Below is our response to the following email regarding the two Hebrews chapters mentioned above. Since this subject surfaces frequently, there may also be some others who would be blessed to read this.
[Email: Can a person who was once a Christian fall into such sin that there is no forgiveness? There are examples to me in Hebrews chapters 6 & 10. Any insight would be appreciated. Thank you.]
[Response: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Included below is an excerpt from our book, "The Believer's Conditional Security" addressing the two Hebrews chapters you mentioned. If you have any other questions, please write again. God bless you.] See details of our book The Believer's Conditional Security. (All documentation can be found in that book.)
Hebrews 6:4-9Now for the highly controversial passages cited in 6:4-9 and 10:26-31. Let's take a close look at them in this order. First, notice how there are various OSAS views of Heb. 6:4-6:
There are four Calvinist positions that I know of: (1) Those described in Hebrews 6:4-6 are truly converted but the if proves that it is hypothetical. It could never happen in actual fact. (2) Those describes [sic] in Hebrews 6:4-6 are saved, but the falling away is not with reference to loss of salvation but inability to be renewed again unto repentance. In other words, it means exactly what it says. (3) Those described in Hebrews 6:4-6 have a non-working work of grace in them. What happened to them was real, but it was not saving; they were never converted in the first place. (4) Those described in Hebrews 6:4-6 are truly converted people, but if it should turn out that they fall away, one must but conclude they were not saved after all.The fact that there are at least four contrasting interpretations, from the OSAS point of view, shows that at least three must be wrong! Simple logic declares this.
Heb. 6:4-9 reads: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, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 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. For 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; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way (NASB).Five spiritual checkpoints are listed in this passage, before the falling away mentioned in verse 6 can even apply. Those checkpoints are:
Clearly, these checkpoints are the language of salvation, especially have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 6:4, NASB).
- Have once been enlightened
- Have tasted of the heavenly gift
- Have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
- Have tasted the good word of God
- (Tasted) the powers of the age to come
This same word (metochos) translated partakers is also found in the following verses:For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end (Heb. 3:14, NKJV).Strong gives the following definition of this Greek word:
But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons (Heb. 12:8, NKJV).(As noun) a sharer; by impl. an associate: fellow, partaker, partner.Besides the clarity of that phrase we also see the same people were once enlightened (photizo). Again, this same word is used elsewhere and refers to Christians:But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings (Heb. 10:32, NKJV).So when does a person become enlightened or illuminated? According to Jn. 1:4, we read:In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (Jn. 1:4, NKJV).Notice, spiritual life is the light, which a true believer has.
Beyond these, we see the people referred to in Heb. 6:4-6 had also tasted the good word of God. That Greek word translated tasted (geuomai) means experience.
This is clearly the meaning as is shown in the following verse: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 (Heb. 2:9, KJV).This is important to mention because falling away is something that can happen to Christians, not the unsaved! Hence, a true Christian can apostatize.
In spite of this, John MacArthur, Jr. dogmatically denies these descriptions refer to a saved person:The individuals addressed here had five great advantages because of their association with the church: They had been enlightened, had tasted Christ's heavenly gift, had partaken of the Holy Spirit, had tasted the Word of God, and had tasted the miraculous powers of the age to come (vv. 4-5). There is no reference at all to salvation. In fact, no term used here is ever used elsewhere in the New Testament for salvation, and none should be taken to refer to it in this passage.
Some Proponents Of A Conditional SecurityUnfortunately, some who believe in a conditional security refer to Heb. 6:4-6 to try to prove that a person can only get saved once, and if he falls away for any reason, he can never come back to God and get saved again.
This type of teaching has caused incredible, emotional pain in the lives of those who have accepted this as a Biblical truth, then have turned from God for a time and would like to come back, but think that they can't, based on this passage!
Furthermore, that type of interpretation has been exploited by the OSAS camp. The following is an example:This destroys the idea that we may be saved and lost and saved and lost, for it says that it is impossible if we should fall away to renew us again unto repentance. It is impossible. If you are saved and you are lost, if that is what this means, then you have had one shot at it, my friends and you have blown it! You're through! It is impossible to renew you again unto repentance. So it's only one time at bat.After examining the Apostle Peter, his fall and subsequent return to the Lord, it will be apparent that some should reconsider such an interpretation for Heb. 6:4-6 because Peter didn't fall away to the point where he couldn't return.
Remember, Scripture explicitly shows it is possible to be saved more than once (Lk. 15:24,32; Rom. 11:23 and James 5:19,20), but not if a person falls away as mentioned in Heb. 6:6! Can these two truths be reconciled? Yes, but you must read on.
Peter Before His FallThough we can't be certain, it appears Peter walked with Jesus for about three years during the Lord's earthly ministry. During those special years Peter experienced the following:
After all these unique, spiritual privileges and opportunities, he denied Christ three times. Yet the Apostle Peter, who already held the highest office in the church (1 Cor. 12:28), was not so mature spiritually that he could not return to Jesus!
- He had the unique privilege of being at the Mt. of Transfiguration where Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus. At this time, he heard the audible voice of God say, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him" (Mt. 17:1-6, NIV).
- Peter was the only apostle of the Twelve to actually walk on the water for a time with Jesus (Mt. 14:29)!
- He was given powerful, spiritual authority to drive out demons and heal every disease and sickness (Mt. 10:1).
- The Apostle Peter personally saw Jesus raise three different people from the dead (Lk. 7:14,15; 8:54,55; Jn. 11:43,44).
- He also saw Jesus' power instantly heal a leper (Mt. 8:2,3), enable a paralytic to be healed (Mt. 9:2-7), the blind to see (Mk. 8:22-25), and the dumb to speak after a demon was driven out (Mt. 9:32,33).
- Peter was there when at least 2,000 demons inside a man were begging Jesus for permission to go inside pigs (Mk. 5:12,13).
- He witnessed Jesus calm the wind and the raging sea with his word (Mk. 4:39).
- He saw Jesus multiply bread and fish to feed thousands of people on two different occasions (Mt. 16:9,10).
- He also had unique and vital spiritual truth revealed to him about Jesus directly from the Father (Mt. 16:16,17).
- Peter heard the demons within people call Jesus the Son of God (Mk. 3:11).
- He heard Jesus silence those who tried to trap him (Lk. 20:20-26), perfectly answer and handle every trick question (Mt. 22:23-31) and remedy every problem that confronted them (Mt. 17:27; etc.).
- For years, Peter heard the greatest and wisest teacher who ever lived teach the most important truths with authority.
Finally, after Peter's return to the Lord, he was the one used on the day of Pentecost, about 50 days later, to win thousands to Christ. He also had the distinguished honor of writing two of the twenty-seven New Testament books. In fact, Peter (who once fell away) won thousands of people to the Lord after he came back. Peter never let his public denial of Christ paralyze him from future service to God. Dear reader, if you once fell away and came back to the Lord, move on with the Lord as he did!
Two Truths About Hebrews 6:6There are two relevant truths that need to be noted about Heb. 6:6.
First, the word in this verse translated fall away (parapesontas) is found only once in the Greek New Testament. Though fall away in English is found elsewhere, it is not the same Greek word as is used here. Moreover, Peter and the other apostles fell away (skandalizo) (Mt. 26:31,33, NIV), and perhaps multitudes like them throughout the centuries, but it is not the same Greek word as parapesontas.
Secondly, the word if is not in the Greek in verse 6:If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Heb. 6:6, KJV).Consider what Adam Clarke wrote about this and the aorist tense:"And having fallen away." I can express my own mind on this translation nearly in the words of Dr. Macknight: "The participles who were enlightened, have tasted, and were made partakers, being aorists, are properly rendered by our translators in the past time; wherefore parapesontas, being an aorist, ought likewise to have been translated in the past time, 'HAVE fallen away.' Nevertheless, our translators, following Beza, who without any authority from ancient MSS. has inserted in his version the word 'if,' have rendered this clause, IF they fall away, that this text might not appear to contradict the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But as no translator should take upon him to add to or alter the Scriptures, for the sake of any favourite doctrine, I have translated parapesontas in the past time, 'have fallen away,' according to the true import of the word, as standing in connection with the other aorists in the preceding verses" (italics and capitals his).Adam Clarke does not stand alone in his understanding of the Greek. Young's literal translation reads:And having fallen away, again to renew them to reformation, having crucified gain to themselves the Son of God, and exposed to public shame (v. 6).Please note, the NASB also renders this passage without the word if: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.Kendall surprisingly agrees with Clarke and refutes Spurgeon regarding no if in the Greek and the past tense of parapesontas:C. H. Spurgeon believed those described in Hebrews 6:4-6 were obviously saved but the situation posed was hypothetical. Spurgeon built his whole case on the little word if"if they shall fall away" (Hebrews 6:6). Spurgeon claimed it had never happened yet. Unfortunately, Spurgeon didn't know Greek and he was unaware that there is no if in the Greek at all. As a matter of fact those described in Hebrews 6:4-6 had already fallen away. Parapesontas is an aorist participle, which is to be translated either as those who "fell away" or those "having fallen away." Their fall was a fact.Similar to Spurgeon, Dave Hunt also declares Heb. 6:4-6 is just hypothetical:Clearly those to whom this passage refers are genuine believers. Moreover, it doesn't say when they fall away, but that if they fall away - it would be impossible for them to get saved again. The reason why it is impossible to get saved again is explained.Like others, Hunt seems to forget the Lord's apostles all fell away at one point. Should we conclude they were not truly saved?
First of all, if the death of Christ were not sufficient to keep them saved, then for them to get saved again would require that Christ die again ... and again, every time they needed to be saved once more. Secondly, if Christ's death is not sufficient to keep one saved, then He is held up to ridicule for having done something so foolish as having procured salvation at infinite cost and then given it to creatures to maintain who are not able to effect their own salvation and certainly can't maintain it. This would be like committing a fortune to the safekeeping of an infant who would surely lose it.
That the falling away is hypothetical is indicated again by verse 9, which says, "But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak." In other words, falling away does not "accompany salvation." Those who are truly saved can never fall away (italics and ellipsis his).
Getting back to Kendall, how does he view these passages and still maintain his belief in OSAS?I simply put forward the view that the "falling away" (Hebrews 6:6) or "sinning wilfully" (Hebrews 10:26) refers not to losing salvation but one's reward at the judgment seat of Christ.Before we test his OSAS interpretation, let's also look at Charles Stanley's understanding:The writer of Hebrews offers a serious warning. It is a dangerous thing for a believer to turn his back on Christ. To do so is to run the risk of drifting beyond the point of return - not a return to salvation, but a return to fellowship with the Savior.Since the Christians referred to in Heb. 6:4-6 fell away and could not come back, the issue is now narrowed down to the following question: Did the Christians in the book of Hebrews who fell away lose only their rewards, their fellowship or their salvation?
Let's answer by beginning with 6:9:But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way (NASB).The writer of Hebrews is contrasting two groups of people in 6:4-9:
Heb. 10:26,27 parallel 6:9, in a negative sense, to show salvation is the subject:
- Those who fell away and couldn't be renewed through repentance; and
- A group referred to in verse 9 as beloved with a different standing before God - things that accompany salvation. The words better things concerning you also indicate this. Note: verse 9 says salvation, not fellowship or rewards!If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (NIV).Raging fire that will consume the enemies of God can only be the language of no salvation, not lack of rewards or fellowship!
This passage also declares that people, not their rewards, will be consumed by this fire, which is for the enemies of God.
Regarding God's enemies, this same description of a person is given elsewhere. Such are clearly without salvation:For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Rom. 5:10, NIV).
Hebrews 10:26-31The Heb. 10:26-31 passage reads:If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (NIV).Perhaps the following comment can supply missing background information on this passage, as well as 6:4-9, as to why those referred to could not get saved again:Those addressed were Hebrew Christians, who, discouraged and persecuted, (10:32-39) were tempted to return to Judaism. Before being received again into the synagogue they would be publicly required to make the following statements (10:29): that Jesus was not the Son of God; that His blood was rightly shed as that of a common malefactor; and that His miracles were done by the power of the evil one. All this is implied in 10:29. (That such a repudiation would have been insisted on is illustrated by the case of a Hebrew Christian in Germany, who desired to return to the synagogue, but was refused when he desired to hold on to some of the New Testament truths.) Before their conversion they had belonged to the nation which had crucified Christ; to return to the synagogue would be to crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame; it would be the awful sin of apostasy (Heb. 6:6); it would be like the unpardonable sin for which there is no forgiveness, because the one so hardened as to commit it cannot be - renewed unto repentance -; it would be worthy of a worse punishment than that of death (10:28); it would mean incurring the vengeance of the living God. 10:30,31.If one accepts this interpretation and adds to it the following facts about the eternal sin, then he can better understand why those in Heb. 6:4-6 who fell away (parapesontas) could not be renewed by repentance unto salvation as they were enemies of God (10:29), but others, like Peter, who didn't sin to that degree, could be renewed.
An Eternal SinThe context of Jesus' teaching about eternal sin makes it clear as to what it is:And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." ... But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit" (Mk. 3:22,29,30, NIV).Jesus taught that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is directly related to saying that the Lord had an evil spirit by which he was driving out demons. Hence, a link seems to exist between eternal sin and insulting the Spirit of grace (10:29). This could possibly explain why the ones referred to in 6:6 could not be renewed unto salvation, that is, they committed eternal sin.
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