Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews – preface- via LAD Rosenkranz
HERBERT W. BATEMAN IV
GARETH L. COCKERILL • BUIST M. FANNING
RANDALL C. GLEASON • GRANT R. OSBORNE
GEORGE H. GUTHRIE
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.
1. Bible. N.T. Hebrews—Criticism, interpretation, etc.
I. Bateman, Herbert W., 1955–
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
Greek Word 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
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
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
Add Esth Additions to Esther
Ant. rom. Antiquitates romanae
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
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
TBenj. Testament of Benjamin
T. Levi Testament of Levi
Wis Wisdom of Solomon
Ag. Ap. Against Apion
Ant. Jewish Antiquities
J.W. Jewish War
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?)
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)
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.
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
INTRODUCING THE WARNING PASSAGES IN HEBREWS
A CONTEXTUAL ORIENTATION
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.
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.
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.
• 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
• 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)
• 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.
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).
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
• 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)
• 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)
• 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 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.
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.
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.