Thursday, February 7, 2008

Perseverance Of The Saints Part 5: Hebrews 6:4-9

Audience:

There is general agreement that this letter was written to Hebrew believers who were in the midst of some sort of testing which threatened their faith. “To the Hebrews” is a later addition to the epistle, but it is clear from the context of the letter that the writer assumed his audience to be very familiar with both Jewish history and rituals. The writer of Hebrews seems to have a few goals in mind which are closely related. He wants to expound on the supremacy of Christ and warn against defection from Him to some inferior and inadequate belief system. It would seem that His emphasis on Christ’s supremacy is partly, if not primarily for the purpose of demonstrating to his readers the foolishness and spiritually fatal nature of such a defection. He seems particularly concerned that his readers might be persuaded to return to Judaism. He is also concerned about the hardening affects of sin in the hearts of those who let it go unchecked. The nature of this sin is not always clear, though it is certain that the inspired writer sees the ultimate culmination of such sins and the spiritual hardness that results from them as the decisive and deliberate act of apostasy.

I am personally convinced that the writer of Hebrews is specifically addressing believers and warning them of the real danger of apostasy throughout the epistle. There are many passages that could be referenced to support this conclusion, but chapter three alone seems to be sufficient. The writer of Hebrews addresses his audience as “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” who have confessed Christ (verse 3). It is to these “holy brethren” that the writer directs his warnings against allowing their hearts to be hardened, the end result of which is the apostasy in view in the numerous warning passages throughout the epistle (3:8, 12, 13, 15, cf. 2:1-3; 4:1; 6:4-8; 10:26-39; 12:15-17, 25). Despite this, I believe that even if we take the position that the writer of Hebrews viewed some of his intended audience to be those who have yet to make a genuine profession of faith, the warning passages that we will be examining still give conclusive evidence that true believers can abandon the faith to their own eternal ruin.

While there are several such warning passages throughout the epistle, we will only be examining the warnings found in Hebrews 6:4-9 and 10:26-39. We will begin with a brief analysis of Heb. 6:4-9, acknowledge some objections to our conclusions, and then move into Hebrews 10:26-39 where I believe the main objections to our conclusions drawn from 6:4-9 will be sufficiently resolved. This post will focus on Hebrews 6:4-9 and the next post in the series will deal with Hebrews 10:26-39.

Hebrews 6:4-9:

[4] “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, [5] and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, [6] 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. [7] For the ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; [8] but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed and it ends up being burned. [9] But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” [NASB]

The Arminian position is that this passage describes truly saved individuals as they had been “enlightened” (see Heb. 10:32), and made “partakers of the Holy Spirit”. This “partaking” of the Holy Spirit means full participation, and cannot properly refer to mere influence, as some have claimed. Notice how this same Greek word is used in Heb. 3:1- “…holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling”, 3:14- “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”, and 12:8- “partakers” in God’s chastisement as true sons. No unbeliever can rightly be said to partake of the Holy Spirit in such a way. (Rom. 8:9; Jn. 14:15-17).

They also “tasted” the “heavenly gift”, “the good word of God”, and “the powers of the age to come.” The word “tasted”, like “partakers” denotes not a partial, but complete experience, as evidenced by the way the same word is used of Jesus in Heb. 2:9, “that…he might taste death for everyone”. F. Leroy Forlines elaborates on the use of “taste” by the author:

“It is my position that the word taste is one of the strongest words that could have been used. In tasting, there is always a consciousness of the presence of that which is tasted. There is always an acquaintance with the distinctive characteristics of that which is tasted. This is evidenced by 1 Pet. 2:3. By tasting, the believer learned that one of the distinctive characteristics of the Lord is that He is gracious. There is also the matter of contact in tasting. In other words, tasting may be called conscious acquaintance by contact.

He continues…

“When we apply the previous observations to the subject under consideration, we learn that those mentioned here have had an experience in which they became consciously acquainted by contact with the heavenly gift. The heavenly gift either means Christ or salvation. In either case, it would mean that the person would be saved, because only a saved person has such an acquaintance with Christ or salvation.” [The Quest for Truth, pg. 278]

We also note that the seemingly hypothetical “if they fall away” rendering of the NIV and KJV is inaccurate. All of these clauses are in the aorist tense in the Greek denoting completed action. There is no hypothetical “if” in the Greek text. The apostates spoken of have just as surely fallen away as they have been enlightened, made partakers of the Holy Spirit, etc. The aorist tense may also demonstrate that the inspired writer is speaking of actual instances of apostasy that have already occurred. It is likely that these instances of actual defection are what prompted the writer to compose his epistle of exhortation to these Jewish believers. This would shed more light on the encouragement and confidence expressed in verse 9:

“But beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking this way.”

Some have concluded, based on the confidence expressed in verse 9, that the writer of Hebrews is speaking only of hypothetical defection in verses 4-6 which could not, in fact, befall the believers he is addressing in verse 9. They see the warning of 6:4-6 as a warning against impossibility. In addition to the use of the aorist in verses 4-6, Robert Shank rightly observes:

“Some appeal to verse 9…to contend that such apostasy cannot actually occur. But they fail to reckon with the transition from the third person (‘those, they, them’) in verses 4-6 to the second person (‘you’) in verse 9. The writer is ‘persuaded of better things of you,’ but not of ‘them.’ While he is persuaded that ‘you’ have not as yet apostatized, he declares that ‘they’ indeed have done so. Instead of assuming that the apostasy which engulfed ‘them’ cannot overtake ‘you’, the writer holds them up before ‘you’ as a tragic example for their solemn warning and proceeds earnestly to exhort his readers, ‘And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end; that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises’” [Life in the Son, pp. 177, 178]

Some have taken the approach that all of the descriptive terms of verses 4-6 could just as well refer to unbelievers who came to the brink of saving faith but then rejected it. Grudem takes this position in Still Sovereign. He labors to cast doubt on the common interpretation that these descriptive terms can only be properly used of true believers:

“[My] interpretation…would argue that the [Arminian] view has been premature in reaching the conclusion that the terms must describe genuine saving faith and true regeneration. It would argue, instead, that a closer examination of the terms used will show them to be inconclusive regarding the question of whether they indicate genuine salvation.” [Still Sovereign, ed. Shreiner and Ware, pg. 140]

Grudem argues that these terms might be used in a way other than what Arminian exegetes have long assumed. He appeals to the way that the terms are used elsewhere in the NT and in extra-Biblical Greek sources, as well as a comparison with other terms used to describe believers in the epistle. Strangely, he believes this to be his most significant argument, but the fact that other terms are used to describe true believers elsewhere in the epistle in no way demonstrates that the terms in verses 4-6 were not also intended to describe spiritual blessings that only regenerate believers could experience.

While I find his approach to be strained and problematic on many fronts, I am convinced that the context of the passage, as well as a careful comparison to the similar warning given in Heb. 10:26-39, renders Grudem’s extensive argumentation moot. The lynch pin of his argument, in my opinion, is not the terms used in verses 4-6, but his understanding of the metaphor of the field used in verses 7-8. Grudem is convinced that the descriptions of the fruitful and barren field make his case that the descriptive terms used in verses 4-6 are not describing true believers [see also Peterson and Williams, Why I Am Not An Arminian, pp 84-85]. He states:

“…these terms tell us that the people had experienced many of the preliminary stages that often precede the beginning of the Christian life, but they do not tell us that the people had experienced any of the decisive beginning stages of the Christian life…However, an examination of the metaphor of the field in verses7-8, which the author uses to explain verses 4-6, showed that the people in 4-6 were like a field that received frequent rain but only bore thorns and thistles. This indicated that, in the authors mind, the people in 4-6 had received many blessings but had never borne good fruit because they had been like bad ground the entire time: There had never been true spiritual life in them.” [Still Sovereign, pg. 172]

We will re-visit this claim in our next post when dealing with Hebrews 10:26-39. Grudem also appeals to the confidence expressed by the writer of Hebrews in verses 9-12, which we briefly dealt with above. For now we will take a closer look at verse 6 to see if the further description of these apostates comports with Grudem’s claim that they are unbelievers who “had simply heard the gospel and had experienced several of the blessings of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Christian community.” [ibid., 172]

Verse 6: “…and then having 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.”

The important elements to focus on in this verse are the facts that these apostates cannot be renewed again to repentance, and that by their actions they have re-crucified the Son of God to themselves. The first thing that must be acknowledged is that these apostates had repented. If this were not the case then it would not be proper to say that they could not be renewed again to repentance. So what kind of repentance is in view here? If this repentance was only superficial, then what would it matter that these apostates could not be renewed to it again? Is the writer of Hebrews trying only to say that these apostates could never again be renewed to a repentance that was not genuine in the first place? The most natural way to understand this is that the writer is describing the impossibility of being renewed again to genuine, and therefore saving repentance. This is a startling and grave warning, but the weight of it can only be felt if the repentance being described is saving.

Repentance, here, is the experience of spiritual reorientation. This is the way that the author uses the word just a few verses prior to this dreadful warning:

“…let us press on towards maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God.” [Heb. 6:1]

This “repentance” has reference to a turning away from “dead works” towards God in faith. You can’t have one without the other. One cannot place saving faith in Christ while still clinging to “dead works” (which could refer either to sinful acts or attempts to earn the favor of God through obsolete Jewish rituals), and one cannot truly repent of these dead works without also turning to God in faith. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. It could be described as one motion of turning towards God viewed from two different perspectives. Forlines’ observations are excellent:

“While repentance includes a ‘from’ and a ‘to,’ the stress of repentance is on the to instead of the from. Repentance is a forward moving word. This is not to diminish the importance of the from. It is to place primary focus on the to. The ‘to’ of repentance is identical with faith. In Acts 20:21 Paul speaks of repentance toward God.’ In 2 Timothy 2:25, he speaks of ‘repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’ Faith and repentance are involved in each other. To exercise faith implies a change from unbelief, whatever the from of unbelief may be. Repentance terminates in faith. If we tell a person to repent, or if we tell him to believe, we are telling him to do the same thing. Repent stresses that change is involved. Faith stresses the end to which change is directed.” [The Quest for Truth, pp. 254, 255]

Grudem, however, looks to drive a wedge between repentance from “dead works” and “faith towards God”, but can only do this by appealing to passages outside of Hebrews which have nothing to do with the text in question. Four of the passages he mentions actually serve better to establish the vital connection between faith and repentance described by Forlines above [Mark 1:15; Acts 19:4; 20:21; 26:20]. To hold these up as examples of repentance taking place without reference to saving faith is to beg the question. The only other passage Grudem can come up with to keep his sinking ship afloat is Luke 17:3-4. Here he argues that repentance is being used only of sorrow for sins which falls short of genuine repentance “unto salvation” [Still Sovereign, pg. 149]. The most glaring problem with Grudem’s appeal to the Luke passage is that it is plainly addressing inner personal relationships and has nothing to do with repentance toward God; so of course it is not addressing repentance unto salvation. That is not, however, the case in the Hebrews passages.

With this in mind, we have no reason to think of these apostates as anything other than defectors from genuine saving faith and repentance. In fact, in a very real sense these apostates have now “repented” of their former commitment to Christ. This is not a case of backsliding or a general lack of commitment, but a total repudiation of the faith once held. Grudem agrees with the seriousness of this act when he says:

“This is a public repudiation and mockery of Christ characteristic only of hardhearted unbelievers” [ibid. 151]

This reality leads us into the second important clause in verse 6, “…since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame.” It is important to note the “again” (i.e., afresh, re-crucified, etc.) in this phrase as it parallels the “again” of repentance in the first part of the verse. Just as surely as they had repudiated their “dead works” in turning to God in saving faith; they have now repudiated the Lord in whose blood they had once trusted (cf. Heb. 10:29). They have done a 180 which required such a state of hardness that the affects are permanent. They cannot be renewed again to repentance having now fully “insulted” (Heb. 10:29) that blessed Spirit of Grace in whom they had come to partake of through faith in that blood they now disdain (Heb. 6:4, cf. 10:26, 29). The context would suggest that the “dead works” spoken of in 6:1 include those ceremonial “works” which foreshadowed Christ. The apostates had previously abandoned these ceremonial practices in order to cling to the perfect work of Christ in faith. Now they have abandoned Christ’s perfect work and returned, in unbelief, to these now meaningless shadows that prefigured Him.

He later comes to the arbitrary conclusion that this repentance was not “repentance unto life”. Grudem seems to envision that these apostates had somehow made a “decision to forsake their sin” without actually following through. But there is no contextual warrant for this assertion. In fact, as we have seen, the context argues strongly against such an interpretation since verse one spoke of true repentance from dead works and faith toward God. There is no contextual reason to believe that the writer of Hebrews has some other view of repentance in verse 6. Certainly, if the author was suddenly describing something other than true repentance we would expect him to have given some indicator of this to his readers. We would especially expect such a qualifier since the descriptive terms being used in verses 4-6 would most likely be understood by his intended audience as describing true believers, and even more so since these terms directly follow an address to genuine, albeit immature, believers in verses 1 and 2. To claim that the metaphor of the fields would remove any ambiguity is to engage in an unreliable hermeneutic. The proper method should be to interpret the metaphor of the field in light of the clear language of verses 4-6 and not the other way around, as Grudem has done. We noted a similar error in the Calvinistic interpretation of 2 Peter 2:20-22 here.

In closing we again quote F. Leroy Forlines’ important insights into the significance of these apostates being said to have re-crucified Christ to themselves:

“In 6:6 it is said ‘they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.’ Let us note that this is a crucifixion in relationship, that is, to themselves. An example of crucifixion in relationship is found in Galatians 6:14 where Paul says, ‘By whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.’ So far as reality was concerned, both Paul and the world were living and active; but so far as relationship was concerned, they were dead to each other. They had no relationship existing between them. The relationship of Christ to the unsaved is that of a dead Christ; but to the saved, He is a living Christ. A person could not crucify to himself the Son of God afresh unless he were in a living relationship to Him; therefore, such could be committed only by a saved person.” [The Quest for Truth, pg. 279]

Conclusion:

We have so far shown that the descriptive terms used in 6:4-5 can only properly be used of true believers. Any doubts or objections to this have been sufficiently answered with a careful examination of verse 6. Only true believers can be said to have repented from dead works, and only those who have fallen away from genuine faith can be said to re-crucify the Son of God to themselves. We have mentioned that the metaphor of the field and the confidence expressed in verse 9 do not negate the implications of verses 4-6 with regards to apostasy from genuine faith. We will deal more with Grudem’s objection regarding the metaphor of the field in our next post dealing with the warnings found in Hebrews 10:26-39.

29 comments:

Jay said...

Hello Ben. I appreciate that you recognised the parallels and are trying to let the scripture speak for itself in defining its own terminology. I particularly liked the sensible comparison too of repentance between verses one and six. I also like how you recognize that the crucifying referred to here is one of relationship.

I agree with you that those who had fallen away were Christians; that the warning against falling away is indeed legitimate, possible and serious, not hypothetical. And I agree that this is the warning that would make sense, possibly by the historical pressure of persecution to return to being under the Judaistic sacrificial system.

The question I really would like to be able to be certain on is this: Yes they have fallen away, but is it permanently impossible that they might be renewed unto repentance or temporarily/conditionally impossible "while they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame."

The reason for my questioning is that the NASB reference note provides "while" as an alternative to "since", and the verb participles for "crucify again" and "expose to ridicule" are both present active.

I think either of those two specific understandings of this passage would conceivably fit with the Arminian system as a whole, and regardless of whether complete personal reprobation is made possible from other scriptures or not, I think this passage should be treated in its own merit.

I could understand the seriousness of the warning if those who fall away shall never be able to be renewed because their relationship is now considered dead to Christ and they have not abided in Him.
But likewise I could understand the seriousness of the warning too if those who have fallen away faced the real possibility of destruction and it was impossible to renew them to repentance whilst they continue in their lack of faith and reliance upon dead works (thus crucifying Christ to themselves.)

Either way, it seems clear that arguments like Grudem's just create more problems then they solve. I have not yet read any Arminian writings on my particular question though and would be interested to hear your thoughts brother.

kangaroodort said...

Hello Jay,

Thanks for taking the time to read my very long post. The view you are promoting was given extensive treatment in Robert Shank's Life in the Son. The view that the apostasy described is one without remedy is well argued by Free Will Baptists F. Leroy Forlines (The Quest For Truth), and Robert Picirilli (Grace, Faith, Free Will). They equate this apostasy with the unpardonable sin, and Forlines sees a correlation with the unforgivable presumptuous sins of the OT (Num. 15:30, 31). I think their exegesis is stronger than Shanks and more honest with the text.

I personally believe that the apostasy described in both Heb. 6 and 10 is an apostasy without remedy. That does not mean that there is not another sort of apostasy (backsliding?) from which one can be restored. I am still undecided about that, but I do believe (though I used to hold the view you propose) that these particular passages are not dealing with any kind of remedial falling away.

I will get into this a little more after I finish up my posts on Heb. 10. In the meantime, I recommend either Forlies or Picirilli's books for a great discussion on that subject.

Not sure if that helped.

God Bless,
Ben

Anonymous said...

This article gives a good argument that these verses should be read with the OT in view.

http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/04-Numbers/Text/Articles/Mathewson-Heb6OT-WTJ.pdf

Anonymous said...

Here is the link directly

kangaroodort said...

anonymous,

Thanks for the link. The article is well written and does a good job connecting the OT with the language of Hebrews. I disagree, however, with the author's conclusions and intend to get into the reasons why in the post on Heb. 10.

Thanks again for the resource.

Magnus said...

This was a good article and one that makes me think, but I do have a question or thought. I cannot help but notice that the ones being spoken about in verses 4-6 are different from the ones in verse 9. I looked at my copy of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Wallace and came across this …many of the texts which on the surface seem to suggest that a believer can lose his/her salvation, the “insecure” part of the text is in the third person (cf. John 15:1-11 [note especially the change of persons between vv 5 and 6]; Heb 6:4-6, 9). (page 393)

I want to thank anonymous for providing that link and if I understand the above information from Wallace and I couple that with the information from the link by anonymous it would appear that a strong case can be made that this is not talking about loss of salvation for a true believer.

BTW, it does appear that a better reading of verse 6 would be and have fallen away. Of course even with that it would appear we will still disagree on the meaning of these verses. Thanks for tackling such a difficult topic.

The Seeking Disciple said...

You know you made it on another blog again. Boy, you keep making many Calvinist mad.

http://hipandthigh.blogspot.com/2008/01/assurance-of-eternal-security-pt-1.html

kangaroodort said...

Hey Roy,

Thanks for the heads up. It seems that post is mostly directed to J.C. concerning his challenge. I will have to take a closer look a little later when I have some time.

God Bless,
Ben

kangaroodort said...

Magnus,

Just in case you didn't realize it, Wallace is a Calvinist. That doesn't mean he can't be trusted, but there are definitely times where he allows his theological perspective to cloud his judgment.

As for the OT parallels, they realy don't change anything IMO. I will get into that a little more in my next post, but I think chapter 3 alone ruins the thesis that a comparison with the OT Israelites in the desert implies that the writer of Hebrews is warning unbelievers.

In chapter 3 he makes it clear that he is speaking to saved individuals ("holy brethren who are partakers of the heavenly calling", etc.). He then goes on to warn them against hardening their hearts and uses the wandering Israelites as OT examples.

One must also prove that the OT Israelites were never really saved. I think that is a very difficult position to defend for many reasons. It is largely just assumed by guys like Grudem and the writer of the article anonymous left us.

I think a very compelling case can be made that the Israelites who were denied access into the promised land had exercised genuine and saving faith prior to their rebellion in the wilderness.

God Bless,
Ben

J.C. Thibodaux said...

I appreciate it Roy. I just posted a response to him today.

kangaroodort said...

Magnus,

BTW, here is something else to think about:

Hebrews 10:26 starts with "if we deliberately keep on sinning..." See also Heb. 2:1. How do these passages jive with Wallace's thesis?

Magnus said...

I did not know that he was a Calvinist, thank you for the information. I will check other Greek sources about this, but if this is a valid point that he makes then it seems that would need to be addressed.


If I am not mistaken the article does seem to imply that the OT reference about the wilderness starts at chapter 3.

As for the Israelites all being saved? I was unaware that this idea has any strong support, I could be wrong. It seems that the author of the article made a good case for what appears to be some points you brought up about the "tasting" etc. Oh well, I will look forward to your next article about this.

BTW,I have recently been told of another theory about Hebrews and that is that this is not talking of loss of salvation, but loss of reward. I am not as well read on that theory though so I will not comment on it.

Magnus said...

Ben,

It seems that Wallace would say that 10:26 was a [if] condition. He argues that 6:6 is not an if condition and that the word if should not be used. Hope that helps answer your question. I will not be able to interact with your article tomorrow, but that is the beauty of the internet, I can read it this weekend. Thanks again.

Also, I would love to see some other Arminians chime in here especially if the hold to perseverance of the saints.

Jay said...

I must admit I am a little confused reading some earlier comments from Mangus. Please let me see if I'm not mistaken. First one:
"..but I do have a question or thought. I cannot help but notice that the ones being spoken about in verses 4-6 are different from the ones in verse 9. I looked at my copy of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics..."
- This fact was already plainly observed and discussed within the very article written by Ben (Paragraphs 11 & 12). In light of that I'm just trying to understand what the point was in restating the obvious. Was the point of that simply to note that a Calvinist theologian Wallace wrote that he believes this creates an only "on the surface" impression that one can fall away? In my opinion, regardless of what Wallace says he believes, it still doesn't seem to specifically address any of the arguments quoted from Robert Shank in the actual article, and so I guess it's interesting but I still don't see the direct relevance.

A second comment I did not really understand the point of was: "BTW, it does appear that a better reading of verse 6 would be 'and have fallen away.'"
-now subtracting the "then" is fine of course, but I'm just really curious what relevance you thought this had to the issue, since you brought it up? I hadn't before seen any there myself.


Ben, thanks for the information on my question. I'll be sure to go check it out, it looks like some exciting reading. Also I think it would be great, since it came up, if in your next part on Hebrews article focusing on chapter ten, you could spend some more time in chapter three more thoroughly directly drawing out all the numerous parallels between the writer's warning and the events at Meribah. (c.f. "Just as"3:7/"take care brethren"3:12; Christian's unbelieving3:12/Israelites unbelieving3:19; 3:8/3:13; 3:6/3:14; etc.) Only if you think it would help of course.

God bless

maritus imperfectus said...

Interesting post. While I don’t agree with the conclusion, I appreciate the effort to remain true to the text and deal with it in context.

Rather than play “Yeah, well what about this verse . . .,” which seems to happen often when the Calvin side of the family and the Arminius side of the family get together, I would like to ask a couple of questions. Please note that these questions are ones that I had upon reading the article, and DO NOT read anything into the questions, please. Feel free to give short, concise answers.

1. Is it fair to say that both families of theology would say the Elect will persevere until the end (regardless of the basis for election)? If so, would it be safe to say that Hebrews is, therefore, not talking about the elect?

2. How does one reconcile this Hebrews passage with others that talk of perseverance? As I said earlier, I am not going to play the What About game, but I would like to know if this verse is interpreted in light of the other verses, or if the others are interpreted in light of this one.

3. Would it be fair to characterize your position that even though we have been born again, made a new creation, given a new heart, are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, adopted as heirs and children of God, set free from the bondage of sin, and have Christ interceding on our behalf, that we can overcome His intercession, enslave ourselves, become unadopted, overcome the sanctification already done, throw out our new heart, become unborn again, give up our new creation, become unjustified, and separate ourselves from the love of Christ? (This is where not reading into the question must come into play – not trying to start words, but truly trying to parse through things)

4. Does anyone else find it odd that we tend to think that those of a different theological position allow their judgment to be clouded or read their presuppositions into the text, but we ourselves claim not to? FYI – the present author is guilty of the same arguments, so please don’t think this is a slam. I am merely observing our behavior this side of heaven.

5. Since I have yet to come across an explanation of this, I will throw it out to you: What happens to man’s free will in heaven? From an Arminian perspective, will man persevere throughout eternity? (Yes, I am truly asking without trying to be sarcastic)

Thank you for challenging me with your views and blog posts.

the truth shall set you free said...

Much better read

J.C. Thibodaux said...

Much better read

It is if you're looking for a laugh anyway. Hays' ridiculous semantic dance around the passages doesn't even begin to address why renewing someone to 'repentance' would even be relevant if it weren't true repentance.

Robert said...

Here are some answers to Maritus’ questions. Unfortunately, I probably won’t make anyone happy with these! :-)

”1. Is it fair to say that both families of theology would say the Elect will persevere until the end (regardless of the basis for election)? If so, would it be safe to say that Hebrews is, therefore, not talking about the elect?”

I believe that genuine believers will persevere to the end, but I am not calvinist. I also believe that the warning passages contrary to the calvinists are not hypothetical warnings and/or warnings not directed to believers, but are actual warnings to actual believers/elect.
And underlying assumption held my many calvinists and Arminians, which I do not hold is that the warning is a warning of eternal destruction (i.e., if you do not heed the warnings then you are going to hell). What if the warnings refer to what the NT in other places calls the “sin unto death” or what sometimes happens when believers are involved in serious sin (e.g., the Corinthians messing up communion and being sick and dead because of it)? If that were true, the warnings could be to true believers, it would not be talking about loss of salvation, but loss of your life (say when the destruction of Jerusalem came in 70 AD. And the temple was destroyed and many were killed).

"2. How does one reconcile this Hebrews passage with others that talk of perseverance? As I said earlier, I am not going to play the What About game, but I would like to know if this verse is interpreted in light of the other verses, or if the others are interpreted in light of this one."

If my view is correct then the other passages do talk about what is called eternal security, that true believers will not lose their salvation. I do not interpret either set of verses in light of the other set (i.e., the assurance of perseverance passages talk about eternal security; the warning passages talk about destruction of believers in this life for not repenting of serious sin/going back to Old Covenant worship practices and so renouncing Christ and the New Covenant).

"3. Would it be fair to characterize your position that even though we have been born again, made a new creation, given a new heart, are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, adopted as heirs and children of God, set free from the bondage of sin, and have Christ interceding on our behalf, that we can overcome His intercession, enslave ourselves, become unadopted, overcome the sanctification already done, throw out our new heart, become unborn again, give up our new creation, become unjustified, and separate ourselves from the love of Christ? (This is where not reading into the question must come into play – not trying to start words, but truly trying to parse through things)."

Since I do not believe that you can lose your salvation, I do not believe that a true believer can overcome the intercession of Christ, re-enslave himself to sin, become un-adopted, ect. Etc.

"4. Does anyone else find it odd that we tend to think that those of a different theological position allow their judgment to be clouded or read their presuppositions into the text, but we ourselves claim not to? FYI – the present author is guilty of the same arguments, so please don’t think this is a slam. I am merely observing our behavior this side of heaven."

With the position that I have, it seems to me that one group errs in claiming the people warned in Hebrews are not true believers (though the texts give rather clear indications of them being believers) and the other group errs by taking the destruction of the believers warned about in Hebrews to be eternal destruction rather than being taken out of this life because of unrepentant and serious sin and God’s discipline of His own. Seems to me that both of the sides allow their judgment to be clouded on the Hebrews passages.

"5. Since I have yet to come across an explanation of this, I will throw it out to you: What happens to man’s free will in heaven? From an Arminian perspective, will man persevere throughout eternity? (Yes, I am truly asking without trying to be sarcastic)."

If free will means that you have the capacity to choose from among various alternative possibilities and also that those possibilities are accessible. In order to be incapable of sinning all that would be required is to be a person whose available and accessible alternatives from which to choose are all good alternatives, none of them are sinful alternatives. Seems to me that the eternal state will be that place as sin and its effects will be completely eliminated and replaced by a place where righteousness reigns.

A simple analogy: you go to a restaurant and the waiter gives you a menu that includes both sea food dishes as well as steak and chicken dishes. So you have a choice between sea food, steak, or chicken dishes. Say at another restaurant a waiter gives you a menu that only includes different kinds of chicken dishes. Now you retain your free will as you are able to choose from alternative possibilities of chicken and the choice is up to you. But now you cannot choose steak or chicken dishes, those alternatives are unavailable to you and so you cannot choose them (but not choosing them does not mean that you no longer have any choices available to you). Steak and chicken are outside your range of possibilities/alternatives and choices.

In heaven we will retain the capacity to make choices and we will have different alternatives, but none of them will involve sin. So we will have free will and be incapable of sin. As we are not told a lot about the nature of Heaven I believe that what I am suggesting or something like it will be true. Do you believe that God can create an environment in which various alternative possibilities are present and yet we are incapable of sin? (in the garden of Eden Adam was told that he could choose any of the trees in the garden except for one: so any choice except for one would have been freely chosen and not involved sin; now imagine the garden but without the one exception then Adam would have the capacity for different choices none of which would be sin; and Revelation seems to indicate that in the final state even that tree will be an available and non-sinful possibility!).

Robert

Magnus said...

Jay,

I am not the best at communicating in a coherent manner, so I am not surprised that you would be confused. Let me try to clarify what I meant, if that is possible.

I first must admit that I did not know that Wallace was a Calvinist. I usually do not check into a person’s theology or anything like that unless it is painfully obvious that they are not being true to the text. What I do know of him is that his book on Greek grammar is used by a majority of schools and individuals in learning Greek.

My point of showing what the Greek says was to highlight that we are clearly talking of at least two different groups and it seems that Shanks agrees to this point as well. Seeing that it is discussing at least two sets of people I have to try and see if I can get a clearer picture of how they differentiate. This is where the article discussing the OT comes in. I had not seen it put forth with so much detail before, but it does a great job of harmonizing the text. I have to ask how these verses relate not only in this letter, but also with the rest of Scripture. I believe that this interpretation does the best of all the ones that I have seen of putting everything in context, to me at least, the author did a great job of showing how the OT plays a key and pivotal role in this letter. Notice with this view there is no hypothetical group; this is a real group that has fallen away. This leads me to the BTW comment that perhaps was not as clear as it could have been. What I was trying to say there is that I agree with Ben on how to view that verse. It should not be “if”, it would be better translated as ‘and have fallen away’. Seeing how the OT plays such a key and pivotal role in this letter to the Hebrews I did not see you or Ben or Shanks address the implications of that in any meaningful way. To me this makes sense and the idea that comes to my mind when reading it are ideas such as not all Israel is “true” Israel and “look at all these great things we have done in your name Lord” only to hear “depart from me for I never knew you.” It appears that what we have here is one scholar pitted against another scholar, in the end we will agree with what we think the text says to us.


All I want is to know the way to heaven and what my Lord wants and expects of me. I know that if it were up to me I would lose my salvation several times a day/week. The thing that I cling to though is that He holds on to me, the times that I kick and scream and want him to leave, He holds on to me, when I am going through some of the darkest hours/days/weeks and my faith is all but gone, He holds on to me. This is my hope and this is what I cling too with all that I am. What I hear the Calvinist say is that if one falls away they have shown their true colors and the Arminian say that they were true born again believers that gave up their salvation, both sides though agree that only true believers will persevere till the end. Rather than argue or list scholars that favor our side, let us rejoice and encourage one another to “persevere” till the end. Usually what I see happening, especially on the internet, is people get all worked up and start acting all foolish. That is usually when I check out of the discussion, because I have never seen it bear any good fruit. It may puff up some individuals and each side will claim victory, but I want to know how best to glorify the Lord here and now.

I hope that I have clarified it enough to make some sense.

Jay said...

Hey that was great Mangus, thanks heaps brother for clearing up all those questions. I think you did make sense :)

I am new to the whole blogging scene but I would consider "arguing", in its dispassionately pure sense, to be an integral part of the nature of a blog such as this one. I understand you were talking about getting all worked up and an acting silly type of arguing though, and I'd have to agree, that sort ought to have no place.

I also think you make a good point about an attitude which is concerned with just listing scholars who simply support one's side; to specify though, I would see it entirely healthy to cite the argumentation of any scholar, so far as it has direct relevance to the discussion, as I'm sure you'd agree.

In other words, my novice impression that comes from the structured nature of a blog like this would persuade me that it is a place where Christians are very much encouraged to healthily argue, be encouraged and share encouragement, openly and thoroughly discuss, and inquire on these various topics.

I hope it might continue in that vein.

I was prompted with one generally directed question from the comments which do not fully understand, but I think Ben that he was going to address it more in his series:

Within the deterministic framework of Calvinistic theology, what is the exact nature or purpose of "encouragement to persevere" to the elect for whom it is absolutely impossible to do any but persevere; and secondarily what relevance might that "encouragement to persevere" have on a non-elect person hearing the words who only sincerely thinks they are a Christian, for whom it is absolutely impossible to persevere.

I honestly am not aware so I was hoping someone on this blog could please tell me what the typical answer would be from the Calvinistic system on this (if there is a typical one)?

God bless you and keep you

maritus imperfectus said...

Robert: Thanks for the interaction with my questions. Interesting take on Hebrews.

Jay said,"Within the deterministic framework of Calvinistic theology, what is the exact nature or purpose of "encouragement to persevere" to the elect for whom it is absolutely impossible to do any but persevere; and secondarily what relevance might that "encouragement to persevere" have on a non-elect person hearing the words who only sincerely thinks they are a Christian, for whom it is absolutely impossible to persevere."

Let me take a stab at it. Please note that I make no claims to be a theologian, nor do I speak for anyone other than myself.

First, let me note that both theological systems are deterministic. Calvinists would be deterministic from the point that God has chosen his people based on his will, Arminians would be deterministic from the point that God has chose his people based on foreseeing their acceptance of the Gospel. Either way, the choice has been made (determined)of who will be saved (i.e. the elect) and that number will not change - unless you advocate some type of open theistic view, which I have not seen a hint of here.

Second, the encouragement to persevere, in my opinion, is tied to other scripture (James comes to mind) that true faith is verified by works. Remember, the elect don't receive a certificate in the mail saying "Hey, you're elect," so "encouragement to persevere" is to help us check our hearts and not malign the name of Christ by forgetting that our actions reflect the new heart we have been given.

The encouragement is also to help persevere through trials and persecution, so that we remember this life is a vapor and a reward awaits.

Third, since no one gets a certificate (until we get the crown of life), the relvance to the non-elect is moot. The non-elect will perish because man is without excuse. The encouragements just highlight more of the reasons man is without excuse.

Well, now that I've opened my big mouth, I am sure someone will give me a reason to stick my foot in it.

Perhaps one day, on the other side of eternity, the Lord will allow us to all sit down together and laugh about our finite understanding of an infinite God!

kangaroodort said...

There is a ton to respond to here and, unfortunately, I really don't have the time to get into lengthy discussions.

Let me first address MI's questions to the best of my ability as I certainly have a different take on them than Robert.

1. Is it fair to say that both families of theology would say the Elect will persevere until the end (regardless of the basis for election)? If so, would it be safe to say that Hebrews is, therefore, not talking about the elect?

Right now I am more persuaded that Biblical election (in both the OT and NT) is primarily corporate in nature. The "elect" are the "elect body of Christ". Christ is primarily the "elect One", and all those who come to be in Him through faith are the elect body. There is much more that could be said about this, but I just want to skip to how this relates to your question.

I believe that one is "elect" only for as long as they are in union with Christ. That union is conditioned on faith. The elect body of believers (corporately) is unconditionally predestined to adoption and conformity with the image of Christ. They are on their way to glory. However, individually we are only a part of that elect body so long as we remain in faith union with Christ. Therefore, in this view, one could conceivably be truly "elect" and subsequently forfeit that election by being removed from that elect body (e.g. John 15:1-6, cf., Rom. 11:16-24).

2. How does one reconcile this Hebrews passage with others that talk of perseverance? As I said earlier, I am not going to play the What About game, but I would like to know if this verse is interpreted in light of the other verses, or if the others are interpreted in light of this one.

I believe the Hebrews passages speak quite a bit on the nature of perseverance, in that it is conditioned on faith. As for passages which some may think teach unconditional eternal security, I think that careful exegesis will not bear this out. I intend to address the primary texts that eternal security proponents generally point to when I finish up on Hebrews. We could interact more on that then if you like. I will also say that I think Roberts solution is problematic. Physical death alone does not fit the context of most of these warnings IMO. I might delve into that a little more in a future post as well.

3. Would it be fair to characterize your position that even though we have been born again, made a new creation, given a new heart, are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, adopted as heirs and children of God, set free from the bondage of sin, and have Christ interceding on our behalf, that we can overcome His intercession, enslave ourselves, become unadopted, overcome the sanctification already done, throw out our new heart, become unborn again, give up our new creation, become unjustified, and separate ourselves from the love of Christ? (This is where not reading into the question must come into play – not trying to start words, but truly trying to parse through things)

I am not sure I would agree with the way you have framed some of this. For instance, I don't think one can become "unborn". That doesn't make any sense. However, there is no reason to believe that one who has been given spiritual life (i.e., been born again) can yet die spiritually. That would be a much more natural way of putting it. We could also say that one who was adopted into the elect body and family of God could still be “cut off” or “disowned” (e.g. Matt. 10:33). It should also be noted that the unfaithful Israelites of whom was the “adoption” (Rom. 9:4) were “broken off” from that family through unbelief (Rom. 11:20).

I believe that all spiritual blessings are in Christ Jesus and that we come to be in Him and remain in Him through faith. If we fail to remain, the Father Himself will cut us out and we will be broken off from the elect body. I believe the Bible is quite clear that we can make shipwreck of our faith. I believe that Christ’s intercession is necessary for perseverance but do not believe that his intercession makes our perseverance necessary (i.e. inevitable). I think it strange that in Calvinism, one would need Christ’s intercession at all.

4. Does anyone else find it odd that we tend to think that those of a different theological position allow their judgment to be clouded or read their presuppositions into the text, but we ourselves claim not to? FYI – the present author is guilty of the same arguments, so please don’t think this is a slam. I am merely observing our behavior this side of heaven.

From a Calvinist perspective it shouldn't be odd at all; it is just the way God ordained that things should be :)

However, if we need to rely on the Spirit to guide us in our understanding of Scripture and we can resist that guidance (as in Arminianism), then it shouldn't surprise us that some tend to work very hard to get Scripture to say what they want it to say, etc.

5. Since I have yet to come across an explanation of this, I will throw it out to you: What happens to man’s free will in heaven? From an Arminian perspective, will man persevere throughout eternity? (Yes, I am truly asking without trying to be sarcastic)

That is a good question. I am not entirely comfortable with Robert's explanation since I think Satan's rebellion is hard to understand in that light. He was perfect and had no known source of temptation, and yet he was somehow able to allow pride to develop in hi heart and separate him from God.

This may well be one of those mysteries that we will need to accept, but I think I have a solution that at least suits me.

I believe that God can both keep us from sinning in the new Kingdom, and preserve our free will. The way I see it is that the believer on earth desires to be conformed to the image of Christ. He or she daily struggles against sin and longs to be made holy. That is the believers will. So, when God makes the glorified saint incorruptible, He will not be violating his or her free will, but rather perfectly fulfilling it.

Hope that helps some.

kangaroodort said...

Magnus,

Just a couple quick thoughts:

I promise to address the OT concerns in my next post. As far as Wallace, his Greek Grammar is well respected, but that does not mean he is infallible. I know some NT scholars who disagree with Wallace in certain areas. That being said, his comments regarding security and apostasy passages are interpretive. The Greek grammar by itself cannot determine the issue one way or the other. Context must always have the final word there.

I also addressed the "hypothetical" view here if you are interested:

http://arminianperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/11/perseverance-of-saints-part-4-again.html

And J.C. does a fine job with it here:

http://arminianperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/12/truth-and-consequences.html

It should also be mentioned that many Calvinist scholars (Grudem included) find the "hypothetical" approach exegetically indefensible. That doesn't mean it isn't possible, but I think the majority of scholarship recognizes it as a rather weak way of dealing with these passages.

God Bless,
Ben

Robert said...

Hello Ben,

In answer to the question about free will in heaven you wrote:

“That is a good question. I am not entirely comfortable with Robert's explanation since I think Satan's rebellion is hard to understand in that light. He was perfect and had no known source of temptation, and yet he was somehow able to allow pride to develop in hi heart and separate him from God.

This may well be one of those mysteries that we will need to accept, but I think I have a solution that at least suits me.”

I have a theory on the fall of Satan as well, if you want to hear it I will share it, if you ask. But sticking solely to the free will in heaven issue you also wrote:

“I believe that God can both keep us from sinning in the new Kingdom, and preserve our free will. The way I see it is that the believer on earth desires to be conformed to the image of Christ. He or she daily struggles against sin and longs to be made holy. That is the believers will. So, when God makes the glorified saint incorruptible, He will not be violating his or her free will, but rather perfectly fulfilling it.”

I agree with you in your statements here. I was emphasizing the point that one could have multiple available accessible alternatives from which one could choose and if none of the alternatives is sinful then one would be incapable of sin. And I believe this will be true in heaven. Ben you make the additional point that God will perfect saints in Heaven: “So, when God makes the glorified saint incorruptible”. This is a good point with which I agree. I would ask the question: most Christians that I know have no difficulty believing that when we are glorified our bodies will be perfected and so will never decay or die in that perfected condition, so why isn’t this point about being perfected in the body also going to be true of the will and the mind, the immaterial aspects of a person? Seems to me that God will perfect us both in body and soul (which includes the mind and the will). So if you believe that the body will be perfected when we are glorified, it stands to reason that you also will believe that the soul/mind/will, will also be perfected when we are glorified.

I was focusing on the aspect of having choices and free will and not sinning. Ben is focusing more on the consequences of us being glorified. It is not an either/or, but a both/and situation. I believe that what I say about choices is true and I also believe that what Ben says about being gloried is also true.

Ben’s further point that: “He will not be violating his or her free will, but rather perfectly fulfilling it.” Is also true. Our free will is not taken away when we are perfected, just as our physicality is not eliminated when our body is perfected/glorified (and just as Jesus was perfect and had free will and also never sinned; what was true of Jesus will be true of us when we are perfectly conformed to his image someday). The bible in Romans 8 also speaks of God’s will for all believers being that we be conformed to the image of Christ. While this process begins in this life (as is also true of our sanctification) it will be completed, made perfect, when we are glorified (as is also true of our sanctification).

Robert

Magnus said...

Ben,

I will look forward to your take on these hotly debated passages. I am a bit confused on the "hypothetical" view; I was unaware that I wrote that I viewed it as "hypothetical". Of course I could be mistaken and this just is another case of me not being clear, perhaps you could point me to where I argue for a "hypothetical" understanding of these verses.

Also, I see your point about Wallace. I gave the whole quote to show the grammar part not the "on the surface" part. The reason it was emphasized is only because that is how it was written in the book. I tried to show/say that I take this along with the OT view and understand this to not be speaking of “truly” born again individuals.

BTW, when do you think one is born of incorruptible seed? I struggle myself with the whole born again and falling away. Let us take an example, a person is born again and then falls away, do they die spiritually at that moment? Would they then on the day of judgment be brought back to life spiritually and sentenced to eternal damnation? Perhaps I am making more of it then I need to, I do tend to do that. I wonder if faith is completely in our control.

Ben, how does one lose their salvation in your view? Would it just be willful renouncing of ones faith or could it be for a less severe transgression? Can it be by just continuous sinning and failing to repent? Of course if that is the case and if you do feel that one that stays in continuous sin can lose their salvation then how do we know that they were truly saved? Are we not told that if you are born again you cannot continually sin? Perhaps you hold to just a sin rather than continuously sinning, if that be true then I am lost.

kangaroodort said...

Magnus,

I have got to get going but I will quickly address your question about the hypothetical view. That was a mistake on my part. I was remebering the following comment you made...

BTW,I have recently been told of another theory about Hebrews and that is that this is not talking of loss of salvation, but loss of reward.

...and without looking back thought you had mentioned the hypothetical view. The comments I made regarding the hypothetical view hold true for the view that only loss of rewards is in view as well. Grudem, likwise rejects this view as indefensible.

Sorry for the confusion. My fault entirely.

Later,
Ben

kangaroodort said...

Magnus,

Also, just to further show how mixed up I am, the link I left (on 2 Peter) when speaking about the hypothetical view was actually the right one for the "rewards view". The post that deals a little with the hypothetical view (if you are interested) is the one on Rom. 11 below:

http://arminianperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/10/perseverance-of-saints-part-3-ancient.html

Hope that lessons any confusion rather than further adding to it.

As far as your questions regarding what causes a loss of salvation, here are two very good off site articles that I feel give a helpful and Biblically solid perspective:

http://www.geocities.com/bobesay/deliberate.html

http://www.geocities.com/bobesay/accidentalblasph.html

God Bless,
Ben

omakase said...

http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2008/02/christian-apostasy-and-hebrews-6.html

witherington posted something today concerning this.

rex said...

Hi, great post ^_^

I assume youre going to also post about:

Calvinists interpretation of the lone verse 1 John 2:19 to teach the Never Saved in The First Place doctrine?

Hope you include this in your series.

Godbless you.