Collin Hansen has an excellent interview with Peter O’Brien which specifically discusses the warning passages in Hebrews. Essentially, O’Brien makes the point that there are two kinds of faith in Hebrews, a genuine faith, analogous to the Parable of the Sower. Some people respond to the gospel, but not fully and therefore recant their faith when a time of persecution comes. Indeed this is usually the case when the gospel is preached, whether in the ministry of Jesus, people may respond positively but not come to real Faith in Jesus. That inadequate response is found in John’s Gospel as well. Nicodemus was positive towards Jesus, even friendly towards his teaching, but in John 3 I think he falls short of “saving faith.”
Scot McKnight has a response to this interview. He does not like this two-kind-of-faith approach, stating that it “strains the very language of the letter to the Hebrews.”In essence, McKnight says that it really does not make any sense to warn someone about apostasy (falling away from faith) if they have no faith to begin with! If someone has “spurious faith” then they really ought not be encouraged to continue in that faith. McKnight does not understand what “spurious faith” means in this context, although late in the article he offers what might be a good definition real faith “perseveres and to salvation” and spurious faith “doesn’t persevere and that leads to judgment.”
I wonder if O’Brien’s parallel to the Parable of the Sower is not a useful way to understand these warning passages. Within a group of followers of Jesus, there is a range of responses to the Faith. They all have heard the real gospel and have some sort of a response to it. They have all responded positively, but only one type of response is “salvation which perseveres.” In the Parable, it is the person who bears fruit. To appreciate the faith, or to admire Jesus and his teaching, or to enjoy the gifts of the Spirit is simply not enough. To be “right with God” one clings tenaciously to the Faith as it has been handed down to them, they bear fruit, and they endure whatever persecution comes their way. In fact, suffering for the faith seems to be a hallmark of “genuine faith” (Hebrews 12:3-11).
If this analogy is useful, then the exhortations in Hebrews are trying to draw those with weak or inadequate faith into a deeper, more full understanding of this “great salvation.” The time is coming, says the writing of Hebrews, when you cannot play at being a Christian – you may have to pay with your life!
Thanks to Brian Small at Polumeros kai Polutropos for these links as well as including Reading Acts on his January Hebrews Carnival!
5 thoughts on “Hebrews 6:4-12 – Other Views on the Warning Passages”
I find the parallel to the parable of the Sower to be a good analogy for this passage. But the question of whether or not those who fall away were ever truly saved. In John 10:28-29 Jesus states that those who have eternal life cannot be taken from his or the Father’s hands. Yet it was Jesus who told the parable of the Sower and explained. So, are those who fall away truly saved or not? At the end of chapter 4, Jobes introduces a theory, supported by a minority, that those who fall away are only punished on earth but not after death. But that does not really seem to fit with the tone of the passage. The whole book focuses on Christ as the Great High Priest and that his sacrifice was final. In this specific passage the author states that those who have fallen away “are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt,” (Hebrews 6:6). The theory just does not seem to fit what the passage says.
It is interesting to note that the author of Hebrews seems to believe that those he is writing to are in no danger of falling away. In 6:9 the author says, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things-things that belong to salvation.” It sounds as if the author believes that the readers are all firm enough in their faith that they will persevere and that he had simply warning them in order to cover the bases, so to speak.
I never really looked into Hebrews realizing this section was a group of warnings. However I do see that both arguments presented here are interesting after reading. One thing along the lines of faith that I have always wondered is just what was presented. Now, further on that, I believe that once you are saved you are always saved, no questions asked. That is why we have the gift of eternal life, and it cannot be taken away. One of the things mentioned in the McKnight response is that it really doesn’t make sense to warn someone about falling away if they had no faith to begin with. When I see this situation that is more what I am inclined to believe about it. Not that you can lose your faith, but rather you didn’t actually have faith in place to begin with. Again, my personal view tells me that once you are saved you are always saved. We can fall away in our faith, but that faith if we have actually trusted and believed , is still there, we won’t lose our saving grace, but we will still pay consequences for our sins no matter when we commit them, whether before faith and saving or after.
I struggle with this whole idea of salvation and sanctification a lot. Must they be connected? If they are,then,it seems that if we are saved by God’s power, and by his power we are also changed and sanctified . We would have to be because he would not leave us in the former state that we used to be in, right? He will contiunally grow and prune us and make us more like him, regardless of our efforts/or lack thereof? Or are we saved by God’s power and grace, and then sanctification is a combo of us disciplining ourselves towards a path where God can work in us, (but it has to be a combined effort?) hmm
I like what P. Long says about those who are, “right with God”, will cling to their faith, BEAR FRUIT, and persevere through any persecution. Only God really knows a person’s heart, but it seems that people with genuine faith, always bear fruit from one degree or another. Some take small steps towards maturity in their spiritual growth and others speed right along. But there is some sort of fruit, and change seen in their lives. Jobes calls that “on going sanctification”.
In Hebrews 10:14, the author says, “ For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”. I feel like this verse is along the lines of: it is by God’s power that we are saved and justified, and also sanctified. Following that thought, maybe it would be impossible for somebody who has truly been enlightened and understands God’s love and sacrifice and is “being made perfect” by God, to turn away. It would almost have to be like God is turning the person’s heart away..
Also,a true Christian is justified in God’s eyes, and now to reject him would be to “crucify the son all over again”(Heb 6:6). It has a sense a believer taking back his/her sin, that was “finished” with and was covered so perfectly and effectively already by Christ. It would be undoing his sacrifice, which was PERFECT and therefore that would be impossible to do…
Thanks for mentioning my blog.
No, thank you. Always nice to be carnivalized. Assuming that is a word.