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Post-Calvinism: Sin

The issues in the Warning Passages in Hebrews eventually come down to (1) what the sin is that the author is so concerned about and (2) who the audience is. In this post, I’ll look at the sin that concerns him.

We all agree (generally) with the consequences spelled out and the exhortation to perseverance. But, the sin is not as susceptible to agreement.

When I lectured on these passages, I found most students did agree with me on this. I can also say that the issue of the nature of this sin vexed me and it vexes many others.

The list of the words the author uses for this sin in the Warning Passages is long, and I want to give a pretty complete listing just to be fair to the text and so we can have a better view of what we are trying to grapple with.


2:1: slip away
2:2: violation
2:2: disobedience
2:3: disgregard one’s salvation
3:8: harden your hearts
3:8: rebellion
3:8-9: test
3:10: wander
3:10: did not know my ways
3:12: sinful, unbelieving heart
3:12: turning away from the living God
3:16: embitter
3:17: sin
3:18: disobey
4:1: fall short
4:2: was of no value… did not combine it with faith
4:11: fall
6:6: fall away
6:6: recrucify Christ.. making a public display of him
5:11: sluggish
10:25: not meeting together
10:26: deliberate sin (cf. Num 15:22-31)
10:27: enemies of God
10:28: reject
10:29: trample the Son of God
10:29: regard the blood as common
10:29: treat with the contempt the Spirit of grace
10:35: throw away confidence
10:39: shrink back
12:1: sin that entangles (? is this part of it — not sure)
12:3: not be wearied; lose heart
12:5: forgotten the word of encouragement
12:15: miss the grace of God
12:15: bitter root (?)
12:25: refuse the One who speaks
12:25: turn away from


An imposing list, to be sure. We should observe that the author chose to avoid a single term for this sin. Some of these terms are more metaphorical than others, but when we study them fairly I think we can say this:

The sin the author is warning about is a willful rejection of the triune God — Father, Son, and Spirit — and an open denunciation of this God’s moral standards. This sin is deliberate. (It does not grab the person when the person is not expecting it.) Second, it is Trinitarian. Third, it is moral in manifestation.

(For many, this sin is return to Judaism. There is precious little evidence for this, and many are wisely saying today that the author is concerned with whom they are leaving not where they are headed.)


The term I prefer for this sin in Hebrews is apostasy. This is a sin committed by those who are Christians — and tomorrow I’ll blog on what that might mean. This sin is abandoning the Christian faith, abandoning active trust in Jesus Christ, etc.. I am impressed (exegetically, not morally) by 10:29: these people “mock” (hybris is a good translation here) Christ. This is not about those who “wonder” if they’ve committed this sin; this is something these folks know they have done and are proud of it.

In sum, again, a synthesis of the Warning Passages yields light on understanding the issue.

Will it help us understand the Audience? I think so. It was this issue and my students’ response to it that most surprised me.

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posted August 1, 2005 at 6:18 pm

Not that I disagree, but this quote raises an immediate question in my mind:This is not about those who “wonder” if they’ve committed this sin; this is something these folks know they have done and are proud of it.What about those of us who have committed this sin (or at least something that looks very similar) and are now ashamed of it? In our culture today, both the culture of the church and the larger culture, I’m far from the only one.I’m finding your series intriguing. For the record, while I’ve been many things over the years, I’ve never been a Calvinist. To use the framework you’ve developed, once I encountered it, I found the theology … contrived and constraining … and never really considered what you termed the architecture at all.

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posted August 1, 2005 at 8:13 pm

Although I was intrigued by Calvinism early in my Christian walk, I have never been a Calvinist. For me the decision was helped in large part by my then wife. She was, and is not into “theology,” yet I have never known a person who was both as familiar, and knowledgeable about the Bible. This came through a constant “living” with the Word. When I first gave her the “tulip” formula, she said it was not consistent with the “whole” of scripture. For me the Bible is very clear. It is a love story. Love can never be “irresistible.” A person can turn their back on love. God loves us with an everlasting love, but we can accept or reject this love. When you read the Bible in its entirety, I think this is utterly consistent with what the Bible teaches. Calvinism is man’s system, it’s not God’s!

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C. Baruch

posted August 2, 2005 at 4:48 am

I agree with your following statement from the point of view of commonly missused terminology:For many, this sin is return to Judaism. There is precious little evidence for this, and many are wisely saying today that the author is concerned with whom they are leaving not where they are headed.At that point in time, it’s unlikely that they thought of “Christianity” as being anything other than Judaism interpreted in light of the Messiah being realised in the person of Yeshua. It would be as faulty as saying that one left Calvinism or Arminianism and “returned” to Christianity. By the way, I wandered over to the other site (that “S” mentioned), and appreciated your answer in their comment section.

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posted August 5, 2005 at 9:47 am

Scot, I think I follow you. You seem to be saying that the sin of Apostacy is the sin of the warning passages in Hebrews…then define the sin of Apostacy as “abandoning the Christian faith, abandoning active trust in Jesus Christ, etc.” It feels like you want to “formalize” this sin. In other words, it feels like you are trying to say that the sin of Apostacy is actively (verbally) renouncing faith in Jesus. It seems to me the sin of the Hebrews warning passages is in some cases much more subtle than that. It seems to me that it is a general warning against being hardened by SINFUL DISOBEDIENCE steming from unbelief. It could also be a willful rejection of the “Christian faith” – out and out rejection – leaving the faith, etc. I think to hold it to just the latter is to minimize the warning. I mean, who today is apostacizing – outwardly, verbally, rejecting the Christian faith (and becoming Islamic or soemthing)? However, there are many who are apostasizing by willfully refusing to follow Jesus in the way of peace and becoming hardened by sin. Obviously I’m behind on your posts – I’m out a few days and you’ve FINISHED post-calvinism and doing the Lord’s Prayer! You are the fastest blogger of all time – ‘blog on’!Fr’nklin

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Scot McKnight

posted August 5, 2005 at 9:57 am

Franklin,I like what you say: your definition captures the “process” of this sin; I’m looking at it globally — you are using the imperfect and I the aorist!

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posted May 11, 2006 at 8:26 pm

words are not enough » Assurance of Salvation…

[…] Next up, I’m asking for someone to address these verses in Hebrews. Last summer Scot McKnight wrote a series on his Post-Calvinism experience. Read them here (start at the bottom and read up). In these posts he explains that he has concluded that a person can, in fact, lose his salvation. In particular, read this post, because it deals with the sin involved in one’s losing of salvation. […]

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