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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « What does Hebrews 6 actually say? | Main | The Gospel Truths of CHRISTMAS »

    A Few More Thoughts on Hebrews 6

    Note: I was recently corresponding by e-mail with someone who is working on a Bible translation, regarding the translation of Hebrews 6:4; and so, given the topic of the latest post, I thought I would post my original e-mail here as well.

    Hebrews 6:4-6 is the classic Arminian text to argue against the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance. It has certainly been understood in quite a variety of ways – and one’s precise interpretation of the phrase “having been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” is, in particular, especially weighty, because it may influence or even determine his understanding of some very important doctrines. So in any translation we certainly must have the goal of bringing out the sense of the verse as accurately and understandably as possible, without giving any additional reasons, over and above the explicit testimony of the text, to embrace a particular theology – which is actually quite a difficult task, I think, in this passage.

    Our first question, on this topic, involves the meaning and usage of the term “metochos” (partaker of/partner in). I think the basic, perhaps the exclusive, sense of its verbal cognate, “metecho,” is “to have a share in” (or you could also say, “to partake of”). However, the problem arises if you assume that the noun-form, “metochos,” has the same nuance of meaning. If it did, the natural translation would be, “one who has a share in [the Holy Spirit]”, or “one who has partaken of [the Holy Spirit]”. This is what certain translations have done, but I think the inference is unwarranted. Simply because, when we see this noun form used elsewhere in the NT, it doesn’t seem to mean “a partaker of” something, but rather, a partner, or one who has fellowship with a group of people because of a common experience with them. For instance, in Luke 5:7, the word is used of Peter’s fishing “partners” in another boat – those who were joined together with him because of a shared experience in an activity, or a shared pursuit in the same business.

    Unfortunately, we don’t really have very many uses of the word in the New Testament (that passage in Luke is its only occurrence outside of Hebrews); but as far as I can tell, that’s the basic meaning of the word.

    So, it may be good to avoid the translation, “partakers of,” or “having become partakers of” – simply because it strongly implies that the persons being spoken of are in fact Christians, when it seems that the point of the passage is only to show that they have much in common with Christians. They have shared in the same experiences, they have seen the same powerful workings of the Holy Spirit, they have tasted many of the blessings which are poured out upon the Christian Church – they are, in outward appearance, Christians; but they are not in fact regenerate. I think the point is that there may be “Judases” in the congregation, who are, in a real sense, partners with the true believers, sharing everything in common with them – and when these “fall away” (not fall into sin, but utterly apostasize/finally denounce Christ), then their outcome will be as Judas’ outcome was. They are as the seeds which fell on stony ground, and grew up admirably, but never had any true root. That’s at least how I see it. But it’s a very difficult passage, and I admit there are other possible interpretations. For instance, that it is a warning given to true Christians, to prevent them from apostasizing, and which is always effective. In this case, it would involve a hypothetical situation, that never actually occurs – as if one were to say, “If you fall off that cliff, you will not survive” – to ensure that no one does get close enough to fall off. The statement is true, but the situation is hypothetical. I’ll also admit that the predominant reason I don’t accept the Arminian interpretation, that someone who is truly elect/regenerate may finally fall from grace, is because of systematic theology (ruling out that interpretation from the beginning, because I am convinced of contradictory interpretations of other clearer passages).

    But besides these systematically-derived ideas, I have a few contextual reasons for denying that the subjects of this passage are, in fact, genuine Christians. These are as follows.

    First, I think the broad context is important: the author had just been speaking of the generation of Israelites that perished in the wilderness. They had been given the promise of a rest, but, because of their unbelief, God swore to them that they would never see his rest. The author is intentionally making this example pertinent to the community of professing believers to whom he is writing. He admonishes them to beware, “lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in apostasizing from the living God” (3:12). His point in this history is to show that, even if one is a part of a covenant people, which has been given many gracious promises, he will never truly experience them if he displays his unbelief through final apostasy. Just as there were imposters and apostates in the old covenant community, so there may be in the new. This is not to say that they were truly regenerate, but that they were truly in a covenant relationship with God, as the outward members of the church are today. But even having experienced the covenant blessings of God, yet as unbelievers, they did not obtain the final reward. This point is evidently clear in chapter three, and the same train of thought is carried through the next two chapters, and is the reason for the admonition at the beginning of chapter six. So for that contextual reason, I would say that it is likely that those being spoken of are imposters who are recognized members of the covenant community, but not truly regenerate.

    Second, in the immediate context, we have a striking change in pronoun reference in verses 4-8. In 6:1-3 the author is using first person pronouns (we, us); and in 6:9 and following he is again using the first person. But in 6:4-8, he is speaking of “those,” and “they”. Which to me indicates that the persons being referred to are not true Christians. “We” will go on to perfection, but “they” who fall away will not be renewed to repentance. Yes they are a part of “we” in an outward sense – but in fact, they are not we. As I John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us” – or else “they would have remained with us”.

    And finally, even if we take “metochos” to mean, “they have received the Holy Spirit,” that still leaves open the manner and extent of this reception. It is certainly true that the cross purchased blessings for all men, and that among those blessings may be included things such as the Spirit’s reproving the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8) – in this sense, they may have been said to have “received” the Spirit. In other words, they were beneficiaries of his ministry. Compare, along those lines, II Timothy 4:10 – God is the “Savior of all men everywhere, especially those who believe”. So, perhaps, the whole world, in this new redemptive era, has “received the Spirit,” in his more extensive ministry following Christ’s death (and much more so those who are a part of the Church even in an outward sense only). But that does not mean that they have received him in the Ephesians 1 sense of his indwelling them as a guarantee of glorification, or in the Romans 8 sense, which strongly argues that, if one has the Spirit, he is Christ’s, and will finally be glorified.

    Posted by Nathan on December 21, 2006 11:31 AM

    Comments

    Nathan,

    thanks for this!

    It brings up two passages of Scripture I would put forth and if you have time in this maybe you could address these hereon?

    The one is Jesus answer to the tares and wheat matter written about in the Gospels.

    The second is an interest idea Paul the Apostle brings out when speaking his farewells to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.

    I will quote it here:

    Act 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
    Act 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
    Act 20:31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.


    I like the way you carried this with pointing to the community aspects of the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John.

    Luke captured a unique point when James and John left both their father and his servants to come and follow Jesus!

    yum, yum, I am pondering what I have read!

    I hope I can now translate it into vocational activity for the betterment of the community I live His Life in these days?

    thanks
    michael

    Michael,

    Thanks for the cross-references. I think they help to confirm the basic point that, until Christ comes to separate the goats from the sheep, there will always be imposters within the visible Church. I think that these apostates in Hebrews 6 are examples of "tares among the wheat" (although a contrary-to-fact hypothetical warning is also a possibility).

    Nathan

    yes and amen!

    Jesus, we will remain certain of, KNEW THESE GUYS, so to speak, even Judas. I just did my daily customary Bible study with my two boys, on, of all Chapters and verses, Matthew ten.

    Jesus, knowing who He was "giving" power too, "gave it" nevertheless to them, sending them forth to introduce a Kingdom to those lost Hebrews in their world; which when you are called and sent forth to bring the message to your world, need not worry about your care, your livelihood as you carry out your stewardship of Ministry in the world, going forth in His Given Power and Name and preaching THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND.

    Those worthy of this stewardship will be well taken care of by those they are "sent" to care for, to shepherd and tend and in the case of those twelve, the "lost" sheep of Israel.

    It is interesting to note what Jesus said and the "word" He used in saying it and the various ways He said it. I will quote the verses, and the word in the Greek and then come and ask you for a second look at Paul and Acts 20, HOW DID HE ALSO KNOW AS JESUS, THERE WERE WOLVES AND FALSE BRETHREN PRESENT AMONG THE EPHESIAN "CHURCH"? hmmmmm??

    Mat 10:11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
    Mat 10:12 And when ye come into a house, salute it.
    Mat 10:13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.

    and

    Mat 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

    and

    Mat 10:20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.

    and

    Mat 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
    Mat 10:35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
    Mat 10:36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

    PEACE:

    εἰρήνη
    eirēnē
    i-rah'-nay
    Probably from a primary verb εἴρω eirō (to join); peace (literally or figuratively); by implication prosperity: - one, peace, quietness, rest, + set at one again.

    I want to note that part of the meaning: SET AT ONE AGAIN. Jesus basically was saying: "Guys, go set at one again those separated from Our Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost" from the lost sheep of Israel.

    When you consider what you are putting forth and the meanings here on Hebrews 6, you need only realize Jesus sent those twelve to the LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL.

    And for what purpose?

    TO SET THEM AT ONE WITH THEIR GOD, HIS HEAVENLY FATHER AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD AGAIN, again and again and again. They were and we are SENT to establish PEACE ON EARTH AND GOODWILL AMONG MEN.

    Why would anyone want to go and separate them from Our Heavenly Father or the Holy Ghost? hmmmmm.

    Another question would be WHO WOULD WANT TO SEPARATE THEM FROM THEIR CREATOR? WHO IS THIS SEPARATOR?

    But also there is that interesting verse:

    Mat 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.


    WELL, WHICH IS IT? Come on Jesus, can we have it both ways?

    I believe we can and when we come to understanding both realms, the civil realm of the world lying in the lap of the wicked one where we are living now, obeying the "laws of the land" and the spiritual realm of Our Heavenly Father being IN "obedience to the Faith" and His Kingdom on earth, which apparently we are being trained up by the Power of the Holy Ghost for, to also discern between wolves, thieves and robbers and those who have received His PEACE, that Peace of His Household that comes by His FAITH all the while living in the world.

    Sometimes judging a book by it's cover, or doctrine is unwise. On the other hand as we learn from Paul, knowing who are the wolves and false brethren among us and acting with wisdom towards those outsiders must be a "spiritually discerning" event.

    This certainly is something I need help doing! This, your post today on Hebrews 6, is doing that!

    Mat 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.


    Again, I am being built up by your messages and ministry!


    michael

    Interesting post - I recently blogged on Hebrews and the 'warning passages,' especially chapter 6. I think I did a decent job, though my understanding runs from my Great Awakening understanding of what the New Birth is.

    I don't get into Hebrews 6 until the final post, but the argument begins with musings on the Atonement and it's scope in the first two parts. I preached this at a small church that has split over Calvinism before, and is currently split with about 1/3 Calvinists, 1/3 Arminians, with another 1/3 being apathetic, but we've all made a commitment to get along in Christian unity.
    Also, I was reading Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God at this point, so I was experimenting with what accepting a healthy antinomy between human responsibility and divine sovereignty would look like. Cheers.
    (The Other) Limited Atonement
    The Difference Between Being Healed and Being Made Whole
    The Impossibility of Repentance

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