The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Heb 3:17-4:16

This is part of my Exegetical Compilation series, which I am verrrrryyy sllowwwllly posting up here.

By request of [tag]Alex Smith[/tag].

Heb 3:7 - 4:16: this section is often cited as evidence that some sinners, punished and slain by God, shall never be saved from their sins, for according to many translations they shall never be entering God’s rest.

To some extent, the interpretation of this part depends on interpretations of other parts of the epistle: if other parts (as they do) indicate God’s punishments are always hopeful and shall certainly succeed in their object of bringing the one who is disciplined back into fellowship with God, then these can be no exception and the statement about not entering into rest must apply either to a temporary punishment, or to a permanent loss of some reward but not loss of salvation from sin.

As with many (or all?) such warnings in EpistHeb, this is aimed directly at whatever Christian congregation the author is writing to. In this case, don’t be like those people, or you’ll be punished the same way.

If the punishment being talked about here is hopeless, then this throws a wrench into the Calv gospel assurance of salvation for whomever God intends to save from sin – an assurance Universalists promote just as much – and also a wrench into the softer assurance promoted by many Arminians that once someone has convinced God to save them from sin He’ll remain convinced and not change His mind or be defeated (by the sinner or by other sinners) later. This is a main reason why hardcore Arms stress this epistle so strongly: they see clearly enough that real Christians are being warned, not fake converts, whether Calv non-elect or otherwise. (In fact there is no point warning the Calv non-elect to shape up or else: their version of the non-elect have never had any ability or even any hope of ever doing good in the first place, by God’s choice.) And since the hardcore Arminians regard (most of) the punishments in EpistHeb as hopeless (not the blatantly hopeful ones in most of chapter 12 of course), then they infer that anyone right up until the last minute of life can lose or forfeit their salvation from sin. There is no guarantee God will bring anyone through at all! – other than a generalized promise that God does finally save some sinners from sin (who knows, maybe even you, though statistically speaking probably not), and an expectation that some people from the Bible have certainly been saved. Which by the way is an important detail we’ll be getting back to.

And yet, smack in the middle of what appears to be a long, detailed warning that no one can be sure God will ever save them from sin, so “therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it,” (4:1) comes the promise of 4:3: “For (or in some manuscripts ‘therefore’) we who have believed, enter that rest, just as He has said, ‘As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest’, although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

It even looks like the assurance of entering into God’s rest, an assurance connected with God originally finishing His saving work, is compared to the assurance that others did not and won’t enter into God’s rest! – which is directly connected to the warning not to fall away and so be lost, which looks like a strong denial of any such assurance of salvation!

In one way, this looping puzzle of statements can be cleared up if the punishment isn’t hopeless: the assurance of salvation from sin remains, but what is lost is salvation from punishment.

That’s reasonably straightforward enough, except that this would seem to require some distinction between types of salvation, with one (salvation from sin into righteousness) still being assured (whether only for those God originally elected, or only for those who convince God to elect them, or for everyone eventually); and the other (salvation from punishment) not being assured. But instead it’s all about “entering into God’s rest”, which looks like one kind of salvation, not like two kinds.

Now at the very least, Arminians and Calvinists (and their Catholic predecessors) should be able to agree with Universalists that the Hebraist does talk at least once in some detail about hopefully remedial punishment from God on people He intends to save from their sins and whom He hasn’t given up on (at least yet), and hasn’t been defeated (at least yet) in His intentions to save them. That’s in the first half of chapter 12. So the idea of losing one’s salvation from punishment yet not (at least yet) one’s salvation from sin, isn’t foreign to what the Hebraist is teaching. The question is whether he’s talking about that here, or not. It’s even technically possible he could be talking about hopeful (though still scary and severe) punishment elsewhere, yet talking about hopeless punishment here; so unless we solidly find from elsewhere that God never hopelessly punishes people, we can’t in fairness simply point to evidence of hopeful punishment per se and say therefore this is hopeful, too. The obvious example being what I just said: practically all non-universalists everywhere acknowledge hopeful punishment in the first half of chapter 12, yet still think this is talking about hopeless punishment.

By the same token the other way around, even if hopeless punishment is solidly and decisively testified elsewhere, this could turn out to be hopeful punishment after all, and that wouldn’t count against those other scriptures testifying to hopeless punishment.

Still, again to be fair to non-universalists of any type, since hopeful and hopeless punishment aren’t mutually exclusive in themselves so that only one kind can exist, every other scriptural testimony (including here in the Epistle to the Hebrews) could be about hopeful punishment from God, and yet in theory this could be the one solid and decisive testimony in favor of hopeless punishment.

Yet, all Christians, and even all non-Christian Jews, should already know from the most obvious possible example, that whatever it meant, or means today (for as long as it is called “Today”?), for those who rebelled in the wilderness wandering not to enter into God’s rest, symbolized by not entering into the promised land, it cannot possibly refer necessarily to a one hundred percent hopeless punishment.

Because Moses shared that punishment.

He rebelled, too. And he didn’t enter into the promised land.

As far as entering into the promised land, or not, stands as a metaphor for entering into God’s rest, Moses didn’t enter into God’s rest.

And no Christian (or Jew) anywhere, at any time, thinks Moses has lost his salvation, or worse was one of the non-elect whom God never even intended (much less ever acted) to save. To say the very least, Moses certainly didn’t look very permanently damned when visiting Christ on Mount Hermon at the Transfiguration! (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36.)

Well, maybe Moses, and Miriam, and Aaron, and Moses’ wife and family, etc. etc., were special case exceptions, and the Hebraist was talking about the general majority result, using them as the example.

Even if that’s true, they still stand as definitive evidence that whatever the Hebraist is talking about is not in itself an ironclad hopeless punishment.

So, having approached the topic from several preliminary ways: what is the Hebraist saying and talking about?

To start with, in Greek it doesn’t say “they shall never enter into My rest”.

Instead, it’s a qualified rhetorical exclamation: “If they shall be entering into My stopping–!” The end, period.

Now, that could be read as an unstated hyperbolic exclusion: if they ever do enter into His rest, then… something-something-unmentionable, which since that unmentionable-whatever isn’t going to happen, neither will them entering into God’s rest. “I’ll be damned if they’ll be entering into My resting!” or something of that sort.

However, whenever this phrasing is used elsewhere in the New Testament (though that isn’t often), it isn’t used as a hypothetical hyperbole. It’s always predictive.

One example is GosJohn 6:62, the day after the feeding of the five thousand, and after Jesus’ own disciples are having trouble digesting (so to speak) His numerous statements about “munching” His flesh. He replies with, “This is snaring you? If you should be beholding the Son of Man ascending where He was formerly–!” And then having stopped there without finishing the sentence, Jesus goes on to explain what He meant (sort of) in whole sentences.

But in His exclamation He was making a predictive comparison: if you are doing this now, what will you do when this occurs?

The point is lost if the event never happens!

Jesus says something similar almost a year later, shortly after the feeding of the four thousand. Having sailed down Lake Galilee to the region of Dalmanutha (apparently near where the Romans would slaughter many Jewish patriots, turning the waters red with blood), the Pharisees and Sadducees come out to discuss things with Him (interfering with the disciples’ attempts to restock with supplies), testing Him, and inquiring to have Him show them a sign out of heaven to prove that God agrees with His claims and His teaching.

But sighing in His spirit, He answers them saying, “Why is this generation seeking for a sign!? Truly I tell you, if there shall be given to this generation a sign – ! A wicked an adulterous generation is seeking for a sign; but a sign will not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah.” Mark reports the first part (GosMark 8:12); Matthew reports the second part (GosMatt 16:4).

Of course, it’s possible that one or both Gospel authors, or their source(s), have rephrased one way or the other, and Jesus didn’t say both things, but both things are equivalent in meaning and so equally represent what Jesus did say (probably in Aramaic). Either way, the phrase predicts a sign will in fact be given, just like Jesus’ stumbling disciples will in fact see Him ascending where He came from (even though that doesn’t happen in GosJohn’s narrative.) Jesus might (and probably does) mean, “You’re asking for a sign, but even if I give you one you still won’t believe. In fact you’re going to get one, and you still won’t believe.” He certainly complains elsewhere along this line, both in GosJohn and in the Synoptics! Anyway, Jesus can hardly be swearing they won’t get a sign, just like Jesus can hardly be swearing His disciples won’t see Him ascending where He came from.

There is a subtly but crucially different form, which Jesus uses during the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem (GosLuke 19:41-44), when He approaches the city and weeps over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace – ! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” And as a result the city will be destroyed by armies someday.

The obvious difference is that this is a past incomplete hypothetical, not a future incomplete. If they had known (in the sense of intimately accepting, like in conjugal union) what made for peace, things might have been different, but they didn’t, so they’ll have a disastrous war instead as punishment from God. Even then, in a similar “O Jerusalem” lament a few days later, Jesus prophecies that they will accept Him eventually and, like those they mocked, give Him the blessing of Him Who comes in the name of the Lord, even though He and they reject each other now, as He leaves the Temple. (GosMatt 23:37-39. See comments on that scripture.) So they will eventually intimately accept what makes for peace, in contrast to their rejection now. But admittedly the incomplete hypothetical here isn’t predicting the hypothetical: it couldn’t, it’s talking about a past not a future hypothetical. And how the Hebraist quotes Psalm 95:11 throughout this section of EpistHeb, takes the form of a future hypothetical, not a past one.

Now, does the fact that other future hypotheticals in the New Testament end up coming true after all, necessarily mean this future hypothetical will end up coming true? No, not necessarily; but it’s an interesting comparison which shows that the language in the original Greek isn’t as iron-nailed shut as English translations tend to make it appear!

If, as here, a negative is being contrasted with a hypothetical positive, the negative would have to change to unlock the hypothetical positive.

In this case, the negative is rebellion: hardening our heart, going astray in our heart, not intimately accepting (“knowing”) God’s ways. And remember, the Hebraist is warning you and me, the Christians reading the epistle, the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of His hand (as the Psalmist puts it)! A little more specifically, perhaps this means rejecting what the Psalmist started his psalm praising: that God, Who creates and sustains all things (even the sea, which in Jewish poetic imagery tends to stand for the prison of rebel angels), is the rock of our salvation! – which ought to be a symbol of assurance, that God can and will competently save whomever He intends to save (just as Calvinists also agree, not incidentally). And yet the Psalmist warns, as the Hebraist quotes, that we, who are the people of the rock of our salvation, should not test the Lord with our rebellions.

But if we have hardened our heart, then by God’s gracious provision, we can make our heart contrite again, or God can and will pulverize (make contrite) our heart for us!

Consequently, the Hebraist calls us to {parakaleô}, to call one another to stand beside each other, to hold firm, as partakers in Christ,
the beginning of our assurance to the end.

What assurance? Whichever or both of which gospel assurance is true, the boast of our hope (as the author puts it in 3:6): the assurance that God as the righteous rock of salvation shall certainly save from sin whomever He intends to save; the assurance that God as the righteous creator even of the sea and all that is in it, and the maker of Moses by the way (as in 3:3-4) who in his own rebellion did not enter into the rest of the promised land, intends to save all sinners from sin; or both assurances (Calv and Arm respectively) together!

Certainly, even those who entered into the promised land did not, thereby, enter into God’s rest; “For,” as the Hebraist says here (4:8), “if Jesus (or Joshua) had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.” So in fact, as the example of Moses himself also shows, the salvation of those who fell in the wilderness was not locked out, or accomplished without them.

So the call to come stand beside goes out, against which we should not harden our hearts. How long is that offer good for? For as long as it is called Today! (3:13) Not only the day of the wilderness, but also the day of the Psalmist. Not only the day of the Psalmist, but also the day of the Hebraist. (Who wrote that psalm or this epistle isn’t strictly known anymore.) Not only the day of the Hebraist, but also the Day of the Lord to come, “the sabbath rest of the people of God”. “The One Who has entered His rest, and has rested from His works, as God also did,” sends out the call to stop hardening our hearts and come beside Him!

Is the offer of salvation from punishment good for that long? No; it wasn’t for Moses, either. But if the Hebraist (and other inspired authors, and Jesus by inspired report) indicate that God’s punishment leads to repentance, salvation, and righteousness (all from God, not originating by the works of creatures, even though we’re expected to actively cooperate), then this section of the Epistle to the Hebrews still fits with that theme, even with its warning to Christians already partaking with Christ.

For (as it is written in 4:15-16, and 5:2, which the two-natures doctrine of Christ, fully man and fully God Most High agrees with) we do not have a high priest Who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who has been tempted in all things as we are, being able to deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since He Himself made Himself subject to weakness, yet without sin (unlike other high priests who had to offer sacrifice for themselves as well).

In conclusion then: the Hebraist isn’t talking about a situation where those who rebelled and died outside the promised land were then hopelessly punished, although he is warning Christians (in his day, and today, “for as long as it is called Today”, so to say) not to harden our hearts against so great a salvation (see also comments on Heb 2:1-3a), lest we fall into God’s punishment like those who fell in the wilderness. But to treat that punishment as being hopeless; or to treat God’s salvation in (and as) Jesus as only partially offered, or as only partially competent, and moreso to insist on such a weaker salvation, is to harden our own hearts: thus the warning to us, the Christian readers who are already the flock of God and partakers in Christ.

It is practically one of Jesus’ test-riddle parables from the Synoptic Gospels (according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke). How we regard those who fell in the wilderness is the crux of the test. If we regard their punishment as hopeless, ignoring the example of Moses (who is mentioned prominently in these chapters, even as leading those who came out of Egypt to fall, though the Hebraist doesn’t explicitly remind his readers he also fell and didn’t enter the promised land!), we end up in looping contradictory warnings apparently to us but not really to us, or apparently undermining the confidence of our salvation which the Hebraist goes so far to stress that he connects it to an oath from God that could but doesn’t necessarily mean those who fell in the wilderness won’t be saved; just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later, yet who fell at the end after all – unlike Jesus Who died sinless in voluntary self-sacrifice, and Who is as greater than Moses as the builder of a house is greater than the house – the builder of all things, including Moses, being {ho theos} God!

The promise to enter the rest, remains for as long as the call to come stand beside the One Who rests from His work goes out, and for as long as the call to repent of our hardness of heart goes out: for as long as it is called “Today!”

Then what shall we who partake of Christ legitimately fear? That while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of us may seem to have come short of that promise. How could we possibly come short of that promise? Not by failing at last to enter the rest ourselves, but by, in our hearts (not as a matter of mere doctrinal error) being un-caring about so great a salvation and the assurance of salvation from the beginning to the end.

That is why Calvinists properly point to these verses (even though they seem to be aimed at warning legitimately elect Christians of a punishment Calvs regard here as hopeless), not only in affirmation of the gospel assurance they promote and protect (the original and all-powerful competency of God to surely save sinners from sin), but in warning lest this assurance be denied!

That is also why Arminians, especially of the harder sort (who think anyone can lose their salvation), also point to these verses, not only in affirmation of the gospel of scope (more established elsewhere of course), but in warning lest this assurance be denied!

And that is also why Arms and Calvs have hot disputes over which assurances should be professed and not denied, in relation to these verses.

But that is also why Christian universalists should respect and acknowledge and not deny both the gospel assurances promoted and protected by our fellow Christian brothers on both sides – even though they each oppose and deny each other’s assurance (and criticize each other, sometimes hotly, for doing so.)

As always, members are invited to discuss interpretations of these verses below, and to link to discussions either here on the forum or elsewhere.

If you find my compilations helpful, feel free to tip me $5 here at Amazon, near or at the top of the list. You can tip me for multiple articles of course. (I get $2.50 of each single $5 tip.)

Thanks Jason! Yes, I think one of the keys is to note that Moses didn’t enter the rest but is definitely saved because he was at the transfiguration with Jesus.

How do you explain to an ECT believer that knows some Greek believes that there is no salvation because in Heb 3:11 enter(εισελευσονται) is a future tense verb and rest(καταπαυσιν)in Heb 3:11 translates into heaven by some people? So in the eyes of an ECT believer he/she believes that if you harden your heart now in the future you will not enter God’s rest aka heaven ever(they shall not). How does an EU believer explain that?

You mean other than how I already explain it in my main post? :confused:

Because I go into a lot of detail there.

The one detail from your question I don’t think I mention, because it didn’t seem relevant, is that {katapausin} doesn’t mean “heaven”. It means “downstopping” or “downceasing”, or even down-pausing (since the root {paus-} is where we get the English word “pause”.)

Meanwhile, Moses rebelled and didn’t enter the rest of the promised land, so your ECT friend must think Moses has definitely gone to eternal conscious torment and shall never enter heaven because of this verse, right? That’s what this verse is referring to, historically, as an example, after all.

I suppose your friend could think Moses was annihilated out of existence instead, or will be some day, rather than go to heaven, thanks to this verse. But I’m going to take a guess that your friend would be wrong about that. :wink:

Seriously of course your friend won’t think either of those things about Moses; no one anywhere does, as far as I know. Even Muslims don’t think that, as far as I know! (I’ll qualify that more tentatively because I don’t quite recall their opinion about Moses, but they’re fond of a lot of the OT major characters even though they’re Jews who descended from Isaac instead of from Ishmael, so I’m provisionally expecting they like Moses, too.)

But Moses fits the criteria being applied here. So if there was hope of Moses going to heaven after all, then this verse can’t be simply about people in final rebellion whom God is finally unable or unwilling to save from their sins.

I talk about a lot of other things in the main post, too, related to this verse. If your friend thinks this is a warning against backsliding Christians (or pre-Christian servants of God in, for example, Moses’ case), then I agree that’s true, however. Most of the damnation language in the NT, especially from Jesus, is aimed at the people He has chosen to be His own chief servants. Christians, and Jews, shouldn’t be complacent about that. Being punished for our hardheartedness in sinning, especially when we’re blithely appealing to God to save us from punishment anyway because He promised He would, until we “are neither slave nor free” (as Moses was inspired to describe it, in a section of Deuteronomy referenced by the Hebraist later when talking about rebel servants of God falling into the hands of the living God), would not be a fun experience to say the least. But God’s punishment isn’t hopeless (which is also the point of that reference to the Song of Moses later): He vindicates His rebel people after all.

In the OT the “rest” was to enter the promised land down on earth, not go to heaven up above. Have you considered the possibility the future “rest” does not refer to heaven, either, but to the millennial kingdom on earth? As in, for example:

and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priestsof God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Rev.20:4-6)

Could the “day” referred to in Hebrews 4 be the millennium age of 1000 years?

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)

Heb.4:4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; 5and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
(emphasis by NASB)

On page 11 Keizer remarks upon human history being compared to the 6 days of Genesis 1 & thought of as being 6000 years long, followed by a 7th day (the “rest”) & an 8th day or aion. She says, “This view was widespread in the early church.” … &q&f=false

Compare what the Hebrews author said earlier in the book:

Heb.1:2a in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all

Heb.1:3b When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high

Heb.2:2b every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty

Heb.2:6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?
7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:

8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put
under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.

9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by
the grace of God should taste death for every man.

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render
powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,

15 And might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

And his comments later:

Heb.10:28 A man that hath set at nought Moses’ law dieth without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: 29 of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

Stoning to death is not a very sore or longlasting punishment. People suffered far worse deaths via the torture methods of the eternal hell believing Medieval Inquisitionists and the German Nazis under Hitler.

Therefore, if the writer of Hebrews believed the wicked would be punished with something so monstrous as being endlessly annihilated or tormented, he would not have chosen to compare their punishment to something so lame as being stoned to death. Clearly he did not believe Love Omnipotent is an unfeeling terminator machine or sadist who abandons forever the beings He created in His own image & likeness so easily.

Rom 5:18 Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just act for all mankind for life’s justifying."

Rom 5:19 For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just."

The other option (or another option) is that the “rest” referred to simply speaks of God’s covenant blessing… which entailed peace and security in the land, i.e., typified in terms of the new covenant blessing of… “the peace which surpasses all understanding” as per Phil 4:7; Jn 14:27; 16:33.

As I see it this passage doesn’t require any exegesis. The writer clearly explains that about which he is writing:

The writer is setting the stage for his readers to learn how what God’s rest means to THEM and how they can enter it. He addresses his readers as “Brothers”:

He warns his readers that if they have an unbelieving heart and persist in sin, there is a major problem. They will share in Christ if only they persist in their first confidence in trusting Christ to keep delivering them from sin right to “the end.” We may differ as to what we thing this “end” might be. I think it simply refers to the end of their lives.

The writer clearly says that those whom Moses led out of Egypt rebelled, and that God was provoked with them during that 40 years of wandering in the desert. And God swore that none of these disobedient Hebrews would enter His rest. What was God’s rest? The promised land—the land that God has promised for the Hebrews that came out of Egypt.

Here the writer states that the promise of entering God’s rest “still stands,” that is, the Hebrews to whom he is writing can enjoy the ramifications of that promise and enter God’s rest themselves. Since those to whom the promise was originally given failed to enter God’s rest due to disobedience which arose from “unbelief” that is, “lack of trust.” So the promise remained open—right to the Hebrew writer’s day. It was still open for his reader to enter that rest, if they would only meet the conditions—trust in God to overcome wrongdoing, and obedience to God. But wait a minute! The preterists of the day had a different solution. Didn’t some enter the promise land later under the leadership of Joshua? So wasn’t the promise of entering God’s rest fulfilled then? But the writer has the answer to that!

So here is the writer’s conclusion. He explains what God’s rest means for his readers, and how to enter that rest:

The promise of the Sabbath rest remains for the people of God, for those Hebrews whom the writer is addressing. It was necessary for them to STRIVE to enter that rest. Strive to rest? At first that sounds like a contradiction. But it’s not. It’s one of those paradoxes that exist in many aspects of Christianity. They must trust in Christ to deliver them from wrongdoing, and yet coöperate with Christ’s enabling grace. This coöperation requires an effort, a striving. An ongoing obedience is necessary. Then they will have rest at last! Rest from what? Rest from wrongdoing—from sin that is destroying them. They must not wander in the wilderness of Sin and fail to enter God’s rest!

As I see it, that rest STILL remains for the people of God even in OUR day! And on the same terms as that which the writer to the Hebrews made known to his readers.

{proceeds to exegete the passage} :unamused:

No major disagreements, just thought that was funny.