Hebrews 5:11 6:20
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The recipients of this letter were "the descendants of Abraham" (2:16). They were Jewish Christians residing in the Jewish capital of Jerusalem (or the nearby environs) in the middle of the seventh decade of the first century (approximately 65 A.D. as best we can reconstruct the setting of this letter from the external and internal evidence available). Their Jewish ethnic heritage constituted them as "descendants of Abraham" by physical heritage, and by becoming Christians they had become "descendants of Abraham" by participating in the "faith of Abraham" (Rom. 4:16), for the Christian "children of the promise are regarded as descendants" (Rom. 9:6-8) of Abraham. As Paul explained in his earliest correspondence with the Galatians, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:29).
It was not easy to be a Jewish Christian in the heartland of the Judaic religion in the middle of the first century. Because they had confessed Jesus as the promised Messiah, these Jewish Christians had "endured a great conflict of sufferings," had "been made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations," and had "accepted joyfully the seizure of their property, knowing that they had a better possession, and an abiding one" (10:32-34). These ostracisms, reproaches, tribulations and sufferings were inflicted upon them at the hand of their own Jewish peoples who regarded them as traitors for confessing Jesus as the promised Messiah and becoming Christians.
The external circumstances surrounding these Jewish Christians did not seem to point to a "better possession" (10:39) or a "great reward" (10:35) in "receiving what was promised" (10:36) by God to Abraham. Having endured these sufferings without seeing any visible benefits of their Christian faith, they were in danger of losing their confidence (10:35), of "shrinking back" (10:38,39), and repudiating their Christian faith in order to join the prevailing socio-political movement of Jewish insurrection against Rome.
The rumblings of revolt were reverberating across the region of Judea. Zealot revolutionaries were promising that as a result of their planned rout of the Roman oppressors the Jewish peoples would obtain and inherit what was rightfully theirs what God had promised to them through Abraham. The liberationists apparently claimed that God was on their side that divine providence and angelic assistance would assure their victory. The Davidic kingdom would be restored and the Jewish people would rule themselves as they enjoyed "rest" in the promised land. The Aaronic high priesthood would be restored in the temple. These were their "divine rights" that must be fought for by ousting the Romans.
Throughout this epistle to the Jewish Christians, Paul has been countering the false premises and promises of the Jewish insurrectionists. "Promises, promises, promises!" Political promises are cheap, easy to make, and of little value, but people's hopes are often pinned on such promises in the myopic focus of the contemporary socio-political situation. The Jewish Christians of Judea were being pressured and seduced to place their hopes on the physical and material fulfillment of the promises of God to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12, 15, 17,19). Paul seeks to remind them that Jesus Christ was the spiritual fulfillment of all the promises of God to Abraham, and that "through faith and patience they inherit the promises" (6:13). Whereas the Jewish peoples always sought a physical fulfillment to the promises of God to Abraham for a land, a nation, a posterity and a blessing, Paul's repeated explanation is that God has spiritually blessed His people in Jesus Christ (cf. Eph. 1:3; Gal. 3:8,9,14), brought them to a place in the presence of God (cf. Gal. 4:16; Jn. 14:2,3; Heb. 4:1,9,13; 11:10-16; 12:22: II Pet. 3:13), and made them a holy nation (cf. I Pet. 2:9) with a plenitude of posterity (cf. Rom. 4:16; 9:8; Gal. 3:7,16,19,28). "Our hope," Paul seems to be saying to the Jewish Christians of Judea, "is not in political revolution and military war strategies. Our hope is in Jesus Christ (cf. I Tim. 1:1)." All of the promises of God to Abraham are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (cf. II Cor. 1:20; Rom. 15:8; Lk. 22:44-47). Christians are already inheriting those promises, even though in the enigma of the interim until the consummation of Christ's triumph becomes visible, it may not appear that the promises are fulfilled, but the continuity and perpetuity of the inheritance will be enjoyed through eternity.
Paul was aware that the Judean Christians were becoming "sluggish" (5:11; 6:12) in their resolve to live in the fullness of what they had in Jesus Christ. They were losing confidence (3:6; 4:16; 10:35) and "shrinking back" (10:38,39) to a Jewish perspective that focused on tangible and physical fulfillments. They were flirting with the option of jettisoning their Christian perspective of hope in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all God's promises. Paul is desirous that they "press on to maturity" (6:1), to the end-objective of all God has for Christians in Jesus Christ.
This historical context allows us to explain the textual context, for the content of this section (5:116:20), when wrested from its historical and textual context, has often led to extracted and abstracted interpretations and applications that do not legitimately represent Paul's original intent. A text without its proper context often becomes a pretext for any fanciful formulation of thought. These verses are not just a parenthetical interlude or insertion of a non sequitur diversion or digression of thought, as some have charged. In the greater textual context of Paul's explanation of Christ's assumption of the high priestly function in the "order of Melchizedek" (4:14 10:39), Paul makes a direct and logical connection with Abraham who offered gifts to Melchizedek (cf. Gen. 14:18-20). That the Melchizedekan high priesthood is the context of Paul's reference to Abraham in this text (cf. 6:13) is obvious from the references to Melchizedek that bracket this section (cf. 5:10; 6:20).
Paul's perspective of the Melchizedekan high priesthood assumed by Jesus Christ was that it explained the entirety of the "finished work" (cf. Jn. 19:30) of Jesus Christ. This is evident in the statement which directly precedes this section: "Having been made perfect, He became to all those obeying Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek" (5:9,10). Christ's priestly sacrifice of Himself once and for all (cf. 7:27; 9:12,28; 10:10,12) was sufficient to satisfy the just consequences of sin. The "eternal salvation" (5:9) of the "saving life" (cf. Rom. 5:10) of the risen Lord Jesus continues to be sufficient to allow, and to cause, the Christian to be and do all that God wants to be and do in and through him. This "finished work" of God's grace by the dynamic of the "Spirit of Christ" (cf. Rom. 8:9) affords Christians the confidence that "He who began a good work in them will perfect it" (Phil. 1:6).
The Christians in Jerusalem needed to recognize the broader expanded priesthood of Melchizedek that had been assumed by Jesus Christ and the implications thereof. The Aaronic and Levitical priesthoods were regional and provincial, relating to the Jewish peoples in a particular geographical location, as well as provisional and preliminary to the ultimate intentions of God in the fulfillment of Jesus Christ. The Melchizedekan priesthood, on the other hand, was universal for all people, and was an eternal (cf. Heb. 6:20; 7:17,21), permanent (cf. Heb. 7:24) priesthood that represented man before God. The restoration of the physical priesthood in the temple at Jerusalem and the restoration of an ethnic nation in the land parcel of Palestine were not God's objective, for God had already restored humanity spiritually through the universal priesthood and blessing of Jesus Christ, and had established a "holy nation" of people dwelling in God's presence. For the Christians in Jerusalem to consider jumping on the bandwagon of the Zealot liberationists was to engage in a retrogression to prior Jewish perspectives, a reversion back to expecting the promises of God to Abraham to be fulfilled by physical and material criteria rather than the spiritual fulfillment of all God's promises to Abraham in Jesus Christ.
When Paul refers to his readers as being "dull" (5:11) and "sluggish" (6:1), and needing to "press on to maturity" (6:1), it has often been assumed by commentators that the recipients were immature in their understanding of the Christian faith, having failed to grow and progress as they should have in their knowledge of Christian doctrine and behavior. It must be questioned, however, whether this was a pedagogical and didactic issue that Paul alludes to, or whether is was a practical and experiential issue. Was it an epistemological problem or an ontological negligence? Was this a theorem information deficiency, or was this a practicum faith deficiency? Many interpreters have indicated that Paul was referring to a learning problem that the readers were slow learners, stagnated as ignorant "spiritual babies" who had not learned their ABCs and needed to go back to the elementary school of Christian learning. Several observations dictate against such an interpretation, however. All that Paul has written in this epistle, both prior to this section and subsequent to this section, presupposes and indicates an advanced understanding of the Christian faith on the part of the readers. The recipients appear to be regarded as well-taught and knowledgeable Christians. Paul does not seem to think that the readers needed to return to or review the initial and foundational tenets of Christian instruction (6:1,2), but in commonality with them writes, "let us press on to maturity." Maturation is not so much a matter of information as it is a matter of sanctification. Christianity is not essentially an epistemological belief-system, but is the ontological Being of Christ lived out in such a way that the end-objective (Greek word telos) of God is accomplished, and God is glorified as Christ's life and character are lived out despite how much information and knowledge one has, and despite the external circumstances. Those who are spiritually "mature" (Greek word teleios 5:14; 6:1) are those who are spiritually discerning and are "listening under" God in obedience (cf. 5:8,9).
This kind of maturity was the need of the Jerusalem Christians. They were being pressured and "put in a bind" by the false hopes and expectations of the Zealot movement. There was an erosion in their boldness and confidence and hope in Jesus Christ. They were becoming "sluggish" (5:11; 6:12) and timid, and in danger of neglecting their salvation in Christ (2:3) and regressing to their prior Jewish perspectives of God's promises. Throughout this epistle Paul attempts to encourage these Christians in Judea to make the difficult decisions that are called for in their present situation to "pay close attention to what they have heard" (2:1); to "hold fast their confidence" (3:6), and "confession" (4:14), and "assurance" (3:14), in order to "endure" (10:36; 12:1) and "persevere" (10:39). In this specific section (5:11 6:20) Paul exhorts them to "build on the foundation" (6:1) they have in Christ, to engage in the "things that accompany salvation" (6:9), "to be diligent to realize the full assurance of hope until the end" (6:11), to have "faith and patience to inherit the promises" (6:12), and this by "pressing on to maturity" (6:1), the end-objective of God in their lives.
Though the openings verses (5:11-14) of this section may appear to be a rebuke or reprimand of his readers, they are best understood as a corrective chiding or cajoling designed to stimulate and motivate the Jerusalem Christians to make the difficult decisions of Christian maturity. Rather than seeking to scold or shame the brethren in Jerusalem, Paul employs the sarcasm and irony of referring to them as needy pupils requiring elementary instruction or infants dependent on predigested milk if they are not able and willing to make the mature decision to persevere under pressure. Paul appeals to them to recognize that "Jesus is the better hope of inheriting the promises of God."
5:11 In direct connection with the preceding verses, Paul writes, "Concerning this we have much to say, and it is difficult to explain," The pronoun can be translated as a masculine, "him", or as a neuter, "this." If translated as a masculine pronoun, "him" can refer either to Melchizedek as the type of Christ, or to Christ as the antitype of Melchizedek, since both are mentioned in the preceding sentence. Translated as a neuter pronoun, "this" can refer to "this subject matter of Christ being high priest in the order of Melchizedek," which encompasses both of the interpretations of the masculine pronoun. Paul's use of the plural "we have much to say," has led some to speculate about plural authorship, but is best understood as an editorial "we" including himself with his ministerial colleagues and his readers. That there is indeed "much to say" about this subject is evidenced by the lengthy treatment of the theme in 7:110:18.
The subject of Christ's Melchizedekan high priesthood is without a doubt "difficult to explain," because it comprehends the entirety of Christ's "finished work." This is not an easy subject and requires careful spiritual understanding. The difficulty of the subject material, however, is often dependent on the maturity of the audience to understand and appreciate what is being presented. In this case, the difficult subject matter was compounded by the apparent indolent and indifferent attitude of the readers in Jerusalem. It is doubly "difficult to explain "since you have become sluggish to the hearing," Paul writes. Theirs was not a limitation or inability to intellectually or spiritually grasp the subject matter. Neither was it a communication problem of finding adequate words. The problem with the Christians in Jerusalem was an unresponsive unwillingness to "listen under" God in obedience in the midst of their difficult socio-political situation. In the preceding sentence Paul had noted that "He (Jesus Christ) became to all those obeying ("listening under" Greek hupakouo) the source of eternal salvation" (5:9). The Jerusalem Christians were "sluggish in their listening" (Greek word akouo). It is not that they were mentally dense or had a diminished capacity to understand. Rather, they were not being diligent (cf. 4:11; 6:11) to persevere (cf. 10:39) in a vital and legitimate (cf. 12:8 Greek root word for "sluggish") expression of "the obedience of faith" (cf. Rom. 1:5; 16:26). There seems to have been a spiritual inertia precipitated by "listening" to the voices of the revolutionary instigators, rather than to the voice of God to ascertain how He wanted to live out His character in them.
5:12 "For through this time you ought to be teachers," Paul implores. A teacher is not just an information processor who instructs others. A teacher is one who is responsible and takes the lead to speak out boldly, sharing out of what that teacher knows (cf. 8:11; I Cor. 2:12). A Christian teacher is one who has been taught by God (cf. I Thess. 4:9), "listening under" the Divine instruction of the Spirit (cf. Jn. 14:26; I Jn. 2:27), and is willing to take the lead in obedience. "Through this time" of difficult turmoil in Palestine, the Jerusalem Christians were not leading boldly in faith, and Paul chides them saying, "you have need again for someone to teach you the initial elements of the words of God." These Christians had apparently retrogressed into a pupil phase of spiritual progress. In their hesitancy to act in the obedience of faith, they were like students who were dependent on an instructor to receive second-hand knowledge concerning the basic rudiments of divine logic. The "initial elements of the words of God" are not just elementary Biblical information, but the foundational (cf. 6:1) understanding of God's fulfilling all His promises in Jesus Christ (cf. II Cor. 1:20).
Changing the analogy, but continuing the irony, Paul adds, "and you have come to need milk and not solid food." Mature Christians should be able to accommodate both "the pure milk of the word that causes one to grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2), as well as the "solid food" of spiritual discernment and digestion that understands the sufficiency of the "finished work" of Christ. Paul intimates that if the Judean Christians are not willing to persevere under pressure, they are like infants that can only tolerate the second-hand nourishment of predigested food.
5:13 The nourishment analogy is further explained: "For every one partaking of milk alone is not experienced in the word of righteousness, for he is an infant." Those unwilling to be spiritually discerning by partaking of the solid food of "listening under" God in obedience are being childish in their desire only for predigested milk provided by another. Paul's caricature of the Jerusalem Christians suggests that they might be immature in the discerning process of spiritual growth that partakes of the "word of righteousness" in order to yield "the fruit of righteousness" (12:11). The living Lord Jesus is the divine "Word of Righteousness," apart from Whom there can be no righteous behavior.
5:14 "But solid food," Paul goes on to explain, "is for the mature, those who through habituated experience have their perceptions exercised to discern both good and evil." Mature Christians, those recognizing the end-objective that God intends for their lives in the functional expression of the Christ-life lived out to the glory of God, can appreciate and accommodate the "solid food" of understanding and applying the reality of Christ's intercessory high priesthood in their lives. Christian maturity is the habituated experience or the practiced exercise of perceiving, appreciating and discerning (the English word "aesthetics" is derived from the same root as the word here translated "perceptions") the source and expression of the character of good and evil. This is not the same as an intellectual determination of true and false, nor an ethical discrimination of right and wrong, but is a spiritual discernment of the "good" character that is derived only from God (cf. III John 11) by the sufficiency of His grace, as distinguished from the "evil" character derived from the Evil One (cf. Matt. 12:35). In the case of the Christians in Jerusalem, they did not seem to have an appetite for the "good" character that "accompanied salvation" (cf. 6:9) and allowed them to minister to others in maturity (cf. 6:10) as they continued to be receptive to the "Word of Righteousness" (5:13), despite the difficulty of the then present circumstances. The "evil" character that they were tempted to partake of was the failure to appreciate the full significance of the risen Lord Jesus and the tendency to function in a manner that was not consistent with God's intent and character by desiring a physical and material fulfillment of God's promises rather than the spiritual fulfillment God had provided in Jesus Christ. Paul had such a deep-seated concern for his kinsmen, both physical and spiritual, that they should not lapse into the immaturity of seeking the second-best of the second-hand promises of the Jewish liberationists, but that the maturity of their sanctification would be manifested in the "diligence that would realize the full assurance of hope until the end" (6:11) as they remained receptive to God's "good" character effected only by the high priestly intercessory work of the living Lord Jesus.
6:1 "Therefore," Paul continues, "since you are not in need of the preliminary and primary reasonings and study of Christ, and since you are not to be undiscerning and dependent on others, let us proceed and advance beyond the elementary principles and build upon the foundation that has been laid. You are not bottle-babies! You are not kindergarten pupils needing to learn your ABCs despite the preceding sarcasm of hypothesized concern." This interpretation avoids any contradiction between 5:11-14 and 6:1-3. "Having left the initial word of Christ, let us be brought upon maturity," The "initial word of Christ," whether it is "the word from Christ" (subjective genitive) or "the word about Christ" (objective genitive), will necessarily include the six (6) foundational elements of Christian teaching that are delineated below (6:1,2). Including himself with his readers, Paul desires that they should be carried forward and enabled in the maturation process by the grace of God. Instead of the initial, starting elements of Christian instruction, they need to be brought unto the end-objective of Christian maturity, allowing the "finished work" of the living Lord to be operative in their lives.
Foundations are important, as is made clear by Jesus' parable of building on rock instead of sand (Matt. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:48,49), but foundations are not an end in themselves for they are designed for a structure to be build upon them. By referring to "having left the initial word of Christ," Paul is not advocating that the foundational factors should be abandoned, destroyed or denied, but is encouraging them to go on and build maturity on the foundation that has been laid, "not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith upon God." Though some have interpreted these foundational elements to be the Jewish teachings that these Jewish Christians had built their Christian faith upon, the context of "the initial word of Christ" seems to dictate that they refer to initial Christian teaching. Initial Christian instruction involves an admonition to "repentance from dead works" (cf. Acts 2:38; 3:19; Heb. 9:14), a change of mind about one's sinful expressions that do not express the living character of God and are worthy of punitive death consequences. Initial Christian instruction also includes a call to "faith upon God" (cf. Acts 16:31), receptivity to the redemptive activity of God in His Son, Jesus Christ.
6:2 The list of foundational Christian teachings continues. "Teaching about baptisms" was part of the initial teaching of the Church (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:12). The use of the plural "baptisms" may refer to teaching that differentiated between Jewish proselyte baptism, the baptism of John the Baptist (cf. Acts 18:25; 19:3), and Christian baptism (cf. Acts 2:38; 19:5). Such teaching could also distinguish between baptism in the Spirit (cf. I Cor. 12:13) and the initial Christian rite of water baptism.
The "laying on of hands" was sometimes employed in healing (cf. Mk. 5:23; 6:5; 16:18; Acts 9:12,17), or in recognizing God's ordination to ministry (cf. Acts 6:6; 13:3; I Tim. 4:14; 5:22; II Tim. 1:6), but the more likely reference here is to the early Christian practice of "laying on of hands" as an outward sign to indicate receipt of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:17; 19:6). This accords well with the previous reference to "baptism" and the subsequent reference to the Holy Spirit in 6:4.
Teaching about "the resurrection of the dead ones" has always been a distinctive part of initial Christian instruction. Though Paul's teaching of "the resurrection of the dead ones" who died in Christ was not always well received (Acts 17:32) as it countered the popular Greek concept of the inherent immortality of the soul, he placed much emphasis on the Christian's resurrection from physical death, based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (cf. I Cor. 15:1-58).
The foundational teaching of "the judgment of the ages" is closely associated with the eschatological teaching of "the resurrection of the dead ones." Such "judgment" is not invested with any negative or positive connotations for the determinative judgment is based on an individual's spiritual union with either the Spirit of God or the "spirit of this world" (cf. I Cor. 2:12), and is but the consequence of one's freely chosen continuity and perpetuity of that spiritual union. Such talk of "the judgment to come" made Felix very uncomfortable (Acts 24:25), but Paul will reiterate later in this epistle that "it is appointed unto men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27). The Christian who abides in Christ has no cause for fear of divine judgment (cf. 10:27), for Christ has taken the divine judgment upon sin (cf. Jn. 3:17-19) and the Christian "does not come into punitive judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (Jn. 5:24).
6:3 Having mentioned six (6) elements of initial and foundational Christian instruction (6:1,2), Paul returns to his primary emphasis of wanting his readers to "be brought to maturity" (6:1) by the grace of God. "This we shall do, if God permits." Paul tells his readers, "We shall proceed to discuss the difficult subject of the Melchizedekan high priest of Jesus Christ (cf. 7:1-10:39) in order to understand how the "finished work" of Christ's intercessory high priesthood brings us into the maturity of living in faithful receptivity (cf. 4:2; 6:12; 10:22,39; 11:1-39; 12:2) to God's activity in our lives." We shall do so, "if God permits" (cf. I Cor. 16:7), Paul states. This is not an impious phrase of resignation like, "God willing and the creek don't rise." Paul subordinated everything to the will of God, and he was fully cognizant that such maturity in his own life and in those of the Jerusalem Christians was exactly what God wanted to effect, for "He who began a good work in you will perfect (same Greek root word as "mature") it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). The grace of God was sufficient to effect such maturity, if they remained diligent (cf. 6:11) in their faith (cf. 6:12) to inherit the promises of God to Abraham (cf. 6:12,13). This delicate dialectic of grace and faith, of God's sovereign activity and the human responsibility of receptivity, provides the necessary setting for the interpretation of the next five (5) verses (6:4-8).
6:4 The chiding of the Christians in Jerusalem in 5:11-14, that their reticence to make the difficult choices to live in Christ could be construed as immaturity, is now expressed in the hypothetical possibility that they might choose to repudiate their Christian faith and apostasize (6:4-8). Paul does not believe that they will do so (6:9), but he pens these words to postulate the real possibility of apostasy, as he does throughout this epistle (cf. 2:1; 3:12; 4:1,11; 10:26-31; 12:15-17), and to warn the readers of the very real consequences to be incurred by such apostasy. As Paul returns to the hypothetical possibility of the Jerusalem Christians abandoning Christ, he changes from the inclusive first person plurals of "us" (6:1) and "we" (6:3), and employs the third person plurals of "those" (6:4), "them" (6:6) and "they" (6:6), to signify an anonymous speculation, and his unwillingness to identify himself with such.
"For," since Christian maturity is effected by God's grace activity responded to constantly by the faith receptivity of the believer (6:3), it is important to recognize the realities that a Christian has received in Christ, and the consequences of rejecting such. In the Greek text the word "impossible" (6:6) is placed prior to Paul's listing of the regenerative realities the Christian has received. This serves to evidence Paul's confidence in the preserving grace of God as well as the persevering faith of the Jerusalem Christians, rather than any pessimistic foretaste of a failure of faith. Without a doubt Paul wanted to encourage the Jerusalem Christians by listing these five (5) spiritual realities that had "once," without repetition, become theirs in spiritual regeneration. These are not a sequence of successive events in a theological ordo salutis, but are realities that every Christian receives in regeneration.
Paul first refers to Christians as "those having been once enlightened." This is not a psychological "enlightenment" whereby someone has "seen the light" by rationalistic understanding. Literally translated, Paul wrote of "those having been brought to the light," the passive voice indicating God's grace action, and the aorist tense indicating a definitive act. This spiritual "enlightenment" occurs at regeneration when an individual becomes a Christian by receiving the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows Meshall have the light of life" (John 8:12). John recorded that "In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). Jesus is the "true light which came into the world, and enlightens every man" (John 1:9) who receives Him as their life. The "enlightenment" that Paul reminds the Jerusalem Christians of is the receipt of Christ's life. "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord" (Prov. 20:27), and when Christ life is received within one's spirit a person is 'turned from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins" (Acts 26:18), for "by reason of His resurrection from the dead, Christ proclaimed light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:23). When he wrote to the Corinthians, Paul explains that "God who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness' (Gen. 1:3), is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ; we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (II Cor. 4:6,7).
Second, Paul writes of "those having once tasted of the heavenly gift." This, too, refers to the deliberate act of receiving God's gift into oneself at regeneration. The "tasting" is not a partial experience of "tasting with the tip of the lip" (cf. Calvin), but involves "taking into oneself for the full experience of" For example, when Jesus "tasted death for everyone" (2:9), He experienced the full reality of death, not just a partial experience. How is the "heavenly gift" to be identified? Some have called attention to "the gift of grace" (cf. Heb. 3:7; 4:7; Rom. 5:15,17; II Cor. 9:15), others to "the gift of redemption and salvation" (cf. Eph. 2:8,9; Rom. 6:23), and others to "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (cf. Acts 2:38; 10:45), but the "summing up of all things is in Christ" (Eph. 1:10), so the "heavenly gift" can be summed up in the person of Jesus Christ. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16), who is "the gift of God" (John 4:10). "God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3). As the Psalmist said, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8).
"Those having been once made partakers of the Holy Spirit" can only refer to those who have become partakers of the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9) at regeneration. This spiritual reality cannot be separated from the foregoing mention of the "heavenly gift" of Christ, for otherwise one has a deficient Trinitarian understanding that fails to recognize the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. At regeneration the Christian becomes a "partaker of Christ" (3:14), a "partakers of the Holy Spirit" (6:4) and "a partaker of the divine nature" (II Pet. 1:4). "God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" (Gal. 4:6). "The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you; His spirit indwells you" (Rom. 8:11), Paul writes. "He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us" (I John 3:24), John adds. To be a "partaker of the Holy Spirit" necessarily involves partaking of the expressions of the Spirit in the charismata and pneumatikon of Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, but the reference here is not to be limited to such, divorcing the spiritual manifestations from their source in the Holy Spirit.
6:5 Continuing his list of regenerative and salvific realities enjoyed by every Christian, Paul refers to "those having once tasted the good word of God." Again, as noted in 6:4, to "taste" is to take into oneself so completely that the experience of what one has taken in becomes part of the person receiving such. Paul's mention of the "word" of God here is a translation of the Greek word rhema (cf. 1:3; 11:3), rather than the Greek word logos (cf. 4:12; 5:13; 13:7), also translated "word." Some have made a sharp distinction between these words, explaining that logos means an objectively manifested revelation of God as in the historical incarnation of Christ (John 1:1,14), while rhema means a more subjectively experienced personal revelation of Christ. Jesus Christ is both the objective and subjective self-revelation of God, and can be referred to as logos, angellos or rhema. We must avoid, however, applying "the good word of God" only to the tangible book of the Bible or to an abstracted construct of the "gospel message," for the "good news" of the message of the gospel is Jesus Christ, and the purpose of the Scriptures are to reveal the personified Word of God, Jesus Christ (cf. John 5:39,40).
Christians are also "those having once tasted the powers of the coming age." The "coming age" is the Christian age, during which time Christians experience the dynamics of divine power as never before. God "made the ages" (1:2) with the intent that "in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). He has accomplished such, for "once at the consummation of the ages, He (Christ) has been manifested to put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26). This is "the mystery that has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:26,27). The "coming age" is not just a future age, for Christians have already tasted and experienced the Christian age in "these last days" (Heb. 1:2; Acts 2:17; I Pet. 1:20) of the inaugurated and realized eschatos age, empowered as it is by "the Eschatos Man" Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:45) which is not to deny a completed consummation of that "age" and those "last days" in the future.
6:6 Despite the fact that the defection of the Jerusalem Christians was hypothetical and unexpected (6:9), Paul posits the real possibility of a Christian having experienced the regenerative spiritual realities he has listed, "and then having fallen away." This phrase follows the previous phrases with a single conjunction, "and", but the obvious contrast of the action of this phrase with the previous phrases often causes translators to add a contractual word, such as "and yet" (JBP), or a word of contrasted sequence such as "and then" (NASB, NAB). The invalid translation is to add the word "if" (KJV, RSV, NIV) to indicate that such action and its consequences are but speculative and conjectural, rather than a real possibility. The aorist tense of this participial verb, like the four (4) previous participles, indicates a definite and deliberate willful action. The "once" that applied to the previous actions (6:4) can also apply to this phrase, "and then having once fallen away," indicating the singularity and non-repetition of the action.
To "fall away" does not mean simply to fall into an act of misrepresentative sin. The context demands that we understand that Paul is indicating the possibility of falling away from a relationship with Jesus Christ falling away from the enlightenment of Christ's life; falling away from the heavenly gift of Christ; falling away from being partakers of the Holy Spirit in Christ; falling away from having received the word of God in Christ; and falling away from having experienced the power of the age to come in Christ. To "fall away" is to renounce and repudiate all that one has received in Christ. The Jerusalem Christians were in danger of doing just that neglecting the saving life of Christ (2:1); falling away from the living God (3:12); falling into disobedience (4:11); trampling under foot the Son of God (10:29); and being defiled by a root of bitterness (12:15). They were being pressured by the Palestinian liberation movement to return to the Jewish hopes for the material fulfillment of the promises of God to Abraham, and thus to abandon the hope they had in Jesus Christ as the spiritual fulfillment of God's promises. Such a definite decision to reject Christ and revert to the Judaic religion; to "drift away" (2:1); to develop an evil, unbelieving heart (3:12); to disobey (4:11); and to "shrink back" (10:38,39) would constitute a deliberate and willful apostasy of "standing against" Jesus Christ (cf. 3:12). It would have been a calculated capitulation to the coercive campaign of the Jewish religionist, a deliberate denial of Christ and all of the spiritual realities inherent in Him in other words, a "reverse conversion." Such a decision would be to blaspheme, to speak bad words of contempt and reviling of God in Christ, and such blasphemous rejection of God is consistently stated throughout the Scriptures to have irreversible consequences of being "cut off" (Numb. 15:30,31), of receiving judgmental wrath (Ezek. 20:27-36), and being unforgivable (cf. Matt. 12:32; Mk. 3:29; Lk. 12:10).
Paul connects the possibility of "falling away" with the impossibility of returning to Jesus Christ. "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance." Paul is not saying "it is very difficult" or "humanly impossible" to restore a Christian who has rejected and denied Jesus Christ, but rather that it is divinely impossible since it would be incongruous with the character of God (cf. 6:18). Although "all things are possible with God" (Mk. 10:27) and "nothing will be impossible" (Lk. 1:37), it is impossible for God to act contrary to Who He is, for He only acts out of His Being, and cannot act contrary to His character without ceasing to be God. Acting out of His self-giving character, God has "given His only begotten Son" (Jn. 3:16). The singular sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross "once and for all" (7:27; 9:12; 10:10) cannot be reenacted. There is no other "sacrifice for sins" (10:26). If the salvation of Christ has been once (6:4) experienced (6:4,5) and rejected (6:6), then God has nothing more to give. The totality of His grace and self-revelation are expressed in Jesus Christ. There can be no more foundation of repentance (6:1), no second basis of eternal life. As Peter stated, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life" (Jn. 6:68). Later Peter declared, "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
The impossibility (Greek word adunaton, meaning "no dynamic") of an individual receiving Christ, rejecting Christ, and then returning to be renewed or restored to Christ must be explained theologically as a divine impossibility. Paul Ellingworth writes that "the impossibility of a second repentance is not psychological; it is in the strict sense theological, related to God's saving action in Christ."1 The impossibility of a second conversion is not based on the psychological impossibility of a psychological hardness of heart whereby an individual has developed a fixed attitude of rejecting Jesus, calling good "evil" and evil "good", and having no concern for the things of God in Jesus Christ. It is not even a "judicial hardening" of the psychological function of mind, emotion and will. It is the theological impossibility of reenacting the necessary foundation of repentance and salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of God's grace, love, and dynamic of restored life to mankind are extended in Jesus Christ. If the dynamic of Christ's life is experienced, and then rejected, then there is no theological foundation of repentance and salvation for that person. This is not just the logical impossibility of God going back on His word, having made a static declaration of "once apostasized, always apostasized," or "once revoked, always revoked." No, this is the theological impossibility of God's sending His Son again and reenacting redemption. William L. Lane notes that "to repudiate Christ is to embrace the impossible."2 If the totality of divine dynamic is in Christ, and Christ has been rejected, then there is "no dynamic" to effect salvation again. It is a divine impossibility. Later in the epistle Paul will write, "without faith (the receptivity of God's dynamic activity) it is impossible (there is no divine dynamic) to please God" (11:6).
Paul explains the rejection of Christ and the resultant impossibility of restoration to repentance by using a metaphorical figure: "since they recrucify again to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame." Obviously, since it is not possible to crucify the Son of God again in an historical sense, Paul is employing a figure of speech. Those Christians who would reject Jesus recrucify Him again in the sense that they seek to eliminate and terminate their relationship with Jesus. They want to "put to death" and execute their identification with Christ, by "hanging Him up" in rejection. In so doing, they publicly disgrace the Lord Jesus Christ, exposing Him to public humiliation by inferring that the life of Jesus is of no value and does not work. To thus "despise and forsake" (cf. Isa. 53:3) Him, and "insult the Spirit of grace" (10:29), is to exhibit Him as contemptible before others, telling a shameful lie (cf. Jn. 8:44) about the Lord, and making Him a mockery before men.
6:7 Paul utilizes an agricultural illustration, as was often employed by the prophets in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 5:2-7) and by Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:10; 7:16-20; Mk. 4:1-20; Lk. 13:6-9; Jn. 15:1-8) to relate to the agrarian societies of their day. Paul does so to present a picture of what he has referred to in verses 4-6. "For earth that drinks the rain that often comes, and brings forth vegetation useful for those for whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God." The interpretation of theses verses (7,8) must determine to what extent the agricultural analogy is to be understood as an allegory wherein the various details of the story are to be identified.
The "earth" or the "ground" seems to represent the readers, the Jerusalem Christians, with a similarity to the soils of men's hearts in Jesus' parable of the soils (cf. Matt. 13:3-23; Mk. 4:3-20; Lk. 8:5-15). Like the rain that repeatedly comes, the grace of God is continuously available. The Christians in Jerusalem "had drank" of the grace of God by their receptivity of faith, having "tasted" (4,5) and been made partakers (5:13; 6:4) of God's grace by receiving Him into themselves. By God's grace vegetation or spiritual "fruit" (cf. Matt. 7:20; Jn. 15:4,5; Gal. 5:22,23; Heb. 13:15) had been brought forth in the behavior of the Judean Christians. Such fruit is "useful" as it brings glory to God (cf. I Cor. 10:31; II Cor. 3:18; Heb. 13:21) and serves to cause the Christian community, the Body of Christ, to function as intended in unity and unto God's glory. As God's grace continues to be received by faith, Christians continue to receive the "blessing" of God's dynamic function of grace, and the "good word" (the Greek word for "blessing" is eulogias, meaning "good word") of God's approval, culminating in the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (cf. Matt. 25:21).
6:8 In contrast to the foregoing scenario which represented the Jerusalem Christians as Paul knew them, he makes the hypothetical contrast of what he perceived the readers to be in danger of doing, and the real consequences of such action. "But bringing forth thorns and thistles, it (the "ground" or "earth") is not approved (of God) and near a curse; the end of which is unto burning." Should the Christians in Jerusalem reject Christ and not continue to manifest the fruitful productivity of God's grace in their lives, but instead bring forth "thorns and thistles," the fruit of disobedience (cf. Gen. 3:17,18; Hosea 10:8; Matt. 7:16-20), they would not be approved of God, but disqualified and rejected (cf. I Cor. 9:27; II Cor. 13:5) for not serving God's functional purpose of bringing glory to Himself. As a consequence of such a choice there existed the real possibility that the Jerusalem Christians were subject to and "near" a "curse" of God rather than the "blessing" referred to previously (6:7). "Blessing" and "cursing" have always been consequences of man's responsibility of obedience and disobedience (cf. Deut. 11:26-28). "The end", the terminal result, of such rejection of God's grace and the bring forth of the fruit of disobedience is "burning."
In the agricultural situation the farmer sets the undesired vegetation on fire to destroy it, so the field, ground or earth, can be used for the constructive purpose of growing productive crops again. The "burning" is a procedure employed to purify the land for new sowing of crops. It is here that the metaphor becomes murky. Is it just the "thorns and thistles" of the fruit of disobedience that are to be burned, or is the ground (representing the people to whom this epistle is written) that is to be burned? Is the "burning" indicative of a destructive eschatological judgment, or is it a burning of purification? It seems preferable to understand that Paul is portraying some kind of judgment of God upon disobedient people, rather than the works of man being burned up like "wood, hay and stubble" (I Cor. 3:12-15). Jesus referred to "every tree (person) that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt. 7:19, and to people being cast into the "furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:42,50). Likewise, in the analogy of the vine and the branch, Jesus said, "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up, and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned" (Jn 15:6). In the passage that is parallel to this passage (6:4-8) in 10:27-39, it is obvious that Paul is referring to a judgment of God upon apostate Christians, for he writes of God "judging His people" (10:30) in a destructive (10:39) punishment (10:29) that involves the "terrifying expectation of judgment, the fury of a fire that consumes" (10:27). Let is be noted that "God is a consuming fire" (12:29) with the prerogative of divine judgment. It is not man's prerogative or the church's prerogative to burn Christians as recalcitrants or heretics in pogroms or inquisitions, as unfortunate incidents of church history record.
Paul was warning the Jerusalem Christians that the rejection of Jesus in apostasy would lead to divine judgment, and at the same time appealing to them to refrain from such action by building upon the foundation (6:1) they had in their personal experience of receiving Christ (6:4,5). He was confident, however, that they would not deny Christ and depart from the faith, but would bring forth the "fruit" that accompanies salvation (6:9).
6:9 "But," in contrast to the foregoing allusions to immaturity (5:11-14) and apostasy (6:4-8), "beloved, we have been persuaded of better things concerning you,". Despite the chiding (5:11-14) and the warning (6:1:4-8), there is no animosity or antagonism between Paul and the readers; only a pastoral concern of Christian love wherein he refers to them as "beloved" (cf. Rom. 12:19; II Cor. 7:1). The possibility of apostasy is not, and should not be, used as a club of incentive to chastise, to create fear and doubts, or to manipulate and motivate by guilt. Paul is convinced by the evidence he has observed or heard that the Jerusalem Christians are in a better condition of Christian progress than that of immaturity (5:11-14) and apostasy (6:4-8). Of the two illustrative options previously mentioned (6:7,8), the Christians of Jerusalem are still operating in the better scenario of verse 7, manifesting the "better thingsthat pertain to and accompany salvation." These Christians were being "made safe" from misused humanity in order to function as God intended (that is "salvation"), allowing the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23), the character of God, to be expressed in their behavior by God's grace. Paul was convinced of such better progress "even if we so speak" of sluggishness (5:11) and the danger of "falling away" (6:6). Notice that he has returned to the editorial "we" of personally inclusive plural pronouns, rather than the hypothetical distancing of "those," "them," and "they" (6:4-6).
6:10 Emphasizing the positive progression of which he is persuaded, Paul writes, "For God is not unjust to have forgotten your work". The statement, "God is not unjust," is a double negative that states the positive reality that "God is just." God is righteous (cf. Ps. 11:7; 119:137; I Jn. 2:29; 3:77), and does not forget or fail to recognize the grace outworking in the lives of the Christians in Jerusalem. These were "good works which God prepared beforehand that they should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10), and He "equipped them in every good thing" (Heb. 13:21) in order to "work in them for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). This "work" is explained later as "sharing with those who were mistreated, showing sympathy for the prisoners, and accepting joyfully the seizure of their property" (10:33,34).
As "love and good works" go together (10:24), Paul continues to explain that God will not forget or overlook "the love which you have shown unto His name, having ministered and continuing to minister to the saints." Divine love "has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5) and is always the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22). The Judean Christians had been receptive to God's expressing His character of love unto the glory of His own name. Their "love of the brethren" (13:1) was evidenced in "ministry to the saints," which is always the overflow of Christ life of love and service for others through the Christian. These were, no doubt, the grace-expressions of the charismata (Rom. 12; I Cor. 12). Jesus said, "To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, you did it unto Me" (Matt. 25:40), and "whoever gives to one of these even a cup of water to drink, shall not lose his reward" (Matt. 10:42). God does not neglect to see, nor does He forget when Christians are available to His active expression of His character.
6:11 Changing from positive reinforcement to challenge, Paul writes, "But we desire each one of you to show the same diligence towards the full assurance of hope until the end." Paul's desire (cf. Rom. 10:1) for the Jerusalem Christians is that they individually, and thus collectively, understand their responsibility to exhibit an eager and zealous diligence of faith in the midst of their present difficult situation. This is the "same diligence" as they have previously manifested in their ministry of love and good deeds (10), as well as the "same diligence" evidenced in "those, like Abraham, who through faith inherit the promises" (12), thus relating to both the prior and subsequent context. Earlier in the epistle Paul had encouraged them to "be diligent to enter God's rest" (4:11). Now he advocates a diligence that is directed toward a "full assurance" and confidence of understanding (cf. Col. 2:2), faith (cf. 10:22), and expectant hope in inheriting the promises of God. Later Paul will make a corollary challenge: "You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised" (10:36). This is similar to Peter's admonition to "apply all diligence" (II Peter 1:5) "to make certain about His calling and choosing you" (II Peter 1:10). Paul is concerned that the Christians in Palestine should fully bear the present difficulties and "hold fast their confidence" (3:6) that God would be faithful to His promises (10:23) "until the end," whether that be the "end" of the Judaic religion in 70 A.D., the "end" of their lives, the "end" of time, or the "end-objective" of rest (4:9-11) and maturity (6:1).
6:12 The opposite of "diligence" is "sluggishness," so Paul expresses his desire negatively, "that you should not be sluggish,". He had already intimated that they seem to be "sluggish in hearing" (5:11), hesitant and reticent to boldly move forward in the instructional maturity of faith. Paul did not want the readers to be "dragging their feet" in unreceptive indolence, "but imitators of those who through faith and patience are inheriting the promises." Though the word "imitators" translates a word, the root of which is mimos, the etymological basis of the English word "mimic," the linguistic meaning of the word is not mere mimicking of external actions, such as "parroting," aping," or "monkey see, monkey do." The word refers to patterning oneself after an exemplary model, and following by functioning in like manner as the behavioral pattern of another. Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians saying, "You became imitators of us and of the Lord" (I Thess. 1:6), as he had "offered himself as a model for them, to follow his example" (II Thess. 3:9). Later in this epistle to the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, Paul will encourage them to "imitate the faith" of those who led them and taught them (13:7). A pattern of functional faith-receptivity of God's activity is worthy of following after in like manner. The Christian life, however, is not merely imitation of another's external actions (even those of Jesus), but the manifestation (cf. II Cor. 4:10,11) of the character and activity of the living Lord Jesus by faithful receptivity thereof.
Who is it that Paul is encouraging the Jerusalem Christians to pattern their faith after? "Those who through faith and patience are inheriting the promises" could be taken to refer to other Christians, whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere, who were evidencing exemplary faith and patience. The present tense of the verb "inheriting" lends itself to such an interpretation. But the following context (13-15) indicates that Paul was probably thinking of "those, like Abraham, who through faith and patience are inheriting the promises." It is a distinctive Pauline theme to set forth the "faith of Abraham" as a model for Christian faith (cf. Rom. 4:1-22; Gal. 3:6-29), and he seems to be elevating Abraham as a pattern for faith and patience (12,15) here again, but with an even stronger emphasis on the faithfulness of God (13-18).
All Christians, along with Abraham, "are inheriting the promises" of God the promises of God to Abraham (Gen. 12-17) and all of the divine historical promises that are confirmed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20). "The promise which God has made is eternal life" (I Jn. 2:25), and this divine life of the Son (Jn. 14:6; I Jn. 5:12) is presently realized by all Christians. Christians are "heirs of the promise" (6:17; Gal. 3:29), presenting "inheriting" all that God has promised in His Son, Jesus Christ. The inheriting of God's promises must not be projected just to the future (as in Jewish eschatology), but must be recognized as being presently inaugurated and realized, even though there is a "not yet" completion and consummation of such hoped for and expected in the future.
In the meantime, Paul is encouraging the Jerusalem Christians to have similar "faith and patience" as Abraham exhibited. Such receptivity to God's activity requires patient long-suffering when such divine activity is deferred or is being masked by adversity and testing, as was the case for both Abraham and the Christians of Judea.
6:13 "For," to explain the patterning of Abraham in inheriting the promises, "God, having promised to Abraham, since He had no one greater by which to swear, He swore by Himself,". Abraham is certainly on Paul's mind throughout this epistle (cf. 3:16; 6:13-15; 7:4,5; 11:8-19). Paul, like every Jewish person, made much of the promises of God to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-7; 13:14-17; 15:1-7,13-18; 17:1-8,19). Paul's reference here, though, goes beyond the initial promises of God to Abraham, to refer to the confirmation of God's promises to Abraham after Abraham had faithfully been willing to sacrifice his promised son, Isaac, on the mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen. 22:1-14). God spoke to Abraham, "By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice" (Gen. 22:16-18). In like manner as men (16) swear an oath to validate a promise, God confirms His previous promises to Abraham by a sworn oath to guarantee His word. Whereas men always swear by something or someone greater than themselves (16), such as the temple, the book, heaven, or God Himself, God could swear by no one greater than Himself (cf. Isa. 45:23; Jere. 22:5; 49:13). God does what He does because He is who He is. His act expresses His Being, and His Being is always expressed in consistent act. This integral oneness of character and conduct is consistently expressed by any and every word He speaks.
In traditional Jewish interpretation of Genesis it was understood that God had confirmed His promise to Abraham with an oath. Philo, a Jewish commentator and philosopher, who lived from approximately 20 B.C. to 50 A.D., and was thus a contemporary of Paul, comments on Genesis 22:16-18:
Commenting on Abraham, Philo wrote,
These quotations serve to document the traditional Jewish interpretation of the two-fold promise and oath of God to Abraham, which Paul refers to in these verses.
6:14 Citing Genesis 22:17, Paul quotes God as "saying, BLESSING I WILL BLESS YOU, AND MULTIPLYING I WILL MULTIPLY YOU." The Hebrew infinite absolutes emphasize by repetition, as in Genesis 2:17, when God declares, "DYING, YOU SHALL DIE." Though the Hebrew text has God declaring that He will "multiply your seed," Paul shortens this to "you", for his emphasis is on God's faithfulness and Abraham's response of faith, rather than on the universality of the promises for all nations.
6:15 "And so," to explain God's sworn oath to Abraham in Genesis 22:17, "having patiently waited, he (Abraham) obtained the promise." With patient long-suffering (12) Abraham held fast in faith and hope expecting God to fulfill His promises. Despite the delay in the birth of the promised son, and despite the test to sacrifice Isaac (11:17,18), Abraham faithfully endured and "inherited" (12) or "obtained" (15) the promise of God. Since the event being cited (Gen. 22:16-18) was subsequent to the birth of Isaac, the "obtaining of the promise" does not refer to Isaac's birth, but to the blessing of multiplied posterity thereafter. Abraham obtained the results of the sworn promise of God in the fulfillment and blessing of multiplied physical progeny, and the Hebrew peoples received all that God had promised (Joshua 23:14), but Paul will explain later that there was another sense in which he, and they, "did not receive what was promised" (10:13,39). The direct spiritual fulfillment of the promises to Abraham would occur later in history in Jesus Christ, though Abraham "saw by faith" (Jn. 8:56) that the Messiah would fulfill the promises (Gal. 3:16), and all the nations of mankind would be blessed spiritually because of him (Gal. 3:8). So, by anticipated prospect Abraham inherited (12) and obtained (15) the promises of God in the "blessing" of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:3) and the universality of gospel availability to the multiplied peoples of all nations of the world (cf. Jn. 3:16; Matt. 28:19; Rom. 16:26).
It was important that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem understand that the "blessing" and the "multiplied posterity" were fulfilled in Christ, and that all Christians were spiritual "heirs of the promise" (17). Why? Because the Jewish revolutionaries were promising that they were going to effect the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham in a physical, material, racial, national and geographical way when they liberated Palestine from the occupying Romans. Paul did not want the Christians in Jerusalem to jettison the greater spiritual fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises for a lesser and inferior false promise of physical nationalism and religion.
6:16 Paul goes back to explain the confirmatory oath that was often employed in human interactions and transactions. "For indeed men swear according to the greater, and all the oath is to them is a confirmation for the end of a dispute." To create binding agreements men often made fiduciary oaths to guarantee their trustworthiness. Such oaths were often taken by appealing to one greater than themselves who might ensure or vouch for their fidelity. The Israelites were encouraged "to swear by the name of God" (cf. Deut. 6:13; 10:10), and Abraham, himself, did so on several occasions (cf. Gen. 14:22-24; 21:22-24; 24:2-4). These human oaths served as a form of binding validation of fidelity, and the violation of the terms of the agreement would constitute perjury. The oath was intended to avoid and resolve any dispute of contradictory claims concerning the agreement, under the threat of dishonesty and a loss of integrity. To "swear falsely by God's name" (cf. Lev. 19:12; Numb. 30:2; Deut. 23:21; Zech. 5:4) was to incur grave consequences in Hebrew society. But by the first century, Jesus was quite critical of the chicanery of unreliable oaths, full of loopholes and tricky verbiage, made with no intent to keep them (Matt. 7:33-37). He cautioned against making such farcical oaths and admonished that one should speak honestly and straight-forwardly with a simple "Yes" or "No."
6:17 "In this way," employing the acceptable ways of men at that time, and "resolving even more to demonstrate to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, God interposed with an oath." An oath was no required from God. God does not need to vouch for or guarantee His faithfulness to His promises. Integrity, the integral oneness between what one says and what one does, is inherent in the character of God. He can only act out of His absolute Being and character of faithfulness and truth. Though men try to confirm their words of promise with an oath, enforced by the threat of perjury, God cannot and will not perjure Himself. He cannot lie (18) or speak falsely or fail to keep His word and promise. Therefore, God's utilization of an oath (Gen. 22:17) was but a determined desire to demonstrate (cf. Acts 8:28) more abundantly beyond any human agreement that His immutable purpose and will was expressed in His promise. What God promises to be His purpose is unalterable, irrevocable, and cannot be annulled. He "will not change His mind" (Ps. 110:4) in a fickle withdrawal and cancellation of His stated purpose. The Jewish writer, Philo, understood this:
"The counsel of the Lord stands forever" (Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 40:8). On another occasion of self-swearing, God said, "I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back" (Isa. 45:23).
God's ratifying of His promise with an oath, swearing by the absoluteness of His own character, was "even more" a desire to affirm and prove that His immutable and irrevocable purpose could and would be achieved only in His Son, Jesus Christ. The "heirs of the promise" are Christians. "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring (descendants, seed), heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:29); "children of promise" (Gal. 4:28). "Those who are of faith are sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7) and "blessed with Abraham" (Gal. 3:9) with the "blessing of Christ" (Eph. 1:3). The "heirs of the promise" are not just the patriarchs of the past in the old covenant, nor are they just the projected participants of the future. The "heirs of the promise" are those Christians who by faith in Jesus Christ are part of the multiplied posterity of the "descendants of Abraham" (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:29), having received the "blessing" of Christ (Eph. 1:3), and looking forward to the completed and unhindered blessing of Christ's life in the heavenly realm.
Paul was desirous that the Christians in Jerusalem understand that "even more" than a sworn guarantee of His promise of blessing and multiplied posterity to Abraham and his physical descendants, this was an oath to prove His unchangeable purpose to spiritually bless men abundantly and universally in all the nations of the world through Jesus Christ. In the midst of their trials, the Jerusalem Christians needed to recognize that God was not going to let them down. "The plans of His heart stand from generation to generation" (Ps. 33:11), and God's unalterable purpose in Jesus Christ will not fail. So the oath to confirm the promise was for the purpose of encouraging (18) Christians, like those in Jerusalem, that their faith and hope in Jesus Christ is as sure as the Being and character of God.
6:18 God confirmed His promise with an oath (Gen. 22:17) "in order that by two unchangeable things," His promise and His oath, both expressions of His unchangeable character and purpose (17), He might demonstrate "in this way that it is impossible for God to lie." To provide a double certainty of His unchangeable and reliable character, God made promises to Abraham (Gen. 12-17) and confirmed such with an oath (Gen. 22:16-18). This is not an example of the "two-fold witness" (Deut. 17:16; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; II Cor. 13:1), as some have suggested, but just a double assertion, with the oath validating the promise, that the divine character of truth can be trusted. The connection of an "oath" made to Abraham with the greater context of the priesthood of Melchizedek is obvious from Psalm 110:4: "The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind; Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." This verse was quoted in 5:6, alluded to in 5:10, and will be again mentioned in 6:20, but the concept of an "oath" will be specifically emphasized in 7:20-28.
The double attestation serves to verify "it is impossible for God to lie." As in 6:6 the "impossibility" is based on the absolute character of God. The dynamic activity of God can only be expressive of His Being. God does what He does because He is who He is. "It is impossible," i.e. there is "no dynamic", to express that which is contrary to His character of absolute Truth. God can only act consistent with His character. The Hebrew forefathers understood this: "God is not a man, that He should lie Has he said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Numb. 23:19). "The glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind, for He is not a man that He should change His mind" (I Sam. 15:29). Man may be fickle, but God is not! "He does not retract His words" (Isa. 31:2). God, Himself, says, "I have spoken and truly I will bring it to pass" (Isa. 46:11), for His action always expresses His Being. Jesus declared such in His prayer, saying, "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). "He who promised" through Abraham and many prophets, that "the hope of eternal life, which God who cannot lie, promised long ages ago" (Titus 1:2) was to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ "He who promised is faithful" (10:23).
The purpose of the double promise and oath of God to Abraham was that "we should have strong encouragement, those having fled to lay hold of the hope set before us." Paul explains to the Jerusalem Christians that God's duplicated verification of the promise of divine blessing and multiplied posterity (Gen. 12:2,3,7; 13:15,16; 17:7,8; 18:18; 22:17; Heb. 6:14) should provide Christians with a strong encouragement and assurance that He is faithful to fulfill such in Jesus Christ despite the discouragement of the present circumstances. Paul does not indicate what the Christians have "fled" from, but only what they have "fled" to. Those who have received Jesus Christ to become Christians may be said to have "fled" from the slavery of Satan and the spiritual misuse of humanity, from the consequences of sin, from the frustration of meaninglessness and finding no hope in anything or anyone else, from religion, from persecution, etc. In a sense, Christians are, therefore, refugees who have sought asylum from God. They are "citizens of heaven" (Phil. 3:20); "in the world, but not of the world" (John 17:11,14,16,18). It is questionable, however, whether Paul had the "cities of refuge" (Numb. 35:6-8; Deut. 19:1-13) in mind as he wrote, or whether there was to be an underlying and indirect reference in these words that the Christians to whom he was writing should flee Jerusalem (cf. Acts 14:6). Paul's emphasis is that the Christians have "fled" to "lay hold" and "hold fast" to "the hope set before them." The "hope set before" the Christian is only in Jesus Christ. "Christ Jesus is our hope" (I Tim. 1:1); our "living hope" (I Peter 1:3). Christians have "fled" to Christ. Jesus is the objective content of our hope, "set before us" as the historical self-revelation of God and the theological explanation of God's redemptive and restorative action for man. In spiritual union with Him, Jesus is also the subjective basis for the confident expectation of Christians, "set before us" as the encouraging assurance of hopefulness for the ultimate realization of all that He provides in Himself. This is why "hope" is not "wishful thinking", but the objective and subjective foundation of stability and security in Christ.
6:19 "We have this hope as an anchor of the soul, both secure and firm,". Jesus is the hope of the Christian, for He is the realized promise of God. Paul employs the metaphor of Jesus as "the anchor of the soul." Such a nautical figure was familiar to those surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and may have been on Paul's mind due to his recent shipwreck (Acts 27:29,30,40) on his voyage to Rome. An anchor (the English word "anchor" is etymologically derived from the Greek word angkura used here) provides a firm (cf. 3:6,14) security (cf. Acts 16:23,24) by holding the ship secure in a position as the anchor is firmly lodged in the seabed. Paul wanted the Christians in Jerusalem to know that God's promises would not fail (cf. Rom. 4:16), for His character precludes falsehood and perjury. Christian security and assurance is based on the unchangeable character of God, who is faithful to His promises. Christian security is not based on proof-texts of "eternal security" or on logical circumlocutions of "once saved, always saved." Jesus Christ, as the very Being of God and the living expression of the character of God, is the dynamic basis of Christian security. As the "anchor of our soul," Jesus anchors the Christian to the immutable character of the God who keeps His promises in Jesus Christ, allowing us to have the confident expectation that we can endure and persevere in the midst of any turmoil as we anticipate the completed fulfillment of our heavenly gift (6:4) in Jesus. This was the verse that prompted Priscilla J. Owens to write the chorus of the hymn:
It is also interesting that Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 A.D. cf. Introduction) was apparently the first to use the representation of the anchor as a Christian symbol of Christ.
Mixing his metaphors of Christ as an anchor and Christ as the curtain-opener, perhaps because the Jewish peoples were far more temple-oriented than maritime-oriented, Paul morphs the security of Christ in the image of an anchor to the security that the Christian has because Christ is the "one entering into the inside of the veil". Paul is obviously referring to the veil or curtain in the tabernacle and temple that concealed the Holy of Holies (cf. Exod. 26:31-35), also called the "Holy Place", where the presence and Shekinah glory of God dwelt in the Judaic covenant arrangement. Whereas the Aaronic high priest entered into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:2-22), Jesus, as High Priest, "has entered into the Holy Place once and for all" (9:12), and the veil was torn in two (Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38) to represent that Jesus had opened access to the presence of God for all God's people who were spiritually united to Him. This "hope through which we draw near to God" (7:19) allows the Christian to have direct communion with God in the intimacy of personal relationship.
6:20 It is "within the veil" in the Holy of Holies of God's presence "where Jesus has entered as a forerunner on our behalf". Jesus promised His disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also" (Jn. 14:2,3). Where was that "place"? It was the place of God's presence "where", because Jesus "has entered once and for all" (9:12) by His death, resurrection and ascension (cf. 4:14), Christians now have direct access to "draw near to God" (4:16; 7:19,25; 10:22) in intimate relationship. Jesus went through death to prepare a place for us "near to the heart of God", as Cleland McAfee's hymn states. 7
The Aaronic high priests of the old covenant entered the Holy of Holies of the physical temple once a year as a representative of the Hebrew people of God, but the people could not follow them into that chamber of God's presence and glory. Jesus, however, "having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek," entered into God's heavenly presence as a "forerunner," the point-man and precursor, that facilitates all those "in Him" to enter into continuous communion with God. When Jesus "entered once and for all" (9:12) into the Holy of Holies of God's presence, it was a fait accompli, setting in motion the "finished work" (cf. Jn. 19:30) of Christ whereby He continues to function as "a high priest forever according to the universal and eternal order of Melchizedek." He opened the curtain for every Christian to be a priest unto God (cf. Exod. 19:6; I Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6), to have direct access to God's presence and intimate communion with Him, and to live by the continuing intercessory work of Christ, functioning as High Priest.
Though written in a particular historical context to the Judean Christians of the first century, these words continue to address needs of Christians in every age. They remain "profitable" (II Tim. 3:16) for our instruction and application.
There may be times when every Christian is "sluggish" (5:11; 6:12) and less than "diligent" (6:11) in their willingness to "listen under" God in obedience. When chided about such immaturity, even when it is suggested that we may be like elementary pupils or suckling infants in our spiritual progress (5:11-14), we must not take offense, particularly when one like Paul is goading us to maturity, seeking our highest good, and believing that we have everything necessary in Jesus Christ.
There may be times when Christians need to be warned of the real possibility of apostasy, and the dire consequences of repudiating and "standing against" Jesus Christ (6:4-8). Such warning should not, however, be used as a threat to create fear and doubts of one's standing with Christ, or to manipulate others into increased performance of "works."
Paul's desire was that Christians should "be brought unto maturity" (6:1) by the grace of God. Spiritual growth unto maturity is always for the end-objective of glorifying God, as "the things that accompany salvation" (6:9) are manifested in the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23).
There is always a tension in the Christian life between God's grace-action and what "we shall do" (6:3). Christians have a personal responsibility to exercise a "diligence" (6:11) of faith "until the end." This can be facilitated by observing the pattern of faithful responses made by others (6:12), not in the sense of simulated imitation, but in the emulation of how others have been receptive in faith to allow for the manifestation of Christ's life and character.
We must always trust that God is absolutely faithful and trustworthy (6:13-18). God's actions are always consistent with His character. Every promise of God will be fulfilled in accordance with His word in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20).
In the midst of competing voices and the pressures of difficult circumstances, Christians can have the confident expectation of hope (6:11,12,18,19) that God will bring to pass (cf. I Thess 5:24) what He has promised in Jesus Christ. This may require patient long-suffering (6:12,15) in the midst of trials, but this, too, is empowered by the Spirit of Christ (Gal. 5:23). Even in the discouragements of apparent delays and defeats, Christians are to remain receptive to God's activity in faith (6:12).
As "the anchor of our soul" (6:19), Christ provides stability and security in our lives. In a world of insecurity, Christians have the divine dynamic of security in Christ.
Because of Christ's function as High Priest, Christians have direct access into the intimacy of God's presence (6:19,20). We can "draw near" (4:16; 7:25) to the calm security of God's presence and power, participating in the "finished work" of the continuing intercessory function of Christ's high priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek (5:10; 6:20).
Paul, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek
Text. Series: The New
2 Lane, William
L., Hebrews 1-8. Series: Word Biblical Commentary. Vol.
47A. Dallas: Word
3 Philo, The
Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged. "Allegorical
Interpretations, III, 203."
4 Philo, The
Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged. "On Abraham,
5 Philo, The
Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged. "On the Life
of Moses, I, 283.)
6 Owens, Priscilla
J., "We Have an Anchor." As published in Favorite
Hymns of Praise. Chicago:
7 McAfee, Cleland
B., "Near to the Heart of God." As published in Favorite
Hymns of Praise.