Hebrews 6:1-3 – Leaving Elementary Teachings Behind

Open BibleThe context of the notoriously difficult “falling away” passing in Hebrews 6:4 is critically important.  In Hebrews 6:1-3 the author of Hebrews implies his readers are immature and have failed to grow at an expected pace. They need to “build again” on the foundation and re-learn the basics of the faith. In all of the Jewish Christian literature, there is a struggle to integration Judaism and Christianity. How much of the “old covenant” ought to be brought over to the new faith?  Hebrews 6:1-3 lists six foundational items (three pairs), all of which fit into the Jewish Christian world of the original authors, but need to be considered in the light of the New Covenant.

Repentance from Sin. Both Peter (Acts 2:38) and Paul (Acts 17:30-31, 26:20) preach repentance from sin in the book of Acts. Although turning to God is turning away from sin, the phrase “acts which lead to death” is unique to Hebrews 6:1. It is similar to James 2:17, “dead faith.” The original readers of Hebrews were not pagans converted from a sinful life, but faithful Jews who may have been (from an Old Covenant perspective), not all that sinful. The emphasis is on unproductive works vs. faith. So what exactly needs to be confessed and repented of when one comes to Christ? Perhaps the readers are overly concerned with outlining the exact nature of that repentance rather than repenting and then maturing!

Faith in God. Perhaps this is simply the natural partner of “works which lead to death,” the active sense of repentance. Since the audience is Jewish, it is unlikely that they worshiped idols.  The acts that lead to death and faith in God have to do with their participation in salvation, two sides of the same coin.

Instruction on Baptisms. The word “teaching” here may be an introduction to the final four items since they are all under the heading of “teaching.” This is a fairly difficult exegetical problem; the noun didach'” was used at the end of the first century of a body of instruction on these sorts of things (Didache, for example). That the noun for baptism is plural is a strong indication the readers were still practicing Jewish ceremonial washings in mikvoth.  If this is so, then either this is evidence Jews in Rome practiced ritual purity at a much higher level than we might have thought, or that the book of Hebrews was sent to Jerusalem, where there is clear evidence of mikvoth and ritual washing. In either event, plural “baptisms” likely does not refer to Christian baptism as we understand it, an “initiation ritual.”

Laying on of Hands. Like baptisms, it is tempting to read this in terms of later Christian practice, but “laying on of hands” was practiced in Judaism before it was taken over by Christians (Gen 48:14, Num 27:15-23, Deut 34:9). Since this is paired with baptisms, it is possible that laying on of hands was associated with the beginning of Christian life in the Jewish churches (Cf. Acts 8:16-17, 19:5-7).

Resurrection of the Dead. The final pair in this list are not practices but doctrines which were subject to strong (and perhaps emotional) debates among first century Jews.  One only needs to recall the division between Sadducees and Pharisees to know that the resurrection was a controversial issue (both for Jesus, Mt 22:23-33) and Paul, Acts 23:6).

Eternal Judgment.  A related theological problem in first century Judaism was the final judgment.  If there is a resurrection in the future, what will happen to those who are raised from the dead and condemned?  Is there “eternal torment”?  There are a number of texts from the Second Temple period which describe eternal torment of the unrighteous dead.  2 Enoch and 3 Enoch, for example, seem to indicate that at least some Jews of the first century did think that the dead would face eternal (and sometimes ironic) punishment.

The author does not say these “foundational items” are unimportant, but that these ought to be settled by now to that the readers are ready to move on to more mature doctrines. The “deeper” things in this case is next section of Hebrews, the teaching on Melchizedek and the Tabernacle.  The readers are fretting over foundational issues (who is in/out, details of theology which are not critical), and they are therefore unprepared for the difficulty of the argument which he is about to make.

But more important for the writer of Hebrews, the readers are unprepared for the possibility of persecution. If they have not progressed beyond the first things of the faith, will they be willing and able to endure physical persecution in the near future? Are the mature enough to continue in their faith in Jesus?

It is fairly easy to draw some analogies to Christian maturity in the western church. Although there are some large and wealthy churches, it is possible most members of those congregations have not moved much beyond the basics (an initiation ritual and when to stand for worship, basic teachings or what political party to support). Just as for the audience of Hebrews, when persecution comes, these will not be enough to ensure loyalty to Jesus Christ.

 

 

18 thoughts on “Hebrews 6:1-3 – Leaving Elementary Teachings Behind

  1. I completely agree with the point that the church today is drifting just like the people whom the book of Hebrews was written to. I see Christians today forgetting, or not even realizing, the gravity of the faith they claim to believe in. Our culture and the norms of today make it a difficult walk to follow God and live biblical lives because the age we live in is so comfortable; why hold onto something that doesn’t come easily? In reading Hebrews 12:6, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart,” it is hard for us to relate to being opposed to because most of us do not experience much opposition or persecution. I think that this throws a red flag, we should be going so contrary to culture that we don’t exactly “fit” in, but today’s church is so blended with culture and norms, there is not much difference between the two. I think the author of Hebrews would have spoken some of the same harsh words to today’s culture as he did to the receivers of Hebrews to warn them of not falling away. Our lives should reflect what Karen Jobes said, “one’s initial faith in Jesus Christ for the purification of sins must be the starting point of a lifelong commitment of growth toward spiritual maturity and holiness, persevering in faith even through times of temptation to turn away.”

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    • I agree with your perspective on this point. In today’s society it is so difficult to live the biblical lives all of the time. A lot of people like to put their life into different sections and be one person at school, one person at church, on person at work, etc. I know that I am guilty of not always living a biblical life everywhere that I go, and I think that most people will agree that they don’t either. It is something that is hard to do in today’s culture but it needs to happen. In today’s society we are facing different types of persecution and opposition like you had mentioned from Hebrews 12:6. Today’s persecution isn’t the same in this culture as back in the culture that the book of Hebrews addressed. As a Christian, we need to live out our faith in such a way that others can tell that there is something different about us. The moment that we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, transformation needs to take place not only in our hearts and minds, but in our everyday actions and life. We need to live a life worthy of the calling that we have received (Ephesians 4:1). Great post!

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  2. I find it interesting that in Hebrews 6, the author calls things such as baptism and judgement elementary teachings, and today we don’t have anywhere near a united teaching on much of anything. Churches today split over trivial things such as music. If baptism is something which every Christian should know and understand as a basic, I can’t imagine what kind of things America would receive in a letter written today. One point that interested me is Hebrew’s emphasis on perseverance. To me this means not only to resist temptation but also to progress in your faith in a way that you don’t remain stagnant. I think if we don’t have endurance and perseverance to fight temptation and progress in faith, maybe we truly weren’t in the race anyways. I also think, however, in terms of the race analogy, we have the ability to give up and forfeit what we have entered. If we are have fallen away and have abandoned what we have been living for, can we again enter the race? I’m not sure but the context of Hebrews 4 was helpful to me because I never knew the warnings were for Christians who were simply immature, but thought that it was rather for true Christians who fell away. It seems to me that the immature Christian is almost lazy, unwilling to persevere, something that Jobes points out is extremely important. Is it possible for someone who is truly dedicated to lose their salvation? Or is the warning for those who were never willing to compete in the first place?

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  3. I agree with the statement that basic level teachings are not enough to merit a eternal pass to the kingdom of heaven. These principles shown in your post are definitely important from the Old Testament teachings, but there is infinitely more to know about God and how we are to become more and more like him everyday. As Adam commented on his post above, i agree that immature Christianity consists of a standstill in learning and continuing on in the practices of Christ. Our modern day church services have become so ritualistic, that the congregation can just get caught up in the routine and not notice that there is little to no growth in their own lives because they can only “experience God through the church setting that they are used to.” I feel that this is wrong, and we shouldn’t just rely on what we learn in church to be the only growth we experience in our faith.

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  4. I would have to state that this raises some important questions not even just to those first believers but the believers even now still today. Hebrews 6 discusses many things that the average believer knows about but it does the raise the question of do we as believers need to go above and beyond this. Also as the end draws closer it pegs the question even personally if faith is strong enough to endure persecution. I feel that if believers spend a ton of time fretting over little and foundational parts of faith they could miss out on the deeper relationship with Christ that is essential to the beliefs of Christians. I feel sometimes even still the church is battling with foundational issues versus the more important and deeper things that could be taught. I would say that mature Christians can be enough to continue in the faith. Also the mature are the ones who are able to pour into those who are not. We should never stop trying to become more mature in faith no matter the costs holding tight to what the author of Hebrews says.

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  5. Christian maturity has been something of a problem in my experience as a Christian. Though i have gone to church my whole life, I haven’t really been a mature Christian for very long. I had a childlike faith for a while and i have been trying to get back to that since i came to college. If maturing into Christian teaching and life is this hard for me, I know that someone who doesn’t have the incorporated life of a Christian like i have will find it difficult to move forward as well. And your point that “big, wealthy” churches are generally where ‘baby’ Christians might be found, i think it applies that any Christian anywhere can be caught up in the flow of legalism and following their parents to church. It is definitely harder, though, for a churchgoer at a megachurch to receive the same pastoral care and maybe Christian fellowship as one who goes to a small church. The problem that holds people back from maturing as Christians has at least something to do with the voices in their lives vying for their attention. To put it the way we learned in theology, if their paradigms of the focus of life doesn’t shift from temporal to eternal, they will hardly grasp the importance of some of these doctrines.

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  6. You have mentioned that the original readers of Hebrews needed to build again on the basics and re-learn the foundations of the faith. This lack of growth was very likely a great frustration to the writer; he had hoped to see them teaching the truths of God’s word, but they were still very immature in their understanding (5:12). Karen Jobes speaks of this as a spiritual laziness or malaise that was “stunting the spiritual growth and maturity of these believers” (p. 135).
    Just as you have drawn analogies to the church today, it is easy to see where Christ must have similar hopes and disappointments in the spiritual growth of today’s Christians. He wants us to study His word: Do we still try to understand the truth? He wants us to teach foundational doctrines to others. In doing so, we can gain a much greater understanding of these things and can mature in our faith. The writer of Hebrews wisely encourages diligence, faith and patience (6:11-12). We would be wise to give attention to these basics of the faith as well.

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  7. I completely agree with your analysis on some of the megachurch members and how they treat Christianity. Lots of people profess a faith in Christianity but have no idea of anything beyond the basics and as such cannot properly defend the faith or continue to preserve in the faith when persecution happens. It is embarrassing to see the stellar faith and perseverance of the churches in the Middle East or Asia who are under severe persecution. Should the Western Church be brought under the persecution that those churches are undergoing I have the strong belief that many of the chaff within our Western Church would be burned away (Matthew 3:12). Without that chaff though our faith would be made stronger as the crucible of trials would burn away our impurities and leave us as pure as can be (1 Peter 1:7). In order to persevere, Christians need to develop a deeper understanding of our role in God’s creation and use that understanding to develop the perseverance needed to withstand the persecution that the World wishes to deal us. By understanding the building blocks of Christianity, it is possible for a Christian to build up a faith that will stand the test to time, as well as defend the faith. The deeper and firmer a person builds his foundation, the higher and stronger he can build his faith.

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    • I agree that some mega churches may have many people who have not moved passed basics, but at the same time they are not the only ones. My freshmen year in College, I went to a church that you could tell they were pretty much not past basic nor probably will ever be. This church was smaller than an average classroom. There were 20 people on a good day. I too feel like sometimes I never passed basic understanding of the Bible to be honest. I am still trying to work on that I feel like. I think there is a difference of being at basic and working on getting past basic, but when going to a mega church I do feel like it is easier to get distracted and fall into not pushing out of basic knowledge. I think that people need to be reminded of why they believe what they do or else they fall into complacency. Without persecution it is easy to become complacent. This then leads to never really diving deeper into your faith past basics. I hear people complain about the persecution we have here in regards to our faith, but it is nothing like how it is over there in the east. I feel like everyone is slowly, but surely becoming complacent in their faith making the persecution easier to spread making it harder to rise back up. It has to be today not tomorrow that we dig deeper into our faith. People need to get past the foundation they built and start getting past the basics of knowledge of their faith or I fear that persecution will spread making it harder to do so in the long run.

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  8. It is immensely dangerous to put religious traditions and rituals ahead of everything else that faith involves. There is definitely a sense that many religious people in Jesus’ day worshipped the law over God himself today. I think that today there is also a sense of people who worship the Church and worship themselves more so than they actually worship Christ. It is important to remember that the things you mention (baptism, repentance of sin, laying of hands, etc) are so much more than just an outward show. Rather, we must make certain that our motives and our hearts are aligned with what the actions point towards. Instead of worshipping Church, each other, rituals, or traditions, we need to remember that these things all point to the only thing worthy of worship; God himself.

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  9. It might be worth noting that the context of 6:1-3 is at least 5:11-14 as indicated by the dio in 6:1 (“therefore”). Also, the word translated as baptisms/washings is not the typical term for baptism. The term is only used four times in the NT and two of those are by the author of Hebrews.

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  10. Still being a young Christian it is hard to grasp ahold of the concepts to have a deeper faith, like one that is talked about in this post. Towards the end of the post you state “the readers are unprepared for the possibility of persecution” This can definitely apply today, I know if I were faced with being persecuted I wouldn’t know how to act because I am so small in my faith, would I be so scared and deny my faith, or would I be unashamed of my beliefs and stand up for Jesus? I don’t know what I would do if I were in that situation. In my opinion, large churches are so overwhelming and I think that it is hard to preach to thousands of people deep information, so I think that large mega churches are at a basic level of their faith. That is why small groups are important so you can grow in a family like setting and have people to keep you accountable.

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  11. I completely agree with the perspective you’ve taken on the “falling away” of today’s church. The title, “Leaving Elementary Teachings Behind” is fitting for churches to move forward to become deeply rooted. Jobes wrote that a danger is “drifting” from Christ. Drifting“…in Hebrews 2:1 is described as not paying due attention to the message of who Jesus Christ is and what he has achieved” (Jobes, 135). Jobes also said that drifting comes from spiritual laziness and immaturity. Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lazy in showing such devotion. Be on fire with the Spirit. Serve the Lord”. I wonder if the blame is put too heavily on the church. Spiritual immaturity happens from someone not growing in their basic Christian faith and I think that has a lot to do with the spiritual disciplines. If Christians can’t pray, meditate, study the Bible, and grow out of their own desire to be closer to the Lord, then is it really the church that is lacking? Sure, the church could be of blame partially (surface worries such as sound boards and daycare workers), but I think it has a lot to do with the individuals more so in growing in their own walk.

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  12. I think that it can be easy to read the Bible and think of the text and only how we relate to the text, and forget the people around us. The first group of people that are to be considered when reading this text are those who want to persecute us. If we are going to be able to stand up to persecutors and answer when they confront us, we have to be prepared with Biblical knowledge. 1 Peter 3:15, a verse that has impacted my life greatly, tells us that we are to be prepared to give an answer, and give it respectfully. So we need to grow beyond the baby steps of Christianity to stand up to religious persecutors. The second group of people to consider reading this passage are those who are not believers, but could be witnessed to and converted to Christianity. If we are unable to answer when they ask, and 1 Peter 3:15 refers to, then how are we going to be able to influence their thoughts about Christianity if we don’t know what we are talking about. Both of these groups of people make it important to mature our faith, as well as the benefits to ourselves of having a deeper relationship with God.

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  13. In a modern culture where the answer is “everyone is right if they believe they are”, it is far too easy to stick with newer and more comfortable traditions and ignore the more difficult ones, particularly continually fighting against sin. With many sins so widespread and hard to avoid or ingrained in our culture, it has become easy for us to lessen our desire to fight against sins because “we’ll still be okay” in the long run.

    As Jobes suggests, this can be a dangerous slope directly into apostasy. Being comfortable with passing certain sins and aspects of God can make it easier to eventually pass of God as a concept altogether. Life becomes more about what the person wants rather than what God wants, and God is no longer the true King in the person’s mind. When faced with persecution, the choice becomes obvious: safety is better for the person, and thus it becomes easy to throw away faith. Continually fighting against sin is something that we should never forget to guard ourselves.

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