The writer had addressed two great needs in his audience, the need for understanding and the need for maturity. As serious as those needs were, however, there was an even graver concern, a need they may not even have realized they had, lacking as they already were.
The Need for a Sense of Security,
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who
—have once been enlightened,
—and have tasted the heavenly gift,
—and have shared in the Holy Spirit,
—and have tasted the goodness of the word of God
—and [have tasted] the powers of the age to come,
and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.
Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.
if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over.Hebrews 6:4-8 (NRSV)
There are three accepted interpretations:
Interpretation #1: Saved, but then lost.
Some theologians posit these people, represented in these verses, as saved individuals who are consequently lost because they have not held onto their faith. Once lost (again), always lost, the passage seems to say.
Do the scriptures offer any rebuttal to that position?
Well, the Apostle Paul would say,
What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:31-39 (NRSV)
Embedded in all those things is even the vagaries of our own deconstruction process, our own anger, doubts, despair, and depression. Even we cannot break that bond once it has been made. The seal of the Spirit is infinitely, eternally, supernaturally stronger than any other force.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.
“No one will snatch them out of my hand.
“What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.
“The Father and I are one.”Jesus, John 10:27-29 (NRSV)
Jesus was very clear about this. No one means no one, not even you and me.
Though there are many whose story appears to be they had been a Christian, but then they changed their minds or lost their faith, or could not seem to hold onto it, these passages seem clear. They let go of God, but God has not let go of them.
Interpretation #2, Hyperbole posed as a purely hypothetical case.
Why be so strong about it?
Some theologians acknowledge it is genuinely impossible for something like what the writer described to ever actually happen. The twenty-first century western reader might puzzle over that idea. Why would the Hebrews author write it out if it could not really happen?
There is some credence to this theory in that ancient rhetoric held an honored place for hyperbole. We might call it satire, perhaps. The purpose would be to so startle these dull listeners as to snap them to attention. If so, it is working to this day!
Interpretation #3, Revisit of the parable of the soils.
The writer of Hebrews may very well have been calling attention to what Jesus Himself had taught—that some may initially respond to the gospel, but ultimately will not become believers.
These would be people who have gone a long way down the road to saving faith but have not gone all the way.
Perhaps they are even professing Christians, but when they fall away it is proof that they had not gone all the way to genuine faith. I say this because of the Apostle John.
They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.1 John 2:19 (NRSV)
Qualifiers of Security
To know the whole of the gospel, to be enlightened, is not unique to believers. Knowing is not the same thing as receiving and repenting, it is not the same thing as believing, or putting our faith in God.
Tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Spirit, tasted the goodness of God’s word
Tasting is not the same thing as eating and drinking. Real tasting is actually putting something on the tongue, savoring it, making an opinion about it and then spitting it out, washing the mouth thoroughly with something neutral in order to clear the palate for the next taste. Eating and drinking, real ingesting, as Jesus taught, is something entirely different.
The writer appears to have been addressing a mixed group of weak believers, and unbelievers. Some had an intellectual understanding of the gospel, had warmed to the love of Christians, enjoyed being part of the church, but they had not really repented, had not put their faith in Jesus, had not been bonded to Christ.
That still leaves us with the troubling word impossible. What was the writer getting at, there? Nothing is impossible with God. The power of the Spirit to convict and bring to repentance has always ever been our only hope. The writer cannot have meant such persons have somehow become inured to even the divine power of Almighty God!
But what, then?
ἀδύνατος | adynatos has two parts: –a-, which means without, and –dynamos-, which means power. So, without power, unable, impotent, though sometimes translated as weak or passive. And this is where the writer’s analogy or illustration of the field becomes the key.
A field that produces is a blessing, and God blesses that field. But the field that produces nothing but thorns and thistles is not a blessing at all. It is worthless and on the verge of being cursed.
On the verge.
So, there is only one last solution left to the farmer. Its end is to be burned over.
Burning, often a metaphor for God’s wrath, is a cleansing agent. The burning will rid the land of all the thistles and thorns. Yes, scorched earth was a policy of armies marching through enemy territory, but that burning was to destroy good crops. This burning is to cleanse the field of all that hinders it from producing a good crop.
There are two specific incidences when this last, severe discipline was employed.
you are to hand-over such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, in order that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.1 Corinthians 5:5 (DLNT)
Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed-over to Satan in order that they may be trained not to blaspheme.1 Timothy 1:20 (DLNT)
It is hard to know what exactly was meant by this extreme measure, but it seems this was real, and was intended for ultimate good.