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.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6
When I filled the W. A. Criswell Chair of Preaching at The Criswell College in Dallas, Texas from 1998-2004, I was able to acquire a number of documents related to Dr. Criswell’s preaching. Among them was a copy of his preaching ledger. The ledger is a 50 plus year record of Dr. Criswell’s sermons beginning in August of 1944 when he became pastor of the famed First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Criswell preached through the whole Bible book by book while he was pastor of FBC Dallas. Interestingly, when he was preaching through Hebrews, the ledger records no reference to a sermon preached on Hebrews 6:1-6. More than 4100 Criswell sermons can be accessed at www.wacriswell.org, but a text search reveals no sermon listing for Hebrews 6:1-8.
Dr. Criswell is not the first preacher to shy away from preaching on the most difficult passage in Hebrews and what some interpreters would label the most difficult passage in the New Testament. Even major commentators on Hebrews are likewise reticent to address this passage in any length in commentaries. Surveying the pagination of their treatment of the heart of the passage, 6:4-6, reveals the following: F. F. Bruce – 6 pages; Harold Attridge – 8 pages; William Lane – 2 pages; Ellingworth – 8 pages; Peter O’Brien – 10 pages; Gareth Cockerill – 9 pages. Especially surprising is Lane’s treatment of only two pages and half of Attridge is footnotes. No one really quite knows what to do with the hot potato Hebrews 6:1-8.
I have spent many years studying the book of Hebrews. My love affair with the book began when I was in college and wrote a paper on the question of authorship. Somehow over the next 35 years, that paper morphed into a 416 page book Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (B&H Academic, 2010) and a 672 page commentary– Hebrews in the NAC series (Broadman & Holman, 2010). Of course, that does not make me an expert. There are no experts when it comes to Hebrews! But I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the book, including its most enigmatic passage, 6:4-6.
This is part one of a multi-part post that will address how to interpret and preach Hebrews 6:1-8. In this introductory post, it might be helpful to keep several things in mind. First, Hebrews 6:1-8 is the third of five so called “warning passages.” These passages have been the subject of considerable debate. One thing that is generally agreed on is that the five passages, whatever they mean, are referring to the same kind of problem and should be understood and interpreted together. Second, contextually, Heb 6:1–8 connects closely with Heb 5:11–14. Third, Heb 6:1–8 must be taken together as a semantic unit. Hebrews 6:9 marks a new paragraph with the use of the vocative agapetoi and the conjunction de. Fourth, there are three sub-paragraphs that make up Heb 6:1–8: 1–3, 4–6, and 7–8. The first sub-paragraph is introduced with the conjunction dio, “therefore,” and this governs the entire eight verses, serving to connect them closely with Heb 5:11–14. Verses 4–6 are introduced with the subordinating conjunction gar. Verses 7–8 likewise begin with gar and are subordinate to the previous sub-paragraph. Fifth, the theme of these verses, as clearly stated in v. 1, is the exhortation “let us press on to maturity.” Notice this continues the spiritual immaturity/maturity theme begun in Heb 5:11–14.
As in all our exegesis, it is vital at the outset that we do not approach any particular passage of Scripture with a preconceived theology in mind. While it is impossible to come to this or any text with a hermeneutical tabula rasa, it is at least incumbent on each interpreter to suspend, as far as is possible, presuppositions concerning the various theological positions centered around this text. Theology must never precede exegesis. We must make every effort to let the text speak for itself.
Once the preacher has spent the time in exegesis, he must still prepare a sermon and preach on this passage. Clearly articulating the meaning of Heb 6:1-8 to a congregation is no small task and requires an extraordinary dose of intrepidity! One must avoid the Scylla of being overly theological and the Charybdis of being too vague and general. On top of that, one must steer in such a way as to avoid the iceberg of a lack of practical application. Novice beware!
With this in mind, let the games begin!
 The Nestle Aland Greek Text, UBS Greek Text, and Friberg and Friberg all see Heb 6:1–8 as a paragraph unit.
 Friberg and Friberg, Analytical Greek New Testament, 668–69, give dio; in 6:1 and de; in 6:9 a hyperordinating tag that signals it introduces semantic information that is not merely coordinate with the preceding paragraph, but more prominent than the preceding paragraph. In 6:1, dio; introduces a conclusion: the readers should press on from a state of immaturity to that of maturity.