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Hebrews 6:4-6

For [it is] impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put [him] to an open shame.

E F Kevan      Salvation
It will be of help first to examine the general characteristics of the two sets of passages (Heb 6:4-6 and Heb 10:26,27), which affirm the believer's final security appear to teach a positive principle, while the passages that seem to imply the contrary provide the warning that the principle must not be distorted. This positive principle is to be regarded as giving an assurance to the Christian as such, and the negative is to be understood as giving a caution to a man as a man not to delude himself about his Christianity.

For the purpose of clear teaching the Scripture treats of things separately which in themselves and in the experience of life are inseparable. Thus, in the first group of passages the God-ward aspect of Christian experience is made prominent. The grace of God is such that He not only effectively begins His saving operations in the work of regeneration and conversion, but carries that work through to final completion in glorification; for God cannot be conceived of as failing in anything. In the second group of passages the manward aspect of Christian experience is brought into consideration. Man is very weak and prone to evil. He is in real danger from the self-betrayal of his own treacherous heart, and because of this the believer must be watchful and trustful lest he fall away miserably. It must not be forgotten, however, that although the Scriptures deal with these aspects separately, they belong in reality to one indissoluble life. These two sides of the truth reflect the age long problem of the relation between Divine sovereignty and human responsibility, between Divine will and the human. The effort to reach a theoretical solution of this problem is beset with great difficulties; but in the sphere of the experiential knowledge of God's grace there is no such problem. The believer may receive the comfort of the Divine grace, and he must respond to the stimulus of the Divine warnings: but in experience these two are one.

Since these two aspects of a single truth are separated for the purposes of clearer instruction, and since the first group assuring the believer of the certainty of the fulfilment of God's plans appears to state a positive and unmistakable principle, the other passages may be examined with a view to removing some of the difficulties attaching to them. Three observations may be made.

Firstly, they are warnings only. They nowhere make the categorical and unqualified statement that believers do fall away. With attention to the human aspect, they express a fear, and state the real danger that could beset a man fighting by himself, if he were unwatchful or unbelieving. The believer must not presume, but must ever give diligence to make his calling and election sure.

Secondly, they are suppositions: that is to say, instances supposed for the sake of argument. When these hypothetical examples are looked into more closely they reveal themselves to be of two kinds: (1) They give a plain assurance that the way of final security is that of perseverance and continuance. This is the force of the word "if" in Paul's caution, "if... (Col 1:23), and in the words "if... (Heb 3:14). (2) They indicate that if any should abandon the faith there would be no alternative remaining for them but to perish (cf. Heb 6:4-6; 10:26,27). It is important to observe the use of different tenses in the verbs employed in the passage in Hebrews about the falling away of the enlightened. The aorist (past definite) Greek tense is used for the words rendered "enlightened," "tasted," "made partakers," and "fell away"; but after "fell away," the present tense occurs and carries with it the notion of a continuing process, of something which is still going on. The Greek may be rendered, "It is impossible to renew them unto repentance while [ASV "the while"] they are going on crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, and are going on putting him to an open shame." The fact of importance is that the passage refers to the impossibility of renewing to repentance, not those who fell away and now desire to return, but those who are still in such a state that they are daily in effect repeating the crucifixion of our Lord. If the force of this present continuous tense is not observed, it will be found that the passage proves too much. It would teach the impossibility of the restoration of any backslider at any time. As to the general hypothetical character of these passages, it is instructive to observe that the note of Christian confidence comes in at the close of the discussion, when the writer says "But beloved... (Heb 6:9).

Thirdly, these passages do not record any instance in which a believer did, in fact, become finally lost. Hymenanues and Alexander, to whom Paul refers, are not unequivocally stated to have been eternally lost: it is possible to understand the passage as meaning something not so extreme as that. If, however, it is felt that Paul's strong phrase must indicate the state of final perdition, then it is permissible to class Hymenaeus and Alexander among those whom John describes as those who "went out from us... (1 John 2:19) Examples of this kind serve to show that the truly regenerate, and those who are only apparently so, are not certainly distinguishable in this life. Our Lordís parables of "The Tares" and of "The Drag Net" were designed to teach this truth (Mat 13); and the words from the write to the Hebrews likewise emphasise that it is possible to be reckoned outwardly among "them that are sanctified" and to be favoured with much "light," but still to be unregenerate and unreal. The concept is that of the possession of Divine light, without any experience of Divine life.


A Hoekema     Saved By Grace
At first reading it seems as if the people here described must have been true believers who fell away. Grant R. Osborne, in fact, in commentating on this passage, puts it as strongly as this: "There is no more powerful or detailed description of the true Christian in the New Testament."

Others, however, have a different interpretation. John Owen, in his commentary on Hebrews, gives four reasons why the people here described (assuming that they are actual people, and not just hypothetical cases) are not true believers:

(1) No mention is made of their faith.

(2) Despite all that is said about them, they are not said to have been regenerated, sanctified, or to be sons of God.

(3) They are compared, in verse 8, to land that produces thorns and thistles, and that is therefore ready to be burned.

(4) They are distinguished from true believers on the following counts:

a. the author says to those whom he is addressing, "We are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation" (v.9);

b. he ascribes to his readers a "love you have shown him [God] as you have helped his people and continue to help them" (v.10), while attributing no such work of love to those who have apostatised;

c. he assures his readers of their preservation will not take place apart from their own diligence (vv. 11-12). In fact, the very description of hope as an anchor of the soul in verse 19 strongly underscores the security of the true believer. For of what value is an anchor which does not hold?

To Owen's comments I would add a reference to Hebrews 7:25, "Therefore.... for them." Here we have a description, in the next chapter of this epistle, of the "true Christian." A true Christian, the author of Hebrew affirms, is someone for whom Christ, the ever-living high priest, is always interceding, in such a way as to save him or her completely and forever. Is it then conceivable that the author who wrote these words could possibly imagine that the people described in 6:4-6 were genuine Christians - persons who had truly "come to God through Christ," and for whom Christ was continually interceding?

The real difficulties of the passage, however, concern, first, the meaning of the various phrases used in verses 4 to 5 to describe these people. Those who teach that true believers can fall away interpret them as describing the fruits of a true faith. In the light of the context, however, as we have seen, this cannot be the right interpretation.

F.F. Bruce suggest that "once enlightened" (v.4) may refer to the baptism of these people, since the second century baptism was often called "enlightment." Even if we do not accept this interpretation, however, we have no particular difficulty here, since the people described in this passage had obviously been enlightened by the gospel.

"Tasted the heavenly gift." Bruce here sees a reference to the Lord's Supper. This is a possible interpretation. These words could also refer to the spiritual blessings for which Christianity stands. These people had had a taste of these blessings; as for many years they had associated themselves with the people of God.

"Have shared in the Holy Spirit." The clue to these words, I believe, is found in 10:29, where we read about a man who has "insulted the Spirit of grace" by profaning and making light of spiritual blessings he had received. If so, he must have had some contact with the Holy Spirit. To "have shared in the Holy Spirit," therefore, can be interpreted as meaning that these people have experienced a certain working of the Spirit, which they nevertheless rejected. We may think in this connection of the sin against the Holy Spirit described in Matthew 12:31-32.

"Have tasted the goodness of the word of God" (v.5). These people had heard the word of God and tasted in goodness, but had never fully accepted it.

"And the powers of the coming age [or age to come]." Here we think of certain miraculous signs, which indicated that "the age to come" was already present. In 2:3-4 we read that the message of the gospel was confirmed by those who heard the Lord, "while God.... to his will" (RSV). The word here translated "miracles" (dynameis) is the same word which is rendered "powers" in 6:5. These miracles or powers, had been tasted by the people, described in chapter 6. They had seen amazing miracles happen - and yet they fell away. We think of Jesus' words about people who had not only witnessed miracles but had even performed them, to whom he will say, on the day of days, "Away.... you!" (Mat 7:22-23).

The other major difficulty concerns the meaning of "it is impossible [for those described in these verses]...if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance." The Greek has palin anakainizein eis metanoian, "renew again to repentance." These words at first glance seem to give the impression that the people referred to were once repentant, but now have lost that true repentance and cannot be renewed in it. If this were the right interpretation, the doctrine of the perseverance of the true believers would indeed be disproved.

True repentance, however, is spoken of in Scripture as being unto life (Act 11:18), for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), and as leading to salvation (2Co 7:10). In agreement with the prevailing testimony of the New Testament, therefore, the repentance which the word again implies that these people once displayed cannot have been genuine. It must have been a mere outward profession of repentance, comparable to the temporal faith described in Luk 8:13.

Consider again what the author of Hebrews, says he is going to do. He says that he is not going to lay again a foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death and of faith in God (6:1). We have done this once, the author continues, and do not need to do it again. In your case (the addresses of this epistle, who are assumed to be believers) the laying again of that foundation is unnecessary. In the case of those who were once enlightened and then fell away, however, the laying again of that foundation is utterly useless. For it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Once we, their spiritual leaders, led them to what we though was a profession of faith and repentance; but by now it is obvious that that profession was not sincere. Now they have gone beyond the point where even an outward profession of repentance is possible.

We find a somewhat similar passage in Hebrews 10:26-29, the first two verses of which read, "If we deliberately.... of judgment...."Those here pictured had obviously been instructed in the Christian faith, but had turned away from even an outward adherence to Christian truth. For them there is no possibility of forgiveness, but only a "fearful expectation of judgment." Most interpreters understand these words as a description of the so-called "unpardonable sin." But can a true believer commit this sin? Or, in different words, can a true believer 'fall away from the living God" (Heb 3:12, RSV)? Again, in the light of Hebrews 7:25, the answer must be No.


R C Sproul     Chosen
We need to identify the nature of people who are being warned against falling away in Hebrews. Are they true believers or are they tares growing among the wheat? We must remember that there are three categories of people we are concerned with here. There are: (1) believers, (2) unbelievers in the church, and (3) unbelievers outside of the church.

The Book of Hebrews draws special parallels with Old Testament Israel, especially with those in the camp who were apostates. Who are these people in Hebrews? How are they described? Let us list their attributes:

1. once enlightened

2. tasted the heavenly gift

3. partakers of the Holy Spirit.

4. tasted the good Word of God

5. cannot be renewed again to repentance

At first glance this list certainly appears to describe true believers. However it may also be describing church members who are not believers, people who have made a false profession of faith. All of these attributes may be possessed by non-believers. The tares that come to church every week hear the Word of God taught and preached and thus are "enlightened." They participate in all of the means of grace. They join in the Lord's Supper. They partake of the Holy Spirit in the sense that they enjoy the nearness of his special immediate presence and his benefits. They have even made a kind of repentance, at least outwardly.

I think the author here is arguing in what we call an ad hominem style. An ad hominem argument is carried out by taking your opponent's position and carrying it to its logical conclusion. The logical conclusion of the Judaizer heresy is to destroy any hope of salvation.

The logic goes like this. If a person embraced Christ and trusted in his atonement for sin, what would that person have if he went back to the covenant of Moses? In effect he would be repudiating the finished work of Christ. He would once again be a debtor to the law. If that were the case, where would he turn for salvation? He has repudiated the cross; he couldn't turn to that. He would have no hope of salvation, because he would have no Saviour. His theology does not allow a finished work of Christ.

The key to Hebrews 6 is found in verse 9. "But.... this manner"

Here the author himself notes that he is speaking in an unusual manner. His conclusions differ from those who find here a text for falling away. He concludes with a confidence of better things from the beloved, things that accompany salvation. Obviously falling away does not accompany salvation. The author does not say that any believer actually does fall away. In fact he says the opposite, which he is confident they will not fall away.

But if no one falls away, why even bother to warn people against it? t seems frivolous to exhort people to avoid the impossible. Here is where we must understand the relationship of perseverance to preservation. Perseverance is both a grace and a duty. We are to strive with all our might in our spiritual walk. Humanly speaking, it is possible to fall away. Yet as we strive we are to look to God who is preserving us. It is impossible that he should fail to keep us. Consider again the analogy of the child walking with his father. It is possible that the child will let go. If the father is God, it is not possible that he will let go. Even given the promise of the Father not to let go, it is still the duty of the child to hold on tightly. Thus the author of Hebrews warns believers against falling away. Luther called this the "evangelical use of exhortation." It reminds us of our duty to be diligent in our walk with God.

Finally, with respect to perseverance and preservation, we must look to the promise of God in the Old Testament. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises to make a new covenant with his people, a covenant that is everlasting. He says: And I will.... Me (Jeremiah 32:40).


L Berkhof     Systematic Theology
TEMPORARY CONVERSIONS. The Bible also refers to conversion of individuals that represent no change in heart, and are therefore of only passing significance. In the parable of the sower Jesus speaks of such as hear the word and at once receive it with joy, but have no root in themselves, and therefore endure but for a while. When tribulations and trials and persecutions come, they are speedily offended and fall away. Mat 13:20,21. Paul makes mention of Hymenaeus and Alexander, who "made shipwreck concerning the faith," 1Ti 1:19,20. Cf. also 2Ti 2:17,18. And in 2Ti 4:10 he refers to Demas who left him, because the love of the present world gained the upper hand. And the write of Hebrews speaks of some as falling away "who were once.... age to come," Heb 6:4-6. Finally, John says of some who had turned their backs upon the faithful: "They went.... with us," 1Jo 2:19. Such temporary conversions may for a time have the appearance of true conversions.

Again, it is said that Scripture records several cases of actual apostasy, 1Ti 1:19,20; 2Ti 2:17,18; 4:10; 2Pe 2:1,2; cf. also Heb 6:4-6. But these instances do not prove the contention that real believers, in possession of true saving faith, can fall from grace, unless it be shown first that the persons indicated in these passages had true faith in Christ, and not a mere temporal faith, which is not rooted in regeneration. The Bible teaches us that there are persons who profess the true faith, and yet not of the faith, Rom 9-6; 1Jo 2:19; Rev 3:1. John says of some of them, "They went out from us," and adds by way of explanation, "but they.... with us," 1Jo 2:19.

Charlie Martin
Hebrews 6:4-6, if taken out of context, appears to support the claims of the believers in ' free will ' salvation; and it is often cited as an objection to salvation by God's Sovereign Grace, Election . However, when viewed according to the entire context of the Apostle Paul's teachings and the Epistle (letter) it is found in, this objection is without merit.

Paul's overall teaching on Salvation:

The Apostle Paul proclaims the basis for his beliefs & teachings, in Galatians 1:11-12, "And, brothers, I make known to you the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not according to man. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it except by a revelation of Jesus Christ."

The validity of, and the basis for, Paul's teachings is unquestionable. Paul has much to say on the subject of salvation throughout his many teaching letters, Epistles. If you have viewed the Scriptural Basis for Election sections of this site you will have seen some of Paul's teaching concerning Sovereign Grace Salvation. Often, some make the mistake of focusing only on the verses they are citing, without considering the overall message and teachings of the author.

Paul would not change his basic teaching to address different gatherings of believers. Paul's basic salvation message is crystal clear, "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. "( Ephesians 2:8-9 )

"But whom He predestinated, these He also called; and whom He called, those He also justified. And whom He justified, these He also glorified." ( Romans 8:30 )

"-according as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, "( Eph 1:4 )

"For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." ( Romans 8:38-39 )

There are those who like to add, "except yourself", at the end of Romans 8:39; but that is not what Paul wrote, or taught. Paul's basic, and inspired, salvation message is summed up in the above verses, although you will find many similar verses throughout his Epistles.

The Context of the Epistle to the Hebrews:

What Paul presents in Hebrews 6:4-6 is a teaching exercise. Having finished with the basics, he now takes the group on to more advanced matters. These verses actually allude to Luke 8, the parable of the Sower & the Seed , this is confirmed by Heb 6:7-8.

Paul expands upon Luke 8:14, "And those which fell among thorns are the ones who, when they have heard, go forth and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of life, and do not bear to maturity. "by explaining why it is not possible for these people to be brought to repentance. They have heard and know the word; they know of the true believer's reward; they may have participated in baptism and the Lord's Supper; and they may even have had some outward gift, such as preaching, performing miracles, etc. But they never had God's gift of belief and truly followed Jesus Christ. "For also we have had the gospel preached, as well as them. But the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. " ( Heb 4:2 )


NIV footnote Heb 6:4-6
The most common interpretation of this difficult passage are:

1. It refers to Christians who actually lose their salvation. *

2. It is a hypothetical argument to warn immature Hebrew Christians (5:11-14) that they must progress to maturity (see v.1) or else experience divine discipline or judgement (see vv. 7-8). 3. It refers to professing Christians whose apostasy proves that their faith was not genuine (cf. 1Jo 2:19). This view sees chap. 3-4 as a warning based on the rebellion of the Israelites in the desert. As Israel could not enter the promised land after spying out the region and tasting the fruit, so the professing Hebrew Christians would not be able to repent if they adamantly turned against "the light" they had received. According to this interpretation, such expressions as "enlightened," "tasted the heavenly gift" and "shared in the Holy Spirit" indicate that such persons had come under the influence of God's covenant blessings and had professed to turn from darkness to light but were in danger of a public and final rejection of Christ, proving they had never been regenerated.

* Not our conviction (adt)