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Exegetical Analysis of Hebrews 6:4-9

David Beatty
Canby Bible College
BI 212 Pastoral and General Epistles
Professor Thomas Axmaker
November 5, 2015

Hebrews 6:4-9 (NIV)


It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly
gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of
God and the powers of the coming age 6and who have fallen away, to be brought back to
repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting
him to public disgrace. 7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a
crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that
produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it
will be burned.9Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better
things in your casethe things that have to do with salvation.
This is a very important passage!1 Rarely does that staid old Lutheran scholar, Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther use an exclamation point, and just as rarely does he pronounce a passage very important. It is important because it highlights the one sin that is unforgivable sin
against the Holy Spirit. In Mark 3:28-29 Jesus states, 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven
all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will
never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin. And again, in Luke 12:9-10, Jesus says,
9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes
against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever commits the sin against the Holy Spirit
cannot repent. He is incapable of it. Neither is he capable of being restored to repentance. This is
not something that God does; it is a choice the sinner makes. Once the sinner has fallen away,
who by his own effort produces this state of permanent impenitence,2 God simply stops working in his heart; the Holy Spirit departs and nothing the sinner can do can coax Him back. The
passage thus can refer to Christians who actually lose their salvation.3 The parable of the land
producing a good crop through the rain of the Holy Spirit that is blessed by God versus thorns

C F W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, trans. Christian C. Tiews (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2010), 446.
Kenneth Barker, ed., NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1985), 1864.

and thistles that is in danger of being cursed and burned in the end illuminates the ultimate,
eternal danger such an unrepentant sinner is in: removal of their name from the book of life and
eternal damnation in the lake of fire4
An alternative interpretation is that this passage serves to warn immature Hebrew Christians
that they must progress to maturity.5 Their backsliding or apostasy demonstrates that their faith
was not genuine to begin with; 1 John 2:19 addresses this: They went out from us, but they did
not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but
their going showed that none of them belonged to us. In this view, Hebrews chapters 3 & 4 are a
warning using the Israelite's rebellion in the desert as an example; just as the Israelites refused to
enter the Promised Land upon the return of the 12 spies and were thus sentenced to wander for
40 years and not live to enter their rest, so Christians who backslide by falling away are in danger of not entering their eternal rest. This apostasy is proof that they were never regenerated, that
their hearts were never turned toward God and that they were children of the devil from the beginning. Compare to Hebrews 10:26-31: 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of
judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the
law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more
severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who
has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,'
and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the
living God. Dreadful indeed.

Revelation 20:15.
Op cit., Barker, 1864.

However, all may not be truly lost. The Greek word for fallen away in Hebrews 6:6 is
parapesontas (Strong's 3895)6 which can mean to fall down, to stumble.7 Thus the passage literally can mean and having fallen down; the word translated here as and is kai which some
versions (KJV) render as if, but there is no conditional if involved.8 Thus, when Peter denied
Christ three times before the cock crowed on Good Friday, he fell down but he was not lost.
When John Mark abandoned Paul and returned home, he too fell down but was not lost. Also,
verse 4 states it is impossible for those who have... Note that it is impossible for men, but not
for God in Matthew 19:24-26 Jesus affirms this: 24 'Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to
go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, 'Who then can be

saved?' 26 Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are
possible.' Thus, when a believing Christian falls away it is impossible for them to regain their
salvation through their own works or by their own power; but restoring a Christian to the fold is
entirely possible with our omnipotent God.
So this passage is one of those conundrums that have led to a theological debate from the
very earliest time (the question of Novatians and Donatists split the church as early as 251 AD).9
This, coupled with the unknown authorship are two reasons that kept the book of Hebrews out of
accepted canon longer than the undoubted Pauline letters. The fundamental issues have been
highlighted above; but each side of the debate is faced with seemingly contradictory passages
elsewhere. Thus, those who believe this passage teaches the possibility of a believing Christian's
apostasy and return to a permanent fallen condition (as Hebrews 6:4 would seem to state), must
face the assurance of eternal salvation for God's elect in John 6:39-40 (39 And this is the will of

Jay P. Green, The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-Greek English, 2nd ed. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers,
1986), 932.
James Strong, Strong's Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament, compact ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Baker Book House, 1985).
J. Vernon McGee, Hebrews Notes and Outlines (Pasadena: Thru The Bible Radio Network, n.d.), 15.
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1999), 88.

him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last
day. 40 For my Fathers will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have
eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day), in Romans 11:29 (for Gods gifts and his
call are irrevocable), in Philippians 1:6 (being confident of this, that he who began a good
work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus), in 1 Peter 1:5 (who
through faith are shielded by Gods power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time) and elsewhere.10 There is also the doctrine of regeneration, according to
which a believer has become a new creature in Christ.11 However, as noted above, those who
might indeed fall away might be considered to never have actually received the Holy Spirit in the
first place. On the other hand, those who would tone down the impossibility of restoration12 as
being a temporary state lasting only so long as the apostate continues in his neo-fallen state must
deal with the case of Esau who sought to recapture his blessing but was rejected (Hebrews
12:17)13 and those who hold that this is merely a hypothetical example must face the reality of
Hebrews 10:26-31.14
Martin Luther preached on the book of Hebrews early in his career, in 1516-1518 but he
never published these sermons and his sermon notes are lost; we are left with the notes taken by
two students to recapture his thoughts along with the preface to his translation of Hebrews into
German in 1522.15 Luther initially (1516) took the warning passages (there are five 2:1-4, 3:74:13, 5:11-6:20, 10:26-31, and 12:25-29)16 to apply only to non-Christians17 but in 1522 (apparently after more in depth study) he came to doubt the canonicity of Hebrews because the salva10

Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament: 5th Edition, 5 ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 466.
Thomas Salazar, "Martin Luther and the Warning Passages in Hebrews" (master's thesis, Phoenix Seminary,
2012), 3.
Irving Lester Jensen, Jensen's Survey of the New Testament: Search and Discover (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981),
Op cit., Salazar, 4.

tion theology of 6:4-9 is so radically different than almost anywhere else in the New Testament:
for Luther the concept of losing ones salvation, not being able to repent or no longer having a
sacrifice as expressed in Hebrews 6 and 10, are completely foreign ideas.18 Luther flatly states,
Again, there is a hard knot in the fact that chapters 6[:4-6] and 10[:26-27] flatly denies and forbids to sinners any repentance after baptism; and in chapter 12[:7] it says that Esau sought repentance and did not find it. This stands contrary to all the gospels and to St. Pauls epistles; and although one might venture an interpretation of it, the words are so clear that I do not know
whether that would be sufficient.19 Luther solves this Gordian knot in manner similar to McGee
(note 8): it is no less difficult for God to justify any godless person again, and it is impossible
for man to rise from any sin.20 Thus, what is impossible for man is simple for God, and for God
it is just as easy to justify a person a second time as it was for the first. Luther, like McGee takes
the term impossible to apply to man's inability to justify himself through works and not to any
limitation upon God's ability. That Luther and his colleagues wished the matter would just go
away is plain from the absence of any discussion or reference to Hebrews 6:4-9 in the Book of
One final way to examine this most difficult of passages is to view it through Jewish
lenses. Judaism generally believed that some people could rebel against God so brazenly, aware
that they were doing so, that they would become unable to repent.22 This idea is displayed in the
Dead Sea Scrolls and in rabbinical teaching.23 To mirror Luther and McGee, the idea is not that
God does not accept the repentant, but that some hearts become too hard to consider repenting,


Ibid, 11.
Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 674.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, second ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 647.

because they refuse to acknowledge Christ.24 Luther puts the unrepentant, heart-hardened exChristian in the same camp as pagans: he who is outside Christ cannot repent.25
This passage will continue to be one which defines Christian denominations, dividing
them into two camps: those who take the once saved, always saved position (the doctrine of
Eternal Security) and those who believe that it is possible for genuine Christians to lose their salvation through apostasy. Perhaps Luther, in taking a middle road of sorts, had it right. For Luther,
there were two states: in Christ or not. If a sinner is in Christ and therefore a saint under grace,
no amount of backsliding or sinning can cause loss of salvation. However, for someone who is
not in Christ and therefore not under grace, no amount of good works can obtain salvation.
Luther and his colleagues ...condemn both the Anabaptists, who deny that those who have once
been justified can lose the Holy Spirit, and also those who contend that some may attain such
perfection in this life that they cannot sin. Also condemned are the Novatians who were unwilling to absolve those who had fallen and returned to repentance after baptism.26 Paul hints at this
in Hebrews 6:9 he is confidant that his readers will not share in the apostasy warned of in the
preceding verses. Through the Perseverance of the Saints, by faith alone, through Christ's grace
alone, salvation is assured. For those who do not persevere, Christ will come and remove their
lampstand.27 He who has an ear, let him hear.


Ibid, 648.
Op cit., Salazar, 12.
Augsburg Confession, XII 7-9 in Kolb, op cit., 45-47.
Revelation 2:5.


Barker, Kenneth, ed. NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1985.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1999.
Green, Jay P. The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-Greek-English. 2nd ed. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986.
Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament: 5th Edition. 5 ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
Jensen, Irving Lester. Jensen's Survey of the New Testament: Search and Discover. Chicago:
Moody Press, 1981.
Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. second ed. Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Kolb, Robert, and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
McGee, J. Vernon. Hebrews Notes and Outlines. Pasadena: Thru The Bible Radio Network, n.d.
Salazar, Thomas. Martin Luther and the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Master's thesis,
Phoenix Seminary, 2012.
Strong, James. Strong's Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament, compact ed.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985.
Walther, C F W. Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible. Translated by Christian C.
Tiews. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2010.