The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hebrews 6

Heb 6:1

Vv 1,2: An appeal to accept the solid food the author offers (Heb 5:11-14). The author provides six examples of the kinds of things he has in mind when he refers to "the elementary teachings". It is striking that the six items mentioned all find parallels within Judaism. This may suggest that the readers were attempting somehow to remain within Judaism by emphasizing items held in common between Judaism and Christianity. They may have been trying to survive with a minimal Christianity in order to avoid alienating their Jewish friends or relatives.

Six "elements" in all: two inward, two outward, two about the "Last Days".

ELEMENTARY TEACHINGS: "Principles of the doctrine" (AV): Gr "arches" = beginning, rudiments, or first things.

MATURITY: Lit, "perfection" or "completeness"; "fullness of growth". Equivalent to the "solid food" of Heb 5:14. This perfection involves accepting the author's teaching, that is, recognizing the absoluteness and finality of Christ and his atoning work as the true fulfillment of the OT promises. This recognition alone can keep the readers from lapsing finally into apostasy.

REPENTANCE FROM ACTS THAT LEAD TO DEATH: Lit, "dead works". Cp Heb 9:14. This is certainly basic within Judaism. What was meant, then, in that context, was repentance not from "works of the law" (in a Pauline sense) but from sins.

FAITH IN GOD: Also very important in Judaism. Thus, at the beginning of the list we encounter repentance and faith, two of the most central aspects of Jewish piety -- both taken up by Christianity (cp Acts 20:21).

Heb 6:2

INSTRUCTION ABOUT BAPTISMS: Refers to purification rites of Judaism, as the plural seems to indicate. Christian baptism may well be derived from just such Jewish ablutions, one of which -- for the purifying of proselytes from paganism -- seems a particularly suitable source for the practice of baptism by John and the disciples of Jesus. Christian baptism thus could well be classified as one, if not indeed the culminating, rite of purification.

THE LAYING ON OF HANDS: Yet another Jewish custom taken up by the Christian church, often as a symbol for the imparting of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6), but also in connection with healing (Acts 9:12; 28:8) and, as in the OT and rabbinic Judaism, special commissionings (Acts 6:6; cp 1Ti 5:22; 2Ti 1:6).

THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, AND ETERNAL JUDGMENT: These teachings were accepted by the Pharisees but not the Sadducees (cp Acts 23:8). This suggests that the Jewish background of the readers was not Sadducean. For the readers, of course, the resurrection of the dead included the resurrection of Jesus. These items, then, could be held by the readers without necessarily departing very far from their Jewish origins. The author, though, chides them for not pressing on to the full doctrine of Christianity, such as contained in the content of his epistle, and the specific argument immediately before them.

Heb 6:3

WE WILL DO SO: This carries forward the exhortation in v 1 to "go on to maturity." The author and the readers will press on into the full comprehension and experience of the whole range of Christian doctrine.

Heb 6:4

Vv 4-12: The seriousness of apostasy. If the readers do not "go on" into the fullness of Christian doctrine, they will be in grave danger of falling away altogether, back into Judaism, thereby committing apostasy. In their present state, indeed, even their grasp of the "elementary truths of God's word" (Heb 5:12) is questionable. Thus, as further motivation for the readers to press on to a mature understanding of their Christian faith, the author points out the seriousness of apostasy. It is of the greatest importance that the readers give heed to the message of the author and receive the "solid food" he is offering them. Unless the readers go forward, the author predicts, they will meet with disaster.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE: Translates the Gr "adynatos". IS it truly "impossible"? See v 6n.

THOSE WHO HAVE ONCE BEEN ENLIGHTENED: Connected with conversion in Heb 10:32.

WHO HAVE TASTED THE HEAVENLY GIFT: Cp the "heavenly calling" of Heb 3:1. Refers in a general sense to salvation (the expression "gift of God" is used similarly in John 4:10). What are the "gifts" in John's gospel? the "living water" (John 4:10); the life of the Shepherd (John 10:11,18); Christ's example (John 13:15); the "Comforter" (John 14:16); "peace" (John 14:27); God's word (John 17:8,14); and God's "glory" (John 17:22).

The word "tasted" here (cp v 5) does not imply a less–than–complete experience of conversion. The word "taste" can elsewhere in Heb be used to indicate full experience of something, as for example in Heb 2:9 where the same verb is used to refer to the death of Jesus.

HAVE SHARED IN THE HOLY SPIRIT: Lit, "having become partakers of the Holy Spirit" -- referring to the event that marks conversion, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, not the special charismatic gifts received by Christians.

Heb 6:5

WHO HAVE TASTED THE GOODNESS OF THE WORD OF GOD: The message of salvation which they had believed.

THE WORD OF GOD: Gr "rhema" = word, saying itself -- in ct "logos" -- the expression of the word.

AND THE POWERS OF THE COMING AGE: The realized aspects of the new age presently enjoyed by the Christian church. The assertion is therefore in keeping with the perspective of the author set forth in such places as Heb 1:2; 2:5; 4:3; 12:18–24.

Heb 6:6

IF THEY FALL AWAY: Sig to "commit apostasy" (cp RSV). Cp Heb 3:12; 10:29.

TO BE BROUGHT BACK TO REPENTANCE: Lit, "to restore to newness" (cp the "new birth" of 1Pe 1:3). Finally completing the thought of v 4: "It is impossible..." Why? Because of their treatment of the Son of God.

BECAUSE TO THEIR LOSS THEY ARE CRUCIFYING THE SON OF GOD ALL OVER AGAIN AND SUBJECTING HIM TO PUBLIC DISGRACE: This sin is not like any other sin: it is the unforgivable sin because it undercuts the very basis of salvation (cp Mark 3:29; 1Jo 5:16). Those guilty of true apostasy align themselves with the enemies of God who crucified Jesus and hence figuratively do so themselves. By using the title "the Son of God", the author underscores the full gravity of the offence, for it was just this view of Jesus that had once been believed and is now rejected by the apostate. Moreover, they are "subjecting him to public disgrace", for as others witness their disloyalty he becomes the object of ridicule. Apostasy, therefore, is the most serious of sins -- a sin for which there is no remedy and from which there is no possibility of return. No means of salvation is available other than that which is here finally rejected. It is impossible for true apostates to experience conversion anew. God will not force them into the kingdom.

At the same time, although this is something our author does not bother explaining at this point, God's grace can, and often does, reach those who lapse into an apparent apostasy, but something that in actuality is less than true and final apostasy. (Or, to put it another way, what seems -- and is -- "impossible" for mere man, is not necessarily "impossible" for God: cp Luk 1:37; Gen 18:14.) It will not serve the author's purpose here, however, to speak of the possibility of a return from apostasy. The readers must be made to see the seriousness of what they are contemplating. The severity of his statement is to be explained by the situation and context of the readers. If they are to remain faithful to their confession in the face of persecution, they must understand the nature of apostasy. This is not a time for words concerning God's grace and the possibility of restoration. In any event, because it is both difficult and uncertain, a way back ought not to be counted upon.

BECAUSE: NIV mg has "while..." instead of "because...": While, or so long as, these "fallen" ones continue to treat the Son of God with contempt, they cannot repent! And while, or so long as, they reject the only source of salvation -- then, in the plainest terms, they cannot be saved!

More generally, it may be observed that, for every man who turns his back on God, there may come a time, or a circumstance, or a condition, from which he CANNOT any longer repent and be renewed. That time, or circumstance, or condition may be different for each man, and it may be impossible for him, or someone else, to know when such has been reached. All of this makes it doubly important that a man not "tempt" God by starting down such a slippery slope -- for who can know when he may reach and pass the "point of no return" -- from which repentance becomes, once and for all, impossible?

CRUCIFYING THE SON OF GOD ALL OVER AGAIN: "We come to the Breaking of Bread. We can partake worthily or unworthily. Those who eat and drink unworthily are described as guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Whatever their words or posture, in their thoughts Christ is despised and rejected again. They repeat the crucifixion of the Son of God. But if we eat and drink worthily, yielding body and heart and soul to Jesus, we crucify not Jesus but our flesh with its affections and lusts" (FCE 171).

SUBJECTING HIM TO PUBLIC DISGRACE: Gr "paradeigmatizo", a word that occurs only here in the NT and means "to make a public example of".

Heb 6:7

Vv 7,8: Language such as "crop", "thorns and thistles", and "cursed" is similar to that of the creation narrative (Gen 1:11; 3:17,18). Thorns and thistles become a common metaphor for the wrong kind of fruitfulness (eg, Mat 7:16; 13:7,24-30), and in the same contexts, destruction by fire, as a symbol of Last Days judgment, is almost always present.

LAND THAT DRINKS IN THE RAIN OFTEN FALLING ON IT AND THAT PRODUCES A CROP USEFUL TO THOSE FOR WHOM IT IS FARMED RECEIVES THE BLESSING OF GOD: The preceding passage now finds an illustration in the metaphor concerning fruitful and unfruitful soil (cp the parable of the sower, in Mat 13). In a way that must have reminded the readers of the parable of Israel as God's vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), as well as Christ's cursing of the fig tree (Mat 21:19; Mark 11:13,20,21; ), the author points to the judgment that may be expected to come upon the unproductive soil (v 8).

Heb 6:8

BUT LAND THAT PRODUCES THORNS AND THISTLES IS WORTHLESS AND IS IN DANGER OF BEING CURSED. IN THE END IT WILL BE BURNED: To abandon one's faith is equivalent to producing only thorns and thistles, to being worthless, and hence leads to destruction by fire. The words in danger of being cursed (lit, "near to a curse") have the sense of "about to be cursed"; that is, it is only a matter of time before judgment arrives (cp the language, Heb 8:13).

WORTHLESS: The word "adokimos" is translated "reprobate" (Rom 1:28; 2Co 13:5-7, 2Ti 3:8; Tit 1:16), "castaway" (1Co 9:27), and "rejected" (Heb 6:8). It is used to describe a counterfeit coin, deficient as to weight or quality of metal. It is also used, figuratively, to describe a cowardly soldier who fails the test of battle; a candidate rejected for office; and a stone rejected by the builders. In each case, that which is "reprobate" has promised something by its outward appearance which it cannot deliver! It has, perh, a "name to live", but it is dead -- like clouds that promise rain, but give none; like stars in the heavens that appear fixed, but prove to be "wandering stars", or meteors.

Heb 6:9

BETTER THINGS... THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION: That is, the Christian covenant in contrast to the old, Mosaic one.

Heb 6:10

V 10: Encouragement, based on "love" (v 10), "hope" (v 11), and "faith" (v 12). Cp Heb 10:22-24.

GOD IS NOT UNJUST; HE WILL NOT FORGET YOUR WORK AND THE LOVE YOU HAVE SHOWN HIM AS YOU HAVE HELPED HIS PEOPLE AND CONTINUE TO HELP THEM: Later in the epistle (Heb 10:32–36) the author details some of that past performance and exhorts the readers to remember it themselves. As then, so now, God is on their side and will sustain them.

Heb 6:11

TO THE VERY END: "I am with you unto the end": Mat 28:20. ''He loved them unto the end": John 13:1. "Who shall confirm you unto the end": 1Co 1:8. "The rejoicing of hope firm unto the end": Heb 3:6. "Beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end": Heb 3:14. "Full assurance of hope unto the end": Heb 6:11. "Keepeth my works unto the end": Rev 2:26.

Heb 6:12

LAZY: "Slothful" (AV), or "sluggish" (Diag).

WHAT HAS BEEN PROMISED: Specifically, the covenant promises to Abraham (Heb 11:17-19), which had (and have) not been received even yet (Heb 11:13,39,40).

Heb 6:13

Vv 13-20: The unchangeable character of God's purpose: As a new prelude to his resumption of one of the key arguments in the book (in Heb 7), the writer stresses God's complete faithfulness to His promises to Abraham, and thus to Israel. Though there has been a change in God's priesthood (cp Heb 7:12), God has not changed course, nor have His purposes changed. In the definitive high priest, Jesus, God is bringing to pass His promises to the fathers of Israel. This is an important point to affirm to Jewish Christians -- who are feeling the pressure of the arguments of non-believing Jews.

WHEN GOD MADE HIS PROMISE TO ABRAHAM, SINCE THERE WAS NO ONE GREATER FOR HIM TO SWEAR BY, HE SWORE BY HIMSELF: The custom behind the taking of a vow in the ancient Hebrew culture is indicated in v 16 -- calling upon a greater to sustain and witness and support the vow of a lesser. God, having no one or nothing greater than himself to swear by, swore by himself. God's having confirmed his promise to Abraham with an oath is noted elsewhere in the NT (Acts 2:30; Luke 1:73).

Heb 6:14

"I WILL SURELY BLESS YOU AND GIVE YOU MANY DESCENDANTS": The promise referred to is, of course, the so–called Abrahamic covenant, not however in its first statement (Gen 12:1-3) but in its restatement to Abraham following the near sacrifice of Isaac in Gen 22:16,17 ("I swear by myself"). The covenant is itself now stated, utilizing the emphatic formula "I will surely bless you." The brief statement given here is representative of the entire content of the covenant.

The "many descendants" are the multitudinous "seed" of Abraham, brought into being thru faith and baptism in the singular "seed" Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16,27-29).

Heb 6:15

AND SO AFTER WAITING PATIENTLY, ABRAHAM RECEIVED WHAT WAS PROMISED: The phrase received what was promised must refer only to the initial signs of fulfillment experienced by Abraham (cp Gen 24:1), since Abraham and other heroes of the faith "did not receive [and have not yet received!] the things promised" (Heb 11:13,39). Abraham saw Christ's day (in vision, and type, and specific prophecy) -- but for him it was not (and could not be) a realization (John 8:58). Only when joined by the saints of the NT era -- in the Last Days resurrection -- will Abraham and the OT faithful fully arrive at what God intends for them (Heb 11:39,40).

Heb 6:16

MEN SWEAR BY SOMEONE GREATER THAN THEMSELVES: Usually the LORD (cp Exo 22:11, "an oath before the LORD").

AND THE OATH... PUTS AN END TO ALL ARGUMENTS: When such an oath was taken by someone in the LORD's name, it was obviously of an absolutely binding character, and, lit, "in all disputes is final for confirmation".

Because such oath-taking was subject to abuse, it is discouraged (if not prohibited) by Jesus: see Mat 5:34; 23:16,18.

Heb 6:17

THE UNCHANGING NATURE OF HIS PURPOSE: Cp Acts 2:23: "This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge."

Heb 6:18

GOD DID THIS SO THAT, BY TWO UNCHANGEABLE THINGS IN WHICH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE, WE WHO HAVE FLED TO TAKE HOLD OF THE HOPE OFFERED TO US MAY BE GREATLY ENCOURAGED: The two unchangeable things are God's word (ie, the promise itself) and the vow that He added to it. God's word, of course, is of absolute validity in itself; the vow, therefore, is superfluous, but exactly because of this, exceptionally impressive. It is impossible, then, that God could have lied (Num 23:19; 1Sa 15:29; John 7:18; Tit 1:2); He is doubly bound to be faithful to His promises to Abraham. The result is that we may very courageously hold the hope offered to us. The implication is that the Christian hope consists of nothing other than what God promised to Abraham (cp Rom 15:8) and therefore that our realization of that hope is finally as certain as God's word and his oath. The unity between old and new is in view.

WE... HAVE FLED TO TAKE HOLD OF THE HOPE OFFERED TO US: This refers metaphorically to the security believers have in Christ in contrast to the insecurity and uncertainty of the world.

The AV has "we have fled for REFUGE" -- and suggests the OT cities of refuge (Num 35:11-15; Josh 20:2-9). We -- the writer seems to be saying -- have all sinned "unawares", and need to flee and take refuge in Christ himself, from the murderous intentions of our fellow-countrymen. More specifically, all Jews -- indeed, all men -- had sinned in crucifying Jesus, and his "near kinsman" -- God Himself -- would be His Son's "avenger of blood", unless the "murderers" fled for refuge to the "city" of salvation provided by that Son!

Heb 6:19

WE HAVE THIS HOPE AS AN ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL, FIRM AND SECURE: Because of the nature of the Christian hope as confident expectation, hope serves as an anchor, and therefore as that which can counteract the tendency of "drifting away" mentioned in Heb 2:1. Our hope depends entirely on the priestly work of Jesus.

IT ENTERS THE INNER SANCTUARY BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Such hope in Jesus Christ involves our free access into the very presence of God. The language (lit, "within the veil") alludes to Lev 16:2,12 and refers to entering the Holy of Holies. This is the first occurrence of imagery that will be vitally important in Heb 9; 10. To go beyond the veil is to transcend the limitations of mortal flesh (as in Heb 10:20): Christ, our "forerunner", was made "immortal", entering the "inner sanctuary" of the presence of God (Heb 9:24) -- there he sits, acting as a mediator, preparing the "way" for us to go into the presence of God ourselves.

The believer's hope: an anchor to the soul (Heb 6:19); a treasure in heaven (Col 1:5); a person in the heart (Col 1:27); and a power in the life (1Jo 3:3).

Heb 6:20

WHERE JESUS, WHO WENT BEFORE US, HAS ENTERED ON OUR BEHALF. HE HAS BECOME A HIGH PRIEST FOREVER, IN THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK: Our unrestricted entrance into God's presence is made possible only by Jesus Christ, the one who on our behalf has gone before us to prepare the way, who has become a high priest forever. Because of his work as high priest, we all can now go where only the high priest was privileged to go, only once a year.

"In the order of Melchizedek" is another brief allusion to Psa 110:4, which was first quoted in Heb 5:6 (cp Heb 7:17). Having again mentioned Melchizedek and Jesus' high priesthood, the author has come back to the argument he began in Heb 5 but broke off in Heb 5:10.

WHO WENT BEFORE US: "Forerunner" (AV) = "prodomos": (1) One who runs before his master's carriage, clears the way of all obstruction, announces his master's coming and prepares for his reception. (2) The harbor of Alexandria was very difficult to approach. When the great corn ships came into it, a little pilot boat was sent out to guide them in. It went before them, and they followed it as it led them along the channel to safe waters. That pilot boat was called the "prodomos". Sometimes in great storms, the small boat sent from the larger ship carried a line into the safety of the port, and anchored it there. Using this lifeline, the larger ship was pulled and steered through the rocks and shoals to safety. (3) In the Roman army the "prodomoi" were the reconnaissance or scout troops. They went ahead of the main body of the army to blaze the trail and ensure that it was safe for the rest of the troops to follow. In like manner, Christ "goes to prepare a place for us" (Joh 14:3).

The word is similar in meaning to "archegos" (see Heb 2:10; 12:2, which RSV translates as "pioneer") and conveys the idea not merely of one who precedes, but one who prepares the way by the work he accomplishes, making it possible for others to follow (note: "on our behalf").

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