God’s Rest & Hebrew’s 2nd Warning Passage

Hebrew's Rest

Those who forget the past are often condemned to repeat the same mistakes. This is the case in Hebrew’s second warning passage, as the author is trying to demonstrate, the promise of both blessing and rest is in immediate danger of being forfeited due to unbelief and hardened hearts. Using the failure at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 20:1-13) and by citing how the Lord proclaimed, “They shall not enter my rest,” (Psalm 95:7-11) an intertextual affirmation is being made that the audience’s rebellion and unbelief are going to result in much worse wrath and consequences than simply not being able to enter the land of Canaan. While belief in God should naturally lead one to obey Him, those left to wander in the wilderness remained disobedient because they did not trust in God’s plan or His provision. After presenting the negative example of the wilderness generation, the author then presents the conditional clause, “If, indeed, we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). This was the author’s main objective and he includes himself in this address, as he attempts to motivate and exhort his audience to take the appropriate action and not make the same mistake as their ancestors had.

The proper exegesis of this passage will illustrate how the author of Hebrews warned his audience about the danger of developing an evil heart rooted in unbelief like the generation in the wilderness had done and the grave consequences that would result if they did not change their ways. By analyzing the historical, cultural, and literary context, and by examining the biblical content, a modern-day application for Christians today will be presented. Scripture cannot mean something today that it was not intended to mean for the original audience, so only by understanding the author’s intent and the original audience’s circumstances can believers today find meaning in Hebrew’s second warning passage.

HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXT

According to Leo Percer, the truth is no one knows definitively who wrote the book of Hebrews.[1] George Guthrie does explain the author of Hebrews, “Was a dynamic preacher, was knowledgeable of the Old Testament and its interpretation, was highly educated, and was a committed minister of Jesus Christ deeply concerned about the spiritual state of the group of believers [being] addressed.”[2] The early church believed Hebrews to be Pauline in nature; so early authors who were considered consisted of: Paul, Luke, Clement of Rome, and Barnabas. In more recent times, Priscilla, Jude, Apollos, Philip, and Silvanus have been added to that list. F. F. Bruce shows, “Clement of Alexandria, in his Hypotyposes, said that it was written by Paul for Hebrews in the Hebrew language, but that Luke translated it and published it for the Greeks; thus he endeavored to account for the similarity in style between Hebrews and the Lukan writings.”[3] However, Origen maintained, “But as to who actually wrote the epistle, God only knows the truth of the matter.” A major part of the exegesis of Scripture is determining who the author is, so it is troubling there is no definitive answer, but Gareth Cockerill further shows the author was:

A master of elegant Greek who understood the principles of rhetoric and oral persuasion as taught in the ancient world. He had a thorough knowledge of the OT and a clear understanding of how it should be interpreted in light of its fulfillment in Christ. He was well acquainted with the history of the people to whom he was writing and was deeply concerned lest they fail to persevere in their devotion to and public confession of Christ.[4]

It is this writer’s belief, Apollos seems to possess all the traits and skills outlined above. This too was the view of Martin Luther and Guthrie shows how Acts 18:24-28 describes “Apollos as a Jew from Alexandria, who was eloquent and thoroughly versed in Scripture. Furthermore, he was a pastor who had received the gospel from eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry (Hebrews 2:3), was at home in the Greek-speaking synagogues of the Mediterranean, and had close acquaintances from Italy (Hebrews 13:24).”[5]

As Guthrie asserts, “Hebrews was written in the mid-60s A.D., just prior to the extreme persecution of the Roman church under Nero.”[6] Guthrie arrives at this time period based upon several references in the text: (1) they had been Christians for awhile (Hebrews 5:11-6:3), (2) the believers had faced and persevered in a time of serious persecution in the past (Hebrews 10:32-34), and (3) they had yet to suffer martyrdom for the faith (Hebrews 12:4), but were now facing a more severe time of trial (Hebrews 11:35; 12:3, 7; 12:3, 12-13), in which some of their number were defecting.[7] Jason Whitlark adds, “Most interpreters recognize that Hebrews addresses a Christian community under pressure to compromise or give up altogether its exclusive confession and hope in Jesus Christ.”[8] It is against this backdrop of apostasy, the author of Hebrews addresses an audience on the verge of making a terrible decision to abandon their Christian faith. The main question raised by scholars regarding the date of authorship centers around there being no mention of the Temple being destroyed in A.D. 70. This event seems like an important event to record, especially considering the letter’s emphasis on Mosaic law ending and the present tense use of rituals referenced in Hebrews 9:6 and 13:10.

LITERARY CONTEXT

Leading up to this warning passage, the author of Hebrews has already presented Jesus as the second Moses, which then establishes the typological connection between Israel and the church. Bruce explains, “This typology was familiar to our author, and quite probably to his readers as well; he uses it, therefore, to warn them against giving up their faith and hope.”[9] As Peter Enns asserts, “The writer is not simply arguing for Christ’s superiority over Moses; he is preparing his readers for his exegesis of Psalm 95 by laying the foundation for his understanding of the church as the new wilderness community. As Moses led his people out of Egypt and through the desert, Jesus now leads His people through their wilderness.”[10] The author’s understanding of redemptive history allowed him to apply Psalm 95 relevantly for exposition and application because what once had applied to Israel now finds its full meaning with respect to the church. Only the faithful perseverance anticipated in the present can lead to the Sabbath rest promised in this pericope. As N. T. Wright explains, “The challenge becomes more urgent with the word ‘today,’ the point in the Psalm at which the quotation begins, and the point to which Hebrews returns several times, both in this passage and later.”[11] While chapter three continues the theme of Jesus being superior, here, Moses is treated with a little more respect than the angels and prophets were. The difference in this passage is Jesus is portrayed as a Son whereas Moses was treated as a faithful servant, which Jesus was also. Thus, while both were faithful servants, only Jesus was faithful as a Son and only Jesus was the head of the household. Additionally, while Moses was a representative of God to the people, the key difference was Aaron, his brother, was the one who functioned as the high priest of Israel. Percer illustrates, “The people this message was written to were feeling alone, vulnerable, afraid, overwhelmed and they wanted to run from their problem to find a comfortable place.”[12] With persecution and crisis imminent, the author wanted his audience to understand that Jesus too shared in the same emotions and temptations they were feeling. Percer describes, “The incarnation made possible a penetration into our situation as Jesus becomes our merciful and faithful High Priest.”[13]

The high Christology and priestly role of Jesus emphasized the complete and perfect work of Christ, which was a provision of God’s grace to His children. Buist Fanning shows how, “The second warning in the book is bracketed at beginning and end by references to Jesus’ High Priestly role. Jesus’ faithfulness as High Priest is the starting point for the portrayal of Him as the faithful Son over God’s house.”[14] This demonstrated the Hebrews could be faithful because Jesus remained faithful and the same holds true for Christians today. F. F. Bruce asserts, “When Jesus is designated as ‘the apostle and High Priest of our confession,’ He is marked out as being both God’s representative among human beings and their representative in the presence of God.”[15] Guthrie points out how this chapter demonstrates the importance of holding fast to the Christian faith, but “The entire clause found in 3:6 and 3:14 are, of course, conditional: We may be considered part of the people of God [only] if we hold fast to the Christian faith.”[16] Bruce adds, “Moses was a household servant exalted by virtue of his outstanding faithfulness to the post of chief administrator of God’s household; but Christ, the Son of God, through whom the universe was made and to whom it has been given by his Father as His heritage, is founder and inheritor of the household.”[17]

The interpretation of the warning passages in Hebrews remains a highly debated topic, especially amongst Calvinist-Reformed and Arminian traditions. B. J. Oropeza demonstrates, “The apparent inability of a second repentance for those who have fallen away from faith has ignited a long history of discussions and debates on the issue.”[18] The main question always seems to come back to: “Was the original audience genuine Christ-followers to begin with?” Oropeza explains, “Those who examine the passages with Reformed-Calvinistic perspectives [believe] the ones in danger of apostasy in Hebrews are not elect or ‘genuine’ believers. Likewise, those who approach the texts with Arminian theological agendas conclude the warnings evince a real possibility that believers can abandon salvation.”[19] As Percer remarks, “If all we had was Hebrews, we would all be Arminians.” The fact the writer includes himself in the warning passages serves to indicate the warnings did apply to genuine Christ-followers.

The concept of rest presented in Hebrews 4:1-13 is unique because it alludes to several events. In Psalm 95, the rest spoken of was what would be awaiting them once they reached their final destination. However, in this present passage, N. T. Wright explains, “The idea of God’s rest on the seventh day of creation comes into its own in a different way. Now, the writer links God’s own rest at the end of creation, suggesting that, since God was warning that the people might not enter into His rest, this implied that the promise of the land was meant to function for them like the rest which He had enjoyed after His six days of creation.”[20]

BIBLICAL CONTENT

When looking at the main ideas and themes of Hebrews, it is important to note the author uses “we” to associate himself with the recipients and it reads more like a sermon than a letter. The author also uses speaking and hearing, rather than writing and reading as his medium. Leon Morris notes, “Having shown that Scripture looks for a rest for God’s people, the author then proceeds to show that Israel of old did not enter that rest. The implication is that it is still available for others. And there is a warning: when God opens up an opportunity, that does not necessarily mean that those who have that opportunity will take it.”[21] It immediately becomes evident, the recipients were in a spiritual crisis, and so the author is speaking to them with purpose. First, he wants to encourage believers in the face of some present crisis and for them to stand firm in their faith. Second, he wants to warn Christians of the danger they face if they remain immature and refuse to go on in the knowledge of Christ. Third, he wants to warn Christians of the judgment of God that will occur if they fail to maintain their Christian faith. Fourth, he wants to encourage the Christians, by reminding them of the character of Jesus, who is their champion and High Priest, ordained by God.[22] Wright illustrates how, “Hebrews is concerned over the question of whether or not we continue to follow and trust Jesus, or whether we will be content to drift, with our initial belief fading away to a memory, and our hope dissolving like the energy of the snowbound walkers,”[23] and the same struggle exists today for believers. Much can be learned by how the author presented the history and the consequences that resulted from unbelief because God and His nature never change. Disobedience and unbelief always lead to apostasy, so the author remains focused on how Jesus Christ and the present choices being made are vital to maintaining right standing with God and paramount to avoiding the judgment their ancestors had faced in the wilderness.

Faithfulness and the lack of it are deeply rooted in the Old Testament, so the author now asks his listeners to not harden their hearts as those in the wilderness had done. Thomas Kem Oberholtzer shows how, “The author is drawing a parallel between the wilderness generation and his readers and this ‘falling away’ is the negative side of ‘holding fast.’ Holding fast assures one of being a partaker of Christ which includes: (1) sharing in the messianic joy; (2) having a part in dominion over creation; (3) and sharing in the heavenly calling.”[24] The events the author is alluding to are the exodus from Egypt, the wandering in the wilderness, and he also is drawing from Psalm 95:8-11, as Bruce explains how:

A later generation of Israelites was warned by the psalmist not to follow the bad example of their ancestors’ refusal to listen to God, lest disaster should overtake them in turn; and now a still later generation has the same warning impressed upon it by the writer to the Hebrews. Although the writer does not say so in so many words, it may well be that he saw a special significance in the ‘forty years’ of Ps. 95:10.[25]

 

The journey to the Promised Land should have only taken eleven days, but it took forty years because of the people’s lack of faith and trust in God and their disobedience. When the Israelites finally reached the outer boundaries of Canaan and sent spies to check out what God had already promised would be theirs; only Joshua and Caleb came back with good reports. When the people decided to ignore Joshua and Caleb’s report, the Lord swore in His wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” The author of Hebrews is warning his listeners that they too must be careful to not make the same mistake. Oberholtzer explains, “The concept of rest includes: (1) a historical sense related to the Exodus generation and Joshua (Psalm 95; Joshua 21:44); (2) an eschatological sense related to the Exodus generation; and (3) the Sabbath rest related to the readers with its eschatological perspective (Genesis 2:2-3; Hebrews 4:9).”[26] Rest is one of the main themes of this warning passage and those who fail to persevere, as Oberholtzer asserts, “May result in temporal discipline and loss of future rewards and authority to rule with Jesus in the millennium”[27] (Hebrews 12:4-11).

After he reads this passage, he then exhorts them, calling them to do the same daily, because they will share in Christ only if they hold their confidence until the end. This passage again raises the question whether one can lose his or her salvation, so the author is now pleading with his listeners to not defect and be disobedient like those in the wilderness had done because if they do, they too shall not enter His rest. As Percer explains, “The Hebrews were on the precipice of a life and death decision, so they needed to remember their ancestor’s failure to hold fast and how they must now trust in God’s promised rest.”[28] Jesus came to give His followers rest and God has promised rest to those who obey His Word. The main principle of this passage is when God speaks through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, or the life of Christ; the only response on the part of the reader or listener should be one of bold confidence and not disobedience or defection. Guthrie explains, “The hearers are not to follow the example of those who fell in the desert, but are to hold firmly to their Christian confidence, keeping a soft heart and a vigilance against sin.”[29] Confidence in God’s plan and obedience are key principles to make sure believers do not fall away from the Christian faith.

APPLICATION

Christ was and is still over God’s house, so for Christians today, the same holds true. Jesus was tempted and suffered in every way imaginable, yet He remained faithful to the Father, as a Son and as the Suffering Servant. In a similar way, Christians today are sons and daughters of God and He calls every follower to hold on and keep a tight grip to their Christian faith, so it will not slip away. As Matthew Easter indicates, “The book of Hebrews provides some of the richest insights into the meaning of faith in the New Testament”[30] and reads much more like an exhortation or sermon/homily, rather than as a typical New Testament letter, as the recipients were facing a crisis of faith and were considering going back to Judaism and abandoning their Christian beliefs. Bruce demonstrates that, “From our author’s point of view deliberate disobedience to the living God was practical apostasy against Him, whether those guilty of it were Jewish or Gentile.”[31] Despite the failure of the wilderness generation, the book is written as a word of encouragement for the recipients to maintain their faith in Christ. God inspired the author to not only encourage, but also to confront the people and warn them of the danger they faced if they remained immature in faith and the judgment that would result if they did not turn back to Christ. By reminding the recipients of the character and nature of Jesus, the author encourages them to stand firm in their faith. Apostasy was the root issue and is much the same in today’s world as many followers of Christ are struggling with a crisis of faith. For people today, it is important to never compromise one’s faith based on persecution or being a part of the cultural minority. This message is timely with what is going on all over the world as Christians are being raped, tortured, and killed for their beliefs. The book of Hebrews speaks to these atrocities and dilemmas and provides wonderful application on how to deal with immense persecution, while maintaining one’s faith. God wants His children to rely on Him daily, like the manna from heaven, where God gave them just enough for that day, not the day after. Flowing out of this devotion to God should be the complete obedience and faith in His plan and provision.

Percer highlights how chapters three and four are meant to go together, since chapter three warns against having a hardened heart because they refused to trust and have faith in God and Guthrie finds five key principles in this passage: (1) a healthy focus on Jesus encourages one to be faithful, (2) this faithfulness is volitional, which means having a will and choosing, both intellectually and emotionally; (3) the twin failings of sinfulness and unbelief hinder faithfulness; (4) the faithful persevere in their commitment and this aids in holding fast to their confidence, and (5) faithfulness is communal, meaning it is not limited to only individuals.[32] The “rest” being spoken of was in danger of being missed like the first generation of wanderers in the wilderness had done. The key in not losing “rest” was combing faith with the obedience to God’s word. Chapter four then promises rest to those who are faithful, but the author is fearful some of his audience would not enter God’s rest. Percer further illustrates, “The theme of entering rest and disobedience and the exposure to God’s Word has an overarching theme to entering God’s rest.”[33] Israel’s failure to trust God at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 10:11-14:45) was tragic because the promise and blessing of rest was a provision of God. William Lane demonstrates how the, “Allusions to Numbers 14 are significant because they indicate that unbelief is not a lack of faith or trust. It is the refusal to believe God. It leads inevitably to a turning away from God in a deliberate act of rejection. The play on words ἀπιστίας ἐν τῷ ἀποστῆναι, ‘unbelief in turning away,’ reinforces the fact that falling away and unbelief reflect the same disposition.”[34] While the land of Canaan was an Old Testament example, for Christians today, it represents a relationship into God’s very own presence and an unshakable kingdom. Percer explains, “This rest is both now and for the future and in the present it is meant to take time to worship, reflect, and hear God’s Word.”[35] One’s confidence comes in what Christ has accomplished and only in Him will anyone find both atoning and peaceful rest. Guthrie sums up “rest” best when he states, “True rest is found only in a relationship with the person of God. The rest is His rest, for His people, found by obeying His Word.”[36] When trying to describe “rest” to someone, a powerful representation can be found in Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Ultimately, when someone chooses disobedience and defection, Guthrie illustrates, “They [will] wander the desert and lack the promised rest, [since] the problem is a dysfunctional relationship to God and all who are not in right relationship with God need the promised rest found only in Christ’s Day of Atonement sacrifice.”[37] Jesus is the perfect example for Christians to follow and He is the very means of one’s faithfulness and accordingly, He will judge each individual as He calls His followers to the promised rest.[38]

CONCLUSION

As N. T. Wright states, “Hebrews wants its readers to think of themselves as in some ways like that generation, walking through the wilderness on the way to God’s promised future; and they must not make the mistakes that the Israelites did.”[39] Perseverance and faithfulness are main points of this warning passage, as the author of Hebrews warns his audience about the danger of developing an evil heart of unbelief like the generation in the wilderness had done and the grave consequences that would result if they did not change their ways. Faith and hope are what allow one to endure the trials and circumstances of life, but they also ensure one day entering into God’s unshakable rest. As the eternal High Priest, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God interceding and mediating on behalf of all Christians. Jesus suffered and was tempted in everyway possible, so believers today may find solace in knowing Christ knows exactly what everyone is going through and yet He remained faithful to the Father and endured it all without sinning. This knowledge coupled with the fact that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead dwells inside every believer should provide all the strength and assurance to live a life holy and righteous and one that brings honor and glory to God. Trust in God must always lead to active faith and obedience. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Cockerill, Gareth L. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012.

Cockerill, Gareth L., Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George Guthrie. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.

Easter, Matthew C. “Faith in the God Who Resurrects: The Theocentric Faith of Hebrews.” New Testament Studies 63, no. 1 (January 2017): 76-91. Doi: 10.1017/S0028688516000291. (accessed August 18, 2017).

Enns, Peter E. “Creation and Re-Creation: Psalm 95 and its Interpretation in Hebrews 3:1-4:13.” Westminster Theological Journal 55 (1993): 255-280. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/19-psalms/text/articles/enns-creationps95-heb4-wtj.pdf (accessed August 18, 2017).

Guthrie, George H. Hebrews: The NIV Application Commentary, From Biblical Text… to Contemporary Life. Edited by Terry Muck. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

Lane, William L. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 47A: Hebrews 1-8. “The High Priestly Character of the Son (3:1-5:10) – B. The Second Warning: The Peril of Refusing to Believe God’s Word.” Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.

Morris, Leon. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981.

Oberholtzer, Thomas Kem. “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: The Kingdom Rest in Hebrews 3:1-4:13.” Bibliotheca Sacra 145, no. 578 (April 1988): 185-196. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

Oropeza, B. J. “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: Revised Theologies and New Methods of Interpretation.” Currents in Biblical Research 10, no. 1 (November 2011): 81-100. Doi: 10.1177/1476993X10391138. (accessed August 18, 2017).

Percer, Leo. “Introduction to Hebrews – Background and Structure.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 14:37, (accessed August 18, 2017).

_________. “Jesus: The Example of the Faithful Son.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 11:16, (accessed August 18, 2017).

_________. “The Promise of Rest to the Faithful.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 13:56, (accessed August 18, 2017).

Richards, Lawrence O. The Teacher’s Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987.

Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985.

Whitlark, Jason. “The Warning Against Idolatry: An Intertextual Examination of Septuagintal Warnings in Hebrews.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34, no. 4 (2012): 382-401. Doi: 10.1177/0142064X12443032. (accessed August 18, 2017).

Wright, N. T. Hebrews for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 2004.

[1] Leo Percer, “Introduction to Hebrews – Background and Structure,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 14:37, (accessed August 18, 2017).

[2] George H. Guthrie, Hebrews: The NIV Application Commentary, From Biblical Text… to Contemporary Life, ed. by Terry Muck, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 24-26.

[3] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 12.

[4] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012), 2.

[5] Guthrie, Hebrews, 27.

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jason Whitlark, “The Warning Against Idolatry: An Intertextual Examination of Septuagintal Warnings in Hebrews,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34, no. 4 (2012): 382. Doi: 10.1177/0142064X12443032. (accessed August 18, 2017).

[9] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 97.

[10] Peter E. Enns, “Creation and Re-Creation: Psalm 95 and its Interpretation in Hebrews 3:1-4:13,” Westminster Theological Journal 55 (1993): 271.

[11] N. T. Wright. Hebrews for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 2004), 29.

[12] Leo Percer, “Jesus: The Example of the Faithful Son,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 11:16, (accessed August 18, 2017).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Buist M. Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 195.

[15] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 91.

[16] Guthrie, Hebrews, 128.

[17] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 92.

[18] B. J. Oropeza, “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: Revised Theologies and New Methods of Interpretation,” Currents in Biblical Research 10, no. 1 (November 2011): 81. Doi: 10.1177/1476993X10391138. (accessed August 18, 2017).

[19] Ibid., 82.

[20] Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, 36.

[21] Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 36.

[22] Percer, “Introduction to Hebrews – Background and Structure.”

[23] Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, 31.

[24] Thomas Kem Oberholtzer, “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: The Kingdom Rest in Hebrews 3:1-4:13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145, no. 578 (April 1988): 188-189. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

[25] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 99.

[26] Oberholtzer, “The Warning Passages in Hebrews,” 196.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Percer, “Jesus: The Example of the Faithful Son.”

[29] Guthrie, Hebrews, 131.

[30] Matthew C. Easter, “Faith in the God Who Resurrects: The Theocentric Faith of Hebrews,” New Testament Studies 63, no. 1 (January 2017): 76-91. doi: 10.1017/S0028688516000291. (accessed August 18, 2017).

[31] Bruce, TNICNT – The Epistle to the Hebrews, 5.

[32] Guthrie, Hebrews, 161-167.

[33] Leo Percer, “The Promise of Rest to the Faithful,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 13:56, (accessed August 18, 2017).

[34] William L. Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 47A: Hebrews 1-8, “The High Priestly Character of the Son (3:1-5:10) – B. The Second Warning: The Peril of Refusing to Believe God’s Word,” (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991,) 86.

[35] Percer, “The Promise of Rest to the Faithful.”

[36] Guthrie, Hebrews, 166.

[37] Guthrie, Hebrews, 167.

[38] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 666.

[39] Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, 28.

 

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Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews: Book Review

Four Views of Warning Passages in Hebrews

INTRODUCTION

Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews is the culmination of a collection of papers presented to the Hebrews Study Group during the fifty-sixth annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society during November 17-19, 2004. While the denominational orientations of the members are diverse, the group holds to two doctrinal beliefs: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs, and God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”[1] Each of the four New Testament scholars present and defend their exegetical presentations and then critique the view of their fellow contributors. Herbert Bateman asserts, “The purpose of Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews seeks to expose existing tensions and provide various ways in which four scholars with differing theological grids interpret them in the literary and historical context of Hebrews…[And] forces us to address the issue of assurance and the doctrine of eternal security.”[2] The purpose of this book critique will first be to evaluate the main arguments presented, by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses found in each view/approach. Second, one view will recognized as the best explanation, with details as to why it is the best choice. Lastly, an assessment of the book’s overall contribution to the field of study will be presented.

SUMMARY OF CONTENT AND MAIN ARGUMENTS

The book of Hebrews reads much more like an exhortation or sermon/homily, rather than as a typical New Testament letter. It seems the recipients were facing a crisis of faith and were considering going back to Judaism and abandoning their Christian beliefs. This would mean the original recipients were most likely Jewish Roman Christians, who had an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. The book is also written as a word of encouragement for the recipients to maintain their faith in Christ. God inspired the author to not only encourage, but also to confront the people and warn them of the danger they faced if they remained immature in faith and the judgment that would result if they did not turn back to Christ. By reminding the recipients of the character and nature of Jesus, the writer/speaker encourages them to stand firm in their faith. Bateman believes, “Hebrews 5:11-6:12 is the heart of the author’s concern. Yet together the five warning messages[3] are all emotive exhortations to believers to persevere and believe, rather than distrust and disobey… The wilderness community serves as a reminder that God, in a previous era, punished those who distrusted and disobeyed Him and His messengers.”[4]

Grant Osborne maintains a Classical Arminian view, and immediately explains the six hundred year debate that has been going on, despite the agreement on the meaning of depravity: “For the Calvinist there is no hope until God sovereignly acts and on the basis of His mysterious will elects some to salvation and then overwhelms them with His irresistible grace so that they choose Christ. [However,] for the Arminian, God still acts sovereignly but He sends His Spirit Who convicts every person and overcomes their total depravity so that they make a choice.”[5] The warning passages are a key component of this debate and the audience’s apostasy is one of the few things agreed upon. Osborne asserts, “Faith is a passive surrender to God who saves us, and an opening up of ourselves to God, who works salvation in us. But it is still a free choice. This freedom then passes over into the life of sanctification.” Osborne identifies Hebrews 6 as a hinge point in his argument. The apostasy being addressed to the Roman converts was a real danger, as Osborne maintains when true believers commit an unpardonable sin, there is no possibility of repentance, but only of eternal judgment.[6] Osborne comes to this realization from an understanding of the parallel participles in Hebrew 6:4-6 to mean that true believers have fallen away and he asserts any translation that renders this passage as “if they fall away” is in error.[7]

Buist Fanning’s view on Hebrews is best classified as Classical Reformed and he believes, “It is, strictly speaking, not man but God who perseveres, [which] may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.”[8] Fanning identifies the book’s enigmatic character as the one thing almost everyone can agree on. He prefers to use a synthetic approach when approaching the warning passages in Hebrews, while also considering the interpretation of four or five elements or themes that they all have in common.[9] Rooted in this approach, Fanning addresses: the description of those who fall away, the nature of this fall, the consequences of the fall, the desired positive response, and encouragement to the audience about God’s faithfulness.[10] Fanning concludes, “The warnings in Hebrews about falling away and the exhortations to endure are intended to urge the readers to maintain faith in Christ’s high priestly work, not to provoke fear that they may lose their standing with, nor primarily to test the genuineness of their faith.”[11] This essentially communicates those in jeopardy of not possessing salvation never had it in the first place, meaning they were never actually true believers.

Gareth Lee Cockerill maintains a Wesleyan Arminian view and he emphasizes these, “Passages are difficult, not just because they teach that it is possible to fall away from Christ, but also because they appear to teach a falling away from which there is no return, [making these passages] not only a problem for Calvinists, but also for Wesleyans and other Christians.”[12] Cockerill and Osborne both assert it is possible, because of apostasy; to be eternally lost once being saved, but Cockerill emphasizes, “[The] writer of Hebrews is not speaking of salvation from God’s point of view, for only God knows which of the recipients of Hebrews are true believers.”[13] Cockerill also touches on the pastoral implications of the warning passages saying, “The author’s parallel encouragement continues to do for modern Christians what they did for the first hearers of this message, the warnings were not given to generate worry, but to raise concern lest one might fall, the severity of the warnings rests on the greatness of the salvation Christ brought, and they show people are either moving toward God or away from God.”[14] The last point was very insightful because the tendency is to view people as either being in or out of the kingdom of God. As Cockerill concludes, the main emphasis for pastors should not just be whether or not someone has made a decision for Christ; the focus should be on the direction of their lives. This last statement could be misconstrued; really, the focus should be on both.

Randall Gleason holds a Moderate Reformed View and points out the warnings in Hebrews has lacked consensus since the days of the early church.[15] The foundation of Gleason’s interpretation of the warning passages is rooted in Jewish history and context, and he views falling away as much more than simply acting unfaithfully. This unfaithfulness to God parallels the Israelite’s time in the wilderness where an eleven-day journey took forty years because of their attitude and lack of faith in God. By linking the spiritual condition of the intended audience to the sinful nature of the Exodus generation, Gleason presents compelling similarities in the circumstances and the judgment that would follow if the people did not turn back to Christ. Gleason concludes by asserting, “The purpose of Hebrews was to strengthen, encourage, and exhort the members of a persecuted Christian community to hold firmly to their confession of Jesus Christ rather than seek security in the old rituals of Judaism.”[16] This desire to go back to the old ways is associated with the acrostic for Ur, meaning going back to one’s usual routine.

George Guthrie offers a wonderful conclusion to this book and his beliefs closely resemble those of Buist Fanning, so he would be classified as Classical Reformed in his views on Hebrew’s warning passages. Guthrie illuminates, “The manner in which this scholarly dialogue has been conducted represents an irenic, evangelical Christianity that at once aspires to the clarification of truth and the fostering of Christian community – two goals often treated as being unrelated.”[17] Any endeavor in exegesis and hermeneutics should seek to reveal what is contained in Scripture; not what one wants to be there. By seeking to understand what Scripture truly reveals, the interpreter will have the greatest opportunity to communicate the truths of God.

ANALYSIS AND CRITIQUE OF VIEWS

It is amazing how one’s preunderstanding and preconceived notions warp the mind and limit the ability to see God’s truth fully illuminated. Each of the authors are leaders in their respective schools of theology and have contributed much to the advancement of applying God’s Word in the lives of believers today. The way this book is formatted and setup allows it to be read much like a debate with opposing views, by the other three authors, at the conclusion of each chapter. Each author is given ample space ranging from seventy-five to one hundred pages to assert their beliefs and most responses are around twenty pages. The debate seems to revolve around whether the passages are referring to regenerate Christians and the main issue being addressed is if believers can lose their salvation, if they fall away from God’s grace. On multiple occasions, this writer was able to see different views presented in a new light that did not put down another’s viewpoint. When reading or listening to opposing views, the natural reaction is to dismiss what is being said, but that was not the case with this book. Each of these sections were truly enlightening and this is the third book in the last year this writer has read in seminary where differing views were presented and responses were added at the end of each belief, so this seems to be a very successful trend when addressing core doctrinal issues. This format also adds a new level of comprehension and clarification for a wide variety of readers, from new believers, to students, to even scholars in the field. Knowing what one believes is important, but so is being able to interact with the other popular stances on a topic. What really sets this book apart from others is the professionalism each author showed their fellow contributors, even if their beliefs were in conflict. This is an area the church as a whole has been the victim of and as a result, many Christians forget there is only one team: God’s team. Doctrinally, there are surely some hills worth dying on, but many of the trivial translations of a passage have caused such strife and division in the universal church. It was truly refreshing to see these scholars interact with one another and not just point out differences, but point out areas in which there was agreement. Each of the authors were respected scholars in their denominations and while they do not necessarily speak for everyone, in this writer’s opinion, they each presented sound exegetical procedures and conclusions. Because of the complexity of reading Hebrews, it can seem confusing with the contrast of falling away, possibly forever, being juxtaposed with the superiority of Christ as High Priest, so understanding more about the author, the original recipients, and the context are vital to arriving at the most accurate interpretation of the text and what modern day application it presents for believers today.

If one author’s view seemed superior, or at least was better presented, it would be Buist Fanning’s Classical Reformed view. His synthetic approach to the text illustrates how the author includes himself when he is addressing the church and also how Christ is elevated to His High Priestly role. Fanning also does a good job when analyzing the conditional statements and the cause-to-effect relationship between protasis and apodosis. Fanning demonstrates, that not all conditionals express C/E relationships; however, “They all involve a type of contingency with a consequence, but the consequence may be an inference that can be drawn or an equivalence that may be noted, not always an effect produced by the cause denoted in the protasis.”[18] This means enduring faith is the evidence of genuine salvation, which communicates those in jeopardy of not possessing salvation never, had it in the first place, meaning they were never true believers. The priesthood of Jesus is the assurance of salvation and Fanning does a brilliant job illustrating how Christ intercedes for believers and when sinners confess their sins and turn from their wicked ways, God chooses not to remember the sins any longer. Fanning’s approach further seems most valid because it also pictures true genuine believers being able to persevere to the very end because their hope and faith is in Christ.

CONCLUSION

While each of the views of the warning passages in Hebrews had valid points, Fanning’s emphasis of Christ’s power to save over any amount of apostasy is theologically most biblical. To argue otherwise would be to say Christ is unable to forgive certain sins. Fanning raises two interesting questions: “What could cause God to call to mind again what He has pledged never to remember? And what could bring an end to forgiveness or an inheritance that is eternal? To these questions, Fanning asserts, “Why would the author express himself so strongly about God’s absolute faithfulness if human infidelity can short-circuit it, especially since this is the very thing he fears some of his readers may do.”[19] Each of the authors presented considerable insight into how to interpret the warning passages in Hebrews and this book’s contribution will be long lasting in academia and for anyone wanting to properly understand the Epistle to the Hebrews.

 Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. By Gareth L. Cockerill, Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George H. Guthrie. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007, 480 pp. $29.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cockerill, Gareth L., Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George Guthrie. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.

[1] Herbert W. Bateman IV ed., Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 7.

[2] Ibid., 83.

[3] Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; and 12:14-29

[4] Bateman IV ed., Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 84-85.

[5] Grant R. Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 86.

[6] Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 128.

[7] Ibid., 111-112.

[8] Buist M. Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 172-173.

[9] Ibid., 175.

[10] Ibid., 175-192.

[11] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 218.

[12] Gareth Lee Cockerill, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 257.

[13] Ibid., 289.

[14] Ibid., 291-292.

[15] Randall C. Gleason, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 336.

[16] Ibid., 367.

[17] George H. Guthrie, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 431.

[18] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 210.

[19] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 200.