I noticed these in the NIV Study Bible on the weekend. I figured I was not the first, and found this article at the website JesusWalk.com. The passages are given a general introduction and then there are links to five additional articles.
Some of the more difficult and troubling aspects of Hebrews are the sometimes sharply worded warnings to the readers in five separate passages.
On a plain reading they seem to imply the possibility that Christian believers can commit apostasy, that is, fall away from Christ and faith. This, however, hits squarely at one of the noisiest and sometimes bitter debates between Christian factions:
- Calvinists deny that true Christians can commit apostasy and lose their salvation, stressing the final perseverance of the saints.
- Arminians agree that true Christians can indeed commit apostasy and lose their salvation, stressing the free will of man.
As I. Howard Marshall suggests, advocates of one position or the other tend to base their doctrine “on philosophical and dogmatic grounds.”* The way forward for us is not to carry on the debate, but to sincerely and humbly consider the warnings in Hebrews — in the context they are given — and then try to form tentative conclusions.
We won’t all agree in our conclusions. Fair-minded, Christ-loving, Spirit-filled believers differ on these matters. Instead of trying to bash the other side, we will pursue humility towards one another, humility as we approach the Letter of Hebrews, and humility before God. In that humility and love, we will grow in our faith and exemplify the love we profess in Christ.
For your benefit, I’ll include each of the shorter passages in the NIV translation here so you can compare them. For discussion, see the appropriate lessons in which they are discussed.
1. Hebrews 2:1-4
“1We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
2. Hebrews 4:12-13*
“12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
3. Hebrews 6:4-8
“4It 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, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because 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.”
4. Hebrews 10:26-31
“26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How 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? 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
5. Hebrews 12:25-29
“25See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
* I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away (Second Edition; Bethany Fellowship, 1969, 1974), p. 26.
Passage Discussed in 1. Hebrews 2:1-4 Lesson 1 2. Hebrews 4:12-13 Lesson 3 3. Hebrews 6:4-8 Lesson 5 4. Hebrews 10:26-31 Lesson 9 5. Hebrews 12:25-29 Lesson 12
The best book I’ve seen that fairly lays out the main views of these warnings and points out the strengths and weaknesses of each position is Herbert W. Bateman IV (ed.), Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Kregel, 2007)
In the NIV Study Bible, the second warning is a broader passage encompassing 3:7 – 4:13 of which I’ve included a few verses below:
7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness, …”