Tasting, tasting … warning (WARNING!)

The Writer is anxious to move on with his exposition of the high-priesthood of Christ. But how could his readers follow such exalted teaching … ? * * * The epistle to the Hebrews is evidence enough that the correct way to interpret Old Testament Scripture is in a Christocentric manner. Quite apart from its specific teachings, the letter viewed overall makes this abundantly clear. Jesus himself showed ‘in all the Scripture the things concerning himself’ (Luke 24:25 – 27) and told the Pharisees that the Old Testament testified of Him (Jn. 5:39).

Yet today, evangelical Christians often forget this ‘first principle’ of Old Testament interpretation. They find many things of value in the Old Testament, such as history, eccliesiology, the holiness and sovereignty of God, incomparable moral teaching, the nature of man, and much more. But, fatally, they often fail to discern Christ in all the scriptures.

As a result, they teach many things from the Old Testament that are actually inconsistent with God’s free grace in Christ. They teach salvation by works, bondage to law, false notions of theocratic government, priestly orders and the like. And all because they do not see that these things had no value in themselves but prefigured a new covenant and a new order which is established in Christ.

Edgar Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, pp. 157 – 8 [bold emphasis added (italics sic)].

The instant writer, too, is eager to “move on with [the] exposition of the high-priesthood of Christ”; again quoting Ellingworth’s paraphrase of Hebrews 6:3: “We will go on to maturity, if God permits.” However, as the Writer found it necessary to warn those self-satisfied with “milk” before beginning the exposition, we must first understand at least to whom the warning does not pertain.

For it is impossible, in the case of those once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 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.

Hebrews 6:4 – 6.

Jesus’ assurance that “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28), along with concomitant instruction found elsewhere in the New Covenant Scriptures, precludes application of the warning(s) found in Hebrews to the regenerate elect. It is not the purpose of the instant “post” to exhaustively examine arguments regarding perseverance (Thomas Schreiner and D.A. Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance is highly acclaimed regarding such issue); exegesis of the instant verses does, however, corroborate the doctrine (perseverance).

“What we have to understand is that the experiences described in these verses attach, not to the elect, but to some who mimic true believers, … .” (Andrews at p. 165) Those “once enlightened” (v. 4) “had apparently understood the gospel of Christ, at least intellectually … but relapsed into the darkness of works-religion and ritualism. This is never true of one born of the Spirit, for the Holy Spirit never ceases to enlighten the child of God concerning Christ (John 16:14 – 15).” (Andrews at p. 166)

“Tasted” is repeated within v. 4 and again within v. 5. To Ezekiel (Ezk. 3:3) and to John (Rev. 10:9 – 10), God’s word tasted “sweet as honey”. Jesus employed a different metaphor — one about which most Christians are quite aware — which must be considered next.

10 thoughts on “Tasting, tasting … warning (WARNING!)

  1. I agree that it seems most consistent with scripture to apply these phrases to unregenerate persons. However, can unbelievers “share in the Holy Spirit?” At any rate, assuming it is applying to unbelievers, why is it impossible for them to later repent and be saved? Have they comitted the unpardonable sin, and sinned against the Holy Spirit?

  2. As a M.D. in Residency, Eddie, surely you have comparably less time than — well — just about anyone to pursue “solid food”; the fact that you do so, I must acknowledge, bodes quite well for you! Please indulge a “tune in next week” as to what it means to share/partake/bec[o]me companions with the Holy Spirit (Holman C.S.B.). For now, consider v. 6* (“they are crucifying again the Son of God”) vis a’ vis 10:26: “For if we deliberately sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.

    For whose sin are we condemned already? Adam’s — Romans 5:12 ff. Until/unless our Lord regenerates us, our blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is inevitable. The unregenerate/non-elect can and do “bec[o]me companions with the Holy Spirit” (as tares), but, invariably, their “default” position — that of every unregenerate human being — leads them to pursue self-justification. Neither the Writer’s receptors nor those to whom the warning(s) pertain today consciously choose to pursue works-righteousness (well, perhaps some did/do); rather, their lack of appetite for Truth (“solid food”) betrays them and they import rituals and legalism (albeit different in manifestation today than two millennia ago) into their “faith”. That is, they pursue RELIGION (what must I DO?), as their pride (“default” status) must be assuaged by the notion that they “cooperate in grace” (as the Chatecism of the Roman Catholic Church phrases it) — they won’t/can’t REST in what was DONE {teTELEstai [Paid-In-Full (CHRISTIANITY)]}.

    * We’re “in” v. 4 at present in this study.

  3. Hey Jim!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Could this section of Hebrews simply be a warning passage to professed believers to persevere? I’m not so sure it’s assumed to be written to unbelievers, because that almost forces our hand to say the entire letter is written to unbelievers. Otherwise, we’re obligated to pick and choose what portions are aimed at believers and what portions are not. It seems better to look at the warning passages of Hebrews as just that – warnings to people who profess to love Jesus to keep loving him to the end. Warning passages in general always put our profession of faith to the test.

    Admittedly, the writer of the book of Hebrews has an audience of Jewish professed believers who were considering abandoning the New Covenant in favor of returning to the pictures of the Old, but he seems to take their profession of faith at face value and then test it. He can’t see their hearts, but he can warn and encourage them in their profession of faith. That seems to be what he does at several spots in the letter.

    None of us knows which, if any, of them responded well to what he said, but if any fell away and went back to the pictures of the Old Covenant, it was evidence of an unbelieving heart and a false profession because every true believer perseveres in loving Jesus until they die without exception.


  4. Thanks, Mike; first, it’s 1 Thess. {correction to next [WWPG] “post” (I failed to correct my error upon creating the link to the verse)]}.

    Hebrews was written in pastoral fashion; the Writer sought to believe the best about his “flock”. At the same time, he understood that it’s far more loving to challenge unbelief than to “go along, get along” (indeed, the latter is the polar extreme of love).

    The context of Hebrews as a whole and, in particular, 1:1 through 6:8, supports my thesis that the warning is operative upon those who have no appetite for “solid food”. The “solid food” itself is the paramount issue, but, were the Church to recognize the Truth of my thesis, it would inevitably become unmistakably distinct from what passes as “church”. Of course God knows; His ecclesia, however, is encumbered such that it’s not solely His Kingdom which is pursued. The Church must lay aside the weight of the “church”! The World is to be evanglized; tares are inevitable, but, that doesn’t grant license to be reckless as to cultivating them!

    The final assertion of your comment — “every true believer perseveres in loving Jesus until they die without exception” is Truth which my thesis presupposes. “Perseverance in good works” and “appetite” for “solid food” are inseparable. Show me your faith, I’ll show you my works; faith without works is dead. Substitute the word “appetite” for “works” … “works” includes “appetite” (assuming mental capacity).

    Granting that there must be exceptions (to wit: “professed believers who were considering abandoning the New Covenant in favor of retuning to the pictures of the Old”), those who abandon and revert — predominantly — did and do so unwittingly. Old covenant syncretism is the “calling card” of bad Christian and “Christian” theology. Failure to understand/concede that ethnic/national Israel was overwhelmingly bereft of saving faith and merely a picture — indeed, vessels of wrath prepared for destruction — is the root of error which results in woeful beliefs and practices at best and apostasy at worst.

    You’re absolutely correct to suggest that being “obligated to pick and choose what portions are aimed at believers and what potions are not” is a slippery slope. The Writer warn(s) ALL of the connection between self-satisfaction with “milk” and “falling away”; “falling away” occasionally occurs in obvious ways; mostly, “falling away” is subtle, sometimes imperceptible. As John MacArthur advocates via his HARD TO BELIEVE, the broad way which leads to destruction is — as to those whose profession of faith in Jesus is false — marked “JESUS”. Alas, it’s a different Jesus, a different Gospel.

  5. Thanks Jim,

    I am driven to Hebrews 6:9-12 in our discussion. The NIV puts it like this:

    (9) “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case–things that accompany salvation . (10) God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (11) We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. (12) We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”

    It seems as though belief is assumed because of their profession and the evidence they had given thus far of a changed life. The writer is “convinced of things that accompany salvation,” not things that accompany unbelief. I have to disagree with MacArthur’s hard line view in this instance (even though many years ago, I held the same view), as well as Andrews’ take.

    Anytime someone professes to believe, we must take their word for it unless there is hard evidence to the contrary. Unrepentant sin being one example (enter, church discipline). If the Hebrews turn their back on the cross, that amounts to hard evidence of unbelief.

    If someone truly believes, how do we know whether or not they are going through major struggles? They may just need a gentle nudge (Galatians 6:1,2) to get going again or they may truly be holding on to a false profession. But as long as they profess to love the Lord, we take their word for it and because a changed life was purchased on the cross for all the elect, the bar is raised for anyone who professes to believe and we expect them to respond as a believer. I think that’s what the writer of Hebrews is doing.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 🙂 I look forward to your take on 6:9-12 my friend.


  6. To Jim and Mike,

    Just a few thoughts. I think that there may be somewhat of a compromise between your opinions, or maybe just a clarification. I believe that Jim is stating that while the passage in question REFERS to unbelievers, it is still written FOR believers. Is this not what the writer of Hebrews does in chapter 3, where he admonishes believers to “take heed, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief” by alluding to the nation of Israel during the days of wandering in the wilderness? Is this not also what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 10? I consulted the opinion of one of my favorite theologians, John Owen, who wrote the following:

    If any one asks why the Apostle makes mention here of such apostasy while he is addressing believers, who were far off from a perfidy so heinous; to this I answer, that the danger was pointed out by him in time, that they might be on their guard. And this ought to be observed; for when we turn aside from the right way, we not only excuse to others our vices, but we also impose on ourselves. Satan stealthily creeps on us, and by degrees allures us by clandestine arts, so that when we go astray we know not that we are going astray. Thus gradually we slide, until at length we rush headlong into ruin. We may observe this daily in many. Therefore the Apostle does not without reason forewarn all the disciples of Christ to beware in time; for a continued torpor commonly ends in lethargy, which is followed by alienation of mind.

    Could not the passage in question refer to the seed that fell among the rocks, that flourished for a time, ie, “tasted the heavenly gift”, but then subsquently withered for lack of roots, or spiritual maturity? Is this not just a passage encouraging us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”?

    Just some thoughts
    God bless,

  7. Thanks, Eddie (“Doc”); for now, I’ll limit my Reply to: That’s “Jesus metaphor” to which I allude above and via my most recent “post”! Deo volente, by some time Thursday, I’ll have “put a bow on it”. By-the-way, John Owen is recognized to be “NCT-friendly” (a’ la John Piper, today); he apparently “got it” quite well. Mike and Geoff (and Steve) “get it” even better; check out the articles they’ve written! (Look to right margin of this “page” for Bibleblogger link for some of Mike’s articles not linked via IDS; visit Steve’s http://www.gigmin.org to access some of his work not linked here.

  8. I believe dr. eddie to be correct in his applying the parable of the sower here. Jesus tells us that the “kingdom” we are presently in, will be like it is today with Christianity populated not only by those firmly rooted in the vine, but by those with shallow roots and/or growing amongst thorns. When i studied 1 corinthians 10:1-11 and referenced all episodes in the exodus to which paul refers i saw a perfect parallel to the “common” sins of 1 john 2:15-18…”lust of the flesh” (1 cor 10:7); “lusts of the eyes” evidenced as discontentment (1 cor 10:9); and “pride” korah’s rebellion (1 cor 10:10.) you can make a close parallel to the “common” sins of the sower parable as well. What makes the good soil, good? It is the application of the “blood that speaks of better things than Abel.” It is the “perfection” of the New Covenant. Those with a changed heart actually want to be please God. Those who only assent to the gospel never really have anything but another list of laws and no ability to overcome the evil nature they are born with. Those truly “in” the vine WILL bear MUCH fruit (John 15:5.) The writer is offering encouragement to his readers by expressing confidence that they will persevere (that they are in the vine and not amongst the thorns.) The Spirit has acted upon the seed in the thorns and with shallow root, but they do not persevere…they weren’t regenerated…they weren’t “sprinkled with the blood.” They merely intellectually assent to the gospel. i am comfortable saying they didn’t/don’t have much of an appetite for solid, sound exegesis of the Word either whether or not that is the point of this section or not. Being in the world, but not “of the world” is a tenuous proposition. we are badly outnumbered. Compounding this situation is the fact that we are also surrounded by professing Christians who are being choked by thorns regularly. I believe the repeated admonitions in scripture are for us to not follow those falling all around us, but to follow those who are following Christ. To understand the population of our churches this way is to also be forewarned. to falsely understand being “saved” to mean mere intellectual assent will lead to the false assumption that those around you who have “intellectually assented” but are being choked by thorns are just dealing with the issues that all Christians deal with. THAT makes you vulnerable to following these thorn laden un believing professors down a path of unrighteousness. I think this understanding is part of the writer’s intention here. i dont think the warning of 4-6 is for those in the vine. I see it as more of an explanation that offers understanding of those seemingly there, but who are really not. i hope that made sense!

  9. In view of the above, chaps…what do you think of these comments? (I’ll split them between two posts);

    The whole point of the book with its warnings is “make sure you are in Christ.” The question is then, how does one actually do that? By holding fast to the same confidence that you had in the first place – that I stand perfectly righteous and accepted by the God I am now reconciled to, on account of Christ’s finished atoning work alone. If I can’t know I was atoned for and I believe apart from discerning suitable tests, then I can’t know that I was atoned for and believe. Thus perseverance is safeguarded from having a works tone about – which is often read into the book of Hebrews contra, say, the book of Romans – that reduces to Christ plus me = glorification….which means Christ plus me = salvation. Perseverance is the fruit and not the root of final salvation. When the author talks of perseverance, he’s talking of perseverance in such a faith from his hearers – not some undefined level of fruit-bearing that effectively enters in as a second ground of justification. With such a faith, you can’t bring forth good fruit and you’ve fallen away from grace. Only the liberty of “Christ alone” allows for real fruit and true growth in grace.

  10. Second…

    The author addresses all his hearers, believers or not, indiscriminately in preaching the gospel in such a way that he’s generally declaring its truths in view of the actions and attitudes that were present in that Hebrew community. Naturally certain passages will be directly applicable to some of his hearers, and not others. He identifies himself as synonymous with his hearers with “we,” not because all his hearers are believers or assumed to be, but because he’s preaching the gospel general to the humankind of that particular community. He assumes it has direct reference to all people, because they are people. But he has a particular reference to those of whom he has a confidence of better things – things that accompany salvation – for the sake of their confirmation in the salvation they already possess. He’s also addressing believers – perhaps looking to persevere in self-effort – who’ve fallen away from grace and need to rather persevere in “Christ alone.”

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