A Major Biblical Enigma

A Glimpse of Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews is widely regarded as one of the most difficult of books, enigmatic to those who fail to recognize the status of (and the issues confronting) the specific readers who are being addressed. In our previous article on this challenging book, we focused on the mysteries surrounding its authorship and its role in the Trilogy on Habakkuk 2:4.1

But perhaps the most disturbing concern seems to center around its ostensible attack on the eternal security of the believer, particularly in the lengthy sentence in Hebrews 6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 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.

Hebrews 6:4-6

Since the readers of this Epistle were definitely saved believers, this would seem to create a paradox regarding eternal security.

Exegetical Analysis

The exegesis2 of the Greek grammar is very challenging: the long sentence consists of a string of participles that modify the adjective “impossible.”3 This impossibility is modified, however, by two continuous action participles.4 The grammar of the passage connotes that the main verb of the sentence (i.e., the verb “to be”) and the descriptive aorist participles that modify it in verses 4-5 are all limited and defined by the present tense of the participles in verse 6.

After a person stops those two actions, at which time those behaviors become past tense activities as soon as they are ceased, the impossibility of renewal or restoration no longer applies, since they no longer are present tense activities relating to the word “impossible.”

However, in any case, the impossibility referred to is an impossibility to restore repentance, not to restore salvation, and the restoration of the repentance is connoted by the verbs as occurring only during the time of the various verbs described by the two present participles. Once these two present actions cease, the impossibility is removed. Thus, neither permanent loss of repentance (let alone any loss of salvation, for that matter) is mentioned in this verse.

Beyond the exegetical technicalities of the Greek, however, there is an even more basic issue involved: whose “repentance” is in view?

The Crisis at Kadesh-Barnea

The writer of the Epistle continually relies on the crisis at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13 and 14) to draw his primary insights: Israel’s lack of faith at the threatening report of ten (of the twelve) spies caused them to balk at entering the Land. Their lack of faith deeply grieved the Lord, of course.

What is widely overlooked, however, is that they were forgiven.5 However, they still were disinherited,6 because of a sworn oath,7 and that is the key point by the writer in several of the issues addressed in the Epistle.8

The writer applies the same argument regarding the “repentance” that was not available to Esau,9 who “found no place of repentance though he sought it carefully with tears.”10 Let’s realize that the word for “repentance” (meta,noia metanoia), refers to a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done. It was Isaac’s repentance that was lacking, not Esau’s.

So it also seems possible that in Hebrews 6, it may be God whose repentance is in view, not the readers’. Even though forgiveness may be granted, it could be God who does not “change His mind” regarding the inheritance issue since He had sworn an oath regarding the matter. This is a provocative alternative perspective to reflect upon.

An Amicus Brief?

There is an unusual concept available in our law courts: an Amicus curiae, a friend of the court. This refers to a bystander who interposes and volunteers information upon some matter to which the judge may be doubtful or mistaken, or when there is a danger of doing a wrong thing. Such a “third party”—not a direct party in interest—can offer an Amicus brief, as a friend of the court, for whatever assistance it may provide.

Paul was, in a sense, in that kind of a position. Since he regarded Jesus Christ as The Apostle to the Jews,11 and since Paul was specifically called as the apostle to the Gentiles,12 to officially step in and address Jewish believers could constitute a kind of presumptuous supererogation.

This would also explain why he deliberately left the epistle unsigned. He simply put forth a series of self-sufficient arguments which rely on the very Scriptures his audience was bound to accept as authoritative. If appended with Paul’s signature, this could have negatively prejudiced Jewish believers (much as it still does to Judaizers to this very day!)

The critical issue before the readers was not their salvation: it was their inheritance! They were to press on to spiritual maturity: to become a metachoi, a partaker, an overcomer. There are at least five specific warnings in this epistle that build on each other to hammer home that crucial theme.

Are you a metachoi?13 If not, how do you become one? What do you miss if you don’t?

The Scripture says that, in heaven, God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.14 Why are there any tears in heaven? (There are no shortages, no lack of the knowledge of God, no death, no sorrow, no pain, etc.) Why are there any tears at all?

I suspect that we may become overwhelmed as we realize our lost opportunities! When we look back and recall the time we wasted, the numerous ways we might have better taken advantage of this brief “boot camp” we call life, during which we might have been more diligent on behalf of our Savior and King!

Oh, if we could just develop a “Kingdom Perspective,” and recognize now how our eternal destiny then is going to be impacted by our faithfulness here and now..

How devoutly to be wished, indeed!

This is an amazing epistle—directed to the sophisticated believer, not the novitiate. It is a call to graduate from the children’s milk to the mature meat of the Word.

It’s your call. Pray about it.


  1. Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrew 10:39.
  2. Exegesis is the analysis of what the text actually says.
  3. Adunaton, in verse 4, of which parapesontas (fallen away) is only one component, but which it and the other participles contained in verses 4-5 are described as leading to an impossibility (adunaton, the first word in verse 4) of being renewed (or restored) to repentance (anakainizein eis metanoian).
  4. Anastaurountas (crucifying) and paradeigmatizontas (publicly ridiculing).
  5. Numbers 14:20.
  6. Numbers 14:12, 21-35.
  7. Numbers 14:23.
  8. Hebrews 3:17-19.
  9. Genesis 27:32-40.
  10. Hebrews 12:16, 17.
  11. Hebrews 3:1.
  12. Acts 22:21, et al.
  13. Hebrews 3:14.
  14. Revelation 7:17; 21:4.