Plowboy Would “Get” This?!

The fact that Hebrews 6:7 – 8 is an agrarian metaphor gives Tyndale’s “plowboy” no advantage in understanding the meaning of those verses.  Knowledge of Old Covenant Scriptures and/or access to commentaries, though, gives rise to such understanding.  Before pursuing such understanding, though, a brief consideration of two more familiar agrarian metaphors is warranted.  Jesus’ parables regarding soils and wheat and tares are familiar, to be sure; as is all too often true, however, familiarity in no way ensures understanding.

Just over a month ago, Brian Thornton posted via Voice of the Sheep regarding Jesus’ parables regarding soils and wheat and tares.  He wrote:

Someone commented here yesterday and told me in no uncertain terms that the field in this parable is the church, and even said, “sounds like deceptive false teachers vs the true church to me.”  This is a good example of the importance of letting Scripture speak for itself, instead of making a ‘to me’ interpretation.  Jesus is clear in His explanation that the field is the world.  Period.  The field is not the church, and while there are certainly false teachers who have crept into the church unnoticed, while there are certainly weeds operating within the church, the church is not supposed to have anything in it but wheat.

This is a major distinction between the Old and New Covenants.  Under the Old Covenant, the true church was within the larger group of the nation of Israel.  Everyone under the covenant did not know the Lord.  Under the New Covenant, however, ‘they will all know Me’, declares the Lord.  This is, sadly, an area where our Paedo brothers and sisters continue to blur the lines (by knowingly baptizing unregenerate people into membership) which, under the New Covenant, were supposed to be blurred no longer.  The church, the Bride and body of Christ, is to be holy and pure and undefiled.  She is not to be mixed with weeds.

(emphases sic)  [Comment:  Reformed Baptists who “get” so much yet adhere to covenental confessionalism — just as “leaky dispensationalists” adhere to Israel-centered hermeneutics — are close to New Covenant Theology in many ways, yet so committed to system-driven theology that error as to Israel (its contrived identity with the Church or its ostensible status as the focus of God’s plan of redemption) remains firmly rooted.]

 A few sentences after the foregoing cogent observation, Brian wrote:

 What I am about to say may grate against my Arminian friends, but the truth still remains that the weeds were weeds even before they sprouted, and the good seed was good seed even before it sprouted.  Look at what Jesus says in His explanation of the parable.  He explains that, “The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil”.  Does this not clearly state that the weeds have been weeds from the beginning, even before birth?  Is this not in agreement with God’s words in Romans 9 when he said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated“?  Is this not what Jesus was referring to in John when he declared to those who could not hear his message, “You are of your father, the devil” and “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep“?

Similarly, Jesus describes the good seed when He says, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.”  The good seed is the sons of the kingdom.  They have always been ‘good seed’, even before their regeneration.  Now, before you jump all over me, listen to what I am saying.  The good seed, prior to regeneration, was, by nature, children of wrath even as the rest.  But, they were never children of wrath, for they were sown by the Son of Man.  They were good seed before they were ever planted, not after they made a decision.

(emphases sic)

Just as the nature of the seed sown by the Son of Man is soveriegnly determined by God, the nature of the soil on which the seed [in the Parable of the Soils, the seed is the message of the Substitutionary Atonement (The Great Exchange:  My Sin For His Righteousness, as Jerry Bridges & Bob Bevington put it)] is determined by God.  Craig L. Blomberg’s Commentatry on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Eds., includes the following observations regarding the Parable of the Soils (at p. 46):

After Jesus narrates the story of the sower (Matt. 13:3 – 9), the  disciples ask him why he speaks to the crowds in parables (13:10).  Jesus’ reply appears to suggest that only “insiders” have been selected to understand the “mysteries” of God’s kingdom, not “outsiders” (13:11 – 12).  * * * For those without ears to hear, parables seem to conceal more than they reveal, so that hearing and seeing do not lead to true spiritual understanding or perception.

Edgar Andrews, at p. 165 of his A Glorious High Throne:  Hebrews Simply Explained, observes regarding the Parable of the Soils:

The idea that false discipleship can imitate the real thing is found throughout the New Testament.  The parable of the sower is so familiar that we perhaps overlook the fact that it teaches this very truth.  The stony ground and the weed-infested soil both yield initial evidence of germination.  The seed settles and grows, but not for long.  Yet, until the seedlings become shrivelled or choked, they look genuine enough.

Now, we consider the text at issue — Hebrews 6:7 – 8:  “For ground that has drunk the rain that has often fallen on it, and that produces vegetation useful to those it is cultivated for, receives a blessing from God.  But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and will be burned at the end.”  George H. Guthrie, at p. 962 of Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, observes:

The agricultural imagery in 6:7 – 8 offers a striking picture of God’s blessing for those who respond to his word and God’s curse on those who do not.  * * *  Therefore, a case can be made that Hebrews has in mind [ ] Deuteronomy [32] specifically at 6:8, and the nearness of a curse fits the context of Deuteronomy, with its “blessing or  curse” framework.

Thus, several elements from Deuteronomy seem to be echoed in the proverbial imagery of Heb. 6:7 – 8, including the earth that drinks the rain, the blessed over against the cursed land, burning of the land as an image of judgment, and the nearness of God’s judgment.

What, then, of the “thorns and thistles” of Heb. 6:8?  The exact form of the words as they occur in 6:8 (akanthas kai tribolous) occurs also in Gen. 3:18, the statement of judgment on Adam, which involved the curse on the ground.  It would grow thorns and thistles for him.  It seems that Hebrews may be utilizing the material about the curse on the land in Deuteronomy and incorporating into it the curse on the ground from Gen. 3:18.  Indeed, a number of Pentateuch scholars suggest that the Genesis passage is one wellspring from which the curse on the land in Deuteronomy flows, and a rabbi of the first century certainly would have seen the verbal analogy between the curse on the earth in Gen. 3:18 and the terminology of curse and land in Deuteronomy.

Andrews, at p. 168, “connects the dots”: 

Firstly, we see that the fault does not lie in the gospel ‘rain’, but in the nature of the ‘soil’ on which it falls.  This, of course, is essentially the message of [the parable of] ‘the sower’ (though there it is seed that falls, not rain).  Gospel truth is always [ ] capable of bearing fruit.  But what happens depends on the hearts of those who hear it.  In some cases, the heart is good ground, perpared by grace to receive the message of salvation.  The result is blessing by God.

In other cases the same rain falls upon soil that harbours seeds of thorns and briars, though this is not at first apparent.  Only as the rain germinates the residual seed, do we see the unhappy result.  This is the picture of apostasy, which is thus revealed as an inherent condition. 

(italics sic, underscore added)

Finally, Paul Ellingworth, at p. 328 of The New International Greek Testament Commentary — NIGTC — The Epistle to the Hebrews , urges that “[t]he context excludes any thought that the purpose of burning is to purify the land for fresh sowing.  The theme of the fire of divine judgment is common throughout the Bible.  [citations omitted]”

So, with considerable help, we discern that the seemingly obscure conclusion to the warning passage in Hebrews 6 in actuality illustrates the concept that said warning is communicated to all, but operative upon the non-elect.  Given the length of this post, Kerry Kinchen’s conclusions regarding whom the Writer addresses will be incorporated into the transition from the warning which is next.

12 thoughts on “Plowboy Would “Get” This?!

  1. Jim, I have to query that comment you quoted on the good seed being good before it was planted. It’s reading in a priori what is meant to be a posteriori. Eternal election is just designation for saving grace,thus the NT’s use of the word ‘elect’ refering to the ‘believing elect’ is a synonym for the ‘effectually called.’ Elect unbelievers are under condemnation and heirs of wrath just as others because they are yet the devil’s seed. We cannot make the gospel a transcript of election.

  2. Thanks, Phil; election is unconditional, I presume you agree. Brian Thornton’s assertions and yours pertain to quite “lofty” concepts; no less so is the issue whether infants/young children/stillborn children/aborted children/and/or children without mental capacity who die are among the elect. The rest of us certainly experience regeneration if we’re elect; nevertheless, the fact of our election isn’t dependent upon our regeneration (yes, I realize that such is not the issue as to unconditional election).

    Romans 5:14 anything but supports the assertion that anyone who isn’t regenerated may nonetheless be elect. That portion of Scripture unequivocally reveals that it’s Adam’s sin for which we’re condemned already.

    Please indulge my breaking from this issue; as my head may be in imminent danger of exploding, I must go purchase some duct tape (apologies to Glenn Beck for mutating his metaphor). Oops, you may not know Glenn Beck from Adam (I couldn’t resist) — think Rush Limbaugh with an “edge”! Any sign of Spring in the vicinity of Bristol?

  3. The elect were not given by the Father to the Son at regeneration, but before the foundation of the world, therefore, they were never the devil’s seed. They were always good seed sown by the sower, waiting to sprout in God’s perfect timing.

  4. Jim/Brian,

    I think you may be reading too much into that parable. The point of the parable isn’t to define the spiritual condition of the seed prior to conversion. If we try to glean too much detail from a parable, we can end up missing the point of the parable. The same truths could have been illustrated with caterpillars becoming butterflies. What condition the seed was in prior to being planted is irrelevant to the parable. We look to the teaching passages to formulate our theology of man’s condition and before conversion, we all have a bad heart and a bad record in Adam.

  5. Hey chaps. I agree with what Mike says here.

    Jim, yeah I reckon (at least at the mo) it does look a bit Spring-like here. The old daffodils are up in the back garden ;o)…pretty chilly sometimes tho. What’s the weather like where you are? Where are you again?! I’m afraid I don’t know either of those two chaps – just googled Rush and I gather he’s a broadcaster but I haven’t a clue what you mean!

    I do agree with unconditional election before the foundation of the world. And I say this – not for the sake of extra-biblical speculation about orders of decrees or anthropomorphizing God’s mind – but for the sake of my sanity – an election “out of the corrupt masses.” As to what election is, I think its just an expression of God’s intent in love to determinately give salvation to some rebels of his choice – on grounds which in no way are based on any worth or ability or goodness found in man. Eternal election is “mere” “designation”. But obviously, we can only personally know such an “eternal” election after the event of saving faith. Thus looking at a concordance, when the NT refers to the “elect,” we find it obviously has in mind those who have been revealed as such – and the revelation of such it so ties to their space-time response to the gospel “believe and live!” as to be synonymous with “effectual calling.” 1Pe 1v2 is a strong example; in the KJV;

    “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, to obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

    Here believers are said to be elect *according* to the foreknowledge of God the Father, but *through* sanctification of the Spirit that leads them to grasp hold of substitutionary atonement. This is effectual calling. Romans 8v23; “who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” Obviously the elect are justified here – which they weren’t before they believed – the term refers to the saved elect. Again, Mat24v24 – the elect are held up as those who are “open” to be (but cannot be) deceived – obviously the believing elect are in mind – the “effectually called” who are then preserved. The elect are not “good” in any sense before they are saved. Regeneration connected with the gospel gives them a new heart. Without such, election would do nothing. But I’m not suggesting believers were not elect before they were believers. Their eternal election meant that they would be regenerated and justified future once Christ had atoned for their sins.

    I think it boils down to a case of stress – is it the gospel in our space and time (I think the Apostles preached this way) that as much appeals to man’s responsibility as acknowledges God’s sovereignty – or do we tend to predefine the gospel by a logically prior decree of election out of our time and space that already has separated the sheep from the goats without reference to the gospel – a gospel through which God does have a sincere desire that all men be saved? Do we view election entirely a priori, or does it come revealed to us with an posteriori element in our time and space in one’s effectual calling? Is the stress of God’s gospel revelation such that effectual calling of sinners in our time and space, can be termed (as Peter does) an “election of the Spirit” yet according to God’s foreknowledge of an absolute, eternal, personal and unconditional, decree of election? I hope I’ve made myself more clear.

  6. Sorry…I split my comment and the first bit was too long!

    Wrt those without mental capacity, I’m somewhat undecided. God hasn’t told us explicitly that dying infants – born guilty and thus condemned – are always saved, but perhaps we have some hints that in his goodness he does indeed save them. I don’t know my bible well enough. I’ve seen John Macarthur mention some. But theologically speaking, Adam’s sin left his descendents in solidarity with him in conscious rebellion – if God brings the gospel before mankind and does have a desire that people should respond (even if he doesn’t grant the response or the cicumstances of hearing the gospel) then it seems to be a bit inconsistent that those who don’t have a natural ability to exercise their faculties to do so should – right at the start – even when they are born with bad hearts – be behind those who do have their faculties intact. We’re not penalized from partaking in the gospel by being sinners! Therefore we can’t be penalized for not having enough intelligence! – especially when God has (in a variety of ways) a special care for the simple and those who cannot look after themselves. Perhaps God speaks to their minds in a language they can understand so that (those elect – whether that is all infants or just some) can respond like the rest of God’s elect – I think it would have to include a regeneration somewhat like ours. Whatever, God is far more good, kind, loving, just and wise then we know him to be, whatever happens…

    Anyway, just some thoughts.

    Jim, if you’d like to have a look at that essay I wrote on the atonement, I don’t know how to contact you – my email is

  7. LIONEL: I’ve “visited” your site, enjoyed my visit, and intend to return; I’m glad our Lord directed your attention to IDS!

    Phil ~

    Is it “final”?

    Please take a “second glance” at 2 Peter 3:9; the “any” He doesn’t want to perish are Peter’s “Dear friends” (3:8 AND 3:1 — those to whom Peter wrote his “second letter”) and are those to whom he addressed his first letter thusly: “To those that are ELECT … .” (emphasis added) I know that you know that God is Sovereign — and we’re not! His soveriegn grace is irresistable (see John 14:6, 6:44, and 6:37).

    We along “the North Coast” just yesterday endured nearly a foot of snow; overnight, we expect near zero (f) temperatures.

    [Any better in WI, Steve?!]

    I assumed you’d have some familiarity with “el Rushbo”; some love him, some hate him; either way, he’s an American phenomenon!

  8. Jim, I think your misunderstanding me. My point is not that God isn’t sovereign, not that the elect aren’t unconditionally elect…but that the NT declares them revealed as such by their response to the gospel “Be reconciled to God!” through saving faith in repentance. My point is that such a gospel does not come only to the elect, and is not to be reduced to a transcript of an eternal election we can know nothing about until we repent and believe. And that such an election is “just” designation that some will be effectually called – brought to saving faith in repentance – by “irresistible grace.” We need such because we are *all* totally depraved before we are justified through faith – elect and non-elect alike – there is no difference.

    As to 2Pe3v9, whether or not Peter means “all men” or all “Christians” may be debated, but if your point is to diminish any sense in which it is to be said that “God desires the salvation of all men” – then you err. That God can sincerely offer a salvation to all sinners, is an expression of his loving desire to save them “should they come” that in no way obviates the fact that he actually effectually calls just the elect, according to his unalterably sovereign will. What about 1Tim2v4, Jn 3v16 in their clear, natural sense? Think about how Peter preached to the masses in Acts 2. How can people be urged to “be reconciled to God” when God has not made space for them? No-one can preach direct “good news” like that – they have to preach a transcript of an election they can know nothing about. Something along the lines of “you will be saved if you give evidences that you are saved!”

    I’ve finished the essay. I keep making little changes, but it’s “finished.” I’ll send it to you if you like. Check out these too;

    Snow’s good!…we don’t get much here…I can’t remember many occasions when we had a reasonable chunk, especially not the last 15 years or so.

  9. I refrain — for now, at least — from commenting regarding Historical Premillennialism, etc. You probably can’t imagine how difficult it is for me to so refrain!

    1. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

    2. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, … .

    3. Everyone the Father gives to Me will come to Me, … .

    1. John 14:6
    2. John 6:44
    3. John 6:37

    In the words of Steve Brown (no, I’m not “endorsing” KeyLife): You think about that!

  10. Jim, I don’t want to irk you. But I still think you misunderstand me. I agree with what you write above entirely, but I think perhaps I hold a little more than you – which I argue in my essay is compatible. Do you want to read it through and engage with my arguments? Also, it may be helpful to know that it’s not unique to me! I think it’s very important, though.

    I’m afraid I don’t seem to have much success with understanding some of your more oblique comments (like the last sentence). Please help me out by speaking more clearly to me.

  11. Jim…just a quick note to ask you to email me if you would like my essay as you indicated before. I’ll leave the subject here now.


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