Lecture 11: Hebrews 5:11-6:12 (Part 1)
Lecture: Hebrews 5:11-6:12 Part 1
I. Hebrews 5:11-6:12
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk,
being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
What the author of Hebrews does now, he moves to this center point of exhortation. In regards to 5:11 and following, you will notice that this warning; the danger of falling away from the Christian faith is at the center point of a Chiastic structure in this material. You have this warning and then you have the warning at 4:12-13 which corresponds to the warning at 10:26-32. You have the warning back at 2:1-4 which corresponds to the warning at 12:25-29. These warning passages have various elements of correspondence. What we have at 5:11-6:12 is a three-step process of exhortation.
A. Hearers Are Confronted with Their Problem:
The author here confronts the hearers with their problem. 5:11-6:3 is the first movement here and in this exhortation passage, you have the author confronting them with their problems. These problems have to do with a lack of spiritual maturity in the faith. They should be much further along than they are, but instead, they need someone to go back and teach them the elementary principles of the faith. The second movement is the warning itself in 6:4-8. You have the warning passage which is very harsh. Along with 10:26-31, it is among the harshest passages in the whole Book of Hebrews. So, he gives this very strong warning, using the negative example of those who have already fallen away from the faith. The third movement of this hortatory material is what I call mitigation. This is a softening of this harsh warning. This is what we do often in speaking and in correction of our children. This great center section on the appointment of Christ is interrupted by this hortatory material. I believe it was Van Wiye who said that it didn’t make any sense that the author would show himself to be so inexperienced to start something and then break it up. If you go back and look at John Christendom’s on Hebrews, he had it right at this point. Christendom says that the author breaks off for the moment in talking about the Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus and by the time he returns to it, there attention is strictly on what he is going to say. This is the beauty of the rhetoric here. He starts taking first about Jesus’ high priesthood but then he says to them that they are not ready to hear this and instead he talks directly to them about where they are with Jesus. So, he hits them with this warning and then with the mitigation. By the time he returns to the information in chapter 7, they are ready to hear because he has confronted them. So, he has tried to wake them up spiritually in doing this.
11 περί (Concerning) ου (of whom) πολύς (is much) ημίν (our) ο λόγος (word) και (and) δυσερμήνευτος (difficult in interpretation) λέγειν (to speak,) επεί (since)
νωθροί (dull) γεγόνατε (you have become) ταις (in the) ακοαίς (hearings.)
12 και γαρ (For though) οφείλοντες (you ought) είναι (to be) διδάσκαλοι (teachers) διά (because of) τον (the) χρόνον (time,) πάλιν (again) χρείαν (need)
έχετε (you have) του (of one) διδάσκειν (to teach) υμάς (you) τίνα (what are) τα (the) στοιχεία (elements) της (of the) αρχής (beginning) των (of the) λογίων
(oracles) του θεού (of God;) και (and) γεγόνατε (you have become) χρείαν (need) έχοντες (having) γάλακτος (of milk,) και (and) ου (not) στερεάς (of solid)
Concerning whom in verse 11 is speaking about Melchizedek which was the last word in verse 10. He says that it is difficult to explain about Melchizedek. The reason is: they have become dull and people whose senses are dull and slow to learn. This word could be dull of hearing or sluggish, dimwitted or lazy. So, the essence of their problem is that they have become spiritually sluggish or dull in hearing. For the backdrop of this word, we have that Plutarch said that Parmenian was sluggish and lazy in battle. The term can be used of an athlete who was slow because he was physically out of shape. This word is also used in the ancient world of a person who fails to follow through on responsibilities of some aspect of life. So what is the concept of this word, nothros tied to? It is tied to hearing. This flows from what has been said about the Word of God being quick and powerful, going back to Psalm 95, today if you hear his voice. So, the problem is, they have become sluggish in their hearing. He says that instead they should be teachers by this time but they need someone to teach them. They still need milk instead of solid food. What are the elementary trues of God’s Word? The Words mean basic principles. There are places in the New Testament and elsewhere this word storakia has to do with spiritual beings or principles of the universe. Here, the term refers to elementary trues or basic principles. This could also refer to the alphabet or the most basic concepts in education. So, the author is using some educational language here. Several of the concepts and images are drawn from the world of education at the time. So, he says to them that they have a need to go back to the basic principles. The New English Bible translates this: you need to get back to the ABC’s of God’s Word. So, the hearers who have been believers for a long time and should have been advanced in the faith, instead they have stagnated and perhaps even digressed in terms of their spiritual maturity.
So the basic problem with these people has to do with a spiritual sluggishness where they have lost perspective on basic Christian teaching. Another educational image that the author uses is the image of milk and solid food. This, again, is also from an educational context of the ancient world. The milk over against solid food was a way of delineating basics from advanced teachings. For instance, the rabbis sometimes called the young students, suckling’s and then Epicodus the Greek slave during the reign of Nero uses milk and meat imagery to comment on the immaturity of a person who demands life to be a certain way in order to be happy. Epicodus says, are you not willing at this late date like children to be weaned and partake of more solid food and not cry for your mother and nurses, oh wise lamentations? So, he says to just wait in the house like a little child. Speaking of education, Philo of Alexandria writes that milk is the food of babies and suited for the time of childhood. This is the beginning stages of education. Grown men should partake of more substantial fare that leads to wisdom, self-control and virtue. So, the imagery the author of Hebrews uses with milk against solid food was a very common one in the ancient world of that time. He is concerned that they should act accordingly in terms of waking up and realizing that they are not where they should be from a spiritual standpoint.
14 τελείων (for full-grown) δε (But) εστιν (is) η στερεά (solid) τροφή (nourishment,) των (of the ones) διά (through) την (the) έξιν (manner) τα (the) αισθητήρια (senses) γεγυμνασμένα (exercised) εχόντων (of having) προς (for) διάκρισιν (the distinction) καλού τε (of both good) και (and) κακού (evil.)
He says in verse 13 that everyone that takes milk is not able to handle the Word of Righteousness. The reason they can’t is because they are an infant. He continues with this image. Verse 14 has a history of misinterpretation. Virtually every modern translation in-cooperates this throughout their lexicons. Verse 14 says that solid food is for the mature; for those who are of a mature spiritual condition. The Greek word hexis is used here for trained senses in the discerning of right and wrong. This is basically what the author is saying. This hexis is sometimes translated practice; they have senses that are trained to discern the difference between good and evil. This is the most common way hexis is translated. Above, it is translated as manner. The problem with translating hexis like this is it doesn’t mean this anywhere in the ancient world. This is referred to as practice anywhere here and it never means working it out for yourself. It means rather a state of existence. This goes back to Gerome’s translation of the Vulgate. Rather, this should be translated something like: solid food is for the mature who by virtue of their state of maturity have trained senses to discern good and evil. It isn’t that the mature practice to do this, but instead the state of maturity is characterized by someone who has senses that are trained in this way. In other words, the exhortation is not to go out and practice, instead, it is to be mature because if you are a mature person, discerning is a characteristic of being a mature person. The ESV missed this and translated it like others did. The Holman Christian Standard is translated it like I mentioned. This does change the meaning of the text, however. We are coming to maturity and part of being mature is being a discerning person.
Further implications in terms of life in the church are concerned with the training of the heart to think biblically. He is saying that the basic teachings of the faith are important to have if you are going to be mature person. Often in our churches, we look to people who have natural gifts in the world and think that they would be good leaders in the church. Sometimes that is true where God has gifted people in wisdom and leadership etc. but a foundational question for whether a person is going to be where they need to be in terms of the church is whether that person thinks biblically or not. Are they grounded in the Word the way that they need to be? You need to evaluate maturity from a spiritual standpoint in terms of a person’s processing things in life according to biblical thinking. In doing so, you will learn to make decisions based on biblical principles. Often, the way we teach and train is so affected by the culture around us instead of the solid principles in the Bible. Another point I would like to say in regards to this material has to do with the nature of confrontation in the church. We see how the author confronts those in the church there in Rome. We need to think through what the fostering of Christians community looks like where this kind of direct confrontation and warning can take place. We need that kind of freedom with one another. Leaders need to ability and wisdom in how to do this. This author of Hebrews seemed to have had a lot of relational cash built up with this congregation because he was able to confront them very straight forwardly.
So we want to think about the nature of confrontation and the role of confrontation in preaching and doing that wisely. There are a lot of young preachers who try to do this with congregations that they are getting to know, but it doesn’t work very well. In regards to exhortation, I think you could take this as a general exhortation to the whole body; it is a kind of a general thing as it says ‘many of you.’ It was probably being circulated among the house churches of Rome saying that they shouldn’t just be babes learning their ABC’s, but instead they ought to be teachers. So, I think it is being used as an image here rather than speaking very literally.
2. Hebrews 6:1-3:
This is the other half of the address of the problem talking about the basic teaching of Christ; let us press on to maturity. It is perhaps saying that God is taking us on in this situation. He mentions baptisms and the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement. These basic teachings he gives could have been said in a Jewish context of the 1st century. When you talk about repentance of dead works, faith toward God, baptisms and laying on of hands and resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment; these are things that could have been said in a Jewish context and it raises the question as to whether he was addressing people who were Jewish and were not yet members of the Christian faith. I would say no, it isn’t for all of his exhortation material indicates an audience of believers. He see as he talks about these elementary teaching about Christ. So, just being a person who has the basics is not enough. After a while, they need to move on in the Christian faith to further teachings about the faith. There is a meaty Christology here that he talks about, specifically with the high priesthood of Christ. In leaving it, he doesn’t mean that you can depart from those basics but you take them with you. He is intended to move on to this maturity almost immediately as he gets to chapter 7. So some basic things for the new Christian are to know what the Gospel is, who Christ is, the nature of God and the importance of prayer. Some churches have a basic course for new believers such as six weeks or one-on-one training. So this is the first movement that runs from 5:11 to 6:3.
6:4 αδύνατον γαρ (For it is impossible) τους (of the ones) άπαξ (once) φωτισθέντας (enlightened,) γευσαμένους (having tasted) τε (also) της (of the) δωρεάς (gift) της επουρανίου (heavenly,) και (and) μετόχους (partakers) γενηθέντας (becoming) πνεύματος (spirit) αγίου (of holy,)
B. The Warning Itself (Hebrew 6:4-8):
You have this harsh warning against falling away. Here, I will first deal with the purpose and process and then the structure of it. In terms of the purpose, it is to warn them. It is a very real warning. Some think that this is just rhetorical, just talking, but I don’t think so. In looking at the imagery used such as in the treatment of Christ, crucifying the Son of God, putting him to shame; these are very harsh statements and need to be taken seriously. So, the purpose is to give a harsh warning while the process that is used is by example. The example here refers to a group of people who have turned their backs on Christ and have left the church. They have denied Christ. The author uses a number of examples such as the negative example of the wanderer who fell in the wilderness. He uses the example of those who have left the church. He will use the positive example of Abraham and others in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. You have this negative example which constitutes the warning at this point. In regards to the structure, the first words here in verse 4. You have adunaton meaning impossible and there are a couple of other places where this is used in Hebrews. It means that it isn’t possible. This is separated from the idea of renewing to repentance. These two parts of the passage are separated by the object; these are the ones who have tasted the heavenly gifts and partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of God’s work and the powers of the coming age and then have fallen away. The reason why these two parts are separated creating a sandwich effect is to heighten the sense of the dynamics of the passage. It is a rhetorical device that the author uses to pull apart and separate the two parts of the passage.
A recent article by Dave Matheson on the Old Testament backdrop to this passage looks at echoes in the Old Testament in this passage. It’s in the West Ministry Journal. Matheson’s proposition says that you have an Old Testament backdrop just like you do with other exhortation material in Hebrews. He says that these images are taken out of the wilderness wandering passages of the Old Testament. What the author is then doing is using the language of the wanderers to talk about the spiritual default of those in this church who have turned their back on Christ and have walked away. It is impossible in reference to the ones who have been enlightened. There are places in the Old Testament text where this term, to be enlightened, is used for those who were enlightened by the pillar of fire, for instance. It is the same word. The way was lite for them by the presence of God. Generally, this word could be used in various ways such as being aware of certain kinds of teaching. It is used elsewhere in Hebrews to refer to being a person who has heard the Gospel. This imagery of being enlightened has to do with being there as the manifest presence of God was experienced.