Is it Really Impossible? – Hebrews 6

Hebrews 6:4-6 says that it is impossible for those who have “once been enlightened” to be restored to repentance if they should fall away. The key to understanding this verse is the word “fall away.” The verb παραπίπτω refers to someone who has not followed through on a commitment. It only appears here in the New Testament and is rare in the LXX, occurring 5 times in Ezekiel where it refers to the apostasy of Judah that led to the exile. This verb is cognate to παράπτωμα, the noun Paul uses to describe Adam’s sin in Romans 5:15. There writer does not have in mind some small offense against God, but rather a conscious defection from the truth.

Like the verbs used to describe salvation, this verb points to a decisive moment when an individual, having experienced “such a great salvation as this” stopped “being enlightened.”  The person in view has moved from the light back into the darkness, intentionally. Louw and Nida 34.26 gloss the verb as “to abandon a former relationship or association, or to dissociate (a type of reversal of beginning to associate).”  The word appears to focus on the initial disassociation, a reversal of the process of joining a group.

Reject ChristFor example: there have been several congressmen who have “switched parties” in the last few years.  Arlen Specter for example switched parties in 1965, from the Democratic party to the Republican party, and in then in 2009 switched back. In fact, since 1890 there have been 21 senators who switched parties (according to the US Senate website). What do you suppose the chances of someone that switched parties and backed the opponent’s candidacy being accepted unconditionally back into the old party?  Likely it is impossible that someone who has once been an enlightened member of “our party” and has gone over to the “enemy” should return to their original party.  Whatever the motive, their life as a Democrat or Republican is over; they will never completely win the trust of their party back.

The actions of the person in view in Hebrews 6 are more than simply quitting a church or shifting to another (more liberal) denomination. In fact, in the context of the first century Roman world, it is more than ceasing to believe in God or the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a conscious decision to turn ones back on God at a time of persecution. They are “switching sides” in order to avoid persecution as Christians.  Given the context of Rome in the first century, the possibility of persecution makes this sort of reversal much easier to understand.  This is not someone that is upset at God for their own miserable life, but a person that is standing before a man that can take his life and recanting, even perhaps causing the death of other believers by his reversal.

The death of Jesus is set before us as a pattern: he is not asking us to do anything he did not. The writer of Hebrews is clear that Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world.  For a person to participate in the blessings of God and recant under the pain of death is to not live up to the calling of Christ.

If this is the case, the writer is offering a strong encouragement to “suffer well” when persecution comes. This is immediately applicable in many parts of the world today, but perhaps not in the West – how should western readers of Hebrews use this text?

18 thoughts on “Is it Really Impossible? – Hebrews 6

  1. It’s clear that in the book of Hebrews, the author is writing to a group persecuted Jews. In light of this persecution, the author is encouraging those in the faith to maintain faith amidst pain and suffering. Although we can sneer and scoff at those during that time who denied Jesus’ name amongst persecution, would we not do the same thing? Considering possible martyrdom for our faith makes us really wonder how seriously we take it; whether it’s worth dying for. My guess is that the average Christian American in the face of death via martyr would deny the face of Christ. Is this ultimate denial? I don’t think so. If we look to the story of Peter denying Jesus in Luke 22, we see three separate instances where Peter blatantly denies knowing Christ (vv. 54-62). This circumstance is amidst the arrest of Jesus, thus the potential results of Peter’s involvement with Him could result as death alongside Jesus. Yet, Peter fervently denies that relationship. Hebrews 1:14 states that those who are in Christ “will inherit salvation (v. 14). Jobes points out that this is not just a one-time past conversion but a continual one; “The author of Hebrews…sees salvation not simply as a past event, but as a yet future event that will be fully realized only at the consummation when Christ returns (Heb. 9:28)” (Jobes 120). Thus, I believe that although we are bound to make mistakes, sin, and (sometimes) deny Jesus, that it is a continual process of sanctification that as at work and will not end until either Jesus comes or we are to meet Jesus. Now, in light of this, it’s easy to assume that I’m advocating that it’s okay to deny Jesus. However, that is not the case, I’m simply arguing the fact that by just the denial of Jesus we are not un-inherited of His grace and Kingdom. This, in reality, is a rather large subject to take up at hand and should be addressed in a larger format as well.

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    • When I read this post, I was very confused based on the point that you brought up about Peter. I was wondering how is if we deny Jesus, then we lose salvation, but Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, not once but three conscious times, and he is forgiven. Based on when you, Dr. Long, said “…a person that is standing before a man that can take his life and recanting…” when talking about who would lose their salvation, Peter should have loosed his salvation right? If he did not deny, he could of been put to death just like Jesus, but instead he made the decision to deny. What makes his situation different from anyone else who turns his back on Jesus in the time of life or death? This is something that I am truly confused with the more I think about it, but I think Luke did an eloquent job expressing where confusion is coming from. How is Peter able to have salvation for what he done. The emphasis seems to be on conscious decisions of turning away which Peter did yet he was able to get his salvation back. In John 18:15-18, Peter is directly asked if he was one of the disciples, and he did not just deny Jesus, but went to go get warmth with those who questioned him. He was questioned again in verses 25-28, while he is cozy and still denies, even denies the witness account of him with Jesus. I do not see how this would be a different situation then the explanation you, Dr. Long, gave for those who lose salvation, but yet Peter was able to have salvation when he was questioned by Jesus. That is where my confusion exists. I feel like western readers should read Hebrews as we need to be strong in our faith, and not of the fence. Reading this and what Peter did is hard to say how we should read Hebrews when what they say about salvation, but Peter denies and gets salvation back.I need some clarification on how Peter’s denials are different from the denials of those who loose salvation.

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  2. I also agree with Luke that denial of Christ is not going to subjugate oneself to eternal death. I also feel that it’s difficult to assess whether one would be willing to die for Christ, it’s easy for us to say that when we are not faced with that kind of pressure daily that we could die for our faith, some would even happily die a martyrs death. But, I also feel that always we should be looking towards our hope for the future when faced with adversity in any form, be it life threatening or not. Matthew 10:33 and Luke 9:26 both address that if one denies Christ or is even ashamed of Him will not be recognized by Christ. I think a lot of this has to do with the water downed Christianity in America that many, myself included have been coasting on. We afraid to go deep because of what Christ might ask us to do, we give as much as we need to get by while tightly holding on to what we can control of our lives. But, Jesus was radical and he demands the same from his people. Yes, of course we’re going to mess up, we live in a fallen world; but, Christ is challenging us to live boldly for Him even in the face of live or death. Christ has felt our pain (Hebrews 4:15) and knows the feeling to ever situation that we will ever face. As you said he is not asking us to do anything He Himself was not able to do, and with that I know that God would give the strength to anyone facing death for their belief in Christ.

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    • Nice use of the word “subjugate.” Sort of rolls off the tongue.

      I think to piggy-back off of what you said, it would be quite a “trap” to think that one could be annihilated, or doomed to eternal torment, or otherwise the second death simply because they recanted Christ in an intense moment. I am sure that staying faithful to God in a moment like that would be challenging and awful. To know that you might die for that reason is enough motivation alone to meet the persecutors demands. Similar to the way that Jesus speaks about the law, I think we can safely assume that nothing we do or say can separate us from Christ’s love. I would agree with Dr. Long that the writer has something different in mind. It seems like the “apostasy” issue is all about the attitude of the heart, and a direct aversion towards God. If you don’t want to come to the party, then don’t come! God won’t force you. But to decline at the cost of your life is another story. Some of us would lose control in that situation. We simply are not prepared enough in America.

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      • And I would add there is a strong possibility this passage has apostasy in the face of persecution. These are people publicly recanting their faith in order to avoid real, physical persecution. That is a long way from a “prodigal son” who lives a sinful lifestyle for a time fully away he is is still his father’s son (or at least could be his slave still). Whatever is forcing these people to potentially recant their faith, it is far more serious than what most American (fundamentalist?) Christians think is enough to lose salvation.

        Not that I am recommending sinning that grace may abound (may it never be!).

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  3. Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, and he turned into a main pillar of the church. If there is no possible way to be reconciled after recanting of one’s faith then the story of Peter makes no sense. The idea though is the persecution. Classic answer, but I believe it shows they weren’t truly on the side of faith. Faith isn’t by action but it requires action. If in the time of true trial you reject Christ then did you ever truly accept him in the first place? For the true believers though, such as Peter, there is a way to be re-acclimated with Christ. Westerners don’t have this challenge to the degree of true persecution, but events such as columbine, make us have the refresh and to honestly think about our walk. Would we tell a gunman that we believe in Christ, would we deny him, or even give up other Christians to live? Westerners don’t deal with persecution, but it is important to think about what if and to remember the Christians that are getting persecuted.

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  4. I agree with Luke and his statements on the issue of the persecution of Jews and Christians alike in this case. He is correct in saying that we should not sneer and scoff at the matter of persecution but we are not wrong to say that we sometimes have the temptation to do it ourselves. If we are to look at Scripture in the light of the context we blatantly see via Scripture of Instances where Christ very own disciples denied him of his being. (Luke 22 vv. 54-62) If his own disciples could deny him and still be reconciled without being persecuted then it is to say that anyone can come back into the faith if they so wish without judgement. If this is the choice we have before us we must first ask ourselves one question before anything can be said among us, if we have the audacity to deny Christ to others or to himself, did we ever truly accept him in the first place? That question could be up for some debate but if we are to reference the Bible it clearly states to us that those who live in such denial will not be recognized by Christ. The author of Hebrews doesn’t see salvation as a one-time event but a continual process in order to be made holy in his sight and sees it as more a future event that will be realized at the consummation when Christ returns (Heb. 9:28.) (Jobes, 120). It isn’t to say that we will never commit sins or (sometimes) deny Christ as his full being but live in conscious awareness of the sins surrounding us and the issues of persecution of the church and of this fallen state so that we may not fall into such despair but live up to the expectations of a restored world set among us.

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  5. As Christians, we pray for the persecuted church. We hear of people meeting undercover to worship–risking their freedom, their safety, even their lives. Looking on from afar, we might extend gracious understanding to those who might verbally deny God in such a situation. Protecting their lives, their precious families, would seem reason enough to utter a few untrue words.
    And yet, Hebrews 6 speaks of first century Christians making a conscious decision to turn their backs on God at a time of persecution. Your explanation shows this as “a decisive moment” when an individual intentionally moves from the light back into the darkness, abandoning any relationship or association with God.
    In today’s western world, we might wonder if we take our religious freedoms for granted and forget the struggles faced by so many. And we ask ourselves the difficult questions: “How would I stand up under persecution? Would I be able to stand stand strong in my faith if my life were at risk?” Jobes shares her thoughts on this: “Even without persecution for being a Christian, there are times when a believer might wonder if the gospel…is relevant for life’s deepest challenges… And then there are the perennial episodes of evil in in our world” (p. 133). Hebrews encourages us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (12:2) and suffer well through any and all difficulties we face in life.

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  6. The salvation provided to us through the Jesus’ death and resurrection is like any other gift that we can receive. I made this same point in my last comment on another point, that God, like any other good gift-giver, would never just take a gift back once it has been given, however, should the receiver of said gift decide to return the gift, there is not a whole lot that can be done there. The gift is no longer yours, you cannot claim it.

    However, should the receiver, turned gift-returner, decide to go back to the store and get the same product, then I suppose they could claim the product.

    I like the example made here about the politician switching parties. While the politician did indeed switch and then switch back again, there really can be no true reconciliation unto those whom were abandoned in the first place. I suppose that this could be true with a person who turns away from the faith and then comes back and tries to re-enter their once home church. But can this really be the same with God, our Father?

    I am reminded of the story of the prodigal son who turned away from his family. But did the father not rejoice and spare nothing for his son when He came back? Even though the elder son was against this? This is what I would imagine it’d be like for someone coming back to the faith.

    Once you return the gift, the gift is no longer yours. However, it is simply a matter of going back to the store and picking it back up again. It is when someone simply returns the gift, forgets about it and never goes back for it that they can never claim it again.

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  7. I have personally struggled with this verse for a fairly long time so I am glad to hear your input on it. The disciple that came to mind when I thought about this passage was not Peter but Judas. I always had the notion that Judas believed Jesus was God and was afraid of the power that came from that so he was easily persuaded to help kill him. I believe that this verse refers to someone knowing Jesus and choosing to turn his back on him. The term “apostasy” helped me better understand this passage (Jobes, 135). Hebrews 6:6 says that turning one’s back on God is just like crucifying him again. It is to take one’s belief of being in the light and turning to evil and power. The best modern day example I can give is Kylo Ren leaving the light for darkness. His father waited for him to rejoin the light but Kylo never did. If Han Solo had not forgiven his son, that bad thing may not have happened to him (notice how I avoided spoilers). God understands humans better than we do and I think He knows when we have truly turned our backs on him. He knows our hearts and intentions (Jeremiah 17:10) so it is best to trust that he knows what is true.

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  8. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that salvation in Jesus is secure to the true believer (John 10:27-29, Philippians 1:6, Romans 8:35, etc.) Even so, Hebrews 6 is a tricky passage to discuss, and I think there can be any number of convincing arguments made using this verse as supporting evidence. The way that I tend to look at this verse is that the author Hebrews is making the point that salvation outside of Christ is impossible. It paints a picture of a believer who has fallen away from their faith, and it states that this believer cannot come be renewed to the faith. The main question that I see is this: who is doing the renewing? If this person has fallen away from faith, and they don’t believe in God, they would be focused on renewing themselves through good works, worldly pursuits and the like. In this way, it is impossible to be renewed to salvation. However, if that person who has fallen away chooses to turn back to Jesus, I think that God can do what man cannot and restore salvation. God works to bring the lost sheep back to himself.

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  9. This verse is intriguing, from a Biblical perspective but also a denominational standpoint. From the Grace movement’s standpoint, it is impossible for someone to lose their salvation. Because Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice His blood covers all sins, which would include the denial of Jesus Christ as one’s saviour. I find this thought hard to follow though. Denial is not saying that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was not big enough to cover it, but rather that we are denying the gift, which is Jesus Christ. Salvation through Jesus Christ is often described as a gift, we have a choice to take it or to not take it. Once we take a gift we are still able to deny it even after taking it.

    In Exodus 32:33 God says to Moses that if anyone sinned against God he would be blotted out of God’s book, his book being the book of life. Following this train of thought, it is necessary to find more Biblical support outside of the Old Testament. In the book of Revelation, chapter 22 verse 19, it talks about God taking people away from them any share of the tree of life. Essentially saying that if someone takes away from the Bible, scroll of prophecy, God would take them away from the tree of life. John 15:2 also talks about this issue. It talks about believers who do not stay true, they are like branches of a tree that do not give truth. With that, they get pruned from the tree. This would imply that one can fall away and get cut away from the tree, Jesus.

    That all being said, if you are in Christ you should be bearing fruit to begin with. I believe that once you stop bearing fruit you have made the conscious decision to disobey Jesus and turn against Him. With all of this, I would say that it is possible to lose your salvation or better put, give it away willingly. Once you deny the existence of Jesus Christ you willingly give it away. This also being said, as long as you repent there is nothing that Jesus Christ’s blood cannot cleanse, you would be accepted back.

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  10. This verse is intriguing, from a Biblical perspective but also a denominational standpoint. From the Grace movement’s standpoint, it is impossible for someone to lose their salvation. Because Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice His blood covers all sins, which would include the denial of Jesus Christ as one’s saviour. I find this thought hard to follow though. Denial is not saying that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was not big enough to cover it, but rather that we are denying the gift, which is Jesus Christ. Salvation through Jesus Christ is often described as a gift, we have a choice to take it or to not take it. Once we take a gift we are still able to deny it even after taking it.

    In Exodus 32:33 God says to Moses that if anyone sinned against God he would be blotted out of God’s book, his book being the book of life. Following this train of thought, it is necessary to find more Biblical support outside of the Old Testament. In the book of Revelation, chapter 22 verse 19, it talks about God taking people away from them any share of the tree of life. Essentially saying that if someone takes away from the Bible, scroll of prophecy, God would take them away from the tree of life. John 15:2 also talks about this issue. It talks about believers who do not stay true, they are like branches of a tree that do not give truth. With that, they get pruned from the tree. This would imply that one can fall away and get cut away from the tree, Jesus.

    That all being said, if you are in Christ you should be bearing fruit to begin with. I believe that once you stop bearing fruit you have made the conscious decision to disobey Jesus and turn against Him. With all of this, I would say that it is possible to lose your salvation or better put, give it away willingly. Once you deny the existence of Jesus Christ you willingly give it away. This also being said, as long as you repent there is nothing that Jesus Christ’s blood cannot cleanse, you would be accepted back.

    -TylerM

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  11. The example you used of switching political parties was apropos. When apostasy is looked at in light of Hebrews and the historical cultural things that were going on at the time, a light is shed on what the writer actually meant. I don’t think that this is a salvation issue per say. This refers to someone who was a Jewish Believer just melting back into the synagogue becoming a Jew again, in essence switching parties, to avoid persecution. I think this is more like the fair-weather Christian, who says in fellowship as long as it is beneficial and the second it becomes inconvenient reverts to an old way of life. This is a breach of trust with the community and so when this individual comes back when persecution is done, there is maybe some animosity and distrust within the community. This would make life very hard for the wishy-washy believer. I don’t think this individual loses his salvation but he definitely loses his place in the community and must work to be restored.

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  12. It explains in the passage even in the Greek that it is not just anyone that is going to fall away it is the one who is the steadfast believer in the faith that it is impossible for them to return. The author is explaining that to do this is to shame Christ a second time which you can not do because only needed to die once for all our sins. Only Mature believers will this apply to. From what the texts describes, the one who know the faith and turn away because they are the ones who have seen and trusted in God and now choose to knowingly turn away from him.

    John 4:10
    Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
    In this passage it alludes to the fact that if you know God and asked him for ever lasting water would you turn away from that. And if you did turn away for it doesn’t that mean that there is only death left for you. I believe so, and God explains this that you can go with him or turn away but you will know the results in which you choose. So no one who is in the faith can unknowingly make the choice to turn away.

    2 Corinthians 4:4
    The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
    And this explains why they can not come back, it may not be that they are not accepted back but they have instead blinded themselves with their turn from him. Now they can no longer see the truth and the light and will not be able to return because they are blind to the Gospel or good news.

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