The content of this post was authored by Ben Henshaw and is posted on his behalf.
We now examine what I consider to be the most significant warning against apostasy in the entire Bible: Hebrews 10:26-30, 35-39. I will quote the entirety of the text I wish to examine below but this post will deal only with verses 26-30. Verses 35-39 will be examined in a future post.
-  For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.”  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God… Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.  ‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.  But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’  But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
We will examine this passage verse by verse with exegetical notes along the way.
Verse 26: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”
The willful sin described here is generally understood to be the sin of apostasy (the same as in Heb. 2:1; 3:12; 6:6 and 12:25). It is the decisive act of repudiation of the faith. This is the general consensus despite the present participle. Calvinists Peterson and Williams write:
“Because of the severity of the rest of this verse, we understand sinning “deliberately” as indicating a deliberate renunciation of one’s faith rather than speaking generally of intentional sin.” [Why I Am Not An Arminian, pg. 85]
Donald A. Hagner agrees:
- The words if we deliberately keep on sinning do not refer to ordinary sins, but to the most grievous and final sin, apostasy. (NIV’s keep on sinning is an interpretive addition intended to reflect the present participle of the Greek; here, however, it may be that the KJV’s and the RSV’s straightforward “if we sin” is a more appropriate translation.) (
- , pg. 169)
The parallel with the other warning passages in Hebrews would support this interpretation. The use of the present participle could also have reference to the continuing rebellion which hardens the heart to point of outright apostasy, while it is the repudiation which results from this hardening that is specifically in view in the rest of the passage.
The second part of the passage tells us that this repudiation takes place “after receiving the knowledge of the truth”. This is a significant phrase especially in light of the use of the Greek epignosis for “knowledge.” I will quote from my post on 2 Pet. 2:20 with regards to the significance of how this Greek word is used here:
- It is significant that the Greek word for “knowledge” used in this passage is
- . This Greek word is predominately used by NT writers with reference to a full and complete knowledge, in contrast to an investigative or superficial knowledge (
- ). Strong says of epignosis, “full discernment” (
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
- , Greek word # 1922). Kittel says, “The compound
- can take on almost a technical sense for conversion to Christianity” (
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
- , 121 [one volume edition]).
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
- says of
- , “primarily a seeking to know, an enquiry, investigation”, and of the stronger
- : “denotes exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition, and is a strengthened form of No. 1 [
- ], expressing a fuller or a full knowledge, a greater participation by the knower of the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him” [pg. 631]. The NASB renders
- as “real knowledge” in Phil. 1:9, and “true knowledge” in 2 Pet. 1:3, 8. In Col. 1:9
- has reference to “all spiritual wisdom and understanding” and “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” in Eph. 1:17 (also see Philemon 4-6).
Especially consider the salvation language of 1 Tim. 2:3, 4, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge [epignosis] of the truth”, compared with Heb. 10:26, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge [epignosis] of the truth…” While this is strong evidence in favor of viewing the apostate as one who had come to a complete and saving knowledge of the truth, the choice of epignosis by the writer of Hebrews does not, by itself, prove that such is the case. Epignosis and gnosis are sometimes used interchangeably in Scripture but the stronger sense of epignosis should not be ignored. Even if gnosis were used the context would still suggest saving knowledge. Paul Ellingworth writes in his commentary on the Greek text that this “knowledge of the truth” is:
- …the content of Christianity as the absolute truth (Bauer 2b); ‘the decisive knowledge of God which is implied in conversion to the Christian faith’ (R Bultmann in TDNT 1.707). The language is not typical of the author, and suggests a formula. The closest NT parallels are 1 Tim. 2:4; 2Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1, all anarthrous; cf. John 8:32; 1 Jn. 2:21; 2 Jn. 1…Kosmala’s view (137) that ‘the knowledge of truth’ in this verse ‘does not yet include faith in Jesus Christ’ has not won support and is alien to the context. (
The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text
- , pp 532, 533)
The last part of the verse creates big trouble for Calvinism with regards to the doctrine of limited atonement: “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” By repudiating the faith there is no longer any sacrifice available for the apostate. However, if Calvinism is correct then there never was any sacrifice made for the apostate to begin with. The “apostate”, according to Calvinism, is really just a reprobate who came to the very edge of saving faith and then turned away. The apostate never put faith in Christ and his turning away only revealed his true unregenerate and irrevocably reprobated nature. Calvinism asserts that Christ did not die for reprobates and never made any provision for their sins. How then can it be said that by the act of apostasy that there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins?” This difficulty only magnifies later in the passage as we shall see.
Some may object that the verse could be understood as simply stating that there is no other sacrifice available for the apostate to turn to and no other sacrifice that can be made since Christ died “once for all [time].” The fact remains, however, that such a statement seems unnecessary in light of the warning itself as there would never have been any sacrifice provided for the apostate (reprobate) to turn to in the first place (according to Calvinism). It also seems clear from the context that the fact that no sacrifice remains is directly connected to the act of apostasy itself rather than to some secret decree which eternally barred the reprobate from any benefits of the atonement. The fact that there is nowhere else to turn, then, is directly related to the act of rejection (apostasy) and not to any secret eternal decree.
Verse 27: “…but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”
There remains no more sacrifice for sins for the apostate but there is something which remains, the promise of eternal fiery judgment. This verse plainly teaches that the destiny of the apostate is Hell fire. The destiny of the apostate is “the fury of fire which will consume the enemies,” for the apostate has made himself an enemy of God through his rejection of Christ’s sacrifice and will therefore suffer the fate of God’s enemies.
We need to pause briefly to consider an interpretation offered by some proponents of unconditional eternal security which looks to draw a parallel between this passage and 1 Corinthians 3:14-15:
“If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Based on their understanding of 1 Cor. 3:14-15 it is claimed that only a loss of rewards is in view in Hebrews 10:27. However, the context of Heb. 10:27 does not allow for such an interpretation as it is describing the destiny of the apostate and not his or her rewards. The apostate has become God’s enemy and will suffer the same eternal ruin as all God’s enemies. The parallel with Heb. 6:8 is significant:
“…but if [that land] yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.”
It is important to note that the land is burned and not just the thorns and thistles. The land plainly represents the final state of the apostate in Heb. 6:8 and parallels the final state and destiny of the apostate in Heb. 10:27. It is forced exegesis at best to insist that rewards are in view in either of these passages. We should further comment on the context of 1 Cor. 3:14-15. Those who may “suffer loss” are those workers (Paul and Apollos specifically in the immediate context cf. 3:6-9) who have “built” on the foundation of Jesus Christ (verses 11-12).
This passage is speaking of the quality of the work done by those who were building on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Only believers can be in view here, which is not the case in Hebrews 10:27. 1 Cor. 3:14-15 is not speaking of the fruit of faith and the Holy Spirit in someone’s personal life (e.g. John 15:1-6; Gal. 5:22-23), but the quality and effectiveness of ministerial work in building the body of Christ (verses 12-15). These workers will remain saved because they built on the sure foundation, but they will have nothing to show for their labor because they did not build on that foundation wisely. Their efforts, therefore, will prove to be in vain.
Verses 28 and 29: “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
These verses pose great difficulty for Calvinism and have endured some of the most unfortunate acts of exegetical torture by those who have desperately tried to keep their doctrines from suffering shipwreck on the plain implications of these verses.
Verses 28 and 29 indicate that the punishment in view goes beyond physical death as was noted above. The writer is here demonstrating God’s justice in His wrathful and eternal punishment of the apostate that was so vividly described in verse 27. This “more severe” punishment is well deserved because the apostate has “trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace.”
The greatest difficulty for Calvinism in these verses is the fact that the apostate is said to have been sanctified by the blood of the covenant. We will discuss this further in a moment, but it is also important to note that the apostate has “trampled under foot the Son of God” and “insulted the Spirit of Grace.”
The nature and scope of the atonement comes into sharp focus in these passages in view of God’s just judgment of the apostate. We need to remember that in Calvinism no provision has been made for the reprobate. Jesus Christ did not shed His blood for the reprobate. His sacrifice was not intended for those whom God had decreed to destroy even before the world was created. Most Calvinists say that the Holy Spirit “passes over” these reprobates and denies them the necessary grace to believe and be saved.
If the Holy Spirit has no intentions of saving the reprobate and has deliberately withheld saving grace from them, then how can it possibly be said that these supposed “reprobates” (i.e. apostates) have “insulted” the Spirit of Grace? In what sense could they possibly have trampled under foot the Son of God when the Son of God made no provision for them? They have not truly rejected the blood of His sacrifice, for that blood was neither intended nor provided for them. The reprobates have nothing to reject for God has not made anything available for them. How then is God justified in judging them with regard to that “rejection?”
The passage answers this question for us in a way that creates even bigger problems for Calvinism’s cherished “P”. The apostates are condemned because the blood of Christ was not only truly shed for them but had in fact “sanctified” them. God’s gracious gift of salvation had not only been truly provided for the apostate but also applied to the apostate. The decisive act of apostasy is, for that reason, such a grievous sin and outright insult to the Spirit of grace who Himself applied that sanctifying blood of the covenant (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1, 2; 2 Thess. 2:13). This is why the apostate deserves such “severe” punishment (vs. 29).
Calvinists are well aware of the implications of these verses and have come up with some ingenious ways in which to alleviate the difficulty. We will examine two of these proposed interpretations in our next two posts. After that we will examine verses 31-39.