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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.
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Preaching & Interpreting Hebrews 6.1-8.
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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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Interpreting and Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8, part 3

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.

Follow on Facebook HERE.

The key section of Hebrews 6:1-8 which causes so much angst for preachers is the middle sub-paragraph 6:4-6. Before we can begin to think about how to outline and preach this passage, we must untangle the Greek syntactical structure. Heb 6:4-6 comprises one sentence in Greek. The subject of the sentence actually does not appear until v. 6 — the infinitive phrase translated “to renew again unto repentance.” The predicate is an understood linking verb translated “is” followed by the predicate nominative “impossible,” which is the first word in v. 4 of the Greek text. The main clause of the entire three verse sentence thus reads: “To renew again unto repentance is impossible,” or to put it in a clearer way: “It is impossible to renew [them] again unto repentance.”

The question then is who is being referred to; who is it impossible to renew to repentance? Asked in another way, what is the direct object of the infinitive “to renew”? The direct object is actually five participles in vv. 4–6a grouped together by the Greek accusative plural article translated “those who.” The sense is “it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who . . .” and then follow five participles describing and defining the people to whom the author refers.

They are said to be those (1) “who have once been enlightened,” (2) “who have tasted the heavenly gift,” (3) “who have shared in the Holy Spirit,” (4) “who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age,” (5) and “who have fallen away.” Thus, to this point, the sentence reads: “It is impossible to renew again to repentance those who have been once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift . . . and who have fallen away.” In v. 6, the infinitive phrase translated “to be brought back to repentance” is followed by two adverbial participial phrases translated “because they are recrucifying the Son of God and subjecting him to public disgrace.” These two participles define the cause or reason for the impossibility of repentance.

The first major exegetical question has to do with the nature of the five participles in vv. 4–6: are they to be construed as adjectival (substantival) or adverbial? The first four participles are easily identified as substantival participles since they are governed by the article tous in v. 4. Grammatically, an articular participle rules out the adverbial (circumstantial) usage. The key question has to do with the fifth participle in the list, parapesontas translated “falling away:” is it substantival or adverbial? Many construe this participle to be adverbial because of its distance from the article and its negative connotation whereas the other four participles express positive notions. It is sometimes given a conditional translation as in the NIV: “if they fall away,” a temporal translation as in the NRSV and the NASB: “then have fallen away,” or a simple adverbial rendering “falling away.”

Although the adverbial usage is certainly possible in this context, it seems much better, on grammatical and semantic grounds, to interpret parapesontas as parallel to the previous four participles. There are three key clues that point in this direction. First, the use of the article in v. 4 at the very least clearly governs the first four participles, and there is no reason to think it does not modify the fifth as well. All five participles in Greek are in the accusative case, masculine in gender and plural in number. All five function as the direct objects of the infinitive translated “to renew again.”

The second clue is the use of the Greek conjunctions te…kai…kai…kai linking the five participles. These are often overlooked by those who assign an adverbial meaning to the fifth participle “falling away.” This use of parallel conjunctions serves to bind these participles together as a unit.

The third semantic clue that these participles are to be viewed as substantival in nature is their bracketing within a single clause which serves to “package” them into a single unit.

The significance of this for interpretation is two-fold. First, the five participles identify and describe one group of people. Second, since the participle is not adverbial, it cannot be given a conditional or temporal translation. Whether the group described in 6:4–6a should be identified with genuine believers or not is a question that awaits examination of the meaning of each participial phrase in vv. 4–5 and the interpretation of parapesontas in v. 6.

Next post: Do these statements in vv. 4-6 refer to someone who is a genuine believer or not?

 

Preaching Heb. 6.1-8, part 2

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.
Follow on Facebook HERE.

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Hebrews 6:4–6 is the crux interpretum of 5:11–6:8, and really for the entire book. Critical for our interpretation and preaching of the passage is the question of just how vv. 4-6 connect to the previous paragraph 6:1-3. Semantically, the clause “Let us press on to maturity” in v. 1 is the focal point of vv. 1-3. Verse 4 begins a new sub-paragraph with a subordinating conjunction translated “for.” This conjunction indicates that vv. 4-6 will function as the grounds or reason for the statement in v. 3 “if God wills,” or perhaps even the grounds for the entire paragraph 6:1-3. Heb. 6:4-6 explains the reason why those who “fall away” cannot be renewed to repentance, namely, because God will not permit it. The final sub-paragraph is vv. 7-8, also introduced by the same subordinating conjunction as v 4. Here the author presents an illustration to explain further his intended meaning.

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