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His Master's Voice
|Copyright © 2012 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Monday, July 02, 2012
Hell Does Not Pay for Sin
“Jesus paid for my sins by going to Hell for me.”
“Jesus redeemed me by being the recipient of the full and complete wrath of God, the totality of Hell, while on the cross.”
“God unleashed the full fury of His wrath on Jesus in my stead.”
“Jesus cried the cry of the damned because He was Himself being damned to Hell by God on my behalf.”
Comments similar to the above have been tossed around during sermons for as long as I can remember. But I had to look deeply into this assumption and ask, “What pays for sin, time in Hell, suffering God’s wrath, or something else?”
My research into the Scriptures and into 1st Century church doctrine yielded some fascinating answers. In fact, I composed this research into my final theological thesis in seminary to earn my Master of Divinity degree. At present I am re-writing it for internet access and will post a version of it on my website (at that future date I will post a link from this blog to the re-write).
Until then, consider this truth: How long will an unbeliever need to spend in Hell before their sins are finally paid for?
Perhaps phrasing it differently will help: How much of an unbeliever’s sins are paid for after they have been in Hell for an eternity?
Of course the answer is: Hell does not pay for any sins at all. Time in Hell does not redeem anyone from their sins. Enduring the torment of Hell never pays for anything.
Even after an eternity in Hell an unbeliever’s sins are not paid for or forgiven.
Further, if all the fury of God was vented and exhausted onto Jesus while on the cross, even sending Jesus “invisibly” to Hell for some short duration, then why does the fury and wrath of God still exist? That which is vented and exhausted is consumed and gone. Yet we know that the fury and wrath of God will be unleashed against all unbelief and all unrepented sin both on Earth during the Great Tribulation and at the Lake of Fire on the Day of Judgment.
In short, it is not time in Hell or enduring the wrath of God that pays for sins. Does not Scripture inform us that only a perfect human life assuages God’s wrath entirely? But who can live a perfect life? None. That is, none but Jesus.
And does not the Bible instruct us that Jesus was and is God, undeserving of physical human death, yet it was Jesus’ physical death, His stripes, His wounds, His shed blood, that pays for all human sins? The sacrifice for sins was both foretold and retold as being a perfect, spotless (a euphemism for sinless) lamb that needs to die an undeserved death so as to deflect the penalty for sin.
Hell is not the payment for sin. Hell is the penalty for those who will not believe and thus will not repent.
The payment for sin is: A perfect human life lived in full and then followed by the underserved physical death of the one who lived that perfect life. Jesus’ life and death became the substitute for the penalty we all earned for having lived sinful lives.
God’s wrath is still held in reserve against the day He must judge the unsaved and unbeliever who has rejected His Lamb, His sacrifice.
Hell is the penalty we earn for depriving God of our perfect lives of obedience and faith. Jesus’ perfect life and physical death (and resurrection) were the payment which buys off our penalty. But the payment Jesus made is very much unlike the eternal penalty.
For example, if we pay our grocery bill on the way out of the store (that is, if we live a perfect life until the day we die) then we have earned no penalty. But when we steal and leave the store and refuse to pay what is owed (that is, when we sin, and we all do sin) then we have earned the penalty of the thief and it is too late to simply return to the store and pay what we owed. Jesus then becomes the only one who can offer to pay in full what we owed, on our behalf. The unsaved, the unbeliever, has rejected Jesus’ payment and has willingly taken on the penalty reserved for those who refused to pay.
In the real world the price of something, like a ticket to watch a movie, is cash money. But the penalty for sneaking in to watch the movie is arrest and imprisonment. The penalty (jail time) is very often unlike the original price owed ($10 cash). Prices and penalties are different things.
Hell is not a payment for anything; it is a penalty. Time spent in Hell does not accrue into a payment. Hell is the permanent penalty of the unrepentant sinner who robbed God of the perfect life that was owed to God.
Jesus paid the price of perfection for the believer; Jesus did not pay for the penalty incurred by those who refuse to believe and repent. Jesus tasted death, not the Hell of the Lake of Fire. Jesus paid the price we owed but did not suffer and endure the eternal penalty reserved only for the unrighteous.
Do not confuse the penalty for sin with the price needed to pay for having sinned. The price was perfection. The penalty for refusing to pay the price (and for refusing to allow Jesus to pay the price) is Hell.
Does knowing this diminish the price Jesus did pay (living a perfect human life and suffering underserved human death)? In my opinion, just the opposite. Jesus lived the life unto God I refused to live. More shocking He submitted to human death even though as Creator God He should only have been worshipped on Earth and not humiliated and killed.
How generous, gracious, and merciful is God for not destroying the planet when we killed His perfect Son. Jesus paid the price for our salvation but not the for the penalty of those who will not believe. And the price of salvation is very much different from the penalty of sin.
To read more on Jesus' sacrifice and His utterance, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" you are invited to view this article: My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?--The Biblical Timeline of Jesus' Crucifixion Versus The Myth
Post Script to the article and an answer to a question regarding how the term "penal substitution" applies to the above article:
"Penal substitution" is an interesting phrase, a name for a concept. The literal name is not found in Scripture but was invented to explain a concept.
Perhaps a good way to think of "penal substitution" is this way: Jesus' sacrifice provided the substitutionary atonement such that we do not have to experience the eternal penalty awaiting unrepentant sinners.
"Penal substitution" does not mean that Jesus must substitute Himself and live an eternity in Hell in place of redeemed sinners. That would be a wrong understanding of the meaning.
All of Hebrews is about the superior quality and value of Jesus. Jesus was superior to all the Old Testament sacrifices. Jesus' human life was worth more than all the other human lives ever lived and worth more than all the lives of all the angels because He was both perfect and He was God (He should have been worshipped and not abused while He was on Earth). Yet, He willingly substituted His perfect and infinitely worthy physical life to pay for every sin of humanity--perfect love.
The "price" of entry into heaven has always only ever been this: to live a perfectly obedient life to God.
The "penalty" of living a disobedient life is eternity in Hell.
Jesus paid the "price" of entry into heaven for us. He did not pay the "penalty" of eternal Hell for those who will not repent and believe. The price is utterly different in kind than the penalty: the price = live obediently, the penalty = suffer eternity in Hell.
Jesus did not buy us heaven by being penalized in Hell; that was not even the price. Jesus paid the price by living a perfect life (our debt to God which we refused to pay) and He sacrificed His physical life (a life worth an eternal fortune). That was the price He paid (for those who will believe and repent).
Jesus left in tact the penalty of eternal Hell (the Lake of Fire) for those who will not believe and repent. His sacrifice substitutes the price of heaven (which He paid) for the price we refused to pay and buys us entry into Heaven (an eternal relationship with Him) instead of sending us to eternal punishment. That is the meaning of "penal substitution" in my opinion. Jesus paid the price of Heaven, not the penalty of eternal Hell.
Another Post Script answered a question from a reader, "Are you saying Jesus was not punished for our sins (by 'our sins,' I mean the sins of the elect)?"
Semantics will quickly muddy this discussion (more so than I have done already) if I am not careful. :)
The word punish has an entire range of meanings. For example, "That last mountain bike ride was punishing!" is not the same meaning as "That teacher punished me with detention even though I was not the one talking!" even though the same word "punish" is used. "Punish" can mean unintentional or incidental rough treatment of the body or it can mean a purposeful disciplining of a person so that they may learn not to misbehave.
Jesus did endure human pain, physical torture, and corporeal death. In other words, His flesh was brutally punished. But His beatings and execution were undeserved. That punishing treatment was the sweet self-sacrifice of love He made on our behalf.
Jesus did not endure an eternity in Hell for us, nor even a quick invisible visit to Hell while on the cross as some pastors have assumed. He was not punished in the everlasting torment Lake-of-Fire sense. This is important to understand because only the Lake of Fire truly represents God's "full wrath" against sin.
Some people wrongly think that only an eternity in Hell can pay the price of sin. This is improper and unbiblical theology. Eternal life is never bought by an eternity in the Lake of Fire. If an eternity in Hell were the price of eternal life, then Jesus would still be in Hell and would always be in Hell paying for our sins. The debt of sin is never "paid" by eternal punishment and eternal life is never conferred on the merit of anyone serving an eternity in Hell for anyone else.
A valid sacrifice eliminates the need for eternal punishment for those who believe and repent. If the valid sacrifice eliminates the need for eternal punishment then it becomes obvious the payment of the sacrifice is of a much different nature and of much higher value than that of the eternal punishment (which never pays for anything).
There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that "God poured out His full wrath on Jesus" because God's "full wrath" of an eternity in Hell is reserved only for unrepentant sinners. In "that" sense, no, Jesus was not punished in Hell for sins, not for ours and obviously not for His.
Jesus paid the price of our sin debt (euphemistically stated "He became sin on our behalf while never having known sin"), that is He suffered in human flesh and suffered the indignity of death (the first penalty of sin under the curse of Adam) because of our sin so as to take away our deserved future eternal punishment. Yet, He Himself did not suffer damnation, eternal punishment, or the full wrath of God (i.e. the Lake of Fire). That kind of eternal punishment pays for nothing, so why would Jesus suffer it?
What "pays our sin debt" in God's eyes? Not punishment in Hell, for if that were the case then every sinner would earn their exit from Hell after they suffered there long enough. No, Hell pays for nothing.
So what is it that "pays our sin debt" in God's eyes? Well, we must repay what we stole from God. We stole a perfectly obedient human life with our first sin. We can never repay that, for as sinners we can never become "perfect." So how do we repay the debt of sin we owe God? Answer: We cannot. However, Jesus could and did. Jesus lived that elusive perfect life. But that was not all. Jesus' human life was infinitely valuable and as Creator He deserved to live forever as God-on-Earth, yet He gave up that honor to die a human death. Human death is the curse given to Adam, the price of man's first sin. Jesus' perfect life and perfect death alone pays off our sin-debt, the price of entry to live with God forever.
Jesus paid the price of our sin debt (by having His flesh punished on the cross); He did not pay the penalty of God's full wrath and total fury against sin. God's full wrath and fury are reserved for the unrepentant unbeliever and will be unleashed against them on the last day when they are judged guilty and are removed to the Lake of Fire for eternity.
Jesus paid the price of eternal life, not the still-to-come eternal penalty of the unrepentant.
Another Post Script ammended a defintional issue:
By having said, "Human death is the curse given to Adam, the price of man's first sin" it should be understood that the word price here means "wages" or "deserved earnings." It might be best if I had written, "Human death is the curse given to Adam, the wages and consequence of man's first sin."
Therefore, when the Scriptures state that Jesus became sin on our behalf and that Jesus became a curse for us, it means, "Jesus took on the curse and human consequence given to Adam for having sinned the first sin, to die a human death." Adam deserved the curse, so he died a human death. Jesus did not deserve the curse, but He still died a human death by an act of His own love and will.
"Penal substitution" means "Jesus' sacrifice is substituted for our earned penalty in our account ledger of life." Jesus had to endure the valid sacrifice for sins (the price for our eternal life), not that He had to endure the final punishment awaiting every unrepentant sinner (Hell, the Lake of Fire).
A reader posted the following restatement of Booth's article, then, Booth posted a response to the reader:
A Reader Summarized the Article, Writing:
All of us have sinned. As sinners, we have each broken the law of God, we remain under the wrath of God, and we each deserve to be punished for our sin. There's a legal reckoning that needs to be made. Jesus came to accomplish that. Though Jesus didn't go to hell, He did endure God's full wrath on sin in our place. His substitutionary atoning sacrifice was foreshadowed throughout the OT, e.g. - the ram, the Passover Lamb, & the OT sacrificial system. Those were pictures of what was happening on the cross as Jesus was being crucified and cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" and then "It is finished." The wrath of God had to be appeased, and the justice of God had to be satisfied. A holy God can't let sin remain unpunished. For the elect, all our sins were punished in Christ's body; for the rest, their sins will be punished in their own bodies in an eternity in hell.
Romans 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Propitiation implies we were separated from God, we were out of God's favor and under God's wrath due to our sin. Apart from Christ's blood appeasing God, God's wrath would remain on us, and we would remain eternally separated from God.
Vicarious substitution runs throughout the whole Bible, e.g. - from the ram in the thicket, to the Passover Lamb at the time of the Exodus, and the OT sacrificial system. All these pointed to Christ, our Passover, who was sacrificed for us.
Booth Responded to the Above Reader's Summary:
In fact I agree with all that you have written in your last post, except one phrase in this comment, "Though Jesus didn't go to hell, He did endure God's full wrath on sin in our place."
As pointed out in the original essay God's "full wrath" was not poured out onto Jesus while on the cross, for His full wrath remains to be dispensed on unrepentant sinners. His "full wrath" was not consumed against Jesus.
There are a plentitude of Scriptures that say that Jesus suffered and died in the flesh (His divine and perfect flesh) as THE sacrifice which is substituted for the punishment we deserved. But dying on the cross, as bad as that suffering was, was a fairly common punishment for many of Rome's enemies, and did not mean all those enemies of Rome endured the "full wrath" of God.
Scriptures simply never say that God poured out "His full wrath" on Jesus. Nowhere. It says Jesus suffered a nasty horrible death, just as does everyone who is under Adam's curse of human death, but not that God poured out "His full wrath" on Jesus.
Jesus did not have to become a dead man while wearing human flesh. He never sinned; He had no sin nature and never earned condemnation for Himself. Yet, He intentionally became cursed with Adam's curse of death so that He could be that perfect sacrifice for sins...He took on God's curse of corporeal death against humanity voluntarily, motivated by love.
Yet even the curse against Adam, that all sinful men will die in their flesh, does not represent the "full wrath of God," for there is worse punishment yet to come. Therefore, when Jesus died on the cross and accepted the curse against Adam, it did not represent the full wrath of God against sin. There is plenty of wrath from God yet to be unleashed against the unbeliever who refuses to repent.
I guess the outstanding question for those who maintain that Jesus endured the "full wrath of God" is identify where in the Bible this is stated; not merely that Jesus suffered, for He truly did, but that He endured "the full wrath of God" or "the entire wrath of God."
LOL, as I thought about it, I realized I was too hasty, there is one other thing which I do not think is entirely biblically correct in your last post.
Scriptures inform us that God's wrath can be turned away (put away) when a sinner repents, or when another sinner pleads for mercy on behalf of that sinner. For example, Moses pleaded with God not destroy the people of Israel, and God turned aside from His wrath. Jeremiah did the same thing and God turned aside from pouring out His wrath simply because of the humble attitude of the sinners (Jeremiah 18:20).
For the above reason I cannot agree that "A holy God can't let sin remain unpunished." That statement would best be rendered as, "A holy and just God cannot let unrepented sin remain unpunished forever but repented sins covered by sacrifice He will mercifully forgive and overlook and will not impose deserved punishment."
Thanks for your posting. It is always good to be challenged. Blessings.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Is Hebrews 6:1-8 About Loss of Salvation?
Kay Arthur is the founder and chief instructor of the Precept Bible study courses. My wife is an avid student of these courses. In fact, I highly recommend the in-depth study courses (not necessarily the intro courses that Precept offers, but the actual homework-intensive Bible book studies) because along with teaching what the Scriptures mean they teach the student how to interpret the passages for themselves.
My wife asked me to watch and review the two part DVD series Kay Arthur presented on Hebrews 6:1-8. This is I did, gladly. As always, I have great respect and admiration for her, her ministry, and her methods.
By and large Kay Arthur approached the passage with the right tools and methodology. She missed the more proper interpretation because she violated two of her own well honed and oft repeated principles of interpretation: let the author say what he means, and keep the passage in context.
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. (Hebrews 6:1-9)
Kay Arthur’s Interpretation
Kay Arthur’s interpretation of Hebrews 6:1-8 is essentially that the passage is about those first century people who professed a faith in Christ but turned aside from the faith in the face of hardships. Such temporarily professing people never were saved and their lack of endurance proves it. She denies the passage is a warning that a person can be saved and then lose their salvation. Hers is a very orthodox view of the passage, though not necessarily the correct one.
What Is Right in Kay Arthur’s View
Arthur correctly notes that everywhere else in Hebrews the book’s author demonstrates that salvation is a permanent state where the believer is kept safe by God via His power. She also properly notes that the “repentance from dead works” is a reference to the Law of Judaism. In other words, Christianity is a moving on from the Law and its regulations and its rituals to the lasting faith and freedom of belief in Christ.
Lastly, Kay Arthur does an admirable job showing how the phrases “enlightened,” “tasters,” and “partakers” used elsewhere in the New Testament all mean that one has experienced a deep and genuine spiritual event. For example “enlightened” means to obtain true eternal salvation in Ephesians 1:18 and Hebrews 10:32. To “taste” of something means to be fully involved in that thing, such as Christ “tasting death” in Hebrews 2:9 illustrating that Jesus’ body really and truly bled out and died. Also, only those who endure in faith until the end are the ones who become “partakers” in Christ, according to Hebrews 3:14.
In spite of Kay Arthur’s excellent presentation that these phrases do not mean to snatch a glancing glimpse of salvation, or to get a passing taste of salvation with one’s tongue but not actually eat of it, or that partaking in Christ is reserved only for the true enduring believer, she makes a complete U-turn. Having insisted that the author of Hebrews must be allowed to say what he actually says Arthur states that the author of Hebrews does not mean that these people were actually saved but were only fooling themselves and had not actually become enlightened, tasters, or partakers at all. Her “evidence” for this is the Parable of the Sower where only the soil that produced abundant and lasting fruit represents the saved person.
Nonetheless, in spite of Kay Arthur’s analysis, the author of Hebrews did not mean to make it merely sound like these people were saved even though they were not. She did not let the author say what he wanted to say, she changed the point of the message. Worse, Arthur did not take into full account the context of verses 6:1-3 which explains what comes next.
What the Author of Hebrews Did Mean
All of Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians in the first century. It is a letter of warning for them to endure in faith and it is an exhortation for them to pay attention to the sad story of what had happened to the nation of Israel before Christ came. In fact, Christ is the mediator of a superior covenant than what was made available to Israel, though national Israel ended up being disobedient to both covenants.
In that broad context the author of Hebrews writes,
“Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).
This is a call for the first century Jewish Christians to leave behind the Law of Moses and move forward to Christianity, the embracing of Christ. There is no point in them trying yet one more time to keep any part of the Law of Moses alive (i.e. hand washing rituals, the Day of Atonement, animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc.).
Hebrews’ author then writes,
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame“ (Hebrews 6:4-6).
The context from verses 1-3 have not changed; the topic is still the nation of Israel that followed the Law of Moses and which crucified the one and only Messiah and had put Jesus to open shame. It was those people who were “enlightened” about God via the prophets and the Torah but continued to worship idols. It was the ancient Jews who “tasted” of the manna and the miracles of God but still pursued materialism. It was the nation of Israel from Moses to Malachi who were “partakers” of the Holy Spirit of prophecy and who “tasted” the “word of God and the powers” yet still fell away from following God.
Even worse, when the nation of Israel rejected, mocked, and executed the Messiah (the Christ that their very Scriptures predicted would come) they abandoned the only sacrifice that truly saves. When the sacrifice of Christ is abandoned there remains no other sacrifice by which anyone can be forgiven.
Of great import here is the phrase, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Does this mean that no Jew can be saved? Of course not! Many individual Jews are saved, although the nation itself remains largely apart from faith in Christ.
The phrase, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance,” must be understood in the context of the argument being made. Until the nation of Israel stops rejecting the sacrifice of Christ it is impossible to renew in the nation any kind of useful repentance because nothing else works. It is impossible to restore to them the efficacious Law of Moses since by it no flesh can be saved. Since the Law is now useless to them for salvation and since they trampled under foot the sacrifice of Christ (as if the sacrifice were of no value to the nation of Israel) they have eliminated all possible options for being forgiven of their sins. There is no legitimate avenue for repentance or salvation which they have left for themselves.
Summary of Hebrews 6:1-8
Christ is superior to the Law of Moses since only Christ and His sacrifice takes away sins. Any person or nation that rejects Christ will find that there is no channel for repentance available to them; certainly not the Law of Moses. Any person, Jew, Gentile, Greek, or Western can be saved by embracing Christ and His sacrifice. At that time any person can and will become permanently sealed with the Holy Spirit, regenerated, adopted by God, and guaranteed a place in the Kingdom yet to come.
Hebrews 6:1-8 is not about a professing Christian losing their faith or their salvation. It is a warning that the Law of Moses (Judaism) is not efficacious and cannot provide for repentance, forgiveness, or salvation because Christ has accomplished all that for those who believe. And those who are true believers will always endure to the end in their faith in Him.
Dear Kay Arthur, I have been and am still a fan of your ministry. Continue the good work!
Dear Readers, if you have never taken a Precept course, use the internet and find one near you today and sign up. It will be well worth the time and effort for almost everyone who participates.
Another Post Script was added by Booth to address a question from a reader about the audience for the book of Hebrews:
Actually, I think the entire book of Hebrews was written principally to the first century Jewish Christian community (hence the name of the book, Hebrews), and secondarily it has timeless instruction for the rest of us. This is similar to the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians; they were written principally to answer questions sent to Paul via letter by the first century church in Corinth, but the letters that Paul sent back to them have timeless instruction for us as well.
Perhaps some confusion arises when I noted that the author of Hebrews was admonishing the Christian Jews not to return to Judaism or to the Law of Moses. That message in Hebrews 6:1-8 does not negate the book being useful to non-Jews. For example, Paul wrote heavily in various of his letters, particularly in his letter written specifically to the church in Rome (Romans), that it is necessary to abandon the Law of Moses in favor of following Christ. Such instructions from Paul to the first century people in Rome to leave Judaism behind do not mean that the book of Romans is not a timeless set of instructions for those of us who do not live in Rome or who are not Jews by genetics or bloodline.
In fact, the very reality that today we read Hebrews 6:1-8 from our 21st Century Christian cultural perspective and read into it a doctrine of "loss of salvation" indicates the need to re-read the passage from the first century Jewish perspective and to keep verses 4-8 in the same context as are verses 1-3. First century Jewish Christians were struggling with the question of how much of the Law of Moses to retain in their lives; there is no evidence they were struggling with loss-of-salvation issues.
The book of Hebrews is all about the superiority of Jesus (the Messiah) over all else, including the "dead works" of the Law of Moses. The author of the book of Hebrews was trying to persuade the first century Jewish Christian community to move away from the elementary teachings about expecting the Messiah yet to come and to focus on the mature reality (completeness) of accepting that the Messiah has already come and has already saved them. To reject the Christ (the Messiah) in the form of Jesus and to return to Judaism (the Law of Moses) was to abandon all hope of attaining genuine forgiveness or repentance.
I hope that helps clear up the confusion. Blessings.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Further Research into Hebrews 6 -- Loss of Salvation?
Note: Continued from Previous Blog of July 20, 2012
Unsubstantiated Conjecture Published Amok
Virtually no two Bible commentators agree on how to interpret or understand Hebrews 6:1-8. Some say the author of Hebrews is referring to backsliders as those people who are impossible to renew to repentance, others say it is just the pretenders and the self-deluded, some claim the passage is only hypothetical and refers to no real group of people, while still others see the author as saying that genuine Christians can lose their salvation and fall away never to be saved again.
The New Testament Cites the Old Testament: A Contextual Approach
When I picked up the Beale and Carson commentary entitled “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament” I was pleasantly surprised to find in it Guthrie’s analysis of the passage. Guthrie acknowledges that another Bible expert (i.e. Mathewson) correctly asserted that the group of people who were “enlightened,” and “tasted,” and “partook” are the ancient Jews who were exiled from Egypt and wandered in the wilderness (during which time they all were enlightened by the pillar of fire, tasted the manna, and partook of the Rock’s water and Moses’ miracles). Guthrie lists about a dozen Old Testament “wanderings” passages from which the author of Hebrews drew upon when he penned 6:4-6. Guthrie wrote that the author of Hebrews “is evoking the entire context and story of Israel’s experience in the wilderness” (page 962).
Nonetheless, even after all their immersion into the acts of God and the knowledge of God given them through the prophets, that generation of exiles from Egypt fell away into idol worship. Guthrie argues that the author of Hebrews, by referring to the ancient Jews as those who were once enlightened but fell away never to be renewed again to repentance, is using that generation as an allusion, analogy, illustration, or warning for all future peoples to not similarly turn their back on the Christ to old religions or to no religion at all.
To conclude his analysis of Hebrews 6:4-6 Guthrie wrote, “Moreover, the warning harks back to the earlier hortatory section [in Hebrews] on those who fell in the wilderness ([Hebrews] 3:7-4:2) who heard the good news preached but did not profit by it (4:2)” (page 962). By writing his concluding thought Guthrie reminds us that Hebrews 3 is the contextual envelope for Hebrews 6. The Jews once tasted of the most perfect revelation of God on earth and yet still fell away to the point that they killed, mocked, and subjected the Messiah to open shame, never to repent to the Messiah as a nation even as it met its own heartbreaking demise in 70 A.D.
Perhaps unlike myself these other men, Beale, Carson, Mathewson, and Guthrie, deserve to be taken seriously. Hebrews 6:1-8 is not about the loss of salvation of believers, but is an historical recounting of what happened to the exiles of Egypt, and that same recounting serves as a warning to us to “not turn [our] backs on Christ” (page 962).
Post Script was added by Booth to address a question from a reader about the trustworthiness of commentaries:
My last blog was not meant to cast commentaries or commentators in a bad light. In fact, I think commentaries are extremely valuable for they represent the teachings of pastors over the years who were Spirit indwelt and spent their entire lives in study of the Word as they taught their congregations what they had learned. Pastors are given the unique standing in the Bible of being the principal instructors in the local church so I feel privileged to have access to so many pastors.
My intent was to illustrate that the genuine confusion and universally mismatching interpretations of the best of the commentators means it is obvious that the majority of the commentators are wrong with regard to this passage (two divergent interpretations cannot both be correct, much less four divergent interpretations). If the majority are wrong it would inappropriate to choose one at random and pin one's hopes to that interpretation. It is far better to re-examine the biblical text and ask whether the text is really speaking for itself.
In the case of Hebrews 6:1-8 to my knowledge only the Beale-Carson-Guthrie-Mathewson commentary really deals with the original intent and context of the writer of Hebrews. Time after time Hebrews quotes or cites the Old Testament to show how the New Covenant is better than the Old, how Christ is better than the Law, and how Israel failed to live up to the Law and failed to live by faith--all in an effort to warn future generations not to respond in the same way as did ancient Israel.
In fact, it should be utterly unexpected and odd if suddenly Hebrews 6 should inexplicably break the pattern and NOT be citing the Old Testament and NOT be citing the history of Israel as our example of turning aside from the faith. When an author establishes his pattern so concretely by citing only one specific people group as his ongoing subject matter, as does the author of Hebrews (that IS why the book is called Hebrews), we ought to be embarrased to not immediately assume the author is still using the same people group and same pattern unless he explicitly tells us he has shifted subject matter.
Kudos to Beale-Carson-Guthrie-Mathewson for being consistent and taking the Scriptures in their context in this specific instance.
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