Sunday Morning Greek Blog

April 13, 2023

Some Thoughts on Inerrancy

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.[1]

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.[2]

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.[3]

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”[4]

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[5]

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God p may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.[6]

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.[7]

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.[8]

The other night, just before I was ready to turn in, a long-time acquaintance and friend, Terry, IM’d me and asked me about biblical inerrancy. I hadn’t really given that much thought since seminary because I’ve been pretty settled on the issue for some time, but I thought I’d put down a few of my thoughts that came to mind as he and I briefly chatted.

  1. I believe 2 Timothy 3 that God’s word is inspired, that is, God-breathed. However, I also believe he speaks it both directly and through his fallible servants in a fallen world. He did this through his prophets in an authoritative way, but I don’t doubt that they may have added “local color” to their prophecies.
  2. I believe Jesus commissioned his apostles (and perhaps a few of their successors) with an ex cathedra authority, tempered by mutual accountability, to establish the primitive structure of the early Christian communities, the core doctrines of the faith, and vital practices to share and spread that faith. I do not believe this ex cathedra authority survived past the first or second generation of believers.
  3. I believe the historical books of the OT, from Genesis through Kings and Chronicles, were collated from extant copies of original writings and official journals. Some of these texts have obvious signs of an editor long after the recorded events took place (e.g., 2 Chronicles 20:26).
  4. I believe the Hebrews had in place a diligent process to copy their texts to ensure their accuracy and fidelity from one generation of texts to the next.
  5. I believe the NT autographs (original letters and Gospels) were without error doctrinally and textually. However, since we can be relatively certain that none of these have survived the ravagees of time, this statement has qualified significance. As the letters were copied in scriptoriums, human error inevitably made its way into the successive copies.
  6. I believe the science of the study of textual transmission is more than sufficient in most cases to identify when and where these errors entered into the text and which of the variant readings are the most reliable. I do not believe any of the disputed variations affect any doctrine of Scripture, especially since most doctrines do not rely solely on any one single text. The eclectic Greek text is the best modern version to use, as it takes into account the opinions and research of several qualified scholars.
  7. I believe “the Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one”[9]; the differences we see among and within denominational traditions are reflections of the diversity of God’s kingdom. If we can appreciate the diversity in God’s creation, with hundreds of different varieties within each species, then why should we expect that the local manifestations of the church be copycats? I do not believe that such diversity, by itself, disqualifies the Scriptures in any way.
  8. I believe that anyone who can hear or read the Word of God translated into their own language, regardless of version, can understand and respond to the Gospel at its most basic level. The study of the Word of God in its original languages adds depth and color to the story and may convince some who think the principles taught therein are archaic, pedantic, or irrelevant.
  9. I believe that above all else, love for one another founded in the love God has shown and is still showing us is the highest virtue for the Christ-follower at least, and for all humanity generally, regardless of their belief. Love is necessary for the survival of the human race; faith and faithfulness are necessary for salvation; hope is necessary for our security in the faith and our strength to love one another. All other arguments pale in comparison to the power and testimony of faith, hope, and love.

Of course, this list is nowhere close to exhaustive, but I pray that it gets you, the reader, thinking about what you believe about Scripture and the testimony you bear as Christ-followers. Peace to all!

My thoughts are my own, and annotated when borrowed from elsewhere.

NOTE: If you have some other Scriptures you’d like to add on the reliability of God’s word, feel free to add them in the Comments section. I’d love to hear from you!

Scott


[1] Deuteronomy 8:3. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Psalm 119:105. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Luke 21:33. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] John 20:21–23. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Romans 1:16–17. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] 2 Timothy 3:16–17. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[7] Hebrews 4:12. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[8] 2 Peter 3:15–16. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[9] Campbell, Thomas. Declaration and Address.

January 2, 2022

2021 Reflection and Summary

I wanted to take a moment and thank the readers of Sunday Morning Greek Blog (SMGB) for tripling the number of views from 2019 to 2021! I went from 2,856 views in 2019 to 9,130 views (across 130 countries) in 2021. The theme of my blog has always been “Dig deeper, read smarter, draw closer.” I hope that whichever one of those goals brought you to my site will continue to be something I am able to meet for you. And, if you ever have a request or a question about a biblical topic, I would be happy to research it for you. I’m always excited to dig deeper into God’s Word to help others understand it better.

Having said that, the blog was also a blessing to me as well this year. As 2021 kicked off and more churches started to resume in-person services, I was called to preach at a couple smaller churches that lost pastors during the pandemic through attrition (thankfully not to COVID). One is the (now) inner-city church I grew up in and which some of my family still attend, and the other is a rural country church in Iowa. For me, the blog turned out to be (way-in-advance) sermon prep! This blog was helpful in that I still have been working my full-time day job, so it was nice not to have to a lot of new research for sermons. What sermons I did write this past year wound up as new blog posts.

Top 5 Posts

My top post for 2021 surprised me, because it was a little more academically technical than my typical posts, but it must have struck a chord with some. I had written “Indignant Jesus: The Variant Reading of Mark 1:41” in January 2019 in part because I wanted to know for myself why the NIV translators had changed the translation from “compassion” to “indignant” The other reason is that I wanted to provide an example of how translators use internal and external clues to determine the quality or genuineness of a textual variant. I figured with all the NIV readers out there, many of them would be curious about an “indignant Jesus,” so I wanted to provide what I hope was an explanation of the thought process in layman’s terms.

“Indignant Jesus” had 86 views that year. In 2020, it saw a 360% increase to 310 views. In 2021, it nearly had another 360% increase to 1,106 views! That was over 12% of total blog post views for 2021. Judging from the access peaks, I’d say it wound up on a few recommended reading lists for college syllabi. If you happen to know who used it on a syllabus, I’d love to thank them. I don’t want any royalties; I’d just like to know what they found redeeming about it, or even if they thought it needed some work.

The second most popular post was “Seer” in the Old Testament. This has been a perennial favorite, having been the number one article for at least 6 years through 2018, again, most likely because it appeared on someone’s college syllabus. Obviously, it’s not a Greek word study, but a Hebrew word study, and it was one I had sent out in an e-mail thread long before blogs were a thing. I never expected much from it on the blog, primarily because I had been looking for something different to post and pulled that one out of the archives. I’m both surprised and pleased that it continues to generate great interest.

My third most popular post (just 23 views behind #2) was 2020’s top post: “Take Heart!” That had slowly been growing in popularity, but it really caught hold in 2020, most likely due to the pandemic. I got one comment from a reader who said they had shared it with several health care workers at the time. They of all people had and continue to have a need for encouragement and endurance in the face of COVID and (if I may) the current lack of gratitude and sympathy from those at the highest levels of government for those hardworking heroes.

Number 4 is one that has steadily grown in popularity, but really began to take off in 2019, having three times the views in 2017. “Falling Away” tackles the difficult section of Hebrews 6 that at first glance seems to address the concept of losing your salvation. But a closer look at the text, grammar, and sentence structure (yes, there’s a classic sentence diagram attached; also an epilog post) shows the passage has quite a different meaning that isn’t so harsh theologically. Monthly views jumped dramatically in beginning in mid 2020, which makes me think the article also wound up on someone’s syllabus. I recently had a lively exchange with one reader who was asking for some clarification on a couple points, which also helped me sharpen my thinking and conclusions on the passage.

The fifth one was a total shocker to me. “Speaking in Tongues” averaged 49 views per year in the first 10 years it was online. In 2021, the post had 691 views, averaging over 57 views per month! Again, I’m not sure what sparked the sudden interest, but as with the other posts, the only thing I can think of is someone put it on their syllabus or perhaps cited it in a widely read paper.

Looking Forward

For 2022, I anticipate preaching about once every month, so I’ll continue to post sermon texts to the blog. I’d also like to break into the podcast sphere and start posting some videos or audios that can generate some ad revenue for me. I’m not really set up for that yet, and I’ll have to seek out some technical help most likely, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be a difficult learning curve.

I also have a blog called “Sustainable America,” which is my outlet for the intersection of politics, ethics, and faith in my life. That has never really taken off, although it has seen some modest growth. I’ve had just over 100 views the last two years, and 2020’s views (106) were a little more than double 2019’s views. Although it hasn’t really had many views, I do find it personally therapeutic as an outlet for what I’m thinking and feeling on such subjects. The founding fathers didn’t put “separation of Church and State” in the Constitution because they understood instinctively people’s politics derive from their religious and moral convictions (or lack thereof). The purpose of Sustainable America, however, is to analyze cultural and political issues and apply Scripture to them, while SMGB is all about analyzing the biblical text and discerning how it should affect and inform our lives all around, not just in the political or cultural spheres.

My most-viewed post on Sustainable America was “Why I’d Rather Not Work from Home Full Time.” After having spent much of my early career either working from home or working in a ministry setting where I was the only staff member, I found it quite enjoyable to transition to working in an office setting with lots of interesting people around. When the pandemic hit, all of that was defenestrated. I do miss working around other people. Somewhere along the way, I lost my introversion.

As such, one final goal for me for 2022 is to get back into the adjunct professor space, or full-time college instruction nearby, if someone wants to take a chance on my M.Div. degree with OT & NT concentrations. I found it ironic that, in 2020, the third-party supplier through whom I had been teaching Biblical Studies courses at St. Louis Christian College was bought out, and the acquiring company dropped the online adjunct service at a time when everything was moving online. Teaching Biblical Studies is really my first love, but it’s been tough landing positions without a Ph.D.

I wish you, my readers and blog followers, a happy and prosperous new year. Thank you for continuing to read, interact with, and spread the word about Sunday Morning Greek Blog!

Scott Stocking

My opinions are my own.

November 27, 2011

Adulteresses (μοιχαλίδες) in James 4:4; Excursus on Authorship of Hebrews and James

Filed under: Authorship,Biblical Studies,Greek,Hebrews,Hosea,James,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 9:15 pm

James is my next-favorite NT book/epistle, second only to Ephesians. James is often dubbed “The Proverbs of the New Testament,” and after having read through the first four chapters this week, it is easy to see why. Although it lacks the strict parallelism of most of the text of Proverbs in the OT, I have noticed a substantial number of word pairings in James. Some of them happen in the same verse or within one or two verses (e.g. 2:2–3), while others serve as inclusios for certain sections (e.g., 2:14–16). James is probably best known for its practical wisdom on controlling the tongue.

Adulteresses

What caught my attention while reading this morning was James’s use of the feminine plural noun for “adulteresses,” μοιχαλίδες, in James 4:4. Throughout the letter, James addresses his readers as “my brothers,” which is intended to be a generic reference to all believers regardless of gender, as was customary in those days. So when he addresses his readers with a feminine noun, he is undoubtedly trying to get their attention. What may escape some here, though, is the implied Old Testament connection. (See Table 1 for the way this is translated in different versions.)

Table 1: Translations of μοιχαλίδες in Several Logos Versions, with Footnotes and Cross References

Version

Translation of μοιχαλίδες

Footnotes and X-refs

KJV 1769

Ye adulterers and adulteresses (!)

Note that the translators didn’t exclude males in 1769!

ASV 1901

Ye adulteresses

 

RSV 1971

Unfaithful creatures!

 

NIV 1984

You adulterous people

 

NRSV 1989

Adulterers!

 

NASB 1995

You adulteresses

Jer 2:2; Ezek 16:32

ESV 2001

You adulterous people!

Isa. 54:5; Jer. 2:2; Greek: “You adulteresses!”

TNIV 2005

You adulterous people

Isa 54:5; Jer 3:20; Hos 2:2–5; 3:1; 9:1

NLT 2007

You adulterers!

Greek: “You adulteresses!”

NIV 2011

You adulterous people

Isa 54:5; Jer 3:20; Hos 2:2–5; 3:1; 9:1; An allusion to covenant unfaithfulness; see Hosea 3:1.

Of course, if you have a good study Bible at hand, you may have seen some of these verses in the cross-reference apparatus (whatever study Bibles I have are still buried in my boxes). The imagery of Israel as an unfaithful wife or adulterous woman in the OT is certainly prominent. Ezekiel 23 has a graphic (dare I say X-rated) description of Oholah and Oholibah, the two adulterous sisters, who respectively were symbols for Samaria’s (northern kingdom) and Jerusalem’s (southern kingdom) religious promiscuity with other gods. Hosea lived the parable, so to speak, by marrying a woman whom he knew was a prostitute, and God told him to do it! (See specifically Hosea 3:1, which is the only time this word is used in the LXX text of Hosea.) By calling his readers “adulteresses,” James minces no words and makes no friends. He cuts to the chase and puts the fear of God into his hearers by comparing them to their faithless ancestors who were exiled.

Did James Write Hebrews?

Several years ago, I heard Larry Pechawer (at least, I recollect it was Pechawer) do a somewhat tongue-in-cheek paper on the authorship of Hebrews. Pechawer postulated that Hebrews had been written by Paul, because three of the first four words in Hebrews begin with a Paul-like sound (Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι). That’s not exactly an exegetically sound method of determining authorship, but to his credit, he did offer some other substantive evidence for Paul’s authorship, although it was admittedly weak.

The reason I mention this is that James, in 1:2, has three successive π-words: πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις. Now as with Pechawer’s theory on Hebrews, such alliteration may be just that: alliteration. In my college days, I had argued that Hebrews had been written by Luke, because the Greek is high quality, and the author claims to have written a short (βραχύς) letter, which is true when Hebrews is compared to Luke and Acts.

But perhaps there is something to the theory of James’s authorship of Hebrews. James, after all, was the half-brother of Jesus, so he certainly has the knowledge of the Jewish sacrificial system inherent in Hebrews in his favor. James also held a leadership position in the Jerusalem church, so he certainly would have known the individuals mentioned in the final greetings in Hebrews, including Timothy. “Those who come from Italy” could refer to visitors from Italy to Jerusalem, as opposed to the letter originating from Italy, as one might expect if it had been written by Luke or Paul. As the church father Origen said, only God knows who really wrote Hebrews, so my musings here won’t solve that eternal question, but it is an interesting conjecture to me nonetheless.

Hebrews 13:17–18: A Less-Authoritarian Translation

If you followed the posts when I was teaching the How to Understand the Bible class at the beginning of the fall, you may have seen the link to the word study on πείθω. Most translations render the word “obey” with respect to the leaders, but that is not a common translation for the word in the NT. More often than not, the word has the idea of “confidence.” That’s why I like the TNIV and NIV (2011) translation of the verse: “Have confidence in your leaders.” I believe this translation puts more responsibility on the leaders to be men and women of high character. This doesn’t mean that Christ-followers shouldn’t be obedient to leaders, but that obedience should come from a relationship based on trust, not just obligation. You want to follow leaders who have impeccable, reliable character.

The same word is used in vs. 18 and is usually translated “we are sure”, so translating it as “confidence” in vs. 17 is completely consistent with the context. For other occurrences of the word, click the link at the beginning of this section to open the PowerPoint presentation on the word study.

Peace to all this Christmas (with a capital C) season.

Scott Stocking

By the way, the new NIV (2011) Study Bibles are available now. If you are shopping for a study Bible and prefer the updated translation of the NIV (essentially the TNIV repackaged), make sure you look for the cover you see here. There are many study Bibles based on the NIV, but not all have adapted to the updated translation. If you’re in doubt, check the “front matter” and look for the copyright date of the Bible text (as opposed to the copyright date of the study Bible itself). If the study Bible uses the new NIV, it will show a copyright date of 2011 for the Bible text, and no earlier than 2011 for copyright date of the study Bible itself. The older NIV was copyrighted in 1984, so that would be the latest copyright date for the biblical text found on that page.

November 23, 2011

Hebrews 6:4–6 Sentence Diagram

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Hebrews,New Testament,Repentance,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 5:31 pm

Did I mention how much I like doing sentence diagrams?

November 22, 2011

Hebrews 6:4–6: Wrapping It Up

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Hebrews,New Testament,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 9:40 pm

For those of you who didn’t follow the comment thread on the latest SMGB post, I wanted to sum things up. My friend Eric Weiss and I tossed around a few ideas on the passage, and my cousin-in-law Micheal added some comments about context and audience.

I had always looked at that passage as primarily having to do with the threat of losing your salvation. I have never held to a “once-saved-always-saved” theology, and I still don’t. But after diving into this passage and some fruitful discussion, I see that the passage isn’t about the danger of losing your salvation, but about the futility of trying to be a mature Christian when all you ever dine on is milk and baby food. The author (the “I” of 13:22–23; I think it is Luke, but no one knows for sure) has a steady argument building from the opening chapter of the epistle, but it takes on a full head of steam beginning in 5:11. It is the flow of that argument that is key to understanding the author’s intention in the broader context of Hebrews 5–10.

The immediate passage of 5:11 through 6:12 is bracketed by the author’s warning about laziness. In vs. 11, he says (my translations) “You have become lazy listeners”, but in 6:11–12, he exhorts them to diligence, “in order that you do not become lazy.” He says in 5:12 that instead of the Hebrews being teachers, “you are needing someone to teach you continually the word of God all over again” (note verb tense is present continuous). Then he switches to the perfect tense: “You have become needful of milk.”

In 6:1, the author says that “repentance from acts that lead to death” (TNIV), among other things, is milk. He wants them to move on. But here is where the present tense infinitive of 6:4 becomes significant: “If you want to move onto maturity, don’t repeatedly go back to repentance thinking that that is all you need. You moved past that, because you were enlightened and you tasted the heavenly gift, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit. But then you fell away. So repentance won’t cut it now. It’s time for you to get back to a meat-and-potatoes diet by diligently persevering in the faith” (see 5:14 “constant use” and 6:11 “show this same diligence”).

So the “falling away” is not an irrevocable apostasy. It suggests in this context that the readers have backslidden and need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get down to the business of being sold out for Christ. The author goes on in the rest of Hebrews 6 to assure the believers of God’s promise, “this hope as an anchor for the soul” (6:19).

Peace,

Scott Stocking

November 18, 2011

“Falling Away” (παραπίπτω parapiptō) in Hebrews 6:6

Hebrews 6 is a scary passage to me. I don’t think those who believe in the doctrine of eternal security (i.e., “once saved, always saved”) have ever taken the warnings in this passage seriously. I will address the full context shortly, but the heart of the passage is found in vv. 4–6: “It is impossible… for those who have fallen away (παραπίπτω parapiptō \pah-rah-PEE-ptoh\) to be renewed to repentance.” The question that has always occupied my mind about this passage is, “How far do you have to fall before you can’t be restored to repentance?”

Context and Contrast

The broader context, Hebrews 5:11–6:12, informs in part the understanding of the warning in verse 6. Verse six also has four words that are only found in that verse in the New Testament, I will break those down later. But first, let me address the context. The author of Hebrews begins this section by chiding the readers for not having obtained a level of maturity they ought to have obtained. In fact, “maturity” is a prominent theme in Hebrews 5–7, which has nine words from the τελειόω (teleioō, \teh-lay-AW-oh\ “I make perfect,” “I complete,” “I become maturity”) family scattered throughout. Hebrews 5:11–6:12 is also bracketed by an inclusio of νωθροὶ γεγόνατε/νωθροὶ γένησθε (nōthroi gegonate/nōthroi genēsthe, \noh-THROI geh-GAW-nah-teh/ noh-THROI GEH-nay-stheh\ “have become lazy”) making the contrast between maturity and laziness even starker.

If that contrast isn’t enough, the author goes on to speak of the need for the Hebrews to go back to baby food (γάλα gala, \GAH-lah\; gen. γάλακτος galaktos, \GAH-lah-ktawss\ “milk”) instead of eating solid food. What I find interesting is what the author of Hebrews considers “elementary” teaching: repentance from dead works, faith in God, teachings about baptism (TNIV: “cleansing rites”), laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment. These strike me as pretty important doctrines, but do you notice what is missing? Think 1 Corinthians 13 here, especially where Paul makes the connection between maturity (τελείος) and love. Faithfulness (i.e., acting consistently on faith) and hope are included in the closing verse of 1 Corinthians 13 as well.

The (Neglected) Meat of the Passage

The imagery of “eating” is carried through into the stern warning of 6:4–6. Here is the meat, I believe, the author of Hebrews is talking about: being enlightened, tasting the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit, and tasting the goodness of God’s word and the powers/miracles of the coming age. I’m not sure if the structure and syntax here is significant: two different words are used for “and” here, one indicating a strong connection (καὶ kai) and the other (τε te) a weak connection. I present a modified diagram below:

4 It is impossible

    for those who were once enlightened, also (τε) having tasted of the heavenly gift

    and (καὶ) who have been sharers in the Holy Spirit

5    and (καὶ) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God along with (τε) the miracles/power of the coming age

6    and (καὶ) yet have fallen away (παραπίπτω)

for [these people] to renew continually (ἀνακαινίζω anakainizō, \ah-nah-keye-NEE-zoh\) in repentance

because they recrucify (ἀνασταυρόω anastauroō, \ah-nah-stow-RAW-oh\ [\ow\ as in “how”]) the son of God to themselves

and (καὶ) hold him up to public shame (παραδειγματίζω paradeigmatizō \pah-rah-dayg-mah-TEE-zō\).

Allow me to give a brief treatment of each of the four hapax legomena (literally, “once spoken,” referring to words only used once in a text) to better understand what is meant by “falling away” and the other terms.

παραπίπτω

The word παραπίπτω is found six times in the OT, five of which are found in Ezekiel 14–22, referring exclusively to Israel’s unfaithfulness and defilement, from worshipping other gods to just simply living like God couldn’t do anything for them. The other occurrence is in Esther 6:10, where Haman is instructed not to be unfaithful to the words and actions of praise he unwittingly bestowed upon Mordecai. Given that the word is primarily used of the exiled Jews in the OT, I would hazard a guess that the NT usage of the word has a parallel meaning. In other words, this passage isn’t talking about the normal ups and downs of the life of a Christian, but a steady pattern of unfruitfulness, a lack of faith in God, and even idolatry. (We still have idolatry today, lest we think we’re off the hook.) Judah had to fall pretty far to be removed from the Promised Land and exiled to Babylon. I hope that none of you reading this have fallen that far yet, but if you have, hang on, because all hope is not yet lost.

ἀνακαινίζω

The ἀνα- prefix of this word and the next word below means “again,” and often times will simply be translated as “re-” plus the base word meaning. The NT doesn’t have a verb for “newing” something, but the -καινίζω part comes from the adjective καινός (kainos, \keye-NAWSS\ “new”). The word is found three times in the LXX, twice in the Psalms (103:5, 104:30) and once at the end of Lamentations (5:21). In the Lamentations passage, Jeremiah says something that is particularly relevant to the Hebrews passage:

21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;

renew our days as of old

22 unless you have utterly rejected us

and are angry with us beyond measure.

We know that Israel was eventually restored to the Promised Land, so even the Exile was not enough for God to utterly forsake his people for all time. We are, after all, in a covenant relationship with God. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” Just as we can’t enter heaven by good works alone, so too we cannot lose our salvation simply on the basis of evil works alone. We would pretty much have to tell God ourselves that we want nothing to do with him any more for him to grant that desire and remove the blessing of salvation.

A question from my friend Eric Weiss in the comments after I originally posted this prompted me to expand on this particular word. I had originally translated the word in the passive voice, “to be renewed,” admittedly because I wasn’t paying attention to the parsing of the verb. It is a present tense active infinitive. As an infinitive, the subject is “those who have fallen away.” As an active voice, it should be translated “to renew” (many translations have “brought back,” but I think “renew” is a better translation). As present tense, the focus of the action is not on the time of action so much as it is on the aspect of the action, that is, it is continuous action. The implication of this goes back to the author’s statement in 6:1 about not returning to repentance. In other words, if you want to advance in the Christian life, repenting over and over again is not the way to go. At some point, you have to decide to grow up and move on to maturity.

Since I’m on the subject of tense, the other two verbs I deal with below are also in the present tense, so the focus there is also on continuous action. If you’re continually repenting, it’s like you’re continually crucifying Christ and continually holding him up to public shame.

ἀνασταυρόω

Protestants often give Catholics a bad rap about their view of the Eucharist, that the elements actually turn into the body and blood of Christ (the fancy word for that is transubstantiationism). Christ is recrucified in the Mass each week, so the Protestants complain. I don’t want to debate that point, because I don’t think it is profitable, and I don’t know that it is a completely accurate characterization. My point is, the only time “recrucify” is mentioned in Scripture is here in this passage, and it has nothing to do with Eucharistic theology. Those who have fallen so far so as to warrant exile (if we borrow the OT meaning of the word) after having known the enlightenment and blessings of God, must recrucify Christ to restore their salvation. But Christ, let alone anyone else, can only be crucified once. It’s impossible for him to be crucified again. But is that the author’s point here? I’ll come back to that in a moment.

παραδειγματίζω

The final hapax legomenon refers to holding Christ up to public shame. If you think about it, though, this is exactly what the original crucifixion was. Hebrews 12:2b (NIV) says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The word for “shame” in Hebrews 12:2 is the more common word (a noun) for “shame” (αἰσχύνη aischynē \eye-SCHOO-nay\), but the idea is the same. In the LXX, παραδειγματίζω is found in Numbers 25:4 in reference to the capital punishment delivered to the men seduced by Moabite women, in Jeremiah 13:22 in reference to those destined for exile, and in Ezekiel 28:17 in the prophecy against the king of Tyre (which some mistakenly take to imply Satan). A related word (δειγματίζω) is found in Matthew 1:19, where Joseph decides he wants to hide Mary so as not to expose her to public shame.

The Author’s Intent

I think the author of Hebrews here uses the hapax legomena because he is using a literary device known as hyperbole. We all know that in spite of the Jews’ idolatry and apostasy (falling away) that got them exiled, God led them back into the Promised Land to rebuild their nation, their religious traditions, and their faith. They never had a problem with idolatry again after the exile, so they learned their lesson. The author is saying it’s a pretty serious thing to trash Christ or trash your faith. In fact, he repeats this warning in even sterner language at the end of chapter 10, which forms an inclusio with this Hebrews 6 passage. The author realizes it is an impossibility to recrucify Christ. His purpose here is to say that Christ’s crucifixion the first time around should have been enough, and they need to get back to living out the implications of that. They could lose their salvation, but it would seem that they had not reached that point yet.

But the author doesn’t think the Hebrews have fallen that far yet. He (they?) says, “We are convinced (πείθω peithō \PAY-thoh\) of better things in your case.” This same confidence is repeated in Hebrews 10 (note the connection to that chapter again) when he reminds them how they endured persecution and exposure to shame and insult, and in Hebrews 13:17–18 with respect to the leaders (NIV: “Have confidence in your leaders” is a better translation in my opinion than “Obey your leaders”).

Faith

The author’s remedy for the danger of falling away is to continue meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). The word ἐγκαταλείπω (enkataleipō \en-kah-tah-LAY-poh\; if you’ve been picking up on the Greek, the gamma-kappa γκ is pronounced \nk\) is translated “giving up” (NIV), “forsaking” (NASB), or “neglect” (NLT). This is the same word Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1 on the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is how important the author views “meeting together” (ἐπισυναγωγή episynagōgē \eh-pee-soo-nah-goh-GAY\; see a familiar word?) as the body of Christ on a regular basis. Don’t give up. Don’t make excuses. Make it a priority, because it’s for your own strengthening and encouragement as well as for those who attend with you.

Hebrews 11 provides the encouragement for Christ-followers to remain faithful and endure hardships. This is what the author is building to in Hebrews 6–10, especially since he praises them twice for their character, in 6:9–12 and 10:32–39. The patriarchs endured similar struggles, and although they were not perfect, they persevered faithfully even though they never saw the ultimate promise of the Savior.

Conclusion

The bottom line here is the author of Hebrews is puts it in the strongest words he can muster to emphasize it is possible to “lose” your salvation. But he also seems to use language that suggests his readers have not progressed to that point yet. Indeed, it seems to take a pretty serious act of apostasy to lose your salvation (e.g., Matthew 10:32–33; 1 John 2:23). But I think the real message in Hebrews 6–10 is not the author’s warning, but the author’s call to perseverance and faithfulness in the face hardship and persecution. The Jews, after all, spent 70 years in exile, but they eventually returned to their Promised Land. In the last part of Hebrews 9, the author lifts up the blood of Christ, which purifies us from all uncleanness and prepared the way for us to live with our Savior eternally.

Peace,

Scott Stocking

This post was revised from the original on 11/19/11, adding additional material to the ἀνακαινίζω section and additional material on Hebrews 11.

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