Buist M. Fanning

In most Reformed circles the warnings of Hebrews require a “solution,” because they seem to go against our larger doctrinal stance regarding security of salvation. While I have come to a view of Hebrews that I regard to be “Reformed,” there are some who will not think my position to be consistently (or truly) Reformed. But I believe that the essence of the Reformed stance on these issues is what Berkhof expresses about perseverance and what I have argued is the theology of Hebrews as well: “It is, strictly speaking, not man but God who perseveres. Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.”
Although many debates surround the book of Hebrews, the one thing that almost everyone can agree on is its enigmatic character. While profound and rewarding, it is nevertheless often a puzzle. It has an unusual form. Is it a letter, as traditionally labeled? It ends that way but does not begin so. It has an unknown author and an uncertain setting. As Hurst has said, the book itself seems to fit the description of one of its puzzling characters: “without father, without mother, without genealogy” (7:3). How ironic that “The Epistle to the Hebrews” is thought by many to be the most thoroughly Greek book in the canon! It contains themes and ways of arguing quite unfamiliar to most contemporary Christians—Jesus as High Priest, the Old Testament ritual and its heavenly counterpart, the significance of Melchizedek, and so on. It claims to be brief (13:22), yet it goes on for thirteen chapters. Perhaps this is not so puzzling to Christian preachers and academics after all. But, finally, most enigmatic in Hebrews are the “warning passages” of chapters 6 and 10. On these there seems very little agreement among interpreters, whether popular or academic.
The warnings to the readers of Hebrews constitute some of the most perplexing passages in the book. These sections include 2:1–4; 3:6–4:13; 5:11–6:20; 10:19–39; and 12:1–29. The bewildering array of issues and options for interpretation—and their significance for wider Christian theology—means that understanding their sense is both difficult and highly charged. On this point, Klein has given a salutary reminder:

Embracing one another in love is Jesus’ criterion of discipleship. As love covers a multitude of sins, it ought also to cover all our inadequacies of interpretation due to our preunderstandings, and the other failings to which we are prone as we do our interpretive work. Too often evangelicals with different interpretations of issues like election have resorted to rock throwing, impugning motives, or cavalierly dismissing their opponents’ views, as if one side had a corner on correct methodology or as if preunderstandings adversely affected only the other side. We might learn about the merits of alternative views if we did not see their proponents as completely misguided or lacking in exegetical ability. More important items crowd our agenda as Christians in an unbelieving world than to attack fellow Christians.

In that spirit I welcome this opportunity to present a view of these enigmatic passages, to listen carefully to the interpretations of others, and to learn as we explore the issues together. In the process I want to be held accountable to handle the biblical text responsibly and to focus on the issues and not pursue personal or belittling attacks. In rereading the literature on these questions, I have been reminded of how often interpreters are accused of reading their own theology into the texts and of how easy it is to be guilty of this. Such is, of course, an important part of the dialogue, but we must work at exploring it in the right spirit. What has led to this widespread disagreement regarding these passages? Certainly it is due in part to asking the wrong questions and imposing our foreign structures of thought on the text. But the only way out is to pay closer attention to the passages themselves, to gain a better grasp of their situation and world of ideas, and to do so reverently and collegially.

Synthetic Approach

The warning passages in Hebrews are best approached by considering the interpretation of four or five elements or themes that they all have in common. It is important to consider evidence from all the passages in relation to each other to get a composite picture of these themes, and all the elements then need to be weighed together and held in tension long enough to see clearly what each of them contributes to the whole. What is to be avoided is a firm decision about the sense of one passage or one element in isolation, which is then imposed on all the others. As will be seen, the challenge that arises for all interpreters is that there is an unavoidable tension in putting these elements together. A straightforward reading of the themes seems to yield incompatible results when we try to synthesize them.

Elements in the Interpretation

In this section, I intend to survey five central elements or themes that occur in the warning passages in Hebrews. For each theme I will focus initially on 5:11–6:20 (and the order of elements is drawn from this passage) and then bring in the other warning passages as well as other relevant texts from Hebrews along the way. Parentheses in the subheadings show McKnight’s titles for the respective elements.

Description of Those Who Fall Away (the Audience)

Interpreters of the warnings in Hebrews are right to pay careful attention to the stately and powerful sentence, so characteristic of Hebrews’s style, given in 6:4–6. In its basic proposition (“it is impossible to renew again to repentance …”), interrupted in the Greek by five descriptions of those who cannot be so renewed (substantival participles functioning together as direct objects of ἀνακαινίζειν), and capped off by two further indications of the actions of such people (“recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt”), it succinctly captures both the serious danger the author wished to warn against and the difficulty faced by all of us who try to understand and respond faithfully to this warning today.
It is the descriptions expressed by the first four participles (6:4b–5) that demand our attention here: definitive enlightenment (i.e., “once enlightened”), experiencing “the heavenly gift,” becoming partakers of the Holy Spirit, and experiencing God’s good word and the powers of the age to come. On the face of it these seem to reflect different facets of a full experience of true Christian conversion. This is confirmed when parallel uses of the key words here are tracked down in other passages in Hebrews. For example, the verb “enlightened,” occurs also at 10:32 in reference to the coming of spiritual light at conversion, and the word “partakers” is used in 3:14 of “sharing in Christ.” Although direct verbal parallels are not so striking, the fourth phrase (experiencing God’s good word and the powers of the age to come) finds several important conceptual parallels in 2:1–4, where the author describes the initial preaching of the gospel to these readers and God’s confirmation of it to them. The sense of these phrases individually and their cumulative force when taken together have led many to the perfectly plausible conclusion that the people in view in 6:4b–5 are genuine Christians.
Other lines of evidence in this passage and elsewhere tend to support this conclusion. The basic proposition of Hebrews 6:4–6 speaks of “repentance” to which one might wish these could be “renewed,” but which is impossible. The earlier part of the passage (5:11–6:3) speaks of moving on to Christian maturity, assuming that conversion has already been experienced. In these verses and elsewhere, the author uses first person pronoun reference, including himself with his readers as those who must be warned in this way (6:1; 2:1, 3; 3:6, 14; 4:1; 10:23, 26; 12:25). He addresses his readers as brothers (3:1; 10:19; 13:22), beloved (6:9), believers (4:3), holy (3:1), and sharers in a heavenly calling (3:1). In chapter 10 those who are warned are said to have received the knowledge of the truth (v. 26) and—more definitively perhaps—to have been sanctified by Christ’s blood (v. 29). These points, especially the final one, seem difficult to take in any other way than as references to genuine Christian experience.
Other interpreters, however, have examined the descriptions of Hebrews 6:4b–5 carefully and argued that they fall short of referring to true Christian standing. One line of argument is that they reflect a genuine and positive exposure to the gospel but do not definitively denote Christian conversion. Receiving enlightenment or a knowledge of the truth, experiencing the word, hearing the message, and so forth could refer to an exposure to the gospel and even a preliminary positive response to it without entailing the decisive and genuine experience of Christian conversion. Experiencing heaven’s gift and association with the Spirit’s powerful and miraculous work could be mainly an outward thing, not involving the life-changing effects of salvation itself. Even repentance or some level of sanctification can be superficial and preliminary rather than genuinely personal and saving.
Another approach to the descriptions of Hebrews 6:4–6 that leads to a similar result is to see these phrases as allusions to the national experience of the wilderness generation and therefore as not specifically Christian. The Exodus generation experienced God’s blessings corporately as part of the covenant community. When most of them fell due to rebellion and unbelief, it was evident that they were not inwardly and truly members of God’s people.
In addition, the use of first person pronouns, calling the recipients “brothers,” and so forth may be the sort of charitable and pastoral gesture common even today of sermonic form (cf. 13:22) that identifies with the audience and treats them in keeping with their self-profession without presuming to know the true salvific status of every person present. This and the counter-arguments to the standard view previously cited are seriously formulated and are to be evaluated accordingly, not dismissed as merely theologically motivated evasions of the plain sense.
Nevertheless, a straightforward reading of these descriptions leads us to understand them to refer to full and genuine Christian experience. This is our provisional conclusion about the first element in the warning passages. Later this element will be weighed in concert with the others in order to arrive at a general synthesis.

Nature of This Fall (the Sin)

The second theme to examine is the nature of the “falling away” about which the readers were being warned (6:6a). There is not as sharp a disagreement among interpreters regarding this element, although within the broad consensus there are specific matters in dispute.
By way of background, the passages give evidence that at least some of the readers were currently in a kind of spiritual lethargy and infancy. They were not making spiritual progress as they ought (5:11; 6:12). Also they were spiritually exhausted, weakened, and lame (12:12–13). They needed renewed strength to run their race with endurance (10:36; 12:1–2) and to hold fast to the hope they had confessed (3:6, 14). What they were warned against more strenuously, however, was worse than lethargy and weakness.
The passages describe the next step in frightening terms. The readers had not taken this step yet, but they were on the verge of it. They were in danger of drifting away from or neglecting the gospel of salvation (2:1, 3), of throwing away their confidence, or shrinking back from faith (10:35, 38–39). They were on the brink of hard-hearted unbelief (3:12, 19), disobedience (3:18; 4:6, 11), and refusing God and turning away from him (12:25). They were warned against being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (3:13) and sinning willfully after having the knowledge of the truth (10:26). They were threatened by spiritual failure and falling short of God’s promises and His grace (4:1, 11; 12:15). They were in danger of falling away from their current spiritual status (6:6a) or turning away from the living God (3:12).
The verb used in Hebrews 3:12 for “turning away” and its cognate noun frequently denote a willful rejection of salvation and rebellion against God and his ways, and the warning passages in Hebrews lend support for this strong meaning (apostasy). Our passage in Hebrews 6:4–6 paraphrases “falling away” (v. 6a) by describing it as a repudiation of Christ and his sacrifice: crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (v. 6b). This is mirrored by the frightening parallel in 10:29: trampling the Son of God under foot, treating the blood of the covenant by which one is sanctified as a common thing, and insulting the Spirit of grace.
These descriptions take on an added cogency in light of the larger theme of Hebrews. Hebrews is a sermon in written form (13:22) consisting of a sustained exposition (the theme) that calls for a certain response (the warnings) on the part of its addressees, who were facing difficult times. The theme presents Jesus as the exalted Son and High Priest through a Christological exposition of Old Testament texts. In Jesus, God has revealed himself in the ultimate way and has provided full purification from sin and open access to himself. This is the reality the Mosaic order was intended to anticipate. The warnings build directly on this theme by calling for persevering faith in Christ and his sacrifice: the addressees can and must hold on to their confession of faith in him despite difficulties.
All this makes it clear that the “falling away” was not the sort of struggle with sin and temptation that is the common plight of God’s people. Christ as merciful High Priest stands ready to provide mercy and grace for this kind of weakness (2:17–18; 4:14–16). Instead, the readers were warned against a knowledgeable, willful rejection of Christ and his sacrifice. To repudiate him was to refuse God’s ultimate and only effective sacrifice for sins, and severe judgment must follow after such an act (10:26–27).
As mentioned earlier, there is wide agreement among interpreters of various backgrounds that repudiation of Christ and his work is the nature of the failure that these passages warn against. Some interpreters, however, do not understand this failing to be such a strong and defiant apostasy. Gleason, for example, contends that “absolute apostasy” is not in view, that “the readers were not in danger of completely giving up all belief in Christ.” Instead, he looks to the parallel with the Old Testament wilderness generation introduced in chapters 3–4 and the problems of spiritual slothfulness mentioned in the earlier part of this passage (5:11–6:2) and argues that the problem is “a refusal … to press on to maturity” and “a general state of spiritual retrogression entered through a decisive refusal to trust and obey God.” What is the relevance, then, of the participles in 6:6b? Gleason takes them as describing a return to the sacrificial ritual of the Jerusalem temple, which implicitly, but quietly, involves disrespect to the sacrifice of Christ.
But it is hard to see how these elements can be held together. If these people “viewed Christ’s crucifixion as having no value beyond a criminal’s death,” as Gleason says, can this really be simply a matter of “falling into a permanent state of immaturity” and not “a total rejection of Christ”? It seems all out of proportion to define “falling away” in Hebrews 6:6a by giving such weight to contextual evidence from chapters 3–4 (what happened to the Exodus generation), while minimizing the relevance of evidence from Hebrews 6:6b (recrucifying and disgracing the Son of God).
Another feature of Hebrews 6:4–6 to touch upon here is the basic statement that no recovery is possible for such a failing. This “impossibility” actually acts as a bridge between this element in the interpretation and the one to be covered next, since it pertains in part to the nature of the sin and in part to the consequences of it. What sort of offense is it that those guilty of it cannot be renewed to repentance? The apparent absoluteness and rigor of this statement has been a source of consternation to interpreters of Hebrews from Christianity’s earliest centuries.
Is it legitimate to surmise that the statement simply means that it is “difficult” to renew such people, or that it is impossible for humans but not impossible with God? Or should it be understood as saying, “If it is impossible to start over again as a Christian, then we must go on to maturity”? None of these seems to fit the plain statement of 6:4–6 read in the context of the larger argument of Hebrews. The impossibility is almost certainly related to the finality of the sacrifice of Christ and the consequent hopelessness of one who knowingly rejects that sacrifice. The parallel in Hebrews 10:26 and 10:29 (read in light of 10:19–21) confirms this logic: one who insolently rejects the sacrifice of the great Priest over the house of God will find that no further provision for sin is available.
The apparently absolute impossibility is sometimes thought to be ameliorated by understanding the two participles in Hebrews 6:6b as temporal: “impossible … so long as they recrucify … and disgrace the Son of God.” The argument against this reading is that such a statement hardly needs to be made. Elliott, on the other hand, has contended that the temporal sense is better, and he asks why the “baptized Christian” who falls would be absolutely unforgivable, while repentance and forgiveness are always available for the outsider (i.e., the baptized are “in a worse position than the unbaptized”)?29 The answer to this seems to be the depth of willful betrayal that is inherent in experiencing the blessings from God reflected in Hebrews 6:4–5 and then repudiating God’s Son in the way that 6:6 describes; it seems eminently right that this would put someone in a worse position. So the “falling away” does not appear to be the sort of betrayal-and-then-recovery of which Simon Peter is sometimes cited as an example. It is a failure that puts someone in an irretrievable position of loss. The example of Esau in Hebrews 12:16–17 does seem intended as a parallel to 6:4–6. He forfeited his rights of inheritance because he placed no value on them and later was unable to inherit blessing, though he sought it, because no opportunity for repentance was available to him.
So on a straightforward reading it seems that the sin these passages warn against is repudiation of Christ, but this must be evaluated further once the other elements have been considered.

Consequences for Such a Fall (the Consequences)

What sort of consequences are said to be the fate of those who apostatize in this way? The warning passages speak of these in foreboding terms. In Hebrews 6:4–6 the initial consequence is, as stated earlier, the impossibility of renewal to repentance. Those who are on the verge of or are drifting toward the apostasy described above are starkly confronted with the irreversibility of such a failing.
The author adds an illustration of judgment in Hebrews 6:7–8 by picturing land that soaks up frequent rain but yields only thorns. Far from being blessed by God, such land is worthless, cursed, and left for burning. In the verses that follow, the author adds words of reassurance to encourage the readers in the face of such a strong warning. But even here we can, by a reverse reading, discern what he envisions would be true of them if they failed to heed his warning: consequences expressed as not pertaining to salvation (v. 9) and not inheriting the promises of God (v. 12).
The other passages add their portrayal of severe judgment. The readers cannot hope for escape if they neglect God’s salvation in Christ (2:3). To provoke God by unbelief means to fall under his anger as the wilderness generation did and be estranged from the living God (3:8, 10–12, 16–17). Thus they would fail to enter the promised rest (3:18–4:11). No provision for sin could be expected but only a terrible and fiery judgment as the vengeance of the living God against his enemies (10:26–31). There could be no blessing, no repentance, and no escape for one who profanely refuses the awesome God who will shake the whole creation, who himself is a consuming fire (12:14–29).
Could these consequences represent some sort of temporal, disciplinary judgment or future loss of rewards for Christians, something short of eternal condemnation? This is the interpretation preferred by some. Conclusions differ as to the nature of the judgment envisioned. Perhaps it is withdrawal of God’s blessing and the kind of disciplinary punishment that could lead to physical death.34 Others focus on loss of rewards for faithful living or a combination of this with temporal discipline.
One of the foundational arguments to bolster the case that the consequences do not involve eternal condemnation is the obvious parallel to the Old Testament wilderness generation (3:6–4:13; perhaps 6:4–8; 10:28–29 in a broader sense; 12:25–29). So, the argument goes, just as the Old Testament people of God suffered loss of blessing, temporal judgment, or physical curse on the land, so the New Testament people of God are liable for such penalties as well, but not eternal loss of relationship with God. The entire Exodus generation was a redeemed people, and their penalty for infidelity was strictly earthly loss or punishment. In this way the “curse” in Hebrews 6:8 is not a reference to eternal ruin but to something like the curses of Deuteronomy 28–30, that is, disciplinary judgment against disobedience. “Burning” or “fire” (Heb. 6:8; 10:27; 12:29) is not a reference to eternal hell but, like Isaiah 4:4, to the purging fire of God that prepares for restoration.
The premise of this argument from correspondence is twofold: (1) Israel’s judgments (and the blessings that were forfeited) were limited to the earthly, physical plane, and (2) the judgment in Hebrews is strictly parallel to the Old Testament experience. However, some are not willing to agree to the first part of this premise. They recognize the parallels but argue that eternal consequences were in fact involved in Old Testament judgments, at least in the case of the wilderness generation that Hebrews cites. Others question the second part of the premise, since Hebrews repeatedly uses a lesser-to-greater argument to present the parallel between old and new in this regard (explicit in 2:3; 10:29; 12:25; implicit in 3:5–6). Even if we grant the first part of the premise, the argument of Hebrews is consistent: “If they suffered (temporal penalties) for infidelity then, how much more severely will those be judged who now repudiate the Son of God!” Surely this greater penalty is more than temporal and even more than loss of privilege or commendation in the Christian afterlife.40 This escalation in the typology is so pervasive in Hebrews and so profound that, in my opinion, the second part of the premise is completely invalidated. There is no need to argue the first part of the premise at all.
Thus the warning passages appear on a straightforward reading to describe a consequence far more severe: eternal damnation. To summarize, this comes from references such as estrangement from the living God and coming under his wrath (3:10–12); the prospect of curse, fiery judgment, and not inheriting salvation (6:8, 9, 12); no sacrifice availing for sin (10:26; cf. the contrast to the eternal effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice in 10:17–18); and the expectation of fiery judgment and destruction (10:27, 39). However, this interpretation also should be held tentatively until there is opportunity to weigh this result alongside the other features in drawing a synthetic conclusion.

Desired Positive Response (the Exhortation)

The fourth important theme in the warning passages is the response the author urged his readers to make in view of their precarious condition. Since this element engenders little disagreement among interpreters, it will be treated only briefly. The author’s exhortation is consistent and centers on the need for persevering faith.
The need to hold firmly to their confidence in God and endure patiently through whatever suffering they face is the constant theme of the warning passages. The readers are urged to exercise faith and patience (πίστις, μακροθυμία, μακροθυμέω) in awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises (6:12, 15). The writer explicitly instructed them in Hebrews 10:36, “You have need of endurance,” and they are urged to “run the race with endurance [ὑπομονῆς],” as Jesus their pioneer did when he suffered and endured the cross in following God’s will for him (12:1–3). A similar theme is that of “holding on” or “holding firm” (κατέχω, κρατέω) to their confession of faith in Christ, seen in a number of texts (3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23).
This is expressed in different terms in Hebrews 2:1, where they are warned against “drifting away” and are told to pay closer attention to what they have heard about salvation in Christ. The exhortation to make every effort to enter the promised rest expresses the same need for constancy and diligent attention to God’s message (4:11). The call to “hold on” is linked consistently with references to Christian hope or confidence in God (cf. 3:6; 6:11; 6:18; 10:23; 11:1). Assurance of God’s care and of the fulfillment of his promises is what they must hold to firmly. This is coupled with repeated calls to respond to God and his promises with fidelity and to avoid unbelief (3:12, 19; 4:2–3; 6:12; 10:22, 38; 11:1–39; 12:2; 13:7).
So the warning passages in a straightforward reading urge the listeners to continue in faith toward God and not fall into judgment by turning away from his full and perfect provision for sins through the Son and High Priest, Jesus Christ. How this relates to the other themes must still be explored to draw our synthetic conclusion.

Encouragement to the Readers About God’s Faithfulness

This element is not prominent in all the warning passages, but there is no question that it is a significant part of Hebrews 5:11–6:20, and it is alluded to in all the passages in some fashion. It is to be expected, of course, that such an element would not figure prominently in pastoral admonitions against repudiating Christ. To speak too quickly about God’s faithfulness may give false comfort to someone who needs to be stirred up.
Nevertheless, the author structures his material in this passage as well as in chapter 10 to give a prominent place to encouragement about God’s fidelity. In Hebrews 5:11–6:20 the author begins with exhortation in 5:11–6:3 (using predominantly first and second person reference), moves to a section of sharp warning in 6:4–8 (using only third person reference), and then concludes with reassurance in 6:9–20 (using predominantly first and second person reference again). The same features appear in 10:19–39: exhortation in verses 19–25 (predominantly first and second person), strong warning in verses 26–31 (predominantly third person), and reassurance in verses 32–39 (predominantly first and second person). In both passages after giving his most severe warnings by speaking almost entirely in third person, the author then addresses the readers directly and identifies with them as he encourages them about their situation before God.
The specific features of this reassurance need to be examined carefully, first in chapter 6 and then in the other passages. In Hebrews 6:9–12 the author begins his reassurance with an affectionate and rousing expression of his confidence that the better part of the contrast presented in verses 7–8, God’s blessing and salvation, is what pertains to them (v. 9). This confidence is grounded in God’s character (v. 10): he can be counted on to do what is right in view of their past and present service to his people. Nevertheless, the author appeals to them to continue earnestly in faith and endurance, and so inherit the promises.
The catchwords in Hebrews 6:12b (endurance, promise) lead into a presentation of the prime example of one whose faith is to be imitated, Abraham. What is surprising about the verses that follow, however, is that they focus far more on God’s absolute fidelity than on Abraham’s persevering faith. The latter point is covered to be sure (v. 15), but the patriarch is actually mentioned by name only once—and that in the dative as the recipient of God’s promise (v. 13). God, on the other hand, is mentioned by name three times (vv. 13, 17, 18), always as subject of the relevant verb (and Jesus once, also as subject in v. 20). God’s action or character in promise, oath, purpose, and truthfulness is the focus of five of the six verses on Abraham’s experience (vv. 13–18).
In particular, these verses emphasize God’s response to Abraham’s faith and obedience (in offering Isaac) by giving his oath and then an intensive promise (Gen. 22:16–17): “I will surely bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly” (Heb. 6:14). God’s word of promise would have been enough since he cannot lie, but he swore by his own name as well to confirm it. In this the author sees God’s desire “to demonstrate to the heirs of the promise his unchangeable purpose” (v. 17). Returning to their present situation, the author takes this double guarantee in turn as the way that he and his readers (“who have taken refuge [in God]”) may have “strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (v. 18). Finally, in a metaphor that changes in the middle, he adds to his reassurance but also returns to his central message about Jesus as the exalted High Priest of a new order: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (vv. 19–20 NET).
Important questions about the underlying theology of this focus on God’s faithfulness must still be pursued, but first it will be useful to see the allusions to this theme in the other passages. The first warning passage (2:1–4), for example, is quite brief compared to the others, but it communicates a sharp call to give closer attention to the gospel rather than drift away from it, and it poses the crucial question, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The implied answer is that there is no escape for those who neglect it. But Borchert suggests that the rest of the chapter is intended to reassure readers who may be reeling from the shock of this question. The author does not rescind his call for close attention to the gospel, but he points to the one who came to share fully in human life, suffering, and temptation and in so doing to “bring many sons to glory” (v. 10). As a result Jesus became “a merciful and faithful high priest” who is “able to help all who are tempted” (vv. 17–18). In concluding his treatment of chapter 2, Borchert says, “This initial reference in the sermon to Jesus as the High Priest points to the basis for a Christian’s assurance.” This point also will need to be explored further after our survey of the remaining warning passages.
The second warning in the book (3:7–4:13) is bracketed at beginning and end by references to Jesus’ high priestly role. Jesus’ faithfulness as high priest (2:17) is the starting point for the portrayal of him (3:2, 5–6) as the faithful son over God’s house (superior to Moses who was a faithful servant). This leads to the warnings to resist unfaithfulness like that displayed by the wilderness generation (3:12, 19). In Hebrews 4:2–3 this is pursued by way of a contrast between that earlier generation who failed because of not responding in faith (v. 2) and the author and his readers, of whom he says, “We enter into rest, [that is,] the ones who have believed” (v. 3). This is certainly on the face of it an encouraging declaration to make in the midst of a passage warning of failure to enter, but it is a strange mix of aorist participle (“those who believed”) and present indicative (“we enter/are entering”). What is the basis for such an unqualified declaration? The verse does not seem to allow for the possibility that those who begin in faith may in the end actually fail to enter. Does the present tense imply that while they are entering now they may at some point not enter, even though they have believed? This seems overly subtle. Perhaps the conditional statements of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 have a bearing on this, but analysis of these will be reserved for a later section.
In the fourth warning passage (10:19–39), the author arranges his material, as described earlier, to move through exhortation in verses 19–25 (predominantly first and second person), strong warning in verses 26–31 (predominantly third person), and reassurance in verses 32–39 (predominantly first and second person). The exhortations in the initial section are based on Jesus’ role as the great Priest and all that he has accomplished for Christians (vv. 19–21) and are reinforced along the way by reference to “the one who promised is faithful” (v. 23). After the section of severe warning, the author moves to reassurance by addressing the readers directly and recounting their prior fidelity in the face of great affliction (vv. 32–34). In the midst of this, he makes reference to their knowledge at that time that they had a better and lasting possession in contrast to earthly belongings (v. 34). He urges on them their need for endurance and faith and closes with remarkable encouragement: “We are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls” (v. 39 NET).
The final warnings in Hebrews 12:1–29 also begin with reference to Jesus, who, as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, is at God’s right hand (v. 2). They urge the readers to regard their sufferings as evidences of God’s training of them as his legitimate sons, with the ultimate goal of sharing his holiness (vv. 5–7, 10). In an astonishing contrast, the author portrays the old and new covenant communities and says “you have come” to the new community with all of its holy and divine connections (vv. 18–24). After warning them of judgment that will shake the earth and the heavens, he reassures them: “Since we are receiving an unshakeable kingdom, let us offer thanksgiving and worship” (vv. 25–28).
It is now time to return to Borchert’s assertion about Hebrews 2:17–18 cited earlier: “This initial reference in the sermon to Jesus as the High Priest points to the basis for a Christian’s assurance.” Is this true to the theology of Hebrews? Is the basis of Christian assurance found in Jesus’ high priesthood? It is significant that all of the passages allude at some point to Jesus as exalted High Priest, as we have seen. Is there something about the high priestly service of Jesus according to Hebrews that would entail the kind of security and thus assurance that Borchert suggests? A preliminary answer to this seems to be affirmative, although other factors must be taken into account in a later section. Two features of Jesus’ high priesthood seem to lead to this conclusion.
One feature is the abiding nature of his Melchizedekan priesthood, occupied as it is by one who has “the power of an indestructible life” (7:16) as Psalm 110:4 testifies (a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek). The result is that, in contrast to the Aaronic order where death prevented the priests from continuing, his priestly service and intercession for his own will never cease (Heb. 7:23–24). And so Hebrews 7:25 tells us in a very significant statement, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (NIV, NET). Jesus’ eternal priesthood is said to provide complete and lasting security for his people. What obstacle could prevent their salvation from coming to complete fulfillment if he is ever vigilant to intercede for them at God’s right hand? As Lane says, “The direct result of his intercessory activity is the sustaining of the people and the securing of all that is necessary to the eschatological salvation mentioned in the previous clause.”57
The second feature of Jesus’ high priesthood that is relevant to this question is the eternal forgiveness he has secured. This flows from his priesthood’s vital connection to “a better covenant enacted on better promises” (8:6; cf. 7:20–22). One of the new covenant promises that Hebrews emphasizes is cited initially in 8:12b: “their sins I will remember no longer” (NET, quoting Jer. 31:34). This is repeated in Hebrews 10:17, where it is cited to give the grounds for the statement of 10:14, “by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” This also may be the background for the statement in 9:15 that “he is the mediator of a new covenant … so that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” These are also significant statements about the security that Christ’s high priesthood provides to those who benefit from its provisions. What could cause God to call to mind again what he has pledged never to remember? What could bring to an end forgiveness or an inheritance that is eternal? What could sully a holiness that is perfected for all time?
One possible response to these questions is that the beneficiaries themselves could prevent the final reception of these benefits. By their repudiation of Jesus’ high priestly work as Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29 portray, they could remove themselves from the group to whom God has shown his unchangeable purpose (6:17), pledged his eternal forgiveness (8:12; 10:17), and called to an eternal inheritance (9:15). Jesus is actually not able to save completely and his intercession is not effective because the beneficiaries may turn away from his high priestly work (7:25). This is a plausible inference based on those other passages in Hebrews (6:6; 10:29), but it must be acknowledged that these particular verses (7:25; etc.) say nothing of such limitations to God’s purpose, calling, and promises or to Christ’s saving power or intercessory effectiveness. The limitations must be implied from other verses.
Another suggestion is that perhaps these verses themselves imply the possibility that the recipients of God’s pledged faithfulness could turn away and so limit the fulfillment of the promises. It is observed that several of these verses use present tense verbs to describe the beneficiaries: Hebrews 7:25 speaks of “those who are coming near to God” through Jesus and Hebrews 10:14 of “those who are being sanctified.” So, the argument goes, the present participles imply the clear danger that the beneficiaries themselves may at some point abort the process, turn back, and fail to reach the ultimate goal of final salvation. This still, I think, raises questions about why the author would express himself so strongly about God’s absolute faithfulness if human infidelity can short-circuit it, especially since this is the very thing he fears some of his readers may do.
Coupled with this, however, is the frequent observation that salvation in Hebrews is predominantly future-oriented, especially in comparison to much of modern evangelical Christianity.61 This is certainly true, but the crucial word in this description is predominantly. It must be acknowledged that Hebrews often orients Christian salvation toward its future consummation, but it clearly speaks of past and present dimensions of that salvation as well. This is recognized by those who have observed the predominant future orientation. Past and present experiences of salvation are evident in the verses under discussion above. In Hebrews 4:3 the writer says, “We who believed are entering into rest.” In 6:9–10, he commends his readers’ past and present service as an evidence of salvation. In 6:17 he speaks of “the heirs of the promise.” In 6:18 he refers to himself and his readers as “those who took refuge [in God].” In 9:15 it is “those who have been called” who anticipate the future inheritance. In 10:14 the point is that God “has for all time perfected” them. In 12:22 and 12:28 he says they have come into contact with God and his heavenly company and they are receiving an unshakeable kingdom.
So the issue in this regard is not whether the salvation in question remains to be fully consummated in the future; this is clear enough. Instead, the question is whether in Hebrews those who have already entered into the past and present realities of God’s saving work can fail to come through to its future consummation. The answer of many to this question is that according to Hebrews such people certainly can fail to reach final salvation. McKnight makes this explicit:

In light of the futurity of salvation in Hebrews it is reasonable to contend that one cannot in fact “lose one’s salvation,” since one has not yet acquired it. One cannot lose what one does not in fact have. But perhaps we are playing semantics here. Perhaps we should say that we can “lose” the present dimensions of salvation that have already been inaugurated and experienced (6:4–5; 10:14; 12:22–24).

In another place he says, “Perseverance in faith issues into future, final salvation. In each of these [statements of 3:6, 14] there is a present reality, the continuance of which is dependent upon perseverance. If that person does not persevere, there will be a cessation of that former reality.”
Osborne likewise says, “Salvation here is … looking to the future reward of the people of God. As such, its attainment is based on persevering growth in the truths of the gospel.” Later he speaks of the author’s “view of salvation as a pilgrimage, i.e., both a present possession and a future hope. His perspective, then, is the other side of the salvation-coin, salvation as the eschatological goal, not only a present experience but also a future gift, which can only be obtained by perseverance in Christian development.”
As signaled by my highlighting of certain phrases above, the point I call into question based on Hebrews’s strong statements about security is whether the final attainment of salvation can validly be said to be based on or by means of or only obtained by human continuation in faith. The verses on security surveyed above are not qualified in these ways. Is it legitimate to infer continued Christian response as a basis or necessary means for the fulfillment of final salvation when these verses say nothing of this? Perhaps so. But the verses themselves in a straightforward reading seem to say that those who are already on the pathway toward final salvation will certainly reach that goal because and by means of God’s fidelity, not their own.
Having said this, I think that some of the other ways by which the interpreters just cited (and others) relate faith and endurance to final salvation are valid expressions of Hebrews’s theology. Marshall says, “The New Testament calls on all who believe in Jesus Christ to persevere in belief, that is, to keep on believing. Those who know that they are God’s children, who have the assurance that their sins are forgiven, must go on believing and committing themselves to the saving and keeping love of Jesus.” Osborne writes, “Salvation in Hebrews is not separated from the life of holiness.”69 Schreiner and Caneday assert that “growing in holiness [is not] optional.… Holiness is necessary to see God, that is, to experience eternal life.” In saying this Schreiner and Caneday are reflecting the ideas of Hebrews 12:10–11, 14, which give assurance that God the Father is at work in his genuine children to produce his holiness and righteousness, and therefore they must pursue holiness; without holiness, no one will enjoy his presence. It is clear that there will be no final salvation without perseverance in faith and obedience. But the verses just cited imply—and our earlier survey has argued—that this is grounded in the absolutely reliable work of God in his people, not based ultimately on human fidelity.
In this connection we have come around again to a theme initiated earlier: the significance of Jesus’ high priestly ministry for the security of the Christian. The second point presented above regarding this theme was the crucial connection of Jesus’ high priesthood to the institution of the new covenant, which promised eternal forgiveness. The portion from Jeremiah 31:34 regarding this is cited twice (8:12; 10:17) and made the basis for a significant statement about security in 10:14. But there is another new covenant promise (from Jer. 31:33) also cited twice in Hebrews: the provision about putting God’s laws in the heart and writing them on the mind (8:10b; 10:16). As Carson has suggested (on a slightly different point), the complementary expression of this in Ezekiel 36:26–27 is inward spiritual renewal that leads to enablement for living out God’s laws faithfully. He goes on to suggest, “It appears that a great deal of the debate over assurance has been controlled by forensic categories associated with justification and faith, but has largely ignored the categories of power and transformation associated with the Spirit and new covenant. A fundamental component of such themes is that the people of the new covenant are by definition granted a new heart and empowered by the Spirit to walk in holiness, to love righteousness, to prove pleasing to the Lord.”
To be sure, Hebrews does not develop this point about the new covenant explicitly, and it has no extensive description of such a role for the Holy Spirit (as Paul does, for example). But it does emphasize an inward cleansing to serve the living God, which is the direct result of Christ’s work by the Spirit (9:13–14). And it may very well be the theological foundation for the reassurance that it offers in 6:9–10 and 10:32–34 based on the readers’ past and present obedience. What is the logic of this? It seems to be the author’s expectation that those who have begun to experience the transforming power of this new covenant mediated by Jesus’ high priesthood will continue to show the persevering faith that is needed, based not on changeable human ability but on the sustaining power of God at work within them.

Putting the Five Themes Together

How can these elements of the warning passages be combined in a coherent way? The straightforward results are disparate enough that we have a problem coming to a consistent synthesis. The passages seem to say that genuine Christians should persevere in faithfulness but may instead repudiate Christ and so fall into eternal condemnation, but Christ’s work in and for them will absolutely not fail to bring them through to eternal salvation! This synthesis is, of course, less than satisfying, and it is not credible that our author’s theology contradicts itself so blatantly within the same passages addressed to the same situation. Our reading of one or more of the elements obviously needs to be adjusted. But which one and on what grounds? It is quite easy to accuse others of fudging the plain sense in favor of their theological preconceptions, but all interpreters are faced with the same dilemma in Hebrews: how to bring these seemingly disparate elements into a coherence that is true to the text.

The Interpretive Paradigm

If a straightforward reading yields apparently incompatible results, we need to take a closer look. We must reflect further to see whether they are truly incompatible; we must probe our reading of each of the elements to see if we have misconstrued the sense by accepting too quickly a reading that may be invalid; and we must look carefully to see if the writer himself has provided a way to bring the seemingly disparate senses together. I believe that the writer early on gives a framework of thought that enables us to put the apparently conflicting elements together in a coherent way, and this will be developed in what follows.

Suggested Paradigm

The pattern for making sense of these warnings is to be found in two conditional sentences in the first lengthy warning passage (3:6–4:13). These two significant statements are in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14: “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.”75 And, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (NIV).
Careful attention to the wording shows that these lines do not cite what will be true if they hold on, but what is already true of them, if in fact they endure. Their endurance through temptation will be the evidence of their vital connection to Christ. The writer asserts that their continuance in faith will demonstrate that they are members of God’s household, not that it will make it so in the future. Holding on to their confidence will reveal the reality they already have come to share in Christ, not what they will share. By continuing in faith, they demonstrate the work Christ has already begun and will certainly accomplish in them (as argued above from 7:25; 8:12; 9:14–15; 10:14).

Defense of This Paradigm

A few interpreters (e.g., Bruce, Carson, and Grudem) have pointed to the conditional statements of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 as a significant interpretive key, but this has not been developed in detail to my knowledge. Most interpreters who comment on these conditions assume that they must denote a cause-to-effect relationship (C/E) between protasis and apodosis. They assume that when a conditional sentence occurs, the contingency it expresses automatically denotes a C/E relationship: the apodosis states a result produced by the action described in the protasis. Marshall, for example, says about 3:6, “Continuing membership of God’s household is conditional upon perseverance.”
Others engage the issue a bit further but seem to assume that when “if” occurs, the contingency must be a C/E relationship. McKnight mentions Carson’s suggestion (Exegetical Fallacies, 1984) early in his essay but later takes little time to conclude that the conditions of Hebrews 3:6, 14 are C/E: “We have a contingent element (‘sharing in Christ,’ ‘being his house’) based upon persevering faith (‘if we hold on to our courage and the hope,’ ‘if we hold firmly till the end the confidence’). Perseverance in faith issues into future final salvation.” Schreiner and Caneday more carefully address the option that Carson suggests but decide against it, partly by reading the tenses differently (to be discussed below) but mainly by insisting on a certain view of what the conditional clauses require. In the space of four pages, they use the terms “consequence” or “consequent” nine times. About Carson’s suggestion they say, “The grammar of Hebrews 3:14 is against taking perseverance as the consequence of sharing in Christ. Rather sharing in Christ is the consequence of perseverance. The fact that the consequent of the supposition uses the perfect tense (‘we have become’) does not permit us to shift the future-oriented condition (‘if we hold firmly … unto the end’) to function as if it were the consequent of sharing in Christ.” They seem to be saying that a conditional sentence must always be taken as expressing a cause-to-effect relationship.
Unfortunately, New Testament Greek grammarians have not done enough to investigate and propagate a more nuanced understanding of conditional constructions. But wider suggestions are available in Greek grammatical literature. As early as 1903, Nutting argued:

Conditional thought-periods whose groups are bound together by the apprehension of a ground and inference relation may be defined as judgments that the coming to pass of one event presupposes an antecedent state of affairs; in such a case we reason backward from effect to cause.… it is an act of inference, a judgment that one state of affairs [the protasis] presupposes another [the apodosis].

Wallace has a valuable, though brief, discussion of differing logical connections of protasis to apodosis, including cause-to-effect, evidence-to-inference, and equivalence relations. The initial point to be established is that not all conditionals express C/E relations. They all involve a type of contingency with a “consequence,” if we want to call it that, but the “consequence” may be an inference that can be drawn or an equivalence that may be noted, not always an effect produced by the cause denoted in the protasis. An evidence-to-inference (E/I) conditional considers: (1) a proposed situation (the protasis) that is known to be the effect or evidence of (2) a prior condition that causes it and so can be inferred from it (the apodosis).
Whether or not this sense is accepted for 3:6 and 3:14, I believe it should be seen as a plausible option for biblical Greek conditional sentences in general. Here are some New Testament examples with brief rationale for taking them as E/I conditionals:84

John 15:14
You are my friends, if you do what I command you.
(Obedience is not the basis for this relationship but the indicator of it.)
Heb. 12:8
If you are without discipline, … you are illegitimate and not sons.
(Absence of discipline is not the cause of illegitimacy but the evidence for it.)
James 2:17
So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.
(Lack of works does not produce this effect but reveals such “faith’s” true condition.)
1 John 2:15
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
(Loving the world shows a lack of love for the Father; it does not cause it.)

Other examples will be cited in the following discussion. What remains to be argued now is why Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 should be read this way. When numerous conditional sentences like these (from Septuagint and New Testament usage) are examined, one discovers a consistent pattern of meaning:

1. When the protasis refers to a contextually specific event, conditionals seem to display C/E relation (and the apodosis refers to something future from that event and caused by it). Some examples are:86

Lev. 19:7
If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it will not be accepted.
Job 21:6
If I recall it, I am dismayed and sorrows seize my flesh.
John 19:12
If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.
Rom. 7:2
If her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning her husband.
Rom. 14:23
The one who has doubts is condemned if he eats.
1 Cor. 7:39
If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes (only in the Lord).

2. When the protasis refers to a contextually general situation (a customary condition or broadly characteristic action), conditionals seem to display E/I relation (and the apodosis refers to a state or condition already existing at the time of that situation and evidenced by it). Some examples are:87

Lev. 13:51
If the infection spreads in the garment …, the infection is a malignant leprosy.
Ezek. 14:9
If the prophet is deceived and speaks, I have deceived that prophet.
John 5:31
If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.
John 8:31
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.
Rom. 2:25
If you are a lawbreaker, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
1 Cor. 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

It should be noted that the characteristics of these patterns are focused primarily on aspectual usage in the protasis, combined with contextual features such as the lexical character of the verbs used, the nature of subject or object phrases, adverbials, and the wider contextual sense—all of which help to show whether the reference is specific or general. This reflects the process of discerning how verbal aspect combines with other features to produce an overall sense, as I have argued for elsewhere. Why this distinction should hold is inherent, I think, in the difference in scope between a narrowly focused, specific event and a broadly characteristic, customary action. The latter more naturally overlaps with some already existing condition that presupposes it (the apodosis). A specific event, on the other hand, is easier to think of as a discrete whole—even if it lasts for some period of time—that leads to some effect following from it in the future. Also, as Powell suggests, an event in the nature of the case is more likely to serve as a cause producing some effect, whereas a characteristic condition will more naturally be background or evidence leading to some inference. He adds further regarding protases, “Verbs that express states, characteristics, or identities are not often perceived as causal events. They may be factors in the causal field, but they are rarely seen as efficient or instrumental causes.”90
It also can be observed that, while these characteristics derive from a study of a limited group of third-class conditions, they can provide suggestions toward interpreting conditions that do not share all these features. First-class conditions, for example, share some of these traits, as Hebrews 12:8 (E/I; cited above) illustrates.92 Also, third-class conditions whose apodoses contain other verbs besides present of εἰμί or perfect tenses often follow these patterns (i.e., depending on the nature of the reference in the protasis). The two other examples (besides Heb. 3:6; 3:14) of ἐάνπερ conditions in New Testament or Septuagint Greek (Heb. 6:3; 2 Macc. 3:38) have specific events in their protases, and their apodoses explicitly project into the future with a C/E relation.93
As stated earlier, I hold that the sentences in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 should be taken in the E/I sense. I think this could be argued contextually from the evidence of 3:1–4:13 and other texts in Hebrews. But if the linguistic pattern described above is valid, this provides another rationale for seeing these as E/I. The protases in both of these sentences clearly involve a broad, characteristic reference, not a specific event. “Holding on” (3:6) or “holding fast” to confidence, especially “to the end” as in 3:14, is not a specific event but a broad, characteristic action or state.
In addition, I must express my conviction that a temporal view of Greek tenses in the indicative strengthens the case for an E/I reading of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14. Since these conditions are expressed in inverted order (apodosis first), the indicative tenses of the apodoses are more likely to carry their normal temporal sense (time portrayed relative to the time of speaking) without being affected by any time frame set by the protasis that follows. So the sense of 3:6 is “we are [now] his house” not “we will be [at some future consummation] his house.” The evidence for this is their (present and future) continuance in confidence and hope in Christ. The meaning of 3:14 is “we have [already] become partakers of Christ” not “we will be [in a future, final sense] partakers.” The evidence for this is their (present and future) maintaining of their initial conviction about Christ firm to the end.
On this reading, these sentences in chapter 3 provide the framework for interpreting the warnings throughout Hebrews by showing us the author’s underlying structure of thought. He reflects here an implicit distinction between true and false faith, between genuine and superficial membership in the Christian community. He understands that the readers are troubled and discouraged. They are tempted to pull back from their commitment to Christ, and this puts them in great danger. These verses then picture the crisis point reached by the readers and how the author chooses to exhort them in their situation. In their time of severe temptation, would they hold fast to the hope they had professed and thus show that they genuinely were God’s people and partakers in Christ (3:6, 14)? The writer was confident they would endure and would remain faithful (cf. 6:9–12; 10:39). But he was careful to warn them against the alternative. They had been exposed firsthand to the truth of the gospel and the supremacy of Christ’s saving work. Up to that point they had given every evidence of true Christian experience. But they must continue in faith and obedience. To shrink back from Christ now would be a willful repudiation of the only way of salvation, and severe judgment would be certain for those who did so.
Along with his exhortation and warning, he provides reassurance. The nature of Christ’s high priestly work means that, having started on this pathway of faith, they can and must continue to the end. They can continue, not by human ability or effort, adding their part to God’s, but by the sustaining grace and intercession of their faithful and merciful High Priest and the power of God at work within them. By Christ’s new covenant priesthood, God has provided them eternal redemption and forgiveness, and he will assuredly bring this work through to its end for those who are his. They must continue because “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (12:14 NIV). But such perseverance in faith and obedience is grounded in and evidence of the new covenant work of God in them, a work that he has initiated and will absolutely bring to completion in those who are his genuine children.
This interpretation of the warning passages makes the best sense of the larger argument of Hebrews itself. The difficulty for this approach is the specific description in Hebrews 6:4–5 of those who fall away. These verses in their specific wording seem to reflect a true experience of Christian conversion, rather than a description of false profession. Also as noted earlier, the language of “renewal to repentance” implies a genuine turning to God. The answer to this problem is, I think, that the writer is portraying the phenomena of their conversion, what their Christian experience looks like outwardly. He portrays them in distinctly Christian terms to emphasize how close they have been to the faith and what they are rejecting if they depart. I think the same approach makes sense of Hebrews 10:29 (“profaning the blood … by which he was sanctified”), although this is a more difficult reference for me. Perhaps other texts should be cited as well, but these are the most problematic.
The author picks up the terms that those who might fall away would use to describe themselves—their self-profession—in order to show how shocking and worthy of judgment such a departure would be. From all that anyone could tell (and from how they viewed themselves), they would be among those who would hold on and show the genuineness of their confession, and this is what the writer expects (6:9–12; 10:39). Nevertheless, he needs to warn them in the strongest, most persuasive terms not to abandon their hope and repudiate Christ. Such a defection would show their faith to have been superficial, however much they may think of themselves as enlightened, sanctified, and so on.
This approach does require an adjustment to the straightforward reading of Hebrews 6:4–8 and 10:26–29 (and similar texts; these are the most problematic) based on implications from other texts in Hebrews (3:6, 14; 6:9–20; 7:20–25; 8:10–11; 9:11–14; 10:11–18, 32–34, 39). But as shown above, every interpreter must adjust the straightforward reading of one of the elements from these warnings. I have argued that this adjustment is one that the author himself has signaled early in his exhortations. This adjustment has clear warrant in the linguistic and theological evidence of Hebrews itself.


The warnings in Hebrews about falling away and the exhortations to endure are intended to urge the readers to maintain faith in Christ’s high priestly work, not to provoke fear that they may lose their standing with God, nor primarily to test the genuineness of their faith. Nevertheless, those who repudiate Christ thereby give evidence that they have never partaken in the benefits of Christ’s cleansing sacrifice, and the writer wants his readers to see the consequences of this in starkest terms, be motivated to endure by God’s grace, and so show themselves to be true “partakers of Christ.”


Grant R. Osborne

Buist Fanning’s paper is filled with valuable insights, and I especially liked the refreshingly different tack he took, namely, a thematic approach. That led him to ask slightly distinct questions and resulted in more coverage on several issues. A price was paid, of course, in that several portions of the passages were not covered very well. However, since other papers covered those, the variety was well worth it. It was also good to see Scot McKnight’s excellent study thoroughly explored.
I found myself agreeing with about 80 percent of this paper, and I am overjoyed in terms of both his and Randall Gleason’s papers to see that the gap between Arminian and Calvinist approaches to the Epistle of Hebrews is narrowing, especially regarding the spiritual state of the addressees. It began with Philip Hughes’s commentary in 1977, in which he acknowledges that “repentance” in Hebrews 6:6 means to turn from sin to God and concludes that the descriptive participles in 6:4–5 “are components of a unitary experience of evangelical grace in the life of the believer.” Since then, several of the best Calvinist commentaries, like Lane and Ellingworth, have taken a similar tack. This is far more in keeping with the language of the epistle and the fact that the author never treats them as quasi-Christians or non-Christians. They are “lazy” or “sluggish” (νωθρός), spiritually dull and unresponsive to teaching (5:11; 6:12), but they are believers. Fanning does a fine job of showing the weakness of attempts to explain away the power of these descriptions.
I also appreciated the way this paper handled the sin they were in danger of committing, showing that they were on the verge of apostasy, defined as “a willful rejection of salvation and rebellion against God and his ways” (p. 181). This knowledgeable, willful repudiation of Christ must result in the most severe penalty. I do not quite agree that this “was not the sort of struggle with sin and temptation that is the common plight of God’s people” (p. 182), for apostasy starts with the basic temptations and (for the first century) persecution that every believer experiences. It is doubtful that the Jewish Christians in Rome were going through more persecution than those addressed in 1 Peter or Revelation. When I teach Hebrews I always ask how many in the class know of someone they think may have committed the unpardonable sin of Hebrews 6, and I have always had a few (Calvinists as well as Arminians). Again, Fanning does a fine job of showing the weakness of attempts to soften the severity of the sin (e.g., by overusing the example of the wilderness generation, seeing the sin as a permanent immature state, stating that repentance is impossible for humans but possible for God, or taking the participles of Hebrews 6:6 as temporal [“so long as”]). The language is simply too strong for the kind of “betrayal-and-then-recovery” experienced by Simon Peter.
The consequences of such a sin are described well in this paper. There is no sense of temporary discipline or simply a loss of rewards, as some have argued, nor that the death of the wilderness generation means that the penalty here involves physical death like that described in 1 Corinthians 11:30, but not eternal loss. Fanning rightly notes that such an exact correspondence between the wilderness generation and the Hebrews’ situation is extremely unlikely, given the frequent use of the “lesser-to-greater” correspondence in the book. The escalation from physical death in the wilderness to eternal damnation in Hebrews is found throughout the book (e.g., 2:3; 4:9–10; 6:8; 10:26, 27, 29; 12:25–27).
A very important issue for Fanning is the passages where the author reassures his readers about God’s faithfulness and encourages them regarding their own future in light of God’s fidelity (2:17–18; 4:2–3; 6:9–20; 10:32–39; 12:25–28). Fanning’s approach to the problem of apostasy begins here. He follows Gerald Borchert in asserting that in these passages the warnings are mitigated by assurance that they will indeed persevere in faithfulness. In Hebrews 6:12–20 the author uses Abraham’s faith as a model but centers on God’s absolute fidelity—his “promise, oath, purpose, and truthfulness” (p. 194). He calls this a “double guarantee” that God will enable them to “hold fast.” Following Borchert, he sees this anchored in Jesus’ portrayal as a faithful high priest (2:17). This faithfulness of Jesus as the “great Priest” continues in Hebrews 10:19–21 and leads to the mention of their own prior faithfulness (10:32–34) and their possession of “a better and lasting possession” (10:34). Finally, Hebrews 12:25–28 reminds them that they have “an unshakeable kingdom.” So for Fanning the security of the believer is grounded in Hebrews in Jesus as the High Priest who has “the power of an indestructible life” (7:16) and “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (7:25 NIV). As a result Jesus has secured eternal forgiveness, seen in “their sins I will remember no longer” (8:12b NET, quoting Jer. 31:34d), the grounds in Hebrews 10:17 for “by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14) and perhaps also for “he is the mediator of a new covenant … so that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (9:15).
Fanning recognizes the response that while God’s security is certain, the recipients of God’s faithful work can turn away and obviate the promises stated above. But he challenges any such claim that the promises are contingent and based upon the believer’s perseverance, arguing that the security passages are not qualified by any such conditions. As in Hebrews 12:10–11, 14, growth in holiness is assured by the Father’s disciplinary work in the lives of his children. Following D. A. Carson, he takes the citation of Jeremiah 31:33 in Hebrews 8:10b and 10:16 as showing that God “by definition” grants the people of the new covenant a new heart and empowerment by the Spirit to live a victorious life.
Fanning recognizes that there is a contradiction between the two halves of his study, with the one saying genuine Christians could apostatize by repudiating Christ, and the other saying that God will faithfully bring them through to eternal salvation. The only solution is to adjust one of the paradigms while remaining true to the data of the text. He finds the answer in the two conditional sentences of Hebrews 3:6 (“we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” NIV) and Hebrews 3:14 (“we have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” NIV), understanding these not as conditions for a future attainment but as statements of what is already the case and will be the case through Christ’s faithful work in these believers. Most see a cause-effect relationship between the clauses, that is, “because we are his house, we will hold on”/“because we partake of Christ, we will hold firmly.”6 Fanning argues rather for an evidence to inference relationship, that the protasis is a proposed situation that results from a prior condition (the apodosis), especially when the protasis is a general or customary state. In other words, the writer is assuring the readers that they will hold on to their courage and hold firmly to their confidence and thereby be his house and partake of Christ. Fanning sees in these an implicit distinction between true and false faith. The true members of the new covenant community will prove it by maintaining their hold on the faith. This means that in Hebrews 6:4–6 and 10:29 the writer is actually taking a phenomenological perspective, describing what their conversion “looks like outwardly” in the sense that they are so close to true belief and part of the community.
I believe this is the best approach that can be made from a Calvinist perspective, and it is indeed impressive. Nevertheless, there are several weaknesses. Since Fanning has recognized the fact that the addressees are genuine believers and that Hebrews 6:4–6 and 10:26–31 warns the addressees against apostasy, it is hard to conclude anything other than that this is another form of the hypothetical theory, that is, “if this occurs” (but it really cannot occur). I cannot find any indication whatsoever that the writer is not warning “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift” (6:4 NIV), and so on. In fact, in the Greek the list of participles is framed by “it is impossible … to renew them to repentance” (ἀδύνατον … πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν) for emphasis. It could not be more obvious that it is the genuine believers, not the unbelievers in the congregation, who are being warned of the danger of apostasy.
Let us consider in order the passages used for evidence of assurance. First, Hebrews 2:17–18 indeed speaks of Christ as a “merciful and faithful high priest” who has “made atonement” for us, introducing a theme that will dominate the next few chapters. In and of itself this does not discuss the assurance of the believer but rather the atonement provided for the salvation of the believer. Still, it describes him as “merciful and faithful” in doing so, and one can extrapolate from this that the same faithfulness continues as the believer perseveres.
The issue of Jesus’ high priestly mission continues in Hebrews 7:15–16, where Jesus “in the likeness of Melchizedek” enters his office “by virtue of the power of an indestructible life,” meaning that as Melchizedek was “a priest forever” (7:3), so Jesus even on the cross was “indestructible.” As the eternal High Priest, Jesus had a “power” that no earthly high priest could imagine. Thus he “is able to save completely those who come to God through him” through his eternal intercession for them (7:25 NIV). Here we are truly at the epicenter of assurance in the book. Attridge rightly argues that “to offer salvation ‘completely’ (εἰς τὸ παντελές)” should be understood both modally and temporally, that is, Jesus saves both completely and continually. Lane says, “The present tense of σῴζειν reflects the current experience of the community and suggests that Jesus’ support is available at each critical moment.… The perfection and eternity of the salvation he mediates is guaranteed by the unassailable character of his priesthood.” There is no question that this teaches the security of the believer, seen in both the ongoing salvation he brings and the continual intercession he makes. Yet, is this security unconditional or conditional? Two factors favor the latter: (1) the two terms for “always” (παντελές, πάντοτε) have the idea more of “continual” than “eternal”; (2) the condition for experiencing the efficacy of Jesus’ powerful salvation is “coming to God through him.” Many would deny this is a condition, but in light of the strong warning passages throughout, there has to be great emphasis on the necessity of perseverance in “coming to” (present tense προσερχομένους) God.
In Hebrews 3:2, 5–6; 4:2–3 Christ is both the “faithful Son” who watches over his Father’s house and the one who has “finished” his “work” on behalf of “those who have believed” so that they may “enter that rest.” Again, there is definite assurance, but it is not absolute. It is best to translate 4:3, “We who have believed (οἱ πιστεύσαντες: aorist participle) are in the process of (εἰσερχόμεθα) entering that rest.” Most agree that the purpose of the verse is to show that God still has a rest available for his people, but not that that rest is absolutely guaranteed. In fact, the wilderness warning is emphasized anew in the next clause of verse 3 and especially in verse 11, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (NIV). Certainly the passage teaches the danger of believers (v. 3) failing to enter (v. 11).
In Hebrews 6:9–20 the author does indeed turn to encouragement and assures the readers both that God would continue to work with them and that the author was sure they would be victorious over the danger. But again this is conditional rather than unconditional assurance. He is “confident of better things … that accompany salvation” (6:9 NIV) and that they are the good soil of verse 7, exemplified in their love for God and the help they have given to the saints. But he warns them even here that they must “show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure” (6:11 NIV). Once again, perseverance is necessary to ensure final salvation. Guthrie defines σπουδή as “eagerness, effort, haste” and says this calls for “a perseverance by which the hearers will remain engaged in the work and love of God, thus possessing a confident hope until the end of their earthly journeys.”
Fanning is correct about the centrality of God’s absolute oath/promise in Hebrews 6:13–20. The “unchanging nature of his purpose” (v. 17) and “unchangeable” promise (v. 18) does indeed provide “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (v. 19 NIV). But still, the hearers must “take hold of the hope” offered to them; it is not a guaranteed promise. The entire tone of the chapter is that of warning, and that dare not be softened. God is absolutely faithful to his promises, but the believers must also be faithful to their responsibilities and persevere. In other words, the hearers are encouraged to reflect on the immutable promises of God, confirmed by his absolute oath, and realize that he is there to aid them in the task of maintaining their hold on Christ.
A series of isolated texts also are used to determine the final assurance theme in Hebrews (8:12; 9:15; 10:14, 17). Each can be taken to identify the author’s certainty that the true believer can never commit apostasy. Hebrews 8 quotes the new covenant passage of Jeremiah 31:31–34, which says God “will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12) because he “will be their God, and they will be [his] people” (8:10 NIV). No one takes this in a 1 John 1:8–10 sense, whereby the false teachers there maintained that they could commit any sin they wished and it would not affect their salvation. Rather, this means that in the new covenant their past sins would be forgiven.
In Hebrews 9:15 “those who are called” are promised they will “receive the promised eternal inheritance” (NIV). The context concerns the blood of Christ as a ransom payment freeing the believer from sin, so that “eternal redemption” is secured (9:12). This is not a passage on the assurance of the believer but on the salvation procured by Christ the High Priest and its superiority to “the blood of goats and calves” (9:12). Hughes says this is “always and indefectibly effectual calling,” but that is not the emphasis here but is the product of his theology rather than his exegesis. The believer is to reflect on his/her special nature as the “chosen” of God, and the fact that it is an “eternal inheritance” does indeed encourage one regarding the nature of the future promise (cf. 1 Peter 1:4–5). Yet does this mitigate the warnings noted above? That does not seem warranted.
In Hebrews 10:14, 17 the new covenant passage of Jeremiah 31 is once more the basis for the promise that God will remember the sins of his people no more since Christ has “made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (NIV). What is the meaning of “made perfect forever”? What is in mind is the completion, or perfecting, of God’s salvation by the “one offering” of Christ. Lane translates τετελείωκεν “decisively purged” on the basis of Hebrews 9:9 and 10:1; thus, it concerns the old covenant people who “sought a decisive purgation that the Levitical cultus could not provide.” The emphasis is on Christ, who has both completed God’s plan of salvation and is in the process of sanctifying (a divine passive pointing to Christ) his people. Yet is this process guaranteed or contingent? In this context the question is difficult to answer, for the emphasis is on Christ’s provision rather than the state of the saints. Ellingworth recognizes this when he says it means that access to God, formerly the provision only of the high priest, is now open forever to God’s people.13 So the issue is not found in this context.
Now let us turn to Hebrews 10:32–39. This is the second primary passage on assurance after Hebrews 6:9–20. There is definite encouragement in 10:32–34, reminding the readers of their previous trial when they “stood their ground,” even though they were “publicly exposed to insult and persecution,” because they knew they had a “better and lasting possession.” They had been victorious in the past, and the author was sure they would be so in this instance as well. But still, there was the danger of “shrinking back,” so the author warns them to “persevere” so that they might receive what God promised (10:36). This is assurance but not final assurance. The strong promise of 10:39 (“we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” NIV) is not addressed to a different group than 10:26–31. The author does not believe that the hearers will commit apostasy, but such remains a real danger. I can find no evidence for such a bifurcation in the book between two groups of “Christians,” the true believers and false believers (such language is missing from Hebrews).
Finally, Fanning finds encouragement in Hebrews 12:1–11, where Christ is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (v. 2) and suffering is to be seen as evidence of God’s training them as his legitimate children (v. 8). Further, in verse 28 the author calls for thanksgiving and worship because the believers are receiving “an unshakeable kingdom.” Still, verse 28 is part of a warning (vv. 25–29) that begins “do not refuse him who speaks” and closes with “our ‘God is a consuming fire’ ” (NIV). The latter stems from Deuteronomy 4:24, where Moses warns Israel about idolatry and apostasy from the covenant. The “consuming fire” is a frequent image of fiery judgment (Isa. 33:14; Dan. 7:11; Joel 2:3). Hughes says the readers “need to be warned of the dreadful consequences of abandoning the new covenant reoccurred and sealed by the blood of Christ, lest they too, like their ancestors under Moses, should be consumed by the fire of the divine wrath.”
Now let us consider the two “if only” or “if indeed” (ἐάνπερ) conditional sentences in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14. Fanning believes these conditionals move from an evidence-to-inference relationship, that is, a proposed situation (protasis) that results from a prior condition (the apodosis). Thus he interprets these as assurance that the readers will hold on to their courage and confidence and thereby partake of Christ. But where is the evidence in the epistle for taking the clauses as a prior condition? It seems much more likely that they partake of the same force as the ἐάν clauses (“if you hear his voice”) of verses 7, 15 (both of which occur immediately after 3:6, 14). As quotations of Psalm 95:7, the warning aspect is quite clear, and they are true conditionals that demand a future obedience. While the apodosis is a prior condition (they are believers), it is clearly endangered by failure to keep the condition. In this sense the writer asks for a future perseverance in keeping hold of their courage and confidence. Thus a cause (protasis)-to-effect (apodosis) is best: only “if” they persevere will they partake of Christ, in the same way that the Israelites in the time of Psalm 95 would only enter God’s rest “if” they heard (and obeyed) his voice. Lane says it well: “The readers are reminded that perseverance until the time of the actual realization of the promise and entrance into the eschatological rest prepared for the people of God is required of those who are ‘partakers of Christ.’ ”
In conclusion, the best Calvinist interpretation by far is the one that recognizes the strength of the descriptions calling the readers true believers and the fact that the author warns of a real danger of apostasy (the data itself is simply too strong) yet applies the doctrines of election and eternal security to say that when this apostasy occurs it proves the person was not a true believer. Though a part of the church outwardly, the person was not truly redeemed. This is the approach of the better recent Calvinist interpreters (Hughes, Lane, Guthrie, Ellingworth, Carson, Fanning) and is a viable view. Fanning does a terrific job of making this approach credible, and like the KJV on Acts 26:28, “Almost thou persuadest me.” However, his argument falls short of explaining the epistle and is an example of the system controlling the data rather than vice versa. It in effect becomes a nuanced type of the hypothetical view since in effect it denies that one who has truly been “once enlightened” can actually commit apostasy. This does not fit the data of the epistle. It is best to say that the writer encourages the Christian readers that the faithful God is with them, and the writer assures them that he is confident that they will win through to victory and persevere to the end. Yet the danger is very real, and some of them may not persevere. If they do not, they will have committed the unpardonable sin and will have only eternal fiery judgment for their future.


Gareth Lee Cockerill

I wish to begin by expressing appreciation for Fanning’s irenic spirit and for the way in which he has clearly enunciated his position. It is an honor to have the privilege of responding to one who has written with such care. I offer this response with an appreciation of our common evangelical commitment and with the hope that irenic discussion will lead to a deeper understanding of the truth.

Fanning Remembered

Perhaps it will be helpful to begin with a brief summary of the way I have understood Fanning’s argument. He agrees that when read in a straightforward way, the warning passages appear to teach the possibility of apostasy. They seem to describe the recipients of Hebrews as true Christians in danger of eternal loss through falling away from faith in Christ. However, he also argues that the passages in Hebrews that affirm the faithfulness of God and the adequacy of Christ imply the perseverance of true believers in faithful obedience until the end. Thus he affirms a tension between the apparent warnings against apostasy on the one hand and perseverance sustained by God’s faithfulness and Christ’s adequacy on the other. Consequently, every reader must resolve this tension by adjusting the straightforward reading of these passages in some way.
Fanning offers us such an adjustment based on the syntax of the two following parallel verses: “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Heb. 3:6). “For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:14). He argues that these conditional sentences do not show “causeto-effect” but “evidence-to-inference.” Holding “fast our confidence” does not cause us to be God’s “house” or to “share in Christ.” Rather, such holding firm is the evidence that we are God’s “house” and partakers of Christ. Thus, according to this understanding of these verses, final perseverance is the future evidence of present faith. Only those who are truly God’s “house” today will persevere and that perseverance will reveal that they were truly God’s house.
Therefore, Fanning argues, the writer of Hebrews knows true believers will not fall. In his warnings, however, he describes things as they appear. Some who appear to be true believers, who outwardly seem to have every mark of the faithful, may fall. His exhortations, then, are a means God uses to effect the perseverance of true believers.

Fanning Challenged

Let me begin my critique by stating my fundamental objection to this position: the tension between warnings against apostasy and affirmations of God’s faithfulness/adequacy is artificial. On a straightforward reading, the warning passages teach apostasy. The descriptions of God’s faithfulness and Christ’s adequacy do not imply perseverance in anything like such a straightforward manner. As a matter of fact, this artificially created tension obscures the way in which Hebrews actually relates Christ’s adequacy to both encouragement and warning. When the writer encourages, he offers Christ’s adequacy as provision for perseverance. When he warns, the very magnitude of this provision is cause for utmost urgency. In his introduction Fanning talks about the enigmatic nature of Hebrews. Whatever else might be mysterious about this book, the writer leaves no doubt about the relationship between the adequacy of Christ’s salvation and his urgent warnings.
Methodologically, Fanning would be better off looking at the implications Hebrews draws for the sufficiency of Christ in relation to both encouragement and warning, rather than first determining the implication of Christ’s sufficiency.
With the above tension removed, Fanning’s interpretation of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 loses its force. Nevertheless, we will also argue that this interpretation is not only at odds with the warning passages but also unsuitable to the immediate context.

Fanning Affirmed

Before further analysis of Fanning’s arguments, it might be good to note areas of agreement. I fully agree with Fanning that a straightforward reading of the warning passages envisions the possibility of apostasy. This assertion is confirmed by the way in which these passages describe the people involved, their sin, and the results of their sin. I also agree that, according to Hebrews, God’s faithfulness finds fulfillment in Christ’s fully adequate high priesthood and in the resulting efficacious new covenant.
Furthermore, there is no question that the passages that describe the adequacy of Christ are closely related to the warning passages. Fanning affirms this relationship in several ways. He begins by asserting that the warning-passage emphasis on the faithfulness of God finds fulfillment in the full sufficiency of Christ. He notes quite accurately that passages that describe the full adequacy of Christ surround and support the warning passages. Thus Hebrews 2:5–18 follows the warning of 2:1–4 and, along with Hebrews 3:1–6, precedes the warning of 3:7–19. The author’s grand exposé of Christ’s sufficient high priesthood in Hebrews 8:1–10:18 underlies the warning of 10:19–39. Most certainly we must not isolate our interpretation of the warning passages from the grand exposition of Christ’s final and fully adequate high priesthood bequeathed us by the writer of Hebrews.
I have only one rather minor caveat with the way in which Fanning argues for a close relationship between the warning passages and the passages describing Christ’s adequacy. His assertion that the warning passages emphasize the faithfulness of God (pp. 192–205) is not totally accurate. The primary example of such emphasis in a warning passage is Hebrews 6:12–20. Although 6:12–20 follows a warning passage (5:11–6:8), in itself it is all encouragement. It would be more accurate to say that encouragement passages in the near context of warning passages emphasize the faithfulness of God.

Fanning Analyzed

There is agreement, then, that the warning passages must be understood in relation to the passages that describe the full adequacy of Christ’s high priestly work. Disagreement arises over what Christ’s adequacy implies and, consequently, over how this adequacy is related to the warnings.
Fanning argues that passages describing Christ’s adequacy imply the perseverance of the saints. If Christ’s work is fully adequate, the saints will persevere. These passages thus are in tension with the apparent warnings against apostasy. To reconcile this tension we must qualify our understanding of the closely related warning passages. They describe appearances. The writer can speak of his readers as falling away because some might only appear to be true believers.
I will argue that the descriptions of Christ’s adequacy do not imply final perseverance and thus are not in tension with the warning passages.

Christ’s Sufficiency: Guarantee of Perseverance

First, it must be stated that mere affirmations of God’s faithfulness or Christ’s sufficiency do not in and of themselves imply the final perseverance of the saints. One must ask what implications Hebrews, or any other biblical book, draws from such affirmations.
Fanning’s argument consists in reiterating Hebrews’s descriptions of God’s faithfulness and Christ’s adequacy and then affirming that these statements support final perseverance. No matter how many times one repeats this argument it lacks force. One must show that Hebrews intends such an implication. Fanning, however, draws upon his own implication from these descriptions of Christ’s sufficiency and ignores the way in which Hebrews actually applies them. According to Hebrews, Christ’s all-sufficient high priesthood and sacrifice are provision for, not the guarantee of, perseverance.
Fanning puts emphasis on Hebrews 7:23–25 and 10:14. The first of these passages affirms that Christ “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (NIV). Fanning argues that since Christ’s work is complete and his intercession eternal, he guarantees the perseverance of believers (p. 197–98). The second affirms that “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (NIV). If they are “perfected forever,” then how can they be lost?
Fanning finds additional support for perseverance in the new covenant established and guaranteed (7:20–22) by Christ and his high priesthood. Hebrews bases this new covenant on the promise of Jeremiah 31:31–34 quoted in Hebrews 8:6–12. Key elements of the promise are reiterated in Hebrews 10:16–17: “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer” (10:17; cf. 8:12b) and “I will put my laws upon their hearts and upon their minds I will write them” (10:16; cf. 8:10). Thus Fanning argues, “What could cause God to call to mind again what he has pledged never to remember? What could bring to an end a forgiveness or an inheritance that is eternal? What could sully a holiness that is perfected for all time?” (p. 199). Furthermore, the people of the new covenant are “granted a new heart and empowered by the Spirit to walk in holiness” (p. 204; cf. 8:10b; 10:16); thus, if God gives them such a heart, how could they fall away?
The inherent weakness in this argument is twofold. First, these are not deductions that Hebrews makes from the full sufficiency of Christ. They are deductions that Fanning makes from Hebrews’s descriptions of that sufficiency. Furthermore, there is not a little rhetoric and misunderstanding in this argument. For instance, in the idiom of Hebrews, “eternal” describes the nature of the inheritance, not its possession. It is a heavenly inheritance that will not pass away when this world comes to an end (see 11:1–13; 12:25–29). So calling it an “eternal” inheritance says nothing about who will or will not possess it.
One would assume that by “eternal” forgiveness Fanning is referring to God’s promise in the new covenant, “their sins I will remember no longer” (8:12b; 10:17; quoting Jer. 31:34d). Thus Fanning asks, “What could cause God to call to mind again what he has pledged never to remember?” (p. 199).
It is important to note that this promise of forgiveness is based on the complete adequacy of Christ’s sacrifice and that, without denying the provision for continual forgiveness, its first reference is to the removal of past sin4 so that people can come to know God in the new covenant and have his laws written on their hearts. Such forgiveness is a new covenant benefit. The warning passages of Hebrews, however, describe the apostate as cut off from God’s covenant (see especially 10:29). The dire consequences of apostasy do not stem from God’s calling to memory what he has promised to forget. They are the result of cutting oneself off from the covenant that provides such forgiveness.
I am glad to see the emphasis Fanning puts on God’s writing his laws on the hearts of his new covenant people. We often neglect this central aspect of the new covenant. After all, forgiveness is only the entrance to a new way of life. However, the engraving of God’s laws on the hearts and minds of his people does not mean that they can’t fall away any more than it means they can no longer sin. If the new heart does not eliminate the possibility of sin, why should it eliminate the possibility of apostasy?

Christ’s Sufficiency: Provision for Perseverance

The bottom line, however, is that Fanning deduces perseverance from Hebrews’s descriptions of Christ’s adequacy. Hebrews does not make that deduction. Thus it is time to look more closely at the deductions Hebrews does derive from Christ’s adequacy. What positive benefit do believers receive from his sufficient saving work? We have given the answer above: provision for perseverance.
The exhortations in Hebrews 4:14–16 and 10:19–25 make it clear that the writer wants his hearers not only to “hold on” but also to “draw near.” The importance of this “drawing near” is underscored by the fact that these two important passages anticipate and conclude the writer’s great presentation of Christ’s high priesthood in Hebrews 7:1–10:18. This process of “drawing near” is a present continuous activity through which believers appropriate the work of Christ for Christian living. See especially Hebrews 4:16, where they are urged to “draw near” in order “to find mercy and grace to help in time of need.” Thus the work of Christ is not just something they “have” but something they regularly appropriate. These assertions make it clear that Christ intercedes for “those who are coming to God through Him” (7:25) as they “draw near to find mercy and receive grace to help in time of need” (4:16). In short, when the writer uses Christ’s high priestly work to encourage his readers, he urges them to appropriate God’s provision.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that within the context of Hebrews Christ’s sufficiency is not the guarantee of perseverance but the provision for perseverance. Even Fanning “falls” into such a form of expression: “They can continue, not by human ability or effort, adding their part to God’s, but by the sustaining grace and intercession of their faithful and merciful High Priest and the power of God at work within” (p. 216, italics original).

Christ’s Sufficiency: The Urgency of Perseverance

If we understand Christ’s sufficiency as the grand provision for perseverance instead of the guarantee of perseverance, the artificial tension between the sufficiency of Christ and the warning passages evaporates. We are now able to see the harmonious relationship between Christ’s adequate provision and the warnings. It is because Christ’s work is the fully adequate and only provision for cleansing and entrance into God’s presence that the warnings are so severe. This perspective is enunciated in the first warning passage—“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation” (2:3 KJV). This assumption underlies the whole book and comes to particularly clear expression in the climactic warning found in Hebrews 10:26–31. This warning follows the encouragement of 10:19–25. Just as that encouragement urges believers to appropriate the great provision of Christ’s high priesthood, so this warning describes the dire consequences brought by its loss. Thus, far from nullifying the warning passages, the full adequacy and sufficiency of God’s work in Christ is the reason they are so severe. If one falls away, one will forfeit this all-sufficient work of Christ, which is the culmination of all God has been doing and the absolute and only way to enter God’s presence.
Thus Fanning’s argument is misleading when he says that the passages describing Christ’s sufficiency do not say that people can cut themselves off from this sufficiency. The way in which Hebrews relates the adequacy of Christ to the warning passages most assuredly does affirm that believers can cut themselves off from the Christ-provided benefits of salvation through apostasy.

A Second Look at Hebrews 3:6, 14

If the tension is artificial, and the sufficiency of Christ’s work and the warning passages are understood in the way Hebrews relates them, then there is no need for the solution that Fanning proposes based on the conditional sentences of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14. Furthermore, that solution loses its cogency because it lacks the contextual support Fanning has attempted to give it by arguing for the above-mentioned tension. There are also other objections to his interpretation both in the wider and the immediate context.
In the broader context, the writer’s consistent description of his readers in terms appropriate for true believers makes it hard to believe that he is only describing the way they appear. Fanning writes as if this were only the qualifying of a few passages such as Hebrews 6:4–8. However, virtually every reference to the readers describes them in terms one would normally take as indicative of believers. For instance the author refers to them as “brothers” and “children” of Christ in 2:5–18, and addresses them as “holy brothers and sisters, partakers of the heavenly calling” in 3:1. Also note the many places in which he associates himself with them by use of an inclusive “we.” Can a particular interpretation of two conditional clauses overturn this weight of evidence?
It is instructive to look at Hebrews 3:6 in its context. The reason the writer puts the apodosis, or “then” clause, first is obvious. He arrests his readers’ attention with “whose house we are.” Furthermore, this assertion is a way of affirming their continuity with the “house” just mentioned over which Christ is a Son and in which Moses is a steward. Rhetorically it prepares for the introduction of the wilderness generation as an example. They appear to have been the “house” in which Moses exercised his stewardship. Insofar as the readers’ identification as God’s “house” associates them with the wilderness generation, it is certainly not an affirmation of certain perseverance.
Furthermore, in my judgment, Fanning sets up a false dichotomy in this verse: the present tense means either “whose house we are,” or “whose house we will be.” The author would certainly not have said the latter because it is absolutely essential to the relevance of his exhortation that his readers identify with the people of God. Thus he begins with the strong affirmation, “whose house we are.” But it is urgent that they persevere, thus he immediately adds, “if we hold firm.” The continuous nature of the present tense becomes something like “whose house we are and will continue to be.”

Two Further Considerations

Before concluding I offer two further concerns with Fanning’s interpretation. His interpretation does not adequately account for the nature of faith as described in Hebrews. His argument that the readers’ past and present perseverance guarantees their final perseverance is inconsistent.
According to Fanning’s interpretation, Hebrews is concerned about true and false faith. The recipients all appear to have faith, but some really do not. Hebrews 11, however, particularly verses 1–6, makes it clear that “faith” is living like God is real and his promises are valid. This is the kind of faith demonstrated by the faithful of Hebrews 11. That is why Hebrews can speak so easily of the same sin as “unbelief” or “disobedience” (3:18–19). In other words, the kind of faith Hebrews is speaking of is obvious by one’s lifestyle. McKnight and Emmrich, along with many others, have made it clear that this is Hebrews’s understanding of faith. Fanning appears to dismiss their position without argument, except to refer to his own interpretation of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 (p. 213, esp. n. 88)! Fanning has argued that the writer’s description of his readers as true believers is a description of the way they appear. Final perseverance will be the evidence that they actually were true believers. And yet he can appeal to the sections of Hebrews in which the author expresses assurance of his readers’ salvation by reference to their past or present conduct (6:9–10; 10:32–34) as providing certain confidence in their final perseverance (pp. 200–201, 204–5). If, however, present appearances may be deceiving, how can past or present apparent obedience assure final perseverance? In fact, it cannot. Past or present obedience can function as encouragement for perseverance, but it cannot offer certain evidence that the people involved will persevere.


Fanning is to be applauded for his well-written contribution to this discussion on the warning passages in Hebrews. Nevertheless, his interpretations appear inadequate in several areas. First, he sets up an artificial tension between the warning passages and those passages that affirm God’s faithfulness and Christ’s adequacy. By interpreting Hebrews from the perspective of this external norm, he obscures the true contextual relationships between the adequacy of Christ’s work and both the warnings and encouragements of Hebrews. Second, he focuses on grammatical technicality to the detriment of contextual constraints. Yet Fanning is to be applauded for some valuable insights within the chapter.


Randall C. Gleason

Fanning’s “synthetic approach” reveals not only his careful reflection upon the central themes of the Hebrews warning passages but also an honest wrestling with the tensions arising throughout their interpretive history. His admission that a “straightforward reading” of the passages “seems to yield incompatible results” is refreshingly candid. Here he models the kind of irenic discussion that hopefully will bring more light and mutual understanding to an often overheated debate about these perplexing texts.
I agree with much of Fanning’s analysis of the warnings. First and foremost, I commend his balanced emphasis upon both the author’s reassurances of God’s faithfulness and his severe warnings. Most helpful is the way Fanning highlights how Christ’s high priestly work serves as the basis for Christian assurance. He makes a compelling case from within the framework of the book’s own theology that through Christ’s new covenant priesthood, God has secured the eternal redemption and forgiveness of all true believers to the end. This basis for the believer’s security is true to the Christocentric thrust of Hebrews without appealing to concepts such as predestination drawn from elsewhere in the New Testament.

His Interpretive Paradigm

I also agree with Fanning that the author of Hebrews does not offer unqualified assurance to all his readers. His point that the two conditional statements in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 express “evidence-to-inference” relationships is supported by their grammatical structure and provides a legitimate alternative to “cause-to-effect” readings typically followed by most interpreters. However, his appeal to these two conditional statements as the “interpretive paradigm” for all the warning passages claims more than their function in the book warrants. Such a claim seems to overlook his earlier caution against imposing a firm decision about an isolated element in one passage upon all the others. Furthermore, since his “interpretive paradigm” occurs in the context of the second warning passage (3:7–4:11), it is curious that he chooses to make the third warning passage (6:4–8) his primary focus in his synthesis of the central themes, for there are no third-class conditions similar to the type in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 found in 6:4–8 or in any of the other warnings. While the two inference/evidence conditions of 3:6 and 3:14 do indicate that “holding fast” to one’s confidence provides solid evidence for genuine Christian membership, the conditions must not be used necessarily to conclude that all those who lack assurance either lack a relationship to Christ or have publicly renounced Christ. Such a conclusion commits the fallacy of drawing a negative inference. In other words, though a firm and unwavering confidence in Christ provides evidence of genuine sonship, the lack of confidence does not necessarily prove the opposite. Doubts often arise among genuine believers as they struggle against unbelief and the strength of sin.
The two conditional clauses of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 cannot serve as the interpretive paradigm for the warning passages for at least two reasons. First, it is significant that these conditional statements occur before the author’s central discourse (4:14–10:25), where he assures his readers of their absolute and complete cleansing through Christ’s high priestly work. Guthrie shows how the parallels between Hebrews 4:14–16 and 10:19–23 clearly indicate the opening and closing of a major inclusio that marks the author’s major discourse of the book. The lack of further questions about the authenticity of their Christian membership throughout this central discourse renders the earlier call to self-examination in 3:6 and 3:14 an unlikely interpretive key to all the exhortations and warnings throughout the book as Fanning suggests. The author’s purpose, marked at the beginning and end of his main discourse, to exhort all, including himself, to “hold fast to our confession” (4:14; 10:23), suggests that confidence in the results of the new covenant was wavering among the majority of his readers. These two hortatory subjunctives framing the central discourse use similar verbs (or cognates; from κρατέω in 4:14 and κατέχω in 10:23) for the same idea (“hold fast”) expressed in the apodosis of both earlier conditional statements (3:6; 3:14). The latter suggests that before he began his main discourse, he wanted some of his readers to reflect on whether they were truly “partakers of Christ.” However, in his central discourse the author addresses the vast majority of his readers, whom he is “convinced” (6:9) are genuine Christians both because of their love and service “to the saints” in the present (6:10) and because of their endurance of “a great conflict of suffering” in the past (10:32–34). The fact that he commands these genuine saints to “hold fast” (4:14; 10:23) indicates that the present crisis they are experiencing threatens to weaken their confidence in Christ. Therefore, although a lack of confidence may indicate that a few required a genuine conversion (3:6; 3:14), the same condition also posed a real threat to the majority of true saints among his readers.
My second reason for questioning the broad application of the conditional statements of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 to all the warnings is that the author later calls “each one” of those he is “convinced” are truly saved (6:9–10) to a “full assurance” (6:11). This suggests that many genuine saints among the readers lacked a full awareness of God’s unchangeable promise that guaranteed their “sure and steadfast” hope (6:17–20), Christ’s permanent priesthood that would save them “forever” through his continuous intercession (7:25), and their “once for all” sanctification through the blood of the new covenant (10:10; 10:29). The author’s exhortation (6:11) suggests that though they were genuine saints, until they diligently embraced these facts, they would not experience the “full assurance” promised as part of the new covenant. While this assurance was founded upon their absolute cleansing, the two require some distinction. On the one hand, from God’s perspective their purification, cleansing, and forgiveness were complete and absolute. On the other hand, many were not experiencing the full assurance of these facts as they faced the present threat. In summary, the author’s exhortation “to realize the full assurance of hope” in Hebrews 6:11 implies that the confidence of many genuine Christians was in jeopardy. Yet their lack of confidence and assurance did not nullify the application of these new covenant realities to their lives. If Fanning’s interpretive paradigm is applied evenly throughout all the exhortations and warnings of the book, the wavering confidence of the majority would render them beyond the assurances offered in the book’s central discourse.

The Nature of the Apostasy

Fanning’s thorough survey of the literature on the warning passages included several of my earlier articles. In his critique of my view, he raises several questions that deserve further clarification. The first concerns my claim that Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29 do not warn against a total rejection of faith in Christ. He reasons that “falling away” (6:6a) must be far worse that the mere passive refusal to move on in Christian maturity because of the additional warning against “recrucifying and disgracing the Son of God” (6:6b). He further stresses that the language of trampling “under foot the Son of God” (10:29) must refer to the willful rejection of the Great High Priest’s sacrifice in a manner that demands “eternal damnation.”
He is correct to take these warnings seriously. However, neither description demands the active repudiation of faith in Christ and the absolute rejection of his sacrifice, as Fanning claims, for the following reasons. First, these descriptions should be read in the context of the other sins mentioned throughout the epistle. In summary, the readers are warned against spiritual drift (2:1), neglect (2:3), unbelief (3:12), disobedience (4:11), immaturity (5:11–6:1), spiritual lethargy (6:12), willful sin (10:26), immorality (12:16) and the disregard of divine warnings (12:25). As with many Old Testament believers (including some listed in Heb. 11), genuine New Testament saints were capable of committing these sins without actively renouncing their belief in Christ or the validity of his sacrifice.
Second, we find an important parallel to the sins of Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29 in Paul’s warnings to the Corinthian church. Notice that the only two passages in the New Testament that warn of “judgment” (κρίσις) due to mistreatment of the “blood” (αἷμα) of the “covenant” (διαθήκης) are Hebrews 10:27–29 and 1 Corinthians 11:25–30. According to Paul, due to their “unworthy” behavior at the Lord’s Table, some within the Corinthian church were “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27). Fee explains that this meant they were “held liable for his death.” In other words, though they were not the ones who physically crucified the Lord, their irreverent disregard for others at the Lord’s Table violated the very truth of Christian unity symbolized by partaking of the “one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). By dishonoring the symbols of Christ’s death, they shared the guilt with “the rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). It is not a hermeneutical leap to see the similarity to the Hebrews warning against “crucifying the Son of God” (Heb. 6:6). Obviously the author of Hebrews did not literally mean that the readers would somehow physically reenact the crucifixion of Christ by their return to the Jewish sacrificial system. However, their “falling away” would result in forsaking the Christian assembly (Heb. 10:25), where the permanence of Christ’s offering was celebrated with “a sacrifice of praise” and thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15). The only difference was that among the Corinthians some were held guilty of Christ’s death for drinking from the cup of the new covenant “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27), while the readers of Hebrews were in danger of the same guilt for their neglect of the Christian assembly (Heb. 10:25; 13:16), which is sanctified by “the blood of the covenant” (Heb. 10:29; cf. 13:20). Neither act involved a public renunciation of faith in Christ, yet in both cases the perpetrators were held guilty of his death in a way that demanded judgment.
Based upon the Greek term κοινός, which literally means “common,” I understand the author warning his readers in Hebrews 10:29 not to treat “the blood of the covenant” as common or equal to the other sacrifices offered by human priests. If they sought purification through the Jewish temple cult while neglecting the Christian assembly, their actions would suggest that Jesus’ death had no more lasting effect than the other sacrifices. This corresponds to the idiomatic use of the word “trampled” (καταπατήσας) to denote the treatment of something sacred in a common way.
I would like to clarify this point with an example from the Old Testament. Although Moses exemplified the kind of faith the readers of Hebrews were to follow (Heb. 11:23–28), toward the end of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, Moses and Aaron forfeited their right to enter the Land of Promise because of their unbelief and failure “to treat [the Lord] as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel” (Num. 20:12 NASB; cf. Deut. 32:51). Although the exact nature of their offense is not clearly stated, there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that they publicly renounced their belief in God or his ability to provide for his people. Yet as Allen explains, “[Their] assault on the holiness of God … was disastrous.” Similarly, if the New Testament readers after being “sanctified” by “the blood of the covenant” sought further purification through the temple cult, they were in effect “trampling under foot the Son of God” by treating his “blood” as if it provided no more permanent cleansing than the other Levitical sacrifices. Both Old Testament and New Testament examples agree that such unholy treatment of God or his Son may incur the disciplinary judgment of God.

The Nature of the Judgment

I have explained in my chapter the biblical reasons why the consequences in the warning passages in Hebrews fall short of “eternal damnation” as claimed by Fanning and others. My main reasons include the lack of damnation terminology (e.g., “eternal” and “torment”) in the fiery judgments of the warnings (6:8; 10:27; 12:29) and the physical and temporal nature of the Old Testament judgments used to illustrate them. Fanning claims my latter point is “completely invalidated” by the typological principle of “escalation … so pervasive in Hebrews” (pp. 189–90). Although I explain the escalation, especially in the warning of Hebrews 10:29 (“How much severer punishment”), in light of the unprecedented destruction and suffering about to fall upon Jerusalem, Fanning wonders how faithful Christians living in Israel could have avoided the Roman invasion and its devastation that fell upon “all residents of Palestine” (p. 188n. 34).
This is a fair question. There is compelling evidence that the church in Palestine heeded the author’s exhortation to “go … outside the camp” (Heb. 13:13) and was preserved from the destruction that fell upon the Jewish zealots. Eusebius reports that the entire Christian community “deserted the royal capital of the Jews and the whole land of Judea” after receiving “an oracle given by revelation before the war … to depart” across the Jordan river to Pella (Hist. eccl. 3.5.3). Epiphanius echoes the same tradition that the Jewish church settled in Pella “because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem” (Pan. 29.7.8). The present force of the author’s exhortation “do not refuse Him who is speaking … from heaven” (Heb. 12:25 NASB) may indeed refer to a specific prophecy circulating at that time warning the believers to leave the city.8
In order to see examples of how warnings of temporal judgment can be applied today, we can turn again to Paul’s warnings to the Corinthian church. Although Jewish Christians living outside Palestine were not threatened directly by the Roman invasion of Judea, those who identified too closely with Jews loyal to the temple may have suffered from Roman reprisals that later fell upon Jewish communities scattered through the empire. However, in Corinth some had already experienced temporal judgment in the form of sickness and even physical death (1 Cor. 11:30) due to their “unworthy” participation in the Lord’s Table. This also illustrates the physical threat upon those who neglect the provisions and obligations of the new covenant. Like the “scourging” of a loving father (Heb. 12:6), Paul explained to the Corinthians, “When we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32 NASB). At face value this judgment clearly refers not to eternal punishment but rather to temporal discipline that could prove lethal to careless Christians who ignore it.
Paul also uses the word “fire” to warn the Corinthians of a coming judgment when some “will suffer loss” but still “be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15 NASB). Here again it is not “eternal loss” but the loss of something additional to salvation that is in view.9 Though this fiery test occurs postmortem “before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10), it seems hardly fair to accuse some who understand the warnings of Hebrews in a similar way of advocating a “Protestant purgatory.” If it is true that believers will face a judgment after death linked to “fire” that poses no threat to their final salvation, then why should we object to temporal fiery judgments experienced in life by genuine believers as divine discipline? For these reasons I find the common assumption that Hebrews warns of eternal damnation unproven.


Although Fanning’s grammatical analysis of the conditional statements in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 help us to maintain an important balance between the author’s exhortations and assurances, they fall short of the interpretive paradigm for the warning passages. In my opinion the example of the wilderness generation offers a much better interpretive paradigm because the experiences of Israel in the wilderness are explicitly mentioned in three of the passages (2:2–3; 3:6–4:11; 12:18–25) and alluded to in the other two (6:4–5; 10:26, 28). Still, I feel that Fanning’s chapter provides the most reasoned and exegetically responsible defense to date of the classic Reformed interpretation of the warnings. Furthermore, I am sincerely thankful for his synthetic approach that has helped to sharpen my own reading of Hebrews.

Fanning, B. M. (2007). A Classical Reformed View. In H. W. Bateman IV (Hrsg.), Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (S. 172–256). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional.

Published: May 5, 2018, 08:14 | Comments
Category: Lord



Randall C. Gleason

The interpretative history of the warnings in Hebrews has lacked consensus since the days of the early church. While Novatian used Hebrews 6:6 to deny restoration of those who had lapsed under persecution, John Chrysostom argued that it taught the impossibility of re-baptism. Calvin taught that these warnings applied to the “unforgivable sin” committed by unbelievers against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31–32). Remarkably Arminius agreed with Calvin.2 Wesley, on the other hand, applied the warnings to “willful, total apostates” who “lost their faith, hope, and love,” making it “impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Since then many have wrestled through the book of Hebrews to establish their views on the security and perseverance of believers.
Although I hold no naïve expectation that my own analysis will resolve the long-standing impasse between the major interpretive traditions, I hope my contribution will move the dialogue in new directions that will lead some to a more satisfying understanding of these difficult texts. In spite of my Reformed convictions, my own study of the warning passages in light of their Old Testament background differs significantly from other Reformed interpretations. I believe that the severe warnings in Hebrews were addressed to genuine Jewish believers facing persecution by their countrymen prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. The immediate threat of God’s judgment upon the Jewish nation was real. As the author warned his audience of this imminent danger, he reassured them of the finality and completeness of their purification and cleansing (Heb. 10:10, 14) by appealing to the new covenant promises of Jeremiah (8:12; 10:17). If they continued steadfast in their faith, they would avoid the divine judgment predicted by Jesus that would soon fall upon their Jewish persecutors (Matt. 23:37–24:28; Mark 13:1–32; Luke 21:5–36). But if they drifted from their confidence in Christ and sought, instead, cleansing through the obsolete forms of the old covenant, they would fail to experience the blessings of the new covenant and instead receive the discipline as sons, a judgment far worse than they could have imagined.

The Historical Setting of Hebrews

In order to avoid reading into these texts various interpretations shaped by our theological traditions, I feel that it is critically important to exhaust our understanding of the original context of the book. Although the identity of the author remains a mystery, the fact that he addressed a distinct Christian community (5:11–12; 6:10; 10:25) facing a particular set of circumstances (10:32–34; 12:4; 13:3, 7, 23) provides significant clues to their identity and the date and setting of his epistle. Although a few hold to a late first-century date, most find compelling evidence that the epistle was composed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. First and foremost are the references to the Jewish sacrificial system that indicate the temple was still operational.6 The description of the readers as “holy brethren” (3:1), “partakers of Christ” (3:14), “beloved” (6:9), and the frequent use of “we” (e.g., 2:1–3; 4:14–16) and “us” (e.g., 4:1, 11, 16) indicates that the author considered them fellow believers. Some claim the warnings are parenthetical to the main message and are intended only for unbelievers mixed in among a Christian congregation. However, this seems unlikely since the strongest indications of a genuinely Christian audience occur within the warning passages. This is particularly true in Hebrews 10 where their “confession” is linked to their baptism when their “hearts [were] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and [their] bodies washed with pure water” (10:22–23 NASB).8 The author warns the readers (including himself—“we”) who had “received the knowledge of the truth” (10:26) and been “enlightened” (10:32; cf. 6:4). Rather than indicate a mere superficial knowledge of Christianity, such language describes the turning point when they came to genuine faith in Christ. The author confirms the genuineness of their conversion by warning each one not to regard “as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (10:29 NASB).10 Furthermore, the warning from Deuteronomy 32:36 that “the Lord will judge his people” (10:30) points back to the severe physical punishment promised to genuine Old Testament saints for covenant unfaithfulness.
That they were predominantly Jewish believers is indicated by the author’s emphasis upon the Jewish sacrifices and covenantal system (Heb. 7–10). His call to seek a heavenly city (Heb. 11:10; 12:22; 13:14) by going “outside the camp” where “Jesus … suffered” (13:11–13) also suggests a Jewish audience living in Palestine not far from Jerusalem.
Another important clue to the spiritual condition of the readers is found in Hebrews 5:11–14. The author realized that many of his readers would have difficulty understanding what he was about to teach concerning Melchizedek because they had “become dull of hearing” (5:11). Since “hearing” is often equated with obedience in the New Testament (e.g., Rev. 2:7), their sluggishness to hear and obey hindered their ability to understand. Though earlier they were taught sufficient truth “to be teachers,” many “again” had “come to need milk” (v. 12). They were now “unacquainted” (ἄπειρος) with “the word of righteousness” (v. 13) because of their failure to put it into practice. Rather than call them to spiritual rebirth, the author exhorts these spiritual “babes” to “press on to maturity” (6:1).

The Old Testament Background of Hebrews

Although many have discussed the author’s use of Old Testament citations in Hebrews, few have considered their relevance to the meaning and application of the warnings. I believe that the author’s rich use of Old Testament citations and allusions are vital to a proper understanding of the spiritual condition of those warned, the danger of “falling away” (3:12), the impossibility of “repentance” (6:6), and the nature of the coming judgment (6:8; 10:27–31; 12:25–29). Greg Beale observes that New Testament authors practiced a “contextual exegesis” by “quoting individual references as signposts to the broad redemptive-historical theme(s) from [their] immediate and larger OT context.”15 R. T. France demonstrates how the author of Hebrews does this “by drawing [Old Testament texts] into association with other related Old Testament ideas … to produce a richer and more satisfying diet of biblical theology than could be provided by a mere collection of proof-texts.” Hence, the theology of the Old Testament is crucial to understanding not only the author’s Old Testament citations but also his allusions to Old Testament narratives to warn his readers.

Old Testament Typology in Hebrews

Although the author uses the vocabulary of “type” only twice in Hebrews (8:5; 9:24), typology is his primary way of applying Jewish Scripture to his contemporary audience. Biblical typology is based on patterns of correspondence between historical “persons, actions, events, and institutions” within the redemptive activity of God throughout biblical history.18 It is based upon the assumption that God follows consistent patterns in dealing with his people, resulting in true historical and theological correspondences throughout redemptive history. A lack of real correspondence between an earlier type and its later antitype would result in fanciful interpretations and trivialize the narrative theology of Old Testament examples. Hence, the rhetorical success and logical connection of the typological relationship used by the New Testament author depends directly upon the genuineness of their theological correspondence.
The aspect of escalation, or heightening, is often listed as another defining characteristic of typology. This is clearly present in Hebrews, where the author often uses typology to argue from lesser to greater (e.g., 3:3; 7:15; 8:6; 9:11, 23). However, the interpreter must be cautious not to “heighten” the meaning of the later antitype in a way that obscures its genuine historical and theological correspondence to the earlier type. Most important to the warnings is the writer’s use of the Exodus generation as a type of the Christian community to which he was writing. In each warning, examples from the Exodus are used to drive home the danger of the present threat to his readers. Because of the author’s explicit reference to the rebellion of the Exodus generation in Hebrews 3–4, many have recognized the vital role of the events of Kadesh-Barnea in deciphering the meaning of the warning in Hebrews 3:12–14. However, few commentaries have recognized the allusions to the events of the Exodus in the other warning passages. This is significant because in each warning the spiritual condition, “falling away,” and judgment of the Exodus generation provides important clues to the spiritual condition, potential “falling away,” and judgment of those warned.

The Exodus Generation in Hebrews

Beginning in Hebrews 2:2–3, the author warns his readers of the “just recompense” that came upon the Exodus generation for their spiritual negligence and disobedience. In Hebrews 3–4 the author again warns them against having “an evil, unbelieving heart” (3:12) similar to the Exodus generation (3:7–11). They must “take care” lest they fall away from the living God (3:12) the same way the Israelites did when they “provoked” the Lord in the wilderness (3:8, 16). After his excursus on the superiority of the Son’s high priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek (4:14–5:10), the author returns again to the events of the Exodus in his warning in chapter 6. Echoes of the experiences of the wilderness generation in 6:4 are strong: “enlightened” = pillar of fire; “tasted of the heavenly gift” = manna; “partakers of the Holy Spirit” = the Spirit coming upon the seventy elders (Num. 11:16–30); “tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (NASB) = receiving of the law of Moses confirmed by signs. References to the “tabernacle” (σκηνή) rather than the temple as the place of service for the Levitical priesthood throughout Hebrews 8 and 9 also point back to the conditions in the wilderness. In chapter 10, the allusions to the “willful sin” (v. 26) of Numbers 15:30–36, the “two or three witnesses” for a capital offense (v. 28) from Deuteronomy 17:6, and the citation (v. 30) from Deuteronomy 32:35–36 all keep the events of the Exodus in view. After including Moses and the Exodus generation among the examples of the faithful in chapter 11 (vv. 23–29), the author introduces his final warning by alluding to the Israelites’ terrifying arrival at Mount Sinai in chapter 12 (vv. 18–21). Finally in chapter 13, his exhortation to “go … outside the camp” (v. 13) compares the suffering and reproach of Christ to the sacrificed animals “burned outside the camp” of Israel in the wilderness (v. 11). By using the events of the Exodus as his primary motif throughout the epistle, the author provides an important interpretive key to the meaning and application of his warnings.

The Redeemed Status of the Exodus Generation

Because of their typological relationship to the Exodus generation, I consider those warned in Hebrews to be genuine believers in danger of forfeiting covenant blessings and of undergoing the physical discipline of God while escaping final judgment. The basis for this understanding is that despite their unbelief and rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea, the Exodus generation was a redeemed people.
The evidence for this begins with Moses and Aaron’s first report that the Lord would deliver them. Upon hearing Aaron’s report confirmed by miraculous signs, “the people believed” and “bowed low and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31 NASB). The significance of this initial act of faith by the people should not be overlooked for several reasons.
First, the Hiphil form of אמן, translated “believed,” became a technical term to express genuine faith in the Old Testament. Second, the six occurrences of “believe” (אמן) in Exodus 4 mark the people’s faith as a central theme of the chapter. Third, the genuineness of the people’s faith is evidenced not only by their immediate worship (4:31; 12:27), but also by their obedience. In response to the specific commands regarding the preparation of the Passover sacrifice, the author emphatically declares twice that all the sons of Israel “did just as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron” (Exod. 12:28, 50). Fourth, in response to their fear of attack by the Egyptians, the Lord promised them “salvation” (Exod. 14:13). Here יְשׁוּעַת is used only for the second time in the Old Testament to promise their deliverance. Following their rescue, the author declares that the Lord indeed “saved (וַיּוֹשַׁע) Israel that day” (Exod. 14:30).
Fifth, in response to their deliverance, the text again declares, “They believed (וַיַּאֲמִינוּ) in the Lord and in His servant Moses” (Exod. 14:30–31 NASB). Here the Hiphil form of אמ ן, with the preposition “in” (ב) denotes their entrance into a relationship of trust in Yahweh as it did in Genesis 15:6, “[Abraham] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (NASB).27 Sixth, the Song of Moses that immediately follows the account of the Red Sea crossing offers an important interpretation of the event and confirms the faith response of the people. The song describes the event as their “salvation” (Exod. 15:2) by which they were “redeemed” (v. 13) and “purchased” (v. 16). Seventh, the intertextual use of their deliverance elsewhere in the Old Testament declares that, though they sinned (Ps. 106:6), forgot God’s works and kindness, and later rebelled (v. 7), the Lord “redeemed” (Pss. 78:42; 106:10; Isa. 63:9), “saved” (Ps. 106:8, 10; Isa. 63:8–9), and forgave them (Neh. 9:17; Pss. 78:38; 99:8). Eighth, the establishment of the Sinai covenant (Exod. 24:1–9) with the people of Israel also indicates their redeemed status. For the giving of the law was never intended to provide a means of salvation but presupposed faith and therefore was given to an already redeemed people.
Later in Hebrews 11 the author confirms the redeemed status of the Exodus generation. With the events of Exodus 14:30–31 clearly in mind, he commends them for their exemplary faith, declaring “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land” (v. 29 NASB). Hence, like Noah, Abraham, and Moses, the author includes the Exodus generation among those who had “gained approval through their faith” (v. 39 NASB).

The Sin of the Exodus Generation and Hebrews 3–4

The author uses numerous terms throughout Hebrews 3–4 to describe the sin of the Israelites in the wilderness. Citing Psalm 95 (Ps. 94 LXX), the author identifies the hardening of their hearts with their “rebellion” at Meribah and “testing” at Massah (Heb. 3:8–9; cf. Exod. 17:7). He also had in view their rebellion following the return of the spies to Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 14), as evidenced by his repeated reference to God’s oath (Heb. 3:11, 18; 4:3; cf. Num. 14:21, 28) and his warning that their “bodies fell in the wilderness” (Heb. 3:17; 4:11; cf. Num. 14:29, 32–33). Therefore the sin (Heb. 3:17) of unbelief (3:12, 19; 4:2) and disobedience (3:18; 4:6, 11) warned against in Hebrews 3–4 must be understood in light of Israel’s “rebellion” (Num. 14:9; Deut. 9:23–24) and unbelief (Num. 14:11) at Kadesh-Barnea.
The warning against “an evil, unbelieving heart” and “falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12) is often understood as “a willful rejection of salvation” tantamount to a complete apostasy from faith in God. However, it is best to determine the meaning of ἀποστῆναι (“to fall away”) in light of Moses’ warning to the people at Kadesh-Barnea, “Do not rebel (ἀποστάται) against the Lord” (Num. 14:9 LXX). The adjective πονηρός (“evil”) is used twice to describe the “evil congregation” in Numbers 14 (vv. 27, 35 LXX) but nowhere else in the Pentateuch. The adjective ἀπιστίας (“unbelieving,” Heb. 3:12) again echoes back to the Lord’s question to Moses at Kadesh, “How long will they not believe in Me?” (Num. 14:11 NASB; cf. Deut. 1:32; 9:23; Ps. 106:24). The title “living God” (θεοῦ ζῶντος) echoes back to the time when Yahweh renewed the terms of blessing and discipline to the survivors of the Exodus in Deuteronomy (4:33; 5:26). In summary, the New Testament readers are cautioned not against a complete absence of faith in God but more specifically against the failure to believe that God would sustain their lives in the face of impending danger (cf. Exod. 14:7–9).
Also the unbelief of the people at Kadesh-Barnea must be understood in light of the equally disastrous sins of Moses and Aaron. This is most apparent in Numbers 20, where the death of Miriam (v. 1) and the death sentence on Moses and Aaron (vv. 12, 24) serve to reinforce the point that none of the adults delivered from Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, would enter the Promised Land. Moses and Aaron received exactly the same punishment as the people because they committed the same transgression. This is indicated by the fact that the “unbelief” (“because you have not believed,” לֹא־האֱמַנְתֶּם) and “rebellion” (“because you rebelled,” מְרִיתֶם) of Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:12, 24) are the same Hebrew words used to describe the sin of the people in Numbers 14:9–11 (cf. Deut. 9:23–24).
The sins of Moses and Aaron are typically regarded as minor in comparison to the magnitude of the sin of the people. However, the words and behavior of Moses are reported as a most serious desecration of Yahweh’s holiness and reputation in Numbers 20:10–12. Moses spoke in anger to the people, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we [i.e., I and Yahweh] bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10 NASB). His rhetorical question implied doubt (i.e., “unbelief”) whether God genuinely intended to provide water for the people because he deemed them unworthy to receive it. The gravity of Moses’ sin is seen not only in his use of the pronoun “we,” which equated his role with God’s, but also in his questioning God’s clear command to provide water for his people (Num. 20:8, 24). The fact that Moses and Aaron received the same punishment as the other “rebels” who died in the wilderness indicates that “exactly the same” sin was committed by all.
Also, the same place name, “Kadesh,” suggests the Old Testament author’s intention to liken the sin of the people in Numbers 14 to the sin of Moses and Aaron (Num. 13:26; 20:1). The sin of the Exodus generation was a growing lack of trust in God’s life-sustaining presence (Exod. 17:7) to provide for their needs (Num. 11:4–6; 18–23; 14:7–9). Their sin culminated in their decisive refusal to trust God to bring them into the land and overcome its inhabitants (Num. 14:8–10). Their sin was certainly grievous! But it was not a total and final rejection of faith in God, incurring eternal condemnation for the following reasons. First, the Lord “pardoned them” in response to Moses’ plea (Num. 14:20). Note that Moses requested God to pardon Israel’s “iniquity … according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (v. 19 NASB). When God “pardoned them according to [Moses’] word” (v. 20 NASB), he declared their forgiveness was complete as Moses had requested. Second, in response to the Lord’s oath of judgment on them, “the people mourned greatly” (v. 39). The next day they confessed, “We have indeed sinned,” and they attempted to possess the land the Lord had promised (v. 40). Though their confession and resolve to enter the land was now too late, their response is hardly representative of a people who had totally renounced belief in God. Third, their redemption (i.e., salvation) from Egypt was not forfeited because they were never allowed to return to their former bondage under Pharaoh. Instead, God “carried” them along in the wilderness “as a man carries his son” (Deut. 1:31). Finally, since their sin is identical in description and punishment to that of Moses and Aaron, it must be regarded as the same. Therefore, since no one considers the sin of Moses and Aaron as total apostasy thereby incurring eternal destruction, neither should the sins of the people be regarded as such.

The Old Testament Concept of “Rest” in Hebrews 3–4

The writer to the Hebrews appeals to the Old Testament concept of rest to warn his readers against the sin of the Exodus generation (3:7–13) that ultimately ended in their loss of physical life (vv. 14–19). The Old Testament concept of “rest” is expressed by two Hebrew words. The first is the Hebrew noun מנוְּחָה used in Psalm 95:11 to denote Yahweh’s “resting place” on Zion (Ps. 132:8, 13–14; Isa. 11:10) in the temple (1 Chron. 28:2; cf. 2 Chron. 6:41) as a synonym for his throne (Isa. 66:1). The second is the Hebrew verb Shabbat (וַיִּשְׁבֹּת, “and he rested”) signifying God’s rest following his creative work (Gen. 2:2; cf. Heb. 4:4, 10). When the author of Hebrews calls this primordial rest σαββατισμός (4:9), he refers not to the Sabbath day but rather “to the Sabbath celebration.” The emphasis was not upon the cessation of daily activities but rather upon an unhindered opportunity for Israel to celebrate God’s life-sustaining presence among them (Exod. 31:12–16; 2 Macc. 8:27). God’s rest was first experienced in the Garden of Eden, then in the tabernacle, then in the land (specifically Zion), and finally in the Solomonic temple. In each case, the celebration of Yahweh’s presence and enjoyment of covenant blessings was jeopardized by covenant unfaithfulness. For his disobedience, Adam was excluded from the place of covenant blessing in the Garden. Likewise, due to their rebellion the people, along with Moses, Miriam, and Aaron, were refused entrance into the land of blessing. Their failure to experience God’s rest in the land did not affect their deliverance and redemption as the people of God, but it did prevent them from enjoying the fullness of covenant blessings in the land.
The author of Hebrews argues that God’s “resting-place” remains available to his readers through Jesus Christ, who “sat down” at the right hand of God’s heavenly throne (1:3, 8:1; 10:12; 12:2) to serve as their “High Priest” (3:1; 4:14; 7:25–8:2; 9:11–15, 23–26; 10:19–22). If they remain faithful (3:6, 14), though the earthly temple is “ready to disappear” (8:13), the readers can still “enter his resting-place” (4:1, 3, 10–11) by drawing “near with confidence to the throne of grace” to receive “help” (4:16), “blessing” (6:7), and “reward” (10:35; 11:6), as well as to “continually offer up” sacrifices of “praise” and good works (13:15–16). However, if they refuse to trust in God’s life-sustaining presence mediated by Jesus Christ their High Priest, they could forfeit the joy of God’s presence as a “resting-place” of blessing and Sabbath celebration. Instead, God’s presence would become to them a place where sins are exposed (4:12–13), punishment is given (3:17; 10:29–31), rewards are lost (10:35–39), and discipline is received (12:4–11).

The Exodus Generation in Hebrews 6:4–5

The author used four substantival participles in Hebrews 6:4–5 to identify the spiritual condition of the readers with that of the Exodus generation. The article “the” (τούς) modifies all four participles, indicating that they are all intended to describe one group. Also, the term “once” (ἅπαξ) modifies all four participles, signifying that each occurred “once for all.”
First, they are described as “enlightened” (φωτισθέντας). The same passive verb is used in Hebrews 10:32 to refer to the beginning of the readers’ Christian experience when they had been “enlightened.” This parallels the cloud by day and fire by night that marked the beginning of Israel’s exodus out of Egypt, giving them “light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exod. 13:21 NASB). The Old Testament later echoes the purpose of the pillar of fire to “enlighten” (φωτίζω) the Exodus generation on their way to Sinai (Neh. 9:12; Ps. 105:39 [104:19] LXX).
Second, they had “tasted of the heavenly gift” (Heb. 6:4). This corresponds to the manna from heaven eaten by the Exodus generation. Since Jesus compared himself to the manna of Moses (e.g., John 6:32–33), it is best to understand the “heavenly gift” as a reference to Christ himself.
Third, the readers, like the Israelites of the Exodus, had “been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 6:4 NASB). The word “partaker” (μετόχους) consistently refers in the New Testament to a genuine sharing or participation (e.g., Heb. 2:14) and therefore denotes a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit that accompanies spiritual enlightenment. That the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Num. 11:16–30) was also among the defining features of the Exodus experience is confirmed by its frequent mention in later Old Testament accounts of Israel’s deliverance (e.g., Neh. 9:20; Isa. 63:11, 14; Hag. 2:5).
Fourth, the readers had “tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5 NASB). This again echoes the Exodus generation, who “believed … the Lord” and “bowed low and worshiped” after they had heard “the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses” and seen “the signs” he performed (Exod. 4:30–31). Likewise, the readers of Hebrews had received “the word … first spoken through the Lord” after “it was confirmed to us … by signs and wonders and various powers” (2:3–4).
In summary, the experiences of those described in Hebrews 6:4–5 indicate that those in danger of “falling away” were genuine believers like the Exodus generation. Instead of pressing “on to maturity,” the New Testament readers were in danger of retrogressing back into spiritual infancy like the Exodus generation.

Kadesh-Barnea and the Sin of Hebrews 6:6

The “falling away” that could place the readers beyond the possibility of repentance is designated in Hebrews 6:6 by the Greek participle παραπεσόντας, found only here in the New Testament. Because it lacks any modifier, its precise meaning is difficult to determine from the immediate context. Many understand “falling away” (παραπίπτω) to refer to complete apostasy from the faith. However, this view ignores the problem of slothfulness discussed earlier in Hebrews 5:11–13. The readers were not in danger of completely giving up all belief in Christ, in spite of the warning that they could “again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame” (6:6 NASB). Their immediate problem was rather a passive drifting away from the word of Christ (2:1), a persistent sluggishness to press on to maturity (5:11–6:2), and an avoidance of fellowship with other believers (10:25) for fear of persecution from the Jews (10:32–34). Rather than total rejection of Christ, they faced the danger of falling into a permanent state of immaturity through a willful “once for all” (ἅπαξ) refusal to trust God to deliver them from their present troubles. Furthermore, “falling away” (παραπίπτω) is most often used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word מַעַל meaning “to act unfaithfully” (e.g., Ezek. 14:13; 15:8; 18:24; 20:27). In summary, “falling away” does not express the idea of an absolute apostasy involving a complete turning away from all belief in God. It is not a mild term for sin; it denotes a serious act of unfaithfulness toward God. But the exact nature of the unfaithfulness must be determined from the broader context.

A Decisive Refusal to Mature

The argument of Hebrews suggests that “falling away” (παραπίπτω) denotes a general state of spiritual retrogression entered through a decisive refusal to trust and obey God. The only other sin mentioned in the near context is that the readers had “become dull (νωθρός) of hearing” (5:11), referring to their reluctance to put into practice what they had been taught (vv. 13–14). The force of the perfect verb (γεγόνατε) in Hebrews 5:11 indicates they had been slow to hear for some time. But in Hebrews 6:12, the author warns them against a general “sluggishness” (νωθρός) throughout their lives. They were still evidencing some obedience through their ongoing ministry to the saints (v. 10), but the author warned them that the time could come when their slowness to obey would settle into a general state of retrogression. Hence the sin of “falling away” (παραπίπτω) is more than merely “sluggishness of hearing”; it is coming to a decisive point when one refused “once for all” (ἅπαξ) to press on to maturity. The sin of “falling away” in Hebrews echoes the experience of the Israelites “who fell (ἔπεσεν) in the wilderness” (3:17; cf. 4:11). When the Israelites arrived at Kadesh, they paused and sent spies into the land because they did not trust God’s promise that the land was theirs to possess. When the scouts returned, the majority reported that Canaan was populated by giants living in cities with impregnable walls. In spite of the efforts of Joshua and Caleb, the people believed the worst. At that moment they decided to reject the leadership of Moses and refused to enter and possess the land (Num. 14:1–10).

The Impossibility of Renewing Them to Repentance

As the Israelites refused to obey the voice of the Lord (Num. 14:22) and act according to his promises (Exod. 23:27–31; 33:1–2), so too the New Testament readers were in danger of refusing to “press on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1). Though the Israelites changed their minds and tried to enter the land the next day (Num. 14:39–45), they were not permitted to repent of their decision to turn back to Egypt. Similarly, with the readers of Hebrews there was the question of whether God would permit them to go on to maturity (“This we shall do, if God permits,” 6:3), for once they decided to “fall away,” it would be “impossible to renew them to repentance” (6:6).
In response to God’s refusal to allow the Exodus generation at Kadesh to enter the land, “the people mourned greatly” (Num. 14:39). The following day they awoke early and declared, “We have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the Lord has promised” (v. 40 NASB). Ignoring Moses’ warning, they attempted to enter the land but were crushed by its inhabitants (vv. 41–45). Their inability to repent did not mean God was unwilling to forgive them, for after Moses’ plea God declared, “I have pardoned them according to your word” (v. 20 NASB). Rather, God denied them the blessing of rest in the land in order to discipline them in the wilderness. If they had obeyed God and entered the land, the people of Israel would have experienced the physical blessings of the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exod. 33:3). On the one hand, those who do not “fall away” are like the land that “brings forth” useful vegetation and the result is they “receive a blessing” (Heb. 6:7). On the other hand, those who do “fall away” forfeit God’s blessings.
Therefore, in the context “repentance” would allow one to be renewed to a place of “blessing” and “rest.” To be unable to repent is to be denied God’s blessing. This is also illustrated by Esau, who sought “repentance … with tears,” yet was denied “the blessing” (Heb. 12:17). Therefore believers who, like the Exodus generation, “fall away,” may be denied the repentance that could renew them to a place of blessing. In summary, the author’s point is not that his readers could not be saved again, but that once they decided to persist in their immaturity and lack of faith, God would not permit them to change their mind in order to avoid divine discipline and the loss of covenant blessings.

“Crucify … the Son of God and Put Him to Open Shame” (Heb. 6:6)

The writer warned his audience not only against forfeiting their opportunity for repentance and blessing, as the Exodus generation had done, but also against the additional guilt of crucifying “to themselves the Son of God, and [putting] him to open shame” (6:6 NASB).36 Some have suggested that the two adverbial participles translated “crucify” and “put to open shame” are to be taken temporally, expressing the idea that those who have fallen away could not be renewed to repentance while they were crucifying the Son of God. Once they stopped, they could be renewed to repentance. However, this goes against the force of the term “impossible” and does not fit the parallel to the events at Kadesh-Barnea, where the children of Israel tried to repent the next day but could not. Instead, it is best to view these participles as causal,38 describing why it is impossible for believers to be renewed to repentance.
Many have understood the participle ἀνασταυροῦντας not to mean “recrucify” or “crucify again” but rather simply “crucify,” as it was commonly understood in other Greek sources. In that case the warning is not against crucifying Christ “again,” but rather against reducing Christ’s death to the level of a common criminal execution, as the Jewish leaders had originally intended. A public return to the animal sacrifices of the Levitical system would in effect empty Christ’s sacrifice of its redemptive value (cf. Heb. 7:26–27; 10:26). The author could not have expressed in stronger terms the seriousness of his readers’ failure to press on to maturity. Though they thought their quiet return to Judaism would be harmless, by showing solidarity with the temple cult they would be identifying themselves with the Jewish leaders who had originally cried out, “Crucify him!” The expression “put him to open shame” does not mean that in order to “fall away” one must publicly speak out blasphemous and irreverent things about Jesus Christ. Their quiet return to the temple sacrifices was enough to suggest to their fellow Jews that Christ’s crucifixion no longer provided purification for their sins. Though their retreat back into Judaism was meant to be private, it would bring public disgrace on Christ by diminishing the significance of his sacrificial death.

The Willful Sin (Heb. 10:26)

Many have recognized the warning against “sinning willfully” in Hebrews 10:26 as an allusion to the defiant sin of Numbers 15:30–31 and the presumptuous sin of Deuteronomy 17:12. The word willfully (ἑκουσίως) denotes the deliberate intent to disregard God’s law. This is illustrated in the context of Numbers 15 with the example of the man found picking up sticks on the Sabbath (vv. 32–36). Since his action was a clear violation of the Sabbath law, the penalty was severe: “the person shall be cut off,” that is, “put to death” (Exod. 31:14–15). In the warning of Hebrews, the author clearly has this physical penalty in mind because he mentions in the following verse the need for “two or three witnesses” (Heb. 10:28) to confirm a capital offense (cf. Deut. 17:6). Far from a public repudiation of belief in Christ, the sin in view denotes any deliberate act of covenant unfaithfulness, including in the Old Testament context even the seemingly harmless act of picking up sticks on the Sabbath. The gravity of the sin is determined by the defiant attitude with which it is committed. However, the penalty is not eternal damnation but rather physical punishment resulting in death.

“Trampling Under Foot the Son of God” (Heb. 10:29)

The word “trample” (καταπατέω) is used elsewhere in the New Testament to denote treating something of great value as if it were worthless (e.g., pearls before swine, Matt. 7:6) or powerless (e.g., unsavory salt, Matt. 5:13; unproductive seed, Luke 8:5). The title “Son of God” as used in Hebrews recalls the unique status of Christ as God’s final revelation (1:2), the great High Priest (4:14; 7:3) who secured permanent cleansing through his “perfect” sacrifice (5:9; 7:28). Therefore, failure to acknowledge Christ’s unique superiority over other revelations (e.g., the Mosaic law), priests (e.g., Levites), or sacrifices (e.g., of bulls and goats) was in effect to “trample under foot the Son of God.” This meaning is confirmed by the second warning against regarding “as unclean the blood of the covenant.”
The Greek term “unclean” (κοινός) could be used in the sense of “common”; thus the warning would be not to treat “the blood of the covenant” as a common sacrifice like the others offered by human priests. Or it may be understood in the Old Testament sense of “cultic impurity,” implying that Christ’s sacrifice could not provide final purification for sins. In either case, it does not suggest a total repudiation of Christ but rather treating his sacrifice as if it had no more cleansing value than other sacrifices. Since in the context of Hebrews, the Spirit is the one who “offered the blood of Christ without blemish to God” (9:14) and “bears witness” to the superiority of his revelation (2:3–4) and covenant (10:15), to degrade such things by returning to Judaism would “outrage” (ἐνυβρίζω) the Spirit, thereby incurring God’s discipline (10:29).

The Nature of the Judgment

The warnings in Hebrews become increasingly more severe, culminating in the threat of fiery judgment that “will consume the adversaries” (10:27) and bring “destruction” (10:39). Many link this judgment to the “second” coming of Christ (9:28) and therefore assume that Hebrews warns of “final judgment” resulting in “eternal damnation” (9:27). Others regard the warnings as referring to severe physical punishment leading to loss of life but not eternal judgment.42 This would explain the conspicuous absence of “damnation” terminology commonly found throughout the New Testament and contemporary Jewish literature. When speaking of final judgment, Jesus warns of the “unquenchable fire of hell” (Matt. 5:22; 18:9; Mark 9:43–48), “eternal fire” (Matt. 18:8; 25:41), and “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). Similarly, other New Testament authors speak of “eternal destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9) and “punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). In light of the frequent use of the term “eternal” (αἰώνιος) throughout Hebrews (5:9; 6:2; 9:12, 14–15; 13:20), its absence in the warning passages is significant, particularly if the author intended to warn his readers against the finality of judgment in the life to come. Final judgment mentioned in Hebrews 9:27 occurs after death (“it is appointed for men to die once and after this [comes] judgment”) and therefore should be distinguished from the immediate threat the readers “see … drawing near” in their present circumstances (10:25).
Some understand the author’s warnings in light of the coming Roman invasion of Palestine that would soon bring an end to the temple sacrifices (8:13) and the destruction of Jerusalem (13:14). If so, he could be warning his readers of physical harm or even death if they seek refuge in Judaism and its link to Jewish nationalism.
The author of Hebrews gives subtle warnings of this coming crisis throughout his letter. In particular, his warning that the unproductive “land” (γῆ) is “close to being cursed” (6:8) is best understood as a reference to the impending destruction of the Jewish homeland. The Jewish leaders had produced “thorns and thistles” by their rejection and crucifixion of Christ, and therefore their nation was doomed to be “burned” (6:8). The author’s claim that the old covenant was “near to destruction” (8:13) likewise anticipated the annihilation of the priests, sacrifices, and temple. His prediction that Christ was coming (10:5) to “take away,” or “destroy,” all the symbols of “the first” covenant (10:9) serves as a fitting allusion to the imminent crisis coming upon Israel, for the transition from the first to the second covenant was dramatically finalized in 70 C.E. when the Romans executed the priests, burned the temple, and removed its contents from the land. These themes of an imminent judgment are strong indications that the epistle was written before the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Consuming Fire (Heb. 10:27)

The author clarifies the “terrifying” nature of the coming “judgment” by citing Isaiah 26:11. A close examination of the Old Testament context reveals that Isaiah’s warning corresponds well to the threats facing first-century Jews living in the land of Israel. The judgment beginning in Isaiah 24 declares that the Lord will “lay waste,” “devastate” (v. 1), and “consume” (v. 6) the land because the people of the land (i.e., the Jews) have “disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant” (v. 5 NIV).52 Furthermore, the “curse” upon the land will also “burn” its inhabitants (i.e., the Jews) because they are “held guilty” (v. 6 NASB). Hence, the wider context of Isaiah 26 indicates the consuming fire does not refer to “the fire of eternal punishment,” but rather to physical destruction coming upon the land of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. The New Testament author’s change of the verb “consume” (ἐσθίω) from future indicative (v. 11, ἔδεται) in the Septuagint to present infinitive (ἐσθίειν) may indicate that this judgment was already unfolding at the time of his writing. Rather than a future event, this fiery judgment is viewed as a present threat.
Often in the Old Testament “fire came from the Lord” to consume his people due to their covenant unfaithfulness. Examples abound in the Pentateuch, ranging from the complaining people of the Exodus (Num. 11:1–2) to Korah and his 250 companions (Num. 16:35) to Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1–2). Similarly, Moses warned the new generation of Israel coming out of the wilderness that if they were unfaithful to the covenant, Yahweh would “burn” their land and “consume” them (Deut. 32:21–22) as he did some from the previous generation. Rather than a description of eternal damnation, fire was a common method of physical judgment for covenant unfaithfulness throughout the Old Testament.

A Severer Punishment (Heb. 10:29)

In Hebrews 10:29 the author argues from the lesser to the greater to warn that a greater sin requires a greater punishment. Since the penalty for rejecting the Mosaic law was physical death (Heb. 10:28; cf. Deut. 17:6, 12), some assume that a “much severer punishment” must refer to spiritual death. However, the author leaves the nature of the punishment undefined. We are left to the Old Testament examples of fire (Num. 11:1–2; 16:35) and stoning (Num. 15:30–36) to fill in the meaning. The severity of the punishment does not require spiritual death for several reasons. First, the warning includes none of the damnation terminology (e.g., “eternal” or “torment”) commonly used elsewhere to denote the eternal destruction of the wicked. Second, the Old Testament citations and allusions consistently describe the threat of physical death. Third, rather than greater in “kind” (i.e., spiritual death rather than physical death), the severity could refer to a physical punishment greater in degree or force than that previously experienced by the Old Testament examples.
This meaning corresponds well to the historical setting of Hebrews in light of the unprecedented suffering experienced during the Jewish war as noted by Josephus. Concerning the indescribable atrocities suffered by the Jewish rebels, he writes, “To narrate their enormities in detail is impossible; but, to put it briefly, no other city ever endured such miseries” (J.W. 5.10.5 § 442). The crucifixions of Jewish captives by the Romans were so numerous “that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies” (J.W. 5.11.1 § 451). In the end thousands upon thousands of Jews lost their lives, and thousands more were enslaved. In the preface to his Jewish War, Josephus declares:

The war of the Jews against the Romans [was] the greatest not only of the wars of our own time, but, so far as accounts have reached us, well nigh of all that ever broke out between cities or nations.… Indeed, in my opinion, the misfortunes of all nations since the world began fall short of those of the Jews (J.W. 1.1.1, 4 §§ 1, 12).

In Hebrews, the readers are warned not to find refuge in Judaism because of the unparalleled devastation soon to be brought upon the Jewish nation by the Romans. If they failed to heed this warning, history testifies that the severity of their physical punishment would far surpass that experienced by those stoned under the Mosaic law or burned during the wilderness wanderings.

“Falling into the Hands of the Living God” (Heb. 10:31)

The warning against “falling into the hands of the living God” (τὸ ἐμπεσεῖν εἰς χεῖρας θεοῦ ζῶντος) is found only here in the New Testament. This phrase finds its closest Old Testament parallel in David’s plea to the prophet Gad in 2 Samuel 24:14 (LXX), “Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord (ἐμπεσοῦμαι δὴ ἐν χειρὶ κυρίου) for His mercies are great” (NASB). Both passages use the same aorist verb (ἐμπίπτω) and anthropomorphic reference to God’s “hand[s]” (χείρ). However, David uses the expression to appeal to God’s mercy, while the author of Hebrews warns of God’s severity. This apparent discrepancy can be explained by the broader context of David’s judgment. Rather than experiencing the mercy of God as David had hoped, his choice of a three-day plague resulted in the deaths of 70,000 Israelites (2 Sam. 24:15). David’s sin against God in numbering the people took a surprisingly severe toll. In the end, David came to understand the terror of falling into the hands of God.
Notice that the Old Testament judgment resulted not in eternal damnation but rather physical death, for how could God eternally condemn seventy thousand “innocent” Israelites for David’s sin (cf. 2 Sam. 24:17)? Yet the judgment came upon those living in the land—“from Dan to Beersheba” (v. 15). Again, the author of Hebrews uses a fitting Old Testament example to warn of the devastation coming on the land of Israel that would result in the physical deaths of many.
The Old Testament examples of physical judgment and the absence of New Testament damnation terminology in the warning passages indicate that eternal destruction is far from the author’s intended meaning. Furthermore, to limit the threat to a distant future judgment overlooks its nearness and diminishes its relevance to the first-century audience facing the immediate danger of the Jewish war and Roman invasion. The descriptions of the coming crisis throughout the epistle point immediately to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as predicted by Jesus (Matt. 23:37–24:28; Mark 13:1–32; Luke 21:5–36). The readers could avoid God’s judgment coming upon the Jewish nation by holding firm to their confession, bearing the reproach of Christ outside the camp (Heb. 13:13), and looking to the heavenly city instead of the earthly one (i.e., Jerusalem) now under the sentence of destruction (13:14).

Assurance in Hebrews

In light of the repeated exhortations to bold “confidence” (Heb. 3:14; 4:16; 10:19) and “full assurance” (Heb. 6:11; 10:22; cf. 11:1), it is surprising that few studies give attention to the theme of assurance in Hebrews. As a “word of exhortation” (13:22), the purpose of Hebrews was to strengthen, encourage, and exhort the members of a persecuted Christian community to hold firmly to their confession of Jesus Christ rather than seek security in the old rituals of Judaism. The importance of the warnings in achieving this purpose cannot be overstated. However, equally important are the author’s efforts to remind his audience of their privilege as “holy brethren” (3:1) to enter God’s presence for help (4:16). In order to reassure his readers of their privileged access before God, the author stresses the superiority of Christ over the mediators of the old covenant. As a great high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (3:1; 4:14; 5:6; 6:20), Jesus was superior to the Levitical priests because of his perfect obedience (5:8) and permanent sacrifice (7:26–28) whereby he secured “eternal redemption” (9:12). Therefore, the author assures the readers that Christ has both “sanctified” and “perfected [them] for all time” (10:10, 14), thereby securing their final entrance into God’s presence (10:19). Even God’s fatherly discipline is intended to reassure them of their genuine sonship (12:5–8). So certain is their “eternal salvation” (5:9) that they are regarded as having already arrived at “the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22) as part of the “church of the firstborn” (12:23). This guarantees them a place in the unshakeable “kingdom” (12:28) and “lasting city” that is to come (13:14). The severity of Hebrews is without question. But mixed among the stern warnings are some of the most comforting reassurances given to believers in the New Testament.
The author’s purpose to assure his readers reaches its high point in his central discourse on the supremacy and finality of Christ’s high priestly work in Hebrews 4:14–10:25. The opening (4:14–16) and closing paragraphs (10:19–25) of this section form an inclusio marked by nearly identical exhortations to “hold fast” to their “confession” (4:14; 10:23). Both focus upon “Jesus” (4:14; 10:19) as “a great priest” (4:15; 10:21) who has led the way “through the [heavenly] veil” (4:14; 10:19), thereby providing them “confidence” to “draw near” and “enter” God’s presence (4:16; 10:19). These hook words not only identify the theme of the section but also tie the unit to the author’s overall purpose of assurance throughout the book. This is particularly true of the term “confidence” (παρρησία), which occurs four times in Hebrews (3:6; 4:16; 10:19, 35). “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19 NASB). Here the word ascribes to the readers their objective “right” to enter God’s presence because of the purging of their conscience through the sacrifice of Christ.59 This right is not acquired through human effort but rather conferred upon them through Jesus. Elsewhere in Hebrews it has more the subjective sense of a “personal confidence arising from the God-given authorization” to “approach [his] throne” (4:16). The greater context of the book indicates that their confident access to God should translate into a willingness to serve and encourage one another publicly (10:24–25) in spite of the humiliation of persecution (10:33–34) and the “shame” (12:2–3) and “reproach” of Christ (13:12–13).
The noun πληροφορία, used twice in Hebrews, stresses the “fullness” of the readers’ assurance. This is indicated by its verb form πληροφορέω, which means in the passive voice “to be fully convinced, assured, certain” as in Romans 14:5 (“Each one should be fully convinced”) and Colossians 4:12 (“that you may stand firm … and fully assured”). Paul used the noun twice to denote absolute certainty arising out of a true knowledge of Christ (Col. 2:2) and God’s sovereign choice confirmed by the Spirit (1 Thess. 1:4–5). Similarly, in Hebrews 6:11 it signifies a “full assurance” rooted in “the unchangeableness of [God’s] purpose” to provide a “sure and steadfast” refuge through Christ (6:17–20). In Hebrews 10:22 the author grounds their “full assurance of faith” in the cleansing of their consciences. In both cases the term describes the certainty created in their hearts through the work of Christ. Yet the exhortation in Hebrews 6:11 suggests we have more than a passive role in this “full assurance.” Some translations ascribe to the readers the responsibility “to make [their] hope sure” (NIV). However, the infinitive ἐνδείκνυμι means rather “to demonstrate or show.” Hence, the exhortation is not to generate an inner assurance themselves but rather to show or demonstrate the “full assurance” they have been granted through Christ. They are to do this in the same way they had demonstrated (ἐνεδείξασθε) their love for the saints as described in the previous verse (6:10). They are to make evident their “full assurance” by continuing to help God’s people in spite of their present crisis.
Another significant term is ὑπόστασις, used three times in Hebrews (five times in the New Testament). The difficulty in determining its meaning is indicated by the variety of ways this term has been translated. All agree that in Hebrews 1:3 it denotes the objective reality or “nature” of God as reflected in Christ. However, in Hebrews 3:14 and 11:1 some render it in the subjective sense of “assurance” (NASB) or “confidence” (NIV), while others prefer the objective sense of “substance” or “real essence.”62 The linguistic evidence from the New Testament era as well as the patristic period demonstrates that ὑπόστασις“denoted tangible reality” rather that an internal sensation. Hence, in Hebrews 3:14 it is best understood to refer to the underlying reality that guarantees the object of hope. In other words, the readers are not exhorted to hold on to some subjective sense of certainty but rather to cling to the objective reality of their faithful High Priest, Jesus. Likewise, the KJV and NKJV come closest to the original when they translate Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.” In the context the “substance” refers to Christ and his once-for-all sacrifice as the objective reality behind the shadowy symbols of the old covenant (8:5; 9:9; 10:1). In summary, the kind of faith that “pleases” God (11:6) is grounded in the certainty of Jesus and permanence of his sacrifice.

Christ’s Ability to Save Forever (Heb. 7:25)

In Hebrews 7 the author reassures his readers of their “sure and steadfast” hope (Heb. 6:19) by explaining the superiority of Jesus’ high priesthood. After first demonstrating the priority of Melchizedek over the sons of Levi (7:1–11), he then cites Psalm 110:4 to show how Jesus, like Melchizedek, was superior to Aaron and the Levitical priests. Their inability to provide “perfection” (Heb. 7:11, 19), confirmed both by their mortality (v. 23) and sinfulness (vv. 26–28), is contrasted with the “better covenant” (v. 22) guaranteed by Jesus, who “abides forever” (vv. 23–24) as “high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (v. 26 NASB). Jesus’ perpetual priesthood enables him “to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (v. 25 NASB). In this climactic conclusion, the phrase “for all time” (εἰς τὸ παντελές) emphatically declares the permanence of Jesus’ priestly work. Some have understood this expression to denote “completeness,” while others have understood it to signify “forever” or “for all time.” Although its only other occurrence in the New Testament (Luke 13:11) and single occurrence in the Septuagint (3 Macc. 7:16) allow for both senses, its use in papyri clearly supports the temporal meaning. This temporal sense is confirmed in the context of Hebrews 7:25 by its position between the two temporal phrases, “he continues forever” (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα) in the preceding verse (i.e., “he continues forever”) and “he always lives” (πάντοτε ζῶη) in the following phrase. This would indicate that since Jesus lives forever, the salvation he is able to provide will last forever. This is further validated by his appeal to the perpetual intercession of Christ as the guarantee of the permanence of their salvation.

Absolute Forgiveness of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:10–12; 10:16–18)

In Hebrews 8 the author declares that the new covenant mediated by Jesus is “better” because it includes “better promises” (8:6). He justifies this claim by appealing to Jeremiah 31, the only Old Testament text that explicitly promised a “new covenant” (Heb. 8:8; cf. 8:13). The newness of this covenant predicted by Jeremiah consists in the implanting of God’s law within the hearts of his people, resulting in a renewed intimacy between God and his people. The foundation of this new relationship was God’s further promise to “be merciful to their iniquities” and to “remember their sins no more” (8:12). Under the former covenant, forgiveness was acquired through an elaborate system of sacrifices. Yet because they could not provide “perfection” (7:11, 19), those sacrifices served as a continuous “reminder of sins year by year” (10:3). Since Christ had offered himself “once for all” as the perfect sacrifice (7:27), the new covenant now could promise internal cleansing and complete forgiveness of all sins.
In chapter 10 these aspects of the new covenant are declared again as the source of the reader’s “confidence” and “full assurance.” From the original verses quoted nearly verbatim from Jeremiah 31:31–34 in Hebrews 8, the author narrows his focus to only two. First, he cites God’s promise to implant his “laws upon their heart … and … mind” (Heb. 10:16; cf. Jer. 31:33). Then he repeats the promise of Jeremiah 31:34, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Heb. 10:17 NASB). He immediately explains their significance to his argument. Now that absolute and complete forgiveness has been granted, sacrifice is no longer needed (v. 18). The significance of this to their confidence and full assurance is made clear in Hebrews 10:22. The cleansing impact of God’s implanted word upon their hearts (Jer. 31:33) has given them each a “sincere heart … sprinkled” clean “from an evil conscience.” This recalls God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:25, “Then I will sprinkle (ῥανῶ, LXX) clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness” (NASB, my emphasis). The perfect tense of the participle “having our hearts sprinkled” (ῥεραντισμένοι) in Hebrews 10:22 stresses the present condition of the readers. They can be completely assured of access to God because Jesus their High Priest has granted them a “sincere heart” (cf. Ezek. 36:26) that has already been “sprinkled” clean “from an evil conscience.” Hebrews 10:22 confirms that this cleansing includes “all … filthiness” as promised in Ezekiel (36:25) by declaring that the effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice extends to all sins “for all time” (εἰς τὸ διηνεκές, Heb. 10:14). This indicates that all sins past, present, and future are included. For this reason the readers can be assured of complete cleansing for all time. In summary, the absolute forgiveness offered through the new covenant is described as their permanent possession. The permanence of this cleansing would further suggest that it is irreversible.

Complete Perfection of Believers (Heb. 10:11, 14)

Many have recognized the importance of the concept of perfection to the argument of Hebrews. The significance of the verb τελειόω (“to make perfect”) and its derivatives in the book of Hebrews is indicated by the fact that they account for over a third of all New Testament occurrences. The use of the verb in Hebrews 10:14 in the perfect tense (i.e., τετελείωκεν) is particularly significant to our study, because it suggests that the perfection of believers was completed in the past and continued on in the present. This is further confirmed by its link to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ in the immediate context (10:10–12). As the sacrifice of Christ was a “once for all” (ἐφάπαξ) event, so too was the believer’s perfection accomplished through it. In other words, the perfection of believers is viewed as a single event that took place in a moment of time. Hence, Peterson concludes that Hebrews 10:14 “clearly locates this perfecting in the past with respect to its accomplishment and in the present with respect to its enjoyment.”
Closely tied to the concept of “perfection” is the work of sanctification. The word ἁγιάζω is used five times in Hebrews to describe the sanctification of believers (2:11; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12). Its use in the present tense in Hebrews 10:14 has led some to conclude that the lifelong process of sanctification is in view. However, Peterson suggests that this is an example of a timeless present participle that is best understood as a general designation of believers as the “sanctified.” This understanding is more consistent with its use in the perfect tense earlier in Hebrews 10:10, “We have been sanctified (ἡγιασμένοι) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (NASB). The definitive sense of sanctification is clearly in view, indicating that their sanctification also occurred in the past “once-for-all.” In the context this is best understood as a reference to the permanent and absolute cleansing of the heart and conscience as promised in the new covenant (vv. 15–22). This suggests that their sanctification, like their perfection and absolute cleansing, is permanent and complete. The fact that one who deserves a “much severer punishment” due to his rebellion against Christ is still regarded as “sanctified” by the “blood of the covenant” further confirms its permanence (v. 29).

A Call to Self-Examination in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14

Early in Hebrews the author makes two profound claims about the spiritual status of the readers, both followed by conditions: “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (3:6 NASB, italics mine); and “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (3:14 NASB, italics mine). Both verses contain emphatic statements intended to encourage the readers by their privileged position and share in Christ and his high priestly work. However, some regard the conditional clauses that follow as “evidence that the writer considers apostasy to be possible.”71 I agree with others who understand the conditions as proof that the author does not promise unqualified assurance to everyone among his original audience. The placement of these conditional clauses before the main discourse on the superiority and permanence of Christ’s high priestly work is significant. For before he set out to assure them of the certainty of their absolute and complete cleansing through Christ, the author wanted his readers to examine themselves first to make sure that they were indeed “partakers of Christ.” However, these conditional clauses do not disqualify all who lack firmness of any assurance. That would violate the author’s Christocentric foundation for their confidence. His point in these conditional sentences is that wavering in confidence may indicate in some cases—but not in every case—that one is not truly a partaker of Christ. Indeed, if a lack of confidence, reluctance to obey, or spiritual lethargy automatically forfeits one’s complete cleansing promised in the new covenant (Jer. 31:33–34), then why were doubters like Gideon (Heb. 11:32), not to mention rebels like Samson (v. 32) and the Exodus generation (v. 29), included among the saints “made perfect” in the heavenly Jerusalem (v. 40)?


Most would agree that the meaning and application of the Hebrews warning passages is a difficult challenge for even the finest biblical scholars. However, the epistle’s urgent call to a steadfast faith in the all-surpassing greatness and sufficiency of Christ’s purifying work is a message needed in the church today. We must find a way to apply both the terrifying warnings and the reassuring hope of Hebrews in spite of our theological differences. I offer my treatment as a means to achieve a greater balance between warning and assurance by interpreting the warnings in light of the author’s primary Old Testament example—the Exodus generation.


Grant R. Osborne

Randall Gleason states at the outset his desire that his contribution “will move the dialogue in new directions that will lead some to a more satisfying understanding of these difficult texts” (p. 336). He has certainly accomplished this in terms of a new viable direction for dialogue, and I applaud his effort. He first argues that Hebrews was written in the mid-sixties before the temple had been destroyed, as seen in the references to the sacrifi cial system and cultic practices, which assume they are still continuing. Most scholars are in agreement on this. Next, he affirms that the addressees were genuine Jewish believers—which is in keeping with the recent trend of Calvinist studies to take this approach (see my response to Buist Fanning, pp. 220–32)—but immature and in need of “pressing on to maturity” (5:11–6:1).
His primary contribution lies in his use of the Old Testament background, seeing this as the critical node in the epistle. He correctly sees typology (rather than Alexandrian allegorizing) as the author’s primary exegetical method. The author then discovers “patterns of correspondence” between the Old Testament events and the situation of the readers, and Gleason argues that these are based on a true theological connection between those events. This is especially important in terms of interpreters who see the author escalating or heightening the Old Testament imagery. Gleason argues against this and prefers a one-to-one correspondence between the Old Testament situation and that behind Hebrews (p. 342).
Primarily, Gleason sees the story of the rebellion of the wilderness generation in Hebrews 3–4 (from Ps. 95 and Num. 14) as central to the argument of Hebrews. He believes that “in each warning the spiritual condition, ‘falling away,’ and judgment of the Exodus generation provides important clues to the spiritual condition, potential ‘falling away,’ and judgment of those warned” (p. 343). He finds Exodus imagery in 2:2–3 (“salvation” = Exod. 14:13), in the descriptions of 6:4 (see below), in 10:26–31 (“willful sin” = Num. 15:30–36; “two or three witnesses” = Deut. 17:6; the Deut. 32:35–36 citation in v. 30), and in the Sinai imagery of 12:18–21. From this he extracts the true danger for the believing Jews in the book, namely, not apostasy per se but a deliberate choice to remain immature (5:11; 6:12), thus forfeiting the covenant blessings and experiencing physical discipline under the wrath of God. He argues that Israel at Kadesh-Barnea was a redeemed community who “believed” and “worshiped” in Exodus 4:30–31 and obeyed the Lord’s commands in Exodus 12:28, 50 and therefore received “salvation/deliverance” in Exodus 14:13, 30. Therefore the sin of the Exodus generation was rebellion (Heb. 3:8–9 = Exod. 17:7), rather than willful rejection or apostasy. In this sense he argues that the “falling away” of 3:12 and 6:6 is best seen in light of the Kadesh-Barnea incident as rebellion (ἀποστάτης as “rebel” in Num. 14:9 LXX, and the “unbelieving heart” of 3:12 = “not believe in me” in Num. 14:11).
In this light Gleason believes that the danger, like that in Numbers 14, was not a total absence of faith but a failure to believe that God would sustain them in their trial. As God pardoned Israel on the basis of Moses’ plea in Numbers 14:19–20, and their redemption was not forfeited (Deut. 1:31), so he would pardon the believing Jewish readers if they repented. Moreover, the concept of forfeiting the rest in Hebrews 3:7–19, as was the case in the Exodus incident, involves the loss of physical life rather than eternal damnation. Both Adam in the garden and Israel in the wilderness lost the fullness of covenant blessings but not their place as the people of God. So forfeiting the “resting-place” in Hebrews likewise means losing the joy of God’s presence and the experience of his discipline but not eternal loss.
Next, Gleason argues that the participles of Hebrews 6:4–5 link the danger of the readers with the Exodus generation (“enlightened” = pillar of fire; “tasted of the heavenly gift” = the manna; “partakers of the Holy Spirit” = the story of the seventy elders in Numbers 11:16–30; “tasting the good word and the powers of the age to come” = receiving the law with accompanying signs and wonders). In this sense the sin of Hebrews 6:6 is not a final falling away from the faith (apostasy) but rather serious unfaithfulness—a decisive refusal to trust God that becomes a falling into a permanent state of immaturity (the slothfulness of 5:11–13). This parallels Israel at Kadesh-Barnea, when Israel chose to disregard God and accepted the report of the ten spies, refusing to enter the land. In the same way, the impossibility of renewing them to repentance in Hebrews 6:4–6, as when Israel was not allowed to enter the land in Numbers 14:39–45, means God would not allow them to move on to maturity since the readers have refused to do so. So “repentance” here means the desire to once again experience the covenant blessings and find God’s “rest.” This God will not allow if they have decisively rejected them.
The phrases that describe the seriousness of the sin are also reinterpreted by Gleason. “Crucify the Son of God anew and put him to open shame” in Hebrews 6:6 is not a recrucifying but reducing his crucifixion to a mere criminal’s death, by returning to the Jewish ritual, and “open shame” is not public blasphemy but a message to other Jews that Jesus’ crucifixion was not efficacious for sin. The “willful sin” of Hebrews 10:26 is not complete apostasy but the deliberate decision to simply disregard God’s law with its penalty of physical death, and “trampling under foot the Son of God” in Hebrews 10:29 is failure to acknowledge his superior status over the Mosaic law, thereby rendering his “blood of the covenant” not “unclean” but “common” (a valid meaning of κοινός), that is, making it only a common sacrifice like other Jewish sacrifices. These do not constitute a total repudiation of Christ but rather reducing his sacrifice to the level of any other cleansing sacrifice.
Due to this understanding of the sin in Hebrews, it is understandable that Gleason also sees a different type of judgment in the book. It is not eternal damnation meted out at the parousia (he notes the absence of language like “eternal destruction” in the warning passages) but rather physical death. The unproductive “land” and its “burning” in Hebrews 6:8 refers to the impending destruction of the nation under the Romans, and the “near to destruction” comment about the old covenant in Hebrews 8:13 is the Roman “annihilation of the priests, sacrifices, and temple” (p. 362). The “consuming fire” of Hebrews 10:27 stems from Isaiah 26:11, and the Isaianic context fits its fulfillment in the fiery destruction of Palestine in 66–70 C.E., also fulfilling other Old Testament passages on fiery judgment (= physical judgment) for unfaithfulness (Num. 11:1–2; 16:35; Lev. 10:1–2; Deut. 32:21–22). The “severer punishment” of Hebrews 10:29 does not have to mean spiritual death but rather refers to a physical punishment greater in degree than those in the Old Testament, again fulfilled in the Roman atrocities. The “falling into the hands of the living God” in Hebrews 10:31 finds a parallel in 2 Samuel 24:14 and the death of 70,000 Israelites due to David’s numbering of the people against God’s will; again it is physical death that is intended.
Gleason sees his approach upheld by the theme of assurance in Hebrews. The author encourages his readers to realize that they are “holy brethren” (3:1) who can enter God’s presence and receive help (4:16) and that they have a Great High Priest superior to the Levitical priests (10:19–21), one who has “sanctified” and “perfected them forever” (10:10, 14). They are genuine sons (12:5–8), assured of their “eternal salvation” (5:9) and guaranteed an “unshakeable kingdom” (12:28). So the author assures them that they can hold fast to their confession and confidence (4:14, 16; 10:23) in the great priest (10:21) who will ensure their entering God’s presence (4:16; 10:19). The result is their “full assurance” (6:11; 10:22) or certainty that they will get through the crisis due to the “substance” or underlying reality that guarantees their hope (3:14; 11:1). All this points to Hebrews 7:25, which declares that Christ “is able to save forever” (he argues εἰς τὸ παντελές is temporal), thus meaning Jesus guarantees an eternal salvation for his followers. The forgiveness of the new covenant is absolute and eternal (8:10–12; 10:16–18); all sins, whether past, present, or future, are forgiven, and salvation is a permanent possession.
Next, Gleason turns to the concept of “perfection” (τετελείωκεν in Hebrews 10:14, which he sees as a completed act (in the perfect tense) that partakes of the once-for-all force of Christ’s sacrifice in 10:10–12. He links this with sanctification in the book, seen as permanent and complete (10:10, 29). Finally, the two conditionals of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 do not mean apostasy is possible but rather that all believers must examine themselves to see whether they are indeed partakers of Christ. In short, the warning and the assurance work together to enable the believer to remain secure in Christ.

Critique of His Paper

Although Gleason is not the first to take this approach, he has presented a more thorough study than any before. Since the Old Testament is so central to the argument of Hebrews, his theories must be taken seriously. Like Hodges and Dillow before him, the wilderness imagery is central to the warning passages of Hebrews.3 Gleason’s presentation, however, is the most developed and an exegetically rewarding study. Still, it is not without problems, and these must be noted. The major difficulty is his assumption that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the details of the wilderness failure and that in Hebrews. Since the Hebrews at Kadesh-Barnea in Numbers 14 are typologically connected to the Jewish Christian recipients of this letter, Gleason assumes that this means that both the sin and its consequences are the same. Like the wilderness people, also the true people of God, the readers are in danger of committing not apostasy but a deliberate choice to remain in permanent immaturity; and like the earlier generation the consequence will be not eternal punishment but physical death. This is a huge assumption, and it must be examined very carefully.

Lesser to Greater Argumentation in Hebrews

The major problem for Gleason’s approach is the consistent use of the qal waḥomer (lesser to greater) argument in contrasting the old covenant reality with the new covenant situation in Hebrews. In the work as a whole, the key term is greater/superior (κρείττων/κρείσσων), found twelve times for the superiority of the new order in Christ (1:4; 6:9; 7:7, 19, 22; 8:6; 9:23; 10:34; 11:16, 35, 40; 12:24). Throughout the epistle, it is clear that in every way Christ and the new covenant he has brought is “more excellent” (1:4; 8:6). The first major section of the book (1:1–10:19) centers on the “greater” value of every aspect of the Christian reality over the Jewish ways—over the old revelation (1:1–3), over the angels (1:4–2:18), over Moses and the law (3:1–4:13), over the priesthood and the high priest (4:14–7:28), and over the covenant, the sanctuary, and the sacrifices (8:1–10:19). Contrasts between the old and the new dominate the rest of the epistle as well—entrance into the Holy of Holies (10:19), the great priest (10:21), the perfection of the saints (11:39–40), Sinai versus Zion (12:18–24), the altar of God (13:10).
This pattern of escalation is especially true of the warning passages, the focus of our investigation. The qal waḥomer argument is established in the very first warning passage of Hebrews 2:1–4. Verses 2–3a say that if “the message spoken through angels” (Mosaic Law, cf. Deut. 33:2 Septuagint) required that every transgression suffer a “just punishment” (often death), then how much more so would that happen under “so great a salvation” (= “so much greater”), namely, Christianity. The Torah was confirmed by angels (shown to be less than Christ in 1:4–14), but the new covenant was confirmed by God, testifying via signs and wonders and the gifts of the Spirit (2:4). The author does not spell out what that greater penalty will be here, for he is saving the explicit statement for Hebrews 6:4–8 and 10:26–31, but it seems clear that it must be greater than the death penalty under the old covenant.
This pattern continues in Hebrews 3:1–4:13. There are two contrasts here. Jesus is “worthy of far greater honor” than Moses in the sense that he is both “builder of the house” and “the Son over the house” (3:3, 6), and Moses is greater than Israel because he was “faithful” (3:2, 5) while Israel was “unfaithful”/“unbelieving” (3:12, 19). There is also escalation in the development of the rest motif. In the Exodus account, rest was entrance into the Promised Land (Heb. 3), in Psalm 95 it was the temple (the psalm is about jubilant worship in the temple), and in the intertestamental period it came to mean first the covenant blessings experienced by God’s people and then eternal life. There is considerable debate as to whether the “rest” in Hebrews 4 refers to a present experience of God in the here and now or is apocalyptic, to be experienced only at the Eschaton. Yet this is too disjunctive, and Hurst rightly argues that “rest” in this chapter incorporates rest now via faith, rest at death, and rest at the final consummation.7 Attridge provides an excellent study of the interpretation of “rest” through the centuries and concludes that the metaphor symbolizes “the whole soteriological process,” namely, “entry into God’s presence, the heavenly homeland (11:16), the unshakeable kingdom (12:28), begun at baptism (10:22) and consummated as a whole eschatologically.”
The eschatological aspect of eternal life is especially seen in the “sabbath rest” of Hebrews 4:4–11. The connection begins with the Genesis 2:2 quote in verse 4, “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” Clearly it is God’s own rest that is in view and is offered to his people. Moreover, he disassociates this rest from the wilderness promise in verse 8, “if Joshua had given them (this) rest, God would not have spoken later of another day,” a reference to Psalm 95:11. Thus, this rest cannot be the Promised Land. There is also a wordplay since Jesus (Ἰησοῦς) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Jehoshua, or Joshua, implying that Jesus is greater than Joshua in the same way that he is greater than Moses. So there is a superior “rest” available to the believer, a “Sabbath rest” that is explicated further in verses 9–11. The σαββατισμός of verse 9 connotes not just “Sabbath rest” but “Sabbath observance” and thereby praise and celebration, thus pointing to “a new Covenant Day of Atonement Sabbath in which they are cleansed from their sins,” combining the Day of Atonement imagery (Lev. 23:26–28) with the theme of Jesus “passing through the heavens” into the heavenly Most Holy Place (Heb. 4:14). Again, the question is whether this rest is present or future, with the likelihood that it is both. Bengel says that while the six days of Creation each had an evening, the seventh did not and so is open-ended. God’s rest is thereby an eternal “today” for the one who “enters” and perseveres in faith.11 In conclusion, Israel’s “unbelief” in Hebrews 3:7–19 led them to “turn away from the living God” (v. 12) and thereby to lose the promised “rest” of the Promised Land and to receive the penalty of physical death (their “bodies perished in the wilderness,” v. 17). For the readers of Hebrews, the stakes are higher. The “rest” is now a “Sabbath rest,” meaning both rest in God now and eternal life in the future.
There is no explicit escalation in Hebrews 5:11–6:20, but in 6:1–3 the readers are told to move “forward to maturity,” and the foundational list that follows is likely built on those things held in common with Judaism, though “baptisms,” for example, emphasizes the superiority of Christian baptisms over Jewish ablutions. The author wants them to recognize the superiority of the Christian reality and move on to the maturity they should have had (5:12, “by this time you ought to be teachers”). This has repercussions for the issue of the severity of their sin and danger, but that will be pursued later. A second passage is the “better things … that have to do with salvation” in Hebrews 6:9. This does not imply a contrast with the wilderness generation and refer to the land receiving God’s blessing in 6:7 as opposed to the land “cursed” and “burnt” in 6:8. The σωτηρία here cannot be relegated just to the present experience of salvation but must include final salvation as well, as opposed to eternal damnation (connoted in the “burnt” of v. 8; cf. 10:27; 12:29; Matt. 13:30, 42, 50; John 15:6). It could be said that in Hebrews salvation is more a future attainment than a present reality,14 though of course it is both.
In Hebrews 10:19–31 there is implicit escalation, which sums up the superiority of Christ and his work in Hebrews 1:1–10:18 by presenting Christ as the great Priest who has opened for us a way through the curtain into the heavenly Holy of Holies by becoming the once-for-all Sacrifice for us. So there is a superior priest, a superior sacrifice, and a superior salvation, not a one-to-one correspondence between the Jewish and Christian ways. Even more importantly, there is explicit use of the lesser-to-greater pattern in Hebrews 10:29, “How much more severely [than the ‘died without mercy’ of the Mosaic law in v. 28] do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God under foot?” This makes it very difficult to believe that Hebrews envisages the same punishment as experienced by the wilderness people, namely, physical death. As Lane states, “Since the blessings God has bestowed through Christ are greater than those provided through the old covenant, the rejection of those blessings entails a lot more severe punishment.” This in effect sums up all we have said thus far: the new covenant under Christ is vastly superior, and it provides a superior salvation and a superior rest, so if these Jewish Christians reject that and return to the inferior Judaism, their punishment will of necessity be far more severe than that under the old covenant. We will explore this further below.
Then in Hebrews 12:14–29 there is another explicit use of qal waḥomer in verse 25: “If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth (= Kadesh-Barnea in Num. 14), how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?” (NIV). The logic is the same as the others we have considered above. Since God has now spoken through his Son (1:1–3) and given these Jewish Christians so much greater a salvation (2:2–3), they have a correspondingly greater obligation not to “refuse” his warning now. Also, Hebrews 12:25 and 2:3 frame the warning passages with the warning that those who refuse God “will not escape” the greater wrath of God. “The voice who shook the earth” in 12:26 is a reference to Sinai, and in Exodus 19:18 it says, “The whole mountain trembled violently” (NIV). But the wrath now is from the one who “will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven” (NIV), a quote from Haggai 2:6 and the shaking of the heavens at the Day of the Lord (cf. Isa. 14:16–17; Joel 2:10; Zeph. 1:15; Jub. 1:29; 1 En. 45:1; 2 Bar. 32:1; Matt. 24:29–31; Rev. 6:12–14; 16:17–21). This is interpreted in Hebrews 12:27 as “the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things” (NIV). Lane calls this “paranetic midrash,”17 in which the authority of Haggai 2:6 is applied to the situation of the readers as a severe warning that the shaking will mean the annihilation of all of creation (cf. 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 20:11; 21:1). Clearly the warning relates to the severe wrath of God at the final judgment. The Israelites did not escape their judgment in the wilderness, namely, failure to enter the Promised Land and physical death; and a fortiori the reader who falls away will not escape a greater judgment, namely, failure to enter heaven and the “second death” of Revelation 20:6.

Other Issues

We have established that throughout Hebrews and especially in the warning passages, there is an escalation motif that makes what is at stake as well as the danger and the consequences much greater than was the case in the wilderness generation of Numbers 14 and Psalm 95. Gleason erroneously proceeds from an assumption of a one-to-one correspondence between the wilderness example and the problem of the “lazy, sluggish” (5:11; 6:12) readers.
Now let us examine some of the details in his paper. First, he is correct that Israel at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 14 and Ps. 95:7–11 in Heb. 3:7–11) was a redeemed community that had “an evil, unbelieving heart” and fell away from God; their rebellion “tested” God so that they fell in the wilderness. But Gleason is wrong in asserting that this defines the sin in Hebrews. In every warning passage, as we have seen, the sin and the consequences are escalated for the readers.
Gleason goes on to state that Israel’s sin in Numbers 14 was not final apostasy but a refusal to trust God to sustain them in taking the land. Even there the Lord pardoned them after Moses’ plea (Num. 14:20), and they mourned for their sin (vv. 39–40). In the same sense, he argues, the danger in Hebrews is also not final apostasy but rebellion. This could be argued in Hebrews 3:7–4:13 (though it is doubtful even there—see above) but does not fit 6:4–8 or 10:26–31; in those passages the horrible penalty of eternal hellfire is quite clear.
The connection of the four participles of Hebrews 6:4–5 with the Exodus generation is interesting but tenuous. To take “enlightened” as the pillar of fire guiding the Israelites in Exodus 13:21 on the basis of Nehemiah 9:12 and Psalm 105:39 is rather improbable since in all three cases it is “lighting the way” and not spiritual enlightenment. Much better parallels are found in the use of the term for spiritual illumination (John 1:9; Eph. 1:18; 2 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 18:1). “Tasted the heavenly gift” is not a reference to manna and Christ himself (John 6:32–33) but to the gift of salvation experienced by the believers, along with the spiritual blessings that flow out of it (nearly all commentators). “Partakers of the Holy Spirit” does not refer to the giving of the Spirit at the Exodus (Neh. 9:20; Isa. 63:11, 14; Hag. 2:5) but to the readers sharing in the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts he distributed (cf. Heb. 2:4). “Tasting the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” is not a reference to the reception of the law with the accompanying signs and wonders but refers to the gospel message and accompanying miraculous signs and wonders that the readers experienced at the beginning of their community and probably still saw from time to time.
Next, Gleason reinterprets the passages on the apostasy and its penalty. The recrucifying and open shame of Hebrews 6:6 is not apostasy but removing the efficacious power of Jesus’ death by returning to Judaism, and the willful sin of Hebrews 10:26, 29 is actually deliberately disregarding God’s law, resulting in physical death (cf. Num. 15:32–36). But does this do justice to the passages? The participles of Hebrews 6:6 are causal, telling why it is “impossible to renew them to repentance.” In rejecting Christ, they are nailing him to the cross anew and keeping him there (present tense participle). Moreover, “open shame” may have double meaning, referring to both the public insult to which they are subjecting Christ and the lifelong contempt they will have for Christ. This is not merely disregarding the cross. It is almost universally agreed that the willful sin of Hebrews 10:26 is the “sin with a high hand” of Numbers 15:30–31 and equals apostasy here.
The three sins of Hebrews 10:29 (trampling the Son, treating the blood as unholy, insulting the Spirit) are part of the qal waḥomer argument noted above in verses 28–29 and mean that the sin is much more severe than the Israelites committed in the wilderness and thus mandates a more severe penalty. The absolute contempt and repudiation of such an act demands the vengeance and judgment of God (10:30). To take the “fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire” (NIV) in Hebrews 10:27 or the “consuming fire” of Hebrews 12:29 as the same type of physical destruction for covenant unfaithfulness as described in Numbers 11:1–2 and Isaiah 24:1, 5 (especially the destruction of Palestine by the Romans in 66–70 C.E.) is hardly commensurate with the context. There is no hint of the situation in Palestine in 66–70 C.E. in the epistle, and that would only be viable if this were written to Jewish Christians there during that time. There is no evidence for this, and it is commonly assumed lately that the best destination is Rome, due to “those from Italy greet you” in Hebrews 13:24. This is the most likely view, and that makes such a hypothesis as Gleason’s difficult. Moreover, the escalation pattern makes eternal punishment in the lake of fire a far more likely interpretation.
The assurance theme is certainly important in the epistle. I have already dealt with this theme in some detail in my response to Fanning (pp. 220–32), but let me consider it also from the standpoint of Gleason’s use of it. The latter is not so strong on this as Fanning is, and he does not go so far as to say that the true believer cannot commit the sin of the book. Still, there is a hint of that in the emphasis on the “complete certainty” of “full assurance” (Heb. 6:11; 10:22) and on the temporal interpretation of “able to save forever” in Hebrews 7:25. Concerning Hebrews 6:11, Ellingworth believes the idea of maturity predominates over certainty and ties together faith and hope in Hebrews. Lane translates it “realization of your hope” in 6:11 and “fullness of faith” in 10:22. Attridge says it calls for the “full maintenance of hope” in 6:11 and “abundance of faith” in 10:22. None see this as an absolute security but rather as a “fullness” of faith and hope in God. As stated in my response to Fanning (p. 226), εἰς τὸ παντελές in 7:25 is best seen as having double meaning, stressing degree (“completely”) and time (“continually”). Yet while there is a definite sense of security, it is conditional rather than unconditional because the temporal is best translated “continually” rather than “forever,” and the centrality of the warnings throughout the book lend “those who come to God” in Hebrews 7:25 a conditional aspect. The idea of “perfection” in Hebrews 10:10, 14 is not so “complete” as Gleason says. The perfect tense (in τετελείωκεν, 10:14) does not stress completeness. Porter lists the following range of forces—past, present, future, omnitemporal (gnomic), and timeless—but not completeness. BDF states that the force is “continuance of completed action” and restricts the use of the perfect for the aorist (but still not completeness in the way Gleason uses it) mainly to narrative. The sanctification of Hebrews 10:10 does come close to the idea of permanence and completeness, for the perfect periphrastic “We have been made holy” (ἡγιασμένοι ἐσμέν connotes the continuing results of the process, and it is seen as built on the “once-for-all” (ἐφάπαξ) sacrifice of Christ (the final time this appears after 7:27; 9:12). Yet the “once-for-all” act is not sanctification but “the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ,” and the emphasis on Hebrews 10:1–10 is not on the security of the believer but on the superior effects of Christ’s sacrifice. So there is no actual presentation of our sanctification as absolutely guaranteed, and the warning soon to come in Hebrews 10:26–31 makes such an interpretation extremely doubtful.
In conclusion, Gleason has presented a thoughtful and stimulating thesis, well versed in the Old Testament background of the book. But in the end it is not convincing, for the author of Hebrews continually escalates the situation of the wilderness people as well as their sin and the consequences, so that the Jewish believers in Rome face a much more serious situation, an active apostasy, which will render them irredeemable and subject to eternal hellfire.


Buist M. Fanning

As I respond to the essay by Randall Gleason, I want to thank him for his careful work. His essay is especially valuable for his concern to situate Hebrews in its first-century setting and to read it first on those terms as best we can, rather than allow its message to be colored by twenty centuries of theological dispute and distortion. While I disagree with some of his conclusions regarding the background and how it affects interpretation, I applaud his approach.
As I say about the other two essays in this book, the reader will see that I agree with much of what Gleason says about Hebrews. Because of space constraints, this response will focus on my disagreements in two main areas, followed by brief comments on a few others. The fundamental idea of Gleason’s treatment is that the warning passages of Hebrews must be interpreted in light of the Old Testament example of the wilderness generation. In my opinion he has misread the significance of Old Testament parallels in Hebrews and has allowed them to distort the exegesis and theology of the book in two important areas.

The Nature of Apostasy in Hebrews

First, I think Gleason has misread the nature of the failure that Hebrews warns its readers against. This failure in its most severe form is described in the book as “turning away from the living God” (3:12), “falling away” (6:6), “sinning deliberately” (10:26), and “refusing and rejecting God” (12:25). Hebrews actually refers to a range of spiritual maladies or sins that the readers were either already guilty of or were on the verge of committing, and the worst of these are mentioned in the verses just cited.
In developing the sense of these expressions, Gleason pays more attention to the parallel Old Testament situation than to the context and usage of Hebrews itself. To take them in sequence, chapters 3–4 are of course crucial to his view of the warnings, since they explicitly portray the wilderness generation and its failure to enter God’s rest because of unbelief. Almost all of Gleason’s initial discussion of Hebrews 3–4 focuses on the descriptions of Israel’s experience, not the exhortations to the readers of Hebrews that are drawn from it and how they should be understood in the New Testament context. He cites the wording of Psalm 95 in regard to Israel’s hard-heartedness or stubbornness in obeying the Lord (3:8, 15; 4:7), their testing the Lord and rebelling against him (3:8–9), and their going astray in their hearts (3:10). He cites evidence from Numbers 14 to show that Israel’s unbelief and disobedience must be read in light of their rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea, in the sense that they refused to trust God to bring them into the land. He gives a long discussion of the sin and judgment of Moses and Aaron (Num. 20), as well as of God’s pardon of the nation after their rebellion (Num. 14). But he pays very little attention to the warnings against unbelief and disobedience addressed to the readers in Hebrews 3:6, 12–14; 4:1, 11. There is an extensive discussion of the spiritual and cultic dimensions of what “rest” meant in its Old Testament usage (experiencing the joy of God’s covenant blessings and the privilege of worshiping him), with a rather quick summary stating that “rest” means the same thing in its New Testament context as well.
When Gleason does take up the warning of Hebrews 3:12 against “having an evil heart of unbelief in falling away from the living God,” he argues that it does not envision “complete apostasy from faith in God,” but the type of rebellion Moses spoke of in Numbers 14:9, 11, 27, 35. What he means is that it alludes to Israel’s rebellion and unbelief regarding the specific promise of entering the land. So with very little discussion of the New Testament situation, he concludes that this is a warning to the New Testament readers “against the failure to believe that God would sustain their lives in the face of impending danger (cf. Exod. 14:7–9)” (p. 348).
What is missing here is sustained attention to the New Testament context of chapters 3–4 and how Hebrews is using the unbelief of the wilderness generation to exhort its readers regarding their faith in Christ. What does it mean to be a part of God’s house or a partner of Christ (3:6, 14), and is that in doubt for these readers? What does it mean that they also have “received good news” (4:2; cf. 2:1, 3), and is there doubt about their faith in response to this message? What evidence is there in Hebrews that the primary exhortation is to trust God for physical protection in the face of impending danger? Gleason does not consider these questions in this section of his essay. Instead, we find extensive discussion of issues in the Old Testament setting that Hebrews itself gives no attention to: that is, the redeemed status of the Exodus generation, the sin and judgment of Moses and Aaron, and God’s forgiveness of the nation after Kadesh-Barnea.5
When he comes to Hebrews 6:4–6, Gleason commits a double distortion. On the one hand, he reads the New Testament context (i.e., the problems of “sluggishness” and “refusal to go on to maturity” from Hebrews 5:11–6:3) back into the Old Testament setting and says, “The New Testament readers were in danger of retrogressing back into spiritual infancy like the Exodus generation” (p. 353). Was the problem in Numbers 14/Psalm 95 one of going back into infancy? What the Old Testament texts and Hebrews 3–4 emphasize is unbelief and disobedience, not immaturity! While there is a possible parallel between “leaving behind … let us go on to maturity” in 6:1 and “let us be diligent to enter that rest” in 4:11, nothing is said about “rest” in chapters 5–6, and nothing is said about “maturity” in chapters 3–4 or in the Old Testament passages. The true parallel is persevering in faith in order to receive the promised blessing, not immaturity.
On the other hand, when Gleason ponders the meaning of “fall away” in Hebrews 6:6a, he imposes a sense drawn from Numbers 14 (as alluded to in Heb. 3–4) and from 5:11–6:3 and minimizes the significance of the participles that immediately follow in 6:6b! He asserts that since “fall away” has no modifier in verse 6, “its precise meaning is difficult to determine from the immediate context” (p. 353–54). Next, he surveys the uses of “fall away” in the Septuagint of Ezekiel and concludes that it indicates “a serious act of unfaithfulness toward God. But the exact nature of the unfaithfulness must be determined from the broader context” (p. 354). Then he draws from his discussion of the wilderness generation and of 5:11–6:3 to say that “fall away” in 6:6a refers to “a general state of spiritual retrogression entered through a decisive refusal to trust and obey God,” “coming to a decisive point when one refuse[s] ‘once for all’ (ἅπαξ) to press on to maturity” (pp. 354, 355). As part of this discussion, Gleason says that “the only other sin mentioned in the near context” (p. 354) is being dull of hearing in 5:11! But how could he have missed seeing the relevance of the participles about “crucifying for themselves the Son of God and putting him to open shame” that immediately follow in 6:6b? Surely these have some bearing on what “fall away” means in 6:6a. He has allowed his preoccupation with Old Testament parallels to cloud his interpretation of Hebrews itself.
Earlier in his treatment of “fall away” in 6:6a, Gleason quickly rejects the view that it refers to “complete apostasy from the faith,” or “completely giving up all belief in Christ” (p. 354). But when he covers 6:6b, he acknowledges that it constitutes a warning against “reducing Christ’s death to the level of a common criminal execution, as the Jewish leaders had originally intended” and “empty[ing] Christ’s sacrifice of its redemptive value” (p. 358). It is hard to see how this stance fails to constitute “giving up all belief in Christ.”
In interpreting “sinning willfully” in Hebrews 10:26a, Gleason again majors on Old Testament contexts and neglects the evidence from Hebrews itself. He notes the allusions to Numbers 15:30–36 and Deuteronomy 17:12 and digs into the details of these passages to discover that “willful sin” would be “any deliberate act of covenant unfaithfulness, including in the Old Testament context even the seemingly harmless act of picking up sticks on the Sabbath” (p. 359). The gravity of the offense would be proportional to the level of defiance involved. Now this is certainly valuable evidence to consider, since “sin with a high hand” was a notable topic of discussion in the Old Testament as well as later Judaism. But we should not stop with the Old Testament context. The key question is whether the writer of Hebrews 10:26a means exactly the same thing as Numbers 15 or whether he is using an allusion to Old Testament parallels to reinforce the gravity of a more specific offense he fears some of his readers may commit. In view of the consequence of such an offense given immediately in 10:26b, we should surmise that the latter is true, I think. The statement that “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (NASB) in the context of Hebrews does not mean merely that such a sin cannot be forgiven. Instead, it invokes the larger argument of Hebrews that Christ’s sacrifice is God’s full and final provision for sin that the Old Testament forms were always intended to anticipate; hence the hopelessness of anyone who knowingly rejects that sacrifice. So it makes much more sense to see that the general point of 10:26 (willful sin) is filled out in detail in 10:29 (defiant rejection of the sacrifice of the Son of God). Thus the focus again is continued faith in Christ’s high priestly work versus insolent rejection of its value. But this is hard to perceive if you focus your attention on Numbers 15 instead of on Hebrews 10:26–31.

The Nature and Severity of Judgment in Hebrews

The second area in which Gleason has misread the significance of Old Testament parallels in Hebrews and has allowed them to distort his interpretation concerns the kind of judgment that will come on any who fail to heed its warnings. He takes the judgment in view to be some mixture of withdrawal of God’s blessing and temporal disciplinary punishment that could lead to physical death. No eternal, spiritual judgment or loss of spiritual salvation is threatened. He supports this on three grounds: (1) Hebrews in its original setting is an address to Jewish believers in Palestine in the years leading up to the Jewish revolt in 66–70 C.E. and the writer is “warning his readers of physical harm or even death if they seek refuge in Judaism” (p. 361) rather than trusting God’s ability to protect them; (2) the Old Testament parallels all refer to physical rather than spiritual judgment and even though the judgment these readers face may be more severe in degree, they are the same in kind compared to the Old Testament judgments; and (3) Hebrews never uses the damnation terms that are common elsewhere (e.g., “eternal,” “torment,” “hell/hades”) to describe the threatened punishment, so final judgment in the life to come is not in view. These will be discussed in sequence.
In connection with the first of these reasons, Gleason argues that small details throughout Hebrews are best interpreted as pointers to a setting in Palestine during the period of impending doom on the Jewish nation, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. References to “land” that is “close to being cursed” and destined for “burning” due to unfaithfulness (6:8), to the old covenant that is “near to destruction” (8:13), to being able to “see the day drawing near” (10:25), to the mention of the fires of judgment in various places—all of these point to the time when God in judgment would allow the Romans to destroy Jerusalem with its temple, ritual, and priesthood, and slaughter or disperse Israel from its homeland in a cruel and fiery catastrophe.
What can be said about such indicators? It strikes me as highly unlikely that this is the best interpretation of these, taken either individually or cumulatively. While Hebrews was almost certainly written before 70 C.E., nothing in these references makes it likely that it was written to people near Jerusalem, or that it has special concerns about Jerusalem or the temple, or that its readers would be under special threat because of Roman campaigns in Galilee and Judea at the time. Several of the researchers whom Gleason cites in general support of these ideas do not in fact agree with him on the points most contributory to his interpretation of the warning passages. Peter Walker, for example, argues that Hebrews anticipates the Roman attack on Jerusalem, but he believes it was written to a congregation in the Diaspora, not in Palestine, and its reference to “the day drawing near” (10:25) implies not just physical judgment but the wider eschatological consummation as well. While we may surmise that the themes and argument of Hebrews would cause reflection on contemporary temple services in Jerusalem, the book itself never explicitly refers to current priesthood, ritual, sacrifices, or temple. It consistently cites features of Israel’s worship as instituted in the Torah, carried out in the past history of the nation, and described in the Old Testament. Even Hebrews 13:9–13, sometimes thought to critique contemporary Judaism, is not primarily about the temple and Jerusalem, since it refers to “tabernacle” and “camp” in terms taken from Leviticus 16. Jerusalem does appear in the reference to Jesus’ suffering “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12), but this is part of the broader point that no refuge can be found in the Mosaic order but must be sought in the new covenant sacrifice of Christ.
One detail cited above in support of Gleason’s view requires further comment: the use of the modifier “near” in Hebrews 8:13 with regard to the disappearance of the Mosaic covenant. In two places Gleason cites this verse as follows: “the earthly temple is ‘ready to disappear’ (8:13),” and “the coming Roman invasion of Palestine that would soon bring an end to the temple sacrifices (8:13)” (pp. 351, 361). It is important to point out that 8:13 speaks specifically about the first or Mosaic covenant as growing old and soon to disappear, not about the temple or the sacrifices that are the contemporary manifestation of the Mosaic order. Also, while this is debated, I think it is more likely that this verse takes Jeremiah’s prophecy, not late sixties C.E., as its reference point in saying that the first covenant is “near to disappearing.” The whole point of the writer’s exegesis of Jeremiah 31 is that when God promised a “new” covenant through Jeremiah, the first covenant was at that point shown to be provisional, faulty, and so in God’s plan destined to pass away. And in the imagery of Hebrews the replacement has come already in the death and exaltation of Christ as High Priest of a new order. The writer is not anticipating the imminent demise of the first covenant in some physical catastrophe in Jerusalem; it already occurred almost forty years earlier (cf. 7:18; 10:9).
The final counterpoint to raise in this connection is one I mention in my essay: how will the readers’ steadfast faith in God deliver them from the imminent physical dangers of the Roman campaign against the Jewish nation? Surely the Roman invasion and conquest in its actual occurrence was a detriment to all residents of Palestine in those years, regardless of their attitude toward the Jewish sacrificial system or their adherence to the Christian assembly or whatever. Gleason speaks to this in part by citing Eusebius’s account of the church in Jerusalem receiving divine warning and fleeing to Pella to escape Jerusalem’s destruction. What are we to make of the accuracy of this account? Did even Eusebius understand that God ensured deliverance for all faithful Christians in Jerusalem before he allowed judgment to fall on the Jewish people? Was it only the faithful ones who escaped? What about Christians in other parts of Judea, Galilee, and along the coast? And since Gleason claims that his view would hold even if the readers were in the Diaspora, would the judgment or protection extend to Syria, Alexandria, Asia Minor, and so forth? Could God ever allow his people to suffer innocently when judgment comes upon the unfaithful? Does he promise miraculous exemption to all who trust him for protection? It is possible that this is what Hebrews is promising, but how likely is it?
The next area of response, and the second reason for Gleason’s view, constitutes what I consider to be the most substantive critique of Gleason’s treatment of judgment in Hebrews. He argues repeatedly that the Old Testament passages about the wilderness generation all refer to physical rather than spiritual judgment. Even though the punishment faced by the readers of Hebrews may be more severe in degree, they are the same in kind compared to the Old Testament judgments, and so they do not involve eternal condemnation. This is the most important deduction from his argument that the warning passages of Hebrews must be interpreted in light of the example of the wilderness generation, and it is the place where his misunderstanding of how the Old Testament parallels work is most pronounced.
Gleason spends a great deal of his essay working with passages in the Old Testament, trying to establish that the Exodus generation was a redeemed people and their penalty for unbelief at Kadesh-Barnea was strictly earthly loss or punishment. In addition, other passages in the Old Testament about judgment for unfaithfulness deal with physical or earthly penalties, not eternal ones. So, according to Gleason, the references to “curse,” “burning,” or “fire” in Hebrews refer to physical destruction coming upon the land as in Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah 24–27 or to discipline by physical suffering or death as in Numbers 11 or 16 or Leviticus 10.
The point of Gleason’s work with Old Testament parallels is to say this: Just as the Old Testament people of God suffered loss of blessing, temporal judgment, or physical curse on the land, so the New Testament people of God are liable for such penalties as well—even more severe ones, but not eternal loss of relationship with God. The problem with this simple comparison is the escalation with which Hebrews relates the old covenant to the new in its typology. Hebrews repeatedly uses lesser-to-greater comparison to show the parallel between old and new in this regard. Judgment on those who reject God’s work through Christ will be immeasurably worse than what the wilderness generation suffered in rejecting God’s work through Moses, as the writer shows by his “how much more” arguments (explicit in 2:3; 10:29; 12:25; implicit in 3:5–6). The perspective of Hebrews is consistent: “If they suffered (temporal penalties) for infidelity then, how much more severely will those be judged who now repudiate the Son of God!” Surely this greater penalty is more than temporal and physical punishment and even more than loss of privilege or reward in the Christian afterlife.
Gleason’s answer to this escalation is twofold: the escalation must not be such that it “obscures [the] genuine historical and theological correspondence” (p. 342) between type and anti-type, and the judgment is not greater in kind (i.e., physical to spiritual) but is “physical punishment greater in degree or force than that previously experienced” (p. 364). He makes other points about defining typology in general (is escalation a defining trait?) and about typology within the Old Testament itself (sometimes no escalation), but none of this is relevant to how typology works in Hebrews, as Gleason himself acknowledges.
When Hebrews’s use of typology is examined, we discover that the escalation is often profoundly intensified, yet one could hardly say that the parallelism is obscured. Examples may be found in Hebrews 1:5 (the human Davidic king as God’s “son” vs. Jesus as God’s “Son”); 1:8 (the human king in Jerusalem as “God” vs. Jesus as “God”); 3:3 (the glory of Moses vs. the glory of Jesus the exalted high priest); 7:3 (Melchizedek vs. the Son of God as “without beginning of days or end of life”); 7:16, 23–24 (a priestly succession according to physical descent and limited by physical death vs. one that continues forever by the power of an indestructible life); 9:10, 13–14 (sacrifices for physical, outward cleansing vs. one that cleanses the conscience and renews inwardly); 9:11, 23–24 (an earthly, man-made sanctuary vs. a heavenly one); 10:3–4, 10–14 (blood of animals that remind of sin each year vs. the body of Jesus Christ as the eternally effective sacrifice); 12:18–24 (assembly at Mt. Sinai vs. in the heavenly Jerusalem); 12:25–26 (one who warns from earth and shakes the earth vs. one who warns from heaven and shakes both earth and heaven). In each of these the correspondence remains clear, but the typological escalation produces a deeply profound significance regarding the person of Jesus Christ and his saving work with its effects on those who benefit from it. It makes sense that the escalation of judgment on those who repudiate Christ and his work would be equally profound (cf. 2:3; 10:29; 12:25 as cited in an earlier paragraph), heightened not just in degree but also in kind.
This last point is made more certain when we consider how often the typological escalation in Hebrews focuses on the change from earthly, temporal, physical, outward features in the Old Testament type over to heavenly, eternal, spiritual, inward ones in the New Testament counterpart. I contend that all of the examples cited above from Hebrews display this characteristic. Why would we think that all the other typology in Hebrews shows escalation in kind, but the typology about judgment is one of degree only?
This is why I have not engaged Gleason’s extensive arguments about the salvific status of the Exodus generation or the character of God’s judgment on his people in the Old Testament. These are important questions for Old Testament theology and for systematic theology in general. But for the theology of Hebrews they are beside the point, especially for assessing the nature of the judgment described in the warning passages.
The third reason for Gleason’s view of judgment is that Hebrews never uses the damnation terms that are common elsewhere in describing eternal condemnation (e.g., “eternal,” “torment,” “hell/hades”) to describe the threatened punishment in Hebrews. While this argument has a certain value, it is of limited significance, because it is asking for too much. If such words were present in Hebrews’s descriptions of judgment, it would certainly prove Gleason’s view wrong, but their absence does not prove his view right. And more broadly it is invalid to require one writer to use terminology characteristic of other writers before we accept his point. We must allow him to use his own terms and interpret them in their own right in the context in which he uses them.
As a matter of fact, the terms Gleason is looking for are not consistently used elsewhere to describe eternal condemnation. He is able to cite certain texts where these terms are present, but other texts can be cited, sometimes in the same books, where none of these words is present and yet it is clear that final judgment is in view. See for example, Matthew 13:41–42, 49–50; 2 Peter 3:7–13; Revelation 19:20; 21:8 (using “fire” as in Heb. 10:27; 12:29) and Matthew 7:13; John 17:12; Acts 8:20; Romans 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Peter 2:3; 3:7; Revelation 17:8, 11 (using “destruction” as in Heb. 10:39). In fact, of the two texts from Hebrews that Gleason says pertain to eternal condemnation, one of them contains the word “eternal” (6:2), but the other uses none of the key terms he is looking for (9:27). What must be done throughout Hebrews is what Gleason has done in 9:27, that is, evaluate the wording in light of how the author expresses himself in that passage and how he develops his argument in the wider book, not on the basis of the presence or absence of terminology from other writers.
When this sort of work is done in Hebrews, we tackle such references as not escaping if we neglect Christ’s great salvation (2:3); estrangement from the living God and coming under his wrath (3:10–12); the prospect of curse, fiery judgment, and not inheriting salvation (6:8, 12); no sacrifice availing for sin (10:26; cf. the contrast to the eternal effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice in 10:17–18); the expectation of fiery judgment and destruction (10:27, 39); not escaping if we reject God’s warning from heaven (12:25). I think the best interpretation of these in the context of Hebrews is that they refer to eternal condemnation for rejecting God’s salvation in Christ.

Other Issues

Two other matters raised by Gleason’s essay require brief responses. The first is his treatment of the descriptions of those who are warned. He insists that the warnings are not addressed to unbelievers mixed in among the larger group of genuine Christians. One of his arguments for this conclusion is that “the strongest indications of a genuinely Christian audience occur within the warning passages” (p. 338). Yet he fails to discuss the fact that the most severe warnings are phrased almost entirely in third person in marked contrast to the first and second person references to the writer and the wider congregation in the surrounding passages (Heb. 6:4–8; 10:26–29).
Later, in covering one of these passages (6:4–6), Gleason illustrates a methodological shortcoming that I critique in my response to Osborne: the failure to read the entire description all the way through before deciding its theological sense. Gleason discusses the four substantival aorist participles of Hebrews 6:4–5 completely separately from the aorist substantival participle of 6:6a and the present adverbial participles of 6:6b. He makes much of the unity of the four participles of 6:4–5 and how they are linked by the single Greek article that governs them. He says, “They are all intended to describe one group” (p. 352), and they “identify the spiritual condition of the readers with that of the Exodus generation” (p. 352), but he never acknowledges that the participle in 6:6b is actually the fifth one in the unit and should be taken along with the others. His treatment of the two participles of 6:6b comes a couple of sections later in his essay and, as I discuss in the first section of this response, is not well integrated with what he says on the first part of the passage. Perhaps his conclusion would still be the same, but it is not good exegesis to decide on the theological sense of the whole sentence after studying only the first two-thirds of it.
The second matter to take up here is how Gleason handles the conditional sentences of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14. I agree with his statements that the placement of these sentences early in Hebrews makes them significant for understanding the theology of the book. But his discussion of these can be faulted on three points: it is not well integrated into his overall argument, it is inconsistent in itself, and it is not clear about the sense of the conditions in general. The point about integration with the rest of his discussion was mentioned a few paragraphs ago: Gleason argues early in his essay against the view that the audience may be a mixed company of genuine believers and unbelievers. Then he closes by saying about 3:6 and 3:14, “the author does not promise unqualified assurance to everyone among his original audience.… [He] wanted his readers to examine themselves first to make sure that they were indeed ‘partakers of Christ’ ” (p. 376). I believe he is on the right track in his later comments, but he does not connect this insight into his larger treatment.
Second, it is inconsistent in itself. Gleason begins his paragraph on Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 by stating, “The author makes two profound claims about the spiritual status of the readers, both followed by conditions” (p. 375). Later he says, “The author wanted his readers to examine themselves first to make sure that they were indeed ‘partakers of Christ’ ” (p. 376). Finally, he adds, “However, these conditional clauses do not disqualify all who lack firmness of any assurance.… His point in these conditional sentences is that wavering in confidence may indicate in some cases—but not in every case—that one is not truly a partaker of Christ” (p. 376, italics original). Now either these verses are about conditions for their spiritual status or they are not. Do they raise questions about the genuineness of the readers’ status or only about their assurance of that status? Do the “if” clauses raise questions about their faith in Christ or only about their “assurance of salvation”? The statements need to be clarified to avoid inconsistency.
Finally, it is not clear how Gleason understands the logic of the conditional statements in these verses. Are they cause-to-effect conditions? He implies this when he speaks of “a lack of confidence, reluctance to obey, or spiritual lethargy automatically forfeit[ing] one’s complete cleansing promised in the new covenant” (p. 376). On the other hand, he says, “Wavering in confidence may indicate in some cases … that one is not truly a partaker of Christ” (p. 376, italics original) and cites Guthrie’s treatment, which reflects an evidence-to-inference connection. I cannot help but think that if he had come to a clearer understanding of the sense of these conditional statements, he may have taken a different view of the warning passages entirely.


Gareth Lee Cockerill

Are the warning passages a “covenantal discipline”? It is important to interact thoroughly with Gleason’s proposal in light of its potential pastoral implications. If Gleason is correct, then Hebrews gives comfort to professed believers living a lifestyle of “unbelief,” “disobedience,” and “rebellion” by assuring them that their loss will be temporal but not eternal. It would be tragic to give such comfort if false. Furthermore, despite Gleason’s title, it is doubtful if his position can be called “A Moderate Reformed View.” In my understanding the Reformed faith affirms that the perseverance of believers will be marked not by rebellion but by their progressive sanctifiscation.
Gleason describes his position clearly in the second paragraph of his essay. Hebrews is addressed to Christian believers from a Jewish background living in Palestine before the destruction of Jerusalem. They are being persecuted and pressured by other Jews in order to bring them back to the Jewish sacrificial system.2 The author of Hebrews warns them that if they turn from Christ and instead conform to Judaism by seeking “cleansing through the obsolete forms of the old covenant” (p. 337), they will share in the coming judgment on the Jews at the destruction of Jerusalem. This terrible judgment will be for them their “discipline as sons,” and they will lose “the blessings of the new covenant,” although they will not lose their final salvation.
The fundamental error in Gleason’s argument is readily apparent from this summary of his position: he would put asunder what God has joined together in the text of Hebrews—the all-sufficient work of Christ and the believer’s eternal inheritance. This leads him to assume that turning away from Christ to find “cleansing through the obsolete forms of the Old covenant” (i.e., the Jewish sacrifices) could be less than apostasy. This position ignores the clear contextual constraints of Hebrews. If Hebrews teaches anything, it is that the high priesthood and sacrifice of Christ are the one and only sufficient provision for entrance into God’s eternal presence. Thus the consequences of turning away from Christ to anything can be nothing less than eternal loss. This truth is stated succinctly in Hebrews 10:26: “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”
A second and closely related error is his artificial division between the “blessings of the new covenant” and final salvation. In Hebrews the grand provision of Christ, described in Hebrews 7:1–10:18, is not only the means of final salvation but also the means of the cleansing and inner transformation that are the “present blessings of the new covenant.” The readers are urged to avail themselves of these blessings in order to persevere unto final salvation (see esp. 2:18; 4:16; 10:22). Thus, how can one lose the present grace necessary for perseverance and still persevere until entrance into the eternal homeland?
Two methodological flaws prevent Gleason from arriving at a correct understanding. First, he falls into the trap of trying to establish an original context for Hebrews before interpreting the text. Second, he repeatedly forces Hebrews to conform to his own selection from and reconstruction of Old Testament events. While agreeing that Hebrews uses the Old Testament responsibly and that there are true correspondences between the Old Testament events and what Hebrews says, I believe it is essential to let the text of Hebrews indicate the direction of those correspondences. These two improper approaches prevent Gleason from allowing Hebrews to speak for itself.

The Historical Situation of Hebrews

Beginning on page 337 Gleason seeks to determine the historical setting of Hebrews. His opening sentence is instructive: “In order to avoid reading into these texts various interpretations shaped by our theological traditions, I feel that it is critically important to exhaust our understanding of the original context of the book.” However, since the text of Hebrews is virtually our only source for determining its background, it is perilous to establish that background independently from a thorough interpretation of the text. Such a procedure only invites an interpretation determined by the interpreter’s presuppositions.
Argument for Gleason’s reconstruction of the historical background of Hebrews is also found in the articles cited in footnotes 4 and 12 of his chapter (pp. 337, 340, respectively). Although the total construct is very tenuous, its individual elements must be evaluated separately. We begin with those that have the most support and progress to those that have the least support.
Few, for instance, would deny that the recipients of Hebrews were Christian believers. Focus on the Mosaic covenant and sacrificial system suggests that these believers were of Jewish background. However, other New Testament books demonstrate the familiarity of all Christians with the Old Testament Scriptures. A number of interpreters would agree that Hebrews was probably written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Gleason references the normal arguments for this position: Hebrews uses the present tense when describing the temple sacrificial ritual and makes no reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. Certainly, it is argued, the writer would have used the destruction of the temple as evidence for the ineffectiveness of the old covenant sacrificial system. These facts, however, can be explained with equal cogency on other grounds. First, mention of the temple’s destruction might actually have detracted from the author’s contention that it was the work of Christ that showed the temporary nature of the old covenant. Second, Hebrews describes the ritual of the tabernacle as presented in the Pentateuch and makes no mention of the temple. Thus Hebrews may well be following the present tense used in the Scripture being interpreted. Gleason admits that Josephus and Clement of Rome, who lived after the destruction of Jerusalem, used the present tense to describe the tabernacle sacrificial ritual as recorded in the Pentateuch; thus, he feels it necessary to buttress his argument for a pre-destruction date by reference to the “strong polemic against returning to the sacrificial system” (p. 338n. 6). However, he gives no evidence for this polemic except to cite without comment Hebrews 7:26–27 and 10:26 (see 415n. 2). While some statements in Hebrews might accord with the danger of such a return, nothing in Hebrews clearly demands such an interpretation.
Gleason seems to realize the tenuousness of his affirmation that the recipients of Hebrews lived in Palestine. References to seeking a “heavenly city” (11:10; 12:22; 13:14) and to going “outside the camp” (13:11–13) demonstrate nothing in a book that compares the heavenly and eternal to the transitory shadow described in the Old Testament. And while it is true that hellenized Jews lived in Palestine, the rhetorical sophistication of the shape and language of Hebrews fit best in the wider Hellenistic world.
Any interpretation based on such a tenuous understanding of the situation of Hebrews can be no stronger than the shaky foundation upon which it stands. The cumulative effect of doubtful arguments is a result even more dubious. The main point of Gleason’s entire hypothesis about the situation of Hebrews is that the threatened judgment for turning from Christ was the physical suffering to be endured by the Jews at the fall of Jerusalem. We will give attention to the specifics of Gleason’s arguments when discussing Hebrews 10:26–31 below. However, this position must be rejected not merely because of the weakness of those supporting arguments but also because of the overwhelming strength of the counterargument. Gleason ignores the contextual constraints of Hebrews. As noted above, Hebrews clearly teaches that the sacrifice of Christ is the only sufficient means of eternal salvation. Thus, how can one who turns from this unique provision suffer mere temporal loss?

The Exodus Wilderness Generation (Heb. 3:7–4:11)

Much of Gleason’s argument depends on his understanding of the “Exodus generation.” Since Hebrews’s focus is on the word of God at Sinai, the Sinai covenant/sacrificial system, and the wilderness experience of these people, it would be more accurate to call them the “wilderness generation.” He sees their experience as fundamental to the warning passages of Hebrews and argues that they are a type of true Christian believers (pp. 344–45).
In my judgment Gleason overrates the role of the wilderness generation in Hebrews by failing to balance them with the examples in chapter 11’s roll call of faith. However, in my chapter of this volume, I have argued even more strongly than Gleason for continuity between the wilderness generation and the Christian recipients of Hebrews. I agree that they were true believers. Only then could their sin and its consequences function as a warning for the recipients of Hebrews. Thus I concur with Gleason that we must understand the sin against which the readers are warned in Hebrews 3–4 and its consequences in the light of Israel’s “rebellion” and unbelief at Kadesh-Barnea. Nevertheless, I would reserve the word type for those persons, institutions, and events in the Old Testament through which God effects salvation. It seems more accurate to refer to the responses of Old Testament people to God as examples for Christians to follow or avoid.
Gleason, however, errs when he contends that the loss of the wilderness generation was temporal, not eternal. His arguments for this position are three: (1) The wilderness generation did not abandon all faith in God but merely in his power to sustain their lives and give them the Promised Land (pp. 347–48); (2) they are listed in the roll call of faith in Hebrews 11 (p. 346); and (3) their sin was the same as the sin of Moses and Aaron when they struck the rock (pp. 348–50), and since Moses and Aaron did not suffer eternal loss, neither did the wilderness generation.
We will analyze these arguments in reverse order. Gleason’s argument that the nature and consequences of the people’s and Moses’ sins were “exactly” the same is a classic example of the methodological error mentioned above. He constructs a certain understanding of the relevant Old Testament passages and then forces Hebrews into his reconstruction. It is obvious that the writer of Hebrews does not consider Moses to be parallel to the wilderness generation. In Hebrews 3:1–6 one of his main points is that Moses was “faithful” as a steward in God’s “house.” In fact, these verses make a favorable comparison between the faithfulness of Christ as Son over God’s house and Moses’ faithfulness. Moses’ faithfulness is expanded in Hebrews 11:23–28. In Hebrews 3:7–19, however, the Moses-led wilderness generation is the epitome of unfaithfulness.
Furthermore, while the use of the same word for the sins of Moses and the people suggests some similarity, it certainly does not mean that they were “exactly” the same. The differences within the Old Testament context were striking. At Kadesh-Barnea Israel’s sin was the climax of much disobedience, and their persistence in attempting to enter Canaan after God forbade them was the beginning of the continued rebellion that characterized the wilderness wanderings. Moses did not have a history of past sinning, he did not persist in disobedience even after judgment as Israel did, and his body did not “fall in the wilderness.” Thus the one who viewed the Promised Land from Pisgah’s height and was buried by God certainly did not suffer “the same” punishment because he had committed “exactly the same” sin (pp. 348–49).
There is nothing in the text of Hebrews that mollifies the severity of the wilderness generation’s sin, which is described as “disobedience” (3:18), “unbelief” (3:19), “rebellion” (3:15–16), and, by implication, as falling “away from the living God” (3:12). Gleason again attempts to reduce what Hebrews has clearly affirmed by selective reference to the Old Testament. He argues that this rebellion could not have been apostasy because God “forgave” them and because they did not return to Egypt (pp. 349–50). Within the Old Testament context, the forgiveness of God preserved them from immediate death. Nevertheless, they continued to live in rebellion. Apostasy does not return one to a preconversion state. The “falling” of their bodies in the wilderness was a far worse fate than a return to Egypt. Indeed, it was to avoid such “falling” that they desired return to Egypt (Num. 14:3).
It is certainly special pleading to argue on the basis of Hebrews 11:29 that the wilderness generation was among the faithful who enter the eternal homeland. The writer does not even name his subject. He merely switches from the singular “he” referring to Moses in verse 28 to the plural “they”—“by faith they crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land.” How could the writer omit the crossing of the Red Sea from the great acts of faith? Indeed, the wilderness generation is conspicuous for its absence from this chapter, for the very next example of faith is the destruction of the walls of Jericho. In the examples associated with Abraham (11:8–22) and Moses (11:23–28) the writer has just described a faith that perseveres—the exact opposite of the wilderness generation’s response.
Finally, Gleason’s identification of apostasy with abandoning “all faith” in God is ambiguous, artificial, and noncontextual. In Hebrews the failure to obtain the eternal homeland is not theoretical abandonment of faith in God. The faithful in Hebrews 11 enter that heavenly homeland because they live as those who believe God fulfills his promises of future blessing and sustains his people in the present (11:1, 3, 6). This is exactly the kind of faith the wilderness generation did not have. They refused to live as if God’s power was adequate to fulfill his promise.
I have no quarrel with Gleason’s argument that the “rest” of Hebrews 3–4 is a Sabbath celebration of “God’s life-sustaining presence among them,” as experienced in the Garden of Eden, the tabernacle, and the temple (pp. 350–51). What could be a better description of that life in God’s presence, which is the eternal inheritance of believers anticipated by their present experience in Christ (12:22–24)? I have demonstrated in my chapter that the “rest” of Hebrews 3–4 must be the same as the eternal homeland that the faithful of Hebrews 11 enter. Thus there is no reason to identify the rest as “Sabbath celebration” with present blessing to the exclusion of eternal fulfillment. Gleason can give no reason for such a separation except to again reiterate that Moses, Aaron, and Miriam did not enter the Promised Land.

Hebrews 6:4–6

Gleason would reduce the “falling away” of Hebrews 6:6 from apostasy incurring eternal loss to “a decisive refusal to mature” and the loss of present blessing (pp. 353–55). He argues correctly that we must determine the meaning of “falling away” by the context since in and of itself the Greek term here used (παραπεσόντας) does not necessarily mean apostasy. (Has anyone ever said it did?) He then argues that Hebrews 6:4–6 is a description of the wilderness generation already presented in Hebrews 3:7–4:11. Thus the sin of “falling away” must be the same as their sin. Since their sin was not apostasy, the “falling away” of 6:6 must not have been apostasy.
The faults in this argument are two. First, Gleason’s contention that this passage is meant to be a description of the wilderness generation is forced. Is the statement that the readers had been “enlightened” (6:4) really an allusion to the pillar of fire? Is their tasting the heavenly gift a true parallel to Israel’s eating “manna”? More dubious yet is the likening of their being “partakers of the Holy Spirit” to the coming of the Spirit upon the seventy elders in Numbers 11:16–30. Nor does their tasting the “good word of God” seem much like Israel’s receiving the Mosaic law confirmed by signs (pp. 352–53). This forced parallel leads Gleason to avoid the constraints of the immediate context. Second, even if the writer of Hebrews were thinking of the wilderness generation, I have shown the apostasy inherent in that generation’s refusal to live as if God’s promises were true and his power was real.
Gleason makes the reductionist error of explaining “crucifying again the Son of God” and “holding him up to contempt” in Hebrews 6:6 by the failure to “go on to maturity (perfection)” in 6:1. Furthermore, he has not given sufficient contextual consideration to what this maturity is. Almost all commentators are agreed that this exhortation extending from Hebrews 5:11 to 6:20 is given to prepare the readers to grasp the writer’s exposition of Christ’s definitive high priestly work in Hebrews 7:1–10:18. For this and other reasons, “maturity” is to be identified with living in the fullness of his high priestly provision, which is the only way for anyone (past or present, cf. Heb. 11:39–40) to enter the heavenly homeland.
According to Gleason, the recipients of Hebrews are in danger of failing to go on to maturity by returning to the animal sacrifices of the Levitical system. This return would be a “crucifying of the Son of God” and a holding him up to “contempt” (pp. 357–58). If, indeed, such a return is what the writer of Hebrews has in mind, how could it be less than apostasy? Gleason refers to it being done privately. How does one participate privately in what was essentially a corporate affair, the sacrificial worship of the temple? Moreover, no matter how private, such a return would be a repudiation of the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, which Hebrews is at pains to show is the one and only effective way of salvation. While I would question the identification of the problem as a literal return to the sacrificial system (see above), Gleason’s own argument at this point is self-destructive of his position.

Hebrews 10:26–31

Gleason next turns to the warning passage found in Hebrews 10:26–31, which is part of the author’s application of the sufficiency of Christ’s high priesthood and sacrifice as presented in Hebrews 7:1–10:18. He argues that the punishment for the willful sin (10:26), here described as a spurning of the Son of God, a profaning of the blood of the covenant established by the Son, and an outraging of the Spirit (10:29), is temporal discipline rather than eternal loss. His extensive argument may be reduced to two points: First, the Old Testament allusions used to describe punishment in this passage refer, in their Old Testament context, to physical punishment. Second, the author of Hebrews does not use the language common in the rest of the New Testament to describe eternal damnation (pp. 358–60). For all practical purposes Gleason ignores the significance of the immediate contextual relationship of this passage to Hebrews 7:1–10:18.
It is easy to expose the methodological flaws in these two arguments. The language of Hebrews is unique when compared to the rest of the New Testament. This is not merely a matter of hapax legomena but of the linguistic world that Hebrews creates and the way in which this book presents the high priestly and sacrificial work of Christ. It is only logical that Hebrews would use language to describe judgment native to its own conceptual framework. Furthermore, the fact that the biblical allusions here cited refer to physical punishment within the Old Testament proves nothing. The Old Testament seldom refers clearly to eternal punishment. As an aside, since most of these allusions refer to physical death they can hardly be thought of as remedial “discipline.”
These Old Testament allusions now describe eternal loss since the “better” sacrifice of Christ, explained in Hebrews 7:1–10:18, has come and has, according to Hebrews 10:19–25, provided the one and only way into God’s heavenly presence. Thus the consequences of neglecting the warnings against rejecting Christ’s provision can be nothing less than eternal exclusion from that Divine presence. It is within this context that we must understand the less-to-greater argument of 10:28–29. Since Christ’s sacrifice is now the only way into God’s presence, what else could it mean but eternal damnation when the writer says that if we sin deliberately “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (10:26)? The one and only sacrifice that provides entrance into God’s presence is no longer available to such a sinner!
Finally, Gleason’s argument that the anticipated judgment was the much more severe suffering of the Jews at the coming destruction of the temple is totally unconvincing. First of all, descriptions of the severity of that suffering in Josephus are purely gratuitous in the absence of other evidence. Reference to the cursing and burning of the land (Heb. 6:8) is hardly sufficient to indicate an allusion to the fall of Jerusalem (p. 362). The anticipated disappearance of the old covenant in Hebrews 8:13 most assuredly does not refer to the destruction of the temple (p. 362). In that verse the writer is arguing from the point of view of Jeremiah’s new covenant promise as given in the Old Testament. By the very giving of such a promise, God indicated that the old covenant would pass away. Such passing occurred when the promise was fulfilled in Christ. In all of this we must never lose sight of the fact that Gleason avoids the obvious contextual requirement that this punishment be understood as eternal loss because the offenders have rejected the only sacrifice that brings eternal gain.

Assurance in Hebrews

Gleason concludes with a section on “Assurance in Hebrews” (pp. 367–77). Most of what I would say in critique of this section has already been said in my response to Fanning. Here it is enough to reiterate that the full sufficiency of Christ’s work in Hebrews is God’s provision for, and not a guarantee of, perseverance. When we see that the threatened eternal loss is the natural result of rejecting God’s only adequate provision for salvation, then the warning passages and the assertions of Christ’s sufficiency fit together perfectly, and they do so on the author of Hebrews’s own terms, not ours.
Gleason’s use of Hebrews 10:17–18 and 7:25 calls for brief comment. There is nothing in the context of 10:17–18 that would indicate that these verses proclaim a forgiveness that is effective for a person’s past, present, and future sins regardless of perseverance in faith. In fact, the warning passages prevent us from understanding this forgiveness in such a carte blanche fashion.
Gleason interprets Hebrews 7:25 in the temporal sense as a proof of the believer’s eternal security—Christ is able “to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (NASB). The inclusive qualitative interpretation, “to save completely,” is more in line with 7:1–28, which bases the sufficiency of Christ on his eternal Sonship (see 7:3, 8, and especially “the power of an indestructible life” in 7:16). In addition, Gleason conveniently ignores the phrase “those who come to God through him.” The Son saves completely and forever those who continue (present tense) to come to God through him to receive the grace necessary for perseverance (4:16; 10:22).


In conclusion I must reiterate that Gleason’s interpretation is not convincing because he has put asunder what God has joined together in the text of Hebrews—Christ’s once-for-all sufficient sacrifice and entrance into the heavenly homeland. Gleason would have us believe that we can turn away from that sacrifice and still receive the eternal inheritance into which it alone provides access. He would also have us think that we can enter the heavenly homeland although we do not have the present blessing of persevering grace. He reconstructs a historical situation for Hebrews that, aside from its own inherent weaknesses, contradicts this fundamental unity between Christ’s sacrifice as means and the heavenly homeland as end. He distorts Hebrews’s use of the Old Testament by forcing it to fit into his own selective reconstruction of Old Testament events. When faced with the winds of careful analysis his position cannot be correct because it is based on the sand of tenuous historical reconstruction and selective Old Testament use rather than on the solid rock of Hebrews’s own contextual indicators. Moreover, the false comfort it gives may lead to the eternal downfall of professed believers by condoning their lives of disobedience rather than urging the necessity of a godly life established on the firm foundation of Christ’s provision.


George H. Guthrie

It is with a great sense of gratitude that I offer final reflections on a dialogue that is both gracious and sharpening, collegial and appropriately intense. Having come to the work so late in the day, like the vineyard workers of Jesus’ parable, I am especially grateful to Herbert Bateman, the discussants (all of whom I consider friends), and Jim Weaver of Kregel, for allowing me the opportunity to think through these issues once again and learn. The essays, including the introduction by Herb, and the responses are of good quality, thorough, and detailed, setting out clearly the primary issues needing attention. They also represent fairly well particular expressions of Calvinism and Arminianism, the main camps in this discussion, and through Randall Gleason’s contributions offer another perspective more off the beaten path. An overview of the ground to be covered has been spread clearly before us via the introduction, arguments have been set on the table in order, and responses from various perspectives have been served. So what is left for me to do?
My understanding is that I am not here as a referee, although some of my personal concerns inevitably will come through. To those who have done a close reading of this book, it already is clear that my own position on the warnings of Hebrews, detailed especially in my NIV Application Commentary on the book, comes closest to that of Buist Fanning. Thus, without restraints, or encouragement toward the higher road of the book’s greater purpose—that is, to help our brothers and sisters in Christ to think through these important matters and how such matters should be discussed—I might simply declare Buist the “winner” and you could spend the next fifteen minutes arguing about apostasy with your opponent of choice over a latte at Starbucks. What I have been asked to do, rather, is more panoramic in scope, attempting to cast light on the broader canvas, along the way raising a number of open-ended questions for further reflection and study, and this I am glad to do.

Reflections on How the Dialogue Has Been Conducted

First, the manner in which this scholarly dialogue has been conducted in these pages represents well an irenic, evangelical Christianity that at once aspires to the clarification of truth and the fostering of Christian community—two goals too often treated as unrelated. Especially in some corners of American Christianity, secondary and tertiary issues of doctrine, important to be sure, have become excuses for clearing the floor for a fight, or at least for a relational passivity that withholds fellowship from “the other side.” Too often such fights go public, building reputations of the combatants, while doling out black eyes to the bride for whom the fighters supposedly have entered the ring. Where the secondary and tertiary are moved to the position of primary, we are in danger not only of hurting one another by skewing a dialogue that might move all of us closer to the truth but also of hurting the larger body, both in terms of reputation and community, by a spirit of divisiveness that closes down conversation and communicates a poor image to the broader world.
On the other hand, in other streams of Christianity, both American and global, an appeal to the fostering of community can at times eclipse any real seriousness about theological issues, and the point becomes, “Let’s just get along at all costs.” Here too we are in danger of hurting one another and the church by the erosion of theological foundations that cannot be compromised, appealing rather to belief in nothing in particular beyond tolerance of politically correct positions. This too is a way that in the end must be marked as tacitly wrongheaded.
In contrast to both a fundamentalist type of rigidity and a more liberal passivity about theological specificity, the dialogue in these pages has been balanced, confrontational at points—these essayists care about truth—yet carried out in a true spirit of Christian graciousness, given to neither sentimentality nor ad hominem attacks. As Bateman notes in the introduction, professional academic contexts, at their best, can foster such dialogue to the good of the church.
Second, a “four views” approach of necessity spends a great deal of time highlighting points of difference among the various positions. Yet the discussants themselves have constantly pointed to areas of agreement that should not be missed. For instance, all would agree that the warnings of Hebrews call hearers to take seriously the spiritual danger represented by apostasy. For example, whether one favors Fanning’s Calvinistic perspective or the classical Arminian and Wesleyan positions of Osborne and Cockerill, at the end of the day the apostate’s status before God and eternal destiny have been called into question. A soul hangs in the balance, even as it brazenly stands over against the cross, joining those who denigrate Jesus and the significance of his death. This is deadly serious business, whether one is manifesting the lack of salvation, or turning away from a salvation in which one truly has partaken. Thus, highlighting points of agreement in such discussions is entirely appropriate and helpful. It shows us where we stand together and our common beliefs and values, placing us in a long tradition of the church that has been at once generally unified around certain key points of doctrine and decidedly variegated on a host of other matters.
That having been said, the dialogue has been approached with an apt seriousness and concern for its implications in the church. These scholars have not bantered about platitudes in hope of winning an ivory tower debate. No, they clearly hold the conviction that how a person interprets the warnings in Hebrews really matters, reflecting aspects of one’s understanding of God, salvation, the church, and the Christian life.
In turn, the way we think about these central topics of the Christian faith inevitably affects how we minister both inside and outside the church, how we talk about issues of assurance or the danger of apostasy. Whether one agrees with Osborne and Cockerill that real Christians can lose salvation, or holds the position of Fanning that those who have seemed to be believers may manifest a lack of salvation, or sides with Gleason that the warnings of Hebrews concern a loss of rewards and temporal punishment makes a great deal of difference in the day-to-day thinking processes of real people on the street.
The way, for instance, that thinking about eternal security has developed in my own denomination (Southern Baptist), which in its most popular expressions is a blend of Calvinistic and Arminian perspectives, has at points had disastrous effects on orthopraxy and ministry. With the catchphrase “once saved, always saved” on their rebellious lips, people too often, I’m afraid, have been given a spiritual assurance they should not have. We have placed so much emphasis on the point of conversion, the entrance into grace, that we have missed the many exhortations of the New Testament to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. It may be that inadvertently and with cruel irony, in the name of the gospel, we have sent some on their way to an eternity apart from Christ. Yet, if while holding to what I would consider a true form of eternal security (“once saved, always saved—if saved”), we encourage those who are drifting to take their spiritual danger seriously, it would change the way we minister to those in such crises.
On the other hand, our emphasis on the point of conversion to the exclusion of other aspects of salvation (both present and in the future), such as the ongoing, transformative work of the Spirit in the believer’s life, in some cases may foster spiritual doubt on the part of those who should be resting in confidence and God’s amazing grace. They witness a seeming lack of God’s work in their lives, so they question whether he is involved in their lives at all. It could be they simply have been spiritually underfed and ill taught about the Christian life robustly lived. People live out the way they think, and the way we have taught them to think theologically (or the way we have failed to teach them) has very practical ramifications.
Thus, theological study, and discussions such as the one in this book, should be encouraged and supported as vitally important enterprises for the church. We also should work harder at taking the next step and making the connections between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. For instance, perhaps we need more discussion on the problem of apostasy in the church, as an outgrowth of the debate in this book. After all, in North America alone, thousands upon thousands leave the church every year. Our percentages of retention, when our teenagers go off to college, are dismal. Large blocks of the next generations are turning their backs on the church forever. How can we work better, in more theologically informed manners, to mitigate this situation? How do we respond appropriately, with the individuals in our communities, when people leave our churches? What perspectives do different Christian traditions bring to this issue? How can we learn from one another? Theology has wonderfully (or horribly) practical ramifications, and, therefore, we must give it much greater attention, lest they “drift away.”

Further Reflections on Hermeneutics and the Practice of Theology

Given the importance of fostering theological dialogue, let me now raise (or emphasize) several specific issues that might further the dialogue of these pages. In some cases these issues have been introduced already in the course of the book, but it might help to lift them out of the fray, highlighting them in bold relief.
First, it seems to me that more work is needed on the nature of the hortatory materials in Hebrews. Another look at this issue, for instance, might help us in delimiting the warnings themselves, their exact boundaries being somewhat pliable in this discussion. What passages are true warnings, over against other subgenre in the hortatory materials of the book (e.g., promises, mitigation, positive examples, or encouragement, to name a few)? How is the discussion affected by looking at the distinct role of various subgenre, both in Hebrews and other ancient literature? In this regard, help might be found from various approaches to the text, including perhaps rhetorical criticism as in the work of David deSilva, and speech act theory as used by scholars such as Anthony Thiselton and Kevin Vanhoozer. Each of these approaches in its own way addresses how the text functions to elicit response from the hearers. In other words, the author of Hebrews sought to accomplish something in those who first were addressed by its stirring message, and we should think carefully about his agenda.
For instance, it is doubtful that the author primarily was teaching theology when he wrote what we have as Hebrews 6:4–8. The passage certainly comes to the hearer with theological presuppositions, or an assumed theological framework, but we should be careful about using hortatory passages as foundation stones for building a particular theological system by which we in turn interpret the theological presuppositions behind hortatory passages! I am not suggesting the warnings of Hebrews should play no role in the development of our theological understanding—I have already suggested that the theological discussion carried on in this book is important to the life of the church. I merely am asking that we think very carefully about the exact nature of the role they play in our theological discussions. To put it in terms used by our discussants, what exactly is the “pastoral strategy” of the author at these points in the book of Hebrews, and how should his pastoral strategy relate to ours? The warnings of Hebrews are not less than “theological”—certainly not a-theological!—but they are more, and it seems to me, therefore, that they should be more to us as well.
Second, a good deal of work in New Testament studies has begun on allusive echoes (e.g., Richard Hayes, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul), and this work, in any semblance of a systematic analysis, is just beginning to get underway on Hebrews itself (e.g., Guthrie, Commentary on the Old Testament in the New Testament: Hebrews). For instance, the authors of our dialogue discuss briefly the proposed allusions found in Hebrews 6:4–8 to the wilderness wandering episodes of the Old Testament. At this stage of the discussion on the existence of these possible echoes, we are at a “yes, I see them” and “no, I don’t” impasse. What guidelines do we need in determining when we have real data in hand? What are the rules of the game for distinguishing true allusion from an accidental parallel in topic?
Randall Gleason’s essay raises the issue not only of how one detects allusive material, but also of how one understands the interplay of allusive materials with the original Old Testament context and with the text of Hebrews itself. What exactly is the nature of the intertextuality that is at play? That is, how and to what end is the author appropriating the Old Testament text at this or any point in the book? For example, if we discern echoes at 6:4–8, are these faint allusions to the wilderness wandering materials meant simply to provide illustration or some other form of analogy? Or are they typological in some way? If analogy, then analogy with what group? To what end? What are the intentions and limits of the analogy? If there is a typological relationship with the Christian community, is it the Christian community contemporary to the writing of Hebrews or to Christians of all ages? What is the nature of the typological relationship?
Moreover, how do we interpret the allusions in terms of their relative weight, as they exist alongside more overt elements in the text, in helping us understand the author’s intentions? My point is that we need to do more work on guidelines for detecting allusions or echoes in Hebrews’s warnings and on using possible echoes in interpretation once they have been detected. Work on echoes is an area underdeveloped in Hebrews research at this point.
Third, it seems to me that more attention needs to be paid to the question of the author’s perspective as he attempted to minister to the original hearers of Hebrews. In Is There a Meaning in This Text? Kevin Vanhoozer has called for a respect for the author as an aspect of our hermeneutic endeavors. I want to suggest that we are an extension of the author’s interpretive community, a community born of the Holy Spirit, continuing a life as the church started two millennia ago. We, of all people, should respect this author as a fellow believer.
I am not speaking of attempting psychological archaeology here but rather of developing a heightened sensitivity to the fact that the author was not omniscient in dealing with his congregation(s), a fact to which the author hints in the text of Hebrews. The discussants have alluded briefly to this question, but it needs more attention. Too often in debates about apostasy, we treat the text as if the author thinks of those to whom he writes, or of those of whom he speaks, as “believers” or “unbelievers.”
Yet, real ministry situations, of course, are not so cut and dried. Any group of people gathered in the name of Christ will manifest a spectrum of spiritual conditions. That this was the experience of the early church seems to me to have a great deal of New Testament evidence in its favor. The author of Hebrews, others in the early church, you and I, are limited in our knowledge of the spiritual condition of any other person and, as pointed out by Jesus, as well as other New Testament authors, are dependent on outward manifestations in discerning the spiritual conditions of others (cf. Matt. 7:15–23; James 2:14–26).
In Hebrews 4:1 the author calls for an appropriate “fear” with regard to the promised rest, lest it “seem” that any of them have come up short of it. In contrast to the harsh warning of 6:4–8, the author is “persuaded” of better things concerning those to whom he writes, things that accompany salvation; and his persuasion stems, apparently, from their faithfulness (6:9). The hearers themselves bolster their own hope by their diligence in Christ-following (6:11). These hints at the finiteness of human perspective when it comes to one’s spiritual condition seem to me to correspond to other New Testament texts, including 2 Corinthians 13:5a, the familiar, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (This and succeeding quotations are from NIV). Similarly, 1 John offers, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (2:3); “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (2:5–6); “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence” (3:18–19). Spiritual condition manifests itself in the life of the individual.
So Hebrews, as a “ministry” document, seems to assume that those in the target audience cannot confidently be labeled “believers” over against “unbelievers.” Rather, there is a murky, in-between condition in which the spiritual condition of some “members” of the group has been called into question. How, then, as an aspect of our interpretive framework, does this change the discussion on apostasy, and, once again, how does it change how we address the issue of apostasy in the church?
Finally, and closely related to the previous point, we need to take seriously the tensions that exist in the practice of theology, and these tensions are never more prominent than when we are dealing with the issue of God’s work of salvation in humanity. I had planned to address the matter of theological tensions before reading Grant Osborne’s response to Gareth Cockerill, in which he calls for living in such tensions so as to balance biblical truths concerning security and warning. As one who comes at the question of Hebrews’s warnings from more of a Reformed perspective, let me join Grant in this emphasis.
It must be admitted, first of all, that the crux theologorum (“why some, not others?” a cross carried by theologians), for instance, is largely a Protestant cross, and at points we have opened ourselves to charges by Catholic theologians and New Testament scholars such as Tom Wright of individualistic navel gazing, thus missing the grand themes of corporate solidarity and being called as a people rather than as individual persons. Yet, while we at points have lost important emphases on our being a people of God, I would suggest that the issue of an individual’s salvation and personal response to the gospel are important emphases in the New Testament as well. The book of Hebrews itself seems to make distinctions between different groups and individuals within the community to which it speaks. We are to watch out lest any of our number fall away from God, to encourage one another lest any of us are hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (3:12–13). Yet we also should not miss the corporate dimensions of salvation and perseverance. When members of the community are not faithful to the covenant, a root of bitterness springs up, and this defiles many (Heb. 12:15). In other words, the issue of apostasy is not merely about the health, or the lack of it, of individuals, but also concerns the health or lack of health of the church.
Second, Hebrews manifests certain tensions in its theological framework. For instance, there are the temporal tensions of inaugurated eschatology—the “now and not yet”—in the book. At 2:5–9 the author treats an apparent “contradiction” between Psalm 8:6 (“you … put everything under his feet”) and Psalm 110:1 (“until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”), the latter quoted at 1:13. Hebrews’s solution? Psalm 8:6 means that indeed all things, in reality, have been subjected to Christ’s rule (Heb. 2:8a). Psalm 110:1, on the other hand, means that we do not yet see all things subjected to him (Heb. 2:8b). In other words, there are certain spiritual realities that have already been established that will be consummated at the end of the age. We live in a time of theological tension between the triumph of the exaltation and the ultimate triumph of the parousia.
There also are spatial tensions in Hebrews. We are a wandering people on the earth, who are to emulate those of faith who sought a lasting city (11:9–10, 13–14), and we are called to draw near to God (4:16; 10:22). Yet in the new covenant, the author tells us, we have already come to the city of the living God, indeed to God himself (12:22–24). Thus, we are those who both have arrived and are arriving somewhere.
Further, if we are dealing with the living God, a God who is eternal yet works in our temporal existence, and thus is not just some human, religious construct, would we not expect that there would be aspects of God’s dealings that we would have a hard time understanding? In this regard, is it not true that God’s work on the human soul can be seen with “20/20” clarity only from God’s perspective? Yes, God has revealed truths with regard to salvation—we are not left in the dark as to the salvation God offers in Christ, the need for our response to the gospel, and how God will respond to us when we have responded to him. Yet, even if one assumes some form of an ordo salutis (an ordered list of the aspects of God’s work of salvation), who but God could claim to have perfect perspective on exactly how God accomplishes the various aspects of his glorious work in the human heart? Like preschoolers attempting to understand physics, perhaps we will have to grow up to our glorified selves before we will be able to see into greater mysteries than we can grasp now. We are forced to a posture of humility.
What then are we to do with questions like those posed by Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews? Should we fight the theological tensions we encounter as enemies, attempting to eradicate them altogether? I think not. Rather, we should, first, study hard to see as clearly as possible what is revealed in Scripture, seeking to understand more of the ways of God. We should have long and intense dialogue with others in the body of Christ, such as the dialogue embodied in this book, in hope of drawing nearer to the truth that God has revealed in his Word, and in the process helping others in their drawing near as well. Finally, though, perhaps we will have to embrace a certain amount of theological tension between various aspects of God’s revealed truth and, at the same time, embrace our brothers and sisters who see those truths from a different perspective. This will demand a mix of theological discipline, commitment to community, and personal humility that we greatly need in the evangelicalism of our day.
While in Cambridge, England, in the spring of 2005, I was introduced to the ministry and person of Charles Simeon, a scholar-pastor who represents well an appropriate humility when dealing with our tension-filled topic of this book. Simeon was Calvinistic in his theology, yet he wanted to be known as resolutely biblical, not going beyond what is clearly revealed in Scripture and not forcing texts inappropriately into systematic molds. He stated, “My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head; never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.” His goal was “to endeavor to give to every portion of the Word of God its full and proper force, without considering what scheme it favours, or whose system it is likely to advance.”4
Moreover, Simeon thought it a “great evil,” when in the name of theological systems, “doctrines [of grace] are made a ground of separation one from another.” He stated that “in reference to truths which are involved in so much obscurity as those which relate to the sovereignty of God, mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion.”
In a memorable encounter between Simeon and the then elderly John Wesley, Simeon recalls the following conversation.

SIMEON. Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

WESLEY. Yes, I do indeed.

SIMEON. And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

WESLEY. Yes, solely through Christ.

SIMEON. But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterward by your own works?

WESLEY. No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

SIMEON. Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


SIMEON. What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

WESLEY. Yes, altogether.

SIMEON. And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

WESLEY. Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

SIMEON. Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.

It seems to me that the dialogue between Simeon and Wesley serves as a fitting conclusion to Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, itself a dialogue between the theological heirs of Simeon and Wesley. Hopefully, the book has shed light on particular passages in Hebrews, stimulated a great deal of theological reflection, study, and conversation, challenged us in aspects of ministry praxis, and moved us all toward a deeper grappling with various aspects of God’s revealed truth. Yet, hopefully too we have grown in a resolute commitment to Christian community, simply by joining in such an important conversation.


Abegg, Martin, 30n. 12
Adams, J. C., 110n. 66
Allen, Ronald B., 253n. 7
Andriessen, Paul, 108n. 59
Arminius, Jacob, 86, 306, 336n. 2
Ashby, Stephen M., 158n. 1, 208n. 79
Ashley, Timothy R., 349n. 31
Attridge, Harold W., 38n. 23, 60n. 44, 69n. 52, 99n. 33, 100n. 34, 102n. 40, 103, 105n. 47, 106n. 51, 107, 110n. 65, 111, 113nn. 74–75, 114n. 76, 115, 116n. 81, 117n. 84, 120n. 89, 121n. 92, 123n. 99, 151n. 5, 173n. 3, 185n. 27, 186n. 31, 226, 260n. 6, 268n. 26, 278n. 51, 281n. 60, 294, 311n. 3, 328n. 7, 386, 392n. 20, 393, 405n. 10

Bachmann, Michael, 343n. 22
Baker, David L., 341n. 18
Barker, Margaret, 166n. 15
Bateman, Herbert W., IV, 9, 11, 23, 30n. 13, 70n. 55, 91n. 12, 430, 432
Baumgartner, Walter, 350n. 32
Beale, G. K., 341
Beeke, Joel, 248n. 2
Bénétreau, S., 279
Berkhof, L., 172, 173n. 2, 303
Borchert, Gerald L., 91n. 16, 116n. 81, 193n. 48, 195, 197, 222, 223, 367n. 56, 388n. 14
Bornkamm, Günther, 339n. 8
Bowker, John, 29n. 10
Boyer, James L., 209n. 83
Briant, Pierre, 39n. 25
Brown, Francis, 16, 354n. 35
Brown, Raymond E., 158n. 2
Bruce, F. F., 32n. 14, 100n. 34, 107n. 56, 110n. 65, 111, 113n. 75, 114n. 76, 115, 138n. 13, 158n. 2, 161n. 9, 185n. 28, 193n. 47, 198n. 56, 207, 224n. 6, 311n. 4, 317n. 13, 332n. 8, 333n. 9, 357n. 38, 357n. 39, 364n. 54, 370n. 61, 393n. 22
Buchanan, G. W., 159n. 4, 338n. 5, 340n. 12, 393n. 21
Buck, Daniel E., 25n. 4, 84n. 66
Burns, Lanier, 182n. 20

Calvin, John, 20, 137n. 10, 240n. 5, 306, 336
Caneday, Ardel B., 128n. 110, 203, 208
Carlston, Charles Edwin, 175n. 8
Carson, D. A., 92n. 17, 128n. 110, 135n. 7, 137n. 11, 138n. 13, 139n. 15, 142n. 20, 204, 207, 208, 213n. 88, 223, 224nn. 5–6, 232, 247n. 1, 317n. 13
Carter, Charles W., 323n. 1
Cockerill, Gareth L., 8, 11–12, 26, 39, 41n. 27, 57, 61, 63n. 46, 80, 130, 131n. 2, 134n. 4, 135, 140, 144, 198n. 56, 200n. 62, 233, 257, 265, 265n. 17, 293–310, 314–25, 326n. 5, 327, 329–33, 335, 399n. 5, 413n. 16, 415, 432, 433, 440
Colijn, Brenda B., 208n. 80
Compton, R. Bruce, 179n. 13
Cook, Edward, 30n. 12

Davies, W. D., 270n. 29
Decker, Rodney J., 215n. 95
Delitzsch, F., 159n. 4
De Silva, David A., 24n. 3, 25n. 4, 27n. 5, 34n. 18, 44n. 28, 53n. 37, 88, 91, 97n. 29, 98n. 29, 105n. 46, 109n. 64, 114n. 77, 120n. 89, 121, 122n. 95, 145, 151n. 5, 182n. 19, 189n. 38, 200n. 60, 258n. 3, 261n. 7, 263n. 12, 264n. 14, 266n. 20, 267n. 21, 271n. 31, 272n. 35, 274n. 38, 275n. 39, 276n. 46, 277nn. 49–50, 278n. 51, 278n. 53, 285n. 71, 286n. 73, 290, 295, 308, 311n. 5, 323n. 3, 386n. 6, 392n. 20, 436
De Young, J., 270n. 30
Di Lella, Alexander A., 75n. 57
Dillow, Joseph C., 127n. 106, 178n. 11, 188nn. 35–36, 206n. 74, 345n. 25, 360n. 42, 383, 407n. 11
Dods, Marcus, 357n. 38, 361n. 44, 404n. 9
Donaldson, Amy M., 30n. 11

Eaton, Michael A., 255n. 10, 344n. 25, 360n. 42
Ellingworth, Paul, 38n. 23, 60n. 43, 63n. 46, 87, 88n. 3, 90n. 10, 92n. 17, 95, 97n. 27, 99n. 33, 100, 103, 105n. 46, 106n. 51, 109n. 62, 110n. 65, 118n. 85, 120n. 90, 122n. 96, 123n. 99, 124n. 101, 125n. 102, 160n. 8, 220, 221n. 3, 229, 243n. 8, 244n. 9, 260n. 6, 264n. 15, 265n. 16, 274n. 37, 276nn. 43–45, 278n. 53, 280n. 58, 281n. 60, 282n. 65, 308, 317, 318n. 14, 339n. 9, 360n. 40, 386n. 6, 388n. 13, 391n. 19, 392n. 20, 393
Elliot, Ernest, 332n. 8
Elliott, J. Keith, 115n. 79, 185n. 29
Emmrich, Martin, 189n. 37, 192n. 45, 216n. 96, 244, 289, 344n. 24
Enns, Peter E., 105n. 47, 267n. 23, 272n. 33, 385n. 5

Fanning, Buist M., 8, 12, 26, 36n. 21, 40, 49, 54, 61, 80, 82, 129, 155, 172, 182n. 20, 213n. 88, 220–225, 228, 230–232, 233n. 1, 234–48, 250, 253, 255, 256, 264n. 15, 290n. 78, 295, 307, 317n. 11, 324, 347n. 28, 360n. 41, 378, 393, 394n. 26, 428, 431, 432, 433
Fee, Gordon D., 251n. 4
Feinberg, John S., 164n. 12
Fletcher-Louis, Crispin H. T., 166n. 14, 167n. 19
France, R. T., 341

Garland, David E., 251n. 6, 255n. 9
Geisler, Norman L., 255n. 10, 344n. 25
Gheorghita, Radu, 162n. 11
Gleason, Randall C., 8, 12–13, 26, 40, 54, 57, 61, 80, 82, 105n. 47, 145, 150, 157, 178n. 11, 179n. 14, 183, 184n. 25, 187n. 34, 188n. 36, 189n. 39, 220, 246, 266n. 19, 267n. 20, 269n. 27, 272n. 35, 274n. 36, 277n. 47, 295, 296, 308n. 1, 322, 336, 337n. 4, 340n. 12, 345n. 26, 362n. 45, 378–84, 390, 392–94, 396–413, 415nn. 1–2, 416–30, 433, 437
Goodman, M., 161n. 10
Goppelt, Leonhard, 341n. 18, 342n. 19
Grässer, Erich, 93n. 20, 101n. 37, 106n. 51, 111, 117n. 84, 120n. 89, 151n. 5
Gray, Barbara C., 254n. 8
Grogan, G. W., 263n. 10
Gromacki, Robert, 345n. 25
Grudem, Wayne, 112n. 72, 133n. 3, 138n. 13, 142n. 20, 179n. 13, 180n. 15, 193nn. 46–47, 200n. 62, 203n. 70, 207, 209n. 81, 217n. 98, 221n. 3, 317n. 13, 339n. 10
Guthrie, George H., 8, 13, 24n. 2, 27, 27n. 6, 36n. 21, 84n. 66, 91n. 11, 100n. 34, 105n. 47, 106n. 51, 107n. 54, 109n. 62, 110n. 65, 111, 115, 116n. 81, 120n. 87, 124n. 100, 138n. 13, 139n. 14, 141n. 18, 207n. 77, 217n. 97, 227, 231n. 15, 232, 248, 317n. 13, 368n. 57, 376n. 72, 387n. 10, 388n. 14, 392n. 20, 393n. 22, 414, 430, 437n. 2

Hagner, Donald A., 109n. 62, 328n. 7
Harris, Dana, 96n. 24
Hayes, Richard, 437n. 1
Hengel, Martin, 159n. 5
Hodges, Zane, 127n. 106, 142n. 19, 172n. 1, 177n. 10, 188nn. 35–36, 206n. 74, 383
Hofius, Otfried, 105n. 46, 162n. 11
Holwerda, David E., 269n. 28, 270n. 29
Houwelingen, P. H. R. van, 254n. 8, 367n. 55
Hughes, Philip E., 23, 24n. 1, 97n. 26, 99n. 33, 100n. 34, 103n. 41, 105n. 48, 110n. 65, 111n. 68, 112n. 73, 114n. 76, 159n. 4, 160n. 8, 220, 229, 230, 231n. 14, 232, 279n. 57, 286n. 74, 338n. 5, 360n. 41, 387nn. 11–12, 392n. 20, 393n. 21
Hurst, Lincoln D., 102, 166n. 14, 173, 386

Jeremais, Joachim, 39n. 25
Jewett, Robert, 122n. 97

Katz, P., 123n. 98
Kendall, R. T., 255n. 10, 345n. 25, 360n. 42
Kistemaker, Simon, 95n. 22
Klein, William W., 174
Koehler, Ludwig, 350n. 32
Koester, Craig R., 35n. 19, 66n. 51, 88n. 5, 91n. 15, 101nn. 37–38, 106n. 51, 109n. 63, 110n. 65, 111, 113n. 74, 114, 115, 118n. 85, 120n. 89, 122n. 96, 151n. 5, 193n. 48, 239n. 4, 254n. 8, 257n. 2, 258n. 3, 387n. 12, 392n. 20
Kurianal, James, 64n. 49

Laansma, Jon, 52n. 36, 53n. 37, 58n. 40, 96n. 25, 100n. 35, 102n. 40, 106n. 49, 351n. 33, 387n. 10
Lane, William L., 35n. 19, 49n. 34, 60n. 43, 66n. 51, 87, 91n. 14, 92n. 18, 94n. 21, 95, 100nn. 33–34, 101n. 37, 104, 106n. 51, 109nn. 61–62, 110n. 65, 114n. 76, 115, 118n. 85, 120n. 88, 121n. 93, 123nn. 98–99, 124n. 101, 138, 158n. 2, 178n. 11, 198, 220, 221n. 3, 226, 227n. 9, 229, 231, 232, 239n. 3, 257n. 2, 263n. 11, 275nn. 40–41, 277n. 50, 278n. 51, 279n. 54, 279nn. 56–57, 281n. 63, 284n. 68, 285n. 70, 285n. 72, 287nn. 75–76, 311n. 4, 354n. 34, 369nn. 59–60, 370nn. 62–63, 388n. 13, 389, 390, 391n. 18, 393
Lang, G. H., 188n. 35, 333n. 10, 342n. 21
Lee, John A. L., 110n. 65
Lincoln, Andrew T., 328n. 7
Lindars, Barnabas, 185n. 27, 338n. 5

Mackie, J. L., 213n. 89
MacLeod, David J., 182n. 20
MacRae, George W., 167n. 20
Madvig, Donald H., 341n. 18
Margaliot, M., 348n. 30
Marshall, I. Howard, 92n. 18, 112n. 72, 116n. 81, 141n. 19, 142n. 20, 175n. 7, 178nn. 11–12, 182n. 19, 185n. 27, 203, 208n. 79, 316n. 10, 324n. 4, 388n. 14
Mathewson, Dave, 175n. 8, 176n. 9, 179n. 14, 189n. 39, 344n. 24
McKay, K. L., 139n. 15, 215n. 95
McKnight, Scott, 28n. 8, 29, 36n. 21, 84, 89, 112n. 72, 116n. 81, 127n. 109, 135, 175n. 8, 176, 178nn. 11–12, 189n. 39, 190n. 42, 200n. 60, 200n. 62, 201, 208, 215n. 95, 216n. 96, 220, 244, 258n. 4, 267n. 21, 273n. 36, 274n. 38, 282n. 65, 295, 296, 297n. 2, 308, 360n. 41, 384n. 4, 388n. 14, 397n. 1
Meyer, Ben F., 166n. 16
Michaelis, Wilhelm, 98n. 30, 117n. 83
Michel, Otto, 100n. 34, 103n. 43, 108n. 58, 121n. 93
Moffatt, J., 338n. 6
Montefiore, Hugh, 92n. 17, 100n. 34
Moo, Douglas J., 141n. 18
Morris, Leon, 339n. 9
Mosser, Carl, 159n. 4
Moule, Handley, 443n. 3, 445n. 6

Nicole, Roger, 112n. 72, 127n. 107, 179n. 13, 217n. 98, 221n. 3, 274n. 38
Nutting, H. C., 139n. 16, 209, 318n. 15

Oberholtzer, Thomas Kem, 345n. 25, 360n. 42
Oropeza, B. J., 306
Osborne, Grant R., 8, 13, 26, 40, 53, 61, 67, 80, 83, 86, 88n. 4, 129–30, 135, 136n. 8, 137–43, 144–56, 157–58, 162–65, 168–70, 177n. 11, 178n. 12, 200n. 60, 200n. 62, 202, 203, 208n. 79, 220, 293, 295, 307, 317n. 11, 376n. 71, 378, 411, 422n. 5, 432–33, 440
Outler, Albert C., 323n. 2
Owen, John, 20, 112n. 72, 179n. 13

Parsons, Mikeal C., 182n. 20
Patai, Raphael, 166n. 15
Pentecost, J. Dwight, 172n. 1, 183n. 22, 187n. 34, 340n. 14, 343n. 21, 344n. 24, 345n. 25, 361n. 44
Peterson, David, 108n. 59, 109n. 64, 299n. 3, 311n. 4, 313n. 7, 338n. 7, 360n. 41, 368n. 57, 374n. 66, 375
Pfitzner, Victor C., 29n. 10, 32n. 14
Piper, John, 205n. 73, 443n. 5
Porter, Stanley E., 104n. 44, 209n. 83, 213n. 88, 214nn. 91–92, 215n. 95, 338n. 6, 394

Rhee, Victor, 20, 84n. 65, 124n. 100, 136n. 8, 402n. 7, 413n. 15
Rice, George E., 84n. 67
Riley, Mark, 110n. 65
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, 172n. 1, 184n. 26

Sabourin, L., 263n. 10
Schmidt, T. E., 258n. 4
Scholer, John M., 118, 125
Schreiner, Thomas R., 112n. 72, 178n. 11, 218n. 99, 304
Scott, Jack B., 345n. 26
Scott, Julius J., 254
Shank, Robert, 115n. 79, 184n. 26
Skehan, Patrick W., 76n. 57
Smith, Robert E., 217n. 98
Spicq, Ceslas, 18, 32n. 14, 92n. 17, 99n. 32, 100n. 34, 108n. 58, 159n. 4, 184n. 26, 284n. 68, 338n. 5, 340n. 12, 370n. 62
Sproul, John A., 180n. 16
Stanley, Steven K., 405n. 10
Swetnam, J., 107n. 52, 121n. 94

Tanner, J. Paul, 189n. 37
Theissen, Gerd, 105n. 47
Thompson, James W., 116n. 82, 122, 126n. 104, 388n. 15
Toussaint, Stanley D., 190n. 42, 360n. 41
Tov, Emanuel, 159n. 6
Trotter, Andrew H., 115n. 80, 338n. 5
Turner, Laurence A., 334
Turner, Nigel, 111n. 69

Vanhoozer, Kevin, 438
Vanhoye, Albert, 90n. 9, 106n. 51, 118n. 85
Verbrugge, Verlyn D., 127, 274n. 38
Volf, Judith M. Gundry, 141n. 18, 170n. 23, 305, 306
VonKamecke, Fred, 112n. 71

Walker, Peter W. L., 268n. 26, 269n. 28, 361n. 44, 363n. 50, 403, 404n. 9
Wallace, Daniel B., 209, 215n. 95
Watts, J. D. W., 363n. 51
Weeks, N., 110n. 66, 179n. 14, 344n. 24
Weiss, Herold F., 105n. 46, 106n. 50, 244n. 9
Wesley, John, 257n. 1, 323, 336, 443–45
Westcott, Brooke Foss, 32n. 14, 99n. 32, 103n. 42, 115n. 79, 159n. 4, 169, 184n. 26, 328n. 7, 332n. 8, 333n. 9
Wikgren, A., 374n. 68
Wise, Michael, 30n. 12
Wright, N. T., 166n. 13, 440

Yamauchi, Edwin, 254n. 8
Young, E. J., 363n. 53
Young, Richard A., 209n. 83


ἁγιάζω, 25, 339n. 10, 375
ἁγιασμός, 25, 285n. 72
ἁγιότης, 25
ἀδόκιμος, 170
ἀδύνατος, 79n. 60
ἀξιωθήσεται, 282n. 65
ἀθετήσας, 282n. 64
αἰώνιος, 361, 361n. 43
ἀκούετε, 29n. 9
ἀκούσατε, 29n. 9
ἀκούσητε, 45
ἀκουσθεῖσιν, 31–32
ἀκούω, 29n. 9
ἁμαρτανόντων, 281n. 62
ἀμελέω, 33–34n. 17, 93
ἀναιρέω, 362n. 48
ἀνακαινίζειν, 177n. 10
ἀνακαινίζω, 79–80n. 61
ἀνασταυροῦντας, 115, 150–51, 357–58
ἀνασταυρόω, 276n. 44
ἀντικαθίστημι, 35n. 19
ἅπαξ, 113n. 74, 126, 352
ἀπεδοκιμάσθη, 169–70
ἄπειρος, 77n. 58
ἀπιστία, 97–98n. 29
ἀπιστίας, 347
ἀποστῆναι, 162, 389
ἀποστρεφόμενοι, 125–26
ἀπώλεια, 70n. 55
ἀρχηγός, 263n. 10
ἀφανισμός, 362n. 47
ἀφίστημι, 47, 47–48n. 32

βέβαιος, 33n. 15, 49n. 34, 92, 94
βέβηλος, 285n. 72, 332–33
βλέπετε, 47, 51, 97, 97n. 27, 160

γενηθέντας, 274n. 36
γευσαμένους, 273–74n. 36
γυμνός, 60n. 44

διαθήκη, 172, 339n. 11
δικαιοσύνη, 109
δοκέω, 103, 103n. 41, 103n. 43
δύναμαι, 79n. 60
δύναμις, 79n. 60

ἑαυτοῦ, 99n. 32
ἐγγίζουσαν, 160
ἐγκαινίζω, 63n. 47, 118
εἰμί, 211n. 85
εἰσερχόμεθα, 227
ἐκδοχή, 120n. 90
ἑκουσίως, 65n. 50, 153, 281n. 61, 358
ἐκπίπτω, 275n. 41
ἐκφεύγω, 294
ἐνδείκνυμι, 370
ἐνυβρίζω, 121
ἐνυβρίσας, 283n. 67
ἕξιν, 109–10, 110n. 65
ἐπαγγελία, 103
ἐπίγνωσις, 120, 281n. 60
ἐπιθυμέω, 82, 82n. 63
ἐπισυναγωγή, 119
εὐλογέω, 333
ἔχωμεν χάριν, 126n. 105

ζῆλος, 120

θεατρίζω, 68–69n. 52
θέατρον, 69n. 52
θεράπων, 263, 263n. 11

κατανοέω, 95
καταπατέω, 359
καταπατήσας, 252, 283n. 67
κατάπαυσις, 52n. 36, 53n. 37
καταπαύω, 106
κατέχω, 64n. 48, 119, 191, 248
κοινὸν ἡγησάμενος, 283n. 67
κοινός, 121, 252, 359–60, 381
κοίνωνος, 69n. 53
κρατέω, 191, 248
κρείσσων, 384
κρείττων, 116, 384
κρίσις, 331
κῶλον, 101

μάχαιραν, 60n. 43
μέλλω, 121
μετάνοια, 123
μέτοχοι, 274n. 36
μέτοχος, 48–49n. 34, 100
μετόχους, 274n. 36, 353
μιμητής, 117
μισθαποδοσία, 70n. 54

νωθρός, 75n. 57, 82n. 64, 108, 117, 221

ὁμολογία, 119
ὄνομα, 30n. 12

παντελές, 226
πάντοτε, 226
παραδειγματίζοντας, 115, 150–51
παραδειγματίζω, 275n. 41
παραιτέομαι, 38n. 23
παρακαλεῖτε, 51
παρακαλέω, 99
παρακλῆσις, 35–36n. 20
παραπεσόντας, 114, 275, 353–54, 424
παραπικραίνω, 50n. 35, 98n. 30, 275n. 41
παραπικρασμός, 50n. 35, 275n. 41
παραπίπτω, 78, 78n. 59, 353, 354, 354n. 34
παράπτωμα, 275n. 41
παραρρέω, 32, 32n. 14, 275n. 41
παραρυῶ, 92, 275n. 41
παραφέρω, 275n. 41
παρειμένας, 275n. 41
παροξυσμός, 119
παρρησία, 63n. 46, 118, 369
πείθω, 116
περιποίμοις, 70
περισσοτέρως, 91
πιστεύω, 104
πληροφορία, 119, 369–70
πόρνος, 285nn. 71–72
προσερχώμεθα, 118
προσέχω, 91
πρωτοτόκια, 333n. 10

σαββατισμός, 53n. 37, 58n. 40, 106, 351, 386–87
σήμερον, 56n. 38
σκληρύνω, 46n. 31, 97n. 28
σπουδάζω, 59n. 42, 106
σπουδή, 117, 227
στοιχεῖα, 109n. 60
σῴζω, 226
σωτηρία, 116, 388

τελειότητα, 279, 299
τελειόω, 25n. 4, 279, 374
τελειωοις, 25n. 4
τετελείωκεν, 229
τετραχηλισμένα, 60n. 44
τομώτερος, 60n. 43

ὑπεναντίος, 121
ὑπόστασις, 100, 370–71

φοβερός, 66n. 51
φοβηθῶμεν, 52
φωτισθέντας, 273n. 36, 352


Old Testament

2:2 56, 73, 101, 105, 106, 148, 267, 350, 386
3:17–18 115
6:8 171
6:18 171
9:16 363n. 52
14 267n. 23
15:6 171, 346
15:9–21 171
22:6 60n. 43
22:10 60n. 43
22:16–17 194
25–31 334
25:29–34 333
26:34 123
27:34–38 170, 333
27:39–40 333
27:41 160
33:4 169n. 21, 334
33:12 334
33:15 334
36:6 334
36:31–43 334
40:19 101, 422
49:3–4 334n. 11
Genesis 332

4 345
4:30–31 345, 353, 379
4:31 164, 345
7:3 97n. 28
7:13–14 97n. 28
11:9–10 343n. 22
12:27 345
12:28 345, 379
12:50 345, 379
13:15 46n. 31
13:21 352, 391
14:7–9 348, 398
14:13 164, 343n. 22, 345, 379
14:15–18 343n. 22
14:30 164, 345, 379
14:30–31 346
14:31 164
15:1–17 164
15:2 346
15:13 346
15:16 346
17 98
17:1–7 46n. 30, 46n. 31, 47, 98
17:7 347, 349, 379
19:1–20:21 79n. 59
19:3–20:21 33n. 15
19:12 124
19:16 124
19:16–19 40, 124
19:18 389
19:19 124
20:1 33n. 16
20:8–10 57n. 40
20:15 82n. 63
20:17 82n. 63
20:18 124
23:14–19 45
23:27–31 355
24:1–9 346
26:31 166
31:12–16 351
31:13–17 57n. 40
31:14–15 358
32:1–6 348n. 29
32:9 46n. 31, 97n. 28
32:21–25 348n. 29
32:32 124
32:35 348n. 29
33:1–2 355
33:3 356
33:5 46n. 31
34:9 46n. 31
35:1–3 57n. 40
36:2 65
36:35 166
Exodus 287

6:1–7 151n. 5
10 406
10:1–2 364, 382
13:23 212
13:28 212
13:37 212
13:42 212
13:51 212
13:57 212
16 404
19:7 211
23:26–28 106, 387
23:32 106
24:8 363n. 52

11 406
11:1–2 364, 382, 392
11:4–6 349
11:16–30 343, 353, 380, 424
11:18–23 349
11:21–23 348n. 29
12 263, 294
12:7 165, 206n. 74, 243, 263, 263n. 13
13–14 263, 264
13:1–14:45 48n. 32
13:26 349
13:32–14:4 48n. 33
13:33 96
14 47, 53n. 36, 95, 96, 96n. 24, 98, 98n. 29, 99, 149, 162, 294, 295, 347, 349, 379, 380, 383, 389, 390, 397, 398, 399, 400
14:1–10 355
14:3 422
14:4 263n. 10
14:7–9 349
14:8–10 349
14:9 48n. 32, 398
14:9–11 162, 348
14:11 98n. 29, 347–48, 380, 398
14:11–12 99, 295
14:11–12a 50
14:13–19 295
14:19 326, 349
14:19–20 326n. 5, 380
14:20 266n. 19, 326, 349, 356, 391
14:20–23 163
14:21 347
14:22 50, 98n. 29, 151n. 6, 355
14:22–23 268n. 24
14:23 50, 99
14:24 399
14:27 398
14:28 347
14:29 50, 347
14:30 399
14:32 99
14:32–33 347
14:32–35 326
14:33 285n. 71
14:35 398
14:38 399
14:39 325, 356
14:39–40 391
14:39–45 50, 163, 266, 355, 381
14:40 325, 356
14:41–45 356
14:43 99
14:43–45 60n. 43
15 401, 402
15:29–31 299
15:30–31 120, 358, 392
15:30–36 66, 163, 344, 364, 379, 401
15:32–36 358, 392
16 406
16:35 281n. 63, 364, 382
20 348, 402
20:1 348, 349
20:1–13 46n. 30, 46n. 31
20:2–13 98
20:8 349
20:10 349
20:10–12 348
20:12 165, 252, 348
20:24 165, 348, 349
26:10 281n. 63
32:9 48n. 32, 48n. 33
32:13–15 51
Numbers 263n. 11

1:31 326, 326n. 6, 350, 380
1:32 348
1:43 325
4:11–13 40
4:12 124
4:23–24 41n. 27
4:24 126, 230
4:24b 43
4:33 348
4:34 343n. 22
5:17 82n. 63
5:21 82n. 63
5:26 348
6:15 41
6:16 46n. 30
8:5 36n. 20, 76n. 57, 334
9:3 41
9:6 46n. 31
9:13 46n. 31
9:19 287
9:20–21 348
9:22 46n. 30
9:23 348
9:23–24 347, 348
11:26–28 277n. 50, 330
11:26–29 79n. 59
12:9 53n. 36
12:9–10 56
13:8 282
14:26 82n. 63
17:6 73, 344, 359, 364, 379
17:12 358, 364, 401
21:17 333n. 10
26:8 343n. 22
28–30 188
28:1–6 330
28:1–29:28 330
28:26 101, 422n. 5
28:58–68 79n. 59
29:15–20 285, 285n. 70
29:17 285n. 70
29:18 123
29:23 330
31:14 160
31:27 46n. 31, 50n. 35
32 300, 406
32:21–22 364, 382
32:35 121
32:35–36 73, 283, 300, 344, 379
32:36 121, 339
32:51 252
33:1–2 33n. 16
33:2 92n. 19, 385
33:8 46n. 30

21:43–45 57n. 39
21:44 56
22:9 48n. 32
23 57n. 39

2:19 46n. 31
3:16 60n. 43
3:21–22 60n. 43

1 Samuel
6:9 214n. 92
15:18–19 303
15:24–26 303

2 Samuel
7:14 30n. 12
22:43 121
24:14 366, 382
24:15 163, 366
24:17 366

1 Kings
2:1 160
8:27–53 53n. 36
8:33–34 167n. 18
9:1–9 53n. 36
11:4 303
14:11 101, 422n. 5

2 Kings
17:14 46n. 31

1 Chronicles
11:17 82n. 63
28:2 350
28:9 303

2 Chronicles
6:41 53n. 36, 350
20:20 346n. 27
30:8 46n. 31
36:13 46n. 31, 97n. 28

6:8–12 39n. 25
7:12–26 39n. 25

9:9–21 164
9:12 352, 391
9:13–21 326
9:16–17 46n. 31
9:17 346
9:20 348, 391
9:26 46n. 31
13:15–22 57n. 40

1:6 30n. 12
2:1 30n. 12
21:6 211
38:7 30n. 12

2:2 30n. 12
2:6–7 30n. 12
2:7 56n. 38
5:10 [11] 50n. 35
8:6 441
19:10 113
29:8 40
34 [33] 36n. 22
34:8 113
34 [33]:1–10 36n. 22
34 [33]:11–22 37n. 22
34 [33]:15 [14] 36, 37n. 22
47 [46]:2 [3] 66n. 51
54 [53]:6 [8] 66
68:7–8 40
69:28 124
78 342
78:12–33 28n. 7
78 [77]:17 50n. 35
78:38 346
78 [77]:40 50n. 35
78:42 346
78 [77]:56 50n. 35
78:69 167n. 18
81:10–12 28n. 7
89:32–35 302
94 [93]:10 36n. 20
95 [94] 45, 46, 46n. 31, 56n. 38, 57n. 39, 96, 96n. 24, 97, 99, 104, 105, 107, 149, 266n. 18, 267n. 23, 347, 379, 385, 390, 397, 399
95:1–7a 45n. 29, 47
95:7 231
95 [94]:7a 56
95:7–8 265
95:7b–8 73
95 [94]:7–11 46n. 31, 52n. 36, 95, 96, 101, 106, 264, 390
95 [94]:7b–11 45, 45n. 29, 46, 73
95 [94]:8 46n. 31, 50n. 35
95:8–9 98
95:8–11 28n. 7
95:9 98n. 29
95 [94]:11 44n. 28, 52n. 36, 56n. 38, 73, 267, 350, 386
96 [95]:4 66n. 51
99:8 163, 326, 346
102 168
102 [103]:5 80n. 61
102:13–14 168
102:25–27 40
102:26–27 168
104:2 167n. 18
104 [103]:30 80n. 61
105 [104]:39 [19] 352, 391
106:6 346
106:6–12 164
106:6–33 342
106:7 346
106:8 346
106:10 346
106:24 348
106:24–27 28n. 7
107 [106]:11 50n. 35
110:1 90, 302, 441
110:4 198, 267n. 23, 371, 427n. 8
119 [118]:63 49n. 34
119:103 113
132 53n. 36
132:8 350
132:13–14 350
132:14 53n. 36

3:1–20 32n. 14
3:11–12 36n. 20
3:12 334
3:21 32n. 14, 92n. 17
4:21 32n. 14
4:26 122
22:29 76n. 57
28:14 46n. 31
29:1 46n. 31

2:8 82n. 63
4:4 189
5:1–7 115, 277n. 50
11:10 53n. 36, 350
13:10 126
14:16–17 389
24 363
24–27 406
24:1 363, 392
24:2 363n. 52
24:5 363, 392
24:6 363
24:21 160
26 363
26:9 82n. 63
26:11 120, 363, 382
32:18 53n. 36
33:14 126, 230
34:4 126
35:3–8 122
40:10 70n. 54
40:22 167n. 18
48:4 46n. 31
49:2 60n. 43
56:2 58n. 40
56:7 58n. 40
57:20–21 82n. 63
58:13 57n. 40
60:5 39n. 25
62:11 70n. 54
63:7–14 342n. 20
63:8–9 164, 346
63:9 346
63:11 353, 391
63:14 353
63:18 121
65:17–18 167n. 18
66:1 53n. 36, 350
66:24 101, 422

2:5 48n. 32
7:1–15 53n. 36
7:26 46n. 31
12:11 362n. 47
17:5 48n. 32
17:19–27 58n. 40
17:23 46n. 31, 305
19:8 362n. 47
19:15 46n. 31
31 229, 310n. 2, 313, 372–73, 404–5
31:3 302
31:31–34 228, 238, 373
31:32 93
31:33 204, 223, 312, 373
31:33–34 376
31:34 198, 204, 312, 373
31:34d 223, 239
32:29 50n. 35
39:29 50n. 35
44:3 50n. 35
44:8 50n. 35
51:3 50n. 35
51:8 50n. 35

5:21 80n. 61

2:4 46n. 31
3:1–3 113
3:7 46n. 31
6:14 362n. 47
7:7 160
13:9 125
14:9 212
14:13 79n. 59, 354
15:8 354
18:24 303, 354
18:26 303
20:4–8 51
20:8 48n. 32
20:10–22 28n. 7
20:27 354
20:38 48n. 32, 52
22:4 79n. 59
26:20 361n. 43
33:9 211n. 86
33:13 303
33:18 303
36:25 373, 374
36:26 374
36:26–27 204, 224
Ezekiel 400

7:10 125
7:11 127, 230
9:5 48n. 32
9:9 48n. 32
9:26 362n. 47
10:13 30n. 12
12:1 125
12:2 303, 361n. 43

1:15 160
2:3 126–27, 230
2:10 389
2:10–11 126
3:10 79n. 60

5:21–27 28n. 7

3:5 346n. 27

7:10 121
7:13 362n. 47

2:3–4 283

1:14–18 160
1:15 389
1:18 73

1:1–11 39n. 24
2:1–5 39n. 25
2:1–9 39n. 24, 39n. 25
2:5 353, 391
2:6 39, 40n. 26, 43, 126, 389, 390
2:6–7 39n. 25
2:6–9 39n. 25, 167
2:7 40n. 26
2:6 39–40, 39n. 25
2:15–19 39n. 24
Haggai 39n. 24

12:10 121

New Testament

2:16 362n. 48
5:13 359
5:18 33n. 15
5:22 361
5:28 82n. 63
7:6 359
7:13 70n. 55, 410
7:15–23 439
7:23 298, 304
12:31–32 336
13:30 115, 388
13:41–42 410
13:42 115, 388
13:49–50 410
13:50 115, 388
16:27 108
18:8 361
18:9 361
19:26 79n. 60
20:19 334
22:5 33n. 17, 34n. 17, 93
23:30 69n. 53
23:37–24:28 161, 337, 367
24:2 167n. 19
24:4–5 304
24:11 304
24:13 304
24:24 303
24:29–31 389
24:35 167
24:36 160
25:1–13 304
25:12 304
25:14–30 304
25:30 304
25:34 303
25:41 127, 361
25:46 361

1:14–15 113
3:5 97n. 28
3:28–30 114
6:52 97n. 28
8:17 97n. 28
9:43–48 361
10:27 79n. 60, 114
10:34 335
13:1–32 337, 367
13:2 97, 167n. 19
13:5 97
13:9 97
13:23 97
13:24–25 126
13:31 167
13:33 97
14:43 60n. 43
14:48 60n. 43

1:1–4 62n. 45
1:32–33 30n. 12
1:35 30n. 12
3:38 30n. 12
5:7 49n. 34
5:10 69n. 53
6:33–34 212n. 87
8:5 359
10:20 125
11:20 113
12:42–46 303
12:46 303
13:11 372
15:16 82n. 63
15:20 334
16:21 82n. 63
18:27 79n. 60
18:33 335
21:5–36 337, 367
21:6 167n. 19
21:33 167
21:36 294
22:2 362n. 48
22:15 82n. 63
22:17–20 171n. 24
22:38 60n. 43
23:32 362n. 48

1:9 273n. 36, 391
1:25 214n. 92
2:11 171n. 24
2:15 212n. 87
3:3 113
3:15–16 297
3:36 297
5:24 297, 303
5:31 212
6:32–33 352, 391
6:37–40 303
6:47 297
8:31 212
8:47 29
8:51 304
8:54 212n. 87
9:27 29
10:27–29 303
12:20 159
12:38 29
13:8 214n. 93
13:17 212n. 87
15:1–6 304
15:6 115, 388
15:14 210, 212n. 87
17 303
17:12 70n. 55, 303, 410
19:1 335
19:12 211
20:31 297

2:5–11 161n. 10
2:22 94
2:23 362
5:33 362
6:1–6 159
6:9 159
7:38 92n. 19, 260n. 6
7:38–42 28n. 7
7:53 33n. 16, 92n. 19, 260n. 6
8:20 410
9:1 159
9:23 362
12:1–2 159
12:1–4 66n. 51
12:18–19 66n. 51
13:18 326, 326n. 6
13:48 302
18:2 158n. 2
20:33 82n. 63
26:28 232

2:3 294
2:6 108
2:25 212
3:20 93
4:13–15 93
4:16 33n. 15
5:15 275n. 41
5:17–18 275n. 41
5:20 275n. 41
7:2 211
7:3 211n. 86
7:7 82n. 63
8 112, 146, 149–50, 302
8:1–6 302
8:3 79n. 60
8:7–10 302
8:9 95, 140, 141n. 18
8:9–11 113
8:11–13 303
8:12–14 304
8:14–17 113, 303
8:17 95, 140, 141n. 18
8:18–25 303
8:26–27 303
8:28–30 303
8:29 87, 125
8:31–39 303
9 302
9:20–21 302
9:22 410
11:11–12 275n. 41
11:16 214n. 92
11:20–22 303
11:22 95, 140, 141n. 18
11:29 303
12:4–8 94
13:9 82n. 63
14:5 369
14:8 212n. 87
14:15 304
14:23 212
15:19 94

1 Corinthians
2:8 251
3:12–15 108
3:13 127
3:14–15 187n. 33
3:15 127, 255, 255n. 10, 298
4:5 187n. 33
4:9 69n. 52
5:5 331
7:39 212
7:40 212n. 87
9:24–27 305
9:27 170
10:1–11 28n. 7
10:12 305
10:17 251, 251n. 5
10:18 69n. 52
10:20 69n. 52
11:2 64n. 48
11:25–30 251
11:27 251, 252
11:29 251n. 5
11:30 222, 254, 331
11:32 255
12:7–11 94
13:1 212
13:2 212n. 87
14:14 211n. 86
15:1–2 64n. 48
15:6 94
15:13 214n. 92

2 Corinthians
1:7 33n. 15, 69n. 53
5:10 255
6:14 49n. 34
8:23 69n. 53
12:12 94
13:5 95, 140, 141n. 18, 247n. 1
13:5a 439

2:10 59n. 42
2:16 93
3:19 92n. 19, 260n. 6
3:19–4:7 93
4:7 214n. 92
5:4 275n. 41
6:1 100
6:2 100

1:3 113, 124
1:4–5 302
1:13–14 303
1:18 273n. 36, 391
1:20 113, 124
2:6 124
2:6–7 113
2:8–9 87
2:19 125
3:10 113, 124
4:30 303
5:23 303
5:27 303
6:12 113, 124
6:17 60n. 43
Ephesians 102n. 40

1:6 303
1:28 70n. 55, 410
2:13 303
3:19 70n. 55, 410
3:20 125
4:3 125

1:15 125
1:18 125
1:21–23 304
1:23 95, 140, 141n. 18
2:2 369
2:8 109n. 60
2:20 109n. 60
3:3 303
4:12 369

1 Thessalonians
1:4–5 170, 369
2:14–15 159
5:3 294

2 Thessalonians
1:9 361
2:3 70n. 55, 304, 410

1 Timothy
1:12 126n. 105
1:18–20 303
1:20 331
2:4 120
3:1 82n. 63
4:1 304
4:14 33n. 17
4:16 304

2 Timothy
1:3 126n. 105
1:10 391
1:12 303
2:13 302
2:19 303
2:25 120
4:4 126
4:9 59n. 42

1:1 120
1:14 126

14 65n. 50
17 69n. 53

1 32n. 14, 93, 158n. 2
1–2 91
1:1 29, 33, 260, 260n. 6
1:1–2a 42, 92
1:1–3 384, 389
1:1–4 62n. 45, 90, 259, 260, 262, 310
1:1–14 24, 29–30, 29n. 9, 32, 42, 49, 64, 90, 92
1:1–2:4 34n. 18
1:1–10:18 388
1:1–10:19 384
1:2 36, 38, 91, 160, 274n. 36, 359
1:2a 30, 32, 32n. 14, 33, 90
1:2a–2:3–4 93
1:2b 40
1:2b–3 30, 93–94
1:2b–4 32, 32n. 14
1:3 90, 91, 261, 323, 325, 351, 370
1:4 30, 30n. 12, 116, 384
1:4–14 43, 91, 385
1:4–2:18 384
1:5 56n. 38, 190n. 41, 408
1:5–13 32, 32n. 14, 63n. 46, 91
1:5–14 30, 90n. 9, 260n. 6
1:5–2:4 80n. 61
1:5–2:18 90
1:8 40, 41, 190n. 41, 408
1:8–9 63n. 46
1:9 48n. 34, 69n. 53
1:10 343n. 22
1:10–12 40, 118, 124, 168
1:13 90, 91, 441
1:14 25, 40, 122, 323
2 29n. 9, 71, 195
2:1 25, 29n. 9, 32, 32n. 14, 43, 89, 93, 119, 123, 131, 178, 181, 181n. 17, 191, 250, 259, 261, 266, 275n. 41, 298, 354, 399
2:1a 32
2:1–2 91, 121, 162
2:1–3 338
2:1–4 27, 27n. 6, 28, 29–34, 36, 39, 42–43, 44, 74, 84, 89, 90, 90–94, 90n. 9, 109, 125, 145, 146–47, 148, 150, 151, 155, 173, 177, 194, 236, 236n. 2, 259–62, 282, 284, 288, 293, 301, 302, 385, 397n. 2
2:2 26, 33n. 15, 43, 70n. 54, 92, 93, 94, 260n. 6, 261
2:2a 33
2:2b 33, 260
2:2–3 43, 92, 214n. 92, 256, 343, 379, 389
2:2–3a 385
2:2–4 29n. 10, 38, 62n. 45, 260
2:3 25, 33–34n. 17, 43, 70n. 54, 76n. 57, 93, 131, 133, 178, 181, 187, 187n. 32, 189, 222, 241, 250, 261, 262, 273, 280, 281, 281n. 59, 288, 294, 389, 399, 407, 408, 410
2:3–4 34, 43, 90, 113, 353, 360
2:3b–4 128, 155, 259
2:4 42, 88, 113, 274n. 37, 323, 385
2:5 53n. 37
2:5–9 31, 441
2:5–18 90n. 9, 236, 243, 262, 270
2:8 116n. 82
2:8a 441
2:8b 441
2:9 49n. 34, 112
2:10 25, 36n. 20, 164, 195, 206n. 74, 262, 263, 263n. 10, 279, 299
2:10–18 31
2:11 24, 25, 49n. 34, 90, 325, 339n. 10, 375
2:11–12 31, 49n. 34, 206n. 74
2:12 90
2:13 49n. 34, 206n. 74
2:14 264n. 14, 353
2:14–15 24
12:14–29 28, 44
2:15 282
2:16 264n. 14
2:17 24, 31, 90, 118n. 85, 195, 195n. 52, 223, 325
2:17–18 164, 169, 182, 195, 197, 206n. 76, 222, 225, 312n. 6, 320
2:18 323, 417
3 44, 97, 215, 319, 343n. 23, 385
3–4 52n. 36, 131, 163–65, 183, 184, 295, 316, 327–29, 342, 343, 347–50, 350–52, 379, 397, 398, 399, 400, 420, 423
3:1 24, 36, 49n. 34, 63n. 46, 69n. 53, 89–90, 95, 100n. 34, 113, 128, 131, 155, 157, 164, 178, 243, 264nn. 14–15, 274n. 36, 278n. 52, 313–14, 316n. 11, 329, 338, 339n. 8, 367, 368, 382
3:1–6 43, 44, 72, 95, 236, 263, 272n. 34, 421
3:1–4:13 195n. 52, 214, 214n. 94, 384, 385
3:2 95, 195, 206n. 74, 226, 385
3:2–5 164
3:2–6 195n. 53
3:3 165, 342, 385, 408
3:5 95, 165, 206n. 74, 243n. 8, 263, 282, 385
3:5b 263
3:5–6 189, 195, 226, 407
3:6 63, 63n. 46, 64n. 48, 100, 100n. 35, 116n. 82, 119, 128, 128n. 110, 131, 134, 135, 137, 138, 138n. 13, 139, 140, 142, 155, 178, 181, 191, 195n. 53, 196, 201, 202n. 64, 206, 206n. 74, 207, 207nn. 77–78, 208, 208n. 79, 210, 211, 211n. 85, 213n. 88, 214, 215, 216, 218, 218n. 99, 224, 231, 234, 235, 241n. 6, 242–44, 245, 247, 249, 255, 264, 264n. 15, 265n. 16, 271, 294, 303, 315n. 9, 316–21, 324–25, 351, 369, 375–77, 383, 385, 388n. 15, 398, 412, 413
3:6a 63n. 46
3:6b 95, 96
3:6–4:11 256
3:6–4:13 173, 188, 206, 236n. 2
3:7 56n. 38, 95, 97, 231, 262
3:7ff 95
3:7b–8a 98
3:7–11 45, 96, 264, 343, 390
3:7–13 350
3:7–19 44, 45–51, 96–101, 102, 147, 148, 236, 263n. 10, 264, 296, 380, 387, 421
3:7–4:11 56n. 38, 94–108, 106n. 51, 147–49, 147n. 2, 150, 247, 257n. 1, 259, 260, 262, 268, 269, 270, 276n. 45, 420–24
3:7–4:13 27, 28, 44–61, 52n. 36, 66, 70, 71–73, 74, 84, 90, 109, 125, 155, 164, 195, 262–72, 294, 391, 420n. 4
3:8 28n. 7, 48, 48nn. 32–33, 50n. 35, 97, 187, 275n. 41, 343, 397
3:8–9 347, 379, 397
3:10 397
3:10a 99
3:10b 98
3:10–11 343n. 23, 412n. 14
3:10–12 187, 190, 410
3:11 53n. 37, 267, 320, 347
3:11b 99
3:11–4:13 297
3:12 24, 25, 26, 47–48n. 32, 71, 72, 87, 90, 97, 100, 104, 107, 127, 131, 157, 162, 181, 191, 195, 250, 258, 265, 265, 265n. 16, 275, 276, 320, 341, 343, 347, 379, 380, 385, 387, 397, 398
3:12a 47, 72
3:12b 47, 50n. 35
3:12–13 51, 82n. 63, 133, 181n. 17, 320, 441
3:12–14 264, 265, 265n. 16, 342, 398
3:12–15 62n. 45
3:12–19 46–47, 96, 101, 265n. 16
3:13 48n. 33, 56n. 38, 71, 72, 116n. 82, 127, 181, 265, 265–66, 320
3:13a 48
3:13b 48
3:13–14 99, 154
3:13–15 48
3:14 33n. 15, 49n. 34, 64n. 48, 69n. 53, 79n. 59, 89, 95, 113, 119, 128n. 110, 131, 134, 135, 137, 138n. 13, 139, 139n. 15, 142, 177, 178, 181, 191, 196, 201, 202n. 64, 206, 206n. 75, 207, 207n. 78, 208, 208n. 79, 210, 211, 211n. 85, 213n. 88, 214, 215, 215n. 95, 216, 218, 218n. 99, 224, 231, 234, 235, 241n. 6, 242–44, 244n. 9, 245, 247, 249, 255, 264, 264n. 15, 265n. 16, 271, 274n. 36, 278n. 52, 294, 303, 315n. 9, 316–21, 324–25, 338, 351, 367, 370, 370n. 61, 371, 375–77, 382, 383, 398, 412, 413
3:14a 48
3:14b 49
3:14–19 350
3:15 48, 48nn. 32–33, 50n. 35, 56n. 38, 101n. 37, 214n. 93, 231, 262, 265, 275n. 41, 397
3:15–16 98, 266, 313, 422
3:15–19 101
3:16 50, 50n. 35, 71, 72, 165, 275n. 41, 343, 399n. 4
3:16–17 187
3:16–18 26, 72
3:16–19 25, 50, 56n. 38, 71, 265, 266, 343n. 23, 412n. 14
3:17 28n. 7, 50, 99, 101, 347, 352, 355, 387
3:17–18 127
3:18 50, 53n. 37, 72, 99, 181, 266, 267, 347, 422
3:18–19 44n. 28, 71, 244
3:18b–19 99
3:18–4:11 187
3:19 40, 51, 97, 100, 104, 181, 191, 195, 265n. 16, 266, 347, 385, 422
3:19–4:11 107n. 51
4 343n. 23
4:1 25, 26, 44n. 28, 53n. 37, 58n. 41, 71, 73, 82n. 63, 89, 101, 102, 116n. 82, 123, 127, 131, 133, 149, 165, 178, 181, 181n. 17, 338, 351, 388n. 15, 398, 439
4:1a 52, 56n. 38, 71
4:1b 52
4:1–5 51–52, 55, 101
4:1–10 44, 51–58
4:1–11 53n. 37, 96, 101–6, 107n. 51, 148, 264, 267, 282n. 66
4:2 54, 56n. 38, 101, 104, 131, 195, 262, 343n. 23, 347, 399, 412n. 14
4:2a 71, 72, 104
4:2b 71, 72, 104, 271n. 32
4:2–3 191, 195, 222, 226
4:2b–3 271
4:2–5 54
4:3 40, 44n. 28, 53nn. 36–37, 54, 90, 101, 104, 127, 131, 178, 195, 200, 227, 267, 328, 347, 351
4:4 53n. 36, 56n. 38, 350, 386
4:4–5 54, 101, 105, 148
4:4–11 386
4:5 53n. 37
4:5–6 44n. 28
4:6 56, 72, 181, 266n. 20, 267, 271n. 32, 343n. 23, 347, 412n. 14
4:6a 56n. 38, 101, 102, 104, 181
4:6b 101, 104
4:6–10 51, 55–56, 58
4:6–11 101, 107n. 51
4:7 48n. 33, 56n. 38, 214n. 93, 262, 328, 397
4:7a 56
4:7b 57
4:7c 57
4:7–8 57n. 39, 71, 98, 101, 104, 105, 267
4:8 56n. 38, 57, 95, 209n. 83, 267n. 22, 386
4:9 53n. 37, 73, 328, 351, 386
4:9–10 57, 222
4:9–11 101, 105, 106, 267, 386
4:10 350
4:10–11 44n. 28, 53n. 37, 73, 127, 351
4:11 25, 26, 58n. 41, 59n. 42, 71, 82n. 63, 89, 106, 133, 181, 181n. 17, 191, 227, 250, 271n. 32, 338, 347, 355, 398, 399
4:11a 71
4:11b 59, 72
4:11–13 44, 45, 58–61, 71
4:12 60n. 43
4:12–13 54, 59, 62n. 45, 71, 73, 96, 27n. 6, 106–8, 106n. 51, 113, 147n. 2, 148, 352
4:12–14 96
4:13 60n. 44
4:14 71, 96, 106, 167, 191, 248, 249, 339n. 8, 351, 359, 368, 369, 382, 387
4:14–15 24, 329
4:14–16 63, 75n. 56, 89, 149, 182, 240, 241n. 6, 248, 269, 270, 271, 272, 274, 296, 312n. 6, 320, 338, 368
4:14–5:10 75, 75n. 56, 108, 195n. 52, 343
4:14–7:28 384
4:14–10:18 152, 280
4:14–10:25 248, 368
4:15 164, 368
4:16 24, 63nn. 46–47, 71, 118, 169, 240, 241, 261, 287n. 76, 323, 328, 338, 351, 367, 369, 382, 417, 428, 441
5–6 399
5:1–3 62n. 45
5:1–5 61
5:1–5a 75n. 56
5:1–10 83, 272
5:5 30n. 12, 56n. 38
5:5–6 64
5:5–10 24
5:5b–10 75n. 56
5:6 368
5:7 24
5:7–10 62n. 45
5:8 368
5:8–9 36n. 20
5:9 116, 118n. 85, 279, 299, 314, 323, 323n. 3, 359, 361, 368, 382
5:9–10 40, 310
5:10 108, 110, 150, 273, 320
5:11 75–76n. 57, 82n. 64, 89, 100, 108nn. 58–59, 110, 117, 126, 181, 221, 278, 340, 354, 355, 379, 390, 400, 425
5:11–12 75, 337
5:11–13 162, 354, 380
5:11–14 82n. 64, 273, 277, 340
5:11–6:1 250, 378
5:11–6:2 183, 354
5:11–6:3 74–77, 108–11, 108nn. 57–58, 116, 146, 150, 151, 178, 192, 399, 400, 411n. 13
5:11–6:8 108n. 58, 236, 236n. 2, 259, 261, 266, 272–80, 297
5:11–6:12 27, 28, 74–83, 84, 90, 108–18, 108n. 58, 117, 149, 150
5:11–6:20 173, 176, 176n. 9, 192, 214n. 94, 387
5:11–10:39 321
5:12 89, 109, 110, 340, 387
5:12–14 76–77n. 58
5:13 77, 109, 278, 340
5:13–14 76, 110, 355
5:14 77, 77n. 58, 109, 110
6 173, 192, 221, 296, 343, 343n. 23, 400
6:1 89, 110, 115, 131, 178, 261, 277, 278, 299, 329, 340, 355, 399, 425
6:1a 77
6:1b–2 110, 278n. 53
6:1–3 82n. 64, 110
6:1b–3 77
6:1–8 147, 273, 280, 281
6:2 361, 410
6:3 110, 214, 356
6:4 49n. 34, 68, 69n. 53, 79n. 60, 100n. 34, 128, 155, 157, 225, 291, 339, 343, 343n. 23, 352, 379, 424
6:4–5 78, 123, 135, 136, 137n. 10, 153, 163, 185, 201, 217, 220, 256, 298, 323, 352–53, 357n. 36, 380, 391, 411, 412n. 14
6:4b–5 177, 178, 193n. 46
6:4–6 26, 79, 80, 87, 90, 98n. 29, 111–12, 115n. 80, 123, 123n. 99, 136, 176, 178, 179, 181, 184, 186, 224, 225, 277, 277n. 48, 344n. 24, 381, 399, 411, 411n. 13, 424–25
6:4–6a 180n. 16
6:4–8 27n. 6, 74, 77–81, 82n. 64, 83, 108n. 57, 110, 111–15, 116, 120, 120n. 88, 132, 134, 136, 146, 149–52, 155, 188, 192, 218, 243, 247, 273, 286, 385, 391, 411, 437, 439
6:4–9 179n. 14
6:4–12 108n. 58
6:5 135, 169, 353
6:6 79n. 59, 80, 98, 115, 115n. 80, 121, 163, 183n. 22, 185, 199, 220, 222, 250, 251, 275, 275n. 41, 276, 281, 298, 310, 314, 327, 353–54, 356, 357n. 36, 357–58, 379, 380, 381, 392, 397, 424, 425
6:6a 136, 180, 181, 184, 250, 400, 411
6:6b 136, 136n. 8, 182, 183, 184, 250, 400, 401, 411, 412
6:7 80, 82n. 62, 116, 227, 277, 330, 351, 356, 388
6:7–8 115, 186, 187–88n. 34, 193, 276, 276n. 45, 277, 277n. 48, 277n. 50, 329–31
6:8 80, 108n. 58, 115, 116, 160, 187n. 34, 188, 190, 193n. 46, 222, 253, 277, 297, 330, 341, 362, 381, 388, 403, 410, 427
6:9 81–82, 108n. 58, 117, 131, 178, 181n. 17, 186, 190, 193, 193n. 46, 227, 249, 276, 277, 323, 323n. 3, 329, 338, 384, 388, 439
6:9a 110
6:9–10 82, 134, 200, 202n. 65, 204, 245, 249, 314, 315
6:9–12 74, 81–83, 82n. 64, 108n. 57, 110, 111, 115n. 80, 116–18, 126, 192, 196n. 54, 216, 218, 273, 297, 411n. 13
6:9–20 108n. 58, 132, 192, 218, 222, 227, 229, 236n. 2, 314n. 8
6:10 35, 82n. 63, 110, 131, 193, 249, 337, 355, 370
6:11 82, 82n. 63, 116n. 82, 117, 119, 122, 141, 191, 227, 249, 250, 367, 369, 370, 382, 388n. 15, 393, 439
6:12 75n. 57, 89, 100, 103, 108n. 58, 116n. 82, 117, 122, 126, 181, 186, 190, 191, 221, 250, 278, 297, 355, 379, 388n. 15, 390, 410
6:12a 82
6:12b 82, 193
6:12–13 122
6:12–20 222, 236
6:13 103, 193
6:13ff 193n. 48
6:13–16 278
6:13–18 79n. 60, 194
6:13–20 108n. 58, 228, 273, 311n. 5
6:13–7:28 83
6:14 194, 277n. 50
6:15 103, 116n. 82, 191, 193, 388n. 15
6:17 103, 116n. 82, 122, 193, 194, 199, 201, 228, 388n. 15
6:17–18 329
6:17–20 249, 370
6:18 35n. 20, 79n. 60, 116n. 82, 191, 193, 194, 201, 228, 388n. 15
6:19 33n. 15, 167, 228, 371
6:19–20 62, 194, 329
6:20 63n. 47, 164, 194, 368, 425
6:20–7:1 64
7 371
7–10 159, 339
7:1 77
7:1–11 371
7:1–28 24, 428
7:1–10:18 150, 152, 240, 261, 262, 273, 274, 278, 279, 281, 283, 416, 425, 426
7:1–10:25 269, 270, 296
7:3 173, 190n. 41, 226, 310, 359, 408, 428
7:6 103, 116n. 82, 388n. 15
7:7 384
7:8 428
7:11 371, 373
7:11–13 427n. 8
7:11–24 310
7:11–28 64
7:12 33n. 15
7:14 343n. 22
7:15 342
7:15–16 225
7:16 197–98, 223, 310, 408, 428
7:18 33n. 15, 282n. 64, 405
7:19 116, 116n. 82, 310, 371, 373, 384, 388n. 15
7:20–22 198, 238
7:20–25 218
7:22 116, 310, 314, 371, 374n. 67, 384
7:23 371
7:23–24 198, 371, 408
7:23–25 238
7:24 310
7:24–25 303
7:25 118, 134, 140, 198, 199, 200n. 62, 206n. 76, 207, 223, 226, 241, 241n. 6, 249, 310, 313, 323, 323n. 3, 371–72, 382, 393, 394, 428
7:25–8:2 351
7:26 329, 371
7:26–27 358, 415n. 2, 419
7:26–28 368, 371
7:27 329, 373, 394
7:28 24, 279, 299, 359
8 310n. 2, 344, 372
8–10 166
8:1 91, 271, 329, 351
8:1–10:18 236
8:1–10:19 384
8:2 83
8:3 186n. 31
8:5 167, 341, 341n. 17, 371
8:6 103, 116, 116n. 82, 198, 310, 342, 372, 374n. 67, 384, 388n. 15
8:6–12 238
8:6–13 72
8:8 343n. 22, 372
8:9 33–34n. 17, 93
8:9–10 313
8:10 228, 238, 312
8:10b 204, 223
8:10–11 218
8:10–12 372–74, 383, 394n. 26
8:12 199, 204, 206n. 76, 207, 228, 310, 323, 337, 373
8:12b 198, 223, 238, 239
8:13 33n. 15, 160, 269n. 27, 300, 351, 361, 362, 362n. 47, 372, 374n. 67, 381, 403, 404, 427
8:13–9:1 160
9 344
9:1–10 72
9:1–14 282
9:8 97
9:9 116n. 82, 229, 279, 371
9:10 408
9:11 116n. 82, 168, 273, 342, 408
9:11–12 62
9:11–14 218
9:11–15 351
9:11–18 24
9:12 228–29, 291, 329, 361, 368, 394
9:13 209n. 83
9:13–14 204, 214n. 92, 29n. 10, 408
9:13–15 313
9:14 149, 199n. 59, 257n. 1, 274, 323, 360
9:14b 313
9:14–15 134, 140, 207, 361
9:15 104, 116n. 82, 122, 199, 201, 206n. 76, 223, 228, 303, 313, 314, 388n. 15
9:15–28 72
9:17 33n. 15
9:18 63n. 47
9:20–28 121
9:23 116, 167, 342, 384
9:23–24 408
9:23–26 351
9:23–28 120
9:24 168, 341, 341n. 17
9:24–28 62, 63n. 47
9:26 291
9:27 281, 331, 360, 361, 410
9:28 40, 116, 160, 161, 323, 324, 328, 331, 360
10 61, 173, 178, 192, 296, 310n. 2, 338, 344, 373
10:1 116n. 82, 118, 229, 279, 299, 371
10:1b 343n. 22
10:1–4 61
10:1–10 394
10:1–18 61, 63n. 47, 299
10:3 373
10:3–4 408
10:4 79n. 60
10:5 362
10:5–10 61
10:9 160, 269n. 27, 362, 405
10:10 25, 249, 291, 310, 323, 329, 337, 339n. 10, 368, 375, 382, 383, 394
10:10–12 374, 383
10:10–14 120, 408
10:11 374–75
10:11–14 61
10:11–18 218, 313
10:12 91, 310, 351
10:14 25, 118n. 85, 140, 198–99, 200, 201, 204, 206n. 76, 207, 223, 228, 229, 238, 241n. 6, 279, 299, 303, 310, 312, 313, 323, 329, 337, 339n. 10, 368, 374–75, 382, 383, 394
10:14–18 274
10:15 97, 360
10:15–18 61, 149
10:15–22 375
10:16 204, 223, 238, 257n. 1, 312, 343n. 22, 373
10:16–17 238, 323
10:16–18 372–74, 383, 394n. 26
10:17 198, 199, 204, 223, 228, 229, 238, 239, 312, 337, 373
10:17–18 190, 274, 310, 410, 428
10:18 373
10:19 24, 61, 63nn. 46–47, 64, 70, 90, 118, 131, 167, 178, 280n. 58, 281, 367, 368, 369, 382, 384
10:19–20 63, 71
10:19–21 149, 185, 196, 223, 382
10:19–21a 63
10:19–22 351
10:19–23 248
10:19–25 61, 62–64, 62n. 45, 65, 66n. 51, 118, 119, 132, 152, 192, 196, 236n. 2, 240, 241n. 6, 242, 262, 269, 270, 271, 274, 280, 283, 296, 299, 299n. 4, 368, 426
10:19–26 89
10:19–31 152–53, 281, 388
10:19–39 27, 28, 44, 61, 61–70, 71–73, 74, 84, 90, 118–22, 173, 192, 196, 236, 280, 299
10:20 63n. 47, 118
10:21 63, 63n. 46, 368, 382, 384
10:22 24, 63, 63n. 47, 71, 90, 117, 157, 191, 261, 274, 313, 324, 328, 367, 370, 373, 374, 382, 386, 393, 417, 428, 441
10:22–23 126, 338–39
10:22–25 118, 122
10:23 64, 64n. 48, 71, 103, 104, 116n. 82, 117, 119, 131, 160, 178, 191, 196, 248, 249, 339n. 8, 368, 382, 388n. 15
10:23–25 26
10:24 71, 322
10:24–25 64, 119, 154, 163, 369
10:25 82n. 63, 99–100, 160, 162, 181n. 17, 252, 266, 332, 337, 354, 361, 403
10:25b 299
10:26 65–66n. 50, 68, 71, 72, 73, 120, 128, 131, 132, 136, 136n. 8, 137n. 10, 153, 155, 157, 162, 163, 178, 181, 185, 190, 222, 250–51, 256, 258, 299, 323, 339, 344, 358–59, 381, 392, 397, 402, 410, 415n. 2, 416, 419, 426, 427
10:26a 280, 281nn. 60–61, 401
10:26b 401
10:26–27 26, 65, 66, 123, 153, 183
10:26b–27 281
10:26–28 71, 72
10:26–29 123, 135, 136, 218, 411
10:26–31 27n. 6, 61, 64–67, 66n. 51, 70, 87, 98n. 29, 114, 118, 120, 121, 147, 152, 187, 192, 196, 225, 230, 236n. 2, 242, 259, 261, 261, 262, 280–83, 283, 286, 299, 299n. 4, 300, 379, 385, 391, 394, 402, 419, 425–27
10:27 26, 66n. 51, 71, 72, 73, 115, 120, 121, 188, 190, 222, 253, 277n. 49, 331, 360, 363–64, 382, 388, 392, 410
10:27–28 72
10:27–29 251
10:27–31 132, 162–63, 331–32, 341
10:28 66, 71, 72, 73, 256, 344, 359, 364, 388
10:28b 329
10:28–29 29n. 10, 188, 282, 392, 427
10:29 25, 66, 71, 72, 73, 90, 103, 121, 132, 134, 136, 136n. 8, 153, 156, 178, 182, 185, 187n. 32, 189, 199, 217, 222, 224, 239, 242n. 7, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 282, 310, 314, 339, 359–60, 364–65, 375, 381, 382, 383, 388, 392, 402, 407, 408, 426
10:29–31 352
10:30 66, 120, 131, 283, 300, 339, 344, 392
10:30–31 26, 67, 73, 121
10:31 66n. 51, 121, 163, 283, 300, 365–67, 382
10:32 71, 90, 177, 339, 352
10:32a 68
10:32b–33a 68
10:32–34 88, 90, 131, 134, 158n. 2, 159, 196, 204, 218, 223, 230, 245, 249, 338, 354
10:32–39 61, 67–70, 118, 132, 192, 196, 222, 229, 236n. 2, 280, 283, 299, 299n. 4
10:33 68–69nn. 52–53
10:33–34 369
10:33b–34 69
10:33–34a 88
10:34 116, 196, 223, 384
10:34b 69, 88
10:35 61, 63n. 46, 70, 70n. 54, 71, 72, 73, 181, 351, 369
10:35a 69
10:35b 69–70
10:35–39 352
10:36 70, 73, 104, 116n. 82, 181, 191, 230, 388n. 15
10:37 70, 73
10:38 191, 279n. 54
10:38–39 73, 181
10:38–11:40 279
10:39 40, 70n. 55, 71, 126, 134, 190, 196–97, 202n. 65, 216, 218, 230, 283, 360, 410
11 104, 117, 148, 244, 251, 265, 295, 301, 344, 346, 420, 421, 423, 423n. 6
11:1 191, 324, 329, 367, 370, 370n. 61, 371, 382, 423
11:1–6 244
11:1–13 239
11:1–39 191
11:1–40 127, 258n. 4, 260, 268, 269, 270, 271, 273, 278, 279n. 54, 280, 284, 296
11:1–12:13 122, 280
11:1–12:29 283, 300
11:3 274n. 36, 423
11:4 279n. 54
11:6 79n. 60, 118, 265, 285, 295, 351, 371, 423
11:7 122, 171n. 24, 279n. 54
11:8 122, 171n. 24
11:8–22 423
11:9 104, 116n. 82, 388n. 15
11:9–10 286, 441
11:10 53n. 37, 124, 126, 161, 268, 268n. 25, 295, 339, 419
11:13 104, 116n. 82, 388n. 15
11:13–14 441
11:13–16 286
11:15 268, 295
11:16 53n. 37, 116, 124, 384, 386
11:17 104, 116n. 82, 388n. 15
11:20 169, 333
11:23–28 252, 421, 423
11:23–29 165, 344
11:24–26 286
11:24–28 165
11:26 70n. 54
11:28 422
11:29 164, 326, 346, 377, 422
11:32 326, 376, 423n. 6
11:32–38 423n. 6
11:33 104, 279n. 54
11:34 60n. 43
11:35 116, 265n. 17, 384
11:35–38 258
11:37 60n. 43
11:39 104, 116n. 82, 326, 346, 388n. 15
11:39–40 149, 272n. 33, 384, 425
11:40 116, 131, 279, 299, 377, 384
12 29n. 9, 34–35, 36n. 21, 71, 165–68, 301, 334, 344
12:1 261
12:1b–3 35n. 19
12:2 24, 32n. 14, 165, 191, 197, 230, 329, 351, 374n. 67
12:1–2 181
12:1–2a 122
12:1–3 89, 191, 270, 284
12:1b–3 35n. 19
12:1–4 35
12:1–6 36n. 20
12:1–11 124n. 100, 230, 258n. 4
12:1–13 35, 124n. 100, 236n. 2, 285n. 69
12:1–29 36n. 21, 173, 197
12:2 24, 32n. 14, 165, 191, 197, 230, 329, 351, 374n. 67
12:2–3 369
12:3–4 258
12:4 35n. 19, 338
12:4–11 54, 352, 416n. 3
12:4–13 284
12:5 35n. 20, 131
12:5–7 197
12:5–8 368, 382
12:5–10 169
12:5–11 332
12:5–13 35
12:6 255, 334
12:6–10 122
12:7 36n. 20, 131
12:7–13 36n. 20
12:8 69n. 53, 210, 214, 230
12:9 29n. 10
12:10 25, 169, 197
12:10–11 203, 223
12:10–13 103
12:10–14 205n. 73
12:12 275n. 41
12:12–13 123, 124n. 100, 163, 181
12:12–17 122, 124n. 100
12:14 25, 36, 37n. 22, 42, 203, 205n. 73, 216, 223
12:14–17 122, 124, 124n. 100, 153, 169, 265n. 17, 266, 276n. 45, 285, 285n. 69, 286
12:14–24 36
12:14–27 260
12:14–29 27, 28, 34–41, 42–43, 84, 90, 122–27, 124n. 100, 153–54, 187, 236n. 2, 261, 283–88, 284n. 68, 299n. 4, 300, 301, 389
12:15 42, 82n. 63, 169, 181, 285n. 70, 441
12:15a 43
12:15b 43
12:15–16 133
12:15–17 114
12:16 42, 43, 251, 285n. 71, 332, 333n. 10
12:16–17 185, 332, 357n. 37
12:17 169, 275, 277n. 50, 285n. 72, 286, 333, 356
12:18 118
12:18–20 43
12:18–21 37, 38, 40, 153, 286, 344, 379
12:18–24 123, 197, 384, 408
12:18–25 256
12:18–29 124n. 100, 270n. 30, 285n. 69
12:19 38n. 23, 125
12:20 28n. 7
12:21 66n. 51, 287
12:22 41n. 27, 53n. 37, 118, 124, 125, 161, 201, 270, 288, 329, 339, 368, 368n. 57, 419
12:22–23 165
12:22–24 37, 58n. 40, 128, 131, 153, 155, 201, 262, 272n. 33, 274, 286, 287, 423, 441
12:23 102, 125, 279, 279n. 54, 287, 299, 368
12:24 36, 38, 116, 125, 125, 287, 288, 384
12:24–29 259
12:25 26, 28n. 7, 29nn. 9–10, 38, 42, 43, 126, 128, 131, 133, 155, 178, 181, 187n. 32, 189, 251, 254, 288, 294, 389, 397, 402n. 8, 407, 408, 410
12:25a 38, 43
12:25b 43
12:25c 43
12:25–26 408
12:25b–26a 38
12:25–27 125, 166, 222
12:25–28 197, 222, 223
12:25–29 27n. 6, 28, 36, 36n. 21, 37, 39, 41, 42, 74, 89, 124, 153, 154, 165, 188, 230, 239, 261, 262, 268, 269, 270, 277n. 49, 282, 287, 288, 296, 302, 341
12:26 116n. 82, 154, 167, 168, 288, 388n. 15, 389
12:26b 39–40
12:27 126, 167–68, 168, 390
12:28 25, 40, 41, 42, 53n. 37, 126, 128, 134, 155, 201, 230, 288, 368, 382, 386
12:28a 329
12:28b 40–41
12:28–29 126
12:29 26, 115, 188, 253, 288, 300, 388, 392
13 344
13:1–17 35
13:2 97
13:3 89, 338
13:5 97
13:6 343n. 22
13:7 88, 117, 191, 338
13:8 56n. 38
13:9 97, 169, 275n. 41, 313
13:9–13 404
13:10 384
13:11 159, 168, 344
13:11–13 340, 419
13:12 159, 339n. 10, 375, 404
13:12–13 369
13:13 159, 168, 253–54, 344, 367
13:14 53n. 37, 102, 126, 161, 168, 169, 339, 361, 367, 368, 419
13:15 252
13:15–16 351
13:15–17 163
13:16 252
13:20 252, 343n. 22, 361
13:22 24, 90, 131, 173, 178, 180, 182, 293, 367
13:23 97, 214n. 93, 338
13:24 158, 393
13:33 97

1:13–15 305
1:17–18 302
2:14–26 439
2:17 210, 212n. 87
5:19–20 87, 114n. 78, 305

1 Peter
1:4 303
1:4–5 229
1:5 86, 106, 303
1:17 108
2:2–3 113
2:3 112
5:1 69n. 53
5:2 65n. 50
1 Peter 221

2 Peter
1:4 69n. 53
1:8–11 304
1:10 33n. 15
1:19 33n. 15
2 303
2:3 70n. 55, 410
2:20–21 305
3:7 70n. 55, 126, 410
3:7–13 410
3:10 126, 390
3:16 70n. 55
3:17 275n. 41
3:17–18 304

1 John
1:7 214n. 93
1:8 211n. 86
1:8–10 228
1:9 211n. 86
1:10 79n. 60, 211n. 86
2:3 439
2:5–6 439
2:15 211
2:23–25 304
3:18–19 439
4:20 211n. 86
5:10 79n. 60
5:14–17 114n. 77
5:16 331
5:16–17 305

7 361
9 30n. 12
Jude 303

1:5 125
2:5 305
2:7 340
2:23 108
3:5 125
4:1–11 58n. 40
6:12–14 126, 389
10:9–10 113
11:18 108
14:13 108
16:17–21 389
16:18–21 126
17:8 70n. 55, 410
17:11 70n. 55, 410
18:1 391
19:15 60n. 43
19:20 127, 410
20:6 390
20:10 127
20:11 390
20:12 125
20:12–13 108
20:14–15 127
21 124, 270
21:1 126, 390
21:8 305, 410
22:12 108, 125
22:19 305
Revelation 221

Apocryphal Works

Additions to Esther
15:5–6 66n. 51

3:8 48n. 32
6:28 79n. 60
6:53–54 79n. 60

4:12 362n. 47
8:27 36n. 20

Epistle of Jeremiah
6:27 79n. 60

1 Maccabees
2:19 48n. 32
2:49 160
3:12 60n. 43
4:17 82n. 63
13:42 63n. 46

2 Maccabees
3:3 39n. 25
3:38 214
4:14 34n. 17
8:27 58n. 40, 351
14:3 65n. 50
14:10 79n. 60

3 Maccabees
4:18 79n. 60
7:16 372

4 Maccabees
4 Maccabees 361n. 43
10:15 361n. 43
12:12 361n. 43

1:8 66n. 51
1:26 82n. 63
2:8 70n. 54
4:11 36n. 20
4:17–19 36n. 20
4:29 76n. 57
10:12 48n. 32
11:12 76n. 57
11:22 70n. 54
22:27–23:6 36n. 20
26:28 211n. 86
30:12 48n. 33
47:23–24 48n. 32
48:15 48n. 32

Wisdom of Solomon
3:10 34n. 17, 48n. 32
5:15 70n. 54
6:11 82n. 63
18:15–16 60n. 43

Greek and Roman Sources

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Dion. Hal.)

Antiquitates romanae (Ant. rom.)
6.11 35n. 19
Panarion (Pan.)
29.7.8 254
I 168.11 35n. 19
1.68.17 76n. 58
1.95:34 79n. 59
1.97:9 35n. 19
8.1133:12 78n. 59
40.2894:ii.14 78n. 59
40.2894:iii.14 78n. 59
42.3015:24 78n. 59

Philebus (Pl Phlb)
32c 66n. 51

Cato Minor (Cat. Min.)
1.6 76n. 57
Moralia (Mor.)
754a 32n. 14

Historicus (Plb Hist)
3.91.10 69n. 52
4.8.5 76n. 57
18.36.6 79n. 59

15.44 69n. 52

Thucydides (Th)
4.93 35n. 19

2 Baruch (2 Bar.) 62
32:1 126, 389
44:15 360–61n. 43
45:1 389
51:6 361n. 43
54:14 361n. 43
1 Enoch (1 En.)
20:1–8 30n. 12
45:1 389
4 Ezra
7:36 360n. 43
7:38 360n. 43
Jubilees (Jub.) 169
1:27 33n. 16, 92n. 19
1:29 33n. 16, 389
2:1 33n. 16, 92n. 19
2:21–22 58n. 40
35:14 169n. 21
38:2 169n. 21
50:8–11 58n. 40
50:10 58n. 40
Letter of Aristeas (Let. Aris.)
184 38n. 23
Psalms of Solomon (Pss. Sol.)
15:4 127
Sibylline Oracles (Sib. Or.)
3.675 126
Testament of Benjamin (TBenj.)
9:2 80n. 61
Testament of Levi (T. Levi)
17:10 80n. 61


Against Apion (Ag. Ap.)
1.1 § 3 65n. 50
1.8 § 43 69n. 52
2.15 § 156 33n. 15
Jewish Antiquities (Ant.)
1.11.2 § 198 79n. 60
3.6.4 § 123 166n. 17
3.7.7§ 179–81 166n. 17
3.9.3 § 230 79n. 60
3.14.2 § 304 79n. 60
4.4.3. § 67 34n. 17
4.7.23 § 251 65n. 50
4.6.1–8.2 §§ 102–87 338n. 6
5.1.26 § 109 79n. 60
7.8.2 § 167 38n. 23
7.8.4 § 185 65n. 50
7.14.1 § 336 76n. 58
9.8.2 § 161 80n. 61
12.2.5 § 45 66n. 51
12.3.3 § 133 65n. 50
13.2.3 § 57 80n. 61
14.11.5 § 286 66n. 51
15.5.3 § 136 33n. 16, 92n. 19
17.2.4 § 33 66n. 51
17.10.5 § 272 66n. 51
17.10.9 § 289 35n. 19
17.14.1 § 336 76n. 58
18.1.1 § 8 35n. 19
18.7.5 §§ 310–13 161n. 10
19.5.2 § 285 78n. 59
19.8.2 § 334 66n. 51
Jewish War (J.W.)
1 § 1.1.1, 4 §§ 1 365
1 § 1.1.1, 4 §§ 12 365
1.32.3 § 631 66n. 51
2 §§ 457–66 161
2 §§ 477–79 161
2 §§ 494–98 161
2.16.4 § 394 65n. 50
3.4.7 § 103 66n. 51
3.7.1 §§ 132–34 330, 362n. 46
4.7.5 § 435 65n. 50
4.7.1 § 393 35n. 19
4.8.1 § 488 330, 362n. 46
4.9.4 § 510 66n. 51
4.9.10 §558 66n. 51
5.6.1 § 212 166n. 17
5.6.2 § 213 166n. 17
5.6.3 § 217 166n. 17
5.10.5 §§ 442 365
5.11.1 § 451 365
6.4.5 §§ 249–53 362n. 49
6.4.6–7 §§ 257–66 362n. 49
6.5.1 § 275 330, 362n. 46
6.5.3 § 291 76n. 58
6.6.1 §§ 321–22 362n. 49
6.9.3 § 425 161n. 10
7 §§ 37–38 161
7 §§ 46–62 161
7.1.1 §§ 1–4 362n. 49
7.5.5 § 145 362n. 46
7.5.7 §§ 160–62 362n. 49

Philo, Judaeus

Philo 33n. 15, 60n. 44, 64n. 48, 76n. 57, 166
De Abrahamo (Abr.)
40 66n. 50
266 76n. 57
De agricultura (Agr.)
160 76n. 58
De cherubim (Cher.)
78 60n. 44
De congressu eruditionis gratia (Congra.)
177 36n. 20
De decalogo (Decal.)
118 33n. 17
142 65n. 50
Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat (Det.)
26 § 97 65n. 50
38 38n. 23
140 66n. 51
155 79n. 60
Quod Deus sit immutabilis (Deus)
63 76n. 57
129 76n. 58
In Flaccum (Flacc.)
43 34n. 17
84 69n. 52
De fuga et inventione (Fug.)
199–200 64n. 48
De gigantibus (Gig.)
2 76n. 58
Quis rerum divinarum heres (Her.)
23–24 66n. 51
Hypothetica (Hypoth.)
6.8–9 33n. 15
De Iosepho (Ios.)
225 76n. 58
Legum allegoriae I, II, III (Leg.)
3.4 79n. 60
3.136 46n. 31
De vita Mosis I, II (Mos.)
1.174 79n. 60
2.14 33n. 15
De mutatione nominum (Mut.)
81 60n. 44
173 66n. 51
De opificio mundi (Opif.)
171 76n. 58
De plantatione (Plant.)
144 76n. 58
De posteritate Caini (Post.)
161 76n. 57
De praemiis et poenis (Praem.)
29 60n. 44
49 80
54 65n. 50
Quod omnis probus liber sit (Prob.)
52 76n. 58
87 34n. 17
159 60n. 44
De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini (Sacr.)
32 76n. 57
De somniis I, II (Somn.)
1.52 34n. 17
1.237 76n. 57
De specialibus legibus I, II, III, IV (Spec.)
1.69 161n. 10
2.108 34n. 17
4.41 34n. 17
4.157 65n. 50
De virtutibus (Virt.)
202 33n. 17


Qumran 30n. 12, 46n. 31, 53n. 37, 159, 361n. 43
1:3 79n. 59
14:29–33 60n. 43
1QpHab 95n. 22
8:11 48n. 32
8:16 48n. 32
5:11–14 60n. 43
6:2–6 60n. 43
1QS 361
4:12–13 361n. 43
5:5 46n. 31
5:26 46n. 31
2:18–3:13 53n. 36
1:9 30n. 12
2:1 30n. 12
2i:8 79n. 59
f2:6 82n. 63
4QMMT 159n. 7
B:29–30 340n. 12
B:60 340n. 12
4Q403 58n. 40
4 53n. 36
frag 4:7 46n. 31
2:8 82n. 63


Aaron, 188n. 36, 272, 345, 351, 371, 397n. 2, 424; sins of, 348–50, 399, 421
Abihu, 364
Abraham, 103, 171n. 24, 193n. 48, 273, 346, 423, 423n. 6
Adam, 275n. 41, 380
Alexandria, 161
angels, 33n. 16, 30n. 12, 33, 33n. 16, 34n. 18, 43, 92n. 19; and Christian worship, 125; as lesser than Jesus, 91
apostasy, 47–48n. 32, 67, 78–79n. 59, 89, 108–11, 116, 150, 273, 422, 424; as abandonment of faith, 423; antidotes/deterrents to, 99, 154; cause of, 156; consequences of, 118–22, 152–53, 222;—, severity of, 120–21; danger of, 111–15, 304–5; definition of, 120, 162–63, 221, 297–98; nature of, 250–53, 396–402; “passive”/“active” distinction of, 151–52; as repudiation of Christ, 135, 150, 156, 181–82, 183, 297–298; willfulness of, 282, 282–83n. 67, 289, 299, 358–59. See also apostates
apostates, 132, 137n. 10, 422n. 5; repentance of, 322–23
Arminianism, 86–87, 118, 157–59, 257n. 1, 430; and Paul, 306
Asia Minor, 406
assurance, 141–42, 226, 228–31, 249–50, 323–24, 367–71, 382–83, 411n. 12, 428; and the absolute forgiveness of the new covenant, 372–74; and Christ’s ability to save forever, 371–72; and the completed perfection of believers, 364–75; detailed promises of from Haggai’s oracle, 39n. 25; theological foundations for, 313–14

baptism, 338–39, 339n. 8, 387; superiority of to Jewish ablutions, 110–11
birthright, 333n. 10. See also Esau, sale of his birthright as expression of complete unbelief

Caleb, 104, 355, 399n. 4
Calvinism, 86, 117–18, 220–21, 232, 430; doctrine of election, 127–28, 154; and Paul, 305–6
Calvinists, 257
Canaan, 50
Christianity, 110n. 67, 133–34, 278n. 53, 432; evangelical (irenic), 431; “foundation” issues of, 110–11. See also faith, as evidence of genuine Christianity
Christians, 134, 174, 233–34n. 1, 240n. 5, 339n. 10; and Christian community, 99–100, 133, 258, 295, 332, 367n. 55, 431–32; persecution of, 68–69n. 52, 69n. 53, 88; privileges of, 114; protection of, 405–6; “quasi-Christians,” 157, 298. See also Jews
confidence, 63n. 46, 100
“contamination” metaphor, 123
conversion, 179, 434; completeness of, 112–13; phenomena of, 136–37, 137n. 10, 217
Corinth, 254–55; Paul’s warnings to, 251, 305
Corinthians. See Corinth
covenant, 30n. 11, 339n. 11; blood of, 252–53, 427; and genuine faith, 171n. 24; Mosaic, 363n. 52, 404, 418; the new covenant, 93–94, 103–4, 124, 137, 204–5, 205n. 73;—, absolute forgiveness of, 372–74;—, blessings of, 312–13, 416–17;—, Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning, 405; Noahic, 363n. 52; the old covenant, 124, 153, 205n. 73, 427

David, 366, 407n. 11
“day, the,” 160–61
Day of Atonement, 387; Sabbath imagery in, 106
desire, 82n. 63
destruction, 70n. 55
diligence, 59–61, 59n. 42, 117
disobedience, 101
divine will, mystery of, 316n. 10

Eden. See Garden of Eden
Esau, 123, 153, 168–70, 185–86, 275, 285n. 70; covenant discipline of, 334–35; description of in Hebrews, 332–33; in Jewish tradition, 168–69n. 21; “repentance” of, 286, 286n. 74, 357n. 37; sale of his birthright as expression of complete unbelief, 285–86, 333
eschatology, 116n. 82, 166, 301; chronology of the “eschatological age,” 125n. 102; eschatological aspect of eternal life, 93n. 20, 202, 386–87. See also temple, the: as an eschatological image of God’s blessedness
Eschaton, 386
eternal security, 433–34
Eusebius, 254, 369n. 59, 405
evil, mystery of, 316n. 11
exhortation. See warning passages, exhortations in
Exodus generation, 55, 56, 96–101, 150, 179, 256, 271n. 32, 420–23; depiction of in Hebrews, 343–45, 352–53, 397n. 2; difficulty of renewing them to repentance, 355–57; disobedience of, 148, 151–52; and the “evil heart of unbelief,” 294–95; God’s condemnation of, 188–89, 266–67, 266n. 19, 266–67n. 20, 268n. 24; as God’s people, 264n. 14; hortatory value of, 272, 272n. 33; pardon of, 325–26, 326n. 5, 399n. 5; redeemed status of, 344–46, 379; revelation and warning to, 262–72; rhetorical function of, 272n. 35; sin of, 265–66, 271n. 32, 300, 325–27, 347–50, 390–91, 421–22;—, willfulness of, 358–59, 392, 401–2; temporal versus eternal loss suffered by, 165, 254–55, 420–21, 426–27, 428; turning away, 48n. 32. See also Kadesh-Barnea rebellion; Massah; Meribah

faith, 104–5, 111, 117, 117n. 84, 244, 276, 295, 421–23; as evidence of genuine Christianity, 138, 138–39n. 14, 218, 218n. 99; and God’s covenants, 171n. 24
“falling away,” 180–86, 181n. 17, 251–52, 353–54, 400–401, 424; apostasy as, 150, 275–76, 275n. 41; of a community rather than an individual, 127; consequences of, 186–90, 222; in the light of the Kadesh-Barnea rebellion, 380
fear, 52, 71
fearfulness, 66n. 51
Flaccus, 69n. 52

Garden of Eden, 351, 423
gezērah šāwāh, 105–6, 148
Gideon, 377, 423n. 6
God, 30, 30n. 11, 114, 205n. 73, 262, 348, 441–42; access to, 118; as benefactor/patron, 114n. 77; confidence in, 205n. 73; covenant obligation of, 97–98n. 29; dwelling in his presence, 269–70; faithfulness of, 205n. 73, 314–15; holiness of, 253; promises of, 228–31; sovereignty of, 86–87, 316n. 10; transforming work of, 142. See also “God’s rest”; “God’s Sabbath”; judgment: of God; parable of Israel as God’s vineyard
“God’s rest,” 51–58, 148–49, 155, 165, 267–71, 267n. 21, 295–96; danger of losing it, 94–96;—, the past model, 96–101;—, and the power of the word, 106–8;—, and the present promise, 101–6, 102n. 40, 105nn. 46–47; David’s proclamation of, 267, 267n. 22; incompleteness of, during the Exodus generation, 57n. 39; meaning of, 327–29; Old Testament concept of, 350–52; and the Sabbath, 53n. 37, 386, 387; two “parallel” communities, 52–53n. 36
“God’s Sabbath,” 53n. 37, 57–58n. 40, 58, 106, 351
grace, 169

Haggai, book of, 39nn. 24–25; “shaking” metaphors in, 40n. 26
hapax legomena, 426
hardening of one’s heart, 46, 46n. 31, 48nn. 32–33, 97, 97n. 28
“heavenly homeland.” See “God’s rest”
Hebrews, book of: addressees of, 130–37, 131n. 2, 146, 155, 157, 158–61, 158n. 2, 159n. 4, 176–80, 411; balance between assurance and warning in, 299–300, 299n. 4;—, central Christological themes of, 309–15; Christology of, 259, 269, 309; conditional clauses of, 138–39, 231, 231n. 15, 248–50, 304, 306, 316–21, 324–25, 412–14; covenantal language of, 170–71; dating of by tense, 338, 338n. 6; encouragement to believers in, 126; enigmatic character of, 173; eschatological perspective of, 116n. 82; and the Graeco-Roman patron/client relationship informing, 145, 290–91; historical setting of, 337–40, 417–19; importance of “hearing” and “obeying” in, 294; importance of the word house in, 195n. 53, 206–7, 206n. 74, 264; lesser to greater (escalation) argumentation in, 71, 189–90, 189n. 39, 253, 300, 384–90, 393, 394–95, 407–9 (see also qal waḥomer); as a “ministry” document, 439–40; Old Testament background of, 340–60 passim; Old Testament typology in, 341–42, 342n. 20; oratory method of, 27, 27n. 5; Roman origin of, 158–59, 158n. 3; social setting of, 88–89, 145–46, 187–88n. 34; soteriology of, 134–35, 134n. 4, 137–41, 164, 259, 315, 320; tensions in, 135;—, already/not yet, 116n. 82;—, artificiality of, 234–35;—, spatial, 441;—, theological, 441, 442–43; theme of, 182, 259; use of “today” in, 56n. 38, 105, 106; use of “we” in, 82nn. 62–63, 131, 132–33. See also warning passages
hermeneutics: of humility, 306; and the practice of theology, 435–45
Hillel, 29n. 10
holiness, 25, 285. See also God: holiness of
Holy Spirit, 86, 97n. 26, 113, 172; blasphemy of, 114. See also sin(s): the unpardonable sin
humiliation, 68, 68–69n. 52

ignorance, 33–34n. 17
imitation, 117
impossibilities, 79n. 60, 114, 150
inexperience, 76–77n. 58
interpretation, 129
interpretive paradigm, 206, 247–50, 255–56; and the cause-to-effect (C/E) relationship between protasis and apodosis, 207–15, 324–25; defense of, 207–18 passim; and evidenceto-inference (E/I) conditional considerations, 210–15, 214nn. 91–92, 231, 318–20; suggested paradigm of, 206–7
Isaac, 169, 333
Isaiah, 363

Jacob, 169, 170, 286, 333, 334
Jerusalem, 124, 159n. 5, 159n. 7, 340, 340n. 12, 403; Christian community in, 367n. 55; destruction of, 158, 161, 166n. 13, 168, 277n. 47, 362n. 47, 403, 415n. 1, 418; importance of to the Jews of the Diaspora, 161, 161n. 10; relationship of, to the temple, 270n. 29
Jesus, 181–82; complete adequacy of salvation in, 235–37, 238, 308–16, 311n. 5; contrast of to Moses, 164–65, 294, 385; crucifixion of, 182, 183, 251, 357–58, 381, 425; enthronement of, 90–91, 90n. 10; as the “faithful son,” 226–27; magnitude of his blessings, 290–91; as mediator, 30, 42, 71, 125; as the Son of God, 359–60; superiority of, to the angels, 91; superiority of, to the Levitical priests, 368, 371; superiority of, to Moses and Joshua, 95, 164–65, 386; the “Word” of, 93n. 20. See also assurance: and Christ’s ability to save forever; Jesus as high priest; Jesus, sufficiency of
Jesus as high priest, 108, 182–83, 195, 197–199, 223, 273, 312n. 6; Aaronic/Levitical priesthood as a “type” of Christ’s priesthood, 272n. 33; adequacy of, 235–37, 238, 308–16; character of, 310–12; eternal quality of his work as, 310–11n. 3; fidelity of, 195n. 52; high-priestly mission of, 225–26, 312n. 6; as king-priest, 24, 30, 75–87, 75n. 56; nature of his work as, 216–17; “open” access to God, 63, 63n. 47, 118, 118n. 85; perpetual nature of, 372; power of, 225–26; privileges/benefits made available to us by Jesus as high priest, 152, 274–75, 280, 287, 298, 312–13
Jesus, sufficiency of, 235, 236, 416; and guarantee of perseverance, 237–40; and provision for perseverance, 240–41; and the urgency of perseverance, 241–42
Jewish Christians, 254, 269n. 27, 277n. 47, 389, 393; expulsion of, from Rome, 158n. 2. See also Jews
Jews, 166n. 13, 339–40, 402, 415–16, 415n. 1, 419; First and Second Jewish Temple communities, 47–48n. 32; population of, in Rome, 88. See also Rome: persecution of Jewish rebels by
Joshua, 39n. 25, 57n. 39, 95, 104, 355, 399n. 4
Judaism, 110n. 67, 278n. 53, 365, 392, 401, 402; “foundation” issues of, 110–11
Judea, 254
judgment: of God, 99, 120–21, 154, 329–32, 381–82, 409–10; facing of, 66, 122–27; future “penalty,” 25–26; as the reason for listening to God, 41, 41n. 27; as the result of disobedience, 71. See also destruction
judgment: nature of, 253–55, 360–63, 381–82, 402–10, 427; and consuming fire, 41, 361n. 43, 363–64, 393; and “falling into the hands of the Living God,” 366–67; physical punishment, 407–8, 407n. 11; severity of the punishment, 187, 187n. 32, 266–67n. 20, 364–65, 382

Kadesh-Barnea rebellion, 40, 46–47, 46n. 30, 71, 96–101, 156, 162–63, 265–66, 266n. 18; and choosing “another” Moses, 263n. 10; in light of the sins of Moses and Aaron, 348–50; not to be repeated, 50–51, 59; reasons for, 96, 265n. 17; as the rejection of God’s revelation, 263–64. See also “falling away”
Korah, 364

“laid bare” metaphor, 60n. 44, 107n. 56
law: Old Testament, 33n. 15, 93, 391; Mosaic law, 282, 282n. 66, 300, 364, 381, 424
learning, 77

Massah, 46nn. 30–31, 98, 266n. 18
maturity, 67, 109, 110, 279–80, 299, 425
Melchizedek, 103, 225–26, 340, 343; priority of over the sons of Levi, 371
Meribah, 46nn. 30–31, 98, 266n. 18
Miriam, 351, 424
Mosaic. See law: Old Testament
Moses, 71, 95, 345, 346, 364, 397n. 2; compares/contrasts Son with, 263–64, 263nn. 10–11; contrast of, to Christ, 164–65, 294, 385; contrast of, to Israel, 294; faithfulness of, 344, 421–23, 423n. 6; as an honored servant, 263n. 11; intervention of, on behalf of the rebellious Israelites, 295–96; mediator of previous era, 42; questioning of God’s commands, 348–49n. 30; refused entrance into Promised Land, 188n. 36, 351, 424; sins of, 252, 348–50, 399, 421; warning of, to Israel regarding idolatry, 126. See also law: Mosaic law
Mount Sinai, 286–87, 287nn. 75–76
Mount Zion. See Zion

Nadab, 364
Nahal Hever, 159
name, 30n. 12
Nero, 69n. 52
Noah, 171n. 24, 346

obedience, 97

Palestine, 159, 187–88n. 34, 254, 277n. 47, 402, 403, 415n. 1; destruction of, 382, 392
pancratium, 35, 35n. 19
parable of Israel as God’s vineyard, 115, 115n. 80
parable of the wedding banquet, 34n. 17 “paranetic midrash,” 390
“partakers”: of Christ, 206n. 76, 249, 316–21, 325, 376, 413; of the Holy Spirit, 353; as true believers, 273–74n. 36
participles (five participle passages in Hebrews), 177–80, 180n. 16, 273–78, 273–74n. 36, 411–12, 411n. 13, 412n. 14; as causal, 185n. 30, 392; connection of, in Hebrews with the Exodus generation, 352–53, 380–81, 391; strength of, 298; as temporal, 185
“partnership,” 48–49, 48–49n. 34, 100, 100n. 34; and partners/sharers, 69n. 53;—, of salvation, 78
patronage, 97–98n. 29
Paul, 59n. 42, 251, 305–6; on believers, 64n. 48; as a disciple of Arminius, 306; as a disciple of Calvin, 305–6; on the Torah, 93; warnings of, to the Corinthians, 251, 305
Pelagian heresy, 87
Pella, 367n. 55
perfection. See maturity
perseverance, 207n. 78, 208, 244, 244n. 9, 245; in Christian development, 202, 202n. 65; Reformed understanding of, 141, 172–73; until the end, 128, 128n. 110
Peter, 185
promise, 103–4
“Protestant purgatory,” 255
punishment: divine. See judgment: of God

qal waḥomer, 29, 92, 121, 384, 385, 389–90; explanation of, 29n. 10; and the three sins mentioned in Hebrews, 392–93

Qumran, 30n. 12, 46n. 31, 159

rebellion, 50n. 35
renewal, 79–80n. 61
repentance, 179, 220–21; and a believer’s inability to repent, 79n. 60, 80–81, 114; foundation of, 111; secular repentance, 123
resistance, 35n. 19
resolve, 63n. 46
rest. See “God’s rest”
restoration, 79–80n. 61
Reuben, 334n. 11
revelation(s), 92–93, 359; to the Exodus generation, 262–72; “greater” revelation, 93. See also Kadesh-Barnea rebellion: as the rejection of God’s revelation; warning passages: grounding of, in revelation and redemption
reward, 70n. 54
rhetoric, 145, 258n. 4. See also Exodus generation: rhetorical function of; Hebrews, book of: lesser to greater (escalation) argumentation in
righteousness, 109
Roman Empire. See Rome
Rome, 161; campaigns of, in Galilee and Judea, 403, 405; persecution of Jewish rebels by, 68–69n. 52, 161, 221, 362n. 46, 365;—, Vespasian’s policy concerning, 330

Sabbath. See “God’s Sabbath”
salvation, 25, 94, 113, 116–18, 164, 179, 301, 311n. 5, 315–16, 343n. 22, 433; the “better things” of, 82n. 62, 193n. 46; and the blessings of the new covenant, 310, 416–17; as both present and future, 116n. 81; contingency of in the book of Hebrews, 137–41; faithfulness of God to accomplish, 314–15; “falling short” of, 123; as future-oriented, 200–202; “great salvation,” 147, 259, 262–64, 280–82, 284–85, 288; New Testament conditional statements regarding, 95, 140–41, 304; and perseverance, 202n. 65; possibility of losing, 289–90; superiority of, 310. See also Jesus: complete adequacy of salvation in
Samson, 377, 423n. 6
sanctification, 25, 179, 394
Saul, 407n. 11
Septuagint, 159
“shaking of earth and heaven” metaphor, 39–40, 165–68, 166nn. 13–14; historical/political interpretation of, 40n. 26
sin(s), 250–51; the unpardonable, 114, 114n. 77, 114–15n. 78, 163, 298–299. See also apostasy; Exodus generation: sin of; willful sin
Sinai, 40; contrast of, to Zion, 301–2
Sinai wilderness community, 33, 38, 38n. 23, 42, 45–46, 71, 84. See also Exodus generation
“slip away” metaphor, 32, 32n. 14, 90–94, 92nn. 17–18
Solomon, 167n. 18
sonship, 30n. 12; and suffering, 36n. 20
soteriology. See Hebrews, book of: soteriology of
Stoics, 166n. 13
syllogism, 34n. 18
Syria, 405

temple, the, 270n. 29, 403, 404; destruction of, 167–68, 167n. 19, 363n. 49, 403; as an eschatological image of God’s blessedness, 270n. 30; as God’s resting place, 52–53n. 36; as microcosm of the Jewish cosmos, 166–67, 166nn. 13–14; restoration of, 79–80n. 61; temple symbolism in the Old Testament, 167, 167n. 18
Timothy, 59n. 42
Titus, 161
Torah, the, 93, 404
typology, 341–43, 378–79, 407–9; “heightening” in, 189n. 39, 342, 342n. 20; negative, 98; three stages of typological relationship, 96n. 24. See also Hebrews, book of: lesser to greater (escalation) argumentation in

unbelief, 97–98, 97–98n. 29
unpardonable sin, the. See sin(s): the unpardonable

vigilance, 97, 122–23

warning passages, 58n. 41, 85–87, 90, 173, 218–19, 242–44, 280–86, 285n. 70, 289–92; against “sluggishness” and “immaturity,” 75–76n. 57, 82n. 64, 150, 151, 277–79, 354–55, 390; Calvinist position concerning, 302–3; contradictions within, 224–25, 233–36; and encouragement to the readers concerning God’s faithfulness, 192–205, 193n. 47, 222–23, 227–31; five central elements or themes of, 176–205 passim, 176n. 9;—, combining of, 205; in the form of a chiasmus, 28, 84; grounding of, in revelation and redemption, 259–62, 260nn. 5–6; the harsh warning, 74–83; identifying them, 27–28; issues surrounding, 24–26; nautical metaphor in, 91–92, 92nn. 17–18; Old Testament background of, 163–65; response to, 190–91, 291–92; structure of, 27–28, 28–29n. 8, 42–43; synthetic approach to, 175–76, 175n. 8, 246; warnings to hear, 28–41 passim; warnings to trust and obey, 44–71 passim; wrestling metaphor in, 107n. 56. See also “falling away”; interpretive paradigm; judgment: nature of; warning passages, exhortations in
warning passages, exhortations in, 35–38, 36–37n. 22, 47–48, 48n. 33, 63–64, 99–100, 118, 190–91, 192; definition of, 35–36n. 20; and the three “speakings” of God, 288
Wesleyans, 257, 257n. 1
wilderness community. See Exodus generation
willful sin, 64–67, 65–66n. 50, 136, 136n. 8, 151n. 5, 153, 162–63, 281n. 61; difference of, from inadvertent sin, 114–15n. 78. See also apostasy: willfulness of
willfulness. See willful sin
Word of God, 60n. 43, 79n. 60; goodness of, 113; power of, 106–8
worship, 70, 118–19

Zerubbabel, 39n. 25
Zion, 124–25, 270, 270n. 30, 287, 288. See also Sinai: contrast of, to Zion


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Gleason, R. C. (2007). A Moderate Reformed View. In H. W. Bateman IV (Hrsg.), Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (S. 336–480). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional.

Published: May 5, 2018, 07:58 | Comments
Category: Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, bible, Bible teaching



Gareth Lee Cockerill

Puzzlement over the “warning passages” of Hebrews is not a new occupation. These passages are difficult, not just because they teach that it is possible to fall away from Christ, but also because they appear to teach a falling away from which there is no return. Thus this stringency has been a problem not only for Calvinists, who believe that true believers cannot lose salvation, but also for Wesleyans and other Christians, who affirm that those who fall from saving faith may be restored. In fact, the apparent harshness of these warnings may have retarded the recognition of Hebrews as canonical.2 The problem, however, is pastoral as well as theological or speculative. The author of Hebrews has formulated these passages as part of his pastoral strategy in addressing the condition of his hearers. How do we apply them to contemporary Christians? When is the last time you heard a sermon on “there remains no more sacrifice for sins” (10:26)?
If we are to understand these passages, we must approach them with the full recognition that they are part of this pastoral strategy. Many today affirm that the writer of Hebrews has given careful consideration to the theological content and rhetorical shape of his document in order to urge perseverance in faith despite opposition from the society in which his hearers lived and the blandishments of reward offered by that society for their compromise. In the face of this pressure and the possibility of imminent persecution (11:35–38; 12:3–4), the recipients of Hebrews appear to have developed a hesitancy to stand for Christ and to identify with the Christian community—a moral and spiritual lethargy that, if persisted in, could lead them to “fall away from the living God” (3:12). Thus it would be artificial and misleading to isolate the “warning passages” from their larger context. These passages are balanced by an equal or greater emphasis on encouragement. Furthermore, both the “warning” given and “encouragement” offered by Hebrews are deeply rooted in the book’s theology and in the soteriological implications of its Christology.
We now turn to a consideration of each of the warning passages—Hebrews 2:1–4; 3:7–4:11; 5:11–6:8; 10:26–31; and 12:24–29. Each passage is appropriately tailored to the stage of the author’s argument and to the progress of his rhetorical purpose to produce endurance in his hearers. Thus it is incumbent upon us to consider them within the plan and purpose of the book.

Hebrews 2:1–4

This first passage lays a foundation for subsequent warnings by grounding them in revelation and redemption and by affirming the consequent continuity of the readers with God’s Old Testament people, along with the discontinuity affected by the privileges now theirs in the Son. It establishes the fundamental validity of this revelation and introduces us to the spiritual state of the readers, the sin with which they were threatened, the consequences of acquiescing to that sin, and the author’s proposed solution. “On account of this” (2:1) grounds the motivation for this exhortation on the description of God’s revelation through the Son in Hebrews 1:1–4. As the culmination of God’s self-revelation, the Son was both continuous with and superior to that Old Testament revelation.
The writer is concerned to establish the validity of these revelations as a basis for all subsequent warnings. The “such a great salvation” was “validated” (ἐβεβαιώθη) by those who had heard it, by its “beginning” in the speaking of “the Lord” Jesus, and by God’s miraculous collaboration (2:3b–4). The warning is made more pungent in that “the word spoken through angels” was shown to be “valid” (βέβαιος) by the just reward received for every “transgression and disobedience” (2:2b).
The continuity between these revelations is demonstrated by the fact that both are spoken by God (1:1), both are valid, and disobedience to both will be avenged (2:2–4). The writer stresses continuity between those who received the Old Testament revelation and the present people of God by emphasizing the goal to be gained or lost and the concomitant need of faith/obedience. Thus, affirmation of this continuity gives warrant to the use of the wilderness generation as warning in Hebrews 3:7–4:11 and to the validity of all other Old Testament examples (11:1–40; 12:14–27).
Just as Hebrews 1:1–4 contrasts the agents of revelation, so, in order to strengthen its hortatory appeal, Hebrews 2:1–4 contrasts the revelations themselves—the former described as “the word spoken through angels” and the latter as “great salvation.” Both the description and validation of the new revelation make its superiority clear. It is important to note that the writer does not compare the “word” spoken through the Son with the angel-mediated “word”; rather, he compares the “great salvation” provided by the Son through his making purification for sins (1:3) with that angelic “word.” Thus if those who received that lesser revelation were appropriately punished for their disobedience to it, how much more will we who have received this far greater gift?
The finality and superiority of this “great salvation” are fundamental to the warnings in Hebrews 5:11–6:8; 10:26–31; and 12:14–29; Hebrews 5:11–6:8 prepares the readers for the writer’s explanation of this salvation in 7:1–10:18; 10:26–31 applies that explanation, and 12:14–29 brings this warning to a climax. The lesser-to-greater argument of 2:1–4 is prominent in 10:26–31 and 12:25–29.
The way in which the writer describes the readers’ reception of this “great salvation” makes it clear that they are part of the Christian community. He cautions Christians against “drifting away from” (2:1) and “neglecting” (2:3) the God-provided “great salvation.” “Drifting away” is the opposite of “going on” in maturity (6:1), of “drawing near” through what Christ has provided (4:16; 10:22), and thus of “running the course” to the heavenly goal (12:1). This drifting is not unintentional and thus is culpable even though it is aggravated by societal pressure. Such “drifting” is “neglect” of the salvation God has provided through the high priesthood of the Son as described in Hebrews 7:1–10:18. This salvation is the only means of attaining the eternal goal, and thus, to abandon Christ is to follow the wilderness generation in unbelief and disobedience. The “just reward” (2:2) of every old covenant transgression and the question “how shall we escape?” (2:3) forebode the fell consequences of such abandonment as described in later warnings.
In order to address their problem, the writer moves from God’s “speaking” (1:1–4) to their “hearing.” They are to “give more diligent heed” to the “things heard.” This idea of hearing and responding to God’s revelation in faith and obedience is continued by the theme of the next warning passage, Hebrews 3:7–4:13 (“Today, if you hear his voice,” 3:7, 15; 4:2, 7), and is fundamental to all the warnings in Hebrews. Moreover, the “great salvation” of which the recipients of Hebrews have “heard” will be expounded in Hebrews 7:1–10:18 and become the basis for stronger encouragement (10:19–25; 12:22–24) and proportionately more urgent warning (10:26–31; 12:25–29). Full acceptance of the privileges this salvation brings is the author’s prophylaxis against movement away from the Christian community.

Hebrews 3:7–4:13

In Hebrews 3:7–4:11 the writer uses the graphic example of the sinful “wilderness generation” to expand the warning of 2:1–4. By this example he clarifies both the nature of the sin that leads to falling away and the consequences of that sin. The author skillfully prepares his hearers for this second exhortation. First, the comparison already established between the “so great salvation” (2:3) and God’s Sinai revelation naturally leads to thoughts of Moses and the wilderness generation. Second, the description of the Son as the “Pioneer” (ἀρχηγός, see RSV and NRSV in 2:10) of this “great salvation” in Hebrews 2:5–18 points subtly toward comparison with Moses. The way in which this “Pioneer” will lead God’s people into the “glory” of God’s presence (2:10) is suggestive of the way Moses led them toward the earthly Promised Land.
Therefore, it is no surprise in Hebrews 3:1–6 when the writer compares and contrasts the Son with Moses. The terms that establish the basis of this comparison/contrast come from Numbers 12:7 (Heb. 3:5)—“steward,” “faithful,” and “house.” Both the Son and Moses are “faithful,” and both are related to God’s household, but the Son is far superior because he is the Creator of and the Son over God’s household, while Moses is God’s “steward” (θεράπων) within that household who bore witness to what God would reveal in the Son (Heb. 3:5b). Numbers 12 is a most appropriate basis for this comparison/contrast because of the way in which it asserts Moses’ unique revelatory function and thus enables the writer, by contrast, to affirm the Son’s finality as Revealer. Numbers 12 leads to the rejection of God’s revelation through Moses by the wilderness generation in the rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea recorded in Numbers 13–14. Thus this comparison between the Son and Moses is a natural introduction to the use of the wilderness generation as an example to the present people of God. The recipients of Hebrews should not rebel against the “great salvation” provided by the Son and attested by Moses, as that previous generation rebelled against God’s revelation through Moses.
Hebrews 3:6 is transitional to this warning: “whose house we are if we hold our confidence and boasting firm.” “We,” like the wilderness generation, are the “house,” or people of God, and we will continue to be that house if we remain faithful. Verse 14 reiterates the same truth in language more typical of Hebrews: “For we have become members of Christ [and will continue to be so], if the beginning of our confidence until the end we hold firm.”
Since Numbers 13–14 was already the topic of exhortation in Psalm 95:7–11, the author uses this psalm as the basis for the warning of Hebrews 3:7–19 and 4:1–11. In the former of these passages, he urges his hearers to avoid the example of the wilderness generation, and in the latter he urges them to do what the earlier generation failed to do. Thus the tone of warning is strongest in Hebrews 3:7–19 but not lacking in 4:1–11.
Hebrews 3:7–19 falls naturally into three interlocking subsections—the quotation of Psalm 95:7–11 in verses 7–11; an initial applicative interpretation focusing on “today,” “heart” and “harden” in verses 12–14; and an additional interpretation of the “rebellion” and its consequences in verses 16–19. The recitation of Psalm 95:7–8 in verse 15 concludes the first section of interpretation in verses 12–14 and introduces the second found in verses 16–19.
What is this sin that caused the wilderness generation to forfeit the promised “rest” and that threatens the recipients of Hebrews? The answer given in verses 12 and 13 is faithful to the way the Old Testament portrays that generation’s sin. According to Hebrews 11, faith is living as if God’s power is real and his promises are valid even when contrary odds appear overwhelming or when temporal benefits for unbelief seem appealing (see especially Heb. 11:6). This is exactly what the wilderness generation refused to do. They manifested an “evil heart of unbelief,” in that they let Canaanite intimidation keep them from trusting the adequacy of God’s power and the certainty of his promise to give them the land. Thus by refusing to enter the land at God’s command, they activated this distrust and turned “away from the living God” (3:12). Hebrews envisions no separation between heart and action. A heart that does not trust God will lead to wilderness-generation behavior. Such behavior springs only from an unbelieving heart. This unity of heart and action is why the writer of Hebrews can describe this sin as “unbelief” or “disobedience” with equal appropriateness. The writer urges the community to be diligent, lest “any one” (3:13) of their members succumb, for this unbelief is catching (12:14–17) and leads to disassociation from the Christian community (10:25). By focusing on the event at Kadesh-Barnea, the author of Hebrews uses the wilderness generation’s disobedience to show his readers the final outcome to which their “drifting” (2:1) may lead. The next warning passage (5:11–6:8) addresses the readers’ spiritual immaturity that may lead to such final unbelief.
In the meantime, the way in which Hebrews 3:16–19 emphasizes the privileged position of the wilderness generation as those who “came out of Egypt” and yet describes their sin as “rebellion” (3:15–16), “unbelief” (3:19), and “disobedience” (3:18) reinforces the above description of their sin as disobedience resulting from a refusal to trust God’s power and promises. Their subsequent stubborn attempt to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:39–45) demonstrated their lack of true repentance. Their behavior continued to express the hardness of their hearts.
The rebellion led to dire loss—God was “angry” with them for “forty years,” he “swore that they would not enter his rest,” and, most tragically and finally, “their corpses fell in the desert.” The writer could hardly paint the consequences of this definitive refusal to trust and obey in stronger terms. The severe description of these consequences and the urgency of this warning suggest that the fate of the wilderness generation forebodes eternal loss for the recipients of Hebrews.
In fact, in Hebrews 4:1–11 the author demonstrates on the basis of the Old Testament itself that the referent of the promised “rest” has always been the eternal, heavenly Promised Land. The “my rest” of Psalm 95:11 is the rest the wilderness generation lost (Heb. 4:6; cf. 4:3; 3:11, 18), the rest offered in David’s day (4:7–8), and the rest that remains for the recipients of Hebrews (4:9–11). The text gives no indication that these “rests” differ. Furthermore, the writer’s use of Genesis 2:2 to explain the “my rest” of Psalm 95 is not arbitrary. Genesis 2:2, which describes the rest God entered at the culmination of Creation, is the natural place to find the meaning of “my,” that is, God’s rest. The eternal rest God then entered was the true goal of the wilderness generation and is available for God’s people “today.”
Not only the logic of this immediate passage, but also comparison with the parallel accounts of the faithful in Hebrews 11:1–40 indicates that the wilderness generation suffered eternal loss. The Old Testament identifies the homeland promised to the patriarchs and the “rest” lost by the wilderness generation. In Hebrews 11:1–40 that promised homeland sought by the patriarchs was the eternal homeland (11:15) with permanent “foundations” (11:10), the eternal dwelling place of God. Thus the equivalent “rest” lost by the wilderness generation would be the same.26 Both God’s “rest” and the “heavenly homeland” refer to the “unshakeable kingdom” that will be left when the temporal is removed at the judgment (12:25–29). The ultimate result of faith is entrance; the final fate of unbelief is exclusion.
The identity of the “rest” in Hebrews 3:7–4:11 and the “heavenly homeland” of Hebrews 11:1–40 underscores a fundamental flaw in the argument of those who insist on the temporal character of the consequences pictured in the warning passages throughout Hebrews. One of the main arguments for this position runs as follows: the warnings of Hebrews anticipate nothing more than temporal retribution because the Old Testament passages they reference threaten nothing more than temporal judgment. However, these same Old Testament passages also appear to promise nothing more than temporal blessing. The writer of Hebrews does no violence to the Old Testament by grasping the eternal significance of its threatened loss and promised blessing in light of the fulfillment of salvation in Christ.
Furthermore, it becomes clear that the Christology of Hebrews supports the eternal quality of this gain and loss when we realize two important aspects of its teaching. First, not only the “rest” of 3:7–4:11 and the heavenly homeland/eternal city of 11:1–40, but also the Most Holy Place of 7:1–10:25 refer to the same eternal reality and place of dwelling with God. Second, the Son’s entrance into this reality on behalf of his people enables them to enter proleptically now in order to obtain the grace necessary (4:14–16; 10:19–25) for perseverance in faithfulness until final entry at the judgment (12:25–29).
The Old Testament itself has already used land, city, temple, and Most Holy Place to embody dwelling in God’s presence. Elsewhere in the New Testament these images coalesce, as when the whole of the New Jerusalem is conceptualized as the Most Holy Place in Revelation 21. The description of this heavenly reality as “Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” in Hebrews 12:22 brings all of these images together in a grand description of the present/future privileges of God’s people. Christ has entered the Most Holy Place/heavenly homeland on behalf of his people in order that they might follow (2:5–18).
Hebrews’s arrangement of this material is rhetorically sound. The Son is described as the Pioneer (2:5–18) who leads God’s people into the eternal “rest” before the warning of the wilderness generation’s apostasy (3:7–4:11). But it is as our High Priest that he opens the way to the Most Holy Place (7:1–10:25) and thus enables us to follow the examples of the faithful (11:1–40) to that heavenly homeland under the leadership of our Pioneer (12:1–3).
Believers proleptically experience this reality through the work of Christ in the present (4:14–16; 10:19–25) but will enter it fully at the judgment (12:25–29). The writer refers to this eternal reality as God’s “rest” or the heavenly homeland, when he urges his readers to its future ultimate attainment (3:7–4:11; 11:1–40). On the other hand, he refers to it primarily as the Most Holy Place when describing Christ’s high priestly provision for our present entrance to receive grace through “drawing near” (4:14–16; 10:19–25) in order to persevere to that final goal. We now have the High Priest at God’s right hand who is that provision (8:1). Thus the proleptic entrance to receive grace that the Son now affords is the means of and one piece with that final entrance through him at the judgment. Those who reject the Son’s provision for perseverance will certainly forfeit that final reward.
Therefore it is clear that the wilderness generation faced eternal loss. According to Hebrews 4:2b–3, the essential difference between the recipients of Hebrews and the wilderness generation was not the goal to be lost or gained. The essential difference, the difference that the author fervently hopes will be different, is the difference between faith and unbelief. The promise proffered is the promise of entrance into God’s eternal “rest,” established at Creation, offered to the wilderness generation, available to the faithful today, and entered finally, according to Hebrews 11:1–40, by God’s faithful of all time. As “members of Christ” (3:14) the recipients of Hebrews are part of the same “household” (3:6) of God to which the wilderness generation belonged and face the same possibility of ultimate loss if they come to the place where they refuse to live as those who trust God’s future promises and present power.
The hortatory value of the wilderness generation depends on the readers’ identity with them and not on those privileges in Christ that distinguish the present people of God. The writer uses the wilderness generation to show his readers the possible end of their present conduct before they have grasped the significance of the Christ-provided “great salvation.”34 Such a vision of their potential fate is calculated to rouse them from the spiritual sluggishness that prevents their apprehension of the significance of that salvation. We now turn to warnings against such laxity in Hebrews 5:11–6:8.

Hebrews 5:11–6:8

The writer whets the appetite of his hearers for what he has to say about the “great salvation” by exhorting them in Hebrews 4:14–16 to take advantage of the yet-to-be-explained privileges believers now have in their High Priest. He gives them an introductory snapshot of his thought by comparing and contrasting the high priesthood of the Son with that of Aaron in Hebrews 5:1–10 and piques their curiosity by announcing that the Son is “a priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:10). Thus after shocking them with the fate of the wilderness generation and giving them a taste of the “good things” (9:11) to come, he launches into this exhortation of 5:11–6:8 that is honed to awaken his hearers from their childish spiritual immaturity and lethargy so that they can grasp the truth of the “great salvation” he is about to explain in Hebrews 7:1–10:18. Refusal to apprehend this truth is to “neglect” the “great salvation” (2:3) and is equivalent to falling away. Its embrace is the essence of faithfulness and the means of endurance.
The writer’s description of apostasy is in Hebrews 6:1–8, the heart of this warning passage. In Hebrews 5:11–14 he cautions his readers against an impending sluggishness and unnatural immaturity that may expose them to this apostasy. The writer balances this warning by reminding the recipients of their steadfast past (6:9–12) and then urging them to continue that steadfastness by being like Abraham (6:13–20) and others (cf. 11:1–40) who received the promises assured by God’s oath. We will first direct our attention to the picture of apostasy at the core of this admonition in 6:4–8 and then look at the sluggishness described in 5:11–14 that threatens to draw the slothful into apostasy.
In Hebrews 6:4–8 the Greek article joins five substantive participles to form a description of true believers who fall away. The first four of these participles put the genuine character of their faith beyond dispute. The “once” accompanying the first participle underscores the significance of the aorist as indicative of spiritual privileges truly experienced. Nothing is more distinctively Christian than the fact that they have experienced “the powers of the coming age” of salvation. This description of their experience anticipates the magnitude of Christ’s work soon to be explained in Hebrews 7:1–10:18.
To argue that these verses do not describe “regenerate” persons because Hebrews sees salvation (primarily!) as something people receive only at the judgment is to play with words. It is merely another way of saying that there is no state of grace in this life from which a person cannot fall. Indeed, focus on the hortatory sections of Hebrews may blind the interpreter to Hebrews’s emphasis on the great privileges Christ our High Priest makes available to believers in the present: “forgiveness” of sin (10:17–18), a “cleansed” conscience (9:14; 10:22), God’s law written on the heart (10:14–18), and access to the heavenly throne room through a Great High Priest in order to receive “mercy” and “grace” (4:14–16; 10:19–25; 12:22–24). Thus, reduction of these participles to a description of sub-Christian experience is diametrically opposed to the author’s intended use. Their cumulative effect is to emphasize the breadth and richness of the spiritual benefits received from God and thus the greater obligation to honor God with continued faithfulness. “God’s salvation and presence are the unquestionable reality of their lives.”40
The fifth of the aorist participles occurs in Hebrews 6:6 and describes these same people of genuine faith as having “fallen away” (παραπεσόντας). The fact that this participle too is substantive and joined to the other four participles by the same article binds the genuine nature of their faith and the reality of their fall into the closest relationship. No one would argue that this term always means a fall from grace resulting in eternal loss from which there is no recovery. However, the immediate context, especially the phrase “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance,” makes it clear that in 6:6 it is referring to a “fall” into irreversible apostasy. Like Esau (12:17) and the wilderness generation, these people have turned “away from the living God” (3:12). This is not a “fall” caused by accident or mishap. It is a deliberate choice to court the values and friendship of unbelieving society and an abandonment of God despite this grand experience of his goodness.
Use of the third person has freed the writer to join this description of true faith and apostasy in one substantive construction as described above. The whole has conditional force—“if people with true Christian experience fall away.” If this description of true faith did not reflect the experience of his readers, the author’s exhortation would have no force. If they had already “fallen away,” it would have been to no purpose—“but we are persuaded better things of you” (6:9). It is because they have had such an experience that he would have them avoid falling away.
The two present participles of Hebrews 6:6 and the parable of the field in 6:7–8 further certify that this “falling away” is apostasy. These causal participles, “crucifying again” and “exposing to public disgrace,”45 describe a severance from the benefits of Christ that leaves no basis for renewed repentance. Fear of the Canaanites led the wilderness generation to turn “away from the living God” (3:12) by rejecting his provision, his proffered promise, and his power. Fear of society’s approbation appears to have been leading these Christian believers to reject God’s power and promise provided in the crucifixion of Christ.
The contrast between fruitful and unfruitful “soil” in Hebrews 6:7–8 illustrates and reinforces what has been said in 6:4–6 about those who have received the grace of God and then turned away. It is important to note that there is really only one soil in this passage. In verse 7 this soil is described by two attributive participial phrases. The first of these participles describes it as receiving benefits—“drinking the rain often coming upon it.” The second describes the land as giving an appropriate response by “bringing forth a crop useful to those on account of whom it is farmed.” The conditional participle of verse 8, however, implies, “What if this very same soil brings forth weeds and thistles?” The “burning,” which is the end of such unresponsive ground, is certainly indicative of eternal judgment. The qualification “near” gives the writer permission to open the next paragraph with “But we are persuaded better things of you” (6:9).
But what about the “sluggishness” or “immaturity” for which the writer castigates his hearers in Hebrews 5:11–14 and the concomitant “maturity” (6:1) to which he urges them? The author may have intentionally exaggerated their retrogression into spiritual childishness in order to shame them into awakening from lethargy. Notice particularly such humiliating phrases as “those who have need of baby’s milk rather than adult food.”52 If, however, there were not a degree of real retrogression, the exhortation would not produce the desired result.
It is important to note what the author specifically says about this “sluggishness” or “immaturity.” First, he fears that this unnatural “immaturity” will prevent the hearers from grasping what he has to say about the Son’s effective high priesthood (5:11). Instead, their “immaturity” seems to be focused on “the elementary doctrines of Christ” (6:1). Second, this “sluggishness” would prevent them from being imitators “of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12), such as Abraham (6:13–16) and the other faithful in Hebrews 11:1–40. Thus it would appear that grasping and appropriating the “great salvation” of Christ’s high priesthood as described in Hebrews 7:1–10:18 is the means of imitating those who “through faith and endurance” inherit what God has promised and is thus the very opposite of this sluggish immaturity, which is retarding the readers’ advance. It is the “solid food” that they should begin to chew. It is the “word of righteousness” (5:13) that will enable the readers to follow the examples of the “righteous” in Hebrews 10:38–11:40. It appears then that failure to appropriate the benefits of Christ’s high priestly work is failure to follow the example of the faithful, which results in loss of entrance into the heavenly homeland.
This understanding of the passage is confirmed by a look at “maturity” (τελειότητα) in Hebrews 6:1: “let us go on in the way of maturity.” The writer exploits the fact that this word means both “maturity” and “perfection.” He employs it here in contrast to the “immaturity” from which he would arouse his readers. Yet he gives content to this “maturity/perfection” (τελειότητα) by his use of the related verb, τελειόω, “to perfect,” in such passages as 2:10; 5:9; 7:28; 10:14; and 11:40. First, Jesus, through his obedience unto death and ascension/session, has been “perfected” as savior; he has become a high priest able to cleanse the readers from sin and bring them into God’s presence (2:10; 5:9; 7:28). Second, those who experience his provision and thus live in faithful obedience have been “perfected,” and they are those who live in this “maturity” (9:9; 10:1, 14; see 11:40; 12:23). Thus, a contextual understanding of the “maturity/perfection” of Hebrews 6:1 reinforces our contention that the appropriation of the preacher’s word about Christ’s high priesthood (7:1–10:18) and accompanying benefits (10:19–25) is the “maturity/perfection” that he urges. Therefore, going “on in maturity” is the opposite of “neglecting” the Christ-provided “great salvation” (2:3) and the only means of entering the heavenly homeland. After expounding this “great salvation,” the writer will apply it in the warning of Hebrews 10:26–31, to which we now turn.

Hebrews 10:26–31

The warning in Hebrews 10:26–31 is at the center of three closely connected sections that make up the exhortation of 10:19–39. This entire exhortation is a development of the high priesthood and sacrifice of Christ explained in 4:14–10:18 and provides a transition to the examples of faith that lead to endurance in 11:1–12:13.
Hebrews 10:19–25 prepares for the warning in 10:26–31 by describing the benefits of Christ’s high priestly work as explained in 4:14–10:18—“boldness” to enter the heavenly Most Holy Place of God’s presence through Christ’s blood and having a “great priest” over God’s house. The severity of the warning in Hebrews 10:26–31 is in direct proportion to the magnitude of these benefits as previously described. The encouragement of 10:32–39 joins with this warning to enlist the hearers in the great company of the faithful described in 11:1–40. Thus the warning of Hebrews 10:26–31 is more powerful than that of 6:1–8 because the writer has now explained the magnitude of the “great salvation” introduced in 2:3.
The foreboding in the concluding phrase of Hebrews 10:19–25, “all the more as you see the Day [of Judgment] approaching” (NIV), leads directly into the dire warning of verses 26–31. Note the power and directness of verse 26a. In Hebrews 6:1–8 the writer spoke impersonally, “if they fall away,” but here he affirms the possibility of apostasy for his hearers by use of the first person plural, “for if we.” In 10:19–31, the entire passage is shaped to emphasize the fact that, although the apostasy envisioned is analogous to that of the wilderness generation, the present hearers have a much greater responsibility because they have now experienced the truth of that “great salvation” introduced in 2:3, anticipated in 6:1–8, and now explained in 7:1–10:18 as Christ’s high priestly work. Thus for the readers to continue in willful61 disobedience after this degree of experienced knowledge would indeed be to “neglect” that “great salvation” (2:3) and thus complete the drift into apostasy.
Verses 26b–27 give the result of such willful sinning—“there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” This clause helps explain what was meant in Hebrews 6:6 by “crucifying again the Son of God.” Such sin brings separation from the only provision able to cleanse from sin and provide access to God, the grand provision just described in Hebrews 7:1–10:18. In place of this sacrifice and in contrast to the “boldness” of access described in 10:19, there is now an “expectation” that is “fearful” because it is expectation of a “judgment” that is “a burning fire about to devour the adversaries.” This is the judgment mentioned in Hebrews 9:27 and the fear from which the Son delivers the faithful according to Hebrews 2:15. This mention of judgment prepares for the final “shaking” in Hebrews’s climactic warning (12:25–29).
Since the writer has explained the “great salvation” of Hebrews 2:3, he can now support his warning with the full force of the lesser-to-greater argument. In Hebrews 2:1–4 he used this argument to affirm the certainty of punishment; here in 10:28–29 it underscores the degree of punishment. He deliberately draws his “lesser case” from the specifics of the “Law of Moses,” which required death for those who put themselves outside its provision by idolatry (Deut. 13:8) and related sins. The seriousness and definitiveness of this act is reinforced by locating the aorist participle “having set aside” (ἀθετήσας) at the beginning of the sentence.
In light of all that has been said about the adequacy of Christ’s provision alone to provide entrance into the heavenly homeland, God will certainly deem the person who has rejected him worthy of the much “worse” punishment of eternal loss. Just as the Mosaic law was inadequate to provide salvation (9:1–14) but prefigured the salvation provided in Christ (3:5), so its punishment prefigured the ultimate loss of that salvation. The description of the one who thus turns from Christ in verse 29 shows the seriousness and finality of this willful act and thus reinforces the appropriate severity of its punishment.
Since the Son is the fulfillment anticipated by God’s revelation in the Old Testament, to reject the salvation he has provided is to follow the example of the wilderness generation in refusing to trust God’s promise and power. For the wilderness generation, the benefits of Christ were still wholly future promises. For the recipients of Hebrews, these blessings have become to a large degree the present power of God. Such great privilege renders unbelief more heinous and insures the eternal loss of the unfaithful. How could those who reject God’s only provision enter eternal salvation and not suffer perdition? Thus the two citations in verse 30 from the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:35–36) pronounce God’s judgment reserved for idolaters and covenant breakers. The terrifying statement of verse 31 confirms the apostate’s eternal loss.

Hebrews 12:14–29

Having completed his explanation of the “great salvation” (7:1–10:18) with its consequent privileges (10:19–25) and perils (10:26–31), the writer is ready to give a final grand history of the people of faith in Hebrews 11:1–12:29. This history is introduced in 10:32–39 as the history of those who have the kind of faith that leads to endurance, the faith of Habakkuk 2:3–4, a faith the readers are urged to have by the writer’s encouraging words, “we are not of those who turn back but who through faith and endurance receive the promises” (10:39).
This history moves from Creation to beyond the end of the Old Testament in Hebrews 11:1–40, to the coming of Christ in Hebrews 12:1–3, and further on into the Christian present with its need of endurance in 12:4–13. The eye of the reader is firmly fixed on the eternal destiny of this history, the “heavenly homeland” anticipated by the Old Testament faithful.
But there is a difference. The writer no longer refers to the word spoken through the Son as something past (see 2:1–4). He has explained how, by becoming human, living in complete obedience, and offering himself for sin, the Son has made a fully adequate atonement and has now sat down at God’s right hand on our behalf. It is not merely what he has done but who he has become as our Savior that is important. Thus God’s word in the Son is present and future and is one with the goal we seek—if we look “unto Jesus” (12:1–3) we keep our eye on the heavenly homeland. Since the “great salvation” has opened the way to this heavenly city, the two are inseparable. Thus the writer urges his hearers to look upward and forward to both the goal of their pilgrimage and the provision for its completion.
The final warning passage in Hebrews 12:14–29 is the grand climax of the history in the first twelve chapters of Hebrews. This passage fuses warning with encouragement in its description of the present/future people of God as they pass into and through the final judgment. In this passage the author bases his warning on the Christ-provided “great salvation” he has so eloquently described, on the eternal goal and end of the faithful, which that salvation makes possible, and on the last judgment, which finalizes that blessed heavenly rest. Thus with consummate rhetorical skill the author brings to bear all of the theological resources of his book in urgent exhortation that his hearers persevere in faith until this glorious end.
However, in verses 14–17 the author takes one last look “back” at a final, climactic example of unfaithfulness. Many interpreters have noted the dependence of this passage on Deuteronomy 29:15–20. The quintessential apostate Esau stands under the covenant curse and is cut off from God just as the deliberate idolater at the climax of that passage was severed from God. To be “immoral”71 and especially “godless” in the sense here attributed to Esau is the opposite of living in “holiness” and is the essence of rebellion. It is the life of unbelief lived as if God’s power were not real and his promises of reward were not valid (see Heb. 11:6). Esau’s sale of his birthright “for a single meal” is the perfect expression of such complete unbelief. For the smallest pittance of the visible and tangible goods of this earth, he gave up the heavenly homeland promised to Abraham. Thus he is the foil of the faithful patriarchs (Heb. 11:9–10, 13–16) and especially of Moses, who rejected the “temporary enjoyment of sin” (11:24–26).
Later, when Jacob deceived him, Esau sought to get the “blessing” with tears, but there is no record that he repented of his disregard for God. The NRSV has captured the meaning of Hebrews 12:17 with “he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.” Thus the example of Esau recalls the fate of the wilderness generation and reminds us of the way Hebrews 6:4–8 and 10:26–31 describe the impossibility of return from apostasy. The writer warns lest through failure to appropriate the “grace” made available in Christ such a rebellious heart might arise among his hearers and lead many other people astray. The following verses support the exhortation of verses 14–17: the preacher’s hearers should not fall into such apostasy “for they have not come to a mountain that can be touched … but they have come to Mount Zion.”
At the heart of Hebrews 12:14–29 is the contrast between what “we have not come to” (vv. 18–21) and what “we have come to” (vv. 22–24). The author uses the awesome and fearful aspects of the description of Mount Sinai in Deuteronomy and Exodus to portray this first “place.” But this place is not Mount Sinai simpliciter. The omission of the word mountain underscores the author’s concern with the character of this place, not its location. This is the place of judgment, the judgment of the wilderness generation, Mount Sinai without grace, the place contemporary believers would stand if they turned away from God’s grace in the Son. The judgmental character of this description is supported by the fact that the words of Moses in verse 21 come from Deuteronomy 9:19 and reflect his fear of retribution after Israel’s sin with the golden calf. Thus this description stands as an implicit warning.
In contrast, Mount Zion in Hebrews 12:22–24 describes the present access to God enjoyed by his faithful people. This description does not forget that God is Judge. Indeed, the order of words in verse 23 emphasizes his judgeship. The climax of this description makes it clear that the glorious privileges here described are available because of the “mediator of a new covenant, Jesus,” and of his “blood” that speaks pardon and cleansing rather than the judgment for which the blood of Abel cried (v. 24). Thus the “great salvation” is at the heart of this wonderful description of the privileges of God’s people. This description of the present privilege of God’s people is in truth a description of the eternal blessedness that they now enjoy in a preliminary way. Thus it is no surprise that the author moves to the final judgment in verses 25–29.
The exhortation of verse 25 brings the warning of Hebrews to its climax. This warning is undergirded powerfully by the three “speakings” of God (“on earth,” “from heaven,” “once again”) set in two contrasts. First, the contrast between God’s speaking “on earth” at Sinai and now from heaven (12:25) puts all the weight of the “great salvation,” first announced in Hebrews 2:1–4, behind this warning. As we have seen, the contrast is no longer between “what began to be spoken by our Lord” (2:3) while on earth and the word spoken at Sinai. Through making purification for our sins, the Son now sits at God’s right hand in heaven, having achieved our redemption. Thus, if the wilderness generation did not escape, what hope is there for us who hear God’s gracious call through the “speaking blood” (v. 24) of the enthroned Son that comes from and invites us to heaven?
Second, the contrast between God’s earthshaking word at Sinai and his speaking “once” again at the judgment, when his word will remove all that is temporal, supplies this exhortation with a final powerful motivation (12:26). Only those who “have come to Mount Zion” (v. 22) through the Mediator Christ will have a place to stand. They are the ones who “are receiving an unshakeable kingdom” (v. 28) while on earth. The note of awesome warning is preserved through verse 29, for those receiving this kingdom should give reverent and awe-filled thanks, remembering that “our God is a consuming fire.” Thus the warning introduced in Hebrews 2:1–4 reaches its climax according to 12:25–29 in light of the Son’s completion of full redemption and session at God’s right hand and of the coming judgment that finalizes entrance into the blessedness provided by the Son. This is strong motivation to persevere in the faith that produces obedience.


This study argues that Hebrews envisions the possibility of an apostasy from which those once in faith cannot or will not return because they have severed themselves from the culmination of God’s plan of salvation in the Son of God. This apostasy is the result of a willful and purposeful abandonment of trust and its consequent obedience. The writer of Hebrews fears that pressure from contemporary society fed by a spiritual laxity that fails to grasp the significance of Christ may lead his hearers to abandon their faith and fall into such apostasy. The prophylaxis for this apostasy is its opposite—a faith and obedience that fully appropriates the resources provided by the Son of God, our High Priest who sits at God’s right hand.
What are we to make of the fact that Hebrews appears to teach the possibility of a fall from grace with no return? Emmrich dispenses with this problem by distinguishing between the writer’s pastoral point of view and a “God” point of view. The writer does not distinguish between true and false believers in his congregation but knows that some of them who appear to be believers are, from a practical point of view, in danger of falling away. He is not speaking of salvation from God’s point of view, for God knows which of the recipients of Hebrews are true believers, and thus will persevere, and which only appear to be believers. Thus the exhortations in Hebrews do not limit the ability of God’s grace to guarantee the perseverance of true believers. With this type of global argument, one could dismiss any reference in the New Testament that might sound like a believer could lose salvation. A distinction between a pastoral and a “God” point of view toward salvation stands totally outside the purview of Hebrews.
As noted at the beginning of this study, David deSilva has shown how the social context of the Graeco-Roman patron/client relationship informs the argument of Hebrews. He suggests that this relationship clarifies the impossibility of return from apostasy. Clients were told that if they failed to show gratitude toward and ceased maintaining loyalty to their patron/benefactors, all future beneficence would forever cease. On the other hand, although it was acknowledged that patrons might discontinue their generosity, they were encouraged to keep on giving to their clients even if those clients were disloyal. Since Hebrews is instruction to “clients,” we would expect it to warn them of the total and final loss of Christ’s beneficence. Such instructions, however, would not prevent Christ the Patron from continuing his largesse. According to deSilva this distinction does not remove from true believers the threat of falling away from salvation, but it does suggest that the Patron Christ, in his generosity, would take the apostate back.
I find this suggestion intriguing but ultimately unconvincing. While the patron/client relationship may throw considerable light on Hebrews, we cannot reduce Hebrews’s teaching to this relationship. It is not merely the magnitude of Christ’s blessings but their specific content that prevents return from apostasy. He is the fulfillment of all God has done in the Old Testament and the one and only way into the heavenly homeland. As he accomplished his work “once for all” (9:12, 26; 10:10), the person who has “once” (6:4) received the benefit of his work and then apostatizes in the manner described by Hebrews cannot be renewed. Such persons have cut themselves off from the only source of salvation.
So, if we must take these warnings at face value, what are their pastoral implications? Let me suggest several. First, these warnings along with the author’s parallel encouragement continue to do for modern Christians what they did for those first hearers of this message. They urge us to persevere in faith toward the heavenly homeland and to avoid succumbing through spiritual laxity to the approbation and enticements of contemporary society.
Second, these warnings were not given to generate worry about whether one had apostatized. They were written to raise concern lest one might fall. The conduct of both the wilderness generation and Esau suggests that apostates do not seek repentance. Furthermore, sensitive believers should realize that although the apostasy envisioned may result from a process of drifting, it is a definite decision to distrust God expressed in open disobedience and in separation from the Christian community. Also, the hortatory nature of these warnings does not provide any basis for using them as a standard for church discipline.
Third, since the severity of the warnings rests on the greatness of the salvation Christ has brought, these warnings remind us of its full adequacy. There is real provision in Christ’s atonement for fellowship with God through cleansing from sin and daily appropriation of his grace for faithful Christian living.
Fourth, the fact that this apostasy means separating from the people of God reminds us of the importance of the fellowship of believers. Thus the writer exhorts the Christian community to be sure that no one falls into unbelief, instructs believers to encourage one another, and reminds us that we are part of God’s people spread out through history but ultimately gathered in the heavenly homeland.
Finally, the warning passages remind us that people are not just “in” or “out” of the kingdom of God. They are going in one direction or the other, either toward or away from God, the enthroned Son, and the heavenly city. In our pastoral theology, we should not just be concerned about whether they have “made a decision for Christ”; our focus should be on the direction of their lives.
In these ways, and perhaps others, the warnings of the great pastor and theologian who wrote Hebrews invite the consideration of modern theologians and pastors.


Grant R. Osborne

How do you respond to an article with which you almost entirely agree? That is the dilemma here. I will summarize Cockerill’s article and expand on a few points here and there. The emphasis on the warning passages as part of the pastoral strategy of the book is an important point. The author is not writing a negative but a positive work. It is “a word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22) intended both to warn and to encourage but mainly to get the readers back on the road of perseverance and faithfulness in growing in Christ. Neither side should be emphasized over the other to produce either a false security (placing assurance over warning) or a paranoid religiosity (placing the warning over the assurance). The two must be kept in balance in order to recognize both the real danger and the power of God in the lives of the believers. As Gareth Cockerill says well, “the progress of [the author’s] rhetorical purpose” is intended “to produce endurance in his hearers” (p. 259).
I appreciated greatly the exegetical approach taken here. It is interesting (undoubtedly by chance) that the two Arminian approaches were exegetical, going through the passages in order, while the two Calvinist approaches were more topical, going through the issues one at a time. Concerning Hebrews 2:1–4, there is little with which to disagree. Especially strong is the recognition of the importance of “hearing” and “obeying” here. As a major motif in Hebrews, it deserves the attention Cockerill has given it. I would like to see more emphasis on “how shall we escape” (ἐκφευξόμεθα) in 2:3, since the verb is in inclusion with Hebrews 12:25, thus framing the warning passages with the impossibility of escape. Attridge points out that the verb is often used “in warnings of eschatological punishment, Luke 21:36; Rom. 2:3 and 1 Thess. 5:3.” With it the author points to the inevitability of the terrible punishments awaiting the readers if they “drift away.” These are not spelled out here but are made explicit in the final three warning passages.
The section on Hebrews 3:7–4:13 is also done well. I liked the emphasis on Numbers 12 and the high place Moses had as “steward” of God’s house and then the contrast with the failure of Israel at Kadesh-Barnea in Numbers 14. There is thus a double contrast, between Jesus and Moses and between Moses and Israel. There needed to be more exegetical development of the two conditionals in 3:6 and 3:14, since these are so important to the issue of the reality of the warning. Are the two “if indeed” (ἐάνπερ) clauses true conditions in which keeping the apodosis (holding fast) is essential to maintaining the protasis (partaking of Christ)? I believe they are, but some reinterpret them to say that we partake of Christ because or so long as we hold fast, in other words, as assurance rather than warning. That is unlikely in the context of the wilderness failure.
I also liked Cockerill’s definition of the “evil heart of unbelief” that characterized the wilderness generation and threatened the readers as well. He defines it as a failure of faith and, in contrast, points out that “faith is living as if God’s power is real and his promises are valid even when contrary odds appear overwhelming or when temporal benefits for unbelief seem appealing (see especially Heb. 11:6)” (p. 265). Yet it would be good also to see how this failure of faith can segue into apostasy. How does it lead to “disassociation from the Christian community” (p. 266)? This is a sin we all commit from time to time, but how and under what circumstances can it lead to apostasy?
The “rest” theme in Hebrews 3–4 is critical. There are three options in considering the transfer of the “loss of rest” from the wilderness generation to the Hebrew Christians in this epistle: (1) both deal with earthly punishment, that is, physical death (Gleason); (2) both deal with eternal loss (Cockerill, deSilva); (3) the wilderness generation suffered physical death, but the Hebrew Christians are in danger of a far more serious punishment, eternal loss (McKnight, Fanning, Osborne). It is a difficult question to decide whether the wilderness generation was denied entrance to heaven as a result of their rebellion. The text does not say. Cockerill makes a good defense of the second option by appealing to the roll call of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, and especially to the teaching that the “promised homeland sought by the patriarchs was the eternal homeland (11:15) with permanent ‘foundations’ (11:10), the eternal dwelling place of God” (p. 268).
This could be evidence that the author of Hebrews took it that way, but the biblical text in Numbers 14 is ambivalent. After the people rebelled, God threatened to send a plague and destroy them (14:11–12). Then Moses intervened and pled for mercy and forgiveness (vv. 13–19). Due to Moses’ intercession the Lord forgave and spared them. But he said they could never enter the Promised Land but would die in the wilderness. Only their children would claim the inheritance. The key is the extent of the forgiveness. Yet the overwhelming sense of the text is that the judgment involved physical death, and anything more must be read into the text. Still, the author could have understood it as eternal loss, but that depends on reading Hebrews 11 back into Hebrews 3:7–19. Due to the consistent use of escalation in the epistle and especially in the warning passages (see my response to Randall Gleason), I do not believe this is necessary. In actual fact we do not know the final state of the wilderness generation vis-à-vis heaven, yet the textual data in Hebrews strongly upholds the view that the consequences for rebellion and apostasy for these Hebrew Christians will be eternal punishment. And we have not even gotten to Hebrews 6 and 10 yet!
Cockerill proves strongly the eternal nature of the gain and loss in Hebrews, arguing that (1) the heavenly homeland of 11:1–40 as well as the heavenly Most Holy Place of 7:1–10:25 are the bases of our own eternal dwelling with God; and that (2) the Son’s entrance into this reality for us enables us to “enter proleptically now in order to obtain the grace necessary (4:14–16; 10:19–25) for perseverance in faithfulness until final entry at the judgment (12:25–29)” (p. 269). As is the gain, so too is the loss. Throughout the epistle, it is the eternal that is in view. Jesus’ entrance into heaven as the firstfruit makes possible our future entrance, and to forsake that is to suffer eternal loss.
I would want to qualify carefully the idea of the believer’s “proleptic” entrance into eternal life. This could be taken to mean that Christian experience now is not quite full salvation but merely a foretaste. McKnight points to the possibility that in light of the future nature of salvation in Hebrews, some could contend there is no such thing as “falling away” because in fact one has not yet “acquired” it. One cannot lose what one does not in fact have. Of course, he rightly shows the error of such reasoning. In John’s gospel, salvation is a present possession (3:15–16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 20:31), and the two aspects must be kept in tension via inaugurated eschatology. We have eternal life now and experience all the benefits—peace, joy, worship, the power of God, the presence of the Spirit. Yet at the same time our salvation will not be consummated until the return of Christ.
I thoroughly enjoyed the pastoral tone of the section on Hebrews 3:11–4:13. Its relevance to us is clearly spelled out in terms of wrestling with our own lack of trust and the danger of recommitting the wilderness rebellion and so encountering the wrath of God. We too must be aroused from “spiritual sluggishness” to grasp the significance of the “great salvation” we have in Christ and to begin to live a life of perseverance in difficult circumstances.
As it is with the other sections, I am largely in agreement with the discussion of the contents of Hebrews 5:11–6:8. Yet there are a few points where I must demur. It is too bad that the article stops at Hebrews 6:8 rather than going to 6:12. The Calvinist position draws a lot from the assurance of 6:9–12, and it would be good to hear Cockerill’s understanding of the balance between warning (5:11–6:8) and assurance (6:9–12). Also, I would not define apostasy as refusing to understand the deep truths of Christ and neglecting the “great salvation.” Rather those are first steps toward apostasy. In reality apostasy in Hebrews is a studied repudiation of Christ and a turning back to Judaism. Many Christians today are shallow and lazy, refusing to grow, and content to remain shallow. Yet they do not become apostate until they leave Christ entirely behind. I have often asked in churches around the world (e.g., in China) what percentage of the people coming regularly are actually involved in the church and using their gifts for Christ. The average response is “20 percent.” That means 80 percent of the people are “quasi-Christians,” attending but bearing no fruit for Christ. Many of them are probably unbelievers and will face a Matthew 7:23 destiny (“I never knew you”). But some may have a 1 Corinthians 3:15 destiny (“saved so as by fire”). They are believers (foolish though they may be) and will barely make it into heaven. They would fit this definition (neglecting Christian truth and their “great salvation”).
I like Cockerill’s summary of the strength of the participles in Hebrews 6:4–5 as meaning “there is no state of grace in this life from which a person cannot fall” (p. 274). There is virtually nothing else in Scripture that so beautifully sums up what it means to be a Christian. I would urge readers to meditate on the reality of these four privileges. No one is safe from the danger of worldly temptation and “drifting away” (2:1), and that is why this book is in the canon. Cockerill is so right to point out how this description emphasizes “the breadth and richness of the spiritual benefits received from God and thus the greater obligation to honor God with continued faithfulness” (p. 275). This makes the apostasy of Hebrews 6:6 all the more terrible, for Cockerill argues with great force that the verb pictures a willful rejection of Christ, a severance that is so final it allows no turning back. It would have been good to see more reflection on the nature of this “unpardonable sin” and what it connotes, for this has stymied both Calvinist and Arminian thinkers.
I very much liked the section on “maturity/perfection” (τελειότητα and its cognates), which becomes a major theme in Hebrews. This has become a crux on the issue of security and apostasy, since many take it to mean final perfection/security. The term means growth to maturity or completeness (6:1; 10:1) and perfection when reaching heaven (10:14; 11:40; 12:23) when used of believers. When used of Christ, it means the completion of his office (2:10) or perfection as the exalted One (5:9; 7:28). It is not a statement of final security.
On Hebrews 10:26–31, I again would like to have seen Cockerill do more on the whole passage (10:19–39) to interact with the two encouragement sections (vv. 19–25, 32–39) that frame the warning. Finding a balance between assurance and warning in the epistle is the task of us all. Still, it was good to see the note on 10:25b, “till you see the day (of judgment) coming” as a direct transition to the warning in verses 26–31. In a sense verses 26–31 are an expansion of the judgment warning in verse 25b. The stress on the “willful” act of disobedience recalls the “sin with a high hand” of Numbers 15:29–31, the penalty for which was death. Thus the “day of judgment” proclaimed in Hebrews 10:25b is now being explicated. “No sacrifice for sin” (10:26) recalls 10:1–18, which shows how Jesus’ once-forall sacrifice has fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices and made them unnecessary. For the readers to return to Judaism means both to go back to the “obsolete” (8:13) sacrificial system and to remove any possibility of their ever coming back to the only truly efficacious “sacrifice,” that of Christ.
There is a terrific discussion of the “lesser to greater” argument in Hebrews 10:26–31, showing how the author moves from the “lesser” death penalty experienced under the law to the “greater” eternal loss to be suffered by those who leave the “greater salvation” they had found in Christ. As Moses’ law was unable to provide salvation and so “prefigured” the final salvation under Christ, so its penalty “prefigured” the final loss of salvation found here.
The only addition I would make is that the sin here is also greater than that committed by the wilderness generation. They exhibited lack of trust in God’s provision, but the recipients of Hebrews are in danger of going further, rejecting God’s final salvation in Christ. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between the sin of the wilderness people and that here in Hebrews 10. In this sense more could be said about God “avenging” and “judging” (from Deut. 32:35–36) the readers in 10:30 and about the terror one should feel when “falling into the hands of the living God” (10:31). In the Song of Moses of Deuteronomy 32, this was a promise that God would vindicate his people by judging their enemies. Here the readers could not miss the terrifying nuance that they themselves could become God’s enemies! The “living God” in Hebrews 10:31 is the “consuming fire” of 12:29. Terrible, eternal punishment is the only destiny of the apostate.
I also enjoyed the way Cockerill placed Hebrews 12:14–29 in its context and called this the “final grand history of the people of faith in Hebrews 11:1–12:29” (p. 283). There is little question that all of chapter 12 is a midrashic development of the implications of the roll call of the heroes of the faith in chapter 11 and that the whole is a call to a life of perseverance in the pilgrimage that the Christian life is according to the epistle to the Hebrews.
One thing I have enjoyed throughout this essay is the way Cockerill does not just exegete the text but does so as part of an essay on the issues in each section. This is exemplified well in his discussion of Hebrews 12:14–29. He shows how the emphasis has shifted from the “word spoken through the Son” (2:1–4) to the salvation accomplished through the Son, so that here “the writer urges his hearers to look upward and forward to both the goal of their pilgrimage and the provision for its completion” (p. 284). He shows how chapter 12 builds on and summarizes the “great salvation” Christ has made possible, the end and goal of the Christian pilgrimage, and the last judgment that will conclude it all.
There is a good discussion of the Sinai/Zion contrast, especially with the observation that since the word mountain is not mentioned with Sinai, the author’s concern is “with the character of this place, not its location. This is the place of judgment, the judgment of the wilderness generation” (p. 287). So the whole theme is judgment versus reward, terror at the loss versus joy at the new access to God. For the readers there is a further inaugurated eschatology, as the author says in effect, “The present privilege of God’s people is in truth a description of the eternal blessedness that they now enjoy in a preliminary way.” Here again with Zion the emphasis is on encouragement and assurance, and more than in any other section, the assurance and warning themes are intertwined. There is no need to separate either or water them down, for certainly the author wants to say that believers are both secure in God and endangered from the world, both citizens of the heavenly Zion and in need of spiritual strength on earth. The author would be shocked at attempts from both sides to weaken either the assurance or the warning depending on their preconceived system.
As Cockerill says, the warning begun in Hebrews 2:1–4 finds its completion in 12:25–29, and here the two sides of blessing and danger are again brought together. Christ has completed his redemptive work and is in the place of power at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1); yet God is also a “consuming fire,” and judgment awaits those who “turn away from him.”
Let me add one caveat to this paper and the others. It is common for both sides to feel that their interpretation is vastly superior to the other, not just in terms of Hebrews but in terms of the teaching in all of Scripture on security and warning, on privilege and obligation from God. Each side feels there are at least a hundred passages supporting their position and only three or four at best on the other side. Yet in fact there is incredible balance in terms of the amount of scriptural proof for each side!
Let me first rehearse the biblical data that supports the Calvinist position. First, we have the character of God. He is absolutely sovereign (Rom. 9:20–21; 2 Tim. 2:13), immutable (James 1:17–18), and all-loving (Ps. 89:32–35; Jer. 31:3). Since all humankind is totally depraved, the only way anyone can be saved is for God to predestine/elect some to salvation on the basis of his mysterious will (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9; Eph. 1:4–5). In Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology, his entire discussion of eternal security is an exposition of Romans 8, beginning with the promise of “no condemnation” in verses 1–6 and then proceeding to life in the Spirit (vv. 7–10), the bestowal of eternal life (vv. 11–13), the new status as “sons of God” (vv. 14–17), the promise of the redemption of the saints (vv. 18–25), the intercession of the Spirit (vv. 26–27), the calling and the golden chain of predestination (vv. 28–30), and the absolute promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God and of Christ (vv. 31–39).
In terms of the life of the believer, there is the process of perfection (Jer. 17:23; Heb. 10:14), our absolute protection by God (John 10:27–29; Col. 3:3; 1 Peter 1:5), our irrevocable calling (Rom. 11:29; 2 Tim. 2:19), and our reservation/inheritance in heaven (Matt. 25:34; Heb. 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4). There is also (from Berkhof’s Systematic Theology) the covenant of redemption (John 6:37–40; Phil. 1:6; 2:13), the efficacy of the merits and intercession of Christ (John 17; Heb. 7:24–25), the mystical union with Christ (John 5:24; Eph. 5:23, 27), the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart (Eph. 1:13–14; 4:30), and the assurance of salvation (Matt. 24:24; 2 Tim. 1:12).
Now let us consider the data that favors the Arminian position. In the Old Testament Solomon is warned of the dangers of forsaking God (1 Chron. 28:9), and in Ezekiel 18:24, 26 and 33:13, 18 the death penalty is given to the one who turns from righteousness, with Daniel 12:2 showing that this punishment is seen as everlasting. There are possible examples of apostasy in Saul (1 Sam. 15:18–19, 24–26) and Solomon (1 Kings 11:4, via idolatry). Some see this also in the case of Judas (John 17:12) and of Israel (“broken off” due to “unbelief” in Rom. 11:20–22), of Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:18–20) and of the false teachers in Jude and 2 Peter 2.
Next, consider Jesus’ teaching. In the parable of the steward in Luke 12:42–46, the steward who fails is destroyed and given “a place with the unbelievers” (v. 46); and in the two parables of Matthew 25:1–13 and 14–30, the bridesmaids without oil are not allowed entrance into the (messianic) banquet (v. 12—“I don’t know you”—alluding back to 7:23), and the steward who buried his talent is thrown into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (v. 30—a metaphor for eternal punishment that parallels gehenna). In John 15:1–6 there are branches “in me” who stop bearing fruit and are cut off the vine (apostasy), gathered together and thrown into the fire to be burnt (eternal punishment).
Next are the passages on conditional salvation—John 8:51 (“if anyone keeps my word, he will not see death”); Romans 8:12–14 (the “if by the flesh/if by the Spirit” dualism); 1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (“saved if you hold firmly”); Colossians 1:21–23 (“present you holy … if you continue”); 1 Timothy 4:16 (“if you [persevere], you will save both yourself and your hearers”); Hebrews 3:6, 14 (“we are his house if …”; “we share in Christ if …”); 2 Peter 1:8–11 (“if you do these things, you will never fall”); 1 John 2:23–25 (“If [what you have heard] remains in you, you will remain in the Son and in the Father”).
Now we turn to statements regarding the possibility of apostasy, including Matthew 24:4–5, 11, 13 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (prophecy of the coming “great apostasy), 1 Timothy 4:1 (“in the latter days some will abandon the faith”); and 2 Peter 3:17–18 (“don’t be carried away by the error of lawless people”).
Finally, there are statements regarding the actual danger of apostasy. Since we have covered the five passages in Hebrews extensively above, we will restrict ourselves to the rest of the New Testament here. In Romans 14:15 the “strong” at Rome are told not to “destroy your brother and sister for whom Christ died,” and even Moo and Schreiner in their commentaries interpret this as apostasy. In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 Paul talks about the danger of his becoming a “castaway,” probably connoting both “disqualified” and “rejected”; and in 10:12 Paul warns the Corinthians to “be careful that you don’t fall.” In James 1:13–15 the process of a trial leading to temptation, then sin and death is described, and in 5:19–20 a “brother or sister” in the faith can “wander” and in this case be brought back, so that the person’s “soul” is “saved from death” (unlikely to be just physical death). In 2 Peter 2:20–21, a person who has “escaped the corruption of the world” and “known our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” can be “overcome” and “worse off at the end than at the beginning.” In 1 John 5:16–17 the “sin unto death” is examined. Finally, in Revelation 2:5 Christ warns the Ephesian church that if they do not repent, he “will remove [their] lampstand”; in 21:8 the “cowardly” in the church (i.e., weak Christians) are warned that they will face the lake of fire; and in 22:19 those who “take words away from this book” will discover that God has taken “away [their] share in the tree of life.”
Both sides can make very strong cases for their positions, but sadly both sides have become arrogant and much too certain of their positions. Probably most of you who read this chapter will look at the verses on the other side (of your position) and say, “I can answer those verses easily.” No, you can’t! You are imposing the grid of your system on those passages that challenge you so that you won’t have to be challenged. Let me give an example.
Judith Gundry Volf wrote her doctoral dissertation on Paul and Perseverance and made Paul virtually a disciple of John Calvin by giving the conditional statements in Paul scant attention. Then at a later time B. J. Oropeza did another dissertation on Paul and Apostasy and made Paul a disciple of Arminius by ignoring Gundry Volf’s work. I personally doubt if there is any basis whatsoever for certainty on this issue. The data is virtually equal both quantitatively and qualitatively. When we all get to heaven, I expect God to say, “I never intended to give you the final answer. I wanted you to wrestle with and live in the tension between security and warning, finding the balance between the two aspects.” Paul and the author of Hebrews certainly did. There is no evidence at all that they stayed up at night arguing whether security was conditional or unconditional. This does not mean we should not work out the answer we believe is best. The law of noncontradiction says both cannot be correct. What it does mean, however, is that both sides should respect the other and find a “hermeneutics of humility” on this issue. I trust that is the tone of this book. For myself, I agree with Cockerill in humbly submitting to the reader our belief that the Arminian position is the stronger of the two, especially regarding the warning passages of Hebrews.


Buist M. Fanning

As I respond to the essay by Gareth Cockerill, I want to thank him for his valuable work and for the irenic spirit in which it is written. I also commend him for his commitment to submit presuppositions to the teaching of Scripture and not impose a theological tradition on the text. This is what we all are attempting to do. Others will evaluate how successful each of us has been.
As I say about the other two essays in this book, I want to acknowledge here also my agreement with much of what Cockerill’s essay says about Hebrews. Because of space constraints this response will focus on areas of disagreement, but that should not obscure how close we are on many points.
The reader will notice parallels in my responses to Gareth Cockerill and to Grant Osborne since they follow similar approaches and reach similar conclusions. However, in the two responses I will take up slightly different matters based on themes to which each gives more prominence or distinctive points each raises.
As an initial general comment, I want to register my disappointment with the format and approach of the essay by Cockerill. He provides a helpful survey of the warning passages in Hebrews, giving an exposition of their ideas, but does not go much beyond a general survey at any point. I expected to find more attention paid to marshalling key arguments for his overall approach, engaging in a pointed way with critiques of his views, and specifically supporting his conclusions over against other ideas by means of exegetical and biblical-theological discussion. As it stands his essay is too one-sided, too dismissive of any approach that reads the warning passages in any other way.
Cockerill does, to be sure, cite the work of others along the way, but it is mostly those with whom he agrees (e.g., deSilva, Ellingworth). When he does occasionally refer to works that take a different view, he tends to pass over their ideas all too quickly. Instead of stating their arguments and countering them, he cites other works where these details are covered (e.g., “McKnight has shown the weakness of”) or simply reiterates his interpretation more strongly (e.g., the other view is “diametrically opposed to the author’s intended use”). Of course, he cannot cover every detail in an essay like this, but on major points we can expect a clear presentation of major competing views and a summary of cogent reasons why he interprets the text differently.

The Complete Adequacy of Salvation in Christ

To move beyond matters of presentation, I want to respond to Cockerill’s essay in two main areas of disagreement over exegetical and theological substance. The first of these pertains to what I regard to be the most significant and central idea of his essay, one he emphasizes at the outset and returns to in his conclusion. This concerns the character of God’s saving work in Christ. As Cockerill puts it, “Both the ‘warning’ given and ‘encouragement’ offered by Hebrews are deeply rooted in the book’s theology and in the soteriological implications of its Christology” (p. 259). In his conclusion he refers to “the greatness of the salvation Christ has brought” and “its full adequacy” (p. 291).
I heartily agree with Cockerill that this is a central theme in Hebrews, but I believe he has not pursued the idea far enough or seen its full significance for interpreting the warnings of Hebrews. In part this is due, I think, to his concentration almost exclusively on the “warnings” of Hebrews and his inattention to the “encouragements” (to pick up his terms cited above) offered in the same passages and in other places in the book. He notes that the severity of the warning is due to the adequacy and greatness of God’s saving work in Christ, but he fails to pursue how this great salvation may affect the depth of the encouragement offered by Hebrews.
The section in my essay on “Encouragement to the Readers about God’s Faithfulness” (pp. 192–205) traces the reassurances Hebrews gives to its readers in the warning passages themselves and throughout the book. Although some of these reassurances come from outside the “warning passages” proper, they are a significant part of the theology of Hebrews and must be taken into account in interpreting the warnings. As Cockerill himself says, the warnings and encouragements (which are parallel) must be seen as part of the larger strategy and theology of the book as a whole.
As I argue in my section on “Encouragement,” several of the most central soteriological and Christological themes of Hebrews have a direct bearing on how we should read the warnings of Hebrews.
The first theme is the superiority and completeness of the salvation now provided in Jesus Christ as compared to the provisional and imperfect nature of the Mosaic order. Because of who the Son is and his sacrifice of himself by God’s gracious will, a full cleansing for sin has been accomplished once for all. He has become the guarantee of a new and superior covenant enacted on superior promises and providing a superior hope through which its beneficiaries draw near to God (Heb. 1:1–4; 5:9–10; 7:19, 22; 8:6; 10:10). Cockerill is certainly right to conclude that severe judgment is all that could be expected for anyone who scornfully rejects the full and final sacrifice for sin that God has provided in Christ (6:6; 10:29).
Second, as the writer of Hebrews develops the superiority of this new covenant salvation, he emphasizes the eternal character of its benefits (8:12; 10:12, 17–18). According to God’s oath, Jesus is the eternal Priest of a new order (7:21). Since he is God’s Son, his priesthood is due not to physical descent but to the power of an indestructible life (7:3, 16, 24), and he was able to offer an eternally effective sacrifice for sins (10:12, 14, 17–18). In the argument of Hebrews, this eternality is attributed to Christ’s sacrifice not only in its abstract character and potentiality but also in its concrete application and effect on its beneficiaries. This is seen especially in 7:25 and 10:14.
In Hebrews 7:25 the writer gives the consequence of Jesus’ character as eternal High Priest (7:11–24): “So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (NET).3 I contend that no one has truly understood the soteriology of Hebrews and its bearing on the warning passages if he or she has not dealt with this verse. As many have noted, the writer asserts here in unequivocal and unqualified terms the absolute and lasting security of those who are the objects of Christ’s high priestly ministry. Nothing is said about limits to his ability to save them. No qualifications are introduced about past versus future dimensions of this salvation; in fact, the point of the context is his ability to intercede and deliver for all time. No intimations are given that Christ’s ability to save may be thwarted or his willingness to save may be ended by the objects themselves deciding to cease “coming to God through him.”5 The author does not indicate that Christ’s saving work is directed toward a corporate group, thus making any individual benefits dependent on staying in the group, or that what is in view is really only Christ’s potential ability, not the actual effectiveness of his saving work for them. The complete adequacy of Christ’s saving work is reflected in its eternal effectiveness for those whom he undertakes to save.
In Hebrews 10:14 the writer explains the significance of Christ’s posture of sitting at God’s right hand (in contrast to the standing priests of the old order whose sacrifices could never take away sins): “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” This is followed in 10:17 by the reiteration of God’s emphatic new covenant declaration (Jer. 31:34), “Their sins and lawless acts I will not remember any longer.” Again this assertion of the lasting effect of Christ’s saving work is not qualified in any way. The quality of his new covenant sacrifice is such that it accomplishes perfection, holiness, and forgiveness for all time for those who come under its benefits. There is no indication that those whom “he has perfected for all time” may become “unperfected” or that those whom he is making holy may become “unholy,” or that the Lord may at some future time call their sins to mind once again. There is no hint that the eternal effects become eternal only after a probationary period. This is another indication of the greatness and adequacy of God’s salvation in Christ.
Third, the other vital theme Hebrews emphasizes in developing the superiority of new covenant salvation is the inward and spiritual nature of its benefits. In 8:10 the writer quotes the promise of Jeremiah 31:33 that the law will be written on the hearts and minds of God’s people, and then he repeats it in 10:16 without elaborating further. Instead, it is cited as part of the explanation of the eternal character of new covenant forgiveness (10:11–18) as discussed above. What is the connection between the new covenant’s inwardness and its eternal forgiveness and perfecting of its beneficiaries? The answer is suggested by Jeremiah 31 itself, where the failure of the people is given as a primary contrast between the Sinai covenant and the new covenant: “they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them” versus “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (cf. Heb. 8:9–10). God intended the new covenant to effect inward spiritual cleansing and renewal and so enable his people to continue living faithfully before him.
Hebrews explicitly connects these two ideas in 9:13–15. Here the writer contrasts the outward, ritual cleansing of the Mosaic sacrifices with the inward cleansing and enablement Christ has provided: because he offered himself without blemish to God through the eternal Spirit, he is able to “cleanse our conscience from the deadness of our former ways to serve the living God” (9:14b REB). And so, verse 15 says, he is mediator of a new covenant, “to bring liberation from sins committed under the former covenant; its purpose is to enable those whom God has called to receive the eternal inheritance he has promised them” (REB). The new covenant provides cleansing of the conscience from the guilt of sin, as well as inward strengthening and renewal of the heart to serve God. This new life of service includes heartfelt worship as well as moral transformation and obedience to God (10:22; 13:9, 15–16). And so Christ’s new covenant priestly work ensures not just the initiation of a process of perfecting and making holy but also its continuation and ultimate accomplishment. Those who “come to God through him” (7:25), who “are made holy” (10:14), who “partake of a holy, heavenly calling” (3:1; cf. 9:15) receive not a provisional inheritance but an eternal one promised by God and guaranteed by Christ’s new covenant sacrifice (5:9; 7:22; 9:15).
This appears to be the theological foundation for the reassurance the writer gives to his readers in Hebrews 6:9–10 and 10:32–34 based on their past and present obedience. Their love, service, joyful endurance of suffering, and so on has convinced him that their destiny is salvation, not judgment; deliverance, not destruction. Cockerill mentions the writer’s encouragement based on his readers’ past but does not pursue the theological rationale for such encouragement. How can the writer speak so confidently about their prospects? How do evidences of genuine salvation in the past and present give confidence about the future, if eternal loss is possible for the genuine Christian? It would be mere flattery or undue optimism to speak in this way if their continuation is dependent on human fidelity that could change so radically (as 6:6 and 10:29 reflect). But if such godly conduct is rooted in God’s transforming and eternally effective salvation through the new covenant, such confidence is well grounded.
This leads to the fourth, and closely related, theme in the soteriology of Hebrews that has a significant bearing on interpreting the warning passages. This theme is the absolute reliability of God to carry his saving work through to the end. His faithfulness to accomplish salvation with all of its accompaniments is the sole basis for Christian security and assurance. This explains the combination of severe warning and profound encouragement offered by Hebrews. The writer urges his readers to continue in faith and obedience; by doing so they will give evidence that they truly are partakers of Christ’s salvation, and this is what the writer expects to occur based on their past and present fidelity (6:9–10). But he is aware that they are facing a crisis and that some may be tempted to shrink back in repudiation of Christ’s sacrifice. This they must not do, because irremediable loss will follow for any who willfully reject God’s full and final provision for sin.
But the soteriology of Hebrews makes clear that continued human fidelity is not the basis for maintaining God’s saving work or for bringing it to final accomplishment; it is the necessary accompaniment, the effect of God’s genuine saving work. The warnings and reassurances of Hebrews show that perseverance in faith and obedience is the effect and evidence of genuinely benefiting from Christ’s saving work, not its condition. Those who knowledgeably and willfully reject Christ do not cease to partake of Christ’s salvation; they show themselves never truly to have been partakers at all. On the other hand, those who have experienced the transforming power of this new covenant mediated by Jesus’ high priesthood will continue to show persevering faith, based not on changeable human ability but on the sustaining power of God at work within them.
The aim of this entire section of my response to Cockerill is not to critique specific points of his treatment but to challenge him to look further. I think he is correct in highlighting the adequacy and greatness of Christ’s salvation for the theology of Hebrews, but I believe he did not probe it deeply enough or trace its full significance for understanding the warning passages. I argue that Hebrews speaks of the greatness of this salvation specifically in regard to both the abiding security it provides for those who are its genuine partakers and its transforming power that enables them to continue in the pathway of salvation and sanctification they have set out on.

Partakers of Christ (Heb. 3:6, 14)

The second area of disagreement with Cockerill over exegetical and theological substance pertains to his treatment of the conditional sentences of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14. This is not a matter that he takes much time with, but it is central to my view of the warnings in Hebrews and so is worth a brief response.
In the course of surveying the warnings in Hebrews 3–4, Cockerill renders 3:6 and 3:14 as follows: “ ‘We’ … are the ‘house’ or people of God, and we will continue to be that house if we remain faithful,” and “We have become members of Christ [and will continue to be so], if the beginning of our confidence until the end we hold firm” (p. 264). His arguments to support these translations and develop their significance consist of two footnotes. These notes pursue two lines of thought, but I will respond to only one of them here.
One of the notes states enigmatically, “It is overly subtle in both 3:6 and 3:14 to make a present situation dependent on a future condition. There is no indication that the writer believes his addressees … might not be part of God’s ‘house’ ” (p. 264n. 15). Cockerill cites Ellingworth’s commentary in support of this point.12 This is a cardinal illustration of Cockerill’s neglect, as I mentioned above, to engage cogently with opposing views. It would be valuable for him to cite more clearly some representative scholars he believes have taken an overly subtle view of these statements, to articulate what they are really saying by it and how they support it exegetically, and then to respond to their arguments. He does refer at the end of the footnote to his response to me in this book. But why not work with this view more carefully at the outset, since it makes such a difference in interpreting the warnings and since the view has been clearly articulated by a number of serious students of Hebrews.
To unpack Cockerill’s terse critique of my view of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14, I believe he makes two points in this note: (1) my view makes a present situation dependent on a future condition; and (2) my interpretation of the verses is too subtle to be valid, since there is no indication that the writer is calling into question the readers’ status as true Christians. By his first point he seems to be saying this: it is awkward to make a present situation (i.e., the apodoses: we are his house/have become sharers in Christ) dependent on a future condition (i.e., the protases: if we hold fast our confidence and hope/hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end). With this I heartily agree; it is awkward and unlikely. Cockerill’s solution is to project the present situation into the future: he translates the apodoses as “we are and will continue to be his house,” and “we have become and will continue to be members of Christ” (italics mine). In fact, his interpretation focuses on the implied future: the future status is what is really in doubt or conditioned, not the present, according to Cockerill. But is this valid? The verbs used in the apodoses are present and perfect tense respectively; do they naturally project into the future like this or is this addition overly subtle and unwarranted by the text itself?
I contend in my essay that a better solution to this awkwardness is to look more carefully at the logical relation of the if-clauses to the conclusions in these verses. I believe Cockerill has misunderstood or misrepresented my view of these conditional sentences. In my view the present situation is not “dependent upon” a future condition in the sense that it is an effect that is caused or produced by a future action; this cannot be. Instead, it is a present situation that is evidenced by a characteristic condition that extends from the present into the future. As I say about the readers in my essay, “Their continuance in faith will demonstrate that they are members of God’s household, not that it will make it so in the future. Holding on to their confidence will reveal the reality they already have come to share in Christ, not what they will share. By continuing in faith, they demonstrate the work Christ has already begun and will certainly accomplish in them” (p. 207, italics original). As I argue in my essay, the logical sense of “evidence-to-inference” is a well-established possibility for Greek conditional sentences. Unfortunately, there are many interpreters who are unaware of this option, so it may seem overly subtle to them. But does Cockerill reject this as a possible sense for Greek conditions in general? What does he make of the examples cited in my essay?
I further argue that the evidence-to-inference connection makes better sense of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14, based on comparing their characteristics to those of other conditional sentences in New Testament and Septuagint Greek that share these characteristics. Does Cockerill call into question these characteristics or the validity of the interpretation I propose for the parallel examples?
I also contend that this sense fits better into the specific and broader context of Hebrews 3. But this brings us back to the second point Cockerill makes in critique of my view of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14: there is no indication in the passage that the writer is calling into question the readers’ status as true Christians. My response to this is threefold. First, the conditional sentences themselves, when understood in what I regard to be the proper sense, indicate the writer’s concern that some will not continue in faith and thus not give evidence of genuine participation in the benefits of Christ’s high priestly work. Of course, this is the point in dispute between us, so Cockerill’s objection should really be “there is no other indication” that he questions their status!
Second, right between the two conditional sentences of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14, the writer explicitly indicates in verses 12–13 the possibility that some individuals among the readers may fail the test. He does not portray the failure as corporate or wholesale, but he does put them on guard “lest any one of you” fall away or be deceived by sin. Now, of course, how to read this failure is exactly the point at issue again! But I think the way the writer expresses the problem in verses 11 and 12 is a decisive indication that such a one was not a Christian in the first place. He describes such a person as having “an evil heart of unbelief” (v. 12) or being “hardened by sin’s deception” (v. 13). In view of what we surveyed earlier regarding the writer’s emphasis on the inward transformation that comes with Christ’s new covenant salvation, it seems unlikely that he would regard such a failure as a Christian failure. Someone who has “an evil heart of unbelief” demonstrates that he has never experienced the inward cleansing and renewal effected by Christ’s new covenant sacrifice.
Third, the very wording of Hebrews 3:14 reminds us of the wider soteriology of Hebrews discussed above, with its focus on the absolute reliability of God’s saving work through Christ. To speak of being “partakers of Christ” in 3:14 must mean benefiting from his high priestly ministry, since that is the topic introduced in 2:17–18 and renewed in 4:14–16 and carried through to 5:10. Of course, the high priestly work of Christ constitutes the main point of the whole central section of Hebrews 5:11–10:39. In the central section we find repeated emphasis on God’s faithfulness to carry forward the eternal, transforming effects of Christ’s salvation on all those who come to benefit from it (as surveyed earlier in this response). So it is not surprising that Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 would call into question the true Christian status of anyone who abandons his initial confession of faith in Christ.
In conclusion to this response, I should acknowledge that many who have studied Hebrews over the centuries have come to the view that Cockerill expresses in his essay. It is certainly the most natural way to read some of the key features of the warning passages. But of course biblical exegesis should never be decided by a popular vote of its interpreters! As Cockerill has acknowledged and all of the contributors to this book agree, we cannot assume that widely held theological and interpretive traditions are beyond correction. It is always possible that such key features have been dealt with in isolation from significant components of the wider theology of the book or that other important elements in the passages themselves have been overlooked. The essence of my argument here has been that both of these things have often happened in the interpretation of Hebrews, and proper weight to those other factors should lead to a different view of the warning passages.


Randall C. Gleason

Gareth Cockerill’s chapter bears the marks of his extensive scholarship on the book of Hebrews. The result is a thoughtful analysis of the warning passages packed with insights that “stimulate” all of us “to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). His solid contribution exemplifi es the great benefit this collaborative volume offers to students of Hebrews from all traditions.
Cockerill’s concern for the pastoral application of the warnings to the church today is especially helpful. This should be our foremost objective in light of the author’s purpose to urge faithful perseverance in the face of social pressures and persecution. Furthermore, I agree with Cockerill that there are many indications throughout Hebrews that those warned were genuine members of a Christian community. I also appreciate the seriousness with which he takes the warning against an irreversible “falling away” from which they could never recover. However, I wonder if Cockerill’s position may prove too severe for his Wesleyan tradition; for he rejects the milder Wesleyan interpretation that it was impossible for apostates to repent only “while they persisted in crucifying Christ.” Once they turned “from their apostasy,” they would find God mercifully waiting to restore their salvation. Interestingly, John Wesley came to reject the view that the warnings (i.e., Heb. 6:4–5; 10:26) taught irreversible apostasy because it would have discouraged the thousands of “real apostates” he saw coming to repentance during the Great Awakening.

The Theme of Assurance

Although Cockerill acknowledges the importance of understanding the warnings in light of the epistle’s “equal or greater emphasis on encouragement” (p. 259), he does not sufficiently develop this positive theme in his chapter. For example, Cockerill asserts that the “great salvation” introduced in 2:4 is fully expounded later in the book, yet he gives little attention to the assurances offered through the finality of Jesus’ saving work (7:25), complete cleansing (1:3; 9:14), and once-for-all perfection (10:10, 14) promised in the new covenant (8:12; 10:16–17). Also his emphasis upon the benefits of salvation as primarily future (e.g., in the “heavenly homeland”) seems to truncate the “already-not yet” eschatology central to the book. Indeed, the author of Hebrews describes “salvation” according to both its past accomplishment (5:9; 6:9; 7:25) and its future fulfillment (e.g., 1:14; 9:28). To encourage his readers to boldly seek the benefits of Christ’s mercy and grace in the present (2:18; 4:16), the author stresses their complete purification accomplished in the past. Furthermore, the fact that Christ had borne their sins once for all in the past was their guarantee that he “shall appear a second time … for [their] salvation” in the future (9:28). These past elements of salvation are essential to the author’s theology of assurance (10:22; 11:1) and therefore require an emphasis equal to the warnings of judgment.

The Conditional Clauses of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14

Cockerill asserts that Hebrews 3:6 means “we will continue to be that house [i.e., the people of God] if we remain faithful” (p. 264; my emphasis and bracket). Likewise, he explains Hebrews 3:14 to mean that “we have become members of Christ [and will continue to be so], if … we hold firm” (p. 264; his bracket, my emphasis). In each case the condition (i.e., “if … we hold firm”) determines the continuing validity of one’s relationship to Christ. Here Cockerill, like many interpreters, too quickly assumes that these conditional clauses indicate a simple cause (“if”) and effect (“then”) relationship. I believe Fanning is correct in understanding these conditional clauses to express inferences followed by evidence rather than cause and effect. For in both examples, the apodosis expresses a fact already true of the readers followed by the protasis that offers further evidence of that fact. In other words, the fact that “we have become partakers of Christ” (apodosis) is further evidenced by whether “we hold fast … our assurance firm until the end” (protasis). Cockerill’s cause-and-effect reading of these conditional clauses is particularly problematic in Hebrews 3:14, where a perfect indicative verb designates their present status as “partakers of Christ” resulting from Jesus’ past work of purification (1:3), sanctification (2:11), and propitiation (2:17). Their firm grip (i.e., “hold fast”) on these underlying realities that occurred at the beginning of their Christian experience (i.e., “the beginning of our assurance”) provides strong evidence that they are indeed “partakers of Christ.” But to make their firm grip of these facts the means to maintain their relationship with Christ shifts the focus off Christ’s finished work to human achievement. The conditions of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 are better understood as a call to examine themselves for evidence in their lives that would confirm their participation in Christ’s definitive work (i.e., μέτοχοι … τοῦ Χριστοῦ).

The Example of the Exodus Generation

According to Cockerill, the sin of the wilderness generation was their total abandonment of faith in God, evidenced by their refusal to believe that he would grant them victory over the inhabitants of the Promised Land. He confirms the finality of their rejection of God by claiming that they were unwilling to repent from their fateful decision. However, he overlooks significant details in the Old Testament account. In fact, the people did attempt to repent of their decision (i.e., change their mind), for the day after God pronounced their judgment, “the people mourned greatly” (Num. 14:39) and declared, “We have indeed sinned” (v. 40 NASB). Cockerill dismisses their sorrow and confession as disingenuous because of their attempt to possess the land the next day. It is true that their failed attempt was another rebellious act (Deut. 1:43), yet again they “wept before the Lord” (v. 45). Their confession of sin and sorrow “before the Lord” are hardly acts of those who have completely abandoned their faith in God. They did change their minds, but it was God who would not grant them victory the next day. Though God “pardoned” (Num. 14:20) them “according to the greatness of [his] lovingkindness” (v. 19 NASB), his discipline for their act of covenant unfaithfulness was irreversible—they would die in the wilderness (vv. 32–35). Their sorrow reflects their realization that though the Lord pardoned them, they would now face the unavoidable discipline of exclusion from the earthly place of rest and blessing—the physical Land of Promise.
However, the author of Hebrews later confirms the genuineness of their faith in spite of their rebellious behavior by including the Exodus generation among “all these [who had] gained approval through their faith” (11:39 NASB). For like other great heroes of faith (11:32) who either stumbled badly (e.g., Samson, David) or ended poorly (e.g., Gideon), he states “By faith they passed through the Red Sea” (11:29 NASB). Further evidence that they were genuinely pardoned at Kadesh-Barnea is that “the Lord … carried [them], just as a man carries his son” through the wilderness for the next forty years (Deut. 1:31; cf. Neh. 9:13–21; Acts 13:18). Of the Exodus generation, Psalm 99 likewise appeals to both their pardon and their severe judgment, declaring “O Lord our God … You were a forgiving God to them, and yet an avenger of their evil deeds” (v. 8 NASB).
Although Cockerill acknowledges the author’s use of the wilderness generation to stir up his readers to remain faithful, he cautions against drawing “artificial parallels” between the Exodus generation and the readers of Hebrews (p. 272n. 35). This allows him to dismiss my use of the Exodus and wilderness narratives to understand the spiritual condition of those warned, as well as the nature of apostasy and judgment in Hebrews. In Cockerill’s view the disobedience of Israel seems to serve only as a rhetorical device in Hebrews. By ignoring their common spiritual roots, he nullifies the redemptive-historical theology that spiritually links that generation with the first-century recipients throughout the book. As I stress in my chapter, the hermeneutical key to determine the meaning of the warnings is found primarily in the author’s numerous Old Testament echoes back to the wilderness generation. The fruit of my approach is most evident in explaining the difficult phrase, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” (6:6). Instead of importing concepts from elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., “unforgivable sin”) to explain its meaning, the echoes in Hebrews to Kadesh-Barnea point back to the dangers of inciting God’s wrath by willful unfaithfulness to covenant stipulations. The point of the warning is that once God withdrew covenant privileges and pronounced covenant discipline, the readers, like the people of the Exodus, would face the consequences of their unfaithfulness in spite of their sorrow and change of heart.

The Meaning of “Rest” (Heb. 3–4)

Similar to his treatment of “salvation,” Cockerill’s identification of “rest” in Hebrews 3–4 with the “heavenly homeland” limits “rest” to solely a future reality with no present dimension for the readers. Hence, it is only the promise of future rest that remains for the people of God “today.” This leads him to equate their failure to enter God’s rest with their exclusion from future heavenly rest. However, in Hebrews the concept of “rest” is linked to the enjoyment of God’s presence as the source of covenant blessings. As such, the promise of rest in the future does not exclude the foretaste of rest in the present. The claim that “we who have believed are entering (present tense) that rest” (4:3) suggests that at least some of the readers at that time were already enjoying some aspects of God’s rest. This would include their privilege to “draw near (present tense) with confidence to the throne of grace” (4:16), that is, to the very presence of God (10:22), where rest is ultimately found. Furthermore, the author’s use of “today” (Heb. 4:7) calls the readers to experience “Sabbath rest” (4:9) immediately in the present. Like “salvation,” the nature of this rest is best understood in light of the already-not yet eschatology of the book of Hebrews. We are called to enter now into the privileges of rest while awaiting the time when we will experience God’s rest in its complete fullness before the physical presence of Christ at his second coming (9:28). In Hebrews 3–4 the author warns his readers that their lack of faithfulness was an obstacle to their experience of God’s rest in the present. However, this does not mean that their final arrival at their “heavenly homeland” was in jeopardy. The readers already had become citizens of the heavenly city (probably at their conversion), for they are told, “You have come (perfect indicative) to … the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22). The perfect indicative verb used here (προσεληλύθατε) indicates their present condition resulting from what Christ had accomplished for them “once for all” (ἐφάπαξ) in the past (7:27; 9:12; 10:10). Their citizenship in this heavenly city was not at risk, for it is “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (12:28a NASB). Such assurance calls us to constant gratitude, reverence, and awe (12:28b), but without the threat of exclusion from final rest in the age to come.

The Judgment in Hebrews 6:7–8

I agree with Cockerill that those warned in Hebrews 6 are genuine believers. However, his attempt to link this warning to the threat of losing their “salvation” is unconvincing for the following reasons. First, the author’s purpose in the immediate context is to prod them on “to maturity” (6:1) rather than to threaten them with the loss of salvation, for their “redemption” was “eternal” (9:12). His plea for their active maturity that should logically “accompany salvation” (6:9) is driven by the threat of severe discipline and loss of blessing (6:7–8), but not their final damnation; for their saving hope was made both “unchangeable” by a divine oath (6:17–18) and “sure and steadfast” by Christ (6:19–20), their “high priest” (3:1; 4:14–15; 7:26; 8:1), who had “sanctified” (10:10) and “perfected” them “for all time” (10:14). To condition their final salvation in “the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22) upon their personal endurance shifts the focus away from Christ’s perfect work toward the human ability to “hold fast.” Rather, the author of Hebrews calls them to a Christocentric “assurance” (11:1) that keeps their “eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2).
Second, though the warning in Hebrews 6:7–8 is severe, it does not refer to eternal judgment as Cockerill asserts but rather to the loss of covenant blessing and temporal discipline. This is indicated by the author’s use of the terms blessing and curse, which are drawn from Old Testament covenant language (cf. Deut. 11:26–28; 28:1–29:28). The ground (or “land”) that brings forth useful vegetation “receives a blessing from God” (Heb. 6:7). But if it produces only “thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed” (Heb. 6:8 NASB).
This warning echoes back to the Old Testament curse for covenant unfaithfulness that threatened to turn the land into “a burning waste, unsown and unproductive” (Deut. 29:23 NASB). Since the blessings of obedience under the old covenant were experienced in relationship to the land (Deut. 28:1–6), the burning of the land ensured the withholding of those blessings. In light of the imminent eschatology of Hebrews, the expression “close to being cursed” (κατάρας ἐγγύς, Heb. 6:8) likely refers to the impending destruction of the Jewish homeland. Those believers who sought safety in Judaism were warned that the Jewish leaders had produced “thorns and thistles” by their rejection and crucifixion of Christ and therefore their nation was doomed to be “burned.” This corresponds to the destruction brought upon the land during the Roman invasion to crush the Jewish revolt. Josephus reports Vespasian’s policy to “set fire, not only to the city itself, but to all the villas and small cities that were round about it” (J.W. 3.7.1 §§ 132–34; c.f. 4.9.1 § 488). Describing the burning of the temple, Josephus declares, “You would have thought that the temple-hill was boiling over from its base, being everywhere one mass of flame” (J.W. 6.275). Foreseeing this coming crisis, the author warns his readers that the land had become a place of judgment rather than blessing. If they refuse to press on to maturity by retreating back into Judaism, they too could experience God’s physical discipline leading to death and destruction. This threat of mortal judgment parallels the fate of the Exodus generation. All, including Moses and Aaron, were prohibited from entering the land because of their unbelief. Their temporal loss of covenantal blessings was sealed by their physical death outside the land.
Temporal discipline of genuine believers that may lead to physical death is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, Paul speaks of certain ones within the church delivered over to Satan “for the destruction of [their] flesh” so that their “spirit may be saved” (1 Cor. 5:5 NASB; cf. 1 Tim. 1:20). Also because of their irreverence toward the Lord’s Table, Paul said that “many” in the Corinthian church were “weak and sick, and a number sleep”—a metaphor for death (1 Cor. 11:30). If the “sin that leads to death” mentioned in 1 John 5:16 refers to a sin committed by a believer, then this is another example of judgment on a sinning believer resulting in loss of physical life. The point is that God may insure an unrepentant Christian’s loss of covenant blessings during the present age by means of physical death.

The Judgment in Hebrews 10:27–31

Like many, Cockerill identifies the terrifying “judgment … of fire which will consume the adversaries” of God (10:27) with the “judgment” mentioned in Hebrews 9:27. However, though the same word (κρίσις) is used in both verses, they can hardly refer to the same crisis. This is because the final judgment of Hebrews 9:27 occurs after physical death (“men die once and after this comes judgment”) in the future when “Christ … shall appear a second time” (9:28), while the fiery judgment of Hebrews 10:27–31 describes an immediate threat the first-century readers could “see … drawing near” (10:25) in the present. Here Cockerill overlooks the link to other allusions throughout the epistle to the imminent destruction of Jerusalem predicted by Jesus (see my chapter). This coming judgment could prove lethal for many who clung to the temple cult for protection rather than identify with the church that fled from Judea and Jerusalem before its final destruction. Eusebius, among others, reports how the Christian community who escaped across the Jordan River to Pella was preserved from Roman violence upon the Jewish nation (see Hist. eccl., 3.5.2–3). This illuminates how important it was that they not forsake their “assembling together” for mutual encouragement as they saw “the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).

The Example of Esau

Cockerill claims that Esau is “the quintessential apostate” who as “the perfect expression of … complete unbelief” forfeited his salvation (pp. 285–86). However, a careful reading of Esau’s life in Genesis confirms how the author uses him in Hebrews 12:16–17 to illustrate God’s severe discipline of his children (12:5–11).
First, we must clarify the description of Esau in Hebrews 12:16. Some doubt whether “immoral” (πόρνος) was meant to apply to Esau because the terms “immoral” (πόρνος) and “profane” (βέβηλος) are separated by a disjunctive (ἤ) rather than a connective (e.g., καί) and because Esau is never accused of immorality in the Old Testament. The second term βέβηλος, though often translated “godless” (e.g., NIV, NASB), more precisely denotes an “irreligious person” who lacks an active reverence for sacred things. As such, βέβηλος fits well the Old Testament portrait of Esau, who traded his birthright in a moment of hunger for a single meal (Gen. 25:29–34). His careless attitude toward his birthright eventually led to the loss of its unique blessing through the trickery of his bother Jacob. Yet in spite of his impulsive act, he later sought the special privileges that rightfully belonged to him as the firstborn son. But after his father had granted the firstborn blessings to Jacob, it was too late. Though Esau pleaded with Isaac to grant him the birthright (Gen. 27:34–38), he found “no place for repentance” (Heb. 12:17). In this way Esau’s failure parallels the Exodus generation. After both were denied special privileges because of their willful disregard for God’s covenant promises, they both sought “repentance” without success. Their loss of blessing was irreversible, yet neither Israel in the wilderness nor Esau demonstrates total apostasy from faith in God as Cockerill claims.
Second, the fact that Isaac “by faith … blessed Jacob and Esau” (11:20) indicates that although Esau was denied “the fertility of the land” and relegated a subservient role to his brother, he still received a blessing from his father (Gen. 27:39–40). Since the verb “bless” (εὐλογέω) always denotes a benefit and never a curse, Esau still received some blessing, though he forfeited the superior privileges as the firstborn. To suggest that Esau is an example of an unregenerate person, forever alienated from God, is to mistakenly presume that because he had lost his birthright, he also lost his sonship and therefore his salvation. Rather, Esau’s blessing by Isaac indicates he remained a genuine son and therefore a participant in the covenant. This is confirmed by both his immense prosperity and the success of his descendants (esp. Gen. 36:31–43). In fact, it seems ironic that after Jacob’s years of scheming, deception, and hardship to obtain his wealth (Gen. 25–31), Esau appears no less blessed with wives, sons, daughters, and livestock (Gen. 36:6). As Laurence Turner observes, “Jacob might have been blessed but Esau has hardly been cursed.”
Furthermore, Esau’s reconciliation to his brother is presented as genuine, for Esau, like the prodigal’s father (Luke 15:20), “ran, … embraced,” and “kissed” Jacob (Gen. 33:4), even offering him an armed escort for his journey (Gen. 33:12, 15).
Finally, if Esau’s loss of his firstborn privileges is understood as covenant discipline, then the preceding context of Hebrews 12 may further confirm his genuine sonship—“For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6 NASB; cf. Deut. 8:5; Prov. 3:12). Though the threat of eternal damnation is not in view, the warning of covenant discipline remains severe. Indeed, the Lord’s discipline of his genuine sons could hardly be expressed by a stronger term than “scourge” (μαστιγόω), which elsewhere depicts the flagellation of Christ (Matt. 20:19; Mark 10:34; Luke 18:33; John 19:1). The disqualification of Esau illustrated well the author’s warning that a member of the covenant community (i.e., a son) was not beyond discipline and punishment, but may suffer the loss of covenant privileges because of willful disobedience.


In summary, I admire both Cockerill’s comprehensive knowledge of Hebrews and his passion for the pastoral application of its message. However, I believe that he must not only acknowledge the “continuity of the readers with God’s Old Testament people” but also fully apply that fact to his understanding of the Hebrews warning passages. I believe a greater blend of the author’s use of Old Testament theology with a fuller treatment of his theme of assurance will result in a more complete application of his message to the twenty-first century. And surely at a time when Christianity is plagued with spiritual apathy and moral compromise in the West and religious persecution and pluralism worldwide, the church is in desperate need of both the sober warnings of divine discipline and the firm assurance of our past purification and future life in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Cockerill, G. L. (2007). A Wesleyan Arminian View. In H. W. Bateman IV (Hrsg.), Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (S. 257–335). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional.

Published: May 5, 2018, 07:53 | Comments
Category: Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz



Grant R. Osborne

Certainly one of the more difficult theological exercises is finding the balance between the sovereignty of God and the free will of mankind. After nearly sixteen hundred years of speculation on the issues, the discussion has coalesced into two competing schools of thought, the followers of Calvin and the followers of Arminius. Both sides largely agree on the meaning of total depravity—that when a person is given a choice to accept Christ, that person will reject him. It is on the solution to the dilemma posed (can anyone ever be saved?) that the differences emerge. For the Calvinist there is no hope until God sovereignly acts and on the basis of his mysterious will elects some to salvation and then overwhelms them with his irresistible grace so that they choose Christ (this is where the will of mankind comes in). Those who are elect, then, are “kept by that same power” (1 Peter 1:5) so that they are absolutely secure from falling away.
For the Arminian, God still acts sovereignly but sends his Spirit who convicts every person (thus an equal opportunity convicter!) and overcomes their total depravity so that they make a choice. Through foreknowledge God knows who will choose Christ (but does not force them to do so) and on the basis of that foreknowledge predestines them “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom. 8:29 NIV). Moreover, for the Arminian, faith-decision is not a work (Eph. 2:8–9) because it is not an active agent by which we save ourselves (the Pelagian heresy, often erroneously attributed to the Arminian position). Rather, faith is a passive surrender to the God who saves us, an opening up of ourselves to God, who works salvation in us. But it is still a free choice. This freedom then passes over into the life of sanctification, as the Spirit continues to work in us. But we also decide for ourselves whether to let the Spirit work or live in us. Thus, we can (1) backslide and, at some point, allow sin to crowd Christ out of our life (James 5:19–20) or (2) actively repudiate him (Heb. 6:4–6). The first kind of apostate can be brought back to Christ; the second has committed the unpardonable sin and will never want to come back, nor will God ever convict that person again.
Obviously, the warning passages of Hebrews are a key component of this debate. Yet before we turn to them we must rehearse the situation and strategy of the book of Hebrews. Nearly everything about the book is debated; the one area of general agreement is that the danger addressed in the book is apostasy. Lane says, “The writer sensed that some members of the groups were in grave danger of apostasy, which he defined as a turning away from the living God (3:12) and the subjecting of Jesus Christ to public contempt (6:4–6; 10:26–31).” Ellingworth adds, “Inner weakness may have been a chronic condition presupposing some of the readers to abandon, at some critical point, their faith in Christ, but the writer stresses in the strongest terms the personal responsibility of those who (almost by definition willfully) apostatize.”
Let us also note briefly the social situation behind the book. There is general agreement that the church addressed is Rome (perhaps a specific house church), and two phases of the history of the church there are presented. The church probably was founded by an evangelistic team similar to that of Stephen and Paul, whose ministry was accompanied by miracles and charismatic gifts (Heb. 2:4). In the early years the church was predominantly Jewish (there were 40–50,000 Jews in Rome), though Gentiles began to enter the church and by the time of writing it was a mixed congregation. The early years also saw a great deal of persecution (10:32–34). The refusal of the Christians to participate in the guild festivities honoring their patron gods and in the general cultic life of the Romans would result in serious repercussions. Their conversion caused a serious social rift, as they were estranged from their previous social world and slowly assimilated into their newfound faith community. DeSilva labels this new self-perception as “dying to their old life” and being “reborn to the new,” resulting in their marginalization with respect to their past society and its values.6 The persecution took the form of public ridicule, imprisonment, and loss of property (10:33–34a), but they triumphed over it through reflecting on their “better and lasting possessions” (10:34b NIV) and following the influence and example of their leaders (13:7).
Many years later the imprisonment and disgrace were stronger than ever (13:3), but the spiritual situation had changed. The believers had been Christians long enough to be teachers (5:12), but a spiritual malaise had set in, a “laziness” that led them to refuse to work at understanding the implications of their walk with Christ and caused them to be “mentally dull” (νωθρός 5:11; 6:12). They listened but failed to grow or even respond to the truths of Christian teaching. This led to several dangers. Due to the severity of the persecution and the discouragement that ensued, many were slipping back into their old patterns and “drifting away” (2:1). In this sense there was a “pedestrian inability to live within the lower status that Christian associations had forced upon them, the less-than-dramatic (yet potent) desire to once more enjoy the goods and esteem of their society.” For others, however, there was the danger (as yet unrealized but still very real) of an active repudiation of Christ, an apostasy that meant a return to their Jewish roots (or to paganism for the Gentile minority). The author is warning both groups of the consequences of where they are heading.
The issue is obviously the definition of apostasy and the spiritual makeup of those being warned. Can an actual believer, one of the elect, truly apostatize and lose his/her salvation? Therefore it is important to study the spiritual identification of the addressees. McKnight does an excellent job of drawing together the places where the author describes his audience: he identifies with them and uses a “we” address (2:1–4; 3:14; 4:1, 11, 14–16; 6:1; 10:19–26; 12:1–3, 25–29) and so includes himself in the warnings; he calls them “brothers and sisters” (3:1 [“holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling”], 12; 10:19; 13:22); they are saved and made holy by Christ (2:11, 12, 17); they are believers (4:3); they are sanctified (10:29); they have experienced conversion (2:3–4; 10:22); they have been enlightened (10:32); they have lived the Christian life (6:10; 10:32–34). In addition is the list in 6:4–6 that will be discussed below. The most likely conclusion is that they are regenerate and not just quasi-Christians. This fits well the descriptions above; indeed, it is hard to see this language as fitting those who are members of the church but not actually saved. Such strong depictions can hardly describe such people—they must be actual believers. If this is the case, the warnings are delivered to true believers. It is this facet of the book that we are studying. As agreed by the authors of this book, the warning passages are 2:1–4; 3:7–4:13; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39; 12:14–29. We will discuss each in turn.

The Danger of Drifting Away (Heb. 2:1–4)

This first warning occurs in the middle of the passage on the Son’s superiority to the angels (Heb. 1:5–2:18), but it actually builds on the whole of Hebrews 1:1–14. In 1:1–4 the author shows Jesus’ superiority to the old revelation, climaxing in “(God) has spoken to us in his Son” (ἐν υἱῷ, 1:2a), followed by a creedal affirmation of Christ’s death and exaltation that provides the tone for the rest of the epistle. In fact, this section is framed by Psalm 110:1 (1:3, 13), an enthronement passage that occurs four times at critical points in the book (1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12) and provides a spatial orientation involving Jesus’ heavenly session at God’s right hand. Then a catena of fulfillment quotations (1:5–13) establishes Jesus not only as above the angels and the object of their worship but also as both the Davidic Messiah and divine Son who alone is worthy of worship.
Following this impressive beginning, the author feels he must stop and address the danger to which the readers are exposed. DeSilva sees a syllogism in the progression of thought from chapter 1 to chapter 2:

• God spoke to us by a Son (1:2)
• The Son is greater than the angels (1:4–14)
• We must hear and obey that message, seeing the penalty that attended earlier transgressions (2:1–2)

This, the mildest of the warnings, centers not only on the process but also on the consequences of falling away. The solution is to “pay the closest possible attention” (περισσοτέρως προσέχειν, with the comparative adverb having superlative force), possibly utilizing a nautical metaphor for holding a ship on course as it nears a port.15 The readers are required (δεῖ) to maintain the strictest discipline in paying heed to the teaching given in 1:1–14. The situation is serious and involves “drifting away” (παραρυῶμεν), another nautical concept involving a ship drifting off course and shattering (in this context; see below) on the shoals. This verb also could connote a ring slipping off the finger, but the combination with the other verb probably favors the nautical idea18 (combined) of “stay on course with the teaching, and do not let yourself drift away into danger.”
Thus far it sounds like the author is worried about “backslidden” Christians who have lost their moorings and need to get serious once more. But it is more than that. The consequence/danger is spelled out in Hebrews 2:2–3, using a qal waḥomer (light to weighty) reasoning and building on the superior revelation of 1:1–2a. The “lesser” is the old revelation (in particular, the Sinai community who received the Torah that was “spoken by angels”), which was legally “valid, binding” (βέβαιος, a forensic term for legally reliable laws) and so required that every “transgression” of God’s law be punished. Moreover that punishment was a “just penalty” (ἔνδικον μισθαποδοσίαν, 2:2), reflecting both “justice” and a proper “payment” (a commercial metaphor for what was earned). Connected to the negative legal terms “transgression” and “disobedience,” it means each and every breaking of the law had a corresponding “just penalty.” Often, as seen in many Old Testament stories, that penalty was physical death.
The “greater” revelation is the gospel message revealed through Jesus first (1:2a–2:3–4) and enacted through the cross. The law “was spoken through the angels” (2:2) but the gospel “was spoken through the Lord,” utilizing the very contrast between the angels and the Son from chapter 1. The parallel to “drift away” (2:1) is “ignore, disregard” (ἀμελήσαντες, v. 3), which elsewhere speaks of “paying no attention” to a banquet invitation (Matt. 22:5) or God’s “turning away from” his disobedient people (Heb. 8:9, a quote from Jer. 31:32). It connotes the idea of a people who know the truth but do not care enough to give it any attention whatsoever. What they are disregarding is “so great a salvation,” meaning “so much greater” than the Torah. Paul says throughout his letters that the Torah could only point out individual sins (i.e., show that they are transgressions, namely, that they break God’s laws), but it could never solve the sin problem (e.g., Rom. 3:20; 4:13–15; Gal. 2:16; 3:19–4:7). The law pointed forward to Christ who provided the once-for-all sacrifice and therefore produced final (“so great”) salvation.
The new covenant reality has a greater confirmation: announced by the Lord himself (Heb. 2:3; the same exalted Lord of 1:2b–3), guaranteed or “proven accurate” (ἐβεβαιώθη, the cognate of βέβαιος in 2:2 and another legal term) by eyewitness testimony (in 1 Cor. 15:6 Paul said in effect, “Many are still alive and you can ask them yourselves”). Finally, God himself “endorsed their witness” (the strong συνεπιμαρτυροῦντος, meaning God added his official legal witness to theirs) in two ways: by signs, wonders, and miracles (as seen in Acts, where the miracles served to validate the apostolic witness, cf. Acts 2:22; Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12) and by the “distribution” of the spiritual gifts by the Spirit (unpacked in Rom. 12:4–8 and 1 Cor. 12:7–11). In other words, the authenticity and greatness of the new covenant is beyond question, and one ignores it to his eternal peril.
So if the salvation is “greater,” one would expect the punishment to be greater as well. We know the punishment for breaking the covenant; one came under the covenant curses, which often meant the death of the lawbreaker. So what kind of “penalty” would befit one who “turns away from” and “disregards” Christ’s salvation? The author does not say here, for he is introducing an issue that is to be spelled out in greater detail in the other warning passages. He begins with pianissimo, but the crescendo is coming soon. He leaves us with the basic question, “How will we escape?” The implied answer is, “We will not.”

The Greater Danger of Losing God’s Rest (Heb. 3:7–4:11)

This second warning passage is by far the most extensive; in fact, it is by far the longest midrashic exposition of an Old Testament text in the epistle. It dominates its section dealing with the superiority of Christ to Moses and Joshua (3:1–6; 4:8). Yet it is intimately related, as it utilizes Psalm 95:7–11 (which itself develops Num. 14) as a call to submit to God, unlike Israel in the wilderness. There is a literary connection as well, as Hebrews 3:1 calls on the “holy brothers and sisters” to κατανοήσατε or “observe attentively, fix your thoughts” on Jesus, connoting careful attention to the creedal “confession” they had been taught. This prepares for 3:6b, the challenge that specifically leads into the warning passage. Having developed the idea that both Moses and Jesus were “faithful in (God’s) house,” the author concludes that “we are his house (the church as the house of God), if indeed (ἐάνπερ) we continue.…” As Lane says, this “implies that the outcome is contingent upon the response of the hearers.” This is one of several New Testament conditional statements regarding salvation (Heb. 3:14; cf. Rom. 8:9, 17; 11:22; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:23; et al.) and should be considered another warning passage, as well as the introduction to Hebrews 3:7 and following. The believers here must “hold firm” or maintain their grip (κατάσχωμεν) on their “boldness” (possibly before God [Lane] and in their witness [Ellingworth]) and on a settled “pride” in the “hope” (objective genitive, τὸ καύχημα τῆς ἐλπίδος) they have before God. Finally, there is a contrast between Moses, who was “faithful” (3:2, 5) and Israel, who was unfaithful (3:7ff.). The readers are called to be like Moses, not Israel.
The midrash on Psalm 95 flows out of this. There are two primary parts: Hebrews 3:7–19, centering on the past unbelief of Israel and its terrible consequence (they all died in the wilderness) as a warning to the believers; and 4:1–11, building on Psalm 95 but turning to the future promise of a final rest with God (and the loss of it) as the warning. Then Hebrews 4:12–14 forms a two-part conclusion dealing with the power of the Word (vv. 12–13) and the need to “hold fast the confession” (v. 14, in an inclusio with 3:6b).

The Past Model (Heb. 3:7–19)

This also has two parts, the quote from Psalm 94:7–11 (LXX; 95:7–11 MT) in Hebrews 3:7–11 and the author’s midrashic exposition in verses 12–19. The quote itself looks to the terrible rebellion of Numbers 14, when Israel was camped at Kadesh, ready to enter the Promised Land. However, when the leaders sent to spy out the land returned with a fearsome report (contra Joshua and Caleb) regarding the size and prowess of the inhabitants (“we seemed like grasshoppers,” Num. 13:33 NIV, NRSV), the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter the land. With that, God’s anger burned against the people, and he refused to allow them to enter the land, so that they died in the wilderness. We will go through Psalm 95 along with the exposition the author uses. Note that the Holy Spirit is seen as the ultimate source of the quotation (Heb. 3:7; cf. 9:8; 10:15), stressing the revelatory nature of the psalm and making this a direct message from God to the hearers.
In the following, we will proceed by discussing the quote and the exposition side-by-side, in essence, showing how the author develops Psalm 95 one point at a time. The first admonition is to “obey his voice,” which both in the psalm and in Hebrews 3 is exactly what Israel failed to do (and where the readers are tempted to fail as well). In verse 12 the author begins similarly with βλέπετε (“take heed, see to it”), the basic New Testament challenge to spiritual vigilance and obedience (it means to “see, comprehend and obey”) of the commands of God (e.g., it is a key to the vigilance theme in Mark’s Olivet Discourse [13:2, 5, 9, 23, 33]). In this negative context it also means, “Beware” of the same “evil, unbelieving heart” Israel showed in the wilderness. The image of “hardening28 the heart” (Heb. 3:8) is also unpacked in this image; unbelief and hardening are virtual synonyms here. “Unbelief” (ἀπιστία) frames the exposition (vv. 12, 19) and thus becomes the primary warning. In verse 12 it is a descriptive genitive meaning an “unbelieving heart” that then becomes “evil” (πονηρά), or filled with wickedness, interpreting “their hearts are always going astray” in verse 10b. This unbelief also leads them to “fall away from the living God” (ἐν τῷ ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ζῶντος), extending the image of “they have not known my ways” in verse 10b. This is the heart of the issue, preparing for the full use of this image of apostasy in 6:6 (where it will be discussed more fully). The movement is from unbelief, to evil, to falling away, and that is obviously a serious warning with dire consequences.
The idea of “Today (see below on 4:7–8), if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion” (3:7b–8a NIV) is developed further in verses 15–16, linked with Israel’s “test” in the wilderness. In fact, the two ideas in Psalm 95:8–9 are Meribah (rebellion = “quarreling” against God) and Massah (“testing” God), which introduce a second incident—Israel’s complaints about water in Exodus 17:1–7 (the sin recurred in Num. 20:2–13). The two incidents in Exodus 17 and Numbers 14 became prime examples of the rebellion of the nation and are combined here. The hope of the author is that the Jewish Christian community will not fall into the same sin of rebellion/apostasy. The author uses a negative typology, an antithesis that the readers should not emulate.
The two results of Israel’s hardened hearts are God’s wrath (Heb. 3:10a, elaborated in v. 17) and his penalty that they would never enter his rest (the Promised Land in Num. 14, the temple in Ps. 95—Heb. 3:11b, elaborated in v. 18). The divine anger intensified from Numbers 14:11–12 (“I will strike them with a plague”) to verse 23 (“none of them will ever see the land I promised”) to verse 32 (“your bodies will fall in the desert”) to verse 43 (“you will fall by the sword”), always because of their stubborn unbelief. The basis for God’s anger and judgment is repeated in 3:18b–19—they failed to enter God’s rest because of disobedience and unbelief.
But there is hope. In Hebrews 3:13–14 the author tells his readers how they can emerge triumphant over the terrible danger. Both verses deal with the corporate dimension of the Christian life. In our age of rugged individualism (a most unbiblical concept!), this is all the more important. In Hebrews, in fact, there are two antidotes to apostasy: the vertical side, the confession of our hope before God; and the horizontal side, the involvement of the community in the life of the individual believer.
This is the horizontal aspect: (1) Within the community, they must παρακαλεῖτε ἑαυτούς, often translated wrongly here as “encourage one another.” The verb actually means to “exhort” and in a positive context does mean to “encourage”; but in a negative context (as here) it means to “admonish, warn.”33 The positive is found in 10:25, “not giving up meeting together … but encouraging one another” (cf. Gal. 6:2), but here the danger of being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” calls for warning (cf. Gal. 6:1). The readers are faced with enormous pressure, and in their spiritual lethargy (Heb. 5:11; 6:12) are in serious danger of allowing sin to deceive them and therefore of “falling away” into “unbelief” (3:12, 19). The desperate need, therefore, is to constantly “warn each other” (note the present tense) as the community utilizes spiritual vigilance, with each member helping the other watch out for the temptation. (2) They must maintain their relationship with Christ as “partners” in the Christian life. To do so, however, they must35 “hold firm” (the same verb as in 3:6) their “confidence” in Christ to the very end. “If we hold” refers not just to “confidence” (ὑποστάσεως) but even more to an “assurance” that Christ is there. Ellingworth argues that it means a confident “frame of mind” like they had when they were first converted. The main thing here is a corporate sharing of Christ in the community that yields a sense of confidence that, in Christ, God would continue to be with them.
The first half of the passage is summed up in Hebrews 3:15–19 with a series of three rhetorical questions designed to center the hearers on the parallel with the wilderness generation who “heard and rebelled” and who thereby “fell in the desert.” The reasons for the harsh penalty are twofold: disobedience and unbelief. The seriousness of this is seen in τὰ κῶλα, a term for unburied “corpses” (v. 17), designating an accursed death (Gen. 40:19; Deut. 28:26; 1 Kings 14:11) that was proper for apostates (Isa. 66:24). Disobedience is the action resulting from unbelief and signifies not a casual slippage or drifting away but a studied rebellion that has a two-sided meaning—the failure of the wilderness people to trust God and the resultant falling away from that relationship.

The Present Promise (Heb. 4:1–11)

While Hebrews 3:12–19 centered on the last line of Psalm 95:7–11 (“They shall never enter my rest”), Hebrews 4:1–11 centers on the first line (“Today, if you hear his voice”) and adds Genesis 2:2 (“And on the seventh day God rested from all his work”) to turn the warning of judgment into a promise of rest. In this, there are two parts (vv. 1–5 and vv. 6–11) that cover four issues: the promise of rest that remains (vv. 1, 6a); the good news formerly received with unbelief (vv. 2, 6b); Psalm 95 connected to the present generation (vv. 3, 7–8); and Psalm 95 connected to Genesis 2:2 (vv. 4–5, 9–11).
It will be helpful to note the developing thrust of the rest theme in the Old Testament. First, of course, is Genesis 2:2, God’s “Sabbath rest” after the six days of Creation. Then there is Israel’s rest of entering the Promised Land, followed by Israel’s rest in experiencing the blessings of being the covenant people. Finally, in the intertestamental period there developed the idea of rest as eternal life, utilizing all three of the above in a metaphorical sense of entering the promised eternal kingdom. All four are intertwined in Hebrews 4:1–11. It is also important to understand the concept of “rest” as used here. Hurst studied the debate as to whether entry into God’s rest is accomplished now through faith, at death (12:23), or at the final consummation (13:14), and concluded rightly that all three are found here.
We will proceed in the same way we did in Hebrews 3:7–19, showing how the second half of the passage develops the first part. The whole passage, however, begins with “Let us fear lest” (Φοβηθῶμεν … μήποτε). This sums up the implications of 3:7–19; as Israel was excluded from the rest of God and died in the wilderness, the readers are in serious danger of falling into the same fate. Yet the author introduces a new topic, the promise to God’s people that still stands, namely, the inheritance of the rest of God as eternal life. At the same time, this ups the stakes, for now their eternal destiny is in jeopardy. So this section walks the tightrope between promise and warning.
First, we note the promise itself (4:1, 6a). Verse 1 continues the warning: “since the promise remains” (causal participle), there needs to be a real fear that “some of you” (τις ἐξ ὑμῶν) might “seem to have fallen short” (δοκῇ … ὑστερηκέναι) of it. While the promise remains, the danger is quite real, for some might fail to receive the promise due to unbelief. Attridge catches the thrust of “seem to fall short,” noting that two major options are open: (1) “Thinking that they have come too late,” making this a warning against a mistaken presupposition on the part of the readers, which does not fit the severity of the warning here; and (2) the better option of taking it as “found to have fallen short,” a true warning of a real danger.42 It is difficult to know whether it is God or the community who finds one falling short; Ellingworth is probably correct in saying that in Hebrews δοκέω usually refers to human judgment (10:29; 12:10–13), so this implies that the people of God should be vigilant in watching out for one another in terms of this danger.
This is the first place “promise” (ἐπαγγελία) appears in Hebrews. But it is a major theme, always centering on the unfailing nature of God’s promises. The theme is the guarantee in 10:23 that “he who promised is faithful.” In 6:12, 13, 15, 17 it refers to the believer “inheriting” the promise as Abraham did, a promise guaranteed by the divine oath. In 7:6 Melchizedek blesses Abraham as “the one who has the promises,” namely, the certain promises from God, and in 8:6 the new covenant Jesus brings is superior to the old one because it is “founded on better promises.” In 9:15 we have “the promised eternal inheritance,” and in 10:23 and 36 the promise (pun intended) that those who persevere “will receive what he has promised.” Finally, in a series of passages in chapter 11 (vv. 9, 13, 17, 33, 39) the guarantee is exemplified in the “heroes of the faith” who waited for the promises but “welcomed them from a distance” (v. 13) and did not receive them until after they died. In other words, the promises of God are absolutely guaranteed but relate to eternal life, and the believer is called to persevere in faith and hope.
In Hebrews 4:2, 6b this danger is highlighted by returning to the Psalm 95 story of the failure of Israel to enter the “promised” land because of unbelief (v. 2) and disobedience (v. 6b). The “good news” that Israel heard was the good report of Caleb and Joshua that God would help them take the land. The “good news” for the Christians of course was the gospel (v. 2a), and because of that “some” (τινάς, v. 6a), unlike the wilderness generation, would indeed “enter” God’s rest. However, they must make certain that they are not guilty of the same unbelief (4:2b = 3:12, 19) and disobedience (4:6b = 3:18).
The author addresses the present generation of Hebrew Christians in 4:3, 7–8. Even though the wilderness people were excluded, the promise of rest remains open to “we who have believed” (οἱ πιστεύσαντες, with the aorist participle probably having a perfective aspect, looking at the belief as a complete whole). As Lane says, “Faith brings into the present the reality of that which is future, unseen, or heavenly. For that reason, those who have believed can be said to enter God’s rest already.”45 The last part of verse 3 says that God’s work has been finished since the world was created. This idea, that God has finished his work and yet the believer is “entering” that rest, has occasioned vigorous debate as to whether the rest is apocalyptic, experienced only at the end of the age, or a present experience beginning now as the believer walks with God.47 This is probably too disjunctive, and it is likely best to see an inaugurated thrust, with the “rest of God” a process beginning now (note the “today” theme in vv. 7–8) and finalized at the end of life. In other words, the Christian life is indeed a pilgrimage with every moment a “today” experience. Bengel said that while each of the six days of Creation had an evening, the seventh did not and so is open-ended. Thus God’s rest is an eternal “today” for the one who perseveres in faith. For the author, “today” is the day of decision, and there might not be another opportunity. The readers cannot put off the determination to remain faithful to Christ.
The final section centers on the connection of Psalm 95 to Genesis 2:2 (Heb. 4:4–5, 9–11). The connection is made in Hebrews 4:4–5 using the Jewish technique of gezērah šāwāh or “verbal analogy,” with the hook word being “rest” (κατάπαυσις). Here the connection is made without explanation. The meaning is explicated in verses 9–11. Since God’s rest is open-ended, it still “remains for the people of God.” Israel failed to enter the “rest” in the Promised Land, but the readers can enter a far better rest, the “Sabbath-rest” (σαββατισμός) of the seventh day of Creation. The σαββατισμός that the author is utilizing normally connotes the Sabbath activity of praise and celebration. By joining it with the idea of “rest” here, it may well connote “a new Covenant Day of Atonement Sabbath in which they are cleansed from their sins,” thus combining the Sabbath imagery in the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:26–28, 32) with the idea of Jesus “passing through the heavens” into the heavenly Holy of Holies (Heb. 4:14). In other words there is a final Sabbath available that will involve true rest from sin and an eternal time of joy and celebration. “Today” is the time of labor,50 when the believer must “make every effort” or “work hard” (σπουδάσωμεν, not “haste” here but “zealous” energy) to enter God’s rest (v. 11), but in the rest of God the faithful will “rest from their work.” This primarily speaks of the final eschatological rest in eternity, but it also applies to the believer currently (“Today”) resting in God and basking in the strength he supplies (1 Peter 1:5).

Conclusion: The Power of the Word (Heb. 4:12–13)

Primarily in mind here, of course, is the power of Psalm 95:7–11 and Genesis 2:2, with their respective expositions, to penetrate and change the lives of the Hebrew Christians to whom this letter is directed. Yet while at one level this description of the Word of God is indeed “a rhapsody on God’s penetrating word,”53 on another level it provides a serious warning on the importance of “hearing” God’s “voice” from Psalm 95. First, we are told that it is “living and active,” a dynamic force (note “the living God” in 3:12) that is always at work in our lives. It has God’s power to penetrate and change our perspective. The double-edged sword should not be allegorized to mean the two Testaments or some such thing, but rather refers to the razor-sharp Roman sword and thus speaks of its power to “pierce or penetrate” (διϊκνούμενος) the heart. The three areas (soul/spirit, joints/marrow, thoughts/attitudes) are not separate categories, nor are they dichotomous. The third one defines the first two, and all mean that the Word penetrates and discerns the innermost thoughts so that everything is exposed to the light of God. As Attridge puts it, they serve “as a complex summary of the whole of human nature.” Everything, even “in all creation,” is laid bare before God.56 This section closes with “to whom we must give account,” an important reference to the great assize, when we face God and are “judged by our works” (Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:12–15; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 11:18; 14:13; 20:12–13; 22:12). The readers dare not think they can get away with anything.

The Danger of Apostasy (Heb. 5:11–6:12)

The Problem (Heb. 5:11–6:3)

Like the other warning passages, this one occurs in the middle of a critical passage contrasting Jesus to the central Jewish tenets. It is the core of the writer’s argument, in that it addresses Jesus’ high priestly ministry. In Hebrews 4:14–5:10 the author has shown how Jesus has fulfilled the qualifications for priesthood and then become “high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (5:10). However, the author felt obligated to break off the discussion at that point and challenge the readers who were νωθρός, a negative term that means “lazy, sluggish, dull, dim-witted, stupid, negligent.” This is the key term, framing the parenthetic section (5:11–6:12) with the basic problem of the readers, their lethargic Christianity.59
This is amplified in what follows. They had been believers long enough to be teachers but have regressed rather than progressed. So on the one hand, they need to relearn the elementals (5:12), and on the other hand, they need the “solid food” that will give them the maturity to avoid apostasy (v. 14). The two contrasts between milk and solid food and between infancy and maturity are intended to wake the readers up to their dangerous lack of receptivity to the truths of the faith. Some have argued that this is not their true state, but that irony and sarcasm are used to wake them up, and their true state is the maturity expressed in verse 14. Yet this seems very unlikely, for the warnings in both 2:1–4 and 3:7–4:13 would support the view that the readers truly are dull, though they should be mature. The reality here is their lack of maturity and the danger that they are not ready to hear or heed the admonitions the author must give. The “teaching about righteousness” (λόγου δικαιοσύνης) in 5:13 could refer to the ethical side of δικαιοσύνης, namely, “right living before God,” and so advanced instruction in discipleship, or it could be parallel to “discern good and evil” in 5:14 and refer to spiritual discernment. Both make sense, but the first better fits the meaning of the phrase. The point of 5:14 then details the goal they should strive for, the maturity to eat “solid food.” The way they can do this is to work hard at their knowledge. The imagery of “training” (γεγυμνασμένα from γυμνάζω) and “constant use” (ἕξις) has led many in the past to consider both athletic metaphors. But ἕξις is more likely a philosophical metaphor, and the tendency today is to consider ἕξις more of a fixed state (“condition, habit”), so that the meaning is that the mature become so by training or developing a spiritual condition that knows how to distinguish good from evil.
The solution to their spiritual lethargy is further developed in 6:1–3, where the readers are challenged to “move on to maturity,” meaning to begin to respond to their “training” and develop the “habits” (5:14) that will finally make them complete enough in Christ to handle the deep teaching introduced in 5:10. So the author wants these immature Christians to quit loitering in the elementary truths and change their diet to the “solid food.” Note how the pronouns keep changing: the author uses the rhetorical “we” (or “us”) in 5:11; 6:1, 3, 9a, the second person “you” in 5:12; 6:10, the third person in 5:13–14; 6:4–8, and mixes first and second persons in 6:9–12. The author is struggling to get his point across to a group of believers who obviously have not as yet responded well to exhortation. The list of elementary truths in 6:1b–2 are those “foundation” (θεμέλιον) issues they must go beyond. Many think this only a list of Jewish teachings, but at the least these are issues that are held in common between Judaism and Christianity,67 and some (like “baptisms”) may be plural to emphasize the superiority of Christian baptisms over Jewish ablutions. While the organization of the six items is not critical for this paper, it is probably best to see three groups of pairs, probably consisting of a “foundation” of repentance and faith with “instruction” regarding baptisms and laying on of hands as well as on resurrection and judgment (Bruce, Grässer, Attridge, Guthrie, Koester). These are the elementary teachings that are not jettisoned but built upon with the deeper truths the author wants to introduce.

The Danger (Heb. 6:4–8)

This is naturally the key passage and issue. In light of the low spiritual commitment exemplified in this house church, the author has a terrible fear that some may well commit apostasy. He does not think they will (6:9–12), but he has to warn them because this is the direction they are moving at present. It is difficult to be neutral at this point, for this passage has excited such heated debate that everyone for the most part has taken strong positions. In fact, I am arguing for one of those positions, so how can I be objective? Nevertheless, I must do my best to try!
The structure of 6:4–6 is difficult due to the parallel participles and complex coordination with τε and καί. The best solution is probably to take καί as the major and τε as the minor, yielding this structure:70

having been once-for-all enlightened
having tasted the heavenly gift
having become partakers of the Holy Spirit
having tasted the goodness of the Word of God
and the powers of the age to come
and then
having fallen away

First, the NIV was wrong to translate the final parallel participle “if they fall away”71 (it is corrected in the TNIV; see further below). Second, it is nearly impossible to relegate these descriptions to non-Christians.72 If this passage were found in Romans 8, we would all hail it as the greatest description of Christian blessings in the entire Bible. Third, to take “tasted” as referring to a mere partial or superficial sipping is quite erroneous, for in 2:9 it says Jesus “tasted death,” and that was hardly a partial thing but a full-fledged experience of death (cf. also 1 Peter 2:3, “tasted the kindness of the Lord”).
While some have tried to take the six items one at a time, it is important to feel their cumulative effect. “Once enlightened” (ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας) is most likely a reference to the completeness of their conversion. The idea of “tasting the heavenly gift” (γευσαμένους τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου) further deepens the image, picturing the full experience of God’s grace in the gift of salvation. The word “heavenly” is used because it comes from above (cf. John 3:3, “born from above”) and thereby encompasses forgiveness, the Spirit, and sanctification. “Partakers of the Holy Spirit” (objective genitive) continues the meaning of 3:1, 14 (see above) that they participate fully in the gift of the Spirit (including the “gifts … distributed” in 2:4). This deepens the meaning of the salvation experience they had when the Spirit came upon them (cf. Rom. 8:9–11, 14–17), as they have partaken of a heavenly calling, of Christ, and now of the Spirit. Next, the emphasis shifts to the Christian life, as they have “tasted” (from γεύομαι) or fully experienced two things: (1) “the good Word of God,” often described as good to the taste (Pss. 19:10; 34:8; 119:103; Ezek. 3:1–3; 1 Peter 2:2–3; Rev. 10:9–10) and meaning the goodness of the Word of God has been experienced in their lives (cf. on 4:12–13 above); (2) “the powers of the age to come,” undoubtedly referring to the “signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts” of 2:3–4. The “age to come” refers to the final kingdom, inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming (Mark 1:14–15; Luke 11:20) and operative in the fact that the believer is even now living in “the heavenlies” (Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6–7; 3:10; 6:12). They have experienced the Holy Spirit and the power seen in the charismatic gifts.
This is a truly remarkable list of experiences, and there is hardly anything to compare with it elsewhere in terms of a brief, creedal-like presentation of the privileges in being a Christian. Yet it occurs in the strongest warning passage in Scripture. In fact, the author says it is “impossible” (ἀδύνατον) to ever again “bring them back to repentance” once they “have fallen away” (παραπεσόντας), not a conditional participle as the NIV erroneously translates (corrected in the TNIV but strangely retained in a footnote) but part of the string of substantival participles (“those who have once been enlightened … and have fallen away”). Virtually all recent commentators admit this must be final apostasy, the absolute rejection of Christ. The major question is identifying the readers. Could they be true believers who are in such great danger? Our study above of the terms in the epistle for the readers as well as the six participles in this passage force us to answer in the affirmative. So is this the unpardonable sin? Koester notes the options: (1) impossible for the apostate to repent; (2) impossible for other Christians to restore the person (but not God, cf. Mark 10:27, “impossible for men but not for God”); (3) impossible that God would restore such a one (not “could not” but “would not”). This third is by far the more likely in light of passages like 10:26–31 and 12:15–17. In Jesus’ teaching the unpardonable sin was blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28–30), but Jesus is now the exalted Lord, and final apostasy is unpardonable.
The participles in Hebrews 6:6 (“crucifying,” ἀνασταυροῦντας and “exposing to ridicule,” παραδειγματίζοντας) are certainly causal (so Bruce, Lane, Attridge, Guthrie, Koester) and detail both the reason they cannot be restored and, with the present tenses, the ongoing attitude they will have. Those who come and say they wish they could repent show by their very words that they have not committed this sin. If they had, they would have nothing but “open contempt” for things Christian for the rest of their lives.
In 6:7–8 the author illustrates his point by building on the parable of Israel as God’s vineyard in Isaiah 5:1–7, which explains the basis for the divine judgment. There are two kinds of land, both blessed by abundant rain from God. The one that produces a good crop is blessed, but the land that produces only “thorns and thistles” will be cursed. The meaning is clear: the good land refers to those who “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1), while the bad land refers to those who “fall away” (v. 6). The thorny soil alludes to Genesis 3:17–18, the curse of Adam, who was told, “Cursed is the ground.… It will produce thorns and thistles” (NIV). The fact that “in the end it will be burned” (Heb. 6:8) refers to fiery final judgment (Heb. 10:27; 12:29, cf. Matt. 13:30, 42, 50; John 15:6).

The Encouragement (Heb. 6:9–12)

After challenging his readers’ lack of maturity (5:11–6:3) and warning them of the greatest danger they will ever face (6:4–8), the writer makes a total reversal of tone and turns to encouragement. He calls them “beloved” for the only time in the epistle (to assure them he has said these things out of loving concern) and tells them of his absolute “confidence” (πείθω, showing strong assurance) that they are headed not for apostasy but for “better things” (κρείττων, the term used throughout Hebrews for the “superior” things of Christ [cf. 1:4; 7:19, 22; 8:6; 9:23; 12:24] as well as of the people of God [cf. 10:34; 11:16, 35, 40]). They are better because they concern “salvation” (σωτηρία), which in Hebrews is a future attainment more than a present possession (1:14, “will inherit”; 5:9, “for all who obey him”; 9:28, “appear a second time … to bring salvation”). In other words, he is confident the readers are not moving downward to apostasy but upward to the salvation they will inherit. They are the good soil of verse 7 not the bad soil of verse 8. However, this does not warrant a hypothetical view of apostasy, as though the danger was stated only as a means of stimulating them to persevere but could never happen. The danger is very real, but the author wishes to encourage them with a positive statement regarding their true stance vis-à-vis Christ.
The reason God is still gracious to them is their hard “work” and their “love” both for God and for one another (shown in their “service” to one another). This is also why the author is convinced of better things for them; though they are indeed lethargic in their spirituality (5:11; 6:12), they are still not yet showing signs of the ultimate downward spiral. It remains a danger rather than a reality. In actuality, this sums up the vertical (love for God) and horizontal (community relationships) solutions to apostasy discussed above.
The writer concludes with a similar admonition to 5:11–6:12. The key is that they, as a community, continue to be “diligent” (σπουδή, indicating zealous action and eager, concerted effort) to “make [their] hope sure” (πρὸς τὴν πληροφορίαν τῆς ἐλπίδος), showing that the goal (πρός) is the “full assurance” (also in 10:22) that their hope will indeed come to pass (chap. 11) and that God will be faithful to his promises (10:23). “Until the end” (6:11) brings back the future dimension of salvation discussed above in verse 9. The problem is their spiritual lethargy (νωθρός, see 5:11 above), and the solution is to “imitate” (μιμητής, which means not only patterning your life after someone but also being obedient to the person’s teaching) the models from the past, probably the heroes of the faith in chapter 11 as well as leaders mentioned in 13:7. Again, the goal is the future inheritance of salvation, attained by persevering in the faith. This is the place where Calvinism and Arminianism meet, in the realization that the elect will be known after they have persevered to the end.

The Consequences of Apostasy (Heb. 10:19–39)

The ABA pattern of Hebrews 10:19–39 is clear—the serious warning (vv. 26–31) is framed by the comfort of knowing what Christ has done for us (vv. 19–25) and the positive example of the recipients’ past endurance (vv. 32–39). The first section (vv. 19–25) recapitulates the positive message of the book, with verses 19–21 summarizing the superior work of Christ in 1:1–10:18 (Jesus the great Priest who has opened a new access to God by becoming the once-for-all sacrifice) and verses 22–25 providing a word of exhortation via three hortatory subjunctives. The result of what Christ has accomplished is a new “opening” (ἐνεκαίνισεν from ἐγκαίνιζω, which has a liturgical coloring connoting dedicating or inaugurating a new practice) to enter the inner sanctuary into the very presence of God (v. 20), and a new “boldness” (παρρησία, which also has an objective thrust meaning we are “authorized” or “free”) to enter God’s presence (v. 19).
The three exhortations of 10:22–25 sum up the solution to the great danger of apostasy that threatens these believers. The vertical aspect is seen in the first, as the present tense calls for a continual “approach” (προσερχώμεθα) that reiterates the new covenant relationship (seen in the use of this verb in 4:16; 7:25; 10:1; 11:6; 12:18, 22). The four characteristics of this new bold worship are a “true heart” (ἀληθινῆς καρδίας), meaning pure, undivided worship; fullness of faith (the same πληροφορία discussed above in 6:11), meaning an absolute certainty that God will hear and respond; and then two images of the cleansed heart that results from salvation (“hearts sprinkled” and “bodies washed”). The second exhortation (10:23) is both vertical and horizontal, with a corporate confession that is done before the Lord. The idea is to stimulate one another to “hold fast” (κατέχω, the same verb discussed in 3:6, 14), or maintain their hold on, their “confession” (ὁμολογία, both the act of confessing and the creed that is confessed) and to do so “without wavering,” a very real danger in light of their spiritual lethargy (cf. 2:1 above). Third, there is the horizontal aspect of encouragement to love and good deeds in 10:24–25. This is the deepest exhortation on love and good works in the New Testament, for it goes two steps beyond the normal command. First, we are to “stimulate” such action (παροξυσμός, a term sometimes used for “inciting to riot,” so we must incite others to a riot of good works!). Second, we must “consider” ways in which to do so, that is, look for opportunities. It is clear that loving works are a necessity in any Christian group. The problem was that some of the members had stopped participating in corporate worship, so the author exhorts them to continue “assembling together” (ἐπισυναγωγή). This refers primarily to attendance in church but includes other fellowship times as well. In Hebrews corporate fellowship is the primary deterrent to apostasy.
From the proper approach to God in Hebrews 10:19–25, the author now turns to the terrible danger of an improper response. The danger from 6:4–8 is reiterated in 10:26–31, which adds the consequences of such a terrible sin. Many have called this warning “arguably the harshest in the book” because of the severity of the language. The closest thing to a definition of apostasy in Hebrews is found in “we willfully keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth” (v. 26). The emphasis is on “willfully” (ἑκουσίως), an allusion to the Old Testament concept of “sin with a high hand” (Num. 15:30–31). Unintentional sins could be expiated with a sacrificial offering, but deliberate sins meant exclusion from Israel. So it is with apostasy here. The idea of “receiving the knowledge of the truth” (the strong term ἐπίγνωσις, with “truth,” also in 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:1) definitely refers to repentance and conversion, favoring the view that apostasy entails true believers denying their faith.
The consequences are severe. “No sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:26) uses Old Testament language of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ (9:23–28; 10:10–14), meaning they have spurned Jesus’ blood and rejected God’s mercy. The twofold expectation of “judgment and raging fire” (10:27, πυρὸς ζῆλος, an avenging [cf. v. 30) ‘fiery zeal’ that consumes)” alludes to Isaiah 26:11: “Let them see your zeal … the fire reserved for your enemies consume[s] them” (NIV). This judgment is certain (ἐσθίειν μέλλοντος, “about to consume,” 10:27), for they have become “the enemies” (τοὺς ὑπεναντίους, meaning those whom God “opposes”) of both God and Christ.
The reason for this unbelievably harsh sentence is threefold (10:29; cf. 6:6; note the qal waḥomer argument [cf. on 2:1–2 above] with 10:28, the death penalty for rejecting the Torah). First, they have “trampled on the Son of God,” an Old Testament metaphor for contempt or disdain (cf. 2 Sam. 22:43; Isa. 63:18; Mic. 7:10). Second, they “treat the blood of the covenant” (the new covenant established by Christ’s blood, Heb. 9:20–28) as κοινός, that is, as “profane, unholy.” Third, they have “insulted the Spirit of grace,” with ἐνυβρίζω connoting the “hubris” or haughty insolence and outrageous arrogance of the apostate; the “Spirit of grace” may echo Zechariah 12:10 LXX (the “Spirit of grace and mercy” poured out on the house of David) and refer to the Pentecost outpouring.93 Together they refer to a studied contempt and repudiation of everything the Godhead has done in salvation. No wonder God will “avenge” (cf. Deut. 32:35) and “judge” (cf. Deut. 32:36) such people who “fall into his hands”; it should be a “terrifying” thing to fall into the hands of such a Judge (Heb. 10:30–31).
DeSilva calls Hebrews 10:26–31 “pathos,” or an appeal to fear (note “fearful” in vv. 27, 31) the God who comes as Judge and Avenger: “The apostate has outraged the embodiment of the virtue of favor and generosity in insulting the Spirit of grace and thus can expect to be visited by an act of God’s power seeking satisfaction.” The fact that this follows the solution to apostasy, namely, faithful adherence to both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the Christian life (vv. 22–25), adds to that pathos. The readers have so much and are in grave danger of throwing it all away.

Facing the Consuming Fire (Heb. 12:14–29)

This warning follows one of the beautiful passages in Hebrews, 11:1–12:13, in which the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament provide models of faithful perseverance for these Christians in their great race (12:1–2a) as they run over an obstacle course of trials set by a loving Father who disciplines them (vv. 6–10) so that they might have a “harvest of peace and righteousness” (v. 11). A key passage on the solution to apostasy occurs in verses 12–13 (building on Isaiah 35:3–8 and Proverbs 4:26), in which the weak believers with “feeble arms and weak knees” are about to drop out of the race but are helped over the obstacles to the finish line by the stronger members. The plurals make this a corporate activity and not just individual determination. Thompson says of Hebrews 12:12–17 that “Christian existence is a pilgrimage to the heavenly κληρονομία (9:15; 11:8; cf. 6:17; 11:7; 1:14; 6:12).”
The call to holiness in Hebrews 12:14–17 contains a call to spiritual vigilance (ἐπισκοπέω, looking back to the imagery of vv. 12–13) and three μή τις warnings that build on earlier material: (1) Missing the grace of God means that they “fall short of” (ὑστερέω) God’s gracious salvation (cf. 2:1; 4:1; 6:4–6; 10:26–29). (2) Allowing a “bitter root” (ῥίζα πικρίας) to develop and “defile” (μιαίνω) many alludes to Deuteronomy 29:18, which occurs within a context of idolatry and apostasy from the covenant community, and there it is not bitterness but a “bitter poison” that destroys. The danger of spiritual “contamination” is an Old Testament metaphor for the impurity of the entire community as a result of the sin. The whole passage in Deuteronomy refers to a person who is calloused with a false sense of security in his hardened condition. (3) An “immoral or godless person like Esau” is someone who is both sexually immoral (later Judaism considered his marriages to Hittite women in Genesis 26:34 to be immorality) and spiritually unfaithful to God (πόρνος). The point is that as Esau was “rejected” when he sought to get his inheritance back, so will such an unbeliever be rejected by God. This echoes the point of 6:4–5 and 10:26–27 that such an apostate has committed the unpardonable sin and will not be accepted back. It is important to note that repentance (μετάνοια) here is not true repentance but a secular “change of mind,” and “with tears” is likewise not tears of repentance but the secular tears of one who wants his inheritance back.
There is an ABA pattern in Hebrews 12:14–29, with the contrast between the covenants (vv. 18–24) sandwiched between the two warning passages (vv. 14–17 and vv. 25–29). The powerful antithesis (οὐ … ἀλλά) between the two mountains, earthly Sinai (Moses) and heavenly Zion (Christ) is not a warning but centers on the contrast between the fear of the old covenant and the festive joy of the new covenant. The message reenacts the contrast between the old ways of Judaism and the new ways that Christ brought about that permeates Hebrews 1:1–10:18 and again asks the question, “Why would you want to return to the lesser when in Christ you have the greater?” Sinai “cannot be touched” (cf. Exod. 19:12), and the author of Hebrews centers on the palpable visual elements of fire, darkness, gloom and storm (Exod. 19:16–19), as well as the auditory trumpet blast (cf. Exod. 19:16, 19; 20:18) and voice (cf. Deut. 4:12). The result in each instance was terror.
In Zion, one encounters not the unapproachable God of Sinai but the indwelling God of Zion, leading to a festive atmosphere of worship and joy as one enters the “city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22), an apocalyptic image not for the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 but for the “heavenly” experience of the church in corporate worship (cf. the “heavenlies” of Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12), where one has a foretaste of the “city with foundations” that Abraham longed for (Heb. 11:10, 16). In this city, the saints are “written” or “registered” in the heavenly book (Exod. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Ezek. 13:9; Dan. 7:10; 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 20:12) as citizens of heaven (Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20). They are the “assembly of the firstborn” (ἐκκλησίᾳ πρωτοτόκων, Heb. 12:23) and share the inheritance of Jesus, the Firstborn (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 18; Rev. 1:5). They also share worship with “myriads of angels in festive assembly” (πανηγύρει, Heb. 12:22, emphasizing the festivity and the gathering of angels in Christian worship) and “enjoy communion in advance with the righteous of earlier generations with whom they will be made perfect at the end.” Finally, in the life of the church believers boldly approach both “God, the judge of all men” (Heb. 12:23; for the righteous, a judgment of rewards [cf. Rev. 22:12], but perhaps a hint of warning in preparation for vv. 25–27) and “Jesus, mediator of the new covenant” (v. 24, emphasizing the superior experience of the Christian), whose “sprinkled blood” has made salvation possible. Again, why return to a religion of fear and austerity when one has a religion of joy and corporate festivity?
The final warning of the book follows. The scene is similar to 2:1–4. Since the way of Christ is so superior, the penalty for falling away is also more severe. The theme is the “God who speaks,” both at Sinai (v. 19) and Zion (v. 24). When God speaks, people must respond. If those who “refused” (especially the wilderness generation in 3:7–4:13) did not “escape” his judgment, how much less will “we escape” (note the emphatic ἡμεῖς, including the author and thus a warning for true Christians) if “we turn away” (ἀποστρεφόμενοι, emphasizing not just a gradual withdrawal, but a studied repudiation; cf. 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14) from the heavenly warning (Heb. 12:25).
This in effect sums up the previous warnings of the book and adds a note of final judgment centering on the “shaking of the heavens,” an allusion to Haggai 2:6 (an apocalyptic theme seen in Isa. 13:10; 34:4; Joel 2:10–11; 2 Bar. 32:1; Sib. Or. 3.675; Mark 13:24–25; Rev. 6:12–14; 16:18–21) and the “once-for-all” (ἅπαξ meaning both a definitive action and a single event) destruction of the present creation (cf. 2 Peter 3:7, 10; Rev. 21:1). In the contrast between “removed” (μετάθεσις) and “remain” (μένω) in verse 27, not only the earth and heavens are intended but also the people inhabiting the earth. There is a choice to be made by the readers, and that choice will determine whether they are eternally “removed” or “remain.”
There is both encouragement and warning in the conclusion (12:28–29). There is a similar positive note to Hebrews 6:9–12 and 10:39 in verse 28. The believers are “in the process of receiving” (present tense παραλαμβάνοντες) “an unshakeable kingdom” (12:28; cf. 11:10; 13:14), an eternal home that is a present possession and yet a future attainment. This provides an anchor in the present troubles and should lead to both thanksgiving and reverential awe (with εὐλαβείας καὶ δέους a hendiadys, returning to the idea of 10:22–23). The solution to lethargy (5:11; 6:12) is dynamic worship. Then the section concludes with a very serious warning taken from Deuteronomy 4:24—Moses’ warning to Israel regarding idolatry and apostasy from the covenant. The idea of God as “consuming fire” (πῦρ καταναλίσκον) is used often for fiery judgment (Isa. 33:14; Joel 2:3; Dan. 7:11; Pss. Sol. 15:4; Matt. 25:41; 1 Cor. 3:13, 15; Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14–15) The options are absolutely clear: the readers will either face a loving God in reverential worship or a judging God in absolute terror.


What will we make of all this data? Certain positions are clearly wrong from the outset: (1) To think this represents merely loss of rewards is virtually impossible because the language is much too strong. (2) To take this as a hypothetical warning that cannot be committed but is used to stimulate perseverance (e.g., NIV) also flounders because of its artificial nature. An interesting possibility is the view of Verbrugge that the falling away is done not by individuals but by a community, and so individual salvation is not at stake.108 However, this type of separation between individual and community is hard to maintain, and if the community falls away, it is difficult to comprehend how individuals within it will not do so. McKnight points out that Hebrews stresses the individual in “none of you” in 3:12 and 4:1 and in the warning passages generally (3:13, 17–18; 4:3, 10–11). Moreover, the illustrations of apostasy are not just corporate (the wilderness generation) but also individual (Esau; cf. the individuals as models in 11:1–40).
The best option from a Calvinist perspective is to approach the issue from the standpoint of election: there is a real danger of apostasy, and it is directed to members of the church; but those who commit the sin were not true believers, that is, not of the elect. We will know the elect only when they persevere until the end. This makes a great deal of sense theologically but still falls prey to the basic problem of having to say the descriptions of Hebrews 2:3b–4; 3:1, 6; 6:4; 10:26; and 12:22–24 and the “we” of 12:25, 28 do not speak of true believers. It is difficult to see how that can be upheld in light of the material we have uncovered. The descriptions are incredibly powerful portrayals of real Christian experience.
So the conclusion can be stated as the more likely of several viable options: Hebrews is describing a very real danger of apostasy that true believers can commit, and if they do so it is an unpardonable sin from which there is no possibility of repentance, but only of eternal judgment.


Buist M. Fanning

As I respond to Grant Osborne, I want to thank him for his fine work in this essay and for his many other significant contributions to biblical interpretation over the years. It is especially helpful to find in the beginning of his essay an evenhanded summary of the standard theological constructs (i.e., Calvinism and Arminianism) that come into conflict over the interpretation of the warnings in Hebrews with their areas of agreement and disagreement clearly laid out.
Another feature of Osborne’s essay that I particularly want to commend is his example of how exegesis and theology should proceed in handling evidence and drawing conclusions. At various points he reflects the need of all interpreters to weigh exegetical evidence in the light of available options and to make a well-considered judgment of what is more or most likely among those options. Depending on the level of ambiguity in the evidence, we come to different levels of certainty about the conclusions. So Osborne does not speak about what must be so regarding the warning passages but about what is more or less likely. It is instructive to see him at various points acknowledge alternative ways of putting the pieces together and then proceed to give his frank assessment of how plausible those are, moving from some he regards to be “virtually impossible” to others that are almost certainly true in his opinion. This is refreshing to see, given the history of posturing and invectiveness that sometimes accompanies controversy over these passages.
As I say about the other two essays in this book, I want to acknowledge here also my agreement with much of what Osborne concludes about Hebrews. Because of space constraints this response will focus on areas of disagreement, but that should not obscure how close we are on many points.
In this response the reader will notice parallels in my reply to Gareth Cockerill since they follow similar approaches and reach similar conclusions. However, in these two responses I will take up slightly different matters based on prominent themes or distinctive points in each treatment.

Spiritual Identification of the Addressees

My first area of response concerns the way the writer of Hebrews describes those whom he is warning. This feature seems to carry considerable weight for Osborne, leading him away from the conclusion that I prefer and instead to the view that they are genuine Christians in danger of repudiating Christ and suffering eternal judgment as a consequence. Many over the centuries have taken the same view of Hebrews and have regarded it as the obvious sense (and for some, though not seemingly for Osborne, the only defensible interpretation).
In interacting with this line of evidence, I think it is important to look carefully at the specific descriptions Hebrews uses and make some distinctions, at least initially. Whether these descriptions all apply to the same people must be assessed as part of the process of evaluation.
First, we can observe the descriptions used directly to address or portray the readers in general. These consist of vocatives and second person pronoun and verb reference (addressing the readers directly), first person pronoun and verb reference (describing the readers and the writer together), and wider implications of his argument in various places.
For example, using direct address the writer refers to his readers as holy (3:1), sharers in a heavenly calling (3:1), brothers (3:1, 12; 10:19; 13:22), and beloved (6:9). He states that they have loved God and his people in a commendable way (6:10) and have faithfully endured suffering and persecution (10:32–34). They are addressed by Scripture as God’s children and have received his fatherly discipline (12:5, 7) and have come into connection with God and his people of all ages (12:22–24).
In using “we” forms, the writer includes himself along with his readers as those to whom the gospel has come and been “confirmed” (2:1, 3; 4:2), as those who have believed (4:3) and received knowledge of the truth (10:26), as those who partake of the fulfillment of God’s salvation and are perfected together with the faithful of earlier days (11:40), and as those who must be warned and exhorted to continue in faith (2:1, 3; 3:6, 14; 4:1; 6:1; 10:23; 12:25).
The wider implications of his approach involve the Old Testament parallels drawn in chapters 3–4 (i.e., that they are people of God just as the wilderness generation were God’s people) or the Old Testament quotation in Hebrews 10:30 (that God will judge his people). These imply that the readers are genuine Christians; if they are not, the argument fails according to some interpreters.
But how should these addresses and descriptions of the readers be interpreted? There are several options: (1) they are absolute and authoritative (i.e., God-inspired) designations of the true spiritual status of all of the addressees; or (2) they are descriptions of what is assumed to be true of most of the addressees, and if they happen not to be true of some, the exhortations and warnings are really not intended for their ears; or (3) these constitute a charitable and pastoral form of address describing the readers in keeping with their public stance of associating with the Christian assembly and identifying the writer with them in that stance but with full awareness and concern that some may not truly be Christians. I prefer this third view for reasons that will be developed as this section moves along.
Second, we should examine the descriptions used to portray the apostates in particular, those who are said to fall away or repudiate Christ. These occur predominantly in third person and generic reference. In fact, the most severe warnings in the book are almost entirely expressed in third person, not “we” or “you” forms of reference. For example, the descriptions of 6:4–8 are entirely in third person plural (generic “they”) or singular (“it” referring to the blessed or cursed ground). This is in marked contrast to the previous passage of exhortation (5:11–6:3) and the subsequent passage of reassurance (6:9–20), which are filled with “we” and “you” references. The same is true of Hebrews 10:27–31, especially the key verse 10:29 (in contrast to “we” forms in the exhortations of vv. 19–25 and “you” forms in the reassurance of vv. 32–39).
There is one instance of first person reference in the most severe passages: the reference to willful sin that “we” may fall into, resulting in no further sacrifice for sin (10:26). The other warnings also more freely intermingle addresses to the readers with less severe expressions of consequences for those who fall away. We see examples of this in the “we” forms in Hebrews 2:3 and 12:25, the generic reference along with second person in 3:12–13, and the generic reference and first or second person in 4:1, 11, and in 12:15–16.
Again we must ask what options should be considered for interpreting these descriptions of those who fall away (predominantly third person) and how they relate to the descriptions of the readers (first and second person) surveyed earlier. One possibility is to see no distinction between these. On this reading the third person references are a milder, indirect form of expression compared to saying “we” or “you,” but they potentially describe the readers nonetheless: all are genuine Christians, and the writer fears that some may fall away. Yet even in this view there is a distinction between the readers in general and the apostates in particular: what is envisioned is not that all of them would fall away but that some among them may do so (as 3:12–13; 4:1, 11; and 12:15–16 explicitly reflect).
My view is that the writer maintains a similar distinction between two groups but explicitly signals a more fundamental difference between them. He addresses all of the readers together in a charitable and pastoral way as Christians, since this is how they have identified themselves by associating with the Christian community. On this basis he also identifies himself with them in his concern as a Christian pastor. It is, of course, conventional even today in sermons and pastoral communication to address Christian groups in these ways without intending to define the true spiritual status of each individual.
As the writer addresses this community, he is aware of mixed evidence concerning their spiritual health. While he has seen positive general indications of their love, service, and endurance through suffering (6:9–10; 10:32–34), there are also worrisome signs of flagging commitment to Christ on the part of some. Since the writer is not omniscient, he does not truly know the heart condition of all the readers, and they have not yet fallen into apostasy as he fears some might, though this is threatening. He is concerned about how some will fare as they are battered by the new crisis pressing upon them. So he addresses them all according to their profession as Christians. In case some may not be genuine, he indicates that the true test is perseverance and those who fall away thereby demonstrate that they have not genuinely been partakers of God’s new covenant salvation (3:6, 14). He issues strong warnings that any who repudiate Christ despite clear knowledge of Christian claims about his person and work will face deserved judgment for their willful rejection of God’s full and final salvation (6:4–8; 10:29). But to the larger community, he provides encouragement that their past and present fidelity is a clear sign of their participation in Christ’s enduring new covenant salvation, an encouragement intended to exhort them to persevering faith, not complacency or self-assurance (6:9–10; 7:25; 9:14–15; 10:39; 12:28).
In defense of this view of the various descriptions, I cite both the wider context of the book and the near context of the verses about those who fall away. The wider contextual evidence is the soteriology of Hebrews, which focuses on the enduring and transforming character of salvation. Any reading of the warnings of Hebrews must take into account this soteriology and not focus only on the descriptions of 6:4–5 and 10:26–29 as though they are the sole consideration. Yet all too often assessment of the warnings of Hebrews begins and ends with 6:4–5, and by the time an interpreter gets to the end of 6:5, he has decided that genuine Christians must be in view and no other evidence counts. But as McKnight and many others have argued, a synthetic approach is needed, one that weighs all the relevant factors together before drawing conclusions.6
As I argue in my essay, such a synthetic approach leads to an unavoidable tension in putting all the evidence together coherently. Is God absolutely faithful to bring genuine Christians through to eternal salvation, yet they may in fact repudiate Christ and fall into eternal condemnation? A “straightforward” reading of all the elements leads to contradiction, so we must make adjustments from the superficial sense somewhere Osborne and Cockerill would make adjustments on the former point (although they fail to give it much attention in their essays). I think the latter point (about genuine Christians repudiating Christ) must be further nuanced due to the greatness and adequacy of salvation as presented in Hebrews. I contend that the writer explicitly points to this in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 in citing enduring faith as the evidence of genuine salvation (not its cause and not a condition for maintaining genuine salvation). And so repudiation of Christ does not cause the loss of saving participation in Christ’s salvation but indicates that it was an apparent and superficial participation only.
Given this wider theological framework, the near context also supports this view of the descriptions of Hebrews 6:4–8 and 10:26–29. What I call for here is the necessity of reading the entire description all the way through in each passage. So in 6:4–6 it is the final attributive participle in the series (v. 6a “falling away”) and the two adverbial ones (v. 6b “crucifying and scorning the Son of God”) that give the light in which the descriptions of verses 4–5 must be seen. Yet how many interpreters decide on the theological sense of the whole sentence after studying only the first two-thirds of it (vv. 4–5)? Similarly the description of 10:26 (“sinning willfully after receiving knowledge of the truth”) must be read in light of what follows, where the general introductory statement (“willful sin”) is surely filled out and specifically defined by the participles of 10:29 (“spurning, profaning, insulting”). It is only when we read the whole description that we grasp the true sense of the earlier part of it. This is commonly true of descriptions focusing on how things appear to be: the whole expression is needed to see that the appearance is not actually the case, and we cannot see that it is phenomenological language until we read to the end.9
This is why I conclude in my essay that in Hebrews 6:4–6; 10:26–29, and so forth, the writer is describing the phenomena of the conversion of those who fall away. While the details of these descriptions taken by themselves seem to point to true Christian experience, the full statements belie this impression. The writer has portrayed the apostates in distinctly Christian terms to emphasize how close they have been to new covenant salvation and what they are spurning if they depart. Their enlightenment, experience of the Spirit, repentance, knowledge of the truth, sharing in the sanctifying effects of Christ’s blood, and so forth will prove to be only preliminary and spurious if in fact they repudiate Christ. Their repudiation will constitute willful departure, or apostasy, from the religious convictions and public stance they once seemed to hold.11 Only irrevocable judgment can follow for such rejection in spite of close familiarity and experience with God’s full and final provision for salvation. The wider soteriology of Hebrews and the explicit statements of 3:6 and 3:14 should sensitize us to see that this is the intended meaning of these descriptions. In any case the descriptions alone should not be the only factor considered in the interpretation of the warning passages.

Contingency of Salvation in Hebrews

My second area of response to Osborne concerns his comments on contingency of salvation in Hebrews. At two different places in my essay in this book, I discuss his ideas on the conditionality of salvation (as reflected in his earlier writings) and try to show why I think he has misinterpreted Hebrews on this point. The reader may consult those pages for details. Here I want to respond to several comments on the issue from his current essay.
In his exposition of Hebrews 3:6, Osborne quotes the verse as follows: “We are his house (the church as the house of God), if indeed (ἐάνπερ) we continue …” He then cites Lane’s comment that this “implies that the outcome is contingent upon the response of the hearers.” By this Osborne means to say that maintaining their present relationship with God all the way through to final salvation is dependent on the readers’ continued faith in Christ. But he deals with the conditional sentence too simplistically and fails to consider other possible senses for this statement.13 I agree that the “outcome is contingent,” but I maintain in my essay that the verse explicitly points to a different “outcome” conditioned on continued faith. The outcome is not whether they will maintain their current status all the way to the future consummation, but whether they are his house even now (note verb tenses in 3:6). Lasting faith is the evidence of genuine Christianity; failure to continue in faith is evidence that a person is not genuinely Christian.
In his treatment of Hebrews 3:14, Osborne includes a footnote stating that the Greek construction is the same as in 3:6, and so “the relationship is conditional.” Again, I agree that the relationship is conditional, but we must ask, what relationship (future or past-present) and what (logical) kind of condition? I argue that the condition is not one of cause-to-effect, as is so often assumed without examination, but is one of evidenceto-inference. So the writer’s point is not that holding firm in faith to the end causes their salvific participation with Christ to continue to final salvation, but that holding firm in faith to the end is the evidence that they have become and are truly partakers with Christ. I believe the tenses and lexical character of the verbs used in 3:6 and 3:14 make this the preferred interpretation, but it is not dependent on my view of Greek verb tenses alone. Nor is it a novel explanation of conditional sentences I have concocted due to theological presuppositions. It has a long, if not widely known, existence among linguists with no connection to these issues.16
As Osborne continues to explain Hebrews 3:14, he adds the comment, “they must maintain their relationship with Christ as ‘partners’ in the Christian life. To do so, however, they must ‘hold firm’ … their ‘confidence’ in Christ to the very end” (italics mine). I contend that the soteriology of Hebrews focuses Christian perseverance on God’s ability to save to the end, not on human capacity or willingness to continue to accept his saving work. Yes, it is true that according to Hebrews true Christians will hold their faith firm until final salvation is reached, so in that sense it is a “both-and,” not an “either-or,” process. But how is this accomplished according to Hebrews? It seems invalid to speak of human responsibility to maintain the relationship based on our free choice to hold fast, without speaking as Hebrews does of God’s power at work within to carry us through to the end. Osborne’s treatment is, unfortunately, slanted away from this because he says little about Hebrews’s strong statements on security. As I develop in my essay and in my response to Cockerill, the verses in Hebrews about Christian security (e.g., 7:25; 9:14–15; 10:14) do not speak at all of continued Christian response as a necessary means for the fulfillment of final salvation. The verses instead say that those who have become partakers of Christ’s saving work will certainly reach final salvation because and by means of God’s ability, not their own. Maintaining the relationship is dependent ultimately on his lasting and transforming work in us, by which we are able to continue in faith.
Finally, in discussing Hebrews 3:6, Osborne cites a list of “several New Testament conditional statements regarding salvation” including Romans 8:9, 17; 11:22; 2 Corinthians 13:5; and Colossians 1:23. The implication is that these support his interpretation of 3:6. While I do not reject this sort of appeal entirely, I think it is important to insist that evidence from Hebrews itself be sifted fully before we turn to the theology of other books for insight. As I have repeated perhaps too frequently here, I think Osborne should have considered other features of the theology of Hebrews itself more than he has. Furthermore, it is not clear that the other verses he cites really support the point he is making. These conditional statements are better seen, I think, as evidence-to-inference conditionals or should on other grounds be interpreted in a different sense than Osborne prefers.

A Final Point

One final area of brief response concerns the issue of Christian assurance. In several comments Osborne implies that assurance is not possible for Christians until they reach the end of life. In his exegesis of Hebrews 6:11, he writes, “The goal is the future inheritance of salvation, attained by persevering in the faith. This is the place where Calvinism and Arminianism meet, in the realization that the elect will be known after they have persevered to the end” (p. 117–18). In his conclusion, he adds the word “only” to the statement: “We will know the elect only when they persevere until the end” (p. 128). Osborne does not elaborate on this point, but his comments echo the view of other writers who charge that a Reformed understanding of perseverance precludes any assurance of salvation in this life or that there is no difference between Calvinist and non-Calvinist regarding the basis or possibility of assurance.
It is certainly true that, in isolation, a verse like Hebrews 3:14 (according to my view of it) could be taken to deny any assurance until the end of life is reached: “We have become partakers of Christ [inference], if in fact we hold the beginning of our confidence firm until the end [evidence].” If continuance is the test of reality, then we cannot know our real status with Christ until we continue to the end, or so the charge goes. But as I have tried to show throughout, we must not read any of Hebrews in isolation! We must couple the meaning of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 with the astonishing statements of what God accomplishes in the lives of those who “have become partakers” of Christ’s high priestly work. It is God’s powerful, transforming, and lasting work of salvation that is the primary basis of assurance for Christians. The beginnings of assurance gained by seeing this saving work begun and furthered in my life are reinforced immeasurably by the realization that Christ is completely able to bring me through to final salvation, not because of my continued response to him but because of his eternally effective high priestly ministry. It seems to me that, in regard to the possibility of Christian assurance, there is a vast difference between this understanding of Hebrews and Osborne’s view.
In conclusion, what I am arguing in overall response to Osborne is the likelihood of various interpretations. In concert with his own expressed sentiments along this line, I am not saying that his interpretation of Hebrews absolutely cannot be right and mine must be. Both are viable and defensible options. But in regard to the spiritual identification of the addressees as well as the contingency of salvation in Hebrews, I have tried to argue here and in my essay that my interpretation is more likely to be correct based on the exegesis and theology of Hebrews itself.


Gareth Lee Cockerill

Since Wesleyans are known as Arminians with an emphasis on expressive, experiential religion, it would be appropriate for a Wesleyan to respond to this Arminian perspective by saying “Amen!”
Osborne has provided us with a clear, well-written study that allows the text of Hebrews to speak for itself. His opening paragraphs give a fair and balanced summary of the Calvinist and Arminian understandings of the way God works to effect salvation. Thus he puts the debate about Hebrews squarely within this broader theological context.
In this study we are treated to a comprehensive exposition of each warning passage in Hebrews. Osborne does more than ask what each passage says about apostasy. He presents a fuller exposition of each one, highlighting those aspects of the text that identify the readers’ spiritual condition, the nature of the sin against which they are warned, and the threatened results of that sin. Although this approach is less direct and requires the perseverance [sic] of the reader, it assures attention to context and a balance in handling the evidence. At the conclusion of his work, Osborne evaluates alternative views in light of the evidence he has presented.
In my judgment, Osborne is correct in his assessment of Hebrews’s teaching on apostasy. The way in which the writer describes the readers, their potential sin, and its consequences indicates that the recipients of Hebrews were true believers in danger of eternal loss. They were in danger of rejecting God’s only sufficient provision for sin. Such a definitive rejection of the only means of salvation would leave them beyond the possibility of return.

The Setting of Hebrews

Osborne begins by establishing the social situation behind Hebrews. Hebrews was written to a mixed Jewish-Gentile Roman church that had suffered persecution in the past and was again facing pressure from the surrounding society. Osborne finds solid support for this position in deSilva’s location of Hebrews in the milieu of Graeco-Roman rhetoric. This reconstruction is in much closer agreement with the data in the text of Hebrews and has support from a much broader scholarly consensus than Gleason’s proposed Palestinian destination, which will be presented later in the book. Unlike Gleason’s interpretation, Osborne’s does not suffer the vulnerability of dependence upon his vision of the readers’ situation. He gains credibility by providing a plausible, though not necessary, situation to which Hebrews as he interprets it could have been written.
Osborne believes that some of those to whom Hebrews was addressed were in danger of “drifting away” and others of “an active repudiation of Christ” and return to their Jewish or Gentile roots (p. 89). In my judgment it is more likely that Hebrews warns against a “drifting away” that may lead to an “active repudiation.” In 2:1–4 it is “drifting away” that may result in purposeful “neglect” of Christ’s provision. The laxity described in 5:11–6:3 is fundamental to the danger of apostasy described in 6:4–8. The hearers must get over their laxity lest they expose themselves to the possibility of apostasy. Recognition of this fact would only have strengthened Osborne’s overall interpretation of the warning passages.
All the contributors to this book agree that the author of Hebrews appears to describe his readers as genuine Christians. Osborne begins his study by summarizing the evidence for the integrity of their faith. He argues, rightly in my judgment, that the recipients of Hebrews are described in terms that exclude unconverted church members. When discussing 6:4–8 Osborne says, “If this passage were found in Romans 8, we would all hail it as the greatest description of Christian blessings in the entire Bible” (p. 112). In like manner we might say, “If the descriptions of the recipients of Hebrews scattered throughout the book occurred in any other book, none would doubt that those so described were true believers.”
After marshalling this evidence for the recipients’ faith, Osborne presents us with a carefully executed analysis of each warning passage. He is sensitive to the context of each and to the distinct contribution made by each to the argument of the whole.

Hebrews 2:1–4

Osborne clearly grasps the role that Hebrews 2:1–4 plays in preparing for the later warnings. Although the writer does not describe the consequences of the sin against which he warns in this passage, the fact that this sin is willful “neglect” of the “great salvation” the Son has provided forebodes the eternal nature of these consequences. As Osborne says, the writer of Hebrews “begins with pianissimo, but the crescendo is coming soon” (p. 94).
Osborne’s solid exposition of this passage might have been strengthened, however, by giving even more attention to the term “such a great salvation.” God spoke his “word” through the angels but provided “such a great salvation” in the Son. Thus God’s revelation in the Son has a saving efficacy anticipated by previous revelation. This salvation is not merely greater than the Torah (p. 93) but effective where the Torah was not. It is a fully adequate and therefore complete and final salvation.
“Such a great salvation” not only anticipates the eternal consequences of neglect but also provides a direct link with the other warning passages. The severity of the warning in Hebrews 6:1–8 and 10:26–31 is based on the writer’s description of how great this salvation is.
I would express only one caveat with Osborne’s exposition of Hebrews 2:1–4. Osborne argues, “So if the salvation is ‘greater,’ one would expect the punishment to be greater as well” (p. 94). However, a closer look at the details of this passage would indicate that the writer is not concerned with the severity but with the certainty of punishment. He does not say, “How much more shall we suffer?” but “How shall we escape?” Since the punishment for the old covenant disobedient was assured, the punishment for those who turn away from Christ is even more certain. In fact, as consideration of Hebrews 3:7–4:11 below will show, failure under the old covenant also led to eternal loss.

Hebrews 3:7–4:11

The second warning passage, Hebrews 3:7–4:11, is the longest in the book. The first half of this passage, 3:7–19, describes the past loss of “rest” by the wilderness generation; the second half, 4:1–11, describes the consequent present promise of “rest” still before the recipients of Hebrews. Osborne recognizes that this passage clarifies the eternal nature of the loss anticipated in 2:1–4. He carefully demonstrates the seriousness of the wilderness generation’s unbelief and the dire nature of the consequences as described in 3:7–19. This unbelief was disobedience, rebellion, and falling away from God. The wilderness generation suffered God’s “wrath” and were excluded from the Promised Land. Osborne notes that the fall of their “corpses” in the wilderness designates “an accursed death” appropriate for apostates (p. 101).
In Hebrews 4:1–11 the writer warns against loss of the eternal rest promised to the recipients of Hebrews. Osborne shows how appropriate the imagery of Sabbath celebration was for such eternal rest. In 4:12–13 the author makes it quite clear that there is no way the readers could avoid the issue of faithfulness put before them.
While Osborne clearly affirms the eternal nature of the “rest” anticipated by the recipients of Hebrews, his argument could have been strengthened by a straightforward presentation of the way in which the writer of Hebrews substantiates this eternal reality. The closest he gets is his discussion of the gezārah šāwāh connection with Genesis 2:2 in Hebrews 4:4–5 (p. 105–6). He does make references to the “heroes of faith” in chapter 11 (p. 104), but he could have reinforced the eternal nature of the “rest” by demonstrating its identity with the heavenly homeland toward which those faithful directed their pilgrimage.
Osborne agrees that this “rest” is primarily “the final eschatological rest in eternity,” though he tries to make room for the believer’s current rest in God (p. 106). While the writer to the Hebrews certainly does teach a present experience of inner cleansing (9:14), access to God (4:14–16; 10:19–21), forgiveness, and the inscription of God’s law on the heart (10:15–18), in 3:7–4:11 his focus is on the final eternal rest. This orientation is substantiated by the fact that the rest proffered (4:1) is the rest spoken about in Psalm 95, and therefore the rest lost by the wilderness generation in Numbers 14. They most definitively did not share in the cleansing and access available to current believers through Christ (Heb. 11:39–40), but they did anticipate the same eternal reward.
These suggestions would not materially change but would strengthen and clarify the conclusions Osborne reaches in regard to Hebrews 3:7–4:11.

Hebrews 6:4–8

Osborne examines the crucial warning in Hebrews 6:4–8 within the broader passage of 5:11–6:12. He is correct in his contention that what has been indicated in the earlier warning passages has now become explicit. As noted above, Osborne has already presented conclusive evidence from the rest of Hebrews that the recipients were people of genuine faith. The four participial phrases used here substantiate that earlier conclusion—“having been enlightened,” “having tasted the heavenly gift,” “having become partakers of the Holy Spirit,” and “having tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come.” His words cited above are certainly correct: “If this passage were found in Romans 8, we would all hail it as the greatest description of Christian blessings in the entire Bible” (p. 112). Furthermore, the “falling away” here mentioned must be apostasy because it is caused by showing open contempt for Christ and results in the impossibility of repentance.
It is instructive to compare Osborne’s and Gleason’s handling of these texts. Gleason argues that the wilderness generation in Hebrews 3:7–4:11 was not apostate. Then he attempts to make the clear description of apostasy in Hebrews 6:4–8 conform to his understanding of the wilderness generation. Osborne, however, follows the flow of the author’s thought. The apostasy anticipated in Hebrews 2:1–4 and clarified in 3:7–4:11 is now made explicit in 6:4–8.
As noted above, in the introduction to his study Osborne speaks of two problems facing the recipients of Hebrews. Some were in danger of lethargy or “drifting away.” Others were in danger of “active repudiation of Christ” (p. 89). However, in his exposition of Hebrews 5:11–6:12 he correctly treats these problems as one. The unnatural immaturity described in 5:11–6:3 is the impediment that prevents the recipients of Hebrews from grasping the “solid food” necessary to persevere and avoid apostasy (pp. 108–11). Osborne rightly identifies this “solid food” with Christ’s priesthood introduced in 5:10, but he does not clearly say that this “solid food” will be expounded in Hebrews 7:1–10:18.
Osborne boldly faces the thorny issue raised by Hebrews 6:6: “For it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” He correctly locates this “impossibility” in God, who will not renew the one who has rejected his provision in Christ (p. 114). He is also correct in arguing that the present tense participles “having crucified again” (ἀνασταυροῦντας) and “having held up to contempt” (παραδειγματίζοντας) express both the cause of final apostasy and the continuing attitude of the apostate (p. 115). Such perpetual contempt characterized the post Kadesh-Barnea wilderness generation.
Nevertheless, I have some hesitancy over the distinction between “passive apostasy” and “active apostasy” (p. 114–15n. 78). Osborne defines the former as sin crowding Christ out of a person’s life and the latter as the active repudiation of Christ. He seems to associate the inadvertent sin of the Old Testament with “passive apostasy,” and willful sin with “active apostasy.”5 From the former there can be a return to Christ. Those guilty of the latter have no recourse.
Would the author of Hebrews have called sin that crowds Christ out “inadvertent sin”? Would he not find “drifting away” tantamount to culpable “neglect” of God’s provision in Christ (2:1–4)? The description of the readers’ immaturity in 5:11–6:3 has impact because it is an unnatural immaturity. They should not be in this state. They are as culpable for their immaturity as a fifteen-year-old would be culpable for acting like a six-year-old. Is not the apostasy here conceived a persistence in disobedience until final rejection of Christ?
The wilderness generation’s example is supportive of this model. Their many acts of disobedience before Kadesh-Barnea were certainly intentional but culminated in the definitive refusal to trust God to fulfill the promise for which he had brought them out of Egypt. If they rejected God’s bringing them into the Promised Land, what other blessing could he bestow upon them? The apostasy envisioned by Hebrews is the final and definitive rejection of God’s provision in Christ. When people have rejected Christ’s once-for-all and only effective sacrifice, what else can God offer them?
“Apostasy” by definition is a definitive turn away from God. Thus “passive apostasy” for which repentance is available is a misnomer. One might call it “backsliding” but not apostasy. Furthermore, in Hebrews whatever innocence there is in “drifting away” or immaturity does not preclude the fact that, persisted in, such behavior may lead to true apostasy.

Hebrews 10:19–31

Osborne handles Hebrews 10:19–31 with expert contextual appropriateness. He recognizes that this passage makes the terrible consequences of the sin against which the writer warns patently clear. The writer of Hebrews can now speak with such lucidity because he has described the finality and effectiveness of Christ’s high priestly work in 7:1–10:18 (one might say 4:14–10:18). Hebrews 10:19–25 summarizes the glorious benefits of this high priestly work and urges the hearers to enter into its blessings as the means of perseverance and sure defense against apostasy.
In light of these blessings, the writer is in a position to make patently clear the consequences of rejecting this final, climactic, and only sufficient work of God for human salvation. Osborne argues convincingly that all that was said in Hebrews 6:4–8 is now articulated with renewed perspicuity and directness in Hebrews 10:26–31. For those who reject this only effective sacrifice, there remains “no sacrifice for sin” but only eternal judgment because they have practiced “a studied contempt and repudiation of everything the Godhead has done in salvation” (p. 121).
This passage reinforces the teaching of Hebrews 6:4–8 on the nature of apostasy. The author does emphasize the adverb “willfully” (ἑκουσίως) by locating it at the beginning of Hebrews 10:26 (p. 120). Yet, the primary distinction here, as above, is not between willful and unintended sin. The emphasis is on persistence in willful sin. Note the NRSV translation: “For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth.” This is persistent sin that leads to a final rejection of God’s provision in Christ. This final rejection is described in verse 29 as profaning “the Son of God,” spurning “the blood of the covenant,” and outraging “the Spirit of grace.”

Hebrews 12:14–29

The final warning in Hebrews 12:25–29 is presented within the broader context of 12:14–29. Use of this larger passage is particularly appropriate because of the warning character of verses 14–17. Osborne correctly sees that the rejection of Esau in this passage reinforces the teaching of Hebrews 6:4–5 and 10:26–27 on the impossibility of restoration for the apostate. He is correct in affirming that Esau did not seek godly repentance but the restoration of lost blessing.
Osborne treats the contrast between “Zion” (12:22–24) and “Sinai” (12:18–21) as a straightforward comparison/contrast between the two covenants. One must note, however, that the name “Sinai” does not appear. In my judgment, the unapproachable mountain is not the old covenant, per se, but the old covenant without grace. Many of the people of faith described in chapter 11 lived under the old covenant. The point is that for present-day believers rejection of Christ’s final sacrifice is a total rejection of God’s grace. Therefore, to turn away from Christ is to turn away from grace to judgment.
Osborne makes the climactic nature of the final warning clear. Hebrews 12:25–29 “sums up the previous warnings of the book and adds a note of final judgment centering on the ‘shaking of the heavens,’ … and the ‘once-for-all’ … destruction of the present creation” (p. 126). At this destruction the faithful will “remain,” but others will be “removed.” “The options are absolutely clear: the readers will either face a loving God in reverential worship or a judging God in absolute terror” (p. 127).
This fine presentation of the final warning could have been strengthened by more attention to the fact that God now speaks from heaven (v. 26). God’s address is no longer on the earthly Sinai or even in the incarnate, exalted Christ. The final word of judgment comes directly from God himself in heaven.

A Concluding Evaluation

We should compliment Osborne for his attention to the corporate dimension of Christian life in Hebrews. In commenting on Hebrews 3:13–14, he points out that the involvement of the Christian community in the life of the believer is a major antidote to apostasy. Members are to warn one another lest they fall away (pp. 99–100). According to Hebrews 10:24–25, participation in the life of the Christian community is “the primary deterrent to apostasy” (p. 119).
As noted above, in his conclusion Osborne evaluates alternate positions in light of the evidence he has presented. In my judgment he is correct when he says that the best option from a Calvinist perspective is the option based on election: while the writer addresses all of his readers as true believers, some do not have genuine faith. Only final perseverance will reveal the elect who truly trusted in Christ. This is the position advocated by Fanning in the present book. However, I would agree with Osborne that this interpretation does not do justice to the way the readers are described as true believers in Hebrews 2:3b–4; 3:1, 6; 6:4; 10:26; and 12:22–24. Nor does it accord well with the use of “we” in Hebrews 12:25 and 28. It does not fit easily with other evidence presented by Osborne. In my judgment, such an interpretation imports a category alien to the context of Hebrews. There is no reason to believe that either the writer or readers of Hebrews held this assumption.
The above discussion has indicated several points of disagreement with Osborne. I would argue that the problem faced by the recipients of Hebrews is one, not two. There are not two groups of people, one in danger of “drifting” and another in danger of open repudiation. There is one group of people. They are in danger of a “drifting” or of a “lethargy” that may lead them to a final, open repudiation. Osborne seems to sense this essential unity between “lethargy” and “apostasy” in his comments on Hebrews 6:4–8.
I have argued that the author’s concern in Hebrews 2:1–4 was with the certainty rather than the degree of punishment for neglecting salvation in Christ. I have suggested that Osborne’s treatment of Hebrews 3:7–4:13 could be strengthened by a clearer description of how the writer substantiates the eternal nature of “rest.” I also have argued that in 3:7–4:13 the writer’s focus is on the “rest” of final entrance rather than present experience. This concern with final “rest” makes the parallel between the wilderness generation and present believers more direct.
Finally, this response would propose an adjustment to Osborne’s understanding of the sin that leads to apostasy. The primary distinction is not between inadvertent and intentional/willful sin. Certainly the sin that leads to apostasy is “willful,” but it is also persistent. The cause of apostasy is persistence in willful sin climaxing in the total rejection or repudiation of Christ. This understanding is parallel to the persistent disobedience and climactic rejection of the wilderness generation at Kadesh-Barnea. It is in accord with the writer’s anxiety over the laxity, immaturity, and unconcern of the hearers that may lead to persistent disobedience. It is in agreement with the way the final act of apostasy is described as spurning “the Son of God,” profaning “the blood of the covenant” and outraging “the Spirit of grace” (10:29).
These caveats, however, do not detract from the overall persuasiveness of Osborne’s study. He has thoroughly grasped and clearly expressed the eternal and final nature of apostasy in Hebrews. His arguments are unexaggerated and irenic. He is to be commended for drawing together the relevant evidence and effectively interacting with those of other opinions. In summary, Osborne’s presentation is thorough and balanced. The evidence presented for his main contentions is quite convincing.


Randall C. Gleason

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Grant Osborne for his book The Hermeneutical Spiral (1991), which has taught me much about the science and art of biblical interpretation. I also admire his skill in blending biblical exegesis with an irenic spirit in his contribution to this volume. Consequently, I find much to agree with in his treatment of the warning passages in Hebrews. First and foremost, I strongly agree with Osborne that those warned in Hebrews “are regenerate and not just quasi-Christians” (p. 90). This makes the best sense of their description as “holy brethren” (3:1, 12) who have “once been enlightened” (6:4) and “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (10:22) “after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (10:26). For me this is both the most compelling argument for an Arminian interpretation and the greatest obstacle to alternative readings that often appear to smother the warnings by either theological presuppositions or concepts imported from other New Testament authors (e.g., election/predestination in Paul or John).
I also commend Osborne for his helpful reminder that Arminians share with the Reformed tradition strong convictions regarding the total depravity of humanity and the sovereign work of God in salvation. This point is often lost in the rhetoric over theological differences and helps to dismiss common caricatures that unfairly label the Arminian tradition as “Pelagian.” I thank Osborne for stressing our common ground as we wrestle with these difficult texts. Yet I find that he also appears to assume areas of “general agreement” on the Hebrews warnings that too quickly dismiss certain distinct features of the view I affirm in my chapter. It is with several of these assumptions that I will begin my critique.

Roman or Palestinian Recipients?

By assuming that the book of Hebrews was written to the church in Rome, Osborne misses the author’s allusions to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. This leads him to conclude that the warnings must refer to the loss of salvation and final judgment. Since I believe that the author warns his readers of physical judgment that would soon fall upon the Jewish nation, I must take issue with Osborne’s assumption of a Roman destination. Osborne’s view is not without basis, for a number of scholars argue that the book was written to Rome because of the salutation “Those from Italy greet you” (13:24).
However, this greeting is far from conclusive since it could also indicate the letter’s origin “from” Italy. The author’s emphasis upon the Jewish sacrificial system (Heb. 7–10) has convinced many interpreters of a Palestinian audience. Their “former days” of suffering (Heb. 10:32–34) could then refer to the Jewish persecution of Christians in Judea following Pentecost (Acts 9:1; 12:1–2; 1 Thess. 2:14–15). The use of the LXX does not preclude a Palestinian audience since Hellenistic Jews made up a significant portion of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1–6, 9; cf. John 12:20). Furthermore, the Greek biblical texts found at Qumran and Nahal Hever provide ample evidence that even Hebrew-speaking Jews living in Palestine used the LXX. Similar use at Qumran of the expression “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:11, 13) to mean outside of Jerusalem also suggests that the exhortation to bear the “reproach” of Christ “outside the gate” (v. 12) was intended for Christians living in or around the Jewish capital.
The Jewish identity and Palestinian location of the readers are important because both help us to understand the immediate crisis in view throughout Hebrews. Though the “last days” (1:2) had begun, the author exhorts his readers to hold fast to their baptismal confession (10:23) and to faithfully attend their Christian assembly “all the more as you see the day drawing near (ἐγγίζουσαν)” (10:25). Many claim that this can refer only to “that ultimate eschatological day … of judgment” when Christ returns (cf. 9:28). However, in the Old Testament “the day” was the common designation for a time of destruction coming upon the land of Israel due to covenant unfaithfulness (Isa. 24:21; Ezek. 7:7; Joel 1:15; Zeph. 1:14–18; cf. Matt. 24:36). The word “day” is modified in three ways in Hebrews 10:25. First, the article (τήν) suggests it points back to a definite crisis understood by the readers. This would most naturally refer to the burning of the land (6:8) and destruction of the “first” covenant symbols mentioned earlier (8:13; 10:9). Second, “the day” is described as “drawing near” (ἐγγίζουσαν), depicting by the present tense a current event unfolding before the readers. This is consistent with the idiomatic expression—“day(s) drawing near”—used in the Old Testament to denote an event that would occur immediately (e.g., nearness of death, Gen. 27:41; Deut. 31:14; 1 Kings 2:1; cf. 1 Macc. 2:49). Third, the terminology of “drawing near” (ἐγγίζουσαν) ties this event to the “nearness” (ἐγγύς) of both the burning of the land (6:8) and the destruction of the “first” covenant system and its temple (8:13–9:1). Finally, the nearness of this event is confirmed by the words “as you see” (βλέπετε—present indicative), indicating that signs of the coming crisis were already visible to the readers. Although all Christians “eagerly await” the second coming of Christ “for salvation” (Heb. 9:28), this generation of readers were warned against the specific physical threat that would soon fall upon the nation of Israel and Jerusalem as foretold by Jesus (e.g., Matt. 23:37–24:28).
Even if the readers lived outside of Israel, the future of Jerusalem would have been of vital concern for the Jews of the Diaspora since the city continued to be their center of worship. Furthermore, the devastating consequences of the war with Rome were not limited to Palestinian Jews. Josephus records how the wrath of Rome fell on many Jewish communities throughout the region. The hostilities against Jews that began at Caesarea quickly spread to the cities of Syria (J.W. 2 §§ 457–66, 477–79). In Alexandria, the Roman legions not only plundered and burned Jewish homes but also killed thousands of Jewish inhabitants (J.W. 2 §§ 494–98). Following the war, the Jews of Antioch continued to suffer Roman reprisals under Titus (J.W. 7 §§ 37–38, 46–62). The threat against those who identified with the symbols of Jewish nationalism was real, regardless of their location. Hence, the author’s exhortation to seek the heavenly city (Heb. 11:10; 12:22; 13:14) rather than the earthly Jerusalem would have been meaningful to Jewish Christians everywhere.

The Definition of Apostasy

A second assumption of Osborne is that the apostasy of Hebrews must refer to a persistent and active repudiation of faith in Christ. Osborne regards “willful sin” (Heb. 10:26) to be the clearest of this kind of apostasy in the book. I agree that their “drift” and “neglect” of Christ’s teaching (2:1–2), persistent immaturity (5:11–13), and “forsaking” of the Christian assembly (10:25) would eventually result in “willful sin.” However, I do not believe “willful sin” refers to “a studied contempt and repudiation of everything the Godhead has done in salvation” as Osborne claims (p. 121). Since we draw the term apostasy from the author’s warning against “an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away (ἀποσῆναι) from the living God” (3:12), it seems best to define its meaning according to the rebellion and unbelief of the people at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 14:9–11). For the warning against “an evil, unbelieving heart” (καρδία πονηρὰ ἀπιστίας) echoes back to the “evil congregation” (τὴν συναγωγὴν τὴν πονηράν, Num. 14:27 LXX) who were guilty of “unbelief” (οὐ πιστεύουσίν) at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 14:11 LXX). Furthermore, apostasy “from the living God” (ἐν τῷ ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ζῶντος) echoes back to Israel’s apostasy (ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου μὴ ἀποστάται, Num. 14:9 LXX) from the God who claimed “I am living and living is my name” (ζῶ ἐγὼ καὶ ζῶν τὸ ὄνομά μου, Num. 14:21, LXX).11
Therefore, the apostasy of Hebrews refers to deliberate covenant unfaithfulness that would incite God to discipline his people without “repentance.” The severe “punishment” (Heb. 10:27–31) demanded for this kind of “willful sin” (10:26) echoes back to the public execution of the defiant man found picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Num. 15:30–36; cf. Heb. 10:28) and the deadly plague that fell upon Israel from “the hands of the Lord” (2 Sam. 24:15; cf. Heb. 10:31) because David numbered the people (see my chapter). Yet none of these Old Testament examples depict “a pagan-like absolute rejection of God” as Osborne claims (p. 98n. 29). Furthermore, the author’s call for mutual encouragement (Heb. 10:24–25; 12:12–13) and corporate worship and accountability (13:15–17) are appropriate means to prevent spiritual drift, neglect, dullness, and willful disobedience against God’s commands. However, such measures would seem to have little effect upon those who persist in their atheistic repudiation of God and his Son Jesus Christ. Also Osborne’s identification of “falling away” in Hebrews 6:6 with the “unpardonable sin” is unlikely since the participles of Hebrews 6:4–5 parallel the Septuagint description of the Exodus generation, whom God both pardoned and judged at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 14:20–23). The impossibility of repentance (Heb. 6:6) is therefore best understood as an echo back to Israel’s failed attempt to reverse God’s verdict the day after their rebellion (Num. 14:39–45). They learned too late that the Lord was “a forgiving God … yet an avenger of their evil deeds” (Ps. 99:8 NASB).

The Old Testament Background of the Warning in Hebrews 3–4

The Old Testament was the “Bible” of first-century Christians and therefore was more than a source book of illustrations to serve the New Testament author’s rhetorical purposes. The Old Testament provided him a redemptive-historical theology from which to draw in order to instruct and exhort his readers. Therefore to suggest that “salvation” in Hebrews is eschatological and spiritual while limiting the “salvation” of Israel to mere physical deliverance from Egypt is to break apart the redemptive story progressively revealed through Scripture. Although the book of Hebrews stresses how the new covenant has replaced the old covenant, this change does not mean there are multiple kinds of salvation. The basis for salvation has always been the gracious activity of God culminating in the death and resurrection of Christ. The sole requirement for salvation has always been the human response of faith to God’s provision as it was progressively revealed throughout biblical history. For these reasons Israel’s faith in the Lord (Exod. 4:31; 14:31) and their deliverance from the Egyptians (Exod. 14:13, 30; 15:1–17) served as an important archetype for salvation elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Neh. 9:9–21; Ps. 106:6–12; Isa. 63:8–9; Heb. 11:29). Therefore it is proper and necessary for us to draw upon the Old Testament narratives of Israel’s redemption to determine the relationship between salvation and the warnings in Hebrews.
Osborne overlooks many of the Old Testament echoes and their interpretive significance to the warnings. This is most apparent in the second warning that contains the most explicit reference to Israel’s failure in the wilderness (Heb. 3:7–4:13). For example, Osborne’s claim that the author calls the readers “to be like Moses, not Israel” (p. 95) misses the point of Moses’ contrast to Christ (3:2–5). It is Jesus our perfect “high priest” (3:1; cf. 2:10, 17–18; 4:15) and “forerunner” (6:20) on whom we are to “fix our eyes” (12:2). For though Moses was regarded as a “faithful” servant (Heb. 3:5; cf. 11:23–29; Num. 12:7), by comparison Jesus “has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (Heb. 3:3) because He, unlike Moses, was “without sin” (4:15). With the Old Testament account of the wilderness in view, a subtle allusion to Moses’ shared guilt and fate with the Exodus generation may be found in the author’s critique of “all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses” (Heb. 3:16). For unless he intended to draw attention to Moses’ inclusion in the group, the added phrase “led by Moses” seems unnecessary.
Osborne also misses the significance of the Old Testament background (in Hebrews?) in his definition of “rest” as “eternal life,” which leads him to conclude that to “fall short of [rest]” (4:1) means loss of “eternal life.” Yet there are many Old Testament individuals who failed to enter “rest” without forfeiting “eternal life.” First and foremost is Moses, who forfeited his right to enter “rest” (i.e., the Promised Land) due to unbelief (Num. 20:12) and rebellion (Num. 20:24) and yet is numbered among the “righteous men made perfect” in the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22–23; cf. 11:24–28). Hence the loss of “rest” in the present does not require exclusion from final eschatological “rest” in the future as Osborne suggests.

The Shaking of Earth and Heaven in Hebrews 12

To prove that the author of Hebrews is warning his Christian readers of final eschatological judgment if they fail to persevere, Osborne claims that the shaking of earth and heaven (Heb. 12:26–27) refers to the destruction of the present creation and its wicked inhabitants. Hence, he argues that the final warning in Hebrews 12:25–29 presents the readers with a choice to be either eternally “removed” or to “remain.” However, a final “cosmic catastrophe” bringing an end to the created universe is no longer assumed to be part of Jewish and early Christian eschatology by a growing number of scholars. Furthermore, in light of the author’s focus on the imminent demise of the sacrificial system (Heb. 8–10), it seems best to understand the “shaking of earth and heaven” as a symbolic description of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.
This is confirmed in the following ways. First, the Jews considered the temple to be a microcosm of the Jewish cosmos—“the Gate of Heaven” and “the Navel of the Earth.”16 According to Josephus and Philo, the colors of the veil (Exod. 26:31; 36:35) were meant to symbolize the elements of the universe and the seven lamps to represent the seven “planets.” Hence, to enter beyond the temple veil into the Holy Place was to pass through the heavens into the very presence of God. This connection between temple and cosmos was such that the glory of the temple symbolized the stability of the Jewish world.
Second, the context of the citation from Haggai used in Hebrews 12:26 also suggests temple symbolism because the prophet declares that “the heavens and the earth” will be shaken in order to establish a greater, more glorious temple (Hag. 2:6–9). This is consistent with the use of temple symbolism throughout the Old Testament.
Third, cosmic imagery is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. For example, Jesus summarized his prediction of the temple’s destruction with the promise that “heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
Fourth, the author’s own use of cosmic symbolism throughout his epistle also indicates that the temple’s destruction is in view. For example, the author declares that the earthly tabernacle is “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5; cf. 9:23). Since the Holy Place typified “heaven,” the author declares that Jesus passed both “through the heavens” (4:14) and “through the veil” (10:19; cf. 6:19) to offer his sacrifice. This also explains why the author describes “heaven” in Hebrews 12:27 as something “made” (πεποιημένων) of this creation, like the Holy Place “made with hands” (χειροποίητα) spoken of in Hebrews 9:24. In this way, he distinguishes the symbol of “heaven” which is about to be shaken (i.e., the temple) from “heaven itself” (9:24), where the true Holy Place is found—“the perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, … not of this creation” (9:11). The “heavens” and “the earth” of Psalm 102 cited in Hebrews 1:10–12 also may refer to the Jerusalem temple since the psalm’s original purpose was to lament the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Notice the Jewish exiles in Babylon are reminded in the psalm that even though the “stones” of Zion lay in “dust” (Ps. 102:13–14), they should not despair. Even though “earth” and “heavens (i.e., the temple) … perish … [and] wear out,” yet “You endure”—“You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end” (Ps. 102:26–27 NASB). In a similar way the author of Hebrews appeals to Psalm 102 to assure his readers of the stability of Christ as they witness the demise of the Herodian temple. Rather than warn of the final destruction of the physical universe, the shaking of “heaven” and “earth” (Heb. 12:26) refers to “the removing of those things which can be shaken” (12:27 NASB), that is, the Jewish temple. This anticipates his final appeal to “go … outside the camp” (13:13) where Jesus suffered (13:11), that is, leave Jerusalem, “for here we do not have a lasting city” (13:14 NASB) since the earthly Jerusalem would soon be destroyed along with its temple.

The Example of Esau

Osborne’s description of Esau as “an unbeliever … rejected by God” (p. 123) is doubtful for several reasons. First, it draws too sharp a division between the scourging discipline of a son in Hebrews 12:5–10 and the example of Esau in the following paragraph (Heb. 12:14–17). The author argues that the painful discipline of God is meant to train us in righteousness “that we may share his holiness” (12:10). He then warns that one who “comes short” of this “grace” (12:15) may be “rejected” like Esau (12:17). By equating “grace” with salvation, Osborne uses Esau to illustrate how one can lose God’s “gracious salvation.” However, “grace” is not limited to final salvation in Hebrews but rather describes all that we receive without merit through Christ, including the “grace” that strengthens the “heart” (13:9) in times “of need” (4:16) and temptation (2:17–18). According to this broader sense, Hebrews 12:15 warns not against the loss of salvation but, as Westcott explains, against “falling behind [ὑστερῶν] … the movement of divine grace which meets and stirs the progress of the Christian.” Hence, Esau illustrates how the son who neglects such grace invites God’s discipline.
Second, the fact that “by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come” (Heb. 11:20 NASB) suggests that Esau, in spite of his irreverent behavior, was not cut off from “the age to come” (Heb. 6:5; cf. 13:14). Hence, though Esau forfeited the temporal blessings of his birthright, he did not lose his status as a genuine son. Therefore it seems best to interpret the verb “rejected” (ἀπεδοκιμάσθη) in a similar sense as its cognate (ἀδόκιμος) used by Paul to denote the danger of being “disqualified” as an apostle (1 Cor. 9:27). As Esau suffered the loss of his firstborn rights, Paul expresses his fear of losing his apostolic rights. Neither example warns of the loss of salvation, though both reinforce the cost of divine discipline.
Third, the failure of Esau was not a total and persistent repudiation of God and his redemptive work as Osborne suggests. For Esau grieved over the loss of his birthright and immediately sought another blessing (Gen. 27:34–38). Furthermore, in spite of Jacob’s deceit Esau eventually came to be reconciled to his brother. Therefore, Esau is not an example of an apostate who is forever excluded from the life to come because of his atheistic repudiation of God. Rather, he serves as a sober warning of divine discipline for covenant unfaithfulness.


Although Osborne is correct to dismiss the warnings as merely “the loss of rewards,” his view neglects the important nexus between the author’s covenantal language (i.e., διαθήκη is used seventeen times in Hebrews) and his examples of divine discipline drawn from the Old Testament. Though every relationship between God and his people was entered through faith in his promises, the blessings of that relationship were experienced by following the covenant stipulations. Disobedience to the stipulations not only resulted in the loss of covenant blessing but also incurred covenant discipline. However, these covenant stipulations never served as conditions to redemption but presupposed a faith response by those whom God had already graciously redeemed. According to this covenant framework, Hebrews warns against the threat of covenant discipline rather than the loss of salvation.

Osborne, G. R. (2007). A Classical Arminian View. In H. W. Bateman IV (Hrsg.), Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (S. 86–171). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional.

Published: May 5, 2018, 07:48 | Comments
Category: bible, Bible teaching, Bishop Rosenkranz





Academic & Professional

Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews

© 2007 by Herbert W. Bateman IV

Published by Kregel Publications, a division of Kregel, Inc., P.O. Box 2607, Grand Rapids, MI 49501.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without written permission of the publisher, except for brief quotations in printed reviews.

הּסּנּוֹרּתּוּבּ לֶּבּהֵּוּבּ בֶּבּהֵּוּבּ [Hebrew]; ΒΩΓΡΚΛ, ΒΩΓΡΚΝ, and ΒΩΓΡΚΙ [Greek] Postscript® Type 1 and TrueTypeT fonts Copyright © 1994–2006 BibleWorks, LLC. All rights reserved. These biblical Greek and Hebrew fonts are used with permission and are from BibleWorks, software for biblical exegesis and research.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Four views on the warning passages in Hebrews / by Herbert W. Bateman, IV, general editor.
p. cm.
Includes indexes.
1. Bible. N.T. Hebrews—Criticism, interpretation, etc.
I. Bateman, Herbert W., 1955–
BS2775.52.F68 2007

ISBN 13: 978-0-8254-2132-7



Introducing the Warning Passages in Hebrews: A Contextual Orientation
Herbert W. Bateman IV

1. A Classical Arminian View
Grant R. Osborne

Classical Reformed Response
Buist M. Fanning
Wesleyan Arminian Response
Gareth Lee Cockerill
Moderate Reformed Response
Randall C. Gleason

2. A Classical Reformed View
Buist M. Fanning

Classical Arminian Response
Grant R. Osborne
Wesleyan Arminian Response
Gareth Lee Cockerill
Moderate Reformed Response
Randall C. Gleason

3. A Wesleyan Arminian View
Gareth Lee Cockerill

Classical Arminian Response
Grant R. Osborne
Classical Reformed Response
Buist M. Fanning
Moderate Reformed Response
Randall C. Gleason

4. A Moderate Reformed View
Randall C. Gleason

Classical Arminian Response
Grant R. Osborne
Classical Reformed Response
Buist M. Fanning
Wesleyan Arminian Response
Gareth Lee Cockerill

George H. Guthrie

Author Index
Greek Word Index
Scripture Index
Subject Index
Bible Version Permissions


This book is a collection of papers initially presented to the Hebrews Study Group during the fifty-sixth annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 17–19, 2004). Established in 1949, the society serves as a forum for evangelicals to foster biblical scholarship. While denominational loyalties and doctrinal orientations are diverse, we all agree to these two doctrinal beliefs: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs,” and “God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.” The society provides a medium for oral exchange and written expression of thought and research in the general field of theological disciplines as centered in the Scriptures. The irenic presentations in this book on the warning passages in Hebrews between four men of Arminian and Reformed persuasion epitomize what I appreciate most about the society: an opportunity to agree to disagree via frank and yet congenial discussions about biblical issues.
Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews contains four exegetical presentations, each of which is followed by three responses. They are written by four internationally known biblical scholars: Gareth Lee Cockerill, Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, and Grant R. Osborne. It concludes with reflections by George H. Guthrie.
Naturally, works like this one involve many people. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews has been a group effort from its earliest stages, beginning with a discussion between Randall Gleason and myself in November 2003, with subsequent input from Buist Fanning and Grant Osborne, and the willingness of Gareth Cockerill, the point person for our Hebrews Study Group, who graciously agreed to devote our 2004 Hebrews Study Group section to the warning passages. Thus I extend a sincere thank-you to all four men who contributed to this work, all of whom shared considerably in the book’s formative stages and helped to make this work a reality. Second, I wish to extend an exuberant thank-you to Jim Weaver, the academic and professional book editor for Kregel. His encouragement to pursue the project, his insightful suggestion to include responses, and his wise counsel about the project during the summer of 2004 has paid off. Thank you, Jim! It’s been an honor to work with you on yet another project. Finally, to Jeremy Wike, my teaching assistant, a sizeable thank-you is warranted for proofreading this work. Jeremy’s tenacity for detail made an immense contribution in helping to prepare this manuscript for Kregel. He exhibits the traits of a lifelong learner and is a person I have grown to appreciate.
Yet this book would never exist were it not for my family, who tend to make sacrifices regularly so that I might teach, preach, and write on the weekends and during the summer months. Thus my deepest sense of gratitude I extend to my wife, Cindy Ann Bateman, and to my daughter, Leah Marie Bateman. It is to them that I dedicate this work. I am a blessed man.



Herbert W. Bateman IV is professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute. He is the author of Early Jewish Hermeneutics and Hebrews 1:5–13, and the editor of Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism and Authentic Worship. He has published on the book of Hebrews in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and Trinity Journal. He is responsible for “Hebrews” in the forthcoming Bible Knowledge Commentary Key Word Studies: General Epistles. Bateman is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, Institute for Biblical Research, and Society of Biblical Research.

Gareth Lee Cockerill is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Wesley Biblical Seminary and an ordained minister of the Wesleyan church. He has published a commentary on the book of Hebrews in A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. He is also slated to comment on Hebrews in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Eerdmans). He is the New Testament editor of The Wesley Bible and the author of Guidebook for Pilgrims to the Heavenly City. He has written articles and reviews in the Tyndale Bulletin, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Journal of Biblical Literature, The Evangelical Quarterly, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Interpretation, and Missiology. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, Evangelical Missiological Society, Institute for Biblical Research, Wesleyan Theological Society, and Society of Biblical Literature.

Buist M. Fanning is professor of New Testament studies and chair of the department at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the author of Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek and “Approaches to Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek: Issues in Definition and Method” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research. He has also written several theological studies: “A Theology of Hebrews,” “A Theology of James,” and “A Theology of Peter and Jude” in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Fanning provided the translation and critical notes for the book of Hebrews in the New English Translation (NET). Fanning is writing “1-2 Timothy” and “James” in the forthcoming Bible Knowledge Commentary Key Word Studies: General Epistles. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, Institute for Biblical Research, and Society of Biblical Literature.

Randall C. Gleason is chairman and professor of theological studies and director of Th.M. studies at the International School of Theology—Asia. He is the author of John Calvin and John Owen on Mortification: A Comparative Study in Reformed Spirituality (Peter Lang, 1995) and coeditor (with Kelly Kapic) of The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (InterVarsity, 2004). He has published articles on the book of Hebrews in Bibliotheca Sacra, Tyndale Bulletin, and New Testament Studies and is currently writing a commentary on Hebrews (with Victor Rhee) for the Asia Bible Commentary Series (ATA). He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature.

George H. Guthrie serves as the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University. He is the author of numerous journal articles and seven books, including The Structure of Hebrews: A Textlinguistic Analysis, the NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, and Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Hebrews, and Biblical Greek Exegesis. He has participated in translation projects, such as the revision of the New Living Translation, and has served as a consultant on the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the New Century Version, and the English Standard Version. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature.

Grant R. Osborne is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His publishing credits include the widely used Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. He has also authored The Resurrection Narratives, Handbook for Bible Study, The Bible in the Churches, and Three Crucial Questions About the Bible. He has written commentaries on Revelation in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, Romans in IVP’s Life Application Bible Commentary, and has forthcoming commentaries on John in the NLT Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series and Matthew for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary series on the New Testament. He is one of six general reviewers of the New Living Bible. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute of Biblical Research, Tyndale Fellowship, and the American College of Biblical Theologians.


Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the authors’.


ESV English Standard Version
KJV King James Version
LXX Septuagint
MT Masoretic Text
NASB New American Standard Bible
NET New English Translation
NIV New International Version
NKJV New King James Version
NLT New Living Translation
NRSV New Revised Standard Version
REB Revised English Bible
RSV Revised Standard Version
TNIV Today’s New International Version

Extrabiblical Sources

Add Esth Additions to Esther
Ant. rom. Antiquitates romanae
Bar Baruch
2 Bar. 2 Baruch (Syriac Apocalypse)
BGU Aegyptische Urkunden aus den Königlichen Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Griechische Urkunden. 15 vols. Berlin, 1895–1983.
Cat. Min. Plutarch Cato Minor
1 Clem 1 Clement
Dion. Hal. Dionysius of Halicarnassus
1 En. 1 Enoch (Ethiopic Apocalypse)
Ep Jer Epistle of Jeremiah
Hist. eccl. Historia ecclesiastica
Jdt Judith
Jub. Jubilees
2 Kgdms 2 Kingdoms
Let. Aris. Letter of Aristeas
1 Macc. 1 Maccabees
2 Macc. 2 Maccabees
3 Macc. 3 Maccabees
4 Macc. 4 Maccabees
Mor. Plutarch Moralia
Pan. Panarion (Adversus haereses)
PGiss Griechische Papyri zu Giessen
Pl Phlb Plato Philebus
Plb Hist Polybius Historicus
POxy The Oxyrhynchus Papyri
Pss. Sol. Psalms of Solomon
Sib. Or. Sibylline Oracles
Sir Sirach/Ecclesiasticus
TBenj. Testament of Benjamin
Th Thucydides
T. Levi Testament of Levi
Wis Wisdom of Solomon


Ag. Ap. Against Apion
Ant. Jewish Antiquities
Jos. Josephus
J.W. Jewish War

Philo, Judaeus

Abr. De Abrahamo (On the Life of Abraham)
Agr. De agricultura (On Agriculture)
Cher. De cherubim (On the Cherubim)
Congr. De congressu eruditionis gratia (On the Preliminary Studies)
Decal. De decalogo (On the Decalogue)
Det. Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat (That the Worse Attacks the Better)
Deus Quod Deus sit immutabilis (That God Is Unchangeable)
Flacc. In Flaccum (Against Flaccus)
Fug. De fuga et inventione (On Flight and Finding)
Gig. De gigantibus (On Giants)
Her. Quis rerum divinarum heres (Who Is the Heir?)
Hypoth. Hypothetica
Ios. De Iosepho (On the Life of Joseph)
Leg. Legum allegoriae I, II, III (Allegorical Interpretation 1, 2, 3)
Mos. De vita Mosis I, II (On the Life of Moses 1, 2)
Mut. De mutatione nominum (On the Change of Names)
Opif. De opificio mundi (On the Creation of the World)
Plant. De plantatione (On Planting)
Post. De posteritate Caini (On the Posterity of Cain)
Praem. De praemiis et poenis (On Rewards and Punishments)
Prob. Quod omnis probus liber sit (That Every Good Person Is Free)
Sacr. De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini (On the Sacrifices of Abel and Cain)
Somn. De somniis I, II (On Dreams 1, 2)
Spec. De specialibus legibus I, II, III, IV (On the Special Laws 1, 2, 3, 4)
Virt. De virtutibus (On the Virtues)

Qumran Scrolls

1QHa 1QHodayota or Thanksgiving Hymnsa
1QM 1QMilḥamah or War Scroll
1QpHab 1QPesher to Habakkuk
1QS 1QSerek Hayaḥad or Rule of the Community
4Q174 4QFlorilegium or Midrash on Eschatology
4Q246 4QApocryphon of Daniel or Aramaic Apocalypse
4Q266 4QDamascus Documenta
4Q372 4QApocryphon of Josephb
4QMMTa 4QMiqṣat Maʿ aśê ha-Toraha or Halakhic Lettera
4Q403 4QThe Songs of the Sabbath Sacrificed
4Q504 4QWords of the Luminariesa
11QTa 11QTemple Scrolla
CD Cairo Genizah copy of the Damascus Document

Periodical, Reference, and Serial

AB Anchor Bible
AJP American Journal of Philology
ANTC Abingdon New Testament Commentaries
AUSS Andrews University Seminary Studies
BAGD Bauer, W., W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
BDAG Bauer, W., F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
BDF Blass, F., A. Debrunner, and R. W. Funk. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
Bib Biblica
BSac Bibliotheca Sacra
BT The Bible Translator
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
CBQMS Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series
CTJ Calvin Theological Journal
DJBP Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period
DSD Dead Sea Discoveries
EDSS Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls
EKKNT Evangelisch-katholischer Kommentar zum Neven Testament
EUS European University Studies
FC Fathers of the Church
GTJ Grace Theological Journal
HNTC Harper’s New Testament Commentaries
ICC International Critical Commentary
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JEH Journal of Ecclesiastical History
JETS Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JSNTSup Journal for the Study of the New Testament: Supplement Series
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
MM Moulton, J., and G. Milligan. The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament. London, 1930. Reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997.
NICNT New International Commentary on the New Testament
NIDNTT New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Edited by C. Brown. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975–85.
NIGTC New International Greek Testament Commentary
NovT Novum Testamentum
NPNF1 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Series 1
NRTh La nouvelle revue théologique
NT New Testament
NTS New Testament Studies
OT Old Testament
RTR Reformed Theological Review
SNTSMS Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series
ST NT Studieu zum Neven Testament
TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by G. Kittel and G. Friedrich. Translated by G. W. Bromiley. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–76.
TDOT Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Edited by G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren. Translated by J. T. Willis, G. W. Bromiley, and D. E. Green. 14 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
TJ Trinity Journal
TLNT Spicq, Ceslas. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Translated and edited by J. D. Ernest. 3 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994.
TynBul Tyndale Bulletin
WBC Word Biblical Commentary
WTJ Westminster Theological Journal
WUNT Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament
ZNW Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche



Herbert W. Bateman IV

Addressing any issue in the book of Hebrews for the first time is like entering a degree program. When you apply, you do so with confidence. When you begin your course work, you begin with enthusiasm. When the reality of the educational process and the expectations of your professors set in, you finish because you persevere. Or is it because the institution is committed to your successful completion of the program? Regardless, you endure the educational process and you earn a degree.
In a similar way, many students begin their study of Hebrews with a great deal of confidence and enthusiasm—until they encounter the seemingly endless congenial and sometimes not-so-congenial presentations and interpretations. Delving into the introductory issues alone can be exhausting. Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Was it Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Clement of Rome, or someone else? To whom was it sent? Was it a Jewish, Gentile, or mixed community of believers? Where did the recipients reside? Did they live in Rome or Palestine? Why was Hebrews written, and what is the dominant message of the text? These and other introductory issues are debated regularly. In fact, Hughes has described such introductory issues in Hebrews as “the battleground of discordant opinion and conjecture: its author is unknown, its occasion unstated, and its destination disputed.”
Equally exhausting are the issues that surround the warning passages. How many are there? Where do they begin, and where do they end? Are they reiterations of certain key topics placed in between the author’s expositional sections? Or are they well-developed deliberative exhortations, strategically placed among the author’s epideictic topics that underscore Jesus’ nobility as a divine king-priest (1:1–14), his moral excellence (4:14–15; 5:7; 7:28), and his illustrious position as king-priest (5:5–10; 7:1–28), his courageous death (2:14–15; 9:11–18; 12:2), which serve to motivate the readers to persevere?
Furthermore, the warning passages clearly force us to address the issue of assurance and the doctrine of eternal security. Both Arminian and Reformed theologians alike interact with the frequent mentioning of “brothers and sisters” in Hebrews (generic use of ἀδελφός in 2:11, 17; 3:1, 12, 10:19; 13:22) and their ability to “draw near” with “boldness” to God (4:16; 10:19, 22). Are these genuine believers or not? The biblical theologians who contributed to this book believe that the recipients are true believers. Naturally, this heightens the tension concerning how to address the next three important questions.
First, if they are believers, how do we understand the concept of salvation in Hebrews? Is salvation merely a future deliverance for those who are “to inherit salvation” (κληρονομεῖν σωτηρίαν, 1:14)? Is it limited to those who are “diligent to enter” (σπουδάσωμεν … εἰσελθεῖν) God’s rest (4:11)? Or is salvation guaranteed to those who are being brought “to glory” (πολλοὺς υἱοὺς εἰς δόξαν ἀγαγόντα, 2:10), and are “receiving an unshakeable kingdom” (βασιλείαν ἀσάλευτον παραλαμβάνοντες, 12:28)? On the other hand, does salvation in Hebrews have to be limited to future or present deliverance? Can salvation have past, present, and future dimensions?
Closely related to the first question is a second one. If the recipients are genuine believers, to what extent have they been sanctified? Particularly challenging is the use of “sanctify” (ἁγιάζω) and “holiness” (ἁγιότης, ἀγιασμός). On the one hand, the addressees are “those being made holy” (οἱ ἁγιαζόμενοι, 2:11; τοὺς ἁγιαζομένους, 10:14). They are told to pursue sanctification (τὸν ἁγιασμόν, 12:14). On the other hand, the addressees are “those who have been sanctified” (ἡγιασμένοι, 10:10) or “those who have been made holy” (ἡγησάμενος, 10:29). In fact, they seem to share in God’s holiness (τῆς ἁγιότητος αὐτοῦ, 12:10; cf. 12:28).
Finally and probably the most challenging issue is this: if they are true believers eternally secure in their salvation, how do we account for the apparent danger of these believers “rejecting” God’s Son and the subsequent danger of incurring God’s punishment? For instance, each warning passage has an exhortation followed by a dire consequence (2:1, 3; 3:12, 16–19; 4:1, 11; 10:23–25, 26–27, 30–31; 12:25, 29). These dire and less-thanattractive consequences are emotionally troubling. There is no escaping God’s future just “penalty” (2:2; cf. 12:25), and there appears to be a potential threat of not entering into “God’s rest” (4:1, 11). What exactly is the future “penalty”? Moreover, how did the original readers—whoever they were—understand the concept of “God’s rest”? Whatever our conclusions, they are exacerbated by the expectation of a “fury of fiery judgment” (10:27; cf. 12:29) and aggravated by the danger of “falling into the hands of the living God” (10:30–31). Are these divine acts of punishment eternal, temporal, or some other form of divine punishment?
Furthermore, the author’s emotive appeals appear to be heightened when he declares that no repentance exists for those who reject God’s promise (6:4–6; cf. 3:12, 16–18). What does this mean? Can believers lose their salvation if they “fall away” from or “reject” God’s grace? Is there absolutely no restoration for a backslidden believer? Or is this a moot point because God guarantees that true believers will indeed persevere? What did these statements mean to the original readers? What do they mean for us today?
The contributors to Four Views on the Warning Passages of Hebrews seek to be sensitive to the author’s situation and perspective as revealed in the context of this first-century writing, while at the same time attempting to address how the warning passages contribute to or challenge our inherited systems of theology. Four scholars who have authored various works on the book of Hebrews present their conclusions: Gareth Lee Cockerill, Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, and Grant R. Osborne.
Each author provides an exposition that represents a sincere wrestling with the text, yet two offer theological conclusions in concord with an Arminian perspective and two with a Reformed, or Calvinistic, perspective. Yet even within their respective theological traditions, the authors differ among themselves. These differences are highlighted in the congenial responses that offer a point-counterpoint interaction. George H. Guthrie concludes the book with some personal observations and raises some pointed questions for further investigation. Let me begin, however, by introducing the five warning passages.

Identifying the Warning Passages

The five warning passages appear in the form of deliberative speech. Although I identify the passages as Hebrews 2:1–4; 3:7–4:13; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39; and 12:14–29, it is not unreasonable to limit the warnings to smaller units. Regardless, these warning passages are strategically placed throughout the author’s expositions, or epideictic topics, about Jesus. The warnings facilitate reflection on an explicit course of action. Generally, the author provides two options with clearly defined consequences. Whereas some warnings provide positive affirmations, all reveal an unattractive and dire consequence if the believers choose incorrectly. Furthermore, the author, via the Jewish historical record, exploits a group of Jewish ancestors who are less-than-exemplary models to imitate in order to illustrate how failure to commit to God’s mediated message via the Son results in divine punishment. If believers fail to heed the author’s emotive warnings, the impending and undesirable consequence that faces them always appears to be some sort of divine punishment.
Of these five warning passages, two invoke the need to hear or listen to God’s message (2:1–4; 12:14–29), while two others generate an emotive need and explicit expectation to trust and obey God (3:7–4:13; 10:19–39). At the heart of these warning passages is Hebrews 5:11–6:12. The following exposition intends to orient you to the five warning passages discussed throughout our book. They are presented in a manner that might suggest a chiastic structure, yet I am not necessarily arguing for such a structure for the book of Hebrews. Furthermore, there is no attempt to explain the theological challenges surrounding these passages. I reserve that responsibility for the contributors, and I respectfully trust that they will correct or contradict anything in my contextual overview of the warning passages. Finally, the contributing authors do not, and were not expected to, respond to this contextual orientation, though they were aware of its existence.

Warnings to Hear

Naturally all the warning passages share a similar structure. They all exhort the readers to persevere in honoring God’s message via the Son, lest some sort of divine judgment befall them. What sets Hebrews 2:1–4 and 12:14–29 (esp. vv. 25–29) apart from the other three warning passages is that these two place emphasis on the need to “hear” or “listen” to God’s message and thereby “believe” it. Both warnings draw a contrast between the mediators of God’s message in a former time period with God’s most recent message mediated through the Son in the present period (cf. Heb. 1:1). Finally, both appear to provide a lesser-to-greater argument (qal waḥomer) with emotive appeals in order to achieve a desired response from the readers: to listen to God’s message mediated through or about the Son. I should point out that the degree by which our contributors measure the heightening of the author’s argument varies in the subsequent chapters. Nevertheless, for now, and throughout this introduction, there is the recognition that some degree of heightening occurs within the author’s argument.

Hebrews 2:1–4

Sandwiched between two significant units of thought is the first warning passage. On the one hand, Hebrews 2:1–4 serves as a logical conclusion (διὰ τοῦτο) to Hebrews 1:1–14. In those first 14 verses of Hebrews, the author contrasts the previous era and its mediators with the present era in which the Son is the one and only mediator through whom God has spoken most recently (1:2a). This theme resonates throughout the warning passages, but it is particularly important for this first warning. Following the Son’s impressive list of credentials (vv. 2b–3), the Son’s name is declared greater than that of the angels (v. 4). The author supports his claim with an impressive catena of Old Testament scriptural references in which God describes the Son as a divine Davidic king-priest to whom angels offer worship and service (vv. 5–14).
On the other hand, Hebrews 2:1–4 appears to momentarily interrupt the author’s instruction about the Son. The author delays his presentation of the Son’s humiliation and enthronement (2:5–9) and the Son’s solidarity and family-like relationship with humanity (2:10–18), particularly those people who are kingdom subjects (2:11–12, 17). Nevertheless this extremely brief, yet clearly connected and salient “interruption” in Hebrews 2:1–4 provides an expectation followed immediately by a warning, and it concludes with a motivation from Jewish history.

1 For this reason (διὰ τοῦτο), we must pay attention (δεῖ … προσέχειν) so much more to what we have heard, lest we slip away or lose sight of it (μήποτε παραρυῶμεν). 2 For if (εἰ γάρ) the word spoken through the angels was legally binding and if all those who have deliberately disobeyed God’s legally binding word received a just penal penalty, 3 how (πῶς) shall we escape (ἐκφευξόμεθα) God’s future punishment if we are unconcerned about so great a salvation, which, after it was first spoken through the Lord (Jesus) during his earthly ministry, was confirmed to us by those who heard? 4 At the same time God, according to His own will, endorsed the verbal testimonies both by signs and wonders, and by various powers, and by the distributions of the Holy Spirit.

The opening exhortation is clear: “we must pay attention,” or, translating the phrase in a more literal manner, “it is necessary to pay attention” (δεῖ … προσέχειν) to what was “heard” (ἀκουσθεῖσιν; 2:1a). In other words, believers are to believe. They are to “cling” to God’s message delivered in Hebrews 1:1–14.
The author then moves quickly to warn believers not to “slip away” from or “lose sight” (παραρρέω) of the message spoken through the Son (1:2a), about the Son (1:2b–4), and to the Son (1:5–13). Thus Hebrews 2:1–4 appears to address a possible problem of spiritual apathy, a spiritual regression, or perhaps even a spiritual imprudence concerning what the readers know about the Son. At this point in the text, it is difficult to determine how exactly to understand the metaphor “slip away.” Yet an implicit concern appears to be one of adherence to the message. What can be said is that Hebrews 2:1 is a call to believe and not to forget the message of Hebrews 1:1–14.
Naturally a reason (γάρ) exists for this desired exhortation to listen to God’s message mediated via the Son. Drawing from the pages of Jewish history, the author directs attention to a former group of people, namely, those of the Sinai wilderness community. Although they are from a previous time period, or era, they received God’s legally binding law at Mount Sinai through angelic beings (2:2a; cf. 1:1). Yet they refused to “pay attention to” God’s spoken word mediated through angels (to Moses) and apparently “slipped away from,” or “lost sight of,” or just plain “forgot” God’s message. They did not “cling” to it. Thus they suffered a justly deserved physical punishment (2:2b). The author’s lesser-to-greater conclusions are quite gripping. Since Jesus is a greater mediator than the angels, his message is even more vital than the covenantal message given at Mount Sinai. Therefore believers in this new era (cf. 1:2a) who “ignore” (ἀμελέω) God’s most recent message, which originated with Jesus and was verbally confirmed to Jesus’ followers, will not escape God’s future punishment (2:3–4). What sort of divine punishment is this? Is God’s punishment here eternal, physical, or something else? At this point in the text, we can only surmise about the judgment.
Regardless of how we may wrestle with certain aspects of this warning passage (Heb. 2:1–4), the author’s point is simply this: The reason for believing God’s message—a message that originated with Jesus and was later confirmed through his followers—is because believers who refuse to believe will not escape God’s future punishment. In a similar manner, the author reiterates this expectation to listen to God in his final warning passage in 12:14–29.

Hebrews 12:14–29

Unlike Hebrews 2:1–4, where the author’s warning occurs in the midst of a discussion about the Son, the warning in Hebrews 12:14–29 occurs in the middle of a discussion about believers. Chapter 12 may be broken down into two major units of thought: Verses 1–13 and verses 14–29. In the first major unit, which we might title “Persevering as an Athlete and as a Child in God’s Family,” the author begins by speaking of activities typical of a Greco-Roman athlete (vv. 1–4) and then moves to activities typical of a Greco-Roman family (vv. 5–13). On the one hand, Hebrews 12:1–4 emphasizes enduring life as a believer through the figure of the Greco-Roman athletic competitions of running and the pancratium. The author’s emphasis is not so much on winning as it is on finishing the event. The goal of faith is not to win individual honor but to serve others and build community (6:10; 13:1–17). On the other hand, Hebrews 12:5–13 shifts to rebuke: “Have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons?” Here the emphasis shifts from being an athlete to being a legitimate child within God’s household who thereby receives divine guidance for responsible living, guidance that appears to be nonpunitive yet educationally challenging, which was typical within a Greco-Roman family situation.
In the second major unit, Hebrews 12:14–29, another warning is given. The author returns to and once again addresses the need to hear God’s message, particularly the one spoken through the Son (cf. 1:2 with 3:1 and 12:24). Whereas verses 14–24 serve to introduce the warning by way of a string of exhortations, verses 25–29 clearly serve as a direct warning, a warning that echoes an expectation previously expressed in Hebrews 2:1–4. You need to believe and not refuse God’s message.
The passage opens with an exhortation to “pursue peace with everyone” and to pursue holiness (Heb. 12:14). This is an abbreviated rendering from Psalm 33:15 (LXX).22 The author then contrasts the previous era and the spoken word given at Mount Sinai (Heb. 12:18–21) with the consummative word, which presently comes from heaven (vv. 22–24). Finally, our attention is directed to an explicit warning in verses 25–29 in which the author first exhorts, then warns, then provides some motivation from Jewish history, and finally concludes with a call to worship:

25 Do not refuse (μὴ παραιτήσησθε) the one who is speaking. For if (εἰ γάρ) they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less (πολὺ μᾶλλον) will we escape if we now reject “the one” (Jesus or God) who warns from heaven. 26 And his voice shook (ἐσάλευσεν) the earth then, but now (νῦν δὲ) he has promised (ἐπήγγελται), “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what can be shaken or changed, namely, created things which were made and remain in existence, so that what (lit “the things”) is not shaken may remain. 28 Therefore (Διό), because we are in the process of receiving an unshakeable kingdom, let us offer grace (ἔχωμεν χάριν), and through this (διʼ ἧς) let us offer service (λατρεύωμεν) pleasing to God with reverence and awe; 29 for (γάρ) our God is a consuming fire.

The exhortation is both simple and direct: “Do not refuse (μὴ παραιτήσησθε) the one who is speaking” (12:25a). The expectation is clear: the readers are not to ignore or reject God’s message. The one who is speaking appears to be Jesus, who presently mediates the new covenant (cf. v. 24) and thereby speaks from heaven. Thus, the exhortation is to listen to Jesus. They are to believe what he says.
An event at Sinai serves as the author’s historical precedent, allowing him to set up another lesser-to-greater argument in Hebrews 12:25. The reason (γάρ) given for the exhortation is once again drawn from the annals of Jewish history. When the Sinai wilderness community failed to give attention to or ignored their mediator, Moses (vv. 25b–26a; cf. vv. 18–21), they did not escape God’s judgment but died in the desert. As in Hebrews 2:2–4, so here, there is a warning about the inability to escape God’s future judgment. The author’s lesser-to-greater argument once again seizes our attention. His point is this: if the previous community suffered a physical punishment, certainly a similar or perhaps even harsher punishment exists for believers who ignore God’s Son and God’s most recent message mediated through the Son (cf. 1:2). But how much harsher a judgment are believers to incur? Is this judgment merely a greater form of physical punishment, or is it something eternal? If it is eternal, is it a loss of one’s reward, or is it eternal separation from God? However we understand this punishment, 2:1–4 and 12:25–29 are parallel warnings. In fact, Cockerill will contend in his contribution to this book that the first warning “reaches its climax” in 12:25–29.
Unlike the first warning in Hebrews 2:1–4, however, the author recontextualizes a verse from the Old Testament. Through his edited and subsequent interpretation of Haggai 2:6, believers are called to direct attention to God’s future “shaking” of the earth: “Yet once more, I will shake not only the earth, but also heaven” (Heb. 12:26b). Obviously, the phrase “yet once more” indicates a previous shaking of the earth. Perhaps this was at Mount Sinai, an event alluded to in Hebrews 12:18–21 (cf. Exod. 19:16–19; Deut. 4:11–13; 5:22–26; Ps. 68:7–8), as well as at Kadesh-Barnea, alluded to in Hebrews 3:19 (cf. Ps. 29:8).
In contrast to the previous era when God’s voice shook Mount Sinai and Kadesh-Barnea, however, God promises “once again” to shake things up but on a much larger scale. From the author’s recontextualized and interpretive perspective, both the earth (the physical world) and the heavens (the spiritual world) are to be shaken. God’s future shaking of “heaven and earth” will not be local but an all-inclusive shaking of the created universe. In fact, all created things will be removed (cf. Ps. 102:25–27 in Heb. 1:10–12). However we might interpret this “rattling of the universe,” when the dust settles what remains is described in Hebrews 12:28 as “an unshakeable kingdom,” namely, the Son’s kingdom (cf. Heb. 1:2b, 8). Thus the intention for God’s repeating an event from the past, with far greater force, is so that he might establish the Son’s kingdom.
Yet in the midst of this warning, believers are invited to worship God (Heb. 12:28b). Based (διό) upon the fact that they are in the process of receiving the Son’s unshakeable kingdom (1:14; cf. 4:3; 5:9–10; 9:28; 10:39), the subsequent invitation to worship emerges—“Let us give thanks” and “let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe” (NET). An additional reason (γάρ) also is given for this “offering of thanks to and worshiping of God,” namely, that God is “a consuming fire.” Thus believers are invited to give thanks and worship God because they are in the process of receiving the Son’s kingdom and because of the less-than-attractive alternative—God’s judgment (cf. Heb. 1:8).
Needless to say, verse 28 appears to orient us to the present dimension of a believer’s salvation journey in that believers are in the process of receiving the Son’s unshakeable kingdom. In fact, in chapter 2 Fanning admits that though salvation in Hebrews is “predominantly future-oriented” with a future consummation yet to come, the operative word is predominantly. He then presents a case for the present dimensions of salvation evident not only here in 12:28 but throughout Hebrews. How do Osborne and Cockerill address this issue? How does Gleason? Regardless of how we might define or interpret the issue of salvation at this time or for that matter how we might define the extent or type of divine judgment for disobedience, what can we conclude about verses 25–29? For now, let’s suggest that the reason for listening to God is because he judges or punishes believers who ignore him or his mediator, the Son.


Hebrews 2:1–4 and 12:14–29 (esp. vv. 25–29) share a similar exhortation and parallel warning: namely, “hear” or “listen” to the message about or spoken by the Son, because if you do not, you will not escape God’s future judgment. Thus the author calls for readers to believe God’s message.
The author employs two lesser-to-greater forms of argumentation, whereby he appeals to Jewish historical events from the Sinai wilderness community. First he directs attention to the mediators of the previous era—angels and Moses—and God’s most recent mediator of this present era, the Son (cf. 1:1–2a). Then he points out the dire consequences incurred by the Sinai wilderness community for ignoring God’s message, which are contrasted with a future set of consequences that are even less desirable. Just as God’s physical punishment for the Sinai generation was severe for those who rejected God’s message presented via previous mediators, so also are the future judgments (whatever they might be) for those who refuse God’s message mediated through the Son. The chart below summarizes 2:1–4 and 12:14–29.

Hebrews 2:1–4
Hebrews 12:14–29

• Pay attention to the Son’s messsage (1:1–14; 2:4)
• Pursue peace and holiness (12:14)
• Do not fall short of God’s grace (12:15)
• Do not practice sexual immorality (12:16)
• Do not refuse the Son’s warning/message from heaven (12:25)
• Be thankful (12:28)

Concern (i.e., sin)
• There is a concern about slipping away or forgetting the message about the Son (2:1)
• There is a concern about ignoring, rejecting, or disregarding one’s salvation (2:3)
• There is a concern about falling short of God’s grace (12:15a)
• There is a concern about becoming bitter (12:15b)
• There is a concern about becoming involved in sexual immorality (12:16)
• There is a concern about believing the Son’s message (12:25a)
• There is a concern about rejecting Jesus (12:25b)

Jewish historical precedent
• The wilderness community at Mount Sinai
• The wilderness community at Mount Sinai

Lesser-to-greater mediator
• Angelic beings (lesser: 2:2; cf. 1:4–14)
• The Son (greater: 2:3–4)
• Moses (lesser: 12:18–20 with 12:25b; cf. 3:1–6)
• The Son (greater: 12:25c)

Lesser-to-greater dire consequence
• Judgment of the Sinai community in the wilderness versus no escape from some future judgment (2:2–3)
• Judgment of the Sinai community in the wilderness versus no escape from some future judgment (12:25)

Desirable consequence
• The Christian community is receiving an unshakeable kingdom

OT citations used as a testimony or witness
• Quote about God’s judgments: Haggai 2:6; Deuteronomy 4:24b

Warnings to Trust and Obey

Whereas Hebrews 2:1–4 and 12:14–29 warn the readers using terms like to “hear” or “listen” to God’s message (i.e., believe God’s message), the next two warning passages, Hebrews 3:7–4:13 and 10:19–39, heighten with emotional language the need to trust and obey God’s message rather than disobey and turn away from him. Once again, both warning passages contrast the former era and its mediators of God’s message with the present era and God’s most recent message mediated through the Son. These two warnings, however, are longer and offer many more interpretive challenges. More significantly, they differ from the previous warnings in that they both make explicit emotive appeals “to fear.” However, both provide similar persuasive and quite provocative lesser-to-greater arguments to achieve the author’s desired response from his readers, namely, to trust and obey God.

Hebrews 3:7–4:13

Although Hebrews 3 begins with a portrayal of Jesus as a faithful Son (vv. 1–6), the chapter moves quickly to a negative example from Jewish history of Jewish believers who failed God due to their unfaithfulness, or disobedience (vv. 7–19). Knowing exactly where this warning passage begins is a challenge. Let me suggest, however, that this warning passage has three distinguishable yet gradually intensifying parts: 3:7–19; 4:1–10; and 4:11–13. Whereas Hebrews 3:7–19 recalls the wilderness community’s demise, Hebrews 4:1–10 appeals to believers not to rebel like the wilderness community but rather to obey God’s most recent promise mediated through the Son. The author then concludes with a final appeal to his readers to be diligent in their faith in and obedience to God (4:11–13).

Hebrews 3:7–19

In Hebrews 3:7–19 the author introduces this long warning passage with a lengthy quotation from Psalm 94 (LXX; Ps. 95 MT),29 in which the former Sinai wilderness community is mentioned. He then moves on to apply the text to his readers. Thus the author quotes from the Greek translation of Psalm 95 (Ps. 94:7b–11 in the LXX).

7 Therefore (Διό), just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear (ἀκούσητε) his voice, 8 do not harden (μὴ σκληρύνητε) your hearts as in the rebellion, in the days of testing in the wilderness. 9 There your fathers tested me by trial and they saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore (διό), I became provoked at that generation, and I said, “Their hearts are always wandering and they have not known my ways.” 11 So (ὡς) I swore (ὤμοσα) in my anger, “They will never enter my resting place.”

The appeal to this psalm serves to draw attention to the Sinai wilderness generation (Heb. 3:7–11). Yet in its original historical and literary setting, Psalm 94 (LXX) is a summons to praise and pay homage to the Creator-King (vv. 1–7a), as well as a warning to obey God and not rebel against him as “in the rebellion, in the days of testing in the wilderness” (vv. 7b–11). The latter portion of this psalm serves as a warning to all readers: Do not pattern your life after those of the wilderness congregation who “hardened their hearts”31 against God by distrusting and disobeying him. Thus, as the psalmist draws particular attention to specific events from Jewish history, so too does the author of Hebrews by way of the recontextualized words of the psalmist.
After citing Psalm 94 (LXX), the author of Hebrews applies the text to his readers through two exhortations, a warning, and a motivation from Jewish history, specifically, the events of Kadesh-Barnea (Heb. 3:12–19).

12 Take care (βλέπετε), brothers and sisters (ἀδελφοί), lest there be (μήποτε ἔσται) in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But (ἀλλά) encourage (παρακαλεῖτε) one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that (ἵνα) none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For (γάρ) we became and we remain partners with Christ, if (ἐάνπερ) we hold fast (κατάσχωμεν) our “initial” (NET) confidence firm until the end. 15 As it says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as they did in the rebellion.” 16 For (γάρ) who heard and rebelled? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom (τίσιν) was he angry (προσώχθισεν) for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom (τίσιν) did he swear (ὤμοσεν) that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So (ὅτι) we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

Concern about deliberate distrust and disobedience is evident in the exhortation for self-evaluation (βλέπετε) (Heb. 3:12a). Believers are summoned to be watchful. Obviously, the author does not want the historical events of Kadesh-Barnea repeated (Exod. 17:1–7; Num. 14). Thus he clearly warns of the dangers of an evil, unbelieving heart that leads one to “forsake” (ἀφίστημι) God (Heb. 3:12b).
In the second exhortation (Heb. 3:13–15), believers are further summoned to encourage one another regularly (v. 13a). The intention (ἵνα) for this mutual encouragement among believers is to avoid or to help prevent the hardening of hearts (σκληρύνητε τὰς καρδίας, vv. 8, 15) by sin’s deception (v. 13b). Thus the author appears to recognize a real, not an imagined danger, for believers. Believers are obviously prone to wander from God’s message and his messenger.
The reason (γάρ) for avoiding this wandering away from God is because believers have entered into a “partnership” (μέτοχοι) with the Son (3:14a). But is a believer’s “partnership” with the Son dependent (“if,” ἐάνπερ) upon the believer maintaining a belief in what God has spoken through, by, and about the Son (v. 14b)? Who exactly is responsible for maintaining one’s “partnership” with the Son? Is it the believer who maintains his or her faith, or is it God who secures the believer? Is assurance based upon a “cause” (believers are responsible to maintain their believing faith) and “effect” (thereby they remain partners with Jesus) understanding of the “if” clause? Fanning will address this significant grammatical issue in chapter 2. At this point, let me suggest that believers are to encourage one another regularly because the partnership they have with the Son appears to be dependent upon their maintaining faith in what God has spoken through, by, and about the Son (1:1–14). Yet as you read the following essays, be open to this question: “Is there another option for this conditional clause?” If so, is it a valid option? If it is valid, how might it impact your understanding of security?
In Hebrews 3:16–19 the author continues to provide motivation from the pages of Jewish history. The three rhetorical questions followed by three succinct answers about the Kadesh-Barnea community provide a threefold reason (γάρ) why believers are not to repeat their recorded mistakes. First, the people of Kadesh-Barnea were offered a promise from God, yet they hardened their hearts and “rebelled” against God (v. 16). Second, their deliberate disobedience (Num. 14:22) and distrust angered God (Heb. 3:17; cf. Num. 14:11–12a). God’s anger against those who deliberately sinned lasted for forty years, until they all died in the wilderness. Even after they repented, God condemned those of the wilderness community who were twenty years old and above to die in the desert (Heb. 3:17; cf. Num. 14:23, 29, 39–45). Third, God swore that these rebels would never enter into the place of rest he had promised, the land of Canaan (Heb. 3:18). So (ὅτι) the people of Kadesh-Barnea never entered God’s promised “place of rest” in Canaan. This punishment later served as a warning for a subsequent Jewish generation lest similar distrust and disobedience occur (Heb. 3:19; cf. Num. 32:13–15; Ezek. 20:4–8, 38).
Thus the concern about Jewish history repeating itself appears to be a potential reality. The twofold summons made in Hebrews 3:12–13 to be watchful (βλέπετε) and to encourage one another (παρακαλεῖτε) is intended to counter the propensity for deliberate unbelief and rebellion and thereby prevent repeating events from Jewish history. Yet the caution intensifies in Hebrews 4:1–10 with a twofold deduction. One is an emotive appeal (vv. 1–5), and the other is presented in the form of a motivation (vv. 6–10); both are clearly set apart by “therefore” (οὖν).

Hebrews 4:1–10

The author’s first deduction (οὖν) occurs in Hebrews 4:1–5. He offers an explicit emotive appeal to fear failure, namely, failure to secure “God’s rest.” People who believe in this present era are privileged both to enter “God’s rest” and to participate in God’s “Sabbath rest-celebration” because the Exodus community failed to do so. As he has done in the previous warning passages, the author once again presents an exhortation, followed by a warning, followed by a motivation from Jewish history.

1 Therefore (οὖν), let us fear (Φοβηθῶμεν) lest, while a promise remains of entering his rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For (γάρ) indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they did; but (ἀλλά) the word they heard did not profit them, because they were not united (μὴ συγκεκερασμένους) in faith with those who heard. 3 For (γάρ) we who have believed are entering that rest, just as God has said, “As I swore in my anger, they shall not enter my rest,” though his works were accomplished from the foundation of the world. 4 For (γάρ) he has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works”; 5 and again in this passage, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Believers are clearly exhorted to fear (4:1a). The direct emotive appeal “Let us fear” (Φοβηθῶμεν; NASB, KJV) is disturbing to most twenty-first-century believers because the concept of “fear” is seldom part of the Christian message. In fact, some translations render Φοβηθῶμεν as “we must be wary” (NET) or “let us be careful” (NIV, TNIV; cf. NRSV). Nevertheless, the exhortation is more pointedly to “fear.” Thus we must ask, “What exactly is to be feared?” It appears that believers are to fear failure of securing “God’s rest,” which is presently available to them (v. 1b). That’s the warning. Believers might fail to enter “God’s rest.” Obviously, we must define what it means to “enter God’s rest.”
On the one hand, the phrase could speak of a believer’s ability to enter God’s promised “heavenly place of rest.” Thus a believer would not enter heaven and thereby surrender the privilege of participating in God’s “Sabbath rest-celebration.” But what does this mean? Can a believer, as Osborne will suggest in chapter 1, lose the opportunity of entering God’s “heavenly place of rest” entirely and thereby be denied eternity with God?
On the other hand, could the phrase speak of a believer’s loss of heavenly celebration? In chapter 4, Gleason will counter that genuine believers cannot lose their salvation. Thus rather than losing the opportunity to enter God’s “heavenly place of rest,” heaven becomes a place where sins are exposed (4:12–13), rewards are lost (10:35–39), and discipline is received (12:4–11) for all those who “fall away.” Thus what is forfeited is not entrance into God’s “heavenly place of rest” but rather a believer’s entering into God’s “Sabbath rest-celebration.” Yet as you read the following essays, be open to this question, “How are we to understand God’s rest”? How do Fanning and Cockerill view it? Are they similar? Are they different? As you read, gather and weigh the biblical evidence from Hebrews presented by the contributors, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and then you decide.
In Hebrews 4:2–5, the author moves from warning to affirmation based (γάρ three times) upon three historical facts. (1) Like the Sinai community, believers have heard God’s message, and yet, the Exodus community did not profit from hearing God’s word because they did not unite in faith with those who listened believingly (v. 2). (2) The believers in Hebrews appear to be in the process of entering God’s “place of rest,” whereas God swore that the Exodus community would not enter into “God’s rest” (v. 3). (3) Whereas God entered into rest on the seventh day after all his work of Creation was completed, the Exodus community will not enter “God’s rest” (vv. 4–5). Thus the motivation from Jewish history appears to be this: Room for believers to enter “God’s rest”—however we might define it—exists because the Exodus community failed to believe God and thereby forfeited their rightful opportunities with God.
In summary then, the point of Hebrews 4:1–5 appears to be a warning to fear failure of securing “God’s rest,” which again finds its motivation in the Exodus community’s failure to enter God’s promised “place of rest.” Even though the Kadesh-Barnea community heard God’s message mediated through Moses, they disbelieved and thereby disobeyed it. In a similar manner, believers in this new era also have heard God’s message and are in the process of entering God’s “place of rest.” Once again, regardless of how we define “God’s rest,” believers are exhorted to fear lest they too distrust God and his message mediated through the Son, disobey God and his message, and thereby be denied eternal worshiping opportunities with God.
The author’s second deduction (οὖν) is stated in Hebrews 4:6–10. Unlike verses 1–5, verses 6–10 appear to make an appeal to believers in a more positive manner. An opportunity to enter God’s “heavenly place of rest” for “Sabbath rest-celebration” has been instituted by God during this current era for those who continue to trust God and do not disobey him. The author conveys this opportunity by way of a contrast between two time periods (i.e., eras), followed by a revised promise. Yet the emphasis continues to be an explicit call to trust and obey God’s message.

6 Therefore (οὖν), it remains (ἀπολείπεται) for some to enter it. Yet those to whom the good news was formerly proclaimed did not enter because of disobedience, 7 He again fixes (πάλιν … ὁρίζει) a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time, just as it has been said before, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if (εί γάρ) Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak of another day after that. 9 So then (ἄρα) a Sabbath rest-celebration remains (ἀπολείπεται) for the people of God. 10 For (γάρ) the one who enters his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God rested from His.

In this ongoing discussion of “God’s rest,” the author makes it clear that “God’s rest” remains available to believers due to the failure of the Kadesh-Barnea community. Why? They failed to trust God and obey his message (4:6). Although God declared to them that the land of Canaan and subsequent “rest” were theirs to experience (Deut. 12:9–10; Josh. 21:44), they were denied access to it because of disobedience. Thus God draws a line in time between two eras and two groups of believers. Then he proceeds to announce a new message to a new group of believers.
In fact, God has instituted another time period in which people are once again called to enter into his “place of rest” (Heb. 4:7a). In other words, God establishes this new period (i.e., “today”) via Psalm 94:7a (LXX), a psalm the author of Hebrews attributes to David (4:7b). Yet this present group of believers are to hear God’s message. They are exhorted not to harden their hearts but rather to obey God’s new message (v. 7c). The reasoned assumption (εί γάρ) is simply that God, through Joshua, did not grant the second generation of the Exodus community entrance into his designated “place of rest” and therefore makes it available to believers in this new era (v. 8). Is there, however, an exact one-for-one correspondence between the “rest” denied to the Exodus believers and the rest promised the believers addressed in Hebrews? In what ways are they similar, and in what ways do they differ, if at all? How do Cockerill and Gleason view the similarities and differences? How do their respective views emphasize the continuity or discontinuity of the Old and New Testaments?
In conclusion (ἄρα), and based (γάρ) upon the actions of Jesus and God, who have rested in the “heavenly place of rest” where “Sabbath rest-celebration” occurs, there remains available for “today’s” believer an opportunity to enter God’s “heavenly place of rest” (4:9–10). Consequently, believers go where God and Jesus are. Furthermore, the existing opportunity to enter God’s “heavenly place of rest” has an incentive, namely, to participate in God’s “Sabbath rest-celebration.” Whereas “God’s rest” may be a heavenly place to experience rest, “God’s Sabbath” involves cessation from working and thereby participation in the celebration of God.
The point of Hebrews 4:6–10 is simply this: An opportunity exists for “today’s” believers to enter God’s “heavenly place of rest” for “Sabbath rest-celebration.” At this point, it appears that one community’s failure (Kadesh-Barnea) is another community’s opportunity (“today’s” believer). God institutes a new era, or time period, for a new group of people. It seems this new opportunity for believers to enter God’s “heavenly place of rest” exists provided they continue to trust and obey God’s message. Thus the exhortation for diligence in Hebrews 4:11–13 appears to be a natural way to end this warning in verses 1–10.

Hebrews 4:11–13

Hebrews 4:11–13 concludes (οὖν) this extremely long warning passage with a call for diligence. Once again the author exhorts, warns, and provides a motivation.

11 Therefore (οὖν) let us do our best (σπουδάσωμεν) to enter (εἰσελθεῖν) that rest so that (ἵνα) no one might fall (πέσῃ) by following the same example of disobedience. 12 For (γάρ) God’s message (ὁλόγος) is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from God’s (αὐτοῦ) sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of the word of God to whom we must give an account.

The author’s expectation is clearly stated: believers are to be especially conscientious or zealously engaged (σπουδάσωμεν) in entering “God’s rest.” However we might define “God’s rest,” it is something to be pursued with diligence. His intention (ἵνα) is also clearly stated. The author expects diligence to enter God’s “place of rest” so that believers might not fall (πέσῃ; 4:11b). Once again the author’s intention serves as a warning to believers not to disregard or disobey God’s message. Implicitly assumed from the verse is the author’s desire that his readers not repeat the pattern of disobedience that plagued the Jewish believers at Kadesh-Barnea.
As is the author’s custom, he provides for us a reason (γάρ) for his exhortation to diligence. Here in Hebrews 4:12–13, he sets forth God’s judgment as the reason for diligence, namely, that the timeless and the living power of God’s message probes and his divine judgment penetrates, separates, and judges the innermost thoughts and attitudes of all living creatures. No one escapes God’s word. Everything lies disrobed and prostrated44 before it. The need for diligence then is based upon the future judgment of God.
Obviously Hebrews 3:7–4:13 is an extremely long warning passage with three distinguishable yet gradually intensifying parts. Yet the bottom line of this entire warning may be simply stated in this manner: Believers are to fear lest they fail one of two things: (1) entrance into God’s “heavenly place of rest,” thereby forfeiting the opportunity to take part in the “Sabbath rest-celebration” of worship (Osborne); or (2) merely the loss of reward, thereby forfeiting the opportunity to take part in the Sabbath rest-celebration of worship (Gleason). You will need to evaluate these two options as well as the responses of Fanning and Cockerill.

Hebrews 10:19–39

Equally long and as equally complex is the warning passage in Hebrews 10:19–39. Chapter 10 has two major units of thought: verses 1–18 and verses 19–39. In the first unit (vv. 1–18), the author points out the ineffectiveness of the Jewish sacrificial system in the Old Testament. He addresses the law (10:1–4; cf. 5:1–5) and then quickly points out the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice (10:5–10), priesthood (vv. 11–14), and covenant (vv. 15–18).
The second unit of thought (10:19–39) introduces the fourth warning passage. Admittedly, this warning passage may be limited to verses 26–31. Yet, the warning is bracketed by two appeals. Hebrews 10:19–25 is an appeal for believers to worship God, while Hebrews 10:32–39 is an appeal for believers to persevere. Sandwiched between these two appeals is the explicit warning for believers to maintain their relationship with God (v. 19; cf. v. 35), knowing that God judges willful disobedience harshly (vv. 26–31). Thus Hebrews 10:19–39 begins and ends with statements to bolster confidence, but between these statements is a direct and harsh warning that provokes fear.

Hebrews 10:19–25

In Hebrews 10:19–25, the author briefly revisits what it is Jesus has done and then pointedly presents three expectations for believers’ worship.

19 Therefore (οὖν), my brothers and sisters (ἀδελφοί), since we have (ἔχοντες) confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 that he opened for us by the new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have (… ἔχοντες) a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach (προσερχώμεθα) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean (ῥεραντισμένοι) from an evil conscience and because our bodies are washed (λελουσμένοι) with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast (κατέχωμεν) unwaveringly to the confession of our hope, for the one who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us give thought to how (κατανοῶμεν) to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 by not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but by encouraging one another, and all the more because you see the Day approaching.

This section is reminiscent of what the author introduced in Hebrews 6:19–20 and later developed in 9:11–12, 24–28, for the writer once again underscores the fact that Jesus makes it possible for believers to enter with confidence (παρρησία) into God’s presence, that is, into the heavenly sanctum where God resides (10:19–20). He then states that Jesus is the Great High Priest ruling over God’s people (10:21; cf. 3:6). Recalling Hebrews 4, the author again emphasizes the “open” access to God. Thus, because of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, believers have free access to God, and they have, through Jesus, a great high priest ruling over them (10:19–21a).
Based upon two restatements in Hebrews 10:19–21a, the author gives three exhortations: (1) seize the opportunity to corporately worship God (προσερχώμεθα, 10:22; cf. 4:14–16), (2) hold fast to the confession of faith (κατέχωμεν, 10:23), and (3) pay attention to one another’s situations and personal needs (κατανοῶμεν, vv. 24–25). Why? Because (ἔχοντες; cf. 10:19) Jesus has placed into effect a new way to enter God’s presence and has a presiding/ruling influence as King-Priest (cf. 1:1–14 with 5:5–6; 6:20–7:1; 7:11–28). Believers are therefore invited to worship God. Nevertheless, in Hebrews 10:26–31 the author provides a warning, with vivid and emotive language, for believers who might spurn the sacrifice of Jesus.

Hebrews 10:26–31

Historically, Hebrews 10:26–31 has raised a great deal of consternation for biblical theologians, and rightfully so, because the author declares that the effects of Jesus’ sacrifice do not extend to persistently willful sinners.

26 For (γάρ) if we persist in willful sin (ἁμαρτανόντων), after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but (δέ) there is only a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries (or “enemies of God”). 28 Anyone who violated the law of Moses died without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 29 How much worse (πόσῳ … χείρονος) punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God and by those who have profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and by those who outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For (γάρ) we know (οἴδαμεν) the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And he said again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is terrifying (φοβερόν) to fall into the hands of the living God.

The exhortation to worship God in 10:19–25 is foundational for the author’s present warning to fear in verses 26–27. Corporate worship is important because to neglect worship gatherings leads to either (1) contemptuous behavior or (2) a deliberate rejection of God and his message given or spoken through the Son. Obviously the author’s concern is disobedience. He points out that the effects of Jesus’ sacrifice do not extend to believers who sin persistently or willfully (ἑκουσίως … ἁμαρτανόντων). Such people will face the “fearful” (Φοβερός) prospect of God’s judgment (Heb. 10:26–27; cf. Num. 15:30–36). Once again, an appeal is made to the annals of Jewish history (Heb. 10:28; cf. 3:7–4:13), and a lesser-to-greater argument is given. The author contends that believers living in this present era who trample over God’s present mediator, who profane God’s new covenant, and who arrogantly insult God’s Spirit will suffer a worse punishment (10:29) than that suffered by the people of Kadesh-Barnea because (γάρ) God avenges sin and judges people (10:30).
But how, exactly, are we to understand this “willful sin”? Is it an allusion to high-handed sin in the Old Testament, as suggested in chapter 1 by Osborne? What is “high-handed sin” in the New Testament? Is it when a believer rejects the Son, profanes the new covenant, and insults the Spirit, and is thereby condemned to eternal damnation? Is this “high-handed sin” in the New Testament what the author means when he speaks of apostasy? If so, Osborne rightly recognizes in his discussion that “corporate fellowship is a deterrent to apostasy.”
Or is it possible that there are degrees of apostasy, as Gleason suggests in chapter 4? Perhaps the author is not speaking of absolute apostasy here but merely of a refusal to press on to maturity, which represents a general state of spiritual retrogression. However we might define “willful sin,” the point appears to be simply this: Believers need each other in order to prevent it. But is “willful sin” to be limited to apostasy? Or does it extend to all forms of contemptuous behavior? How will you decide after reading and weighing the biblical evidence presented in the subsequent chapters? Regardless of our thoughts at this time about “willful sin,” the repeated warning is based upon the fact that God avenges willful sin. He judges it, and he therefore is to be feared (Heb. 10:30–31). Thus the provocation of believers to fear occurs because God judges the distrusting and the disobedient. Yet Hebrews 10:32–39, which follows this harsh warning, has an entirely different tone.

Hebrews 10:32–39

In contrast (δέ) to the expressed concern in 10:26–31, the author interrupts his harsh and somewhat unsettling warning for the moment with an appeal to remember the past in what appears to be an effort to bolster the confidence of his readers.

32 But (δέ) recall (ἀναμιμνῄσκεσθε) those earlier days after you had been enlightened, you endured a great or harsh contest (θλίψεσιν) with sufferings, 33 sometimes by being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes by being partners (κοινωνοί) with those so treated. 34 For (γάρ) you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, because you knew, you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. 35 Therefore (οὖν) do not abandon (μὴ ἀποβάλητε) your confidence, because (ἣτις) it has a stupendous (μεγάλην) reward. 36 For (γάρ) you need endurance, so that (ἵνα) you might do God’s will, and so that you might receive the promise. 37 For (γάρ) yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; 38 and my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” 39 But (δέ) we are not among those who shrink back to eternal destruction, but we are among those of faith to preserve life (εἰς περιποίησιν ψυχῆς).

An appeal is made immediately to reflect upon past successes, after these believers “had been enlightened” (perhaps a reference to “receiving the knowledge of the truth” in 10:26; cf. 6:4). The author expects believers to recall “those earlier days” (10:32a), in which they endured a “harsh contest” (ἄθλησιν) with suffering, at times with “public humiliation” (θεατρίζω; vv. 32b–33a). At other times they were “partners” (κοινωνοί) with those who experienced public abuse (vv. 33b–34). Whether “those earlier days” are in the remote or recent past is unclear. Nevertheless the reason (γάρ) for recalling such difficulties is because the author wants to remind them that they made such personal sacrifices because they expected an eternal reward (10:34b).
The passage concludes (οὖν) with an exhortation: Do not abandon your resolve to trust and obey the message (v. 35a). The motivation to maintain this resolve is threefold: (1) because (ἥτις) it brings a “stupendous reward” (μισθαποδοσίαν; v. 35b), (2) for (γάρ) believers need to build endurance in order to receive the reward (v. 36), and (3) for (γάρ) Jesus is coming soon (v. 37). In contrast (άλλα) to those who “shrink back” and perish (ἀπώλεια), believers who live by faith will “preserve” (περιποίηοις) their lives (ψυχή, v. 39). Thus Hebrews 10:32–39 moves from a positive recollection about the community’s ability to endure past sufferings to an appeal: continue to endure or persevere in your faith together as a community.
This long warning passage in Hebrews 10:19–39 with its numerous interpretive issues might be summarized in this manner: Believers are called to corporate worship of God for numerous reasons. Yet, ultimately, the appeals for corporate worship appear to be given to help believers maintain their relationship with God (v. 19; cf. v. 35), knowing that God judges willful disobedience harshly (vv. 26–31).


Hebrews 3:7–4:13 and 10:19–39 share a similar explicit warning about disobedience. Clearly the call is for believers not to disobey God, or to state it positively, it is a call to trust and obey God (3:18–19; 4:11; 10:19–20, 26, 39). The emotive force used to urge believers to trust and obey God is the explicit appeal to fear, namely, fear of being denied the opportunity to secure opportunities associated with God’s “heavenly place of rest” (4:1) as well as fear of God’s judgment (4:1, 7–8, 11–13; 10:27). As in Hebrews 2 and 12, the mediation of Moses during the previous era (3:16; 4:2a; 10:28) is contrasted with God’s most recent mediator of this present era, the Son (4:2b; 10:29). Yet the lesser-to-greater arguments are quite a bit more gripping. Serving as the author’s Jewish historical precedent, the Sinai wilderness community and particularly the events at Kadesh-Barnea (3:16–19; 4:11; 10:26–28) are used to remind believers of the severe physical punishment that the previous generation suffered for their disobedience. In fact, their punishment is put forward as an incentive to trust and obey God, because God’s future punishment, however we define it, will be far more severe (4:1, 12–13; 10:29).

Hebrews 3:7–4:13
Hebrews 10:19–39

• Do not rebel (3:8, 15; 3:16)
• Be watchful of unbelieving hearts (3:12)
• Encourage one another (3:13)
• Let us fear failure to enter God’s rest (4:1a)
• Be diligent to enter God’s rest (4:11a)
• Approach God with confidence (10:22)
• Maintain confession of faith (10:23)
• Encourage one another (10:24)
• Remember former days (10:32)
• Do not throw away your confidence with its reward (10:35)

Concern (i.e., sin)
• There is a concern about a sinful and unbelieving heart (3:12a)
• There is a concern about turning away from God (3:12)
• There is a concern about becoming hardened by sin’s deception (3:13)
• There is a concern about disobedience (3:16, 18; 4:6, 11b)
• There is a concern about deliberate sin (10:26)
• There is a concern about becoming an enemy of God (10:27)
• There is a concern about rejecting the sacrifice of Jesus (10:28)
• There is a concern about trampling the Son under foot (10:29)
• There is a concern about treating the Spirit with contempt (10:29)
• There is a concern about throwing away their confidence (10:35)

Jewish historical precedent
• The distrust and disobedience of the wilderness community at Kadesh-Barnea (3:16–18; 4:2b, 6)
• Allusion to the disobedience of the wilderness community at Kadesh-Barnea (10:26–28)
• Disobedience to the old covenant law of Moses (10:27–28)

Lesser-to-greater mediator
• Moses (lesser: 3:16; 4:2b; cf. 3:1–6)
• The Son (greater: 4:2a)
• Covenant mediated through Moses (lesser: 10:28; cf. 9:1–10)
• New covenant mediated through the Son (greater: 10:29; cf. 8:6–13; 9:15–28)

Lesser-to-greater dire consequence
• Whereas the disobedient are denied entrance into Canaan and condemned to die in the desert (3:17–18), the disobedient in Hebrews are by God’s judgment denied opportunities to experience God in his heavenly place of rest (4:1, 12–13)
• Whereas there was a sacrifice in the OT, in Hebrews (10:26) there is no more sacrifice
• Whereas the disobedient suffered physical death under the law (10:28), the disobedient in Hebrews will suffer greater punishment before a vengeful God (10:27, 29, 30–31)

Desirable consequence
• Entrance into God’s place of rest (4:10–11)
• Participate in God’s Sabbath rest-celebration (4:9)
• Receive the great reward (10:35)
• Build endurance (10:36)
• Be watchful of the Son’s return (10:37)
• Live by faith (10:38–39)

OT citations used as a testimony or witness
• Warning about God’s judgment: Psalms 95:7b–8, 11; vv. 7b–8 (twice), v. 11 (twice)
• Quote about God’s rest: Genesis 2:2
• Allusion to God’s judgment: Zephaniah 1:18; Deuteronomy 17:6
• Quote about God’s judgment: Deuteronomy 32:35–36

A Harsh Warning (Heb. 5:11–6:12)

Unlike the previous four warnings, this warning passage prepares believers for further teaching about the Son. But as with previous warning passages, where to begin and end the warning seems problematic. Let me once again suggest that though many may limit this third warning passage to Hebrews 6:4–8, it too appears to be sandwiched between two other closely connected units of thought: Hebrews 5:11–6:3 and 6:9–12. The warning begins with a call for the readers to be learners (5:11–6:3), proceeds with a harsh reality for those who reject God’s promises (6:4–8), but ends with a call to persevere (6:9–12). Unlike the previous four warning passages, however, this warning passage makes no explicit appeal to Jewish history, yet there is the expectation to “hear” or “listen” to God (2:1–4; 12:25–29), as well as the explicit and emotive call to not disobey God (3:7–4:13; 10:19–39). Nevertheless, it is apparent that Israel’s past failures hover over this passage.

Hebrews 5:11–6:3

Hebrews 5:11–6:3 provides insight into why some difficulty surrounded the teaching of more advanced truths about the Son as King-Priest. The passage begins with a description of the recipients of the letter, followed by an explicit exhortation.

11 Concerning whom (the Son) we have much to say, and it is hard/difficult to explain, because (ἐπεί) you have become dull of hearing. 12 For (καί γάρ) though you ought to be teachers by this time (τὸν χρόνον), you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s message and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For (γάρ) everyone who lives only on milk is not accustomed to teaching (λόγου) about righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But (δέ) solid food is for the mature who, because of practice (διὰ τὴν ἔξιν), have trained their senses to discern good and evil. 6:1Therefore (διό) let us press on to maturity, by leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, not by laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits.

Transitioning from Hebrews 4:14–5:10, Hebrews 5:11–12 introduces a very unbecoming description of the original recipients. They are lazy (lit. “dull of hearing”). Despite the author’s desire to address the topic about the Son’s typological relationship with Melchizedek as King-Priest, he appears to feel at a disadvantage for the simple reason (ἐπεί) that the readers are “sluggish” (νωθρός), or, more pointedly, they are negligent of their responsibility to study, to learn, and to teach the truth about the Son. The author’s reason is supported (καὶ γάρ) by the simple fact that they themselves need a teacher. Thus teaching these readers about Jesus as King-Priest is going to be difficult.
Then by way of metaphor, two groups of people are described: those who are reluctant to move beyond the basic teachings about the Son are contrasted with those who are lifelong learners capable of discerning between good and bad teaching (5:13–14). On the one hand, these believers are charged with being reluctant to learn, “inexperienced” (ἄπειρος) people, milk drinkers. They lack the skills to move beyond and apply the basics to everyday life situations. Thus the need to revisit the basics about Jesus rather than struggling with the more advanced teaching about the Son as King-Priest is because the believers are reluctant learners (5:13). In contrast to the reluctant learners (δέ), the author describes another group of people. They are lifelong learners, meat eaters, capable of digesting teaching about the Son as King-Priest and able to discern between good and bad teaching (5:14).
Therefore (Διό) believers, according to the author of Hebrews, are expected to move from being reluctant learners to lifelong learners (6:1a). They need to advance in their understanding about Jesus. Lifelong learning occurs by addressing more advanced teaching about the Son as King-Priest. (Such learning is not limited to facts, however, but includes the idea of life experience.) Learning does not occur by rehashing the basics of the faith (6:1b–3). The point is simply this: Believers are not to rehash and wallow in the basics like reluctant learners, but rather they need to advance and press on to be lifelong learners about the Son as King-Priest. Thus there appears to be an intentional refusal here by the author to rehash basic issues of the faith. Eventually the author returns to teach about the Son as King-Priest, beginning in 7:1, but first he provides additional information (γάρ—6:4–8) concerning the importance for believers to broaden their knowledge base about Jesus.

Hebrews 6:4–8

Whereas Hebrews 5:11–6:3 reveals an unhealthy attitude that makes believers vulnerable, 6:4–8 warns that such an attitude can lead to abandoning the only foundation for faith, which results in divine judgment.

4 For (γἀρ) it is impossible (ἀδύνατον) to renew people again to repentance, namely, those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have eaten the good word of God, and have eaten the powers of the age to come, 6 and yet (emphasizing a fact as surprising or unexpected or showing temporal succession, “and then”) have fallen away, because they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and because they put him to open shame. 7 For (γάρ) soil (γῆ) that has soaked up (πιοῦδα) the rain that often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled receives a blessing from God. 8 But (δέ) if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and ends up being burned.

Obviously Hebrews 6:4–8 presents a harsh reality, yet it does so in both a positive and a negative manner. Positively, some believers appear to have been granted the promise and partnership of salvation and have experienced sharing in the Spirit’s gifts and God’s works (vv. 4–5). Negatively, these same believers “turn away” (παραπίπτω) from God’s partnership, and thus no hope exists for them, in that it is “impossible” (ἀδύνατον) to renew (ἀνακαινίζειν) them again to repentance” (v. 6). But what exactly does it mean that it is “impossible” (ἀδύνατον͂) for these believers to repent again?
On the one hand, Osborne agues in chapter 1 that to actively repudiate the Son, as described in Hebrews 6:4–6, is to commit “the unpardonable sin.” Those who are guilty of this sin will be prevented from ever wanting to come back. Indeed, God will never convict that person again. In a similar way, Cockerill argues that the verbs in verses 4–6 picture a willful rejection of Christ and severance from Jesus. But he falls short of calling it an “unpardonable sin.” How, exactly, does Cockerill differ from Osborne?
On the other hand, Fanning and Gleason argue that God’s security is certain. Although Fanning provides a straightforward reading of Hebrews 6:4–6, his conclusions differ from Gleason. But moving beyond the differences within their respective traditions, how do the Reformed and Arminian interpretations differ? How are they similar? Where are you in this debate? How does your evaluation of the biblical evidence support your view?
However we understand this inability to repent, the reason is clearly stated: believers create a woeful experience for themselves when they “turn away” and in essence join with those who humiliated Jesus publicly during his crucifixion experience (6:6). The inability to repent appears to be illustrated with an agricultural excursus. Whereas the faithful thrive on God’s gifts, respond, and thereby are blessed (6:7), the apostate person does not respond to God and so is consigned to judgment (6:8). Thus it appears that reluctant learners who limit themselves to rehashing the basics of the faith are faced with the danger of “turning away” from the Son and ultimately opening themselves to the prospect of divine judgment (however we might define God’s judgment here). Perhaps the point of Hebrews 6:4–8 may be stated in this manner: Believers who are reluctant learners are prone to abandon the only foundation there is for repentance and faith and thereby liable to face some sort of divine punishment. Hebrews 6:9–12, however, has an entirely different tone.

Hebrews 6:9–12

Despite his harsh warning in Hebrews 6:4–8, the author contrasts (δέ) the people of verses 4–8 with his readers in verses 9–12. The passage begins with a statement of the author’s conviction and a basis for that conviction. This is followed by an intentionalized exhortation.

9 But (δέ) in your case, dear friends (ἀγαπητοί), we are convinced (πεπείσμεθα) of better things namely, things relating to salvation though we speak in this way. 10 For (γάρ) God is not unjust so as to forget your work and love which you have shown toward his name, in having ministered to the saints and in continuing to minister to the saints. 11 And we passionately want each one of you to exhibit the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end 12 so that (ἵνα) you will not be dull minded but (δέ) imitators of those who through faith and perseverance (μακροθυμίας) inherit the promises.

This motivational statement begins with the author clearly expressing his conviction, or a great deal of “confidence” (v. 9), about his readers’ salvation and his “passionate desire” (ἐπιθυμέω, v. 11) that they press on with purpose—not as indifferent, lazy, or dull minded believers (νωθροί v. 12a), but as imitators of those who faithfully persevere and thereby inherit what God has promised (v. 12b). Furthermore, the community’s work and expressions of love for each other provide an additional reason (γάρ) for the author’s expressed conviction about their eternal destiny (vv. 9–10). Hebrews 6:9–12 serves as an extremely important passage of assurance for both Fanning and Gleason. Why? How does this passage support arguments for eternal security? How does Osborne address this passage in light of verses 4–8?
Regardless of how we might answer some of the typical theological debates surrounding Hebrews 5:11–6:12, the unit as a whole appears to be an excursus to scold believers into advancing in their knowledge about Jesus. This well-known warning occurs in the midst of what appears to be the heart of the book of Hebrews, as the author will now focus more attention on the Son as King-Priest in the order of Melchizedek (5:1–10; 6:13–7:28 or perhaps to 8:2).


Obviously my intention for this contextual orientation has not been to draw any theological conclusions. Nor has it been to resolve the numerous issues surrounding these passages. Rather, it is to serve as a means to introduce you to the warning passages and to some of the issues that are discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. Furthermore, it is not the intention of the contributors, necessarily, to represent every aspect of their respective theological systems. This will be particularly true of those representing the Reformed view. Nor is their intention to resolve all the tensions these warning passages raise for the systems of theology they represent. Rather, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews seeks to expose existing tensions and provide various ways in which four scholars with differing theological grids interpret them in the literary and historical context of Hebrews.
As to my organization and presentation of the warnings, I must confess that the propensity of the author of Hebrews to organize his material through the use of the recognizable literary patterns of chiasmus evident throughout the smaller units of thought in the book interests me. Perhaps the author has arranged the warning passages in the form of a chiasmus to reinforce the idea that they are indeed “an organic whole” as suggested by McKnight.66

A Hebrews 2:1–4: “hear” (believe)
B Hebrews 3:7–4:13: trust and obey (explicit concern about distrust and disobedience)
C Hebrews 5:11–6:12: be lifelong learners
B Hebrews 10:19–39: trust and obey (explicit concern about distrust and disobedience)
A Hebrews 12:14–29: “listen” (believe)

Toying with the prospect that the warning passages may be a chiasmus for the book of Hebrews has served nicely to introduce Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Obviously, within my presentation, Hebrews 5:11–6:12 is the heart of the author’s concern. Yet together the five warning passages are all emotive exhortations to believers to persevere because the Son is the one through whom God has spoken and the one through whom the Old Testament has been fulfilled. They call believers to believe (2:1–4; 12:14–29) rather than distrust and disobey (3:7–4:13; 10:19–39) what God has promised through the Son. Furthermore, believers are to grow in their understanding about the Son (5:11–6:12). In general, the warning passages of Hebrews reference the historical events and failure of the Sinai wilderness generation, as well as God’s punishment of that community as an example not to be repeated. The wilderness community serves as a reminder that God, in a previous era, punished those who distrusted and disobeyed him and his messengers. God has not changed. The warning passages reveal that God is consistent in dealing with the lack of belief and disobedience. The consequences, however, appear to be greater in this new era. As a result, these five warning passages not only challenge our theological systems, but, more importantly, they ought to challenge us in the way we are to live for and offer worship to God.

Bateman, H. W., VI. (2007). Introducing the Warning Passages in Hebrews: A Contextual Orientation. In H. W. Bateman IV (Hrsg.), Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (S. 3–85). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional.

Published: May 5, 2018, 07:46 | Comments
Category: BishopRosary




Ein Rosenkranz (früher regional auch Paternosterschnur) ist eine Zähl- oder Gebetskette, die für das Rosenkranzgebet verwendet wird. Es kann aber auch die Bezeichnung für das Rosenkranzgebet selbst sein. In seiner häufigsten Form wird eine regelmäßige Abfolge aus einem Vaterunser und zehn Ave Maria sogenannte Gesätze, mit der Betrachtung des Lebens, Sterbens und der Auferstehung Jesu Christi verbunden. Jedes Rosenkranzgesätz schließt mit der Doxologie Ehre sei dem Vater ab.[1] Der Rosenkranz kann heute als die am weitesten verbreitete katholische Andachtsform angesehen werden.[2][3]

Begriffsherkunft[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Das Wort Rosenkranz stammt vom lateinischen Wort Rosarium, das mit ‚Rosengarten‘ übersetzt wird. Rosengewächse symbolisieren in der christlichen Ikonographie vor allem Maria, die Mutter Jesu. Das Motiv der Madonna im Rosenhag als Beispiel für einen Hortus conclusus steht für die Jungfräulichkeit Mariens. Auch ein Kranz aus Rosen auf dem Kopf ist ein Symbol der Jungfräulichkeit. In der Lauretanischen Litanei wird Maria als Rosa mystica(„geheimnisvolle Rose“) angerufen.

Der kirchenlateinische Begriff Rosarium wurde später auf die Gebetskette übertragen und erscheint unter seiner deutschen Bezeichnung Rosenkranz erstmals im 15. Jahrhundert, wobei der genaue Zusammenhang bis heute nicht eindeutig geklärt werden konnte. Es wird angenommen, dass die Kette ursprünglich aus Rosenblüten bestand, die auf einer Schnur aneinandergereiht waren.[4] Der Rosenkranz als Devotionalie geht auf Gebetsketten aus dem Orient zurück. Da die Verehrung Mariens in den byzantinischen Ostkirchen bereits in der Frühzeit der Kirche begann, hat der Rosenkranz seinen Ursprung im orthodoxen Christentum.

Theologischer Gehalt[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Als „marianische Leben-Jesu-Meditation“ verbindet der Rosenkranz Marienverehrung und Christusfrömmigkeit, die Jesus Christus in seiner Entäußerung und seinem Leiden betrachtet. Der thematische Bogen der christologischen Meditationspunkte reicht von der Verkündigung des Herrn über Geburt, Wirken, Leiden und Sterben Jesu Christi bis zu seiner Auferstehung und der Herabsendung des Heiliger Geistes an Pfingsten.[5]

Struktur und Gebetsweise[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Gebetsweise des katholischen Rosenkranzes:
(1) Kreuzzeichen,
(2) Vater Unser
(3) drei Ave Maria
(4) Ehre sei dem Vater
(5) fünf Gesätze mit je einem Vaterunser, zehn Ave Maria und einem Ehre sei dem Vater

Der Rosenkranz hat 59 Perlen. Die Eröffnung des Rosenkranzgebetes wird an einer am Kranz befestigten Kette mit einem Kreuz und drei kleinen Perlen gebetet, die von zwei großen Perlen gerahmt sind. Darauf folgen auf dem Kranz fünfmal zehn kleinere Kugeln (für die Ave Maria) und eine davon abgesetzte große (für das Vaterunser und Ehre sei dem Vater). Ein Vaterunser, zehn Ave Maria und ein Ehre sei dem Vater bilden ein Gesätz.

Verkleinerte Rosenkranzformen[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]


Verkleinerte Formen des Rosenkranzes sind der sogenannte Fingerrosenkranz (zuweilen auch als „Pfadfinderrosenkranz“ bezeichnet), der Rosenkranzringoder das Rosenkranzarmband. Diese auch Soldatenrosenkranz genannte Form entstand im Mittelalter im Zuge der Kreuzzüge. An einem solchen Rosenkranz wird ein Gesätz abgezählt; fünfmal gebetet ergibt er einen großen Rosenkranz. Es gibt auch Versionen, bei denen die Anzahl der Perlen auf nur fünf verkürzt ist. Dabei wird an jeder Perle ein Ave Maria gebetet, wobei jeweils ein anderes Geheimnis angefügt wird. Der Ring besteht aus einem Ring mit zehn Erhebungen beziehungsweise zehn kleinen Perlen und einem Kreuz.

Gebetsweise[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Siehe auch: Anleitung zum Rosenkranzgebet – Anleitung zum lateinischen Rosenkranzgebet

Gebetet wird der Rosenkranz wie folgt:

  • Kreuzzeichen, „Im Namen des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes. Amen.“ (Mt 28,19 EU)
  • Apostolisches Glaubensbekenntnis, dabei wird das Kreuz in der Hand gehalten
  • Ehre sei dem Vater und Vaterunser an der ersten großen Perle
  • drei Ave Maria mit eingefügten Bitten um christliche Tugenden an den folgenden drei kleinen Perlen,
    1. Jesus, der in uns den Glauben vermehre,
    2. Jesus, der in uns die Hoffnung stärke,
    3. Jesus, der in uns die Liebe entzünde.
  • Doxologie und anschließend
  • fünfzig Ave Maria, in Zehnergruppen (Gesätze) gegliedert. In jeder Zehnergruppe wird jeweils nach dem Wort „Jesus“ ein sogenanntes Geheimnis eingefügt, ein Glaubenssatz, der das Leben und Sterben Jesu und seiner Mutter Maria betrifft.

Jedes Gesätz wird eingeleitet mit dem Vater unser (an der großen Perle) und abgeschlossen mit dem Ehre sei dem Vater (vor der nächsten großen Perle). Manchmal wird nach dem Ehre sei dem Vater noch das Fatima-Gebeteingefügt, das jedoch nicht Bestandteil des Rosenkranzes ist. Im Kompendium des Katechismus der katholischen Kirche ist ein Schlussgebet formuliert:

℣: „Bitte für uns, heilige Gottesmutter.“
℟: „Auf dass wir würdig werden der Verheißungen Christi.“
℣: „Lasset uns beten. Gott, dein eingeborener Sohn hat uns durch sein Leben, seinen Tod und seine Auferstehung die Schätze des ewigen Heiles erworben. Wir verehren diese Geheimnisse im heiligen Rosenkranz der seligen Jungfrau Maria. Lass uns nachahmen, was sie enthalten, und erlangen, was sie verheißen. Darum bitten wir durch Christus, unsern Herrn.“
℟: „Amen.“

In Gemeinschaft kann das Rosenkranzgebet eingebettet sein in eine Rosenkranzandacht in einer Kirche oder Kapelle. Dabei wird das Gebet des ganzen Rosenkranzes oder einzelner Gesätze von passenden Liedern, marianischen Gebeten und meditativen Impulsen umrahmt. Den Abschluss des Rosenkranzes bildet oft eine marianische Antiphon, mancherorts die Lauretanische Litanei, im Rosenkranz für die Verschiedenen meist die Litanei für die Verstorbenen.

Rosenkranzgeheimnisse[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Derzeit gibt es – in Fünfergruppen aufgeteilt – zwanzig Geheimnisse, die beim Rosenkranzgebet betrachtet werden. Der Begriff und die inzwischen traditionellen fünfzehn Geheimnisse gehen zurück auf Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673–1716). Den fünfzehn Geheimnissen hat Papst Johannes Paul II. im Oktober 2002 anlässlich des 24. Jahrestages seiner Wahl zum Papst mit dem apostolischen Schreiben Rosarium Virginis Mariae[6] eine vierte Fünfergruppe von Rosenkranzgeheimnissen, die lichtreichen Geheimnisse, hinzugefügt.[7]

Freudenreiche Geheimnisse (gaudii mysteria)[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Die freudenreichen Geheimnisse (auch freudenreicher Rosenkranz) betrachten die Menschwerdung Gottes und das verborgene Leben Jesu.

deutsch lateinisch
Jesus, den du, o Jungfrau, vom Heiligen Geist empfangen hast (Lk 1,35 EU) quem Virgo concepisti
Jesus, den du, o Jungfrau, zu Elisabeth getragen hast (Lk 1,39–56 EU) quem visitando Elisabeth portasti
Jesus, den du, o Jungfrau, zu Betlehem geboren hast. (Lk 2,1–20 EU) quem Virgo genuisti.
Jesus, den du, o Jungfrau, im Tempel aufgeopfert hast (Lk 2,22–24 EU) quem in templo praesentasti
Jesus, den du, o Jungfrau, im Tempel wiedergefunden hast (Lk 2,41–52 EU) quem in templo invenisti

Schmerzhafte Geheimnisse (doloris mysteria)[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Die schmerzhaften Geheimnisse (auch schmerzhafter oder schmerzreicher Rosenkranz) betrachten die Passion Jesu Christi.

deutsch lateinisch
Jesus, der für uns Blut geschwitzt hat (Lk 22,44 EU) qui pro nobis sanguinem sudavit
Jesus, der für uns gegeißelt worden ist (Joh 19,1 EU) qui pro nobis flagellatus est
Jesus, der für uns mit Dornen gekrönt worden ist (Joh 19,2 EU) qui pro nobis spinis coronatus est
Jesus, der für uns das schwere Kreuz getragen hat (Joh 19,17 EU) qui pro nobis crucem baiulavit
Jesus, der für uns gekreuzigt worden ist (Joh 19,18 EU) qui pro nobis crucifixus est

Glorreiche Geheimnisse (gloriae mysteria)[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Die glorreichen Geheimnisse (auch glorreicher Rosenkranz) betrachten die Auferstehung Christi.

deutsch lateinisch
Jesus, der von den Toten auferstanden ist (Lk 24,6 EU) qui resurrexit a mortuis
Jesus, der in den Himmel aufgefahren ist (Apg 1,9–11 EU) qui in caelum ascendit
Jesus, der uns den Heiligen Geist gesandt hat (Apg 2,1–13 EU) qui Spiritum Sanctum misit
Jesus, der dich, o Jungfrau, in den Himmel aufgenommen hat. (1 Kor 15,22–23 EU) qui te, Virgo, assumpsit.
Jesus, der dich, o Jungfrau, im Himmel gekrönt hat. (Offb 12,1 EU) qui te, Virgo, in caelis coronavit.

Lichtreiche Geheimnisse (lucis mysteria)[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Die lichtreichen Geheimnisse (auch lichtreicher Rosenkranz) betrachten einige besonders bedeutende Momente des öffentlichen Lebens und Wirkens Jesu, so seine Taufe im Jordan durch Johannes, das Wunder bei der Hochzeit zu Kana, die Verkündigung des Reiches Gottes, seine Verklärung auf dem Berg Tabor und die Einsetzung der Eucharistie beim letzten Abendmahl in Jerusalem.

deutsch lateinisch
Jesus, der von Johannes getauft worden ist (Lk 3,21–22 EU) qui apud Iordanem baptizatus est
Jesus, der sich bei der Hochzeit in Kana offenbart hat (Joh 2,1–12 EU) qui ipsum revelavit apud Canense matrimonium
Jesus, der uns das Reich Gottes verkündet hat (Mk 1,14 EU) qui regnum Dei annuntiavit
Jesus, der auf dem Berg verklärt worden ist. (Lk 9,28–36 EU) qui transfiguratus est
Jesus, der uns die Eucharistie geschenkt hat (Mk 14,17–25 EU) qui eucharistiam instituit

Eigene Formulierungen[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Außerdem ist es möglich, eigene Rosenkranzgeheimnisse zu formulieren. Ein Beispiel dafür bietet das katholische Gebet- und Gesangbuch Gotteslob (Nr. 4, Abschnitt 8) mit den trostreichen Geheimnissen des trostreichen Rosenkranzes, die das kommende Gottesreich betrachten:

deutsch lateinisch
Jesus, der als König herrscht. (Offb 19,6 EU) Jesus, qui rex regnat
Jesus, der in seiner Kirche lebt und wirkt (herrscht). (Eph 1,22–23 EU) Jesus, qui in ecclesia sua vivit et regnat
Jesus, der wiederkommen wird in Herrlichkeit. (2 Petr 3,8–13 EU) Jesus, qui iterum venturus est in gloria
Jesus, der richten wird die Lebenden und die Toten. (Röm 2,1–11 EU) Jesus, qui iudicabit vivos et mortuos
Jesus, der alles vollenden wird. (1 Kor 15,35–58 EU) Jesus, qui omnia perficiet

Seit jüngerer Zeit (2015) einige Verbreitung fand der „Friedens-Rosenkranz“ (Deutsches Liturgisches Institut):[8]

  • Jesus, bei dessen Geburt Engel den Frieden verkündeten (Lk 2,8–14 EU)
  • Jesus, der unsere Schritte auf den Weg des Friedens lenkt (Lk 1,68–79 EU)
  • Jesus, der selig gepriesen hat, die Frieden stiften (Mt 5,3–12a EU)
  • Jesus, der seine Jünger gesandt hat, den Frieden zu bringen (Mt 10,7–13 EU)
  • Jesus, der uns seinen Frieden hinterlassen hat (Joh 14,23–27 EU)[9]

Wochenschema[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

In der katholischen Kirche ist es üblich, die Geheimnisse des Rosenkranzes in wöchentlichem Rhythmus nach dem folgenden Schema zu beten:[10]

Sonntag Montag Dienstag Mittwoch Donnerstag Freitag Samstag
glorreiche Geheimnisse freudenreiche Geheimnisse schmerzhafte Geheimnisse glorreiche Geheimnisse lichtreiche Geheimnisse schmerzhafte Geheimnisse freudenreiche Geheimnisse

Vor der Einführung der lichtreichen Geheimnisse wurden traditionell donnerstags die freudenreichen und samstags die glorreichen Geheimnisse betrachtet.

Geschichte[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Mittelalter[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Das katholische Rosenkranzgebet entwickelte sich aus frühmittelalterlichen Gebeten, bei denen zunächst das Vater unser (Paternosterschnur) und ab dem 11. Jahrhundert zunehmend das Ave Maria einhundertfünfzigmal in Zehnergruppen gegliedert wiederholt und mit Glaubensgeheimnissen und biblischen Texten über das Leben und Heilswerk Jesu Christi verbunden wurde. Die älteste schriftliche Erwähnung einer Schnur mit aufgezogenen Steinen als Zählkette für wiederholt gesprochene Gebete in der Lateinischen Kirche schreibt diese Gebetsschnur der angelsächsischen Adligen Lady Godiva († um 1085) zu:

“The circlet of precious stones which she had threaded on a cord in order that by fingering them one after another she might count her prayers exactly were to be placed on a statute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

– William of MalmesburyGesta Pontificum Anglorum, 1125, Rolls Series 311.[11]

Im 11. Jahrhundert schuf Petrus Damiani (um 1006–1072) die Form des „Ave Maria“, wobei der Engelsgruß aus dem Lukasevangelium im Wortlaut verwendet wurde:

„Ave Maria, gratia plena. Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus.“

– Lk 1,28 EU

Im 12. Jahrhundert kam der Brauch auf, dass in Klöstern die Konversen, die meist nicht lesen bzw. kein Latein konnten, statt der lateinischen Psalmen des Stundengebets andere Gebete verrichteten. Neben dem Vaterunser tritt auch das Ave Maria als Ersatzgebet für die Psalmen auf, letzteres insbesondere bei den Zisterziensern und Kartäusern. Für eine Reihe von 150 Ave Maria kam in Anlehnung an die 150 Psalmen der Bibel der Name Marienpsalter auf.[12]

Das Alte Passional, eine mittelhochdeutsche Legendensammlung ohne Angabe des Verfassers, vergleicht das Ave Maria mit einer himmlischen Rose. Hierin gründet wohl die Bezeichnung Rosenkranz für die Zählkette und eine Ave-Maria-Gebetsreihe. Eine der Legenden handelt von einem Marienverehrer, der eine Marienstatue mit einem geflochtenen Kranz aus Rosen zu schmücken pflegte. In einer Erscheinung soll er eines Tages die Botschaft bekommen haben, dass sich Maria über einen anderen Rosenkranz mehr freue, nämlich über 50 gebetete Ave Maria. Diese würden in ihren Händen zu Rosen, aus denen sie den schönsten Kranz flechten könne.

Der Zisterzienserabt Stephan von Sallay († 1252) formulierte eine Vorform der fünfzehn Rosenkranzgeheimnisse. Durch den Kartäuser Heinrich von Kalkar (1328–1408) kam die Gewohnheit auf, fünfmal zehn „Ave Maria“ zu beten und jeden Zehnerblock mit einem Vaterunser zu beginnen und mit der Doxologie zu beenden. Noch im späten Mittelalter gab es den Beruf des Paternostermachers, der aus Knochen und anderen Materialien Perlen für Rosenkränze fertigte. Rosenkränze aus dieser Zeit trugen oft statt eines Kreuzes eine farbige Quaste.

Renaissance[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Hölzerner Rosenkranz, gefunden auf der Mary Rose (England, 16. Jh.)

Die heute gebräuchliche Form des Rosenkranzes entstand im Advent 1409. Der Trierer Kartäuser Dominikus von Preußen († 1460) fasste die Ereignisse des Lebens Jesu in fünfzig Schlusssätzen (clausulae) zusammen, die sich an den (damals allein üblichen) ersten Teil des Ave Maria anschlossen. Adolf von Essen, ebenfalls aus dieser Kartause, verkürzte die Clausulae auf fünfzehn. Weit verbreitet ist die von Alanus de Rupe um 1468 zuerst verbreitete Legende, dass der heilige Dominikus, Gründer des Dominikanerordens, die heutige Form des Rosenkranzes 1208 bei einer Marienerscheinung empfangen und sie in seinem Orden eingeführt haben soll. Die Legende erzählt, dass Maria den Rosenkranz dem hl. Dominikus als Waffe im Kampf gegen die Albigenser geschenkt habe.

In seiner Bulle Ea quae vom 9. Mai 1479 empfahl Papst Sixtus IV. das tägliche Beten des Rosenkranzes. 1508 wurde dem „Ave Maria“ die Bitte „Heilige Maria, Mutter Gottes, bitte für uns Sünder“ hinzugefügt. In seinem Breve Consueverunt vom 17. September 1569 legte Papst Pius V. den Text des Ave Marias endgültig fest und regelte die Form des Rosenkranzgebets für die ganze Kirche.

19. Jahrhundert (Papst Leo XIII.)[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Paul Cézanne: Alte Frau mit Rosenkranz, 1895/96

Leo XIII. war ein großer Verehrer des Rosenkranzgebetes, dem er zahlreiche Enzykliken und apostolische Schreiben widmete:

20. und 21. Jahrhundert[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Nach Leo XIII. erschienen noch folgende päpstliche Schriften zum Rosenkranz:

Rosenkranzfest und Rosenkranzmonat[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

→ HauptartikelRosenkranzfest

Am 7. Oktober 1571 besiegte die katholische Seestreitmacht unter Juan de Austria die türkische Mittelmeerflotte in der Seeschlacht von Lepanto vernichtend. Der Sieg wurde dem „Gebetssturm“ zugerechnet, bei dem in ganz Europa im Vorfeld der Seeschlacht das Rosenkranzgebet gebetet wurde. In der Folge stiftete Papst Gregor XIII. 1573 das Rosenkranzfest als Gedenktag Unserer Lieben Frau vom Sieg und fügte es in den liturgischen Kalender ein. Nach dem Sieg über die Türken bei Peterwardein am 5. August 1716 erhob Papst Klemens XI. das Fest zu einem Fest der ganzen Kirche, das am ersten Sonntag im Oktober gefeiert wurde. Papst Pius X. führte diesen Gedenktag mit dem Gedenktag der allerseligsten Jungfrau Maria vom Rosenkranz (Beatae Mariae Virginis a Rosario) zusammen und legte ihn auf den 7. Oktober fest. Das Fest wird seit 1960 als Fest unserer Lieben Frau vom Rosenkranzbegangen.[13]

1884 führte Papst Leo XIII. den Oktober als Rosenkranzmonat ein. Papst Johannes XXIII. empfahl 1959 den Rosenkranzmonat Oktober als Vorbereitung auf das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil. Papst Paul VI. widmete 1969 dem Oktober als Rosenkranzmonat ein apostolisches Schreiben.

Andere Formen des Rosenkranzes[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Neben der gebräuchlichen Form des Rosenkranzes gibt es in der katholischen Kirche noch verschiedene andere Rosenkranzformen, die sich in der Anzahl der Perlen und der Anordnung der Gebete unterscheiden. Auch in der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche gibt es Ansätze, den Rosenkranz zum Gebet zu verwenden.

Barmherzigkeitsrosenkranz[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Der Barmherzigkeitsrosenkranz wird ebenfalls auf die traditionellen Rosenkranzperlen gebetet, enthält jedoch nicht das Ave Maria, sondern konzentriert sich auf die göttliche Barmherzigkeit in Jesus Christus. Er basiert auf Visionender polnischen Ordensschwester Faustyna Kowalska (1905–1938). Die Gebete des Barmherzigkeitsrosenkranzes haben einen engen Zusammenhang mit der Eucharistie.

Rosenkranz Unserer Lieben Frau von den Tränen[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Der Rosenkranz Unserer Lieben Frau von den Tränen besteht aus 49 kleinen Perlen, er wird jeweils durch sieben größere Perlen für die sieben Gesätze unterteilt. Zusätzlich sind an einer kleinen Kettenverlängerung drei kleine Perlen und die Medaille Unserer Lieben Frau von den Tränen angebracht. In der Gebetsfolge wird kein Glaubensbekenntnis, kein Vater Unser und auch nicht das Ave Maria gebetet, sie werden durch andere Gebete ersetzt.

Kleiner Rosenkranz zum Jesuskind[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Der kleine Rosenkranz zum Jesuskind besteht aus 15 Perlen, aufgeteilt in eine Dreier- und eine Zwölfergruppe. Jesus selbst soll 1636 der Unbeschuhten Karmelitin „Margarete vom Allerheiligsten Sakrament“, einer ehrwürdigen Dienerin Gottes, diesen „kleinen Rosenkranz“ offenbart haben mit der Aufforderung, ihn unter den Gläubigen bekannt zu machen.

Der Christus-Rosenkranz[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Der Christus-Rosenkranz entstand in den 1960er-Jahren durch das Bemühen der Mitglieder der Evangelischen Michaelsbruderschaft, Rudolf Ehrat, Herben Golzen und Walter Stökl, ein eng an das katholische Rosenkranzgebet angelehntes Gebet zu schaffen, das im Gegensatz zum traditionellen Rosenkranzgebet das Ave Maria nicht enthält und somit auch von evangelischen Christen gebetet und ökumenisch verwendet werden kann. Stattdessen wird dabei das aus der Kreuzwegandacht stammende Gebet „Wir beten dich an, Herr Jesus Christus und preisen dich, denn durch dein heiliges Kreuz hast du die Welt erlöst“ wiederholt gebetet.

Verwandte Gebetsformen[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

→ HauptartikelGebetskette

Auch in anderen christlichen Konfessionen und nicht-christlichen Religionen gibt es Gebete, die an Zählketten verrichtet werden. Dabei wird gelegentlich die Bezeichnung Rosenkranz auch unabhängig vom Ursprung des Begriffs in der Marienverehrung verwendet. In der orthodoxen Kirche hat der Rosenkranz als Zählkette für das Jesusgebet eine lange Tradition. Die Anglican Prayer Beads kombinieren Elemente des katholischen und orthodoxen Rosenkranzes.

Auch im Islam, im Buddhismus, im Hinduismus und anderen nicht-christlichen Religionen gibt es Gebetsketten, mit denen meditative Gebete verrichtet werden. Im Islam ist das der Tasbih, im Buddhismus und Hinduismus die Mala.

Die orthodoxe Gebetsschnur[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]


Die Gebetsschnur, russisch Tschotki und griechisch Komboskini genannt, besteht in ihrer ursprünglichen Form nicht aus Perlen, sondern aus einer Schnur, in die Knoten geknüpft werden, an der das Jesusgebet verrichtet wird. Die geschlossene Schnur steht als Zeichen für das nie endende Gebet („Betet ohne Unterlass“). Sie wird in der orthodoxen Tradition beim Jesusgebet verwendet, weniger, um die Gebete zu zählen, sondern als Hilfe zur Konzentration und für einen gleichmäßigen Rhythmus. In der orthodoxen Kirche erhalten Mönche und Nonnen die Gebetsschnur zur Profess.

Nach russischem Brauch können Gebetszeiten des Stundengebets oder der Besuch der Liturgie durch die Rezitation einer bestimmten Anzahl von Jesusgebeten ersetzt werden. Auf diese Weise kann das Stundengebet auch gehalten werden, wenn die entsprechenden Bücher nicht zur Hand sind. Die Gebetsschnur hilft in solchen Fällen, die Gebete zu zählen.

Die (alt-)orthodoxe Lestowka[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Eine russische Lestowka

Vor allem bei den sog. Altorthodoxen ist die Lestowka, eine Art Rosenkranz aus Leder oder sonstigem Material in Gebrauch. Diese Gebetshilfe ist an den beiden Enden meist verbreitert, womit eine besondere Symbolik zum Ausdruck gebracht werden soll.

Der anglikanische Rosenkranz[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Anglican prayer beads

Der anglikanische Rosenkranz (Anglican prayer beads) ist eine verhältnismäßig neue Gebetsform, die Elemente des katholischen und orthodoxen Rosenkranzes enthält. Lynn Bauman entwickelte in den 1980er-Jahren die Form des anglikanischen Rosenkranzes, der aus einem Kreuz und 33 Perlen besteht. Für das anglikanische Rosenkranzgebet gibt es keine feststehende Form. Jeder Beter kann sich die Gebete, die er an den einzelnen Perlen spricht, selbst zusammenstellen. Bekannt ist beispielsweise eine Gebetsfolge, die das Trisagion und das Jesusgebet einbezieht.

Perlen des Glaubens[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Perlen des Glaubens

Entwickelt wurden die Perlen des Glaubens 1996 von Martin Lönnebo, einem Bischof der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche in Schweden. Bei der aus 18 Perlen bestehenden Kette hat jede Perle eine Bedeutung, steht für eine Lebensfrage, einen Gedanken oder ein Gebet. Feste Gebetsformulierungen gibt es nicht. Bei jeder Perle wird zum entsprechenden Thema eine Meditation gehalten oder ein Gebet gesprochen. Anfang und Ende der Kette ist eine große goldene Perle, die Gottesperle. Darauf folgt eine Perle des Schweigens, eine Ich-Perle, eine Taufperle, eine weitere Perle des Schweigens, eine Wüstenperle, wiederum eine Perle des Schweigens, eine Perle der Gelassenheit, eine weitere Perle des Schweigens, zwei Perlen der Liebe, drei Geheimnisperlen, eine Perle der Nacht, eine weitere Perle des Schweigens, eine Perle der Auferstehung und eine weitere Perle des Schweigens.

Gesundheitliche Aspekte[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Das British Medical Journal berichtete im Jahr 2001 von einer Studie der Universität Pavia, bei der herausgefunden wurde, dass Rosenkranzgebete und Mantras, bei denen sechs Mal pro Minute geatmet wird, positive psychologische und möglicherweise physiologische Effekte hervorrufen.[14][15]

Unter psychologischen Gesichtspunkten ist das Rosenkranzgebet als repetitives Meditationstraining einzuordnen, obwohl dieser Begriff erst in jüngster Zeit entstanden ist. Die von dem Musikpädagogen Hermann Rauhe und dem Präventivmediziner Gerd Schnack entwickelte Entspannungsmethode des repetitiven Meditationstrainings ist quasi die säkularisierte Form sowohl des Rosenkranzgebets als auch des Jesusgebets, weil sie auf demselben Prinzip beruht, nämlich der rhythmischen Wiederholung einer Formel, die sich nach und nach an der Atmungorientiert und bei regelmäßiger Übung sehr positiv auf den Parasympathicus wirkt.[16]

Als Mittel, um sich das Rauchen abzugewöhnen, schlägt der Wiener Sozialmediziner Michael Kunze vom Nikotininstitut Wien das Rosenkranzgebet vor. Er sieht im Rosenkranzgebet eine gute Entspannungsübung. Außerdem werde die Konzentration auf das Gebet gelenkt und die Gedanken dadurch von der Zigarette weg.[17]

Rosenkränze in der Bildenden Kunst[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Malerei[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Darstellungen der Rosenkranzgeheimnisse gibt es in einigen Kirchen, wie etwa in der St. Sulpitius in Frastanz. Der Hochaltar stellt die Geheimnisse des schmerzhaften Rosenkranzes dar, der linke Seitenaltar die des freudenreichen und der rechte Seitenaltar die des glorreichen.

Stationswege (Rosenkranzwege)[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Stationswege (auch: Stationenwege) für die Rosenkranzgeheimnisse gibt es beispielsweise in Maria Plain bei Salzburg (Barockzeit, fünfzehn Stationen) – in Maria Plain befindet sich auch ein weiterer Kalvarienberg der Barockzeit mit fünf Stationen der schmerzhaften Geheimnisse. Ein Rosenkranzpark mit 16 Stationen befindet sich im niederösterreichischen Katzelsdorf. Der Weinhauser Rosenkranzweg beginnt hinter der Pfarrkirche Weinhaus im 18. Wiener Gemeindebezirk. Auch zwischen Waldsassen und dem Kappl gibt es einen Stationenweg mit 15 barocken Stelen.

Schmuck[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Das Komboloi gehört in vielen orientalisch geprägten Ländern zum männlichen Accessoire und Spielzeug.

Rosenkränze wurden bereits im Mittelalter als Schmuck getragen. Im Barock erfreute sich dies ebenfalls großer Beliebtheit, wird aber heute von Katholiken eher als anstößig empfunden.

In vielen orientalisch geprägten Ländern gehören die ursprünglich religiösen Ketten zum männlichen Accessoire und Spielzeug. Dazu gehören zum Beispiel die griechischen Kombologia, die auch Sorgenperlen genannt werden. Sie gleichen dem islamischen Tasbih, der ebenfalls vor allem bei männlichen Jugendlichen zum Modeschmuck geworden ist.

Verteilungaktionen[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

Papst Franziskus ließ 2014 auf dem Petersplatz Schachteln verteilen, die wie Arzneimittelverpackungen aufgemacht waren. Auf der Schachtel mit dem Produktnamen Misericordina war ein menschliches Herz zu sehen, das von einem Dornenkranz umgeben ist. Im Inneren befand sich unter anderem ein Rosenkranz.[18] Seit diesem Ereignis wird dieser Rosenkranz tausendfach in den verschiedensten Ländern verkauft. In Deutschland wird er unter dem Namen „Rosenkranz forte“ vertrieben.

Literatur[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

  • Papst Johannes Paul II.: Apostolisches Schreiben ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE über den Rosenkranz. (Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Hrsg.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls 156.) Bonn 2002 (online verfügbar: [1]).
  • Edelsteine, Himmelsschnüre. Rosenkränze und Gebetsketten. Katalog Salzburg Dommuseum 2008.
  • Urs-Beat Frei, Fredy Bühler (Hrsg.): Der Rosenkranz. Andacht – Geschichte – Kunst. Benteli, Bern 2003.
  • Ludwig Maria Grignion von Montfort: Le secret admirable du très saint Rosaire – Pour se convertir et se sauver. Flavigny (F) 2005. ISBN 2-87810-052-2. Deutsch: Der heilige Rosenkranz – Das wunderbare Geheimnis der Bekehrung und des Heils.
  • Elmar GruberDer Rosenkranz. Stationen des Glaubens. München 1978, 9. Auflage 2000.
  • Romano GuardiniDer Rosenkranz Unserer Lieben Frau – Gedanken über das Rosenkranzgebet. Würzburg 1940.
  • Leonard Holtz: Mysterium und Meditation. Rosenkranzbeten heute. Paulinus, Trier 1976, ISBN 3-7902-0117-0.
  • Heribert HolzapfelSt. Dominikus und der Rosenkranz. (Veröffentlichungen aus dem Kirchenhistorischen Seminar München; 12) München 1903.
  • Heinrich JanssenPerlen des Gebets. Der Rosenkranz, Hinführung und geistliche Deutung. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 2003, ISBN 3-451-28232-1.
  • Willibald KirfelDer Rosenkranz. Ursprung und Ausbreitung. Bonn 1947, Walldorf 1949, (Neudruck 2003).
  • Wilfried Kirsch: Handbuch des Rosenkranzes. Dom-Verlag, Wien 1950.
  • Karl Joseph Klinkhammer: Ein wunderbares Beten. So entstand der Rosenkranz. Johannes-Verlag, Leutesdorf 1980, ISBN 3-7794-1158-X.
  • Christoph KühnDer Rosenkranz nach Johannes Paul II. Eine Darstellung der 20 Rosenkranzgeheimnisse. Illustrationen von Gian C Olcuire. Naumann, Würzburg 2003, ISBN 3-88567-088-7.
  • Pietro Principe: Der Rosenkranz. Liberia Editrice Vaticana, Vaticano 2002, ISBN 88-209-7410-X.
  • Gislind Ritz: Der Rosenkranz. München 1962.
  • Rainer Scherschel: Der Rosenkranz – das Jesusgebet des Westens. 2. Auflage. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 1982, ISBN 3-451-18396-X.
  • Rosenkränze und Gebetsschnüre . Die Sammlung Weihbischof Heinrich Janssen; Bestandskatalog, Niederrheinisches Museum für Volkskunde und Kulturgeschichte e. V. Kevelaer. Kevelaer, 2013. ISBN 978-3-925747-16-8
  • Jakob Hubert Schütz: Die Geschichte des Rosenkranzes. Unter Berücksichtigung der Rosenkranz-Geheimnisse und der Marienlitaneien. Paderborn 1909.
  • Daniel Tibi: Glaubensperlen. Hinführung zum Rosenkranzgebet. EOS, St. Ottilien 2009, ISBN 978-3-8306-7338-5.
  • Daniel Tibi: Rosenkranz. Betrachtung des Lebens Jesu mit den Augen Marias (PDF-Datei; 842 kB)

Einzelnachweise[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

  1. Hochspringen Vgl. Johannes XXIII.Apostolisches Schreiben über das Rosenkranzgebet für den gerechten Frieden der Völker vom 29. September 1961.
  2. Hochspringen Vgl. Michael Rüdiger: Rosenkranz. III. Historisch. In: Walter Kasper (Hrsg.): Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche (LThK). 3. Auflage. Band8. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1999, Sp.1303–1305.
  3. Hochspringen Andreas Heinz: Rosenkranz. II. Im Christentum. In: Gerhard Müller u. a.: Theologische Realenzyklopädie, Bd. XXIX, Berlin-New York 1998, ISBN 3-11-016127-3, S. 401–407.
  4. Hochspringen Vgl. D. Johann Georg Krünitz: Oeconomische Encyclopädie – Lemma Rosenkranz.
  5. Hochspringen Vgl. Andreas HeinzRosenkranz. II. Im Christentum. In: Gerhard Müller u. a.: Theologische Realenzyklopädie, Bd. XXIX, Berlin-New York 1998, ISBN 3-11-016127-3, S. 404f.
  6. Hochspringen Vgl. Apostolischen Schreiben Rosarium Virginis Mariæ.
  7. Hochspringen Vgl. ebd. Nr. 21
  8. Hochspringen
  9. Hochspringen, Deutsches Liturgisches Institut.
  10. Hochspringen Apostolischen Schreiben Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, Nr. 38.
  11. Hochspringen William of Malmesbury: Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, 1125, Rolls Series 311.
  12. Hochspringen Vgl. Michael Rüdiger: Rosenkranz. III. Historisch. In: Walter Kasper (Hrsg.): Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche (LThK). 3. Auflage. Band8. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1999, Sp.1303f.
  13. Hochspringen Vgl. SchottDas vollständige römische Messbuch, Ausgabe 1963, S. 1076.
  14. Hochspringen Luciano Bernardi, et al.: Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. In: 323. British Medical Journal, 2001, S. 1446–1449, abgerufen am 19. März 2011 (englisch).
  15. Hochspringen Vgl. Bericht bei nano online vom 21. Dezember 2001.
  16. Hochspringen Vgl. Hermann Rauhe/Gerd Schnack: Topfit durch Nichtstun. RMT – die Formel für optimale Energie. Kösel, München 2002, ISBN 3-466-34446-8, S. 40–41, 100 ff.
  17. Hochspringen Vgl. Kath.netArtikel Rosenkranz: Mehr als ein Psychotrick für Raucher-Aussteiger 1. August 2006.
  18. Hochspringen Rosenkranzverteilung auf, abgerufen am 16. Februar 2017

Weblinks[Bearbeiten | Quelltext bearbeiten]

 Wiktionary: Rosenkranz – Bedeutungserklärungen, Wortherkunft, Synonyme, Übersetzungen
 Commons: Rosenkranz – Sammlung von Bildern, Videos und Audiodateien
 Wikisource: Rosenkranz – Quellen und Volltexte

Published: April 16, 2018, 14:53 | Comments
Category: BishopRosary

Jesus von Nazaret

Jesus als guter Hirte, frühchristliche Deckenmalerei in der Calixtus-Katakombe in Rom, um 250

Jesus von Nazaret (aramäisch ישוע Jeschua oder Jeschugräzisiert Ἰησοῦς; * zwischen 7 und 4 v. Chr., wahrscheinlich in Nazareth; † 30 oder 31 in Jerusalem) war ein jüdischer Wanderprediger. Etwa ab dem Jahr 28 trat er öffentlich in Galiläa und Judäa auf. Zwei bis drei Jahre später wurde er auf Befehl des römischen Präfekten Pontius Pilatus von römischen Soldaten gekreuzigt.

Das Neue Testament (NT) ist als Glaubensdokument der Urchristen zugleich die wichtigste Quelle der historischen Jesusforschung. Danach hat Jesus Nachfolger berufen, den Juden seiner Zeit das nahe Reich Gottes verkündet und sein Volk darum zur Umkehr aufgerufen. Seine Anhänger verkündeten ihn nach seinem Tod als Jesus Christus, den Messias und Sohn Gottes. Daraus entstand eine neue Weltreligion, das Christentum. Auch außerhalb des Christentums wurde Jesus bedeutsam.

Die Quellen und ihre Auswertung

Jesus hat keine Schriften hinterlassen. Fast alles historische Wissen über ihn stammt von seinen Anhängern, die ihre Erinnerungen an ihn nach seinem Tod weitererzählten, sammelten und aufschrieben.

Nichtchristliche Quellen

Wenige jüdische, griechische und römische Autoren der Antike erwähnen Jesus, jedoch fast nur seinen Christustitel und seine Hinrichtung. Woher ihre Kenntnis stammte, ist unsicher.

Der jüdische Historiker Flavius Josephus erwähnt Jesus in seinen Antiquitates Judaicae (um 93/94) zweimal. Die erste Stelle, das Testimonium Flavianum (18,63 f.), galt früher als komplett eingefügt, heute wird es nur als von Christen überarbeitet betrachtet. Sein vermutlich authentischer Kern beschreibt Jesus als von vornehmen Juden angeklagten, von Pilatus zum Kreuzestod verurteilten Weisheitslehrer für Juden und Nichtjuden, dessen Anhänger ihm treu geblieben seien. Die zweite Stelle (20, 200) berichtet über die Hinrichtung des Jakobus und bezeichnet ihn als Bruder Jesu, „der Christus genannt wird“. Manche Historiker bezweifeln, dass ein Jude Jesus so bezeichnet hätte, andere sehen hier einen Rückbezug auf die erste Stelle.[1]

Der römische Geschichtsschreiber Tacitus berichtet um 117 in seinen Annales von „Chrestianern“, denen Kaiser Nero die Schuld am Brand Roms im Jahr 64 zugeschoben habe, und notiert:[2]

„Der Mann, von dem sich dieser Name herleitet, Christus, war unter der Herrschaft des Tiberius auf Veranlassung des Prokurators Pontius Pilatus hingerichtet worden.“

Unklar ist, ob sich diese Nachricht auf römische oder christliche Quellen stützt. Möglicherweise erfuhr Tacitus während seiner Statthalterschaft im Osten des Reiches davon.[3]

Weitere Notizen von SuetonMara Bar Serapion und der Mischnah (Traktat Sanhedrin 43a) beziehen sich nur beiläufig oder polemisch auf ihnen bekannt gewordene christliche Überlieferung.

Christliche Quellen

Informationen über Jesus werden großenteils den vier kanonischen Evangelien, manche auch den Paulusbriefen, einigen Apokryphen und außerhalb davon überlieferten Einzelworten (Agrapha) entnommen. Diese Texte stammen von Urchristen jüdischer Herkunft, die an die Auferstehung Jesu Christi glaubten (Mk 16,6; Apg 2,32) und authentische Erinnerungen an Jesus mit biblischen, legendarischen und symbolischen Elementen verbanden.[4] Damit wollten sie Jesus als den verheißenen Messias für ihre Gegenwart verkündigen, nicht biografisches Wissen über ihn festhalten und vermitteln. Gleichwohl enthalten diese Glaubensdokumente auch historische Angaben.

Die zwischen 48 und 61 entstandenen Paulusbriefe nennen kaum biografische Daten Jesu, zitieren aber einige seiner Worte und Aussagen aus der Jerusalemer Urgemeinde über ihn, die entsprechende Evangelienangaben bestätigen. Auch der Brief des Jakobus spielt öfter auf Eigenaussagen Jesu an und gilt manchen Exegeten als mögliche Quelle dafür, falls er von Jesu Bruder stammt.[5]

Wegen Anspielungen auf die Zerstörung des Jerusalemer Tempels (Mk 13,2; Mt 22,7; Lk 19,43 f.) werden die drei synoptischen Evangelien in der Regel später als das Jahr 70 datiert. Wahrscheinlich kannte keiner der Autoren Jesus persönlich. Sie übernahmen jedoch ältere Jesusüberlieferung, deren früheste Bestandteile auf den Kreis der ersten Nachfolger aus Galiläa zurückgehen.[6] Den Autoren des Matthäus- und Lukasevangeliums lag nach der weithin akzeptierten Zweiquellentheorie das Markusevangelium oder eine Vorform davon vor. Sie übernahmen dessen meiste Texte und Komposition und veränderten diese gemäß ihren eigenen theologischen Absichten. Ihre sonstigen gemeinsamen Stoffe werden einer hypothetischen Logienquelle Q mit gesammelten Reden und Sprüchen Jesu zugewiesen, deren Verschriftung auf 40 bis 70 datiert wird.[7] Ähnliche Spruchsammlungen wurden auch im vermutlich in Syrien entstandenen Thomasevangelium fixiert. Ihre frühesten, zuvor jahrelang mündlich überlieferten Bestandteile (Lk 1,2) stammen von Jesu ersten Anhängern und können originale Jesusworte bewahrt haben. Auch ihr jeweiliges Sondergut und das um 100 entstandene Johannesevangelium können unabhängig überlieferte historische Angaben zu Jesus enthalten.

Da die Evangelisten ihre Quellen auf je eigene Weise für ihre Missions- und Lehrabsichten überarbeiteten, lassen ihre Gemeinsamkeiten umso mehr auf einen historischen Kern schließen. So erzählen sie die Ereignisse vom Einzug Jesu in Jerusalem bis zu seiner Grablegung in fast derselben Reihenfolge. Diese Texte werden auf einen Passionsbericht aus der Urgemeinde zurückgeführt, der frühe Credoformeln narrativ entfaltete. Der Autor des Markusevangeliums verknüpfte diese Vorlage mit Jesusüberlieferung aus Galiläa und erweiterte sie; seinen Aufriss übernahmen die übrigen Evangelisten.[8] Dabei veränderten sie manche der hier besonders häufigen Orts-, Zeit-, Personen- und Situationsangaben, so dass deren Historizität stark umstritten ist. Galten früher nur die von außerchristlichen Notizen bestätigte Kreuzigung Jesu durch Römer, seine Festnahme und ein Hinrichtungsbefehl des Statthalters als unstrittig historisch,[9] so nehmen heute viele Forscher an, dass die Jerusalemer Urchristen einige der zu Jesu Tod führenden Ereignisse zutreffend überlieferten: besonders in Textpassagen, deren Details auch das Johannesevangelium enthält und die gemäß jüdischen und römischen Quellen rechts- und sozialhistorisch plausibel wirken.[10]


→ HauptartikelHistorische Jesusforschung

Seit etwa 1750 werden die urchristlichen Schriften wissenschaftlich untersucht. Die Forschung unterscheidet darin historische Angaben von legendarischen, mythischen und theologischen Motiven. Viele Neutestamentler glaubten früher, sie könnten den Evangelien eine biografische Entwicklung Jesu entnehmen; oft ergänzten sie fehlende Daten spekulativ. Manche bestritten wegen der mythischen Elemente der Quellen Jesu Existenz (siehe Jesus-Mythos). Methodik und viele Einzelthesen der damaligen Leben-Jesu-Literatur gelten seit Albert Schweitzers Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung (1906/1913) als überholt.

Seitdem verfeinerten sich die historisch-kritischen Textanalysen. Ab 1950 wurden zunehmend außerbiblische Quellen herangezogen, um die historische Glaubwürdigkeit der NT-Überlieferung zu überprüfen. Ab etwa 1970 bezog man gewachsene Kenntnisse der ArchäologieSozialgeschichteOrientalistik und Judaistik zur Zeit Jesu stärker ein. Evangelische, katholische, jüdische und atheistische Historiker forschen heute teilweise gemeinsam, so dass ihre Ergebnisse weniger von weltanschaulichen Interessen bestimmt sind.[11]

Die weitaus meisten NT-Historiker entnehmen den Quellen, dass Jesus tatsächlich gelebt hat. Sie ordnen ihn ganz in das damalige Judentum ein[12] und nehmen an, dass sich seine Lebens- und Todesumstände, Verkündigung, sein Verhältnis zu anderen jüdischen Gruppen und Selbstverständnis in Grundzügen ermitteln lassen. Umfang und Zuverlässigkeit historischer Angaben im NT sind jedoch bis heute stark umstritten. Welche Jesusworte und -taten als historisch gelten, hängt von Vorentscheidungen über die sogenannten Echtheitskriterien ab.[13] Weithin anerkannt sind die Kriterien der Kontext- und Wirkungsplausibilität: „Historisch ist in den Quellen das, was sich als Auswirkung Jesu begreifen lässt und gleichzeitig nur in einem jüdischen Kontext entstanden sein kann.“[14]



Jesus ist die latinisierte Form des altgriechisch flektierten Ἰησοῦς mit dem Genitiv Ἰησοῦ („Jesu“). Es übersetzt die aramäische Kurzform Jeschua oder Jeschu des hebräischen männlichen Vornamens Jehoschua. Dieser setzt sich aus der Kurzform Jeho- des Gottesnamens JHWH und einer Form des hebräischen Verbs jascha („helfen, retten“) zusammen.[15] Demgemäß deuten Mt 1,21 und Apg 4,12 den Namen als Aussage: „Gott ist die Rettung“ oder „der Herr hilft“. Auch die gräzisierte Form blieb im damaligen Judentum geläufig und wurde nicht wie sonst üblich mit einem griechischen oder lateinischen Doppelnamen ergänzt oder von ähnlich klingenden Neunamen ersetzt.[16]

Einige Stellen setzen dem Vornamen „Josefs Sohn“ (Lk 3,23; 4,22; Joh 1,45) oder „Sohn der Maria“ (Mk 6,3; Mt 13,55), meist jedoch Nazarenos oder Nazoraios hinzu, um seinen Herkunftsort anzugeben (Mk 1,9). Mt 2,23 EUerklärt dies so: „(Josef) ließ sich in einer Stadt namens Nazaret nieder. Denn es sollte sich erfüllen, was durch die Propheten gesagt worden ist: Er wird Nazoräer genannt werden.“ Diese Weissagung kommt im Tanach nicht vor, kann aber auf den Ausdruck nēṣer (נֵצֶר, „Spross“) in Jes 11,1 für den Messias als Nachkomme Davids anspielen. Eventuell deuteten die Evangelisten damit eine herabsetzende Fremdbezeichnung Jesu um (Joh 1,46; Mt 26,71; Joh 19,19), die auch für Christen im syrischen Raum üblich war (nasraja) und in den Talmud als noṣri einging.[17]

Geburts- und Todesjahr

Das NT gibt kein Geburtsdatum Jesu an; Jahr und Tag waren den Urchristen unbekannt. Die christliche Jahreszählung berechnete Jesu mutmaßliches Geburtsjahr falsch.

Nach Mt 2,1 ff. und Lk 1,5 wurde er zu Lebzeiten des Herodes geboren, der nach Josephus 4 v. Chr. starb. Demnach wurde Jesus wahrscheinlich zwischen 7 und 4 v. Chr. geboren.[18] Lk 2,2 datiert Jesu Geburtsjahr auf eine „erste“ römische Volkszählung durch Eintragung von Grundbesitz in Steuerlisten unter Publius Sulpicius Quirinius. Dieser wurde jedoch erst 6/7 n. Chr. Statthalter Roms für Syrien und Judäa. Eine frühere derartige Steuererhebung ist dort unbelegt und gilt wegen der Steuerhoheit des Herodes als unwahrscheinlich.[19] Lk 2,2 wird daher meist als chronologischer Irrtum und Versuch gedeutet, einen Umzug der Eltern Jesu nach Bethlehem glaubhaft zu machen.[20]Versuche, Jesu Geburtstag durch astronomische Berechnungen einer mit dem Stern von Betlehem (Mt 2,1.9) identifizierten Himmelserscheinung zu bestimmen, gelten als unwissenschaftlich.[21]

Die Evangelien berichten zusammenhängend nur aus einem bis drei der letzten Lebensjahre Jesu. Nach Lk 3,1 trat Johannes der Täufer „im 15. Jahr der Herrschaft des Kaisers Tiberius“ auf: Nach dieser einzigen exakten Jahresangabe im NT trat Jesus frühestens ab 28 auf, wohl seit der Täufer inhaftiert war (Mk 1,14). Damals soll er etwa 30 Jahre alt gewesen sein (Lk 3,23).[22]

Nach allen Evangelien wurde Jesus auf Befehl des römischen Präfekten Pontius Pilatus hingerichtet. Sein Todesjahr fiel also in dessen Amtszeit in Judäa von 26 bis 36. Als Todestag überliefern sie den Vortag eines Sabbat (Freitag) während eines Pessach. Die Synoptiker nennen den Hauptfesttag nach dem Sederabend, also den 15. Nisan im jüdischen Kalender, das Johannesevangelium dagegen nennt den Rüsttag zum Fest, also den 14. Nisan. Nach kalendarisch-astronomischen Berechnungen fiel der 15. Nisan in den Jahren 31 und 34, der 14. Nisan dagegen 30 und 33 auf einen Freitag. Viele Forscher halten die johanneische Datierung heute für „historisch glaubwürdiger“.[23]Manche vermuten einen zusätzlichen Pessach-Sabbat am Tag vor dem Wochensabbat, so dass Jesus übereinstimmend an einem Donnerstag gekreuzigt worden sein könne.[24]

Die meisten halten 30 für Jesu wahrscheinliches Todesjahr, weil Paulus von Tarsus zwischen 32 und 35 Christ wurde, nachdem er die Urchristen eine Weile verfolgt hatte.[25] Andere datieren das Auftreten des Täufers auf 29 oder 30 und Jesu Wirkungszeit gemäß Joh 2,13; 6,4; 11,55 auf bis zu vier Jahre: Dann wäre er 32 oder 33 gestorben.[26] Jesus wurde demnach zwischen 30 und 40 Jahre alt.


Die Geburtsgeschichten des NT (Mt 1–2/Lk 1–2) gelten weitgehend als Legenden, da sie bei Mk und Joh fehlen, sich stark unterscheiden und viele mythische und legendarische Züge enthalten.[27] Dazu zählt man die Listen der Vorfahren Jesu (Mt 1; Lk 3), die Geburtsankündigung durch einen Engel (Lk 1,26 f.), die Geistzeugung und Jungfrauengeburt Jesu (Mt 1,18; Lk 1,35), den Besuch von orientalischen Astrologen (Mt 2,1), den Stern, der sie zu Jesu Geburtsort geführt haben soll (Mt 2,9), den Kindermord in Betlehem (Mt 2,13; vgl. Ex 1,22) und die Flucht der Eltern mit Jesus nach Ägypten (Mt 2,16 ff.).

Nach Mt 2,5f und Lk 2,4 wurde Jesus in Betlehem in Judäa geboren, dem Herkunftsort Davids, von dem im Tanach der künftige Messias abstammen sollte. Damit betonen sie, Jesus sei Davids Nachkomme gewesen und seine Geburt in Betlehem habe die messianische Verheißung Mi 5,1 erfüllt. Bei Mk und Joh fehlen Geburtsgeschichten und Betlehem als Geburtsort.

Alle Evangelien nennen Nazareth in Galiläa als Jesu „Heimat“ oder „Vaterstadt“, Wohnsitz seiner Eltern und Geschwister (Mk 1,9; 6,1–4; Mt 13,54; 21,11; Lk 1,26; 2,39; 4,23; Joh 1,45 und öfter) und bezeichnen ihn darum als „Nazarener“ (Mk 1,24; 10,47) oder „Nazoräer“ (Mt 2,23; Joh 19,19). Nazareth war damals ein unbedeutendes Dorf von höchstens 400 Einwohnern, wie archäologische Gebäude- und Geschirrfunde belegen.[28] Es kommt im Tanach nicht vor. Diese Bedeutungslosigkeit spiegeln überlieferte Einwände gegen Jesu Messianität (Joh 1,45; Joh 7,41).

Mt und Lk haben den ihnen überlieferten Wohnort der Familie Jesu verschieden mit den Geburtsgeschichten ausgeglichen: Jesu Eltern hätten in Betlehem ein Haus bewohnt und seien erst später nach Nazareth gezogen (Mt 2,22 f.); sie seien kurz vor Jesu Geburt von Nazareth nach Betlehem gezogen und dort mangels Quartier in einem Stall untergekommen (Lk 2,4 ff.).[29] Deshalb nehmen Historiker heute meist an, dass Jesus in Nazareth geboren wurde und sein Geburtsort später nach Betlehem verlegt wurde, um ihn gegenüber Juden als Messias zu verkünden.[30]


Jesus war nach Mk 6,3 der erstgeborene „Sohn Marias“. Josef taucht im Markusevangelium nicht auf. Die Vorfahrenlisten (Mt 1,16; Lk 3,23) betonen jedoch Jesu väterliche Stammlinie als „Sohn Josefs“. So nennen ihn auch Maria in Lk 2,48 und die Galiläer in Joh 6,42. Nach Lk 2,21 wurde Jesus gemäß der Tora am achten Lebenstag beschnitten und dabei nach jüdischem Brauch nach seinem Vater benannt, also „Jeschua ben Josef“, wie Lk 4,22 bestätigt. Doch nach Jesu Taufe erwähnen die Synoptiker Josef nicht mehr.

Dieser Befund wird verschieden erklärt. Bruce Chilton vertrat mit Bezug auf Mt 1,18 die These, Jesus sei noch vor Josefs gültiger Heirat mit Maria gezeugt worden und Josef sei früh gestorben. Jesus sei darum in seiner Heimat als uneheliches, nicht erbberechtigtes Kind (hebr. mamzer) abgelehnt worden (Joh 8,41). Durch Josefs frühen Tod habe niemand dessen Vaterschaft rechtsgültig bezeugen können.[31] Dem entsprach eine jüdische Polemik gegen die Lehre der Jungfrauengeburt Jesu: Der Philosoph Kelsos stellte Jesus laut Origenes (Contra Celsum) im 2., der Talmud im 4. Jahrhundert als außereheliches Kind eines Liebhabers Marias namens „Panthera“ dar.[32] Mit Bezug auf diese Quellen erklärte Gerd Lüdemann Jesu Benennung nach seiner Mutter in Mk 6,3 und seine Außenseiterrolle in Nazareth.[33] Viele Neutestamentler nehmen dagegen eine tatsächliche Vaterschaft Josefs und dessen Herkunft aus einer damals unterdrückten Nebenlinie der Daviddynastie an.[34]

Nach Mk 6,3 hatte Jesus vier Brüder namens Jakobus, Joses (gräzisierte Form von Josef, Mt 13,55), Judas, Simon, und einige nicht benannte Schwestern. Die Brüdernamen nach einigen der zwölf Jakobssöhne und die Auslösung Jesu als des ersten Sohnes im Tempel (Lk 2,23) deuten auf eine toratreue jüdische Familie. „Brüder“ und „Schwestern“ kann im biblischen Wortgebrauch auch Vettern und Cousinen umfassen (siehe Geschwister Jesu).[35]

Nach allen Evangelien bewirkte Jesu öffentliches Auftreten Konflikte mit seiner Familie. Das vierte der biblischen Zehn Gebote – Ehre Vater und Mutter! (Ex 20,12; Dtn 5,16) – verlangte nach damaliger Auslegung die Fürsorge der ersten Söhne für Eltern und Sippe.[36] Doch zu Jesu Nachfolge gehörte nach Mt 10,37; Lk 14,26 das Verlassen der Angehörigen, das auch von der vermuteten Qumran-Gemeinde bekannt ist. Wie sie vertrat Jesus offenbar ein „afamiläres Ethos der Nachfolge“, da seine ersten Jünger ihren Vater nach Mk 1,20 bei der Arbeit zurückließen, wenn auch mit Tagelöhnern.[37]

Nach Mk 3,21 versuchten Jesu Verwandte, ihn zurückzuhalten, und erklärten ihn für verrückt. Darauf soll er seinen Anhängern erklärt haben (Mk 3,35 EU): „Wer den Willen Gottes erfüllt, der ist für mich Bruder und Schwester und Mutter.“ Auch rabbinische Lehrer ordneten den Gehorsam gegenüber der Tora jenem gegenüber den Eltern vor, verlangten aber keine völlige Trennung von der Familie.[38] Nach Mk 7,10 f. hob auch Jesus das vierte Gebot nicht auf: Durch keine Gelöbnisformel dürfe man sich der Unterhaltspflicht gegenüber den Eltern entziehen.[39]

Nach Mk 6,1–6 wurde Jesu Lehre in Nazareth abgelehnt, so dass er nicht mehr dorthin zurückgekehrt sei. Aber nach Mk 1,31 versorgten Frauen aus Jesu Heimat ihn und seine Jünger. Sie blieben nach Mk 15,41 bis zum Tod bei ihm, so nach Joh 19,26 f. auch seine Mutter. Er soll noch am Kreuz für ihr Wohlergehen gesorgt haben, indem er sie einem anderen Jünger anvertraute. Obwohl seine Brüder nach Joh 7,5 „nicht an ihn glaubten“, gehörten seine Mutter und einige Brüder nach seinem Tod zur Urgemeinde (Apg 1,14; 1 Kor 9,5; Gal 1,19). Jakobus wurde später wegen seiner Auferstehungsvision (1 Kor 15,7) deren Leiter (Gal 2,9).

Nach einem von Eusebius von Caesarea überlieferten Zitat des Hegesippus ließ Kaiser Domitian bei seiner Christenverfolgung (um 90) die noch lebenden Großneffen Jesu verhaften und verhörte sie. Dabei hätten sie die Frage nach ihrer davidischen Abstammung bejaht, vom Kaiser deshalb vermutete politische Ambitionen aber verneint und ihre bäuerliche Armut betont. Sie seien freigelassen worden und danach zu Kirchenführern aufgestiegen. Dass Jesu Angehörige sich als Nachfahren von König David sahen, gilt daher als wahrscheinlich.[40]

Sprache, Ausbildung, Beruf

Giotto di Bondone: Christus bei den Toralehrern (um 1305; Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua)

Als galiläischer Jude sprach Jesus im Alltag das westliche Aramäisch. Das bestätigen einige aramäische Jesuszitate im NT. Ob man griechische Ausdrücke und Redewendungen ins Aramäische zurück übersetzen kann, ist seit Joachim Jeremias ein wichtiges Kriterium, mögliche authentische Jesusworte von urchristlicher Deutung zu unterscheiden.[41]

Das biblische Hebräisch wurde in Palästina zur Zeit Jesu kaum noch gesprochen. Er kann es dennoch beherrscht haben, da er den Tanach laut NT gut kannte und in den Synagogen Galiläas vorlas und auslegte. Er kann Bibeltexte auch aus aramäischen Übersetzungen (Targumim) kennengelernt haben.[42] Ob er die griechische Koine sprechen konnte, die damals Verkehrsspracheim Osten des Römischen Reichs war, ist wegen fehlender direkter NT-Belege ungewiss.[43]

Aus Jesu Jugendzeit überliefert das NT nur einen Aufenthalt des 12-Jährigen im Tempel, bei dem er die Jerusalemer Toralehrer mit seiner Bibelauslegung beeindruckt haben soll (Lk 2,46 f.). Das gilt als legendarisches Motiv, um Jesu Bibelkenntnis zu erklären.[44] Lesen und Schreiben konnten Kinder ärmerer jüdischer Familien, die keine Schriftrollen besaßen, allenfalls in Toraschulen und Synagogen lernen. Nach Lk 4,16 las Jesus in der Synagoge von Nazareth aus der Tora vor, bevor er sie auslegte. Nach Mk 6,2 f. hatten Jesu Hörer ihm das Predigen nicht zugetraut und bemerkt, dass es sich von der traditionellen Schriftauslegung unterschied; nach Joh 7,15 fragten sie sich: Wie kann dieser die Schrift verstehen, obwohl er es nicht gelernt hat?Doch Jesu häufige Frage an seine Hörer „Habt ihr nicht gelesen…?“ (Mk 2,25; 12,10.26; Mt 12,5; 19,4 u.a.) setzt seine Lesefähigkeit voraus. Ob er auch schreiben konnte, ist ungewiss. Nur Joh 8,6.8 erwähnt eine Geste des Schreibens oder Zeichnens auf den Boden.

Jesu Predigt- und Argumentationsstil ist rabbinisch (Halacha und Midraschim). Seine ersten Jünger nannten ihn „Rabbi“ (Mk 9,5; 11,21; 14,45; Joh 1,38.49; Joh 3,2; 4,31 u.a.) oder „Rabbuni“ („mein Meister“: Mk 10,51; Joh 20,16). Diese aramäische Anrede entsprach dem griechischen διδάσκαλος für „Lehrer“. Sie drückte Ehrerbietung aus und gab Jesus denselben Rang wie den Pharisäern, die sich als Ausleger mosaischer Gebote ebenso bezeichneten (Mt 13,52; 23,2.7 f.). Aus starken Ähnlichkeiten der Toraauslegung Jesu mit damaligen Rabbinerrichtungen folgert Pinchas Lapide, er müsse eine Toraschule besucht haben.[45]

Nach Mk 6,3 war Jesus, nach Mt 13,55 sein Vater Bauhandwerker (griech. τέκτων, oft irreführend als „Zimmermann“ übersetzt).[46] Vermutlich erlernte Jesus wie viele jüdische Söhne den Beruf des Vaters. Obwohl ein Handwerk als Lebensunterhalt für einen Rabbi damals üblich war, macht das NT dazu keine Angaben.[47] Bauhandwerkliche Kenntnisse Jesu zeigen etwa die Gleichnisse Lk 6,47–49 und Mk 12,10. Nach vielen Metaphern seiner Aussagen (etwa Lk 5,1–7; Joh 21,4–6) kann er auch Schäfer, Bauer oder Fischer gewesen sein.[48]

Nazareth lag sieben Kilometer von der Stadt Sepphoris entfernt, die Herodes Antipas zur Residenz ausbauen ließ und in der die Großgrundbesitzer wohnten. Sie kann manchen Dorfbewohnern als Arbeitsplatz gedient haben. Das NT erwähnt die Stadt nicht und betont, dass Jesus andere hellenistische Städte nicht besuchte.[49]


Verhältnis zum Täufer Johannes

Die Taufe Jesu durch Johannes den Täufer gilt als historisches Ereignis, mit dem sein öffentliches Wirken begann. Johannes war nach Mt 3,7–12; Lk 3,7 ff. ein Prophet des nahen Endgerichts, der aus einer Priesterfamilie stammte (Lk 1,5) und als Asket, eventuell als Nasiräer,[50] in der unbewohnten Wüste lebte (Lk 1,80). Seine persönliche und einmalige Taufe bot laut Mk 1,4 f. Vergebung an und setzte ein Sündenbekenntnis voraus. Josephus verstand sie als gewöhnliches jüdisches Reinigungsritual.[51]

Mk 1,11 EU stellt Jesu Taufe als Gottes einzigartige Erwählung („du bist mein geliebter Sohn“; vgl. Ps 2,7; Hos 11,1 und öfter) und sein ganzes folgendes Wirken als Sendung durch Gott (vgl. Röm 1,3 f. EU) dar.[52] Wie Jesus selbst sich verstand, ist jedoch fraglich, da er sich im NT nie direkt Sohn Gottes nennt. Laut Joh 3,22; 4,1 taufte er eine Zeit lang parallel zu diesem. Nach Joh 1,35-42 kamen die Brüder Simon Petrus und Andreas aus dem Johanneskreis zu Jesus. Demnach gab es zwischen beiden Gruppen Austausch und eventuell Konkurrenz.[53] Auch dass Jesus mit der Taufe Schüler des Johannes wurde, gilt als plausibel.[54][53]

Vermutlich reduzierte Markus Jesu Kontakt mit Johannes auf das isolierte Taufereignis und ließ ihn erst seit der Inhaftierung des Johannes öffentlich auftreten.[53] Mk 1,15 gilt als Beleg für die Ähnlichkeiten beider Botschaften. Jesus übernahm den endgültigen Umkehrruf des Täufers[55] und wohl auch das apokalyptische Motiv des Gerichtsfeuers auf Erden (Lk 12,49, Mt 3,10).[56] Er lehnte jedoch nach Mk 2,16–19 Fasten und Askese für seine Jünger ab und pflegte die Tischgemeinschaft gerade mit solchen Juden, die nach der geltenden Tora-Auslegung als „Unreine“ vom Heil ausgeschlossen wurden. Er zog sich nicht in die Wüste zurück, sondern wandte sich gerade ausgestoßenen Juden und Fremden zu und sagte ihnen das bedingungslose Heil Gottes zu. Daraufhin soll der inhaftierte Täufer Jesus durch Boten gefragt haben: Bist du der Kommende? (der Messias; Mt 11,2 ff.).

Demgemäß betonten die Urchristen die Vorläufer- und Zeugenrolle des Johannes gegenüber Jesus (Mk 1,7; Lk 3,16; Mt 3,11; Joh 1,7 f.; 3,28 ff. u.a.). Jesus identifizierte Johannes laut Mk 9,13 mit dem Propheten Elija, an dessen Wiederkunft vor dem Endgericht Juden damals glaubten, sowie nach Lk 7,24–28 mit dem in Mal 3,1 angekündigten Propheten der Endzeit. Daher befürwortete er die Johannestaufe auch nach Beginn seines Auftretens als Rettung aus dem Endgericht.[54]

Dass Herodes Antipas den Täufer hinrichten ließ (Mk 6,17 ff.), war Jesus wahrscheinlich bekannt. Ein ermordeter Prophet galt in biblischer Tradition als von Gott legitimiert.[57] Demgemäß kündigte Jesus mit seinem Täuferzeugnis sein eigenes Leiden an, erwartete laut Lk 13,32–35; Lk 20,9–19 für sich ein analoges gewaltsames Ende und stellte sich in die Reihe der verfolgten Propheten Israels.[58] Nach Mk 11,27–33 legitimierte Jesus später seinen Vollmachtsanspruch zur Sündenvergebung wie zur Tempelreinigung gegenüber Jerusalemer Gegnern mit seiner Taufe durch Johannes.[59]

Gebiet des Auftretens

Orte, an denen Jesus laut den Evangelien gewirkt hat

Ausgrabungsstätte des vermuteten Petrushauses (1980er Jahre)

Jesus sah sich nur zu den „verlorenen Schafen des Hauses Israel“ gesandt (Mt 10,5; 15,24); seine wenigen überlieferten Begegnungen mit Nichtjuden erscheinen als Ausnahmen. Seine Reisewege lassen sich nicht genau rekonstruieren, da viele Ortsangaben und ihre Abfolge in den Evangelien von den Evangelisten stammen und die Ausbreitung des Christentums bei ihrer Abfassung spiegeln können.[60] Plausibel seien jedoch Nachbarorte Nazareths wie Kana und Naïn sowie bei Tagesmärschen und Bootsfahrten über den See Genezareth erreichbare Orte wie BethsaidaChorazin und Magdala. Weiter entfernt lagen Gerasa im Südosten (Mk 5,1), Tyros und Sidon im Nordwesten (Mk 7,24). Ob er auch Samarien durchstreifte (Joh 4,5 gegen Mt 10,5), ist ungewiss. Von Römern und Herodianern erbaute Städte wie Tiberias und Sepphoris erwähnt das NT nicht. Laut Mk 8,27 betrat er nur die umgebenden Dörfer von Cäsarea Philippi. Daraus wird gefolgert, dass Jesus eher auf dem Land wirkte und hellenisierte Städte mied.[61]

In Kafarnaum soll Jesus zuerst aufgetreten (Mk 1,21 ff.; Lk 4,23), in das dortige Haus des Petrus eingezogen (Mt 4,12 f.) und von seinen Reisen öfter dorthin zurückgekehrt sein (Mk 1,29; 2,1; 9,33; Lk 7,1). Mt 9,1 nennt den Ort daher „seine Stadt“. Dieses Fischerdorf lag damals an der Grenze des von Herodes Antipas regierten Gebiets. Vielleicht wählte Jesus hier sein Quartier, um notfalls vor dessen Verfolgung in das Nachbargebiet des Herodes Philippos fliehen zu können (Lk 13,31 ff.).[62]

Verkündigung des Gottesreichs

→ HauptartikelReich Gottes

Die nahe „Königsherrschaft Gottes“ war Jesu zentrale Botschaft nach den synoptischen Evangelien (Mk 1,14 f.): Dies nimmt die NT-Forschung fast immer als historisch an.[63] Die Evangelien veranschaulichen den Begriff durch konkrete Handlungen, Gleichnisse und Lehrgespräche Jesu. Sie setzen dabei seine Bekanntheit unter Juden voraus. An Nichtjuden gerichtete NT-Texte verwenden den Begriff dagegen selten.[64] Damit bezog sich Jesus auf die Tradition der Prophetie im Tanach und Apokalyptik, wie einige eventuell echte Zitate aus Deuterojesaja und Danielzeigen.[65]

Manche Aussagen Jesu kündigen Gottes Herrschaft als unmittelbar bevorstehend an, andere sagen sie als schon angebrochen zu oder setzen ihre Gegenwart voraus. Umstritten war früher, ob eher die futurische (so etwa Albert Schweitzer) oder die präsentische (so etwa Charles Harold DoddEschatologie auf Jesus zurückgeht. Seit etwa 1945 beurteilen die meisten Exegeten beide Aspekte gemäß ihrem paradoxen Nebeneinander im Vaterunser (Mt 6,9–13) als authentisch.[66] Sie betonen, dass Jesus diese Herrschaft als dynamisches Geschehen und gegenwärtig laufenden Prozess auffasste, nicht nur als jenseitige Welt. So habe er im Anschluss an jüdische Apokalyptik nicht die Vernichtung der Erde, sondern ihre umfassende Erneuerung einschließlich der Natur erwartet und durch sein Handeln in seine Zeit hineingezogen.[67]

Daran knüpfen Worte vom Sturz Satans (Lk 10,18 ff.) an oder das Streitgespräch darüber, ob Jesus seine Heilkraft von Beelzebub oder Gott empfangen habe (Mt 12,22 ff. par.). Der „Stürmerspruch“ (Mt 11,12) legt nahe, dass der Ankunft der Gottesherrschaft gewaltsame Konflikte vorausgehen, die seit dem Auftreten des Täufers Johannes bis in Jesu Gegenwart andauern.[68] Wie Johannes predigte Jesus ein unerwartet hereinbrechendes Gericht, das eine letzte Chance zur Umkehr bietet (Lk 12,39–48). Anders als dieser stellte er die Einladung zum Gottesreich wie zu einem für alle offenen Festmahl heraus.[69] Eventuell verknüpfte er die Rettung aus dem Endgericht mit der aktuellen Entscheidung seiner Hörer zu seiner Botschaft (Mk 8,38; Lk 12,8).[70]

Die der Logienquelle zugewiesenen „Seligpreisungen“ (Lk 6,20–23; Mt 5,3–10) sagen Gottes Herrschaft den aktuell Armen, Trauernden, Machtlosen, Verfolgten als gerechte Wende zur Aufhebung ihrer Not zu. Diese Menschen waren die ersten und wichtigsten Adressaten Jesu. Seine oft für authentisch gehaltene Antwort auf die Täuferfrage (Mt 11,4 ff.) weist darauf hin, dass ihnen in Jesu Heilungen schon das Reich Gottes begegne. Seine Antrittspredigt (Lk 4,18–21) aktualisiert die biblische Verheißung eines Erlassjahres zur Entschuldung und Landumverteilung (Lev 25) für die gegenwärtig Armen.

Sozialhistorische Untersuchungen erklären solche NT-Texte aus damaligen Lebensumständen: Juden litten unter Ausbeutung, steuerlichen Abgaben für Rom und den Tempel, täglicher römischer Militärgewalt, Schuldversklavung, HungerEpidemien und sozialer Entwurzelung.[71] Manchmal wird die Armentheologie in der ältesten Jesusüberlieferung aus dem Einfluss kynischer Wanderphilosophen erklärt,[72] meist aber aus biblischen, besonders prophetischen Traditionen.[73]

Wolfgang Stegemann zufolge strebten Jesus und seine Anhänger mit ihrer Reich-Gottes-Predigt keine „Aushandlungsprozesse über ein bestimmtes Gesellschaftsmodell“ an, sondern erwarteten die Durchsetzung einer anderen Ordnung allein von Gott. Ihre Botschaft konnte nur angenommen oder abgelehnt werden (Lk 10,1–12). Sie habe die Gottesherrschaft nach dem Modell eines wohltätigen, von Reichen meist vergeblich erwarteten Patronats gegen aktuell erfahrene Herrschaftsformen gestellt.[74] John Dominic Crossan zufolge verbreitete die Jesusbewegung durch „kostenloses Heilen und gemeinsames Essen“, ohne sesshaft zu werden, einen radikalen Egalitarismus. So habe sie die Gottesherrschaft unmittelbar erlebbar werden lassen und die hierarchischen Wertmaßstäbe und Gesellschaftsstrukturen angegriffen, um sie zu entkräften.[75] Ähnlich meint Martin Karrer, Jesus habe eine „subversive“ Bewegung der Abweichler von religiösen und gesellschaftlichen Normen bewirkt.[73]

Tätigkeit als Heiler

→ HauptartikelWunder Jesu

Antike Quellen erzählen oft von wunderbaren Heilungen, doch nirgends so oft von einer Einzelperson wie im NT.[76] Die Evangelien überliefern von Jesus Heilungs-, Geschenk-, Rettungs-, Normenwunder und Totenerweckungen. Bei den Heilungswundern werden Exorzismen und Therapien unterschieden.[77] Erstere beziehen sich auf damals unheilbare Krankheiten oder Defekte wie „Aussatz“ (alle Arten von Hautkrankheiten), verschiedene Erblindungen[78] und heute als Epilepsie[79] und Schizophrenie bezeichnete Krankheitsbilder. Davon Betroffene galten als „von unreinen Geistern (Dämonen) besessen“ (Mk 1,23).[80] Man vermied Umgang und Berührung mit ihnen, vertrieb sie aus bewohnten Gegenden und lieferte sie so oft dem Tod aus.[81]

Beide Textgattungen betonen Jesu Zuwendung zu solchen Ausgegrenzten, auch Nichtjuden, die die Ursache ihrer Ausgrenzung beseitigte und so ihre Isolation aufhob. Ihre Rahmenverse laden oft zu Glauben und Umkehr ein. Seine Heilerfolge hätten ihm Misstrauen, Neid und Abwehr eingebracht, die Tötungspläne seiner Gegner ausgelöst (Mk 3,6; Joh 11,53) und Forderungen nach demonstrativen „Zeichen und Wundern“ bewirkt. Diese habe Jesus abgelehnt (Mk 8,11 ff.; 9,19 ff.). Besondere Züge der NT-Wundertexte sind, dass der Wundertäter die Heilung dem Glauben der Geheilten zuspricht („Dein Glaube hat dich gerettet“: Mk 5,34; 10,52; Lk 17,19 u.a.) und sie als Zeichen einer umfassenden Perspektive, nämlich Beginn des Reiches Gottes und Ende der Herrschaft des Bösen deutet (Mk 3,22 ff., ein meist für echt gehaltenes Jesuswort). Daher nehmen Neutestamentler an, dass Jesus die ältesten Exorzismus- und Therapietexte anregte: Weil Augenzeugen sein Handeln als Wunder erlebten, erzählten sie es weiter und schrieben ihm dann weitere Wunder zu.[82]


Die Bergpredigt (Mt 5–7) wird als „Lehre“ Jesu eingeführt (Mt 5,2). Sie wurde von Urchristen aus Einzelpredigten Jesu zusammengestellt und vom Evangelisten redigiert oder komponiert.[83] Ihr Beginn (Mt 5,14 ff.) erinnert Jesu Nachfolger an Israels Auftrag, als Volk Gottes „Licht der Völker“ zu sein (Jes 42,6), indem es die Tora vorbildlich erfüllt. Mt 5,17–20 betont demgemäß, Jesus habe alle überlieferten Gebote erfüllt, nicht aufgehoben.

Ob Jesus selbst das so sah, ist umstritten. Anders als Paulus nahm er nur zu Einzelgeboten, nicht zur Tora insgesamt Stellung, da er sie wie alle damaligen Juden als gültigen Willen Gottes voraussetzte.[84] Einige Gebote verschärfte er, andere entschärfte er, wieder andere relativierte er so, dass sie im Urchristentum aufgehoben wurden. Dies gilt heute als innerjüdische Toradeutung, nicht als Bruch mit dem Judentum. Wie der Rabbiner Hillel (ca. 30 v. Chr. bis 9 n. Chr.) gab Jesus der Nächstenliebe den gleichen Rang wie der Gottesfurcht und ordnete sie damit den übrigen Torageboten über (Mk 12,28–34). Er sah sich zu denen gesandt, die wegen Übertretungen verachtet wurden (Mk 2,17 EU): „Nicht die Starken brauchen einen Arzt, sondern die Kranken. Ich bin gekommen, die Sünder zu rufen und nicht die Gerechten.“ Damit waren unter anderem jüdische „Zöllner“ gemeint, die für die Römer Steuern eintrieben, oft dabei ihre Landsleute übervorteilten und daher gehasst und gemieden wurden. Nach Lk 19,8 lud Jesus sie zum Teilen mit den Armen ein, nach Mt 6,19-24 deutete er das Anhäufen von Besitz als Bruch des ersten Gebots. Erst mit der Besitzaufgabe für die Armen erfülle der gesetzestreue Reiche alle Zehn Gebote so, dass er zur Nachfolge frei werde (Mk 10,17–27).

Die „Antithesen“ legen wichtige Toragebote aus. Danach betonte Jesus über deren Wortlaut hinaus die innere Einstellung als Ursache des Vergehens: Das Tötungsverbot (Ex 20,13) breche schon der, der seinem Nächsten bloß zürne, ihn beschimpfe oder verfluche. Damit ziehe er Gottes Zorngericht auf sich. Darum solle er sich erst mit seinem Gegner versöhnen, bevor er im Tempel Opfer darbringe (Mt 5,21–26). Ehebruch (Ex 20,14) begehe innerlich schon, wer als verheirateter Mann eine andere Frau begehre (Mt 5,27–30). Missbrauch des Gottesnamens (Ex 20,7) und Lüge (Ex 20,16) sei jeder Eid, nicht erst ein Meineid (Mt 5,33 ff.). Weil Gott Erhaltung seiner Schöpfung versprochen habe (Gen 8,22), sollen Juden und Jesusnachfolger auf Vergeltung (Gen 9,6) durch Gegengewalt verzichten (Mt 5,39) und stattdessen mit kreativer Feindesliebe antworten, gerade auch ihre Verfolger als Nächste segnen, sie mit Fürsorge und freiwilligem Entgegenkommen überraschen und so „entfeinden“ (Mt 5,40–48).[85] Damit erinnerte Jesus an Israels Aufgabe, alle Völker zu segnen, um auch sie von Gewaltherrschaft zu befreien (Gen 12,3), die Herrschaft des „Bösen“ zu beenden und Gottes Reich herbeizurufen.[86] Verachtung und Verurteilung anderer hätten die gleichen Folgen wie deren Gewaltausübung (Mt 7,1–3 EU):[87]

„Richtet nicht, damit ihr nicht gerichtet werdet! Denn wie ihr richtet, so werdet ihr gerichtet werden, und nach dem Maß, mit dem ihr messt und zuteilt, wird euch zugeteilt werden. Warum siehst du den Splitter im Auge deines Bruders, aber den Balken in deinem Auge bemerkst du nicht?“

Nach Joh 8,7 EU rettete Jesus eine Ehebrecherin vor der Steinigung, indem er den Anklägern ihre eigene Schuld bewusst machte: „Wer von euch ohne Sünde ist, werfe als Erster einen Stein auf sie.“ Dies wird als Entkräftung der in der Tora vorgeschriebenen Todesstrafe für Ehebruch (Lev 20,10) gedeutet. Der Satz wird oft für echt oder zumindest Jesus gemäß gehalten, obwohl die Erzählung in älteren Handschriften des Johannesevangeliums fehlt.[88]

Nach Mk 7,15 erklärte Jesus nur das für unrein, was von innen her aus dem Menschen komme, nicht was von außen in ihn hineingehe. Das wurde früher oft als Aufhebung der wichtigen Speise– und Reinheitsgebote und damit als Bruch mit allen übrigen Kultgeboten der Tora verstanden. Heute gilt es eher als Auslegung, die moralische über äußerliche Reinheit stellt.[89] In Konkurrenz zu Sadduzäern und Teilen der Pharisäer wollte Jesus nicht Reine von Unreinen abgrenzen, sondern Reinheit offensiv auf als unrein geltende Gruppen ausweiten. Daher integrierte er in Israel ausgegrenzte Leprakranke (Mk 1,40–45), Sünder (Mk 2,15) und Zöllner (Lk 19,6) und verweigerte sich nicht kontaktsuchenden Nichtjuden (Mk 7,24–30).[90]


Reichenauer Schule: Christus spricht zu den Jüngern (um 1010)

→ HauptartikelNachfolge Jesu

Von Beginn seines Auftretens an berief Jesus nach dem NT männliche und weibliche Jünger (Mk 1,14 ff.) dazu, wie er Beruf, Familie und Besitz zu verlassen (Mk 10,28–31) und mittel- und waffenlos umherziehend Gottes Reich zu verkünden. Sie gehörten wie er zum einfachen Volk, das verarmt und vielfach vom Hunger bedroht war. Sie wurden ausgesandt, um Kranke zu heilen, Dämonen auszutreiben und Gottes Segen weiterzugeben. Beim Betreten eines Hauses sollten sie mit dem Friedensgruß „Schalom“ die ganze Sippe unter Gottes Schutz stellen. Waren sie nicht willkommen, dann sollten sie den Ort verlassen, ohne zurückzukehren, und ihn Gottes Gericht überlassen (Mt 10,5–15).[91]

Diese Aussendungsrede und vergleichbare Nachfolgetexte werden der Logienquelle zugewiesen und in der sozialhistorischen Forschung als Ausdruck für die Lebensumstände und Wertvorstellungen der frühen Jesusbewegung gedeutet. Auf solche Texte stützte Gerd Theißen 1977 seine einflussreiche soziologische These vom Wanderradikalismus: Die Jesusbewegung habe inmitten einer ökonomischen Krise und zerfallender sozialer Bindungen ein damals attraktives, charismatisches Nachfolgeethos zur Erneuerung des Judentums vertreten. Die engeren Anhänger Jesu seien im Bewusstsein einer endzeitlichen Rettungsaufgabe als besitz- und waffenlose Wanderer umhergezogen und von ortsansässigen Sympathisanten materiell unterstützt worden.[92]

Nach Geza Vermes waren Jesus und seine Anhänger von einem „charismatischen Milieu“ im damaligen Galiläa beeinflusste „Wandercharismatiker“. Denn auch von Chanina ben Dosa (um 40–75), einem Vertreter des galiläischen Chassidismus, wurden Armenfürsorge, Besitzlosigkeit, Wunderheilungen durch Gebet und Toraauslegungen überliefert.[93]

Sollte Jesus einen engeren, leitenden Zwölferkreis ausgewählt haben, unterstreicht dies nach James H. Charlesworth seinen gewaltfreien politischen Anspruch, der zur Zeit des jüdischen zweiten Tempels nicht von religiösen Zielen zu trennen war. Denn die Testamente der zwölf Patriarchen und andere Dokumente weisen auf die Bedeutung der zwölf Stämme Israels zur Zeit Jesu hin. Diese sollten auf der Erde herrschen, wenn Gott die politische Autonomie Israels wiederherstellen würde.[94]

Frauen, Ehe, Ehebruch

Jesu Verhalten gegenüber Frauen war im patriarchalischen Judentum damals neu und ungewöhnlich. Viele der berichteten Heilungen galten sozial ausgegrenzten Frauen wie ProstituiertenWitwen oder Ausländerinnen. Geheilte Frauen folgten ihm von Beginn an nach (Mk 1,31), manche versorgten ihn und die Jünger (Lk 8,2 f.). Sie spielten laut NT für Jesus auch sonst eine wichtige Rolle: Eine Frau soll ihn vor seinem Tod gesalbt (Mk 14,3–9), die Gattin des Pilatus soll gegen seine Hinrichtung protestiert haben (Mt 27,19). Nachfolgerinnen Jesu sollen nicht geflohen sein, sondern sein Sterben begleitet, seine Grablegung beobachtet (Mk 15,40 f.), sein leeres Grab entdeckt (Mk 16,1–8) und als erste seine Auferweckung bezeugt haben (Lk 24,10; Joh 20,18).

Nach Mt 19,12 gebot Jesus seinen Jüngern die Eheschließung nicht, sondern ließ um ihrer Aufgabe willen, der Reich-Gottes-Verkündigung, Ehelosigkeit zu. Einige Jünger traf Paulus später mit ihren Ehefrauen in Jerusalem an (1 Kor 9,5), so dass diese schon mit Jesus und ihren Männern umhergezogen sein können. Die kanonischen Evangelien zeigen keine Spur einer Partnerschaft Jesu; er kann unverheiratet gewesen sein.[95] Nur das späte apokryphe Philippusevangelium erwähnt in einem unvollständigen, in der Übersetzung ergänzten Vers (6,33): Jesus habe Maria Magdalena [oft auf den Mund] geküsst. Dies weist im Kontext nicht auf eine Partnerschaft, sondern auf das Übertragen einer göttlichen Seelenkraft hin.[96] NT-Forschung weist populäre Theorien, Maria Magdalena sei Jesu Ehefrau gewesen,[97] als quellenlose Fiktion zurück.[98]

Während die Tora laut Dtn 24,1–4 Männern die Ehescheidung mit einem Scheidebrief für die geschiedene Frau erlaubte, betonte Jesus gegenüber Pharisäern nach Mk 10,2–12 die Unauflösbarkeit der Ehe gemäß Gen 1,27 und verbot gegenüber seinen Jüngern beiden Ehepartnern die Scheidung und Wiederheirat. Nach Mt 5,32 und 19,9 begründete er dies als Schutz der Frau, die sonst zu Ehebruch genötigt werde. Der Einschub „abgesehen von (vom Fall eines) Ehebruch(s)“ (porneia) gilt als redaktioneller Zusatz. Nach Lk 16,18 sprach Jesus den jüdischen Mann an, der bei Wiederheirat die fortbestehende erste Ehe breche.[99]

Da manche Qumranschriften (CD 4,12–5,14) und die Rabbinerschule Schammai eine ähnliche Position vertraten, wird vermutet, dass diese Strenge auf damalige soziale Auflösungstendenzen im Judentum reagierte und sowohl das Verhalten der Oberschicht kritisieren wie auch verarmte, von Zerrüttung gefährdete Familien schützen sollte.[100] Dass Jesus sein Verbot an jüdische Männer richtete und des Ehebruchs angeklagte Frauen laut Lk 7,36 ff.; Joh 8,2 ff. verteidigte, wird als Absicht zum Schutz der Frauen in einer patriarchalen Gesellschaft gedeutet.[101]


Pharisäer und Toragelehrte erscheinen in den Evangelien meist als Kritiker des Verhaltens Jesu und seiner Nachfolger. Sie empört seine Sündenvergebung als todeswürdige Anmaßung (Mk 2,7), sie missbilligen seine Tischgemeinschaft mit als „unrein“ ausgegrenzten „Zöllnern und Sündern“ (2,16) und das Feiern seiner Jünger (2,18), so dass sie ihn stereotyp als „Fresser und Weinsäufer“ verachten (Lk 7,31–35). Besonders Jesu demonstrative Sabbatheilungen und Erlaubnis zum Sabbatbruch (Mk 2–3) provozieren ihre Feindschaft. Nach Mk 3,6 planen sie darum zusammen mit Herodesanhängern seinen Tod. Vorsätzlicher Sabbatbruch war nach Ex 31,14 f., Num 15,32–35 durch Steinigung zu ahnden. Joh 8,59 und 10,31.39 erwähnen Steinigungsversuche jüdischer Gegner Jesu, weil er sich über Abraham und Mose gestellt habe.

Diese Verse gelten als ahistorisch, da die Pharisäer weder geschlossen noch mit den Toralehrern identisch noch mit Herodianern verbunden waren. Die Passionstexte erwähnen sie kaum und Jesu Sabbatkonflikte gar nicht. Die Verse sollten offenbar die Ereignisse in Galiläa redaktionell mit Tötungsplänen der Jerusalemer Gegner Jesu (Mk 11,18; 12,13; vgl. Joh 11,47; 18,3) verklammern.[102]

Andere NT-Texte kommen der historischen Lage näher: Nach Mk 2,23 ff. begründete Jesus das Ährensammeln seiner Jünger am Sabbat als biblisch erlaubte Gebotsübertretung bei akuter Hungersnot. Er ergänzte damit die damals diskutierten Ausnahmen vom Sabbatgebot zur Lebensrettung.[103] Nach Lk 7,36; 11,37 luden Pharisäer Jesus zum Essen in ihre Häuser ein und interessierten sich dabei für seine Lehre. Nach Mk 12,32 ff. stimmte ein Jerusalemer Pharisäer Jesus zu, die Tora im Doppelgebot der Gottes- und Nächstenliebe zusammenzufassen. Solche Summarien entsprachen jüdischer Tradition. Auch in der Erwartung des Reiches Gottes und einer Auferstehung aller Toten stimmten die Pharisäer mit Jesus überein. Nach Lk 13,31 warnten und retteten sie ihn vor Nachstellungen des Herodes. Ein Pharisäer sorgte für Jesu Bestattung.

Viele Forscher nehmen heute an, dass Jesus den Pharisäern unter damaligen Juden am nächsten stand. Dass sie dennoch zu seinen Gegnern stilisiert wurden, wird aus der Situation nach der Tempelzerstörung im Jahr 70 erklärt: Danach übernahmen Pharisäer die Führungsrolle im Judentum. Juden und Christen grenzten sich verstärkt voneinander ab und legitimierten dies wechselseitig in ihren damals entstandenen Schriften.[104]


Der von Rom eingesetzte Vasallenkönig Herodes der Große war vielen Juden als aus Idumäa stammender „Halbjude“ verhasst. Gegen die hohen Steuerauflagen für seine Palast- und Tempelbauten kam es zu Aufständen. Darum teilte Rom sein Herrschaftsgebiet nach seinem Tod 4 v. Chr. unter seine vier Söhne auf, die sich nicht mehr „König der Juden“ nennen durften und dem römischen Präfekten unterstellt wurden.[105] Herodes Antipas, der Galiläa und Peräa zur Zeit Jesu regierte, ließ die galiläischen Orte Sepphoris und Tiberias zu hellenisierten Metropolen ausbauen. Diese Städte und die dort angesiedelten Juden galten der galiläischen Landbevölkerung und antirömischen Jerusalemern als unrein.[106] Die Zweitehe des Antipas mit seiner zuvor schon verheirateten Nichte Herodias galt als eklatanter Torabruch.[107] Er ließ Johannes den Täufer laut Mk 6,17–29 wegen seiner Kritik daran verhaften und enthaupten und soll auch Jesus nach Mk 3,6 und Lk 13,31 namentlich gekannt und verfolgt haben. Damit erklärt Mt 14,13, dass Jesus keine der von Antipas erbauten Städte besuchte.[108] Nach Lk 23,6–12.15 soll Antipas den inhaftierten Jesus verhört und dann als harmlosen Verrückten an Pilatus übergeben haben. Dies gilt als redaktioneller Versuch, die folgend berichteten Freigabeversuche des Pilatus plausibel zu machen.[109]


Jesu Hauptgegner in Jerusalem waren die hellenistisch gebildeten und wohlhabenden Sadduzäer, die als priesterliche Erben der Leviten den Jerusalemer Tempel leiteten. Der dortige zentrale, von allen Juden zu befolgende Opferkult war ihre Existenzgrundlage und ein wichtiger Wirtschaftsfaktor für ganz Palästina.[110] Sie stellten den Hohenpriester, der sein erbliches Amt als höchster Richter für Kultfragen auf Dtn 17,8–13 zurückführte.

Die Amtsträger wurden aber seit 6 n. Chr. von römischen Präfekten ein- und abgesetzt und mussten diese bei der ordnungspolitischen Kontrolle von Judäa-Syrien unterstützen. Dafür durften sie die für Juden obligatorische Tempelsteuer eintreiben, den Tempelkult verwalten, eine bewaffnete Tempelgarde unterhalten und auch wohl über Kultvergehen urteilen, aber keine Todesstrafen vollstrecken; dies oblag nur den römischen Präfekten.[111] Im Hinterland war ihr Einfluss zwar geringer, doch setzten sie auch dort die Tempelsteuer und Einhaltung der Kultgebote durch.

Jesus hat die Tempelpriester offenbar nicht grundsätzlich abgelehnt: Denn nach Mk 1,44 sandte er in Galiläa Geheilte zu ihnen, damit sie deren Gesundung feststellten und sie wieder in die Gesellschaft aufnahmen. Nach Mk 12,41 ff. lobte er Tempelspenden einer armen Witwe als Hingabe an Gott, die er bei Reichen vermisste. Seine Tora-Auslegung ordnete Opfer der Versöhnung mit Streitgegnern unter (Mt 5,23 f.).


Jesus trat in einem von starken religiös-politischen Spannungen bestimmten Land auf. Aus Galiläa, dem früheren Nordreich Israel, kamen seit Generationen jüdische Befreiungskämpfer gegen Fremdmächte. Seit dem 6 n. Chr. niedergeschlagenen Steuerboykott des Judas Galilaeus traten Widerstandsgruppen hervor, die die römische Fremdherrschaft mit verschiedenen Mitteln bekämpften, Aufstände vorzubereiten suchten und verhasste Kaiserstandarten, Feldzeichen und andere Besatzungssymbole angriffen. Manche begingen Messer-Attentate auf römische Beamte („Sikarier“, Dolchträger). Diese heute als Zeloten („Eiferer“) bezeichneten Gruppen wurden damals von Römern und dem römerfreundlichen Historiker Josephus generell als „Räuber“ oder „Mörder“ abgewertet und stigmatisiert.[112]

Jesus richtete seine apokalyptische Botschaft vom nahen Reich Gottes an alle Juden. Er kündigte damit öffentlich das baldige Ende aller Gewaltimperien an. Sein Wirken solle dieses Reich aktiv herbeiführen und in seinen Heiltaten (Mt 11,5) und seiner gewaltlosen Nachfolge im Kontrast zu den Gewaltherrschern Raum gewinnen (Mk 10,42 ff.). Wie die Zeloten nannte er den Vasallenkönig Herodes Antipas einen „Fuchs“ (Lk 13,32). Bei der Heilung eines Besessenen aus der Garnisonsstadt Gerasa (Mk 5,1–20) befällt der mit dem lateinischen Lehnwort für „Legion“ vorgestellte Dämon eine Schweineherde, die sich dann selbst ertränkt. Damit entlarvte Jesus eventuell die römische Militärherrschaft, um sie symbolisch zu entmachten:[113] Denn das Juden als unrein geltende Schwein war damals als römisches Opfertier und Legionszeichen bekannt. Der Waffenkauf nach Lk 22,36 wird als Erlaubnis Jesu zu begrenztem Widerstand bei Verfolgung auf dem Weg nach Jerusalem gedeutet.[114]

Wegen NT-Texten wie dem Magnificat (Lk 1,46 ff.) oder dem Jubel der Festpilger bei Jesu Ankunft in Jerusalem (Mk 11,9 f.) betonen viele Forscher eine indirekte oder symbolische politische Dimension seines Wirkens.[115] Wohl darum waren einige seiner Jünger frühere Zeloten, so Simon Zelotes (Lk 6,15),[116] eventuell auch Simon Petrus und Judas Iskariot.[117]

Anders als die Zeloten rief Jesus auch als „unrein“ verhasste Steuereintreiber für die Römer („Zöllner“) in seine Nachfolge und war ihr Gast (Mk 2,14 ff.), freilich um ihr Verhalten gegenüber den Armen grundlegend zu ändern (Lk 19,1–10). Anders als jene, die Gottes Gericht mit Gewalt an Andersgläubigen vorwegnehmen wollten, rief er seine Hörer zur Feindesliebe auf (Mt 5,38–48). Als Kritik an den Zeloten wird auch das Wort Mt 11,12 von den „Gewalttätigen, die Gottes Reich herbeizwingen und sich mit Gewalt seiner bemächtigen“ gedeutet.[118]

Römische Münzen mit Kaiserköpfen verstießen für Zeloten gegen das biblische Bilderverbot (Ex 20,4 f.), so dass sie Abgaben an Rom verweigerten. Die Steuerfrage seiner Jerusalemer Gegner sollte Jesus als Zeloten überführen. Seine überlieferte Antwort entzog sich der gestellten Falle (Mk 12,17 EU): „Gebt dem Kaiser, was dem Kaiser gehört, und Gott, was Gott gehört!“ Da nach Mt 6,24 für Jesus der ganze Mensch Gott gehörte, konnte dies als Absage an die Kaisersteuer aufgefasst werden, überließ aber den Angeredeten diese Entscheidung. Erst die Evangelisten wiesen diese Deutung zurück (Lk 23,2 ff.).[119]

Dass Jesu Wirken politische Reaktionen hervorrief, zeigt seine Kreuzigung beim höchsten jüdischen Fest. Fraglich ist jedoch, ob er einen politischen Messiasanspruch erhob.[120] Deutsche Neutestamentler betonten früher meist den unpolitischen Charakter seines Auftretens. Seine Hinrichtung als König der Juden (Messiasanwärter) galt als Justizirrtum und „Missverständnis seines Wirkens als eines politischen“.[121] Dagegen zeigten jüngere Untersuchungen partielle Übereinstimmungen Jesu mit der jüdischen Widerstandsbewegung auf und erklärten sein gewaltsames Ende als zu erwartende Folge seines eigenen Handelns.[122]

Ereignisse am Lebensende

Einzug in Jerusalem

Giotto di BondoneEinzug in Jerusalem, Fresko in der Capella degli Scrovegni (um 1305)

Nach Mk 11,1–11 EU ritt Jesus im Gefolge seiner Jünger auf einem jungen Esel in Jerusalem ein, während eine Pilgermenge ihm zujubelte:

„Hosanna! Gesegnet sei er, der kommt im Namen des Herrn! Gesegnet sei das Reich unseres Vaters David, das nun kommt. Hosanna in der Höhe!“

Der Anruf „Hosanna“ („Gott, rette doch!“: Ps 118,25) war bei hohen jüdischen Festen und der Inthronisation eines Königs üblich (2 Sam 14,4; 2 Kön 6,26). „Der kommt im Namen Gottes“ meinte den erwarteten Messias auf dem Thron König Davids (2 Sam 7,14 ff.), als den die Evangelien Jesus verkündigen (Mt 11,3; 23,39; Lk 7,19; 13,35).[123] Mit ausgestreuten Palmzweigen (V. 8), einem antiken Triumphsymbol, feierten Juden ihre Siege über Nichtjuden (Jdt 15,12; 1 Makk 13,51; 2 Makk 10,7).

Jesu Eselsritt erinnert an Sach 9,9 ff.: Dort wird ein machtloser Messias angekündigt, der die Kriegswaffen in Israel abschaffen und allen Völkern Frieden gebieten werde. Diese nachexilische Zusage hielt die frühere Verheißung universaler Abrüstung fest, die in Israel beginnen sollte (Jes 2,2–4/Mi 4,1–5; Schwerter zu Pflugscharen). Sie widersprach also der Erwartung der Bevölkerung an einen Davidnachfolger, die Fremdherrscher zu vertreiben und das Großreich Israel zu erneuern.

Im damaligen Judentum war die Messiashoffnung mit der Sammlung aller exilierten Juden, gerechten Rechtsprechung im Innern und Befriedung der Völkergemeinschaft verbunden. Einzüge jüdischer Thronanwärter waren jedoch oft Signal von Aufständen und Bürgerkrieg. So strebte der Zelot Schimon bar Giora laut Josephus um 69 das jüdische Königtum an: Er sei dazu mit seinen Anhängern als charismatischer „Retter und Beschützer“ der Juden triumphal in Jerusalem eingezogen, aber von den Römern in einem Purpurmantel gefangen, nach Rom überführt und dort hingerichtet worden.[124]

Auch Jesus hatte offenbar messianische Hoffnungen der Landbevölkerung geweckt, etwa indem er den Armen den Landbesitz zusagte (Mt 5,3), seine Heiltaten als anfängliche Realisierung dieser Zusagen erklärte (Lk 11,20) und sich auf dem Weg in die Tempelstadt von Armen als Sohn Davids anreden ließ (Mk 10,46.49). Daher bedeutete Jesu Jerusalembesuch zum Pessach eine Konfrontation mit den dortigen Machteliten der Sadduzäer und Römer, bei der ihm das Todesrisiko bewusst gewesen sein muss.[125] Das gewaltlose Messiasbild entspricht für echt gehaltenen Aussagen Jesu wie Mk 10,42 ff. EU: Er sei gekommen, als Menschensohn allen wie ein Sklave zu dienen, um der Unterdrückung durch Gewaltherrscher seine herrschaftsfreie Vertrauensgemeinschaft entgegenzustellen.[126]

Die Römer verhörten und kreuzigten Jesus wenige Tage später als mutmaßlichen „König der Juden“. Sein als Messiasankunft bejubelter Einzug kann der Anlass dafür gewesen sein.[127] Römer fürchteten eine Volksmenge (Mk 5,21) als „gefährliche und unberechenbare soziale Gruppe“, als „Mob“.[128] Jedoch können Urchristen die Szene übertreibend als „Gegenbild zum Einzug des Präfekten in die Stadt zu den drei großen Festen“ dargestellt haben.[129]Eventuell fügten sie den Eselsritt hinzu, da eine solch eindeutige Messiasdemonstration die Römer sofort zur Festnahme Jesu veranlasst hätte.[130]

Kritik am Tempelkult

Giotto di Bondone: Jesus vertreibt die Händler aus dem Tempel

Nach Mk 11,15 ff. vertrieb Jesus am Tag nach seinem Einzug einige Händler und Geldwechsler aus dem Tempelvorhof für Israeliten, Proselyten und Nichtjuden. Die in der Säulenhalle auf der Tempelsüdseite tätigen Händler verkauften kultisch zulässiges Opfermaterial (Tauben, Öl und Mehl) an Wallfahrer und nahmen die von allen Juden jährlich entrichtete Tempelsteuer für kollektive Tieropfer ein. Jesus habe ihre Stände umgestoßen und verhindert, dass Gegenstände durch diesen Bereich getragen wurden. Er störte demnach das ordnungsgemäße Darbringen gekaufter Opfer und Überbringen eingenommener Geldmittel und griff damit demonstrativ den Tempelkult an.[131]

Ob die Aktion historisch ist und falls ja, ob sie den jüdischen Tempelkult als Institution oder nur bestimmte Missstände angreifen sollte, wird diskutiert.[132] Meist wird eine nur von wenigen beobachtete Szene angenommen, keine dramatische Szene wie in Joh 2,13–22, da sonst die jüdische Tempelgarde oder sogar römische Soldaten aus der angrenzenden Burg Antoniaeingeschritten wären. Da Jesus weiter im Tempelbezirk mit Jerusalemer Toralehrern diskutierte (Mk 11,27; 12,35), sollte seine Aktion offenbar solche Debatten anstoßen. Der Zulauf dazu macht plausibel, dass die Tempelpriester nun, wenige Tage vor dem Pessach, heimlich Jesu nichtöffentliche Festnahme geplant haben sollen (V. 18).[133]

Jesus begründete die Vertreibung der Opferhändler nach Mk 11,17 EU mit einem Hinweis auf die Verheißung Jes 56,7: „Heißt es nicht in der Schrift: Mein Haus soll ein Haus des Gebetes für alle Völker sein?“ Demnach wollte er nicht den Tempelgottesdienst beenden, sondern auch Nichtjuden freien Zugang dazu eröffnen, den künftig alle Völker haben sollten. Diese eschatologische „Tempelreinigung“ griff das prophetische Motiv der künftigen „Völkerwallfahrt zum Zion“ auf, an das auch andere Jesusworte (Mt 8,11 f.; Lk 13,28 f.) erinnern, und kann als Aufruf zu einer entsprechenden Kultreform gedeutet werden.[134]

In Spannung dazu steht der Folgevers: Ihr aber habt daraus eine Räuberhöhle gemacht. Der Ausdruck spielt auf Jer 7,1–15 an, wo der Gerichtsprophet Jeremia um 590 v. Chr. die Zerstörung des ersten Tempels ankündigt und mit fortgesetzten Rechtsbrüchen der Jerusalemer Priester begründet. Sie hätten den Tempel wie Räuber als Versteck missbraucht, indem sie sich auf Gottes vermeintlich sichere Präsenz beriefen, aber den Armen gerechtes Verhalten verweigerten. Die Echtheit dieses Jesusworts ist umstritten. „Räuber“ nannten Römer damals zelotische Rebellen, die sich gern in Höhlen versteckten; die Sadduzäer dagegen waren ihnen treu ergeben. Im Verlauf des jüdischen Aufstands (66-70) verschanzten sich Zeloten zeitweise im Tempel; der Ausdruck kann daher die Rückschau der Urchristen spiegeln.

Oft wird vermutet, Jesus habe bei seiner Aktion den Abriss des Tempels gefordert (Joh 2,13) und dessen Zerstörung (Mk 13,2) und Neubau (Mk 14,58) angekündigt. Nach Jens Schröter beabsichtigte Jesus keinen realen Tempelneubau, sondern stellte wie mit seiner „Kritik an den Reinheitsgeboten die an den vorhandenen Institutionen orientierte Verfassung Israels in Frage“, um die Juden wie Johannes der Täufer auf die unmittelbare Begegnung mit Gott vorzubereiten.[135] Nach Peter Stuhlmacher erhob er damit einen impliziten Messiasanspruch. Stuhlmacher begründet das mit apokryphen jüdischen Texten vom Toten Meer (PsSal 17,30; 4Q flor 1,1–11), die mit Bezug auf die Nathanweissagung 2 Sam 7,1–16, die den Tempelbau mit der Daviddynastie und vor allem der Gottessohnschaft verband, vom Messias eine künftige Reinigung und Neuerrichtung des Tempels erwarteten.[136]

Für Jostein Adna provozierte Jesus zudem die Ablehnung seines mit Tempelaktion und Tempelwort verbundenen Umkehrrufs und lieferte sich so selbst an seine Hinrichtung aus. Denn er habe geglaubt, Gottes Heilshandeln könne sich bei ausbleibender Umkehr seiner Adressaten nur durch „seinen Sühnetod als endzeitliche[m] Ersatz für den Sühnopferkult des Tempels“ durchsetzen.[137]


Giotto di Bondone: Judaskuss und Gefangennahme Christi

Der Tempelaktion folgen verschiedene Lehrreden und Streitgespräche Jesu mit Jerusalemer Priestern und Toralehrern, die die Vollmacht seines Handelns bestreiten (Mk 11,28) und dabei ihren Tötungsplan verfolgen (Mk 11,18; 12,12). Angesichts der Sympathien vieler Festbesucher für Jesus hätten sie seine heimliche Festnahme „mit List“ verabredet (14,1). Dabei habe ihnen Judas Iskariot unverhofft Hilfe angeboten (14,11). Die Festnahme sei nachts nach dem letzten Mahl Jesu mit seinen erstberufenen Jüngern (14,17–26) im Garten Getsemani, einer Lagerstätte für Pessachpilger am Fuß des Ölbergs, erfolgt. Dorthin habe Judas eine mit „Schwertern und Stangen“ bewaffnete „große Schar“ geführt, darunter einen Diener des Hohenpriesters. Auf ein verabredetes Zeichen hin, den Judaskuss, hätten sie Jesus festgenommen. Dabei hätten einige Jünger ihn gewaltsam zu verteidigen versucht. Dies habe er zurückgewiesen, indem er seine Festnahme als vorherbestimmten Willen Gottes angenommen habe. Daraufhin seien alle Jünger geflohen (14,32.43–51).

Diese Darstellung legt nahe, dass der Hohepriester Jesus durch die jüdische Tempelwache, die zum Waffentragen berechtigt war, festnehmen ließ, da der vorige öffentliche Tempelkonflikt die Machtposition des Sanhedrin als zentrale Institution des Judentums gefährden konnte.[138] Der Hohepriester wurde damals von den Römern ein- und abgesetzt und konnte nur im Rahmen römischen Besatzungsrechts handeln. Der von ihm geführte Sanhedrin war verpflichtet, potentielle Unruhestifter festzusetzen und auszuliefern. Sonst hätten die Römer ihm die restliche Selbständigkeit nehmen können, wie es bei der Zerstörung des Tempels später geschah.[139] Daher wird Jesu Festnahme als vorbeugende Maßnahme gedeutet, um das jüdische Volk vor den Folgen eines Aufruhrs zu schützen und den Tempelkult nach gültigen Torageboten zu bewahren.[140] Dem entspricht das realpolitische Kalkül, mit dem der Hohepriester den Sanhedrin laut Joh 11,50 EU und 18,14 EU überzeugt haben soll, Jesus festzunehmen und hinrichten zu lassen: „Es ist besser, dass ein einziger Mensch für das Volk stirbt.“[141] Dass der Sanhedrin schon vor Jesu Festnahme geplant haben soll, ihn zur Hinrichtung an Pilatus auszuliefern, gilt jedoch als tendenziöse Redaktion.[142] Denn der Tempelkonflikt betraf die Römer nicht, sie mussten Jesu Tempelaktion nicht als Angriff auf ihr Besatzungsstatut auffassen.[143]

Nach Joh 18,3.12 soll eine Soldatentruppe (griech. speira) unter einem Offizier (griech. chiliarchos) zusammen mit Dienern des Sanhedrin Jesus mit Waffengewalt festgenommen haben. Der Ausdruck speira verweist auf eine römische Kohorte. Sie umfasste nach zeitgenössischen Quellen zwischen 600 und 1000 Soldaten.[144] Eine Kohorte war ständig in der Burg Antonia oberhalb des Tempelbezirks stationiert, um Aufstände an hohen Festtagen zu verhindern.[145] Sie wurde zum Pessachfest um weitere Truppen aus Cäsarea verstärkt.[146]

Der jüdische Historiker Paul Winter nahm daher an, Jesus sei auf Befehl des Pilatus, nicht des Hohenpriesters, durch römische Soldaten, nicht jüdische Tempelwächter festgenommen worden. Die Besatzer hätten mögliche politisch-revolutionäre Tendenzen unterdrücken wollen, die sie unter Jesu Nachfolgern vermuteten und als Wirkung seines Auftretens befürchteten.[147] Auch Wolfgang Stegemann hält eine römische Beteiligung an Jesu Festnahme für denkbar, da die Römer rebellische Tendenzen in Judäa damals oft im Keim erstickten und Jesu Einzug und Tempelaktion solche Tendenzen für sie nahegelegt habe.[148] Klaus Wengst hält die johanneische Festnahmeszene dagegen für insgesamt ahistorisch, da eine ganze Kohorte kaum zur Festnahme eines Einzelnen aufmarschiert wäre, ihn nicht einer jüdischen Behörde übergeben hätte und niemanden, der sich wehrte, hätte entkommen lassen.[149]Die Szene soll die Souveränität des Gottessohns über die übermächtige Gewaltherrschaft der gottfeindlichen Mächte ausdrücken.[150]

Für eine zeitnahe Abfassung des Markusberichts spricht, dass er die Namen der sich widersetzenden Jünger anders als sonst nicht nennt. Diese Personen waren Jerusalemer Urchristen eventuell ohnehin bekannt, so dass sie hier anonym blieben, um sie vor römischen oder jüdischen Verfolgern zu schützen.[151] Zur vermuteten römischen Initiative passt Jesu Aussage, man sei gegen ihn wie gegen einen „Räuber“ (Zeloten) vorgegangen, obwohl er tagsüber greifbar gewesen sei. Doch nahm die bewaffnete Schar nur ihn fest und verfolgte seine fliehenden Begleiter nicht; Pilatus ging laut NT auch später nicht gegen die Urchristen vor. Dies deutet eher auf einen religiösen als politischen Festnahmegrund hin.[152]

Vor dem Hohen Rat

Giotto di Bondone: Christus vor dem Hohen Rat

Nach Mk 14,53.55–65 brachte man Jesus dann ins Haus des nicht namentlich genannten Hohenpriesters, wo sich Priester, Älteste, Toragelehrte – alle Fraktionen des Sanhedrin – versammelten. Jesus sei mit dem Ziel eines Todesurteils angeklagt worden. Die aufgebotenen Zeugen hätten ein Jesuswort zitiert: Er habe den Abriss und Neubau des Tempels innerhalb von drei Tagen geweissagt. Doch ihre Aussagen hätten nicht übereingestimmt, waren also rechtlich nicht verwertbar. Dann habe der Hohepriester Jesus aufgefordert, zur Anklage Stellung zu nehmen. Nach seinem Schweigen habe er ihn direkt gefragt: Bist du der Messias, der Sohn des Hochgelobten? Darauf habe Jesus geantwortet (Mk 14,62 EU):

„Ich bin es; und ihr werdet sehen den Menschensohn sitzend zur Rechten der Kraft und mit den Himmelswolken kommen.“

Das habe der Hohepriester als Gotteslästerung gedeutet und zum Zeichen dafür sein Amtskleid zerrissen. Darauf habe der Rat Jesus einstimmig zum Tod verurteilt. Einige hätten ihn geschlagen und verhöhnt.

Ob es einen solchen Prozess gab und, falls ja, ob er legal war, ist stark umstritten. Fraglich ist schon, woher die geflohenen Jesusanhänger Details vom Prozessverlauf erfuhren: eventuell durch den „angesehenen Ratsherrn“ Josef von Arimathäa, der Jesus bestattete. Doch während Mt wie Mk einen nächtlichen Prozess mit einem Todesurteil schildert, wird Jesus nach Lk 22,63–71 erst am Folgetag vom ganzen Sanhedrin nach seiner Messianität gefragt und ohne Todesurteil gegenüber Pilatus angeklagt. Nach Joh 18,19 ff. wird er nur von Hannas verhört und dann ohne Ratsprozess und Todesurteil an dessen damals amtierenden Nachfolger Kajaphas, von diesem an Pilatus übergeben.

Die Markusversion beschreibt mit Tötungsvorsatz, heimlicher Sitzung, Falschzeugen, einstimmigem Todesurteil und Misshandlung des Verurteilten einen illegalen Prozess. Spätere Vorschriften der Mischna verboten Kapitalprozesse in der Nacht und in Privathäusern, an Festtagen und zugehörigen Rüsttagen. Die Verhandlung musste mit Entlastungszeugen beginnen; Todesurteile durften frühestens einen Tag danach gefällt werden; die jüngsten Ratsmitglieder sollten ihr Urteil zuerst und unbeeinflusst sprechen.[153] Ob diese Regeln zur Zeit Jesu galten, ist ungewiss. Josephus stellte eine harte sadduzäische einer milden pharisäischen Strafrechtspraxis gegenüber, die sich nach 70 durchsetzte. Doch direkte Belege für sadduzäisches Strafrecht und ein derartiges Eilverfahren, das Tötungsabsichten begünstigte, fehlen.

Auch ob der Sanhedrin damals Todesurteile fällen durfte, ist fraglich. Beschriftete Tafeln im inneren Tempelbereich drohten Eindringlingen den Tod an; ob eine formelle Todesstrafe oder ein Gottesurteil gemeint war, ist unklar. Ein Todesurteil des Sanhedrin berichtete Josephus nur für Jesu ältesten Bruder Jakobus, der um 62 während einer Vakanz des Statthalteramtes gesteinigt worden sei.[154] Große Ratsversammlungen traten nur zu besonderen Anlässen zusammen und mussten vom Statthalter Roms genehmigt werden. Dieser verwahrte den Amtsornat des Hohenpriesters, ohne den er keine offiziellen Urteile fällen konnte.[155]

Wegen dieser Quellenlage halten manche Historiker einen regulären Prozess, zumindest ein Todesurteil des Sanhedrin, für urchristliche Erfindung, um Römer nach der Tempelzerstörung zu entlasten und Juden zu belasten.[156] Als mögliches Motiv dafür gilt die Bedrohung der Christen, die einen von Römern Gekreuzigten verehrten, als kriminelle Vereinigung im Römischen Reich nach 70, die ihre Abgrenzung vom Judentum verstärkte.[157]

Andere nehmen ein Ausnahmeverfahren gegen Jesus an. Dass er als Lästerer des Gottesnamens oder Verführer des Volkes zum Abfall von JHWH (Dtn 13,6; Lk 23,2; Talmudtraktat Sanhedrin 43a) verurteilt worden sei, gilt auch dann meist als unwahrscheinlich: Denn seine radikal theozentrische Botschaft vom Reich Gottes erfüllte das erste der Zehn Gebote, und er umschrieb den Gottesnamen ebenso wie der Hohepriester. Das von den Zeugen zitierte Jesuswort legt eine Anklage auf Falschprophetie (Dtn 18,20 ff.) nahe. Sie werden Falschzeugen genannt, weil sie gegen den Sohn Gottes aussagten, nicht weil sie Jesus falsch zitierten. Sie können Jesus vorgeworfen haben, er habe Unmögliches geweissagt und einen Tempelabriss torawidrig als Gottes Willen ausgegeben. Man konnte jedoch abwarten, ob seine Ankündigung eintrat, bevor man ihn dafür verurteilte (Dtn 18,22). Falschpropheten sollten laut Tora gesteinigt werden; nur Gotteslästerer und Götzendiener sollten nach der Mischna (Traktat Sanhedrin VI,4) erhängt werden.

Die Tempelpriester verfolgten Tempel- und Kultkritiker auch sonst, etwa Jeremia (Jer 26,1–19; um 590 v. Chr.) und den „Lehrer der Gerechtigkeit“ (um 250 v. Chr.). Jesus ben Ananias, der um 62 in Jerusalem die Zerstörung von Tempel und Stadt ankündigte, nahm der Sanhedrin deswegen fest und überstellte ihn dem Statthalter Roms, der ihn nach einer Auspeitschung jedoch freiließ.[158] Ratsmitglieder steinigten den tempelkritischen Urchristen Stephanus, nachdem er dem Sanhedrin Justizmord an Jesus vorgeworfen und diesen als inthronisierten Menschensohn verkündet hatte (Apg 7,55 f.; um 36).

Die Messiasfrage des Hohenpriesters nach dem Zeugenverhör wirkt plausibel, da für ihn gemäß der Nathanverheißung 2Sam 7,12–16 nur der künftige, als Gottes „Sohn“ angeredete Davidnachfolger den Tempel neu erbauen durfte.[159] Dieser Anspruch war für Juden nicht unbedingt blasphemisch, da andere Messiasanwärter geachtet wurden, so der wohl nach Num 24,17 „Sternensohn“ genannte Bar Kochba (um 132).

Falls es einen Kapitalprozess gab, kann eine Eigenaussage Jesu das anfangs nicht angestrebte Todesurteil ausgelöst haben. Seine Antwort erinnert an die Vision vom Menschensohn in Dan 7,13 f.: Dieser erscheint nicht als Davidnachfolger, sondern als von Gott bevollmächtigter Vertreter der Gottesherrschaft nach dem Endgericht über alle Weltmächte. So hätte Jesus die national begrenzte Messiashoffnung erweitert zur Abschaffung aller Gewaltherrschaft (vgl. Mk 8,38 und Mk 13,24 ff.). Dies hätte für die Sadduzäer die Anklage auf Falschprophetie bestätigt, da sie Daniels Apokalyptik als Irrlehre ablehnten.[160] Hier verweisen manche auf den genauen Wortlaut der Antwort Jesu: „Sitzend zur Rechten Gottes“ zitiere Ps 110,1, sodass der Menschensohn als schon inthronisierter Endrichter erscheine. Dies sei für den Hohenpriester Blasphemie gewesen, weil Jesus damit sein Richteramt missachtet und sich selbst an Gottes Seite erhöht habe.[161] Andere halten das den Satzbau teilende Partizip „sitzend…“ für redaktionell, da es den Glauben an Jesu Auferstehung und erwartete Wiederkunft voraussetze.[162]

Vor Pilatus

Nach Mk 15,1–15 lieferte der „ganze Hohe Rat“ Jesus am Folgetag nach einem Beschluss dazu gefesselt an Pilatus aus. Dieser habe ihn gefragt Bist du der König der Juden? und mit entsprechenden Anklagen des Sanhedrin konfrontiert. Doch Jesus habe geschwiegen. Dann habe Pilatus der zusammengeströmten Volksmenge zur üblichen Pessachamnestie Jesu Freilassung angeboten. Doch die Tempelpriester hätten die Menge aufgewiegelt, stattdessen die Freigabe des Barabbas, eines kürzlich inhaftierten Zeloten, zu fordern. Nach mehrfachen vergeblichen Rückfragen, was Jesus getan habe, habe Pilatus der Menge nachgegeben, Barabbas freigelassen und Jesus kreuzigen lassen.

Lk 23,6–12 ergänzt ein Verhör Jesu durch Herodes, der ihn auf sein Schweigen hin verhöhnt, an Pilatus zurückgibt und so dessen Freund wird. Die Szene gilt als redaktioneller Vorgriff auf Apg 4,25–28, wonach ein biblisch vorhergesagtes Bündnis von Heiden und Königen (Ps 2,1 f.) Jesus zu Tode brachte.[163] Lk 23,17 ff. erweitert die Anklage um Vorwürfe, die im Sanhedrinprozess fehlten: Volksverführung und Steuerboykott gegen den Kaiser Roms. Auch den Verlauf der Pessachamnestie variieren die Evangelien (Mt 27,17; Lk 23,16; Joh 18,38 f.). In allen Versionen betreiben die Tempelpriester und ihre Anhänger Jesu Hinrichtung, während Pilatus von seiner Unschuld ausgeht, ihn aber nicht freilässt, sondern ihr Urteil erfragt und ihrem Druck zuletzt nachgibt.

Eine damalige Pessachamnestie ist sonst nirgends überliefert. Die Römer gingen nach außerbiblischen Quellen von sich aus massiv gegen jede prophetisch inspirierte Volksansammlung im Raum Judäas vor.[164] Jüdische Historiker stellen Pilatus als rücksichtslos, unnachgiebig, korrupt und grausam dar: Er habe die Juden durch Kaisersymbole im Tempelbezirk provoziert, Massaker befohlen (vgl. Lk 13,1) und ständig Juden ohne Gerichtsverfahren hinrichten lassen.[165] Gemäß römischen Verfahrensweisen in unterworfenen Provinzen konnte Pilatus Jesus nach einem Kurzverhör ohne förmliches Urteil (coercitio) hinrichten lassen: Der Verdacht aufrührerischen Verhaltens genügte.[166]

Jesus hatte laut Mk 11,9.18; 12,12; 14,2 die Sympathie der Festpilger, die das römische Besatzungsrecht ablehnten, und der enge Innenhof des Pilatuspalastes bot einem Volksauflauf kaum Raum. Daher gelten öffentliches Verhör, Volksbefragung, Amnestie und Unschuldserklärungen des Pilatus heute meist als ahistorisch und werden einer antijüdischen Redaktion des Passionsberichts zugewiesen.[167]

Die Tacitusnotiz erwähnt einen Hinrichtungsbefehl des Pilatus, ohne den unter ihm wohl niemand gekreuzigt wurde. Die Evangelien setzen den Befehl voraus, indem sie eine römische Urteilsanzeige, hier als Kreuzestafel, zitieren: Pilatus habe Jesus als „König der Juden“ verurteilt (Mk 15,26 par). Dieser Urteilsgrund gilt meist als historisch, weil der Titel auf einen politisch gedeuteten Messiasanspruch verweist, mit dem Auslieferungsgrund (Mk 15,2 par) übereinstimmt und vor dem Hintergrund des römischen Rechts plausibel ist: Die Römer hatten jüdischen Vasallenherrschern das Tragen des Königstitels seit 4 v. Chr. verboten.[168] Als „König“ (basileus) hatten sich auch jüdische Zelotenführer bezeichnet.[169] Dies galt nach römischem Gesetz als Majestätsbeleidigung (crimen laesae maiestatis (populi Romani)), Anstiftung zum Aufstand (seditio) und staatsfeindlichen Aufruhr (perduellio), da nur der römische Kaiser Könige ein- oder absetzen durfte. Falls Jesu Verhör wie dargestellt verlief, musste Pilatus Jesu Antwort auf die Frage nach einer angemaßten Königswürde („Du sagst es“) und sein folgendes Schweigen als Geständnis werten, das sein Todesurteil erzwang.[170]

Mit Jesu Hinrichtung zwischen Zeloten wollte Pilatus wahrscheinlich ein Exempel gegen alle rebellischen Juden statuieren und ihre Messiashoffnung verhöhnen.[171] Demgemäß deutet der redaktionelle Vers Joh 19,21 den Protest der Sadduzäer: Jesus habe bloß behauptet, der Messias zu sein.[172] Für die Urchristen bestätigte der Kreuzestitel deren Unrechtsurteil, da Jesus keinen bewaffneten Aufstand geplant habe (Lk 22,38), und Jesu verborgene wahre Identität als des Kyrios Christus, des Herrschers aller Herren (Offb 19,16).


→ HauptartikelPassion

Die Kreuzigung Jesu Christi, Illustration aus dem Hortus Deliciarumder Herrad von Landsberg(12. Jahrhundert)

Die Kreuzigung war im römischen Kaiserreich die grausamste Hinrichtungsmethode, die meist gegen Aufständische, entlaufene Sklaven und Einwohner ohne römisches Bürgerrechtangewandt wurde. Sie sollte Augenzeugen demütigen und von der Teilnahme an Aufruhr abschrecken. Juden galt sie als Verfluchtsein durch Gott (Dtn 21,23; Gal 3,13). Der Todeskampf konnte je nach Ausführung tagelang dauern, bis der Gekreuzigte verdurstete, am eigenen Körpergewicht erstickte oder an Kreislaufversagen starb.[173] Der markinische Passionsbericht nennt jedoch keine Details zum physischen Vorgang, sondern nur zum Verhalten von ausführenden Tätern und Zeugen, zu letzten Worten Jesu und Zeitdauer seines Sterbens.

Laut Mk 15,15–20 entkleideten die römischen Soldaten Jesus, zogen ihm ein Purpurgewand an, setzten ihm eine Dornenkrone auf und verspotteten ihn gemäß dem Pilatusurteil als „König der Juden“, um so die messianische Hoffnung der Juden zu verhöhnen.[174] Darauf hätten sie ihn geschlagen und angespuckt. Eine Geißelung war integraler Bestandteil der römischen Kreuzigung und wurde oft so brutal durchgeführt, dass der Verurteilte bereits daran starb.[175]

Laut Vers 21 musste Jesus dann selbst sein Kreuz zum Richtplatz vor die Stadtmauer tragen. Als der von den Schlägen Geschwächte zusammengebrochen sei, hätten die Soldaten den zufällig von der Feldarbeit kommenden Juden Simon von Cyrene genötigt, sein Kreuz zu tragen. Dass die Urchristen noch Jahrzehnte später seinen Namen und die seiner Söhne überlieferten, wird als Solidarität zwischen Urchristen und Diasporajuden gedeutet.

Laut Vers 23 boten die Soldaten Jesus Myrrhe in Wein an, bevor sie ihn kreuzigten; diesen Trank habe er abgelehnt. Die Kreuzigung habe um die dritte Stunde (etwa 9 Uhr vormittags) begonnen (V. 25). Dann hätten sie um sein Gewand gelost. Laut Vers 27 wurde Jesus zusammen mit zwei „Räubern“ (Zeloten oder „Sozialbanditen“)[176] auf dem Hügel Golgota(„Schädelstätte“) vor der damaligen Jerusalemer Stadtmauer gekreuzigt, begleitet von Hohn und Spott der Anwesenden. Um die sechste Stunde habe eine dreistündige Finsternis eingesetzt (V. 33). Gegen deren Ende habe Jesus auf Aramäisch das Psalmzitat Ps 22,2 EU gerufen: „Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?“ (V. 34) Dann habe er aus jüdischer Hand einen mit Weinessig (Posca) getränkten Schwamm angenommen (V. 36) und sei unmittelbar darauf mit einem lauten Schrei gestorben (V. 37). Der Tod sei um die „neunte Stunde“ (etwa 15 Uhr nachmittags) erfolgt.

Das Stundenschema, die Finsternis, Anspielungen auf Psalmen und Psalmzitate gelten als theologische Deutung, nicht als historische Details.[177] Sie stellen Jesus in die Reihe der zu Unrecht verfolgten, von der Gewalt aller Feinde umringten und an Gottes Gerechtigkeit appellierenden leidenden Juden.[178]


Giotto di Bondone: Grablegung Christi (um 1320), Fresko in der Capella di Scrovegni in Padua

Nach Mk 15,42–47 verstarb Jesus vor Anbruch der Nacht. Daher habe Josef von Arimathäa Pilatus gebeten, ihn vom Kreuz abnehmen und bestatten zu dürfen. Pilatus, erstaunt über Jesu rasches Sterben, habe sich seinen Tod beim römischen Aufseher der Hinrichtung bestätigen lassen und seinen Leichnam dann zur Bestattung freigegeben. Josef habe ihn noch am selben Abend nach jüdischem Brauch in ein Tuch gewickelt, in ein neues Felsengrab gelegt und dieses mit einem schweren Felsen verschlossen. Maria Magdalena und eine andere Maria, die mit anderen Frauen aus Galiläa Jesu Sterben begleiteten, hätten den Vorgang beobachtet.

Römer ließen am Kreuz Getötete oft zur Abschreckung und Demütigung ihrer Angehörigen Tage und Wochen hängen, bis sie verwest, zerfallen oder von Vögeln gefressen worden waren. Für Juden verstieß dies gegen die Vorschrift von Dtn 21,22–23, wonach der „an ein Holz gehängte“ Hingerichtete noch am gleichen Tag begraben werden sollte. Nach Josephus (Bellum Judaicum4,317) durften von Römern gekreuzigte Juden nach jüdischer Sitte bestattet werden. Dies wird als Rücksicht der Römer auf Gefühle und Religion der Juden gedeutet; im Falle Jesu, um beim Pessachfest keine Unruhe auszulösen.[179]

Die gesetzesgemäße Grablegung eines Verurteilten gehörte eventuell zur Aufgabe des Sanhedrin. Dann hätte Josef von Arimathäa in dessen Auftrag gehandelt. Dies stellt das einstimmige Todesurteil wegen Gotteslästerung in Frage.[180] Dass der Markusbericht die amtliche Prüfung des Todes Jesu erwähnt, sollte diesen wohl gegen frühe Scheintodthesen bekräftigen.[181] Die Namen der Zeuginnen für Jesu Sterben und Grablegung waren offenbar in der Jerusalemer Urgemeinde bekannt. An sie wurde wohl erinnert, weil nur sie nach der Flucht der Jünger Jesu Grabstätte kannten. Sie sollen sie am übernächsten Morgen leer gefunden haben (Mk 16,1–8).[182]

Der Ort des Jesusgrabes ist unbekannt. Das NT enthält keine Hinweise auf seine Verehrung.