The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Hebrews 6

This is part of my Exegetical Commentary series which I’m sllloowwwlly posting up here.

Hebrews 6: non-universalists, especially the harder core Arminians (for reasons which will be soon seen), appeal to several verses in the first half of this chapter, not only as evidence of hopeless punishment, but even (putting together verses 1 and 3) as evidence that {krimatos aiôniou}, eonian judgment, is one of the foundations of the original things of Christ. (The grammatic form looks a little different than usual because it’s in genitive form. The more specific translation would be “the foundation… of eonian judgment”.)

This does certainly mean that a right understanding of eonian judgment is a proper rudiment of Christianity, along with things like faith in God, repentance from dead works, the resurrection of the dead ones, baptismal teaching, and the laying-on of hands (all listed along with eonian judgment).

The Hebraist goes on as a somewhat parenthetical aside (though necessarily related to other teaching of his elsewhere in the epistle), that he will try to bring his readers on to mature teaching, if God permits, but he can think of something which would get in the way of that, even though he is persuaded that he need not worry about such things regarding his beloved congregation or readers (v.9) even though he’s going to talk about this potential bar to maturity for a minute.

Only those who repent (from dead works, presumably, per v.1) can be brought on to maturity. But is there something which can hinder us continuing to repent from dead works? Yes: crucifying to ourselves the Son of God again and holding Him up to infamy. More literally, that last phrase means making a display of Him on the cross; which isn’t about honoring that sacrifice with a crucifix representation, but is combined with the idea of crucifying Him to ourselves, as though we are Pilate or the Emperor executing a rebel in the most shameful fashion. Obviously if someone renounces Christ like that, they can hardly be progressing on to more mature doctrines! And such a renouncing is even worse if they have already been enlightened, and have been tasting the freely given gift of the heavenly one, and have even been becoming partakers of the Holy Spirit and tasting the best declaration of God.

Yet even such a person who has been partaking of the Holy Spirit already, and even doing miracles with the powers of the coming age, can fall to the side, and renounce Christ as a rebel deserving a cursed death, holding Him up for scorn. Similarly (as the Hebraist continues), land which has been drinking the rain coming upon it, but which starts bringing forth thorns and thistles (even if it has been previously bringing forth crops fit for those for whom the field is being farmed), is disqualified (the passing test is taken back, {adokimos}), and near a curse of which the completion or finishing will be burning.

Near the curse of burning, not quite there yet. Repentance can still happen, but naturally it cannot happen while the person is still crucifying the Son of God to himself: it’s a presently ongoing action.

St. Peter is the obvious example, a man who briefly went so far as to curse himself in denying Christ and holding Him up to infamy! – but he quickly repented (as did the other disciples and apostles, even the suicidal Iscariot in a way) and after the infamy was done, Christ sought and reconciled him.

So far, then, there is a punishment coming even to those who have been cooperating with the Holy Spirit, if they renounce Christ as a criminal rebel, so long as they continue to do that. That means the situation isn’t hopeless for them, perhaps yet, but on the other hand neither is someone intrinsically safe from falling away into a consummation of burning.

This, as you can see, is a serious point of contention, since Calvinists and softer Arminians (and their Catholic predecessors) insist (respectively) either that those whom God has chosen for salvation from sin can never fail at being saved, or at least once God has been properly convinced to persist for a person He will make sure the person never is finally lost. This is especially relevant to Calvinist soteriology, which says (and I agree they properly say) that the Holy Spirit would never act in a good way toward a person (as 6:4 certainly shows the Spirit doing) without that being an assurance by all the Persons of God Most High that He intends to save that person from sin, and moreso will surely succeed.

But then, this is only a soteriological problem for anyone if the Hebraist is talking about even a risk of someone being finally lost in unrighteousness. If the author isn’t talking about hopeless punishment after all, even in talking about {to telos eis kausin} the completion in burning (using a term related to cleaning, not incidentally), then there is no problem: no one on any side denies (especially where they accept the first half of Heb 12) that God can and does punish people hopefully, as part of instructing a child into maturity, with an intention of saving them from their sins. And is there a contrast here between spiritual maturity and spiritual immaturity? – yes, there explicitly is!

Put another way, a proper understanding of eonian judgment, which shouldn’t have to be laid down again (using a term for explosively spreading seed, by the way, like throwing out seed in a field), resolves an apparent conflict here between assurance of salvation elsewhere and (apparently) a warning that salvation isn’t assured after all.

And in fact, the Hebraist goes on shortly afterward (v.11-12a) to be “yearning for each one of you to be showing,” in a public way (though not the same verb root as holding Christ up for scorn), “the same diligence toward the assurance of the expectation to the completion,” the same completion which is burning for those in impenitent rebellion.

And what is that assurance of expectation? Just what every Calvinist knows and agrees about! God promises, swearing by Himself since He has nothing greater to swear upon, that He shall be blessing Abraham with whatever may bless him! (v.13-15) Thus God intends more superabundantly to exhibit the immutability of His counsel to the inheritors of the promise. Which promise? The promise of the Abrahamic covenant (which the Hebraist will be talking about in later chapters as part of the mature doctrine of strong meat), to bring all Abraham’s descendants into righteousness. This covenant was made between God and God (thus “an oath by two immutable matters” as the Hebraist puts it, “in which it is impossible for God to be lying”), Father and Son, the Son standing for Abraham as the incarnate descendant of Abraham, thus showing God’s intention to bring all rational creatures, who can only descend from God, even from the Son, into the covenant of Abraham’s descendants. Consequently, the covenent cannot be broken by Abraham or any of his descendants, so long as the Son, though sinless, voluntarily dies as a dedication to keeping the covenant in effect.

This is exactly why, consequently, (vv.18-19) “we who are fleeing for refuge, may have a strong consolation lying before us, to lay hold of the expectation,” which can be translated as “the sure and certain hope”, “which we have as an anchor of the soul, both secure and confirmed”!

This is also why the hardest core Arminian can point to the first half of chapter 6 as evidence that no matter how Christian someone legitimately may be, that Christian can still dangerously fall into divine punishment; and why the hardest core Calvinist can point to the second half of chapter 6 and say, don’t be dull! (v.12) – God assures us with the greatest possible assurance that we cannot be lost but will surely be saved!

That’s because salvation from sin is not what is at stake in the threat of eonian judgment, a threat which can and in some cases will be seriously carried out, as God sees rightly fit to do, on impenitent sinners.

But if the “finishing” is “in burning”? If someone is saved but as through fire, then that burning doesn’t lead to a hopelessly unrighteous “finishing” (and anyway God the Most Righteous and source of all righteousness, cannot have unrighteousness as His goal for the telos, the end, the completion, the finishing.)

And again, if someone is baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit, even with fire, there is no distinction from God’s side between “acquiring the fire” (as charismatics like to say) and being salted with the unquenchable fire of Gehenna. Nor is there any distinction in God’s one purpose for baptizing with Himself, the one eonian fire. The distinction is completely with the creature’s choice of response, in cooperation or not, with the fire. But the goal of the fire is to lead the creature cooperation, and back to repentance from dead works and to faith in God.

Still, there are admittedly only hints of this here by extended context. I am only showing that a Christian universalism based in other contexts can and does fit perfectly well here, too, resolving Calv and Arm disputes on the chapter while including and promoting both of their characteristic gospel assurances.

See also commentary on Heb 10 and Heb 12, as well as commentary on previous chapters.

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

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Thanks, Jason, for your thoughtful insights analyzing Hebews 6. I’ll need to reread it again & ponder what you have said.

For my 2 cents (CDN, not US), the following post comes from this thread:

Logically it does not necessarily follow that (1) being unable to be brought to repentance means (2) that a person cannot be saved again. Being (1) unable to be brought to repentance is not the same as saying (2) it will - never - be possible to bring them to repentance. Nowhere does Scripture say anyone will -never - repent or “never be saved”.*

If they are unable to be brought to repentance because (a) God does not permit it (Heb.6:3), God may permit it at another time. King Nebuchadnezzar, while God made him insane for 7 years, was unable to be brought to repentance. But after the 7 years God restored his sanity & he was humbled, worshipped God & repented. While God hardened Pharoah’s heart he couldn’t soften it or let Israel go. But later he did let Israel go.

If they are unable to be brought to repentance because (b) preaching repentance to them will not succeed “while [they are] crucifying for themselves the Son of God again and holding Him up to infamy” (Heb.6:6), it then follows that they may later cease “crucifying for themselves the Son of God again and holding Him up to infamy” & find repentance again.

  • never (Mt.7:23, etc)…this word appears to occur 16 times in the NT & it seems that it never means anything except “never”. It is used of “love never fails” (1 Cor.13:8). It also occurs in Mt.7:23 where Jesus says “I never knew you; depart you from Me, those working lawlessness.” Which is such an incredibly lame remark, if Love Omnipotent believed in endless torments. If He believed that such an unspeakably horrific final destiny awaits the wicked, including those He was referring to in Mt.7:23, why didn’t He make it clear by telling them that they would “never” be saved and/or He would “never” know them? Would that not have been clear & unambiguous, unlike the words He spoke, & unlike the ambiguous aion & aionios, which often refer to finite duration in ancient Koine Greek? OTOH consider re the use of the word “never”:

“Philo saith, “The punishment of the wicked person is, ζην αποθανοντα αει, to live for ever dying, and to be for ever in pains, and griefs, and calamities that never cease…”

Yet Scripture - never - uses such language. Moreover, it speaks of death being abolished, not being “for ever”.

I think a natural reading of Heb.6:4-6 favors the view that they were saved & lost salvation. The passage is parallel to Heb.10:26-29 which says such shall be “punished”:

26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
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?

Generally capital punishment under Moses’ law was by stoning. Stoning to death is not a very sore or long lasting 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 that wicked, rebellious, Christ rejectors 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.

Mt.18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon…
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Furthermore, the context of Matthew 5:25-26, both before & after those 2 verses, is making references to Gehenna. Verses 21-26 have to do with anger & being reconciled & v.22 warns of Gehenna. In verses 27-30 the subject is adultery & v.30 warns regarding Gehenna.

Matt 5:25-26 Come to terms quickly with your adversary before it is too late and you are dragged into court, handed over to an officer, and thrown in jail. I assure you that you won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.

“They must pay (as GMac says) the uttermost farthing – which is to say, they must tender the forgiveness of their brethren that is owed, the repentance and sorrow for sin that is owed, etc. Otherwise they do stay in prison with the tormenters. (their guilt? their hate? their own filthiness?) At last resort, if they still refuse to let go that nasty pet they’ve been stroking, they must even suffer the outer darkness. God will remove Himself from them to the extent that He can do so without causing their existence to cease. As Tom Talbot points out so well, no sane person of free will (and the child must be sane and informed to have freedom) could possibly choose ultimate horror over ultimate delight throughout the unending ages.”

Lk.12:47 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

This sounds like just payback, not endless annihilation or tortures:

Rev.18:6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.

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."

Paul makes a parallel between “the many” who were condemned & sinners and those who will be justified & constituted just.

“In Romans 5, the justification is co-extensive with the condemnation. Since all share in one, all share in the other. If only a certain portion of the human race had partaken of the sin of Adam, only a certain portion would partake of the justification of Christ. But St. Paul affirms all to have been involved in one, and all to be included in the other.”

Therefore there is salvation after death. And corrective punishment.

Jesus shall see of the travail of His soul & be satisfied. Not satisfied a little bit, but the vast majority fried alive forever.

“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa.53:11).

For how “many” (not few) did He “bear their iniquities”? All.