One of the courses I taught at Trinity, NT 612, included a survey of the book of Hebrews. And, once or twice I taught Advanced Exegesis and we marched through the entirety of the Greek text of Hebrews. The courses energized me deeply, and I must say that by and large the students were alert to the significance of the topics we were discussing. (Not that they stayed alert when we talked about Melchizedek.)
One of the focal points of my lectures was the Warning Passages. There are five of these. I’d like to copy them all into this post but it would take up too much space. Here are the passages:
1. Hebrews 2:1-4
2. Hebrews 3:7–4:13
3. Hebrews 5:11–6:12
4. Hebrews 10:19-39
5. Hebrews 12:1-29
Of these, #3 gets all the attention, and especially 6:4-6, which follows:
4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.
These verses deserve all the attention they get, but the others deserve more than they are getting. It is standard for most Bible readers to find in Hebrews 6:6 (“and then have fallen away”) a bewildering sense that this text seems to suggest they can lose their faith, fall away, and never be restored to repentance, and that means bad things. Most respond by dissecting this text carefully, isolating each expression, wondering if maybe it is not as bothersome as it really sounds, and end up (in many cases) walking away convinced this text doesn’t actually teach that a believer can “lose his or her salvation.”
I make in a journal article I wrote in 1992 two proposals, and I want to work these out with you to see what you think of my suggestions.
But, back to my class: what I thought I would do is present as clearly as possible an alternative understanding of the Warning Passages in Hebrews. To do this, I spent hours and hours working on these passages in their contexts and then finding my way through them.
So, in that class I suggested that we look together at two proposals: first, that we consider looking at the Warning Passages as a whole. That is, read each one in context but also compare them together as doing largely the same things. This would allow us to synthesize these passages into a meaningful whole. Second, I discovered when we do this that we find four features in each Warning Passage.
Here’s what I found and what I told that class (and each one after that). Each passage has:
1. The audience or the subjects: who is being addressed? What does the author call them?
2. The sin the author warns this audience about: what is it that he think they may be doing?
3. The exhortation the author gives each time: what are they to do instead of the sin?
4. The consequences the author spells out if they don’t respond to his exhortation: what will happen if they don’t respond properly?
Here’s what happened in those classes: by and large students agreed with the conclusions we drew for each part of the Warning Passages. Now, as you know, my conclusions were that the author warned the audience of apostasy and warned them that they would forfeit their salvation. What surprised me is the number of students who agreed with me. After all, these were true-blue conservative evangelical types who by and large believed in eternal security and assurance of salvation and these sorts of ideas.
I’ll do what I can to get to the specifics tomorrow, but we will be gone much of the day. I will begin with #4 and work my way up that list.
For now, may I challenge you to read those texts and think about those four categories for each Warning Passage.