1Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3And this we will do, if God permits. 4For 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, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and 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. 7For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
Heb_6:1-2 This list of doctrines relates to issues shared by Judaism and Christianity. However, they are primarily Jewish (i.e., washings and laying on of hands). These would be doctrines that believing and unbelieving Jews would agree on easily. They are not the important theological issues related to Jesus of Nazareth as the prophesied Messiah.
There is a plausible theory that the first phrase should translate archç (elementary teachings) as "origins of the Messiah" (cf. A. B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 197). Could it be that a group of Jews were disillusioned with the growing Gentile flavor of Christianity and were questioning how Jesus had fulfilled OT prophecy and expectations? Could the list of Jewish doctrines be the focus of a discussion about a possible return to the Mosaic covenant for salvation, instead of Jesus?
"elementary teachings about the Christ"
"the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ"
"the basic teachings about Christ"
"the first lessons of the Christian message"
The Greek term archç has a large semantical field (see Special Topic at Heb_3:14). The basic thrust is the beginning of some thing (the first cause of authority/rule). It is the contextual opposite of teleios ("maturity" Heb_6:1 b).
The problem of understanding this phrase is that the principles enumerated in Heb_6:1-2 do not relate to the Messiah as much as traditional teachings of Judaism. This is one of the textual reason for the supposition that the book was written to a Jewish synagogue audience (cf. Heb_10:25) of both believing and unbelieving Jews (cf. R. C. Graze, No Easy Salvation).
▣ "let us press on" This is a present passive subjunctive, "let us be borne." The focus is on the continual provision by a divine agent! They will advance toward maturity if they allow the Spirit the freedom to motivate them. This very Greek term was used by the Pythagorean philosophers for advancing to a higher stage of understanding (cf. A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, p. 373).
This is a form of the Greek term teleios, which is used only here in the NT. See Special Topic at Heb_7:11. It is the contextual opposite of archç of Heb_6:1 a (basic principles). These believers must move beyond those theological topics which they have in common with their Jewish friends and co-worshipers.
▣ "repentance. . .faith" These are the old and new covenant obligations, one negative and one positive. Repentance is a difficult topic because of the confusion over its meaning. The Hebrew term reflects a change of action while the Greek term reflects a change of mind. Repentance is the turning from a self-centered, self-directed life to a God-centered, God-directed life.
1. Jesus connected lack of repentance with perishing (cf. Luk_13:3; Luk_13:5 and 2Pe_3:9)
2. repentance is linked as the companion obligation to faith (cf. Mar_1:15; Act_2:38; Act_2:41; Act_3:16; Acts 19; Act_20:21)
3. God is even affirmed as being the source of repentance (cf. Act_5:31; Act_11:18; 2Ti_2:25)
Heb_6:2 "washings" The plural is never used for Christian baptism, but for OT ceremonial ablutions (cf. Mar_7:4; Heb_9:10). These three pairs of doctrines are not uniquely Christian. They seem to be common doctrines with Judaism, particularly those which Pharisees shared with Christianity.
▣ "laying on of hands" This is used in several senses in the OT and NT. It shows association with
1. setting one aside to God's chosen task (cf. Num_27:18; Num_27:23; Deu_34:9; Act_6:6; Act_13:3; 1Ti_4:14; 1Ti_5:22; 2Ti_1:6)
2. identifying with a sacrifice
a. priest (cf. Exo_29:10; Exo_29:15; Exo_29:19; Lev_16:21; Num_8:12)
b. laypersons (cf. Lev_1:4; Lev_3:2; Lev_3:8; Lev_4:4; Lev_4:15; Lev_4:24; 2Ch_29:23
3. identifying with a stoning victim (cf. Lev_24:14)
4. praying for blessing (cf. Mat_19:13; Mat_19:15)
Heb_6:3 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence which means potential action. God will permit, if they will cooperate!
Heb_6:4-6 a "have once been. . .have tasted. . .have been made. . .have tasted. . .falling away" All of these participles are aorists, while Heb_6:6 b begins a series of present tense verbs. These are such strong statements. The meaning seems to be clear: they knew God on some level, but they rejected full faith in Christ. However, two contextual issues need to be examined: (1) the presence of three groups ("us" [Heb_6:1-3], "those" [Heb_6:4-8], "you" [Heb_6:9-12]) and (2) the Jewish nature of the doctrines in Heb_6:1-2. These point toward a synagogue in which believing and unbelieving Jews worshiped and studied together. The unbelieving Jews have clearly seen the power, glory, and truth of the gospel in the Scriptures and in the testimony and changed lives of their believing friends.
There seem to be two warnings in Hebrews: (1) to the believing Jews to take their public stand with the persecuted church and not turn back to Judaism and (2) to the unbelieving Jews to embrace Christ. In many ways the first warning is unique to this book, but the second is very similar to the unpardonable sin of the Pharisees in the Gospels and the sin unto death of the false teachers in 1 John.
Heb_6:5 "the powers of the age to come" Another example of the lost involved in the power of the age to come is in Mat_7:21-23. They had power without the necessary personal relationship. This same thing could be said of Judas Iscariot (in the Gospels), Simon Magnus (in Acts), and the false teachers (cf. 1Jn_2:18-19).
See special topic at Heb_1:2.
▣"have fallen away" This is an aorist active participle. This is the theological climax of the Greek sentence that begins in Heb_6:4. See Special Topic: Apostasy at Heb_3:12.
"And yet in spite of this"
There is a disagreement among Greek scholars whether this is a mild conditional structure or a consistent parallel structure from Heb_6:4. Those who insist on a conditional structure do so for the theological purpose of asserting that Heb_6:6 a is a hypothetical situation. However, all these grammatical features imply that all have occurred.
1. the repetitive pattern of aorist participles (been enlightened, tasted, shared, tasted and fell away)
2. the repetitive use of "kai" (and) with the last three
3. the one accusative masculine plural article in Heb_6:4 which relates to all the participles of Heb_6:4-6
The term appears in Heb_6:4, but the larger context includes Heb_6:6. This is the Greek term dunatos (able) with the alpha privative (unable). These two terms are used with the connotation of what God does and does not do! It is used in the Greek Papyri found in Egypt of (1) men not strong enough to work and (2) witnesses unable to testify. It is used four times in Hebrews.
1. impossible to renew them again to repentance (Heb_6:4)
2. impossible for God to lie (Heb_6:18)
3. impossible for OT sacrifices to save (Heb_10:4)
4. without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb_11:6)
In each case the term means impossible. Therefore, it is surprising that Lowe and Nida's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament says "In Heb_6:4 the use of adunaton seems to be an instance of hyperbole in view of the warnings against apostasy (see Heb_5:11 to Heb_6:12). Therefore, one may translate adunaton in Heb_6:4 as 'it is extremely difficult to'" (p. 669). This seems more theological than lexical when all other uses of the word in Hebrews demand "impossible."
The reluctance to take this term literally is because it leads to the theology of "once out always out" if this refers to believers abandoning their faith. Those denominational groups that teach apostasy also preach repentance and reinstatement. This text seems to depreciate this position.
In many ways the historical setting is the key to the interpretation.
1. two groups addressed (believing and non-believing Jews)
2. one group (believing Jews who have not matured and are now contemplating returning to Moses)
This is a similar heresy to the Judaizers in Galatians who were tempted to trust in OT rites (plus Christ). Paul asserts that they had fallen from grace (cf. Gal_5:4).
▣ "they again crucify to themselves" The Greek compound (anastauroô) can mean "crucify" (or "nail up," this intensified form is in JB, NEB and Moffatt translations) or "crucify again" (NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEB, NJB, NIV translations). The Greek-English-Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, says "in extra-biblical Greek this term always means crucify" (p. 61). Tertullian used this passage to assert that post baptismal sins were not forgivable.
The early Greek Fathers understood this context and the compound with ana to demand "crucify again," which is followed by the majority of modern English translations. How does this relate theologically to apostasy? It implies believers; however, if the intensified form "personally nail up" is followed, then unbelievers are possibly the referent. Interpreters must allow the text, not their theological biases or theological systems, to speak. This text is so difficult to interpret definitively. Often we think we know what it should or should not mean before we struggle with
1. the book as a whole
2. the four warnings specifically
3. the specific context
However one interprets these texts, the warnings are serious!
▣ "put Him to open shame" This term is used in Mat_1:19 for Joseph's not wanting to publicly disgrace Mary. How would this relate to the context? It may simply refer to Jesus' initial crucifixion as "public shame" without the implied "again."
Heb_6:8 This may be an illustration taken from Gen_3:17-19 or Isa_5:1-2 or possibly even the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. Fruit-bearing is the normal evidence of a valid profession! Fruit-bearing (cf. Joh_15:5-6), not germination, is the evidence of a true relationship with Christ. The fruit is the evidence of, not the means to!