Lecture 3 The Warning Passages of Hebrews

The Warning Passages of Hebrews

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We will consider the 5 following warning passages in the book of Hebrews.

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Read…

2:1–4

3:7–4:13

5:11–6:12

10:19–39

12:1–29

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Other commentators may differ as to what exactly constitutes a warning passage and may differ on what verses make up the warning passages.

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To “govern” the warning passages in Hebrews, let’s look at the theme verse for the warning passages.

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Key verse for warning passages: Heb. 3:14.

Each warning passage has a slightly different focus.

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Balance

These warning passages have stirred up despair and even horror in the lives of God’s people. Naturally, we want to alleviate this despair and horror. However, we should not take the “teeth” out of any passage that is meant to be a true warning. We need balance.

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Criteria for a Proper Interpretation of Warning Passages

  • What is the sin warned against?
    1. A proper interpretation of the warning passages must
      • retain the biblical strength of the warnings and
      • be consistent with the terminology describing it.
  • Who can commit the sin warned against?
    1. A proper interpretation must be consistent with the preacher’s distinction between believers who appear to be true or false. In other words, if the text of Hebrews does not distinguish between true or false believers, then the proper interpretation should not either.
    2. E.g., the proper interpretation will not say, “Well, the warnings are only addressed to ______ when the text of Hebrews doesn’t say it’s only addressed to ______.
  • The purpose of the warnings must be consistent with strength of the warning.
    1. If the purpose is to warn of eternal fiery judgement, then the strength of the warning should have a very serious tone.
    2. But if the purpose is just to help you grow in Christ, then a very serious, damnation-type tone would not fit.
  • Analogy of Faith: A proper interpretation must be consistent with other clear theological truths.
    1. Eternal security, perseverance of the saints, salvation by faith alone through divine grace alone.

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Perseverance in the faith by a believer is an evidence that he possesses eternal security, the assurance of which varies among believers. Genuine believers will continue in the faith (Jn. 8:31; Jude 21) and doctrine (Col. 1:22-23) until the end (perseverance) because they cannot truly fall away from the faith (Heb 3:14). All true believers are eternally secure. Their salvation is forever and cannot be lost. Eternal security is rooted in the relationship between the Father and the Son (John 6:39; 10:27-30) and is accomplished through God’s sovereign work of preservation (Ro. 11:29; 1 Co. 1:8-9; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; Heb 7:23-25; 1 Pet 1:5). See 1 John 2:19

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See Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews

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Let’s deal now with the warning passages synergistically.

Each warning has four elements or components.

(1) the subjects (addressees) who are in danger of committing…

(2) the sin. This leads to…

(3) the exhortation. If this is not followed, it leads to…

(4) the consequences of that sin

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Order: Exhortation, Consequence, Sin, and Subjects.

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  1. Exhortations

Preacher of Hebrews says, “_____ or else!” (“or else” is the consequence). But what’s the _____?

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  • “pay attention” (2:1)
  • “fix one’s attention” (3:1; 10:24)
  • “hold on” (3:6b)
  • “see to it … lest any of you have an evil, unbelieving heart” (3:12)
  • “encourage one another” (3:13)
  • “let us fear … lest” (4:1)
  • “let us strive hard” (4:11)
  • “let us hold fast” (4:14)
  • “let us approach with confidence” (4:16; 10:22)
  • “leaving … let us carry on to perfection” (6:1; cf. 5:14)
  • “do not cast away your confidence” (10:35)
  • “you have need of perseverance” (10:36)
  • “let us run with perseverance” (12:1)
  • “consider [him]” (12:3)
  • “endure hardship as discipline” (12:7)
  • “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (12:12)
  • “make level paths for your feet” (12:13)
  • “make every effort to live in peace … and to be holy” (12:14)
  • “see to it that no one misses the grace of God” (12:15)
  • “see to it that … no bitter root grows up … ” (12:15)
  • “see that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless … ” (12:16)
  • “see to it that you do not refuse” (12:25)
  • “let us be thankful” (12:28)

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Now, summarize these phrases in the context. What is the main exhortation?

Keep Faith in Jesus, Son of God OR Persevere in the faith

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Great! The easy one is done…

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  1. Consequences

Preacher says, “If you don’t [exhortation][1] (above) then ____ happens.” Now, let’s deal with the _______ here, the consequence. What happens if I don’t keep the faith? Or, if I don’t persevere in the faith?

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  • “how shall we escape?” (2:2; cf. 12:25) (the answer is, “There is no way of escape!”)
  • Divine “anger”; 3:10, 17
  • “not entering,” or “falling short,” of the rest (=salvation); 3:11, 18–9; 4:1, 6, 11
  • “fell in the desert”; 3:17
  • “It is impossible to renew unto repentance”; 6:4–6; cf. 12:16–17
  • “no sacrifice for sins remains”; 10:26
  • “but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God”; 10:27
  • “fire”; 10:27; 12:29
  • “died without mercy”; 10:28
  • “punishment” or “vengeance” or “retribution”; 10:29, God’s judgment (10:30–31)
  • “destruction”; 10:39

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When other portions above are unclear, that’s not true with Heb. 10:26–31.

Summarize it. What’s the consequence of not persevering in faith?

Eternal damnation.

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Those who do not persevere in the faith until the end will suffer eternal punishment. The consequence of not persevering is eternal damnation. Therefore, “Persevere!”

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Great! We’ve got 2 down. We haven’t yet hit anything controversial thus far. But…

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What is the sin?

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  1. Sin

This is what the subjects are exhorted against committing.

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  • “slip away, flow by” (2:1)
  • “violation” (2:2)
  • “disobedience” (2:2)
  • “ignore, neglect, disregard [one’s salvation]” (2:3; cf. Matt 22:5; 1 Tim 4:14)
  • “harden your hearts” (3:8 [OT]; 3:13, 15; 4:7)
  • “in the rebellion” (3:8, 15)[OT]
  • “test, testing” (3:8, 9) [OT] (that is, putting God to the test)
  • “time of testing” (3:9 [OT])
  • “wander” (3:10 [OT])
  • “they have not known my ways” (3:10 [OT])
  • “sinful, unbelieving heart” (3:12; cf. 3:19)
  • “turning away, apostatizing from the living God” (3:12)
  • “embitter, rebel, disobey” (3:16)
  • “sin” (3:17; cf. 12:4)
  • “disobey, disbelieve” (3:18; 4:6, 11)
  • “lack, fall short” (4:1)
  • “was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (4:2)
  • “fall” (4:11)
  • “fall away” (6:6)
  • “recrucifying to themselves the Son of God and making a public display [of him]” (6:6)
  • “lazy, sluggish” (5:11; 6:12)
  • “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (10:25)
  • “deliberately sinning” (10:26)
  • “the enemies of God” (10:27; cf. Isa 26:11)
  • “reject” (10:28)
  • “trample the Son of God” (10:29)
  • “regarded the blood of the covenant as common” (10:29)
  • “treated with contempt the Spirit of grace” (10:29)
  • “do not throw away your confidence” (10:35)
  • “shrink back, become timid” (10:39) [Note: this leads to damnation: (10:39; cf. 10:38)]
  • “the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1)
  • “in order that you may not be weary in your souls, losing heart” (12:3)
  • “you have forgotten that word of encouragement” (12:5)
  • “misses the grace of God” (12:15)
  • “bitter root” (12:15)
  • “sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau” (12:16)
  • “refuse the One who speaks” (12:25)
  • “turn away from” (12:25)

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Again, the goal is to summarize these. Take out phrases that are unclear or offer no help. Helpful is bolded above.

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The Sin:

  • A wilful, conscious, and intentional (10:26)…
  • resolution to abandon and turn away from
  • God, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that perfects sinners, and God’s Spirit (The Trinitarian requirements in Christ).

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Keep in mind going forward that the focus in each of the passages is not what the readers might apostatize to, but what they apostatize from.

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  1. It’s a Public Sin!

Notice “to insult or mock” at 10:29. From this, it is clear that this sin is not hidden; it is noticeable and whoever commits it is not only conscious of it, but proud of it.

Therefore, by nature of the sin and the warnings associated with it, if you have ever worried over whether you have committed “the sin of Hebrews” this show by definition that you have not committed it.

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The sin of apostasy in Hebrews does not lead you to express concern over your standing with God. This sin vaunts itself in defiance to God’s will (again, “insult, mock”).

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Great! So far so good, just 1 left to go. The real “kicker”!…

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  1. Subjects or Audience

Who is able to commit this sin? This is the preacher’s viewpoint…

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  • Someone/Someone within a group that is similar to the Preacher.
    • He includes himself with the audience (“we” e.g., 2:1–4; 3:14; 4:1, 11, 14–16; 6:1; 10:19; 12:1–3, 25–29).
    • He calls them “brothers” (3:1, 12; 10:19; 13:22 [cf. To 2:11, 12, 17; 8:11])
  • Someone/Someone within a group who can apostatize yet have been sanctified?

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    • At 10:29 the author implies that those who are defiling the blood of the covenant (i.e., who are apostates) were sanctified.[2] Sanctified in the same sense as in 1 Co. 7:14? Note also 1 Ti. 4:5. Not sure.
  • Someone/Someone within a group that has experienced confirmation of the truth (Heb. 2:3–4)
  • Someone/ Someone within a group who has experienced miracles and various gifts of the Spirit, who has been enlightened, had tasted the heavenly gift, had shared in the Holy Spirit, had tasted the goodness of God’s Word, and had experienced the powers of the age to come and, furthermore, have repented (6:4–6).
  • Someone/Someone within a group who practised God-reward-able works (6:10)

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By all appearances, the author believes them to be, and presents them as, believers in the fullest sense possible. He perceives them to be regenerate and treats them as such. As a preacher over a pulpit, they give every possible evidence of being regenerate. The preacher observed them and concluded that they had experienced salvation. The preacher views them as having been regenerated. But all the preacher knows is that if you do not persevere, you are not saved.

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So, does the preacher to the Hebrews teach you can lose your salvation? No, but he does teach you can lose your non-saving “faith.” And if you are willing to come out boldly and say “I do not believe Jesus is the Christ, Son of God. I reject his sacrifice on the cross as sufficient for salvation. He did not rise from the dead” then you have “deconfessed Jesus as Christ” and you do not have saving faith. If you do not have saving faith, you do not have salvation. And, therefore, you never had saving faith in the first place (Hebrews 3:6b,14).

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So is it just “Salvation is by grace through faith alone”?

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Excursus on the Excursus: Soteriology for the Preacher of Hebrews

In both Hebrews 3:6b and 3:14 we have conditional expressions (protasis or antecedent, the “if” clause).

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  1. “If we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (3:6b)
  2. “If we hold firmly our confidence until the end” (3:14).

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In both passages we have expressions of result (apodisis or consequent, the “then” clause).

“If we do, then what do we know?”

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  1. “We are (presently) his house (or “family”)” i.e., “we’re saved” (3:6).
  2. “We have come to (some point in the past, continuing to the present) share in Christ”(3:14).

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“We know if we were saved (past) only when we persevere (present life) until the end (future).”

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Is final salvation conditional then? Let the preacher to the Hebrews influence your theology.

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Does the preacher to the Hebrews teach you can lose your salvation?

  1. The only sin that can separate a “confessing believer” from heaven is apostasy. “Sin” in Hebrews is almost exclusively apostasy. You need only be concerned if you have apostatized.
  2. But if you are worried that you have apostatized, by definition you have not. Those who apostatize do so willingly, with resolution, often boastfully in public defiance of Jesus Christ.
  3. If you are fearful of your eternal security, the preacher to the Hebrews urges you to press on to maturity (6:1) and to learn of the perfect sacrificial system of Jesus Christ (3:1-10:39).
  4. You should work out (not for) your salvation (Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 10:31; 12:29??????).

For the preacher to the Hebrews, final salvation is evidenced by perseverance. If you fail to persevere, you will suffer eternal damnation.

Illustration/Application…

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It is widely believed that Christian persecution is worse today than at any other time in history. In 2016, as many as 600,000 Christians may have suffered some form of persecution for their faith around the world.

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In Iraq, the Christian population declined from 275,000 in mid-2015 to below 200,000 two years later – and possibly as few as 150,000, the report says, warning that “if this decline were to continue at the same rate, it would show that” the previous report’s “prediction of a virtual wipe-out of Iraq’s Christian community by 2020 remains on track.”[3]

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According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ. [4]

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North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea are each in the extreme persecution category according to opendoorsusa.org. North Korea has been number one for 13 years because it is illegal to be a Christian. If you’re caught, you are sent to labor camps or killed.

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Each month on average, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches are destroyed each month, and 772 violent acts are committed against Christians.

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How would the preacher to the Hebrews exhort Christians in Iraq?

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Summary Statement of the Preacher’s Warning

“You who give every possible appearance of being presently saved, keep faith in Jesus, Son of God. If you wilfully, consciously, and intentionally resolve to abandon and turn away from Jesus Christ, his sacrifice that perfects sinners, and God’s Spirit, you will suffer eternal damnation. Only complete perseverance in the doctrine of Christ will reveal your spiritual condition” (Heb. 3:6, 14).

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  1. Keep faith in Jesus Son of God.

  2. The use of the third person singular (ἐν ὧ ἡγιάσθη) could be construed impersonally and parenthetically to mean “by which one is sanctified” and then be no comment whatsoever about the status of the person who mistreats the blood of the covenant. P. E. Hughes, for instance, seems to prefer this view, though he devotes no attention to this expression. Instead, he sees “simulated” faith on the part of an apostate rather than genuine faith and refers the act to the ineffectual taking of weekly communion. Cf. Hebrews, 422–23; see J. Brown, Hebrews (Geneva Series; London: Banner of Truth, 1972 [=1862]) 473–74. A majority of commentators translate the third person singular with “he” and imply that the one who is sanctified is also the one who defiles the blood. See, e.g., Westcott, Hebrews, 331; Spicq, Hébreu, 2.325; Michel, Hebräerbrief, 353; L. L. Morris, “Hebrews,” 107; Attridge, Hebrews, 292, 293. This interpretation seems preferable.

  3. .

    https://www.christianpost.com/news/30-christians-heinously-persecuted-for-their-faith-tell-their-stories-202716/

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    https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/

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