A Fresh Look at Hebrews Chapter Six
By Jonathan Mitchell

One of the passages of Scripture that is often misunderstood is Hebrews 6:4-8. I will begin with the first verse.

1. through which [practice and exercise] (or: On account of which), in at some point leaving behind (or: letting flow away) the word of Christ's beginning (or: the message pertaining to the beginning of the Christ; or: the primary thought about the Anointed One) we can be continuously and progressively brought upon (or: carried on [to]) the goal (or: perfection; maturity; completion; the finished product), not again repeatedly conceiving (or: laying; casting down) a foundation which involves a change of mind with a turning away from dead works, and of faith and trust upon God;

2. of teachings of immersions (baptisms), besides a placing-on of hands; and then of resurrection of dead ones – as well as of the results of an eonian decision (or: the effects of a separation and a judgment which pertains to and has the quality of the Age)!

3. And this we shall do! – if it be that God may be permitting [it].

4. For you see, those once being enlightened, besides tasting (= experiencing) the heavenly gift (or: the granted bounty from the One [holding sway] upon the atmosphere) and after being born (or: coming to be) partakers (participants; partners; associates) of set-apart spirit (or: of a holy Breath-effect; or: of [the] Holy Spirit),

5. and then tasting (= experiencing) a beautiful (ideal; excellent; profitable) declaration of God (or: God's fine speech) – besides abilities and powers of an impending age,

6. and yet then falling by the side (or: falling aside along the way), [are] powerless and unable to be repeatedly renewing again into a change of mind: [they are] continuously crucifying again in themselves (or: to, for or by themselves) the Son of God, and [are] constantly exposing [Him] to public disgrace.

7. For you see, a piece of land which is drinking (= soaking in) the rain often coming upon it, and producing vegetation (pasture; produce) fit for and useful to them through whom it is habitually being cultivated, [is] also continuously sharing in and partaking of a blessing from God;

8. but when repeatedly and progressively bearing forth thorns and thistles [it is] disqualified (worthless; unable to stand the test [for planting a new crop]) and [is] close to (or: near) [the] curse (or: [the] curse is at hand), the end (the resultant situation) of which [the thorn, briars, thistles and the field is] into [a time of] burning (or: = the field ends up being burned off). [comment: this is a time-honored agricultural practice for preparing a field for planting a crop – the competition has been removed and the ground has been enriched by the ash]”

One thing that I want to point out is that in 6:1, translating it as does the NIV, "leaving the elementary teachings about Christ" is misleading. The direct object of the verb "leaving behind; letting flow away" is "the word; the thought; the message; the logos" which is in the accusative case (case of the direct object). Then we have a prepositional phrase in the genitive case which modifies "the word." That phrase is "of Christ's beginning (arche)," which can be given in the different functions of the genitive. So my translation "the word of Christ's beginning" is the a simple, literal rendering. That is what is to be left behind.

You will note that I did not start vs. 1 as the beginning of a sentence, but as a continuation of 5:14. This connection to and continuation of the context, which stresses solid food versus milk, is imperative. It is simply leaving the milk (figure of the food for the baby) and moving on to the solid food needed for gymnastic exercise and growing into adulthood.

Reformation theologians try to escape what appears to them to be a contradiction to their "eternal security" doctrine by saying that those of which this passage speak (vs. 4-8) were never really saved. Arminian doctrine uses this passage to reinforce the idea that one must keep "pressing in," or you will fall to the side and be lost without hope of repentance, and end up in the lake of fire (vs. 8, the burning). But what is really being said here?

Now note 5:12, which in my view governs what follows:

“For also, being indebted (or: obligated) to be teachers, because of the time [gone by], you again have a need of someone to be teaching you folks the elementary things (or: fundamental principles; rudiments and rules) of the beginning of the brief spoken words (or: principle short thoughts and messages) of God, and you have become folks having need of milk, and not solid food.”

This is the antecedent of "the word of Christ's beginning" (6:1). Paul, or whoever wrote Heb., is not calling them to do away with this, but to move on from milk to solid food. As I see it, the "teachings of immersions... as well as of the result of an eonian decision" (6:2) are for babies in Christ. The leaving is simply a movement (like a walk on a path, or the running of a race), and the purpose of the movement is that "we can be continuously and progressively brought upon the goal, the matured and finished state of being." Having the foundation in place is, I think, assumed. The milk phase is of utter (or: udder?) necessity.

This is a stern warning, and one that should be heeded. It describes the antithesis of vs. 1-3. I think that it is perfectly clear that vs. 4-6 describe a believer who has really experienced God and the blessings of the kingdom. Most of us who have been followers of Christ have known some, perhaps many, who would seem to fall into this description. Some have been leaders within a church, but, due to abuse and wounding, they left the church and rejected all the Christian doctrines to embrace either a "new age" philosophy (where people seemed to really love, as compared to the church which often attacks its wounded), or else to go into "the world" and live for themselves. I have personally endeavoured to bring such to "a change of mind," but to no avail. They know from first- hand experience, and they no longer want any part of "the church."

Well, to most evangelicals, that is the end for them: they are doomed to hell by vs. 6 & vs.8. So is there a different understanding of these verses? I think that vs. 4-6 are quite clear. This is a straight-forward description of the potential falling-aside of any Christian. We are not given the reason for their crucifying the Son of God in themselves (or: for themselves) nor the reason for their fall from the Way of Christ. But it happens.

But what does it mean that they are now "powerless (unable) to be renewing again into a change of mind"? It means that they are beyond the influence of reasoning by the brothers, for God has determined that what they need is judgment. Because of the crucifying again of the Son, they are not granted grace or forgiveness, but instead are given judgment. I believe that this is a parallel case to that of Rom. 1:18-32. This sounds terminal, especially because of the "burning" that is to come to them, described in vs. 8, above, but it is not.

The writer of Heb. now moves from direct description to figurative language in vs. 7-8. Here we have a restatement of the same situation by way of analogy. This is given so that the reader will understand from normal farming (as Jesus used the parables) just what the judgment would be, and what its purpose and outcome would be. The subject of this analogy is "a piece of land," or, "a field." It is the field that corresponds to the fallen believer of vs. 4-6. This field once produced useful fruit (crops; grapes; etc.).

It was cultivated and tended — it had to be, in order to produce a harvest. But what happens to good soil that is left untended? First the weeds take over. Then thorns and thistles, so that if someone wants to grow a useful crop something must be done to the land. To go out and scatter wheat seeds in this field would be to waste the seed. The weeds and thorns would choke them out. So what is the Husbandman (the Farmer) to do? Does he abandon the field or "throw it away"? No, it is rich soil: look at all the weeds and thorns it is producing, and recall the crops of the past!

It has been a time-honored practice (still in use) to burn off land that has become choked with weeds, wild grasses or thorn bushes. The fire burn the plants and the seeds, and the ash enriches the soil even more. What then? Now a new crop of useful seeds can be planted.

What is the lesson here? Sometimes judgment is the best and only recourse. As with the farmer, God does this with an expectation in mind: a purified and enriched soil, prime for seeding with the Word of life.

Now as to what has been brought out concerning the next passage (another topic, I think), I can certainly see the application that has been presented. And if this is the main reference, I can even see "the burning" of vs. 8 as prophetic of what happened to those Jews who tasted and experienced the heavenly gifts during His ministry, but then fell away from following Christ. They became a part of the generation that experienced the burning of Jerusalem, in AD 70, etc. It was that cultural/religious group that produced teachings that were thorns and thistles -- nothing of value or worth, and that scratched the outcasts: weeds that choked the Seed which Christ had sown.

The historic metaphorical use of the word "land" throughout the OT was "the people of Israel" (as pointed out by Walter Brugemann in his book The Land). The subject of vs. 4, and following, is a plural subject — not speaking of a certain individual. But as has been pointed out, this would have direct application to some in the early church as well. I also like what is said about Christians then, as well as now, holding an expectancy that was similar to the Jews in awaiting the Messiah — the result being a crucifying of Him and exposing Him to public disgrace, as does the futuristic teaching which even now says that Christ has not come and that the kingdom is not here (a disgrace to the work of the Cross).

A parallel passage using fire for God's dealings with men, is found in 1 Cor. 3:12-17. Here the figure is a building - God's temple. In vs. 9, Paul has said that we are God's fellow workers on this building. Then he goes on in vs. 12 to describe different materials that could be used in building on the foundation of Jesus Christ: gold, silver, precious stones — wood, hay, stubble (straw - building God's temple with straw?).

Now vs. 13 says that every man's WORK will become manifest, for the day will make it evident, because "it is being unveiled (revealed) within FIRE. And the FIRE will be testing each one's WORK." Here it is "work" that is produced by a worker; in Heb 6:7 it is "a crop" that is produced by a field. Can you see the parallel?

Vs. 15 says that if any man's work is burned down,"he will suffer loss, YET, HE HIMSELF will be saved, yet, thus, as through means of fire." This is like the field being recovered for use through means of the burning. The message should be clear.

Now in vs. 17, Paul goes on to relate that the wood, hay and stubble ruins (spoils; makes corruptible) God's temple, and to do this will result in God ruining (spoiling; making corruptible) such a person. But keep vs. 15 in mind: this ruining in the fire of God's dealing will cause him loss, yet he, himself will be saved by this process of burning.

John Chapter 15 has been referenced as an "if-then" situation. It is presumed that vs. 6 is referred.

“If anyone can (or: would; should) not continuously remain (dwell; abide; stay) within the midst of and in union with me, he is cast (or: thrown) outside — as the tender branch (twig; shoot) — and is caused to dried up and wither. And, they are constantly gathering )or: leading) them together {as in a bundle, or in a synagogue}. And then, they are throwing (or: casting) [them] into the fire — and it is continuously kindled (repeatedly ignited: or: habitually lit and progressively burned)."

Once again, the dried, burned branch — cut off from the life of Christ — ends up in God's fire. Is this the end? In the natural it would be. But let's consider another group of branches that are broken out of the life of Christ. Rom. 11:19-20, 23. Here it is the unbelieving Jews that are branches that are "broken out." Vs. 23 ends saying, "God is able (capable; is continuously powerful) to graft them back in AGAIN."

And then, Paul makes a simple statement — disputed and explained away by ET proponents — in Rom. 11:26,

"And thus, all Israel will be delivered (rescued, saved, made whole and restored to their original position),”
Can you see a picture being developed here? Note vs. 15 of this chapter:
"You see, if their casting away [is, means or brings the] reconciliation (or: conciliation) of the world (the bringing of the universal system to another level of existence; the profitable exchange for the ordered system; or: = all humanity’s change from enmity to friendship), what [will be] the receiving (the acceptance; the taking or drawing toward one's self as a companion or associate) [of them] if not life forth from out of the midst of dead folks?!”

Look at the PURPOSE of God's judgments!

And then vs. 32,

"For God encloses, shuts up and locks all men (everyone) into [Oh, but I forgot their free will!], to the end that He may MAKE ALL MEN RECIPIENTS OF MERCY!"

You say all this is illogical? Yes, to our way of thinking. But this is God's Word! For you see, God encloses, shuts up and locks all mankind (everyone; the entire lot of folks) into incompliance (disobedience; stubbornness; lack of being convinced), to the end that He would (or: would; should) mercy all mankind (may make everyone, the all, recipients of mercy)!

Then, Paul bursts into worship -

"O, the depth of God's riches (wealth; resources) and wisdom and intimate, experiential knowledge and insight! How unsearchable (inscrutable) His decisions (distinctive separations; judicial awards; judgements), and untrackable (untraceable) His ways (paths; roads)"

This, leads to vs. 36, showing a glimpse of the grand plan of the ages.

“Because, forth from out of the midst of Him, and through the midst of Him (or: through means of Him), and into the midst of Him, [is] the whole (everything; [are] all things; or: = Because He is the source, means and goal of all things – everything leads into Him)! By Him (In Him; To Him; For Him) [is] the glory (the manifestation of that which calls forth praise; the reputation; the notion; the opinion; the credit; the splendor) on into the ages. It is so (Amen; So be it)!”

* * * * * * *

During a 2010 email discussion my friend Don Luther made the following remarks:

“I have a thought on this passage in Hebrews 6. This comes from your version of "the word of Christ's beginning." Kind of struck a chord with me concerning the context of the whole book. Since this was written to the whole "Hebrews," could it be that we're missing the point here? Where was "Christ's beginning?" This is the Hebrew world, which, for good or bad, is bigger than our Christian world. The Messiah, or anointed one, goes all the way back to Genesis 3. Perhaps, more accurately, to before the creation of the world. Was He not anointed by the Father to be the Savior of the world before the world was even made?

So perhaps the word of Christ's beginning was a reference to the building up of the foundation upon which the "Temple" was and is being built. The record of this is contained in the whole Old Testament. What were these things? Repentance from dead works ...... e.g. Cain. Faith toward God ..... e.g. Abraham. Baptisms ..... e.g. Red Sea, Jordan. Laying on hands ...... e.g. scapegoat. Resurrection of the dead ...... wasn't this what Paul used to divide the Pharisees and Sadducees? Judgment ...... the O.T. is a catalogue of God's judgments.

So, perhaps this was a reference to going BACK to the old covenant. Certainly is consistent with the bulk of Paul's writing, and Jesus' condemnation of those lingering in the old. Seems to me like this could be what the reference is here. It goes on to say about "those once being enlightened" ....... this looks like those who were raised with the foundation or "beginning" of the Truth, had an encounter with the Light of the World. They tasted the gift, and were "born" of the "set apart spirit." They were "tasting a beautiful declaration of God" ...... the Word? And yet falling by the side. Could this be the going back to the Old Covenant?

This was the picture in Corinthians about the thorns and thistles. These were those who were attempting to go back to what was comfortable to them ...... the doing of the law. All this work is just fodder for the fire. While the field "drinking in the "rain," the Living Water, is producing useful vegetation.

Just some thoughts. Taking this is context with the whole of the Hebrew's experience, seems a better fit. -- Don

Return To Jonathan Mitchell's Page or the Revelation Study Index