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
2:3: disgregard one’s salvation
3:8: harden your hearts
3:10: did not know my ways
3:12: sinful, unbelieving heart
3:12: turning away from the living God
4:1: fall short
4:2: was of no value… did not combine it with faith
6:6: fall away
6:6: recrucify Christ.. making a public display of him
10:25: not meeting together
10:26: deliberate sin (cf. Num 15:22-31)
10:27: enemies of God
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.