to apostates who were not genuine believers cannot conceive of such language being applied to believers. However, if the “falling away” does not refer to apostasy as has been argued on the basis of the meaning and usage of the word, there is no reason to think it cannot refer to willful disobedience on the part of Christians. It is clear that the word was so used in the LXX for sin among God’s covenant people. Jesus used harsh language at times even when speaking to his own disciples. In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus has some harsh words to say to some of his seven churches. The Pauline epistles are filled with serious warnings to deter Christians from sinning.

Next: Final Post, Part 10 – Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8.

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Interpreting and Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8, part 8

DavidAllen2

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Learn more about Dr. Allen, HERE.
Follow @DavidLAllen on Twitter
HERE.
Follow on Facebook HERE.

========================

Click the links below to read previous posts of
Preaching & Interpreting Hebrews 6.1-8.

post 1
post 2
post 3
post 4
post 5
post 6
post 7
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We are now ready to examine the major interpretations of Heb 6:4–6 and to synthesize all of the evidence into an interpretive framework. There are five major interpretations of Heb 6:4–6: (1) the Loss of Salvation view, (2) the Hypothetical view, (3) the Tests of Genuineness view, (4) the Means of Salvation view, which is in reality a variation of the Tests of Genuineness view, and (5) the Loss of Rewards view.[1]

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Interpreting and Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8, part 7

DavidAllen2

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Learn more about Dr. Allen, HERE.
Follow @DavidLAllen on Twitter
HERE.
Follow on Facebook HERE.

========================

Click the links below to read previous posts of
Preaching & Interpreting Hebrews 6.1-8.
post 1
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Today we will consider the meaning of the phrase “it is impossible to renew them to repentance, seeing they recrucify the Son of God and put him to open shame” in v. 6, and connect the passage with the incident at Kadesh-Barnea in Numbers 14.

The use of “impossible” is emphatic by word order, being placed first in the sentence. The subject of the infinitive “to renew” is unstated, raising the question, “impossible for whom?” Some interpret the sense here to mean it is impossible for men to renew them to repentance, but not for God to do so. Most, however, take this as a reference to actual impossibility, and this is supported by the other three occurrences of “impossible” in Hebrews, which are unambiguous in their meaning of absolute impossibility (6:18; 10:4; 11:6). Contextually, it is impossible to renew them because God himself won’t permit it (v. 3).

The object of “renew” is “repentance.” If, as many argue, the group described in Heb 6:4–6 are not genuine believers, how is it possible for them to be “renewed” to repentance? They would never have repented the first time. If they cannot be “renewed” to repentance, implicit in the use of “renew” is the fact of previous repentance. If they had repented (6:1), then they are genuine believers; and if genuine believers, then they cannot be mere professors. Both John Owen and Roger Nicole attempted to blunt the force of this problem by suggesting that what is in view here is outward repentance, and not inward repentance, which is the genuine fruit of regeneration. If repentance initially was spurious, why would it be desirable to renew anyone to that kind of repentance?

It will likewise not do to argue that the repentance was real but ineffective because it was not accompanied by faith. In fact, according to Heb 6:1, the author mentions repentance and faith as the first two fundamentals of Christian doctrine and the clear implication is that he viewed these as being true of his readers, including the group described in Heb 6:4–6. Repentance is often associated with believers, not just unbelievers (2 Cor 7:10; 12:21; 2 Tim 2:25; Rev 2:5, 16). The point to notice is what the text says as well as what the text does not say. It is “repentance” to which they cannot be restored, not salvation.

Two participial clauses follow the statement “to renew them to repentance,” expressing the cause or reason why there can be no renewal to repentance: “crucifying again” and “exposing.” This is followed by the dative of reference meaning: “with reference to themselves.” The sense of the whole would be: “it is impossible to renew to repentance those who had been once enlightened . . . and who fell away.” Verse 3 explains why they cannot be renewed in v. 6: because God will not permit it.

The fact that the author makes much of the finished work of Christ theologically does not necessarily mean he does so because the readers are near to repudiating that work. When the author says they “crucify” and “expose to shame” “with reference to themselves,” his focus is not on what happens publicly, though that is a dimension of Christian disobedience, but on the internal contradiction between the confession and commitment a believer has made to Christ and the illogic of failing to honor that confession and commitment by choosing sin. All sin dishonors Jesus, and persistent sin, metaphorically speaking, carries the ironic stigma of having a Christian act like a non-Christian, hence “crucifying” to themselves the Son of God.

The context of Hebrews 3-4 makes clear that the Kadesh-Barnea incident is uppermost in the author’s mind and he is using that incident as a negative example for his readers. The Kadesh-Barnea debacle is narrated in Numbers 14 and is poetically referenced in Psalm 95, which the author quoted in Heb 3:7-11. In addition, notice Psalm 78 also speaks of the Kadesh-Barnea incident. Similar terminology is used in all three Old Testament passages to describe what the sinful people did and what God did to them as a result. Note also in Numbers 14 and Psalm 78 there is a reference to God’s forgiveness for their willful sin.

These verses underscore the fact: although God clearly forgave the exodus generation of their sin, yet he refused to allow them to enter the Promised Land. It was impossible to renew them to repentance because God had sworn in his wrath that they would not enter the Promised Land. He did not disinherit them or remove them from his covenant people. He did not send them back to Egypt. In fact, after the Kadesh-Barnea incident, for the next thirty-eight years God continued to feed them with manna, provide water, protect them from enemies, and even kept their shoes from wearing out. Yet over that period of time, one by one their bodies “fell” in the wilderness until all of that rebellious generation died.

We can now see how the concept of “falling” has been consistently used by the author since Hebrews 3. We have seen that the word “falling away” in Heb 6:6 (in any Old Testament context, or in any extra-biblical example) does not mean apostasy in the sense of willful rejection of Christ by those who are believers or by those who are unbelievers. Given the usage of the word in the LXX combined with the author’s dependence upon the Kadesh-Barnea incident here and elsewhere, the word means to transgress against the Lord in a way that parallels what happened in Numbers 14 when Israel rebelled against God.

Israel in the wilderness had become hardened in their hearts against the Lord, and this hardness culminated in their disobedience recorded in Numbers 14. The present readers of Hebrews were in danger of something similar. If they do not hold fast their confession of faith in Christ (Heb 3:6; 4:14; Heb 10:23); if they disobey and rebel against the Lord and remain in such an unrepentant state, if they refuse to press on to maturity, God himself will not permit them to repent because of the high-handed and blatant sin that they have committed. Contextually, the key to the warning is actually Heb 6:3: “This we will do, if God permits.”

Verse 4 begins with gar, a subordinating conjunction. God may make the decision that it is not possible for them to press on to maturity because of their disobedience, just as He did not permit Israel to enter the Promised Land for the same reason. Contextually, the meaning of “fall away” in v. 6 should be understood as the opposite of “pressing on to maturity” in v. 1. The sin of “falling away” should be compared to the experience of the exodus generation who “fell” (same Greek root word) in the wilderness (3:17; 4:11; 6:6).

Interpreting and Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8, part 6

DavidAllen2

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Learn more about Dr. Allen, HERE.
Follow @DavidLAllen on Twitter HERE.

Follow on Facebook HERE.

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In this post we examine the meaning of the participle parapesontas in v. 6 translated “falling away.” The word occurs only here in the New Testament and thus merits careful study of its cognates within Hebrews, the New Testament, as well as occurrences and usage outside the New Testament. Liddell and Scott assign the following meanings to parapipt? in Classical Greek: “to fall beside . . . to fall in one’s way.” BDAG define the meaning as “to fall beside, go astray, miss, fall away, commit apostasy.” W. Bauder defines the word as meaning “to fall beside, befall, go astray, err.” Louw and Nida define parapipt? as “to abandon a former relationship or association, or to dissociate . . . to fall away, to forsake, to turn away.”

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Interpreting and Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8, part 5

DavidAllen2

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Learn more about Dr. Allen, HERE.
Follow @DavidLAllen on Twitter HERE.

Follow on Facebook HERE.

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The majority of contemporary commentators affirm that the group described in Heb 6:4–6 are genuine believers. The ablest defender in recent times of the viewpoint that 6:4-6 speaks of false believers is Wayne Grudem, who argued the terms alone are inconclusive as to whether the people referred to were genuinely converted.[1] Grudem correctly recognized that until the mention of what he calls “apostasy” in v. 6, “there is nothing negative in the description: the terms all indicate positive events that are generally experienced by people who become Christians.” He then argued that in spite of what is said about them in Heb 6:4–5, the group described possessed none of the signs of saving faith.

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