My Thoughts on Hebrews Chapter Six, Verses One through Eight
For many people, the first eight verses of the sixth chapter of Hebrews appear difficult to interpret at best and contrary to the assurance of salvation at worst. In making the attempt at an interpretation, some fall into the trap of addressing only what they believe they can understand or make the common mistake of attempting interpretation out of context, basing their conclusions on personal or denominational doctrine rather than the written text. However, a simple system of passage interpretation will lead in the right direction.
When I was in college, my professor of Principles of Bible Interpretation gave us four simple steps to guide us in the proper interpretation of scripture, based on the consistency of God. First, view how the text relates to what is said within the verses surrounding it. Second, view the relation of the verses to those of the entire chapter. Third, study how the verses relate to the context of the entire book. And finally, ask yourself how the verses relate to the message of the entire Bible. God says of Himself in Malachi chapter three and verse six, “For I am the Lord, I change not.” He is constant and consistent. He does not say one thing here and something totally different there. Therefore, any interpretation we make of a section of scripture must be consistent with interpretations of other parts of the Bible. God’s word will not contradict itself.
Keeping this in mind, how should we approach our passage in Hebrews? First, we look at the fact that the writer (some say Paul the Apostle, some say another; not relevant at this point) is writing to people who were Jews or Hebrews, thus the title. These would be people who had been taught the Law of Moses and the Prophets, as well as all the stories of Abraham and his descendants. They would have heard about the Tabernacle in the wilderness and how God required a blood sacrifice for the remission of sins. They would also have heard of the fact that all of their history was explanation and preparation for the coming and mission of the Messiah.
Second, we see how the writer begins his letter. “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son”. In the Old Testament, we see how God would speak to His people by many different ways. Sometimes an angel, sometimes a burning bush, and once He even opened the mouth of a donkey and let him talk! What does that say to overly proud preachers? But now, after the coming of the Messiah, He has spoken to us through His Son. And His Son, Jesus the Messiah, is superior to all of the other means and methods.
Thirdly, what is it that God has spoken to us, through His Son? The writer reminds the readers in the first five chapters how God taught the Jewish people that He was going to send the Messiah who would sacrifice Himself for the sins of the whole world. Anyone who would simply trust in this Messiah and accept His sacrificial death through faith would receive His gift of salvation. The sacrifice of His life is superior to the daily sacrifices of bulls and goats and even the yearly sacrifice of the spotless lamb. His salvation is an eternal one for He, the perfect and sinless Lamb of God, died once for all.
Now we come to our passage. The writer informs us in the first three verses that we will now leave any further discussion of foundational issues such as repentance and baptisms since these have been thoroughly dealt with in the previous teachings. The Old Testament teachings have prepared us to come to a point where we face the decision of acceptance or rejection of the Messiah and must continue on regardless of that decision. He explains the finality of this decision in verses four through six as he states that any who have heard the good news of the gospel and have seen the mighty works of the Holy Spirit, if they reject His sacrificial gift they have no where else to turn. Since Jesus was the only one who could die for their sins, if they reject Him there is no one else to die for them. They would have to crucify Christ all over again.
Many make the mistake of thinking that verses four and five refer to the gift of salvation itself. Therefore, they see someone who is already saved arriving at verse six where they “fall away” and find it impossible to “renew them again to repentance.” Reading the verses without considering our four-step guide might lead someone to this conclusion. However, the problems with that interpretation are two-fold. One, the writer hasn’t been talking about salvation. Up to this point he has only laid the foundation for salvation by reminding the Hebrews of the Old Testament teachings. Second, if you accept the idea that the verses are referring to someone who is already saved, then you have to believe that someone who could lose their salvation has no chance to regain it. Verses four and six say that it is impossible for one who has fallen away to be renewed to repentance. That’s not a very nice interpretation at all and it doesn’t fit with surrounding verses or other passages in the Bible.
Another idea regarding these verses sees them as a hypothetical proof of the impossibility of losing salvation. This interpretation states that “it is impossible” for saved people to “fall away” or to lose their salvation since hypothetically doing so would mean that Christ would have to be crucified again in order for them to regain it. While the idea has parts of the truth in it, and I admit I once believed this interpretation, it still has the problems of our former example. No connection is made with the previous verses or with those following. Verses four through six have to be taken as though they were a footnote and not part of the regular text.
As we stated earlier, the writer has laid the foundation for salvation up to the point of the decision for or against Christ and is now moving on beyond that point. For those who choose to reject Him, their journey is finished as they have no other means to arrive again at the decision point. You must realize that the phrases found in verses four and five such as “who were once enlightened”, “have tasted the heavenly gift”, “have become partakers”, and “have tasted the good word” are not referring to those who chose Christ. They refer only to those who have heard the good news and are now confronted with the decision. It reminds me of someone who has been fortunate enough to attend a gospel teaching church, who has heard the truth of salvation all of their life, who has seen the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of others, and who turns their back on God and decides to live their life without Him. Once they have rejected Christ there is no other sacrifice for them. Using our four-step guide we compare this idea to surrounding verses and find that seven and eight provide an illustration, something which isn’t mentioned in other interpretations. Verse seven compares people to the earth or areas of soil which receive the same rain yet produce two different crops. One bears useful herbs and is blessed but the other produces only thorns and briars and is rejected and cursed. People hear the same gospel of Christ. Some accept His gift and are blessed with eternal life in His presence. Others reject Him and find themselves in Hell, cursed with eternal separation from Him.
Well, as Solomon wrote in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, what is the conclusion of the whole matter? We find that in verse nine where the writer says, “we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation”. Having decided to accept the wonderful gift of God we now move forward toward maturity to a closer and deeper relationship with the one who loves us so much and allow Him to conform us into the image of His Son.