Hebrews 6:1-8 is a passage most theologians either love or struggle with. Some theologians go to it repeatedly to explain their soteriological position while others attempt to avoid it because it does not match their theological method. This blog post will examine three views and how each of these views interprets Hebrews 6:1-8. The final section contains a brief exposition of the passage along with the view I prefer.
Photo Credit: Sander van der Wel
I. 3 SOTERIOLOGICAL VIEWS OF HEBREWS 6:1-8[ref]People refer to the views by different labels. For the sake of simplicity and continuity within this blog post I use the titles contained in the book, The Cross and Salvation, by Bruce DeMarest.[/ref]
A. Arminian – “Grace Lost by Walking in the Flesh”
The Arminian view interprets texts like Hebrews 6:1-8 as “real issues” (as apposed to hypothetical issues) because “Biblical warnings have meaning only if the threat is real, not hypothetical. Advocates hold that maintenance in grace is dependent on the believer’s continued faith, obedience, and perseverance” (Bruce DeMarest, The Cross and Salvation [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997]., 434). The Arminian view believes that “God and humans cooperate in the work of salvation. But if the latter fail to perform in a way sufficiently pleasing to God, salvation is forfeited” (Ibid., 437) Some of the key texts that Arminian advocates use to support their view are Rom 11:17, 20-22; 1 Tim 1:18-19; Heb 6:4, 6; 10:26-29; and 2 Peter 2:20-21.
B. Lutheran – “Elect Believers Persevere, Non-Elect Fall Away”
The crux of the moderate/reformed view of Hebrews 6:1-8 is that “not all those regenerated are elected by God. The elect may fall into sin totally but not finally; but the regenerated who are non-elect may fall from grace both totally and finally. Those who fall from grace into sin need a new experience of conversion and justification. . . the elect persevere as a consequence of God’s sovereign decree” (Ibid.). As a result, “the non-elect regenerate can fall totally from the state of grace” (Ibid.). Some of the key texts that support this view are Matt 10:22; 24:13; and 1 Cor 10:12; 1 John 2:18-19.
C. Reformed – “God Preserves the Converted in Perseverance to the End”
The reformed view of Hebrews 6:1-8 is that “regenerated and justified believers may lapse in their faith, resist God, and sin for a season. But their unbelief and resistance is temporary rather than incorrigible and final. . . because God through the Spirit secures the final salvation of all true believers by bringing about their free perseverance to the end” (Ibid., 439) Key texts to support this view are John 6:37; 10:28-29; 17:9, 11, 15; Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 1:8; Phil 1:6; Heb 7:25; 1 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 1:3.
II. MY PREFERRED VIEW – REFORMED
A. An Exposition of the Text
1. Before Hebrews 6
A strong emphasis leading up to Hebrews 6 is the call for spiritual growth in 5:11-14. The writer of Hebrews says that the readers of this letter were “spiritually dull” and needed someone to teach them again even though they ought to have been teaching others (5:12). Therefore, the readers of the book of Hebrews were called “babies” who could not eat “solid food” (5:12). Furthermore, the writer implied that the readers knew right from wrong (5:14). Hebrews 6:1-8 is one of five “warning passages” written to these readers (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:20; 10:26-39; 12:25-29).
2. Hebrews 6:1-8
1So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds* and placing our faith in God. 2 You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
4 For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—6 and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.
7 When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. 8 But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it. – Hebrews 6:1-8 (NLT)
In Heb 6:1, one of the key words is the “evil” deeds; literally “dead” deeds or works. This is not necessarily the “evil” of the person’s life but instead is focused on death as a consequence of that evil (J. Ramsey Michaels, “Hebrews,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, [Carole Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2009], 17:371.).
In Heb 6:2, the word “further” seems to imply that the people had received instruction already. Again in Heb 6:3, the word “further” is used as something that the author hoped to accomplish in the future.
Heb 6:4 is the important verse to soteriology. A few important observations are that “once were enlightened” is in the past tense here. This is something that has happened already but does not appear to continue at the time of the author’s writing.
In Heb 6:5, the word “enlightened” from verse 4 is explained as the people “who have tasted the goodness of the word of God” and tasted “of the power of the age to come.” In other words, these are people who have experienced the Christian conversion (Ibid.).
Heb 6:6, if the “enlightened” from verse 4 “turn away from God” it is impossible to bring them back to repentance according to Heb 6:6. The preposition “by” in Heb 6:6 indicates the method by which people have turned away from God (i.e. nailing the son of God to a cross again).
In Heb 6:7, the author switches to a metaphor to illustrate the points he has attempted to explain in verses 4-6.
Heb 6:7 starts with the temporal word “when” which implies that this is something that surely happens (it is not a hypothetical situation).
Heb 6:8, starts with the contrast conjunction, “but,” which gives the other option of what would happen under different circumstances (“thorns and thistles” compared to “good crop”).
3. After Hebrews 6
Following Hebrews 6:1-8 the author qualifies what he just said because it does not apply to the people he was writing to. The people receiving the letter of Hebrews had worked hard for God and had shown their love for God by caring for other believers. The author says that if the readers keep on loving others they would not become spiritually dull and indifferent (6:11-12).
B. The View of Hebrews 6 I Prefer and Why
The exposition above is probably going to appear contradictory to my view of Hebrews 6:1-8. However, Hebrews 6 clashes with the strong evidence seen elsewhere in the Bible for eternal security.
The view of Hebrews 6 I prefer is represented under the “Reformed” view that God preserves saints until the end. This view that God preserves the saints—eternal security—comes from several passages in the New Testament that strongly indicate this doctrine.[ref]In addition to the passages contained above also see Norman Geisler’s support for eternal security from Job 19:25-26; Ecc 3:14; John 3:18; 5:24; 10:27-29; 17:9-24; Rom 4:5-6; 8:33, 35, 37-39; 1 Cor 12:13; 2 Cor 5:17, 21; Eph 1:4-5, 13-14; 2:4-6; Phil 4:3; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 10:14; 12:2; 1 John 3:9; Jude 24-25. Norman Geisler, “A Moderate Calvinist View,” in Four Views on Eternal Security, ed. by J. Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 70-77.[/ref] For example, the disciple John started his gospel saying, “To all who believed him [Jesus] and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12) and “everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14). The apostle Paul preached that “God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn” (Rom 11:29). And most convincingly for me, “He [Holy Spirit] has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). Some other texts are John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; 17:2-4, 6; Rom 8:28-29; Phil 1:6; Col 2:9-14; 2 Tim 1:12; 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-9; 1 John 2:18-19; 5:11-13.[ref]Most of the Scripture references in support of my view appear in J. Scott Horrell’s notes, “Saving Faith, Assurance, and Eternal Security,” unpublished class notes for ST104 (Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring Semester, 2014), 15.[/ref]
III. CONCLUSION ON HEBREWS 6 AND ETERNAL SECURITY
While there are other texts in the New Testament that appear to teach contrary what my view is, the majority of Scripture appears to teach that “once saved, always saved” because God preserves believers until the end. Hebrews 6:4-6 is difficult to reconcile as well as John 15:1-6, Matt 12:32, and James 5:19-20. Just as I have difficulty reconciling this position to these texts, someone who believes that believers can lose their salvation has to wrestle with the texts in the preceding paragraph that appear to teach that salvation is permanent.
Resources for the Doctrine of Salvation
DeMarest, Bruce. The Cross and Salvation. Wheaton, IL: CrossWay, 1997.
Geisler, Norman. “A Moderate Calvinist View.” In 4 Views of Eternal Security. Edited by J. Matthew Pinson. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
Horrell, J. Scott. “Saving Faith, Assurance, and Eternal Security.” Unpublished class notes for ST104. Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring Semester, 2014.
Michaels, J. Ramsey. “Hebrews.” Vol. 17 of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Carole Streame, IL: Tyndale, 2009.