The Journal of Biblical Accuracy
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Hebrews 6:4-9 – those who became partakers of the holy spirit and fell away

Continuing in Hebrews we read:

Hebrews 6:4-9
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation."

Three questions that one may ask concerning this passage:

i) does this passage speak about believers? This I believe is obvious, as it speaks about people who "have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the holy spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come". Can unbelievers or pretenders –who deceive others but not God – be for example partakers of the holy spirit? No, they cannot. Therefore, it is clear that the passage is addressing believers.

ii) Does this passage imply that people - who "were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" - can "fall away", drop out? Yes, this exactly is what the text says.

iii) What will happen to those who fall away? Their end is resembled to the end of the earth that "bears thorns and briers, and it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned".

This again is a rather strong warning for those of us who have started the race of faith: starting the race is a great thing. But we also need to run it till the end. To fall away from the faith, to turn back abandoning the race, to abandon Christ the vine, is something that none of us should ever choose to do.

Now the passage makes clear that it is impossible "for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance". In other words there is no way of return for such people. And as reason the passage gives the following:

"since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame."

It is my opinion that most of the cases of backsliding can be forgiven, when there is true repentance and return. However this case here is something different. "It is impossible", the passage says, that these people renew themselves again to repentance. I would not say that I understand 100% the reason that is given and I would not want to say things that the text does not clearly say. However, what the text does clearly say is that their act would be equal to crucifying the Lord again and putting Him to open shame. In other words with their example not only it would be like they themselves took part in the crucifixion but also they would demonstrate that he was supposedly worthy to be crucified. And this would not happen in ignorance but by people that had known the Lord and His goodness1. In my opinion we do not have here "simply" a move to a wrong path but a public denial, an open rejection, of Christ by people who "were enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come". For such a behavior there is no way for repentance.

Perhaps the public renunciation of Christ is something whose motives may be difficult to be understood by those of us living in the "secure" and without particular persecution western societies. But it was not like this in the first century AD. Christianity was then an illegal religion and was punished with death, torturing and confiscations. The public renunciation of Christ and the return to a religion recognized by the Roman State (such as paganism or even Judaism) was presented by the persecutors of the Christians as solution to the "problem". Especially for those with Jewish background as the Hebrew believers, who were the original recipients of the epistle, the return to the synagogue and to the familiar Judaism might have seemed appealing. However such a return demanded the public renunciation of Christ in front of the synagogue, thus putting Him in open shame2. Perhaps that’s why the author takes special effort to warn his audience against something like this, making also clear the consequences.

Closing this strong warning we find the encouraging words of verse 9:

"Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation."

And with the words of John Wesley: "We are persuaded of you things that accompany salvation. We are persuaded you are now saved from your sins; and that you have that faith, love, and holiness, which lead to final salvation. Though we thus speak - to warn you, lest you should fall from your present steadfastness."

 


Footnotes

1. Those who originally crucified the Lord, crying in front of Pilate "crucify Him, crucify Him", did it in ignorance (Acts 3:14-21). The door of repentance was open to them. But those of Hebrews 6 are something else. These ones had they rejected the Lord, they would have done it not in ignorance but in full knowledge and after they "were enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come".

2. For more on the background of Hebrews see: David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, Harper Collins Publishers, 2003, pp. 1115-1118 and Roger Hahn, The Book of Hebrews Lesson 1, found online here: http://www.crivoice.org/biblestudy/bbheb1.html

Next section: Hebrews 10:23-29, 35-39: "if we sin willfully", "if anyone draws back".

 

Author: Anastasios Kioulachoglou