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Hebrews 6

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-8

Nonfulfillment by the Sons (6:1-8)

In this passage "the elementary doctrines of Christ" which the readers are exhorted to leave behind are basic theological doctrines which may be said to form a convenient summary of a well-rounded theology and may very well have constituted the substance of early catechetical teaching given to new converts. These, says our author, are merely the food of babes in Christ. The maturity, then, of which the author speaks (vs. 1) constitutes something for the Christian which, while based upon theology, goes beyond it. And we are left in no doubt as to what this further aspect of the Christian life is. For in verse 7 he presents us with a parable of a fruitful land which takes advantage of every gift of God’s providence as it comes and "brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated." There can be no doubt that the fruitage which is suggested here is the Christian life and character which, in the teachings of both Jesus and Paul, are the natural fruitage of theological teaching and its associated spiritual experience (Matthew 5:16; Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:22-25).

It is not without significance that the author in this section gives us two lists of the "elementary doctrines of Christ" — one of these a series of catechetical statements, as we have just remarked; the other a series of experiences had by the new convert. The first series, it will be noted, includes (1) those relating to the initial experiences of the Christian life: "repentance from dead works," "faith toward God," "instruction about ablutions," and "the laying on of hands"; and (2) those pertaining to the future: the "resurrection of the dead" and "eternal judgment" (vss. 1-2). The second series is intended to match this one with a list of experiences of which the readers are aware. In this series also perhaps we should see two sub-classes — ( 1 ) those pertaining to the initial experience of the Christian life: "repentance," enlightenment (a common synonym for baptism in the Early Church), tasting of "the heavenly gift," and becoming "partakers of the Holy Spirit," which perhaps should be equated with the "laying on of hands" above; and (2) those which relate to the realm of eschatology: the tasting of "the goodness of the word of God" and "the powers of the age to come" (vss. 4-5). It is not possible to push the similarity between the two lists to the point of exact parallelism. The author’s desire is simply to warn his readers of the importance of advancing to maturity in their Christian lives.

This passage has been a great theological battleground. Some find in the passage proof of the doctrine of "backsliding," whereas others point out that the author specifically teaches that repentance after such presumptive backsliding is impossible. It should be noted, therefore, that the passage really suits neither group. On the one hand, it may be suggested that the "apostasy" referred to in verse 6 is a hypothetical one, found in a hortatory passage, and intended merely as a warning to the readers (see also vs. 8). On the other hand, it is to be remarked that the author only says that "it is impossible to restore again to repentance" such as continually crucify the Son of God ("since they crucify the Son of God"). The tense of the Greek verb here suggests that, "as long as men crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt," they are not in a condition to repent

In this passage, as previously (Hebrews 1:1-4), it is clear that for the author two ages overlap. Christians already to some extent are living in the "age to come" and experiencing its powers (vs. 5), while the works of which they have repented are those pertaining to the sphere of death (vs. 1), particularly those of a ritualistic nature attaching to the old cult (Hebrews 9:14). It is this contact with the coming age and the powers which pertain to it that arouses the expectancy of the author that his Christian readers may indeed advance to maturity. This idea is explicitly brought out in the next section.

Verses 9-20

Guaranteed by God Through His High-Priestly Son (6:9-20)

It was noted above that the "apostasy" against which our author warned his readers was of a hypothetical nature (vss. 4-6). That this is true so far as the author’s readers are concerned is now made doubly clear by his words in verse 9 — "in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation" (see also Hebrews 10:39). It may seem strange that he can both utter such words of assurance and in no uncertain terms warn his readers of the dangers of apostasy. And yet Christians always stand in such a position of jeopardy while in the world of human affairs. Like the father at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration they are constrained to cry out, "I believe," and then in the next half breath, "help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). The Christian walk is always to be expressed both in the indicative mood and in the mood of command or entreaty. Paul gives ample expression to these two features in Romans 6:2-11.

In the present instance the two factors referred to are clearly evidenced in our author’s argument. First, corresponding to the "I believe" or indicative statement of the case for the Christian, our author calls attention to "your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do" (vs. 10). The "work" referred to here is not to be confused with "good works" under the Law. As we have seen, our author refers to those as "dead works," that is, works which are not characterized by the life or living character experienced by the saved (vs. 1; 9:14). This "work" is rather the product of the Christian’s experience of the Holy Spirit and "the powers of the age to come" which he has already mentioned (vss. 4 and 5). The "love" to which he refers is intended as a further definition of "your work," the two expressions used together to express a single idea. This brotherly love must have been a particularly strong characteristic of the community addressed in this letter, as the author refers to it again (Hebrews 13:1).

But the second factor — the need for an imperative — is also applicable to the readers’ condition. For there is a "hope" which still lies ahead (vs. 11). This hope is akin to, if not identical with, the old "promises" of God to his people under the Old Covenant (vs. 12). Accordingly, "earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope" and in becoming "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" is called for.

The four words which stand out in connection with this side of the matter are obviously "faith," "patience," "promises," and "hope." Individually and collectively these four words serve to stress the fact that in the last analysis salvation lies with God and is guaranteed by him alone. Left to themselves, the "sons" are unable to fulfill the qualifications demanded of the mature. This is the work of God accomplished through his high-priestly Son.

Indeed, it is now apparent that the Christian life must be represented as an ellipse whose two foci are respectively the Cross (Hebrews 2:9) and the Second Coming (Hebrews 9:28). These represent in temporal terms the past and future redemptive activity of God, its historical and eternal aspects. In the present section the author is concerned to stress particularly the future focus of the Christian life (vss. 18-20).

"Hope" in this author’s vocabulary is by no means a weak affair. Rather it is a veritable "anchor of the soul." It is an objective reality, not merely a subjective whim. It is the very work of Christ as he presents his sacrificed body before God in the eternal sanctuary. The language of this passage ("inner shrine," "curtain," "high priest") plunges us into the midst of a new subject which goes far beyond the foundation thus far laid down. Further explanation, therefore, must await such passages as Hebrews 8:1-5 and Hebrews 9:11-14.

To illustrate the sense in which he employs the terms "faith," "patience" or endurance, and "promises," the author cites the case of Abraham and the incident of his offering of Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:16-17), in which, although the elements of faith and patience on Abraham’s part are not overlooked, the emphasis is clearly upon God’s part in the transaction. The author lays great stress upon the fact that the promise came from God to begin with and rested upon his employing an "oath" to seal the promise. These two, promise and oath, are "unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false" (vs. 18). The argument here is essentially the same as that found in chapters 3 and 4, in which "the promise of entering his rest," which God had originally made through Moses and Joshua to the people of Israel, must remain open for some future generation to receive, for the reason that when God promises he always fulfills.

Essentially, then, the teaching of this section is that, although the readers have not yet attained to the maturity required of sons, one may rest assured that they will do so — not because of any power residing within themselves, but because of the determined purpose of God and the fulfillment of that purpose through the work of Jesus Christ. As "forerunner" (vs. 20) Jesus has run on ahead into the presence of God on our behalf. He is accordingly the "pioneer" of the Christian faith, and as he has planted the "anchor" of our hope within the eternal sanctuary, he is the "perfecter of our faith," that is, he has brought to fulfillment our promised salvation.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 6". "Layman's Bible Commentary".