“those who have once been enlightened…and then have fallen away” – Heb 6:
There are today many Christians who believe with great certainty that it is possible for a true, Born Again Believer to lose their salvation. Although they cite many texts, one of their most prominent arguments come from Hebrews 6:4-6. Let’s look at the text…
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
The argument, they say, is that the author is clearly describing a person who has a genuine saving faith, but then has fallen away. The term “fallen away”, which the author of Hebrews has used before, means to completely disengage and go in the other direction.
I have to admit, at first glance they seem to have a compelling argument. However, the author of Hebrews chose his words carefully and I believe that if we dig in we can discover exactly what he meant when he wrote these words. In the previous chapter the author chastised the people for being so spiritually underdeveloped that they could only drink the milk of the word, they were not mature enough to eat meat. Let’s not be like that, let’s eat some meat…
There are four words that the author used to describe the people who fall away. They have been enlightened, they have tasted, they have shared and there were, before falling away, in a state of repentance.
The Greek word for “enlightened” is photizo, which means to have come to an “understanding” of a subject, in this case the gospel, of what salvation is, of what the Chruch is like and how it functions. We frequently use this word in a similar fashion, for example if a person is an an expert in certain subject that you do not know much about you may say “Enlighten me”. I asked this very question recently during a conversation with a surgeon, which I personally think is a fascinating vocation. He explained to me a lot of detail of his continuing education as well as what it is like to perform surgery. I left that conversation knowing exponentially more about being a surgeon, yet I would never claim to be an expert, and certainly wouldn’t suggest I learned enough to give it a try myself.
To be enlightened does not mean that they have responded to this gospel. There are certainly people who know the whole gospel story, yet are not saved. In fact, I personally know people who are downright experts in their understanding of the gospel yet still reject it.
To say someone has been “enlightened” means that they have come into the Church and learned what it is we are about.
The Greek word for “tasted” is geuomai, which is pretty simple, it means to taste. It is used of Jesus when on the cross “they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.” (Matthew 27:34). This word reminds me of a familiar scene in a crime drama where a dead body is found next to a drink. One of the characters puts his finger in the drink and brings a drop to his tongue, then immediately spits it out and exclaims “Poison!” To taste does not mean that one feasts. It does not even mean that someone has enjoyed what he tasted, only that in a very real way they have tasted what something is like.
The Greek word for “shared: is metochos and it has a wide range of meanings, from implying a very close participation and attachment to having a loose association. In Heb 3:14 it does mean a saving relationship with Christ, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” However it is also used to describe a simple association, such as when the disciples caught so many fish their nets were breaking they called to their partners for help.
There is another greek word that the author could have used, koinonos, in Hebrews10:33 “sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.”
the reason I bring this up is that there were strong words in the Greek that he used when he wanted to, but evidently he didn’t want to us those strong words here. Does it necessarily mean these people were attached to the Holy Spirit or just that they were there when He was at work? (example, Golf Marathon/Erik and shared a golf experience, Ami and I share a marriage)
repentance – metanioa does not need to refer to an inward heart repentance unto salvation, but can simply mean a change of mind “and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke (17:3-4). (DANGER: If we preach anything to an unsaved person except total reliance on Jesus’s work on the cross we get into dangerous territory. There are unsaved people who feel sorry for what they do an chance their ways. Some men who beat their wives feel bad for that and get counseling and change, some alcoholics join AA, etc)
In his commentary, Pink wrote “Taking the passage as a whole, it needs to be remembered that all who had professed to receive the Gospel were not born of God: the parable of the Sower shows that”
At this point I believe one thing has been proven, that by examining these four words the author could be describing either scenario, the true loss of salvation or a person who has professed faith but was not truly saved.
But lets back up and look at a word that is not ambiguous, there’s no room for different interpretations. He writes in the case of [a person who has experienced this] it is impossible … to restore them again to repentance … if they have fallen away. IMPOSSIBLE!
7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
This agricultural analogy is a very interesting key to unlocking the intentions of the author. It is important to see that the people who fall away are not compared to a land the once bore good fruit then stopped, they are a land that never bears good fruit. Now I’m beginning to lean strongly to opinion that the author is describing someone who has never been saved.
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation.
This whole argument is a contrast. This is what the author does, this is his style. The contrast here is those who… and yet you, beloved.
Again, Pink writes “it is of first importance to note that the apostle does not say, ‘us who were once enlightened’, nor even ‘you’, instead, he says ‘those’. “
In verse 9 the author makes it very clear the things associated with those who have…fallen away are not:
things that belong to salvation – ESV
things that have to do with salvation – NIV
the better things connected with salvation – HCSB
The argument, they say, is that the author is clearly describing a person who has a genuine saving faith, but then has fallen away. The author of Hebrews has used the term “fall away” previously, in vs 3:12 where he wrote “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
If the author was speaking of people who had experienced true salvation, it would be very, very difficult to understand why he phrased vs. 9 the way he did.
Lastly we must understand what this author is trying to prevent, a person who experiences these things, and then rejects them and turns to back to Judaism. There was not a group of people more hostile towards Jesus than the Jews. That’s what he means by saying they are crucifying once again the Son of God, and holding him up to contempt. After all I’ve learned about Jesus and all I have experienced here in the church, I’m going to go join with the people who killed him. They were right all along.
The author is saying tenaciously cling to Jesus, don’t let go, don’t fall away back into Judaism and the Law, because if you do there’s no coming back from that.