Calvinism: My History 3

I am reflecting here in a series of posts on how “I changed my mind” about Calvinism and adopted a more Ariminian view of whether or not the Christian can throw away redemption. This journey took through the book of Hebrews, where I suggested we can find four elements to each Warning Passage. Today I want to look briefly at the fourth element, the consequences. Very few will disagree with this (I hope).

How would you describe the “consequences” in the Book of Hebrews?

The first comment is in Heb 2:2: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The implied answer is “There is no way of escape.”

Here are some more to consider:

3:11: They will not enter my rest.
6:4-6: It is impossible to renew them unto repentance (cf. 12:16-17).
10:26: no sacrifice for sins remains.
10:27: but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
10:28: died without mercy.
10:30-31: And again, The Lord will judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
10:39: destruction.

If we accept the proposal that the Warning Passages are dealing with the same subjects, etc., then we can synthesize this evidence into this conclusion: the author of Hebrews warns a specific group of people about some sin and tells them that if they commit that sin they will find themselves outside the company of God. Are there more clues?

Not let us say what the text says: the author gives an extreme warning regarding dire consequences in eternity.

Plenty of room here for theological debate: what Hebrews says is consistent with both the traditional/orthodox view of eternal separation from God as well as the more recent views of some British Evangelicals on annihilationism.    The warning of Hebrews is extreme. This isn’t about a breakdown of fellowship but about the great divorce.

Monday, a blog on the exhortation the author gives to his audience.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul W

    As I see it, the ‘warning’ texts assume the possibility that a person can fall away from a
    divine endowment of blessings (received now) which are associated with the age to come.

    Such a falling is inextricably tied to succumbing to the pressures to quietly dissociate from God’s people and the name of Jesus. That in turn is tantamount to dishonouring of one’s divine benefactor.

    The consequences are (to understate) disadvantageous and rather fiercely portrayed in terms of fire, curse, judgement etc. The aim, it appears to me, is to create strong internal community bonds within the church in order to withstand opposition from without (also a repeated theme (3:12-13; 10:24-25; 13:1-3, 16). This is done, in part, through fear tactics by framing a dissociation from the church as an affront to God’s honor which will be meet with harsh and eternal consequences.

  • davey

    “the author of Hebrews warns a specific group of people … This isn’t about a breakdown of fellowship but about the great divorce”

    The latter part of this might be tendentious. Are the ‘specific group of people’ actually in fellowship, or ‘marriage’?

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    For the past year of so, I have been considering the warning passages in the book of Hebrews in light of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24, and of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the rejection of temple system (with temple and sacrifice being fulfilled in Jesus). Jesus warned of that coming destruction and instructed believers to flee Jerusalem.

    It seems to me that in Hebrews, believers who returned to that old temple system would be liable to the destruction that was soon to come on Jerusalem and the temple. I understand that as an eschatological event, the judgment and wrath of God being poured out on His enemies in a very tangible way on earth.

    Those verses listed above, about the consequences of turning back, seem to me to be right in line with that. So I don’t know that the author Hebrews was thinking so much about the eternal disposition of souls as he was about the eschatological fulfillment that was looming so large before him in history.

    (I take Hebrews as written before AD 70, or else I should have to wonder why, with all his warning, the author of Hebrews would not have used the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem as an example.)

    Following that line of thought, I find that I do not think of the warning passages in Hebrews in terms of Calvinism or Arminianism. (I was Calvinist for about 25 years. Now I am not, having given it up about 7 or 8 years ago.)

  • LexCro

    I think the collective weight of these passages overwhelmingly establishes that the consequences for ongoing sin in the lives of believers are eternal. In Heb. 3:11, the author of Hebrews is using the OT temporal blessings (God’s rest) as a type of believers’ salvation in Christ. He bridges the OT exhortation for obedience with New Covenant obedience by linking 3:7 (Ps. 95:7) with 3:13. He clearly links OT rest with New Covenant salvation in 3:11(Ps. 95:11) and 4:1,3,10-11. In 6:4-6 and 10:26 the author speaks to the impossibility of renewal to repentance and the inaccessibility of Christ’s sacrifice (respectively)to apostates. These temporal curses lead (tragically and logically) to God’s unmerciful destruction of these folks (Heb. 10:27, 28). In fact, in 10:27-28 the author references Dt. 32:35-36 to reinforce that it is God’s people who are being cursed and judged. Here, he links the Deuteronomic curses for apostates with God’s temporal and eternal curses for New Covenant apostates.

    Folks usually try two ways to avoid what the author of Hebrews is getting at here. The first is to say that these folks are pseudo-believers hiding out among genuine believers. I know that this blog will eventually get to the identity question, but let me throw this out: In 10:38, the author (working with Hab. 2:4) writes, “But my righteous one shall live by faith/and if he shrinks back, my soul will have no pleasure in him.” This “righteous one” does not sound like someone who never knew Yahweh to begin with. Yahweh certainly doesn’t view this person in this way. The author of Hebrews is leveraging Habakkuk’s prophecy about this righteous one to speak about authentically regenerated believers. But I’m sure this will come out when Scot gets to the identity issue some days from now.

    The second way that folks try to avoid the reality of apostasy is to claim that these consequences may not be eternal in nature. These folks (rightly) believe the audience to be authentically regenerated believers, but they think that the consequences–dreadful though they are–may not be eternal. But I find this impossible. When we’re talking about God’s fiery judgment reserved for His enemies (what could that be but hell?) and the inaccessibility to repentance and Christ’s atonement that precedes said judgment, I don’t see how these consequences can be anything but eternal.

  • http://www.hopespringsint.com Lee Hodges

    I agree with Jeff on the timing of Hebrews and the pending destruction of Jerusalem. But the consequences are much more than physical death and suffering.

    3:11: They will not enter my rest. (The children of Israel missed the rest of God – The promised land – Psa. 95:11)

    6:4-6: It is impossible to renew them unto repentance (cf. 12:16-17). (If the cross does not compel them to be faithful, there is nothing else to come.)

    10:26: no sacrifice for sins remains. (The once for all sacrifice has been given).

  • Amos Paul

    “…more recent views of some British Evangelicals on annihilationism.

    :/

    From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilationism

    “Those who support annihilationism generally refer to New Testament texts such as Matthew 10:28 where Christ speaks of the wicked being destroyed ‘both body and soul’… and to Old Testament texts such as Ezekiel 18:4 saying that ‘the soul that sins shall die’.”

    “Early forms of conditional immortality can be found in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108), Justin Martyr (d. 165), and Irenaeus (d. 202). However, Arnobius (d. 330) is often recognized as the first to defend annihilationism…”

    “Additionally, at least one of John Wesley’s recorded sermons are often reluctantly understood as implying annihilationism…”

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff,

    I’ve always got an ear for those who want to capture these warnings in framing ways. There is no doubt that the current reading, and the one that is at work in this series, is soterian and shaped entirely personal soteriology. For some, that’s enough to say Find another away. I’m for what the text leads us to.

    The reading you offer for destruction works only if one reads it entirely that way, and then we are led back for me what is the decisive issue: Show me where 70 AD actually and compellingly is at work in these texts or in this letter.

    I’ve seen other such readings, and I’ve yet to be convinced they are compellingly clear from what we see in the text.

    The other one that is often used here is the “visible church person” vs. the genuinely saved person. Using that view one can explain it all, but first show that the author thinks in such terms: I don’t see it. We have to use the word “genuine” now because some Calvinists think these are not genuine.

  • Jeremy

    The best and most influential writing on assurance for me has been an essay by D.A. Carson called “Reflections on Christian Assurance”. If you google a bit you can find it and I HIGHLY recommend reading it. It gives the topic a very well-rounded treatment and he doesn’t seem to have the same tendency that those on the “Calvinist” side (either side, really) have to tow the line while giving lip service to the other side. He acknowledges the difficulties that are present and is content with some level of mystery. That’s one of his big points, in fact; if we are faithful to the Scripture there is some level of mystery when it comes to assurance, not unlike with the trinity, incarnation, and sovereignty.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    I do not see Hebrews as a generic warning to believers about the general idea of returning to or continuing in a sinful lifestyle. Rather, it seems to me that the author is warning Jewish believers in Jesus about apostasy — falling away from faith in Jesus the Messiah and returning, not to a life of generic sin, but to the life and mentality that Judaism had become (mixed, perhaps, with elements of Jewish folklore and the exaltation of angels, such as Paul dealt with in Colossians). So the author shows how Jesus is superior to the angels, superior to the temple system with its priesthood and sacrifices, and how the new covenant instituted in Jesus is superior to the old covenant instituted under Moses.

    Were the consequences for all eternity? I don’t know. If the children of Israel died in the wilderness and missed the “rest of God” because of their unbelief, does that mean that their souls were damned and that we should not expect to see them in eternal bliss? Or does it just mean that they did not enter into the promised land and enjoy the blessing of rest God intended for them there?

    Or take Esau. Once he sold his birthright, and the blessing from Isaac went to Jacob, there was no room left for repentance — Esau’s repentance could not have undone that. But does that mean that Esau was therefore eternally damned and we should not expect to see him in glory? Or does it simply mean that he did not enter into the birthright of the firstborn that should properly have been his?

    Calvinism and Arminian theology tries to divine what the eternal consequences of the Hebrew warning passages are. However, I do not know that the author of Hebrews was thinking in terms of eternal implications. It seems to me that what he had in mind was the judgment and destruction that was so shortly coming upon Jerusalem. The storm was already brewing and catastrophe was very near.

  • Jeremy

    Scott said: “Using that view one can explain it all, but first show that the author thinks in such terms: I don’t see it”

    How does language involving thorns and thistles in v.7-8 (cf Matt 13:25-30) not qualify as “such terms”? v.7-8 seems to be saying pretty clearly that there are two types of people in the church who both receive rain from God, those who ultimately produce fruit and those who ultimately produce thorns and thistles.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Scot, I do not attempt to offer a definitive answer the problems posed. That is why I have been careful to couch my thoughts in language such as “I’m wondering” and “it seems to me” and “I do not know.”

    In my 25 years as a Calvinist, and before that I advocated OSAS (the doctrine of “once saved, always saved), I have seem a number of interpretations and strategies that line up accordingly. None of them have been really satisfying, and I went with whatever seemed like the best available option at the time. But over the years I have come to think that, if a passage and its interpretation is not giving me the some sort of clear, solid answer to the questions I am asking, then perhaps I am asking the wrong questions, questions a particular passage does not intend to answer.

    Basically, I have been considering the book of Hebrews largely in its historical context, particularly in the time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. I also expect that the author of Hebrews was aware of the Olivet discourse, which I assume was part of the instruction of the early church, since we find it in all three of the synoptic tellings of the Gospel. Given that, the warnings in Hebrews seem to me to fit well.

    But could it be that the difficulties and controversies Christians have over these passages is because we are trying to make them answer questions they were not intended to answer?

    Like I say, I’m wondering.

  • http://thesometimespreacher.blogspot.com/ Andy Holt

    Is it safe to say that none of us fully, and permanently, receives salvation until Jesus returns and we are judged as innocent/righteous in him? Isn’t what we have now “the promise of salvation”–that, through faith in Christ, we will be saved out of the coming judgment and into an everlasting marriage with Jesus? Of course, that salvation is so huge and vast and rich that it reaches back from the future into the present, bestowing us with tremendous benefits today. But the real, complete, embodied salvation is yet to come…if I understand correctly. (Which is always a big IF!) If this is the view of “the woman who wrote Hebrews” ;), then missing out on that salvation, despite experiencing some of its benefits today, seems completely logical. There is some sin, or some extent of sin, that we can persist in today that would forfeit our claim to God’s promise in eternity. If salvation is partly present but fully future, then it is reasonable to understand the author of Hebrews saying we can trample on God’s gift so egregiously as to lose it altogether.

  • Gearoid

    Do most Arminian theologians believe that ALL those who fall away in Hebrews are “genuine” Christians who forfeit their salvation? Is there a place for “temporary faith” or a “professing believer” in Arminian theology, i.e., someone who claims faith, but from God’s vantage point doesn’t possess it (Matt. 7:23; Jas. 2:26; Heb. 3:17-19)? Is apostasy always a matter of “losing” the relationship one once had? Can apostasy refer to a relationship which is claimed but does not actually exist?

    Is it true that Arminius himself was not completely sure on whether or not saints were eternally secure?

  • LexCro

    @ Jeff D:

    As Scot said, you have to demonstrate the author of Hebrews actually has the destruction of Jerusalem in mind. Is it possible? Sure! But whether or not it’s possible is not the same thing as proving–from the letter to the Hebrews itself–that such an explanation is probable. Even if you could definitely show that the letter to the Hebrews was penned during a time leading up to the Temple’s destruction, you would still have to show that the author of Hebrews was leveraging the verses we’re dealing with in order to warn his audience about this impending doom.

    The question of the OT saints and their eternal destiny is tricky because (1) temporal destruction is so readily demonstrable in the OT and (2) eternal destruction can be difficult to pinpoint in the OT. However, even if it’s tough to show what happened to OT saints from just looking at the OT, we can get a better picture of what happened to OT apostates by looking at what the NT says. Eternal damnation comes into sharper focus in the NT (as it had been doing in Second-Temple/inter-testamental Judaism). For instance, if pressed what would we say about the eternal destiny of those who participated in the Korah-led rebellion. Or the eternal destiny of King Saul? Or the eternal destiny of King Ahab and the Baal-worshipers? Coupling the severity of God’s OT judgment against them with the NT assertions about the eternal damnation, I think we can claim that they suffer eternal punishment for their sins. We do the same thing in looking at the eternal destiny of the OT faithful (and their temporal/material blessings) through the lens of what the NT says about eternal blessings in Christ.

    I’ll grant that Esau is a tougher case. Esau’s blunder concerned the forfeiture of his birthright. Without question this was a big-time screw-up and a blatant disregard for God’s covenant purposes. However, aside from this the OT doesn’t give us any indication that Esau stopped walking with Yahweh. In fact, in Deuteronomy, God excludes the Edomites from the list of nations that God wanted Israel to destroy. Eventually, Edom as a nation became corrupted, but it doesn’t seem as if this happened on Esau’s watch.

    However, the writer of Hebrews compares Esau’s forfeiture of his birthright with believers’ forfeiture of their NT birthright of salvation. I’m torn between two things here:

    (1) Seeing Heb. 12:15-17 as a comparison between the isolated act of Esau’s forfeiture with a believer’s forfeiture of salvation.

    (2) Seeing Heb. 12:15-17 as a comparison between Esau’s “immoral and godless” (Heb. 12:16) personhood with that of an apostate NT believer (or former believer).

    Nevertheless, even if Esau’s eternity is in doubt, the writer of Hebrew is incredibly clear about the eternal consequences of rejection of God through ongoing sin for believers in Christ.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Commenting on the date of Hebrews, Leon Morris said, “A date before A. D. 70 is indicated, but how much before that we cannot say. Some passages in the epistle gain in force if we think of a time not long before, when there was compelling call to loyal Jews to cast in their lot with those fighting against Rome” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). He favors a date “near or even during the war of A.D. 66-70.”

    I think the warning passages are such passages that “gain in force” if the destruction of Jerusalem was close at hand. I think there might have been Jewish believers in Jesus who were feeling compelled to show themselves as “loyal Jews” by fighting against Rome. But Jesus, in the Olivet discourse, does not tell his disciples and their generation to fight against Rome, but instead instructs them when they see the sign (the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel) to “escape to the mountains.” (To be clear, I should say that my perspective is as a “partial preterist,” and also post-millennial.)

  • LexCro

    @ Gearoid:

    Arminians have historically believed that there are folks who only seem to believe (Mt. 7:23) AND those authentically regenerated believers who apostatize from faith in Christ (John 15:6; Heb. 5:11-6:12; 2 Pet. 2:18-22; Rev. 22:19). John Wesley, for example, clearly wrote about the reality of both pseudo-Christians and apostates (he wrote of the former as the “almost Christian”). Arminius himself was agnostic about the issue. He thought that both sides had good points, and he could go either way. Arminians who hold to conditional perseverance usually point to Scripture and the fact that the pre-Augustinian church fathers were unanimous about the fact that authentic believers could lose their salvation (along with many sectors of the post-Augustinian Church).

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    LexCro, I agree that the final disposition of Esau and the generation that died in the wilderness because of unbelief is tricky. But I bring them up as an example precisely because the author of Hebrews brings them up. And it is not clear to me that he intended that as anything more than an indication of their fate in this life. I’m not sure that we are to think that that the entire generation, of whom only Joshua and Caleb remained, are eternally doomed. But we DO know that they died in the wilderness and did not enter into the promised land of Canaan. Likewise, we DO know that Esau did not receive the birthright or the blessing that belonged to the firstborn; but I’m not sure we should think of him as eternally damned. The examples the author uses demonstrate the temporal judgment of God, and perhaps we we would be wise to leave it at that.

    What seems clear to me is that the author warns Jewish believers not to return to the failed Jewish system — Jesus is superior to that in every way. And I do not think there is a reason to assume that the author did NOT know about Jesus’ warnings and instructions in the Olivet discourse or that he was unaware of the growing strife between Judea and Rome.

    So perhaps the warning passages are not about eternity as such but about the calamity that was about to enter history, the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem. Jewish believers who defected to become “loyal Jews” and fight against Rome, instead of “escaping to the mountains” as Jesus instructed, would soon be destroyed.

    To return to a failed system that Jesus had already strongly rejected (e.g., in Matthew 23) would certainly be an apostasy and an offense, but I’m not sure that the author of Hebrews is necessarily telling us about eternal destinies.

    I think of Christians not many years later, who departed or compromised their faith because of Roman persecution but who wished to return to the faith when the persecution had passed. Part of the Church did not want to receive them, and there was a controversy over that. What of them — were they eternally damned because of their lapse of faith?

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    Slightly off-topic, but since you mentioned it; I don’t see how 10:27 consistent with everlasting torment. Traditionalists throughout the ages have emphatically maintained that God’s enemies will in fact not be consumed. See my article “What Part of Will Consume…” for a handful of notable examples. This was also a point I made in my recent debate, which, like many of my points, received no substantive response.

  • LexCro

    Jeff,

    You wrote: “And I do not think there is a reason to assume that the author did NOT know about Jesus’ warnings and instructions in the Olivet discourse or that he was unaware of the growing strife between Judea and Rome.”

    I’m not concerned with what the author of Hebrews was/was not aware of. I’ve got no problem with saying that he was aware of Jesus’ Olivet discourse (what did I say to the contrary?). Also, I’m sure he was aware of the great rift between Judea and Rome (how could he not be?). At issue is whether or not he is speaking to these things in his letter. I don’t think you are making a valid jump from the author’s awareness of these things to the fact that the author is actually addressing these things in his letter to the Hebrew Christians(especially as they pertain to consequences for apostasy). You assume that his familiarity with the Olivet Discourse and the Judea-Rome conflict renders it certain that he is referring to these things in his letter. But this is something you must demonstrate from the letter itself, not merely from the author’s awareness of one thing or the other.

    With respect to Esau (and other OT examples), NT writers use OT spiritual dispositions (faithfulness and unfaithfulness) along with the temporal/material blessings and curses associated with these dispositions as metaphors and types for the NT faithfulness/unfaithfulness and eternal blessings and curses. We’re in agreement on this. However, the presence of a lack of clarity with respect to the eternal state of the OT faithful/unfaithful doesn’t negate the clarity we get concerning the NT faithful/unfaithful. The writer of Hebrews can say, “Your loss of salvation would be like Esau’s forfeiture of his birthright” even though there is ambiguity concerning Esau’s eternity. A lack of clarity about Esau doesn’t wipe out the clarity we have about the author’s concern for this audience’s eternity.

  • TJJ

    The focus seems to be the loss of forgiveness of sin, and the judgment from God resulting from that. This is rejection of the sacrifice for sin Jesus accomplished on the cross. to me this is referring to Apostacy, or at the very least a kind of syncretism that involved a return to the sacrificial system of Judaisim.

    That such persons at the very least professed faith in Jesus and fellowshipped/identified with Christians would seem clear. Theologically we can debate forever and a day whether or not they were (or are) genuine believers or not. But it seems to me that the end is the same.

    No forgivenss for sin, and thus judgment from God. So the warning can be given to anyone who once made (or still does make) a profession of Christian faith, but who by word or deed denies the sufficiency/efficacy of the sacrifice for sin made by Jesus.

    And to have come to know the truth, at least intellectually, and been part of Christian fellowship at least on an experiential level, if not a truly spiritual level, and reject it, seems to bring a greater accountability and thus greater judgment.

    I am not sure trying to define whether such persons were/are “genuine” Christians really helps much. The very act/state of one who made/makes a profession of Faith in Jesus, denying/rejecting/turning away from the sufficency/efficacy of Jesus sacrifice on the cross for forgivness of sin, is a massive red flag that something is very very wrong/flawed, and that spiritual disaster is looming. This is true no matter which system of theology one cames at it from.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    I do not say that the author’s awareness of the Olivet discourse and the coming catastrophe from Rome upon Judea makes it certain that Hebrew is directed toward those concerns. I merely suggest that Hebrews, especially the warning passages, makes considerable sense in that historical and canonical context. Leon Morris sees that certain passages actually “gain in force” the closer the book was written to AD 70.

    The sin he warns of is not sin in the generic sense but the particular sin of apostasy. The apostasy he has in mind is not just the general idea of apostasy but the particular apostasy of Jewish believers falling away from faith in Christ and turning back to the failed, rejected, inferior Jewish system from which they had come. He takes a good bit of time to show how Jesus the Messiah is superior to angels, to the temple priesthood and sacrifices, to the old covenant.

    Heading toward AD 70, the battle lines were forming and sides were being chosen. Jews were being called to side up against Rome — that turned out to be destruction. What should Jewish believers in Yeshua do — return to the Jewish system and fight against Rome, or do as Jesus said and “escape to the mountains”? To go back to the failed Jewish system would result in destruction — Jesus had announced its rejection and foretold its destruction in Matthew 23-24.

    The destruction of Jerusalem was not merely an event of history, it was the Judgment of King Jesus upon Israel because of her rejection of Him. It was a “raging fire” that consumed God’s enemies — unbelieving Israel. It was terrible destruction unlike what had ever been seen before. Hundreds of thousands of Jews slaughtered, in addition to the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Josephus describes the great severity of it. It was horrible, and tantamount to the end of the world for the Jews — their Temple was absolutely gone.

    You speak of the “clarity for the author’s concern for this audience’s eternity.” It is not clear to me that he is speaking about eternity, or of anything past the coming destruction in Jerusalem, which was Jesus’ judgment and fiery destruction upon it. I do not see anything in the warning passages that require we read them as about eternal destiny instead of the historical judgment of God meted out in AD 70.

    If the author was aware of the rising tension between Rome and Judea, and was aware of Jesus’ warning in the Olivet discourse, then I expect he would have understood the significance and severity of what Jesus prophesied. It was an event of tremendous eschatological significance, and I should not be surprised if the author uses apocalyptic language, as it seems to me he does, for example, when he speaks of the “fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” Jews in Judea experienced fearful judgment and “raging fire” (even literally) that consumes God’s enemy — Jews who rejected their Messiah King. It can very easily be said that they died without mercy, that they fell into the hands of the living God.

  • http://natomaschurch.wordpress.com Mike

    I want to make a couple of exegetical observations about the Hebrews 6 consequence:

    1. Context: The specific people mentioned here are those who have not just received salvation but have entered into it with charismatic experience and deep knowledge (i.e. “who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age”). These are not newcomers to following Christ.

    2. The word for restoration (anakaino), refers to renewing something. It is implied it is something they once had.

    3. What they once had is repentance (metanoia), here more than any other NT reference meaning “a change of mind”. They once changed their mind and followed Christ. They experienced power, truth, liberation, a touch of heaven. And after ALL THAT, they walk away, there is no way any of us can renew that change of mind for them.

    4. No one else can renew this change of mind for them, but nowhere does it say they can’t change their mind on their own. The point the writer of Hebrews is making is that if they have already rejected experience and Truth, no theological argument is going to work with them (and we’ve all met these cynics haven’t we?).

    5. After all this, I don’t think this is speaking about salvation at all – whether its loss or its forfeiture – but rather the difficulty of changing your mind once you have rejected both experiential and propositional truth and gone back into self-absorbed living.

  • PaulE

    I’d add a couple more verses for consideration:

    3:14 – No share in Christ
    4:11 – “Perish”
    6:11-12 and 12:16-17 – No inheritance

    I was surprised you skipped over 10:29. “Died without mercy” in 10:28 is only the basis for comparison. In 29 he warns of a punishment more severe than that. The consequences he warns of throughout the letter seem to be something worse than death.

  • David

    Thinking about these consequences it strikes me that the passages are as problematic for Arminians as they admittedly are for Calvinists. Do Arminians teach that in certain cases repentance is *impossible*? What theological grounds do they have for teaching this? (Calvinists might have stronger grounds: the individual was ‘reprobate’ all along.)

  • LexCro

    David,

    Actually, Arminians who hold to conditional perseverance (some of us being those who hold to OSAS or perseverance of the saints) vary with respect to the Hebrews 6 material. Some of us believe that repentance after apostasy is impossible. There are those of us (like myself) who hold to what we call “lesser apostasy” and “greater apostasy”. For us, greater apostasy constitutes a definitive, heartfelt denial of Christ. Hebrews speaks to this in 6:6 and in 10:29. With lesser apostasy, believers give way to a disposition of practical unbelief, incrementally throwing away their inheritance and living sinfully. The difference between these folks and the greater apostates is that there is still hope for them in this life. This is captured in the following teaching from James: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20, NASB). Here, James assumes that strays can be turned back to Christ, and he exhorts believers to do so. This assumes that such rescue is still possible. This is a great description of lesser apostasy.

    I’m not sure why you claim Arminians (at least those holding to conditional perseverance) have a bigger problem with this material than do Calvinists. If the warning passages of Hebrews (not to mention explicit warning passages in other parts of Scripture) describe loss of salvation by authentically regenerated believers, then Calvinism is faced with some insurmountable and fatal difficulties. And attempts to argue that the target audience of the warning passages had never been regenerate to begin with are not good exegetical options with respect to the Hebrews warning passages and other biblical warning passages.

  • Sherman Nobles

    I’ve been debating whether or not to address these passages, not from a Calvinist perspective, but from a Universalist perspective, so I’ve waited until discussion has about died down to put in my 2 cents concerning assumptions in the OP.

    In the OP it was assumed that the verses quoted at least affirmed annihilationism, but more likely affirmed infernalism. I see neither in these passages; rather, I see the fearful judgment of God of His children, judgment, though terrible and fearful, but judgment that reclaims what is God’s! And the following is why I believe such, briefly stated:

    3:11: They will not enter my rest.
    Note that this is a quote where the rest spoken of was the children of Israel going into the promise land. In vs. 17 the author clarifies this further saying “but with whom was He grieved forty years? Was it not with those who did sin, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?” God brings us into relationship with Him in this life for a purpose, to bless us and make us a blessing. If we do not trust and obey Him, we too, though we know Him and have seen His deliverance, shall die in our own wilderness, not experience the blessings that He has for us and not become the blessing that He wants us to be in this life.

    6:4-6: It is impossible to renew them unto repentance.
    The author says it is “impossible to renew them to repentance”, but “impossible” for who? Is He saying it is impossible for God to renew the person? I don’t think that is the point. Rather, he is saying that once a person has tasted of the goodness of God but turned their back on it, what is left to come is judgment, which is a fearsome thing. And note the analogy of judgment, vs. 7-8, of this type of person is the burning of a field that is overrun by weeds and thorns. The field is not destroyed, but what keeps the field from being receptive and productive is destroyed. It is certainly a fiery judgment, but one that results in reformation.

    Concerning 10:26-31, first note that 10:26 speaks of the punishment of sin for those who continue to sin though they know better. May I ask, who among us has not sinned, even after coming to know Christ, though we know it is wrong.

    I appreciate J. P. Phillip’s translation of this passage.
    26-31 Now if we sin deliberately after we have known and accepted the truth, there can be no further sacrifice for sin for us but only a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fire of God’s indignation, which will one day consume all that sets itself against him. The man who showed contempt for Moses’ Law died without hope of appeal on the evidence of two or three of his fellows. How much more dreadful a punishment will he be thought to deserve who has poured scorn on the Son of God, treated like dirt the blood of the agreement which had once made him holy, and insulted the very Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said: ‘Vengeance is mine: I will repay’. And again: ‘The Lord will judge his people’. Truly it is a terrible thing for a man who has done this to fall into the hands of the living God!

    Note that it is “all that sets itself against him” that shall be consumed. This fits the previous metaphor of judgment being like land overrun with thorns being reclaimed by fire – drastic measures that result in a fertile field.
    Also note that the writer once again reminds his readers that this is speaking of God judging His people! For those of us who know better, continuing to sin certainly does develop in us a fear of judgment.

    10:39: destruction.
    There is no reason to think that the author has changed meaning or intent; rather, to me it seems that this word is simply referencing the previous allusion to judgment and punishment of sin. In raising children I’ve found that sometimes forgiveness and mercy is not effective in bringing about repentance and a right attitude in children; sometimes the rod of judgment is needed. And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry earthly father. How much more fearful to fall into the hands of an angry God, though a God who loves us!


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