Dealing With Difficult Issues: Hebrews 6

As a Bible teacher/preacher, you need to know how to answer difficult issues, questions, and passages within the Bible. In an effort to give insight into how to deal with difficult passages, I’m providing a look inside how I tackled a particularly difficult text—Hebrews 6.

Without doubt, Hebrews 6 provides one of the greatest theological challenges for the Bible teacher to interpret. Charles Swindoll calls Hebrews 6 the “Rubik’s Cube of the Bible.” Many commentators choose to either skip Hebrews 6 altogether or provide a brief overview, leaving the difficult text for others to try and explain.

In his introduction to Hebrews 6, J. Vernon McGee notes,

This chapter, by all odds, contains the most difficult passage in the Bible for an interpreter to handle, regardless of his theological position. Dr. R. W. Dale, one of the great minds in the earlier field of conservative scholarship, wrote:

I know how this passage has made the heart of many a good man tremble. It rises up in the New Testament with a gloomy grandeur, stern, portentous, awful, sublime as Mount Sinai when the Lord descended upon it in fire, and threatening storm clouds were around Him, and thunderings and lightnings and unearthly voices told that He was there.

Every reverent person has come to this section with awe and wonder. And every sincere expositor has come to this passage with a sense of inadequacy, and certainly that is the way I approach it.[1]

Many have offered an explanation to Hebrews 6, but in the end, the best answer may be “I’m not completely sure, but here’s what I believe based on my understanding of what we do know about God’s character.”

Proceed with Caution

That statement drives my perspective on dealing with difficult, thorny theological issues. This is not to say that we should not struggle to find good answers to difficult questions, but it is more of a caution: I want to resist placing God in a box so that the mysteries of God make sense to my finite mind. I except that there are many aspects of God’s character and workings that are left shrouded in mystery, and to forge an answer that makes sense to me may, in the end, only diminish who God is in both my mind and the minds of those under my teaching.

My Perspective on Hebrews 6

After studying extensively the many theories of interpretation of Hebrews 6, here’s where I’ve landed: I believe the writer to the Hebrews is describing true Christians in verses 4 & 5. The words he uses are spoken with certainty:

4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

The Writer Is Referring to True Born-again Christians

While there is debate among commentators and even among our pastors at First Family, I believe the writer is referring to true, born-again Christians. Many argue, for example, that the writer is not referring to true believers, but only to those who have nibbled at Christianity. They point to the words “tasted” used in vs. 4 & 5 and suggest that these were people who never fully digested the gospel and/or the heavenly gift. The problem is that the same word (geuo) that is translated “tasted” in 4 & 5 is used in Hebrews 2:9 when the writer tells us the Lord Jesus tasted death for everyone. No one would argue that when Jesus tasted death, he only nibbled at death and never really died.

Likewise, the word translated “enlightened” (photizo) is the same word used in Heb. 10:32 where the writer declares, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings…” No one doubts that in this reference the writer is referring to believers and to their salvation experience.

If we approach this passage and try to prevent our theological leanings from influencing our interpretation of the Scripture, it is difficult not to accept that the writer is referring to fellow believers in vs. 4 & 5.

The Dilemma: Can True Believers “Lose Their Salvation”?

The dilemma comes in v. 6 when he notes that if they then have “fallen away,” it is impossible to restore them again to repentance. Read simply, it appears what the writer is saying is, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened (saved), and then turn away, to be restored again.”

The problem with this simple explanation is that this is contradictory to many other passages that teach the eternal security of the believer. (See John 5:24; John 10:27–28; John 6:37–40; John 6:44–47; 1 Peter 3:2; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 John 2:19.) At First Family, we believe completely in the eternal security of the believer. We believe that when you are born into the family of God, there is nothing that can take you from Him, even your own rebellion.

I’ve often compared this to the physical relationship a parent has with a child. A son may wander far from his mother and father, but there is nothing that can erase the fact that he was born their son. He is part of their DNA. So it is with spiritual life.

My Resolution to the Problem

So what do we do with the difficult words of Hebrews 6? I rely on what the Bible tells me about the Lord Jesus and His Character.

In John 10:27–28, Jesus tell us,

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.”

Jesus gives us eternal life, and He states emphatically, that we “shall never perish.” Moreover, He assures us that no one can snatch us out of His hand. No one. Not Satan, not even our own foolish rebellion.

The Anchor Holds

I also take great comfort in how the writer ends this difficult passage in Hebrews 6. He reminds us that we have reason to hope. Why? Because the source of our Hope is none other than Jesus Christ. In Heb. 6:19–20 he states,

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

I love the word picture he uses here–the anchor of our soul. Jesus is sure and steadfast, even in the midst of the heaviest of life’s storms.

I want to leave you this week with the words of one of my favorite songs, The Anchor Holds, by Ray Boltz. They capture perfectly the hope we have in Jesus in spite of how large the sea of life is and how little our boat feels at times.

The Anchor Holds

I have journeyed
Through the long, dark night
Out on the open sea
By faith alone
Sight unknown
And yet His eyes were watching me

The anchor holds
Though the ship is battered
The anchor holds
Though the sails are torn

I have fallen on my knees
As I faced the raging seas
The anchor holds
In spite of the storm

I’ve had visions
I’ve had dreams
I’ve even held them in my hand
But I never knew

Those dreams would slip right through
Like they were only grains of sand
I have fallen on my knees
As I faced the raging seas
The anchor holds
In spite of the storm

I have been young
But I am older now
And there has been beauty
That these eyes have seen

But it was in the night
Through the storms of my life
Oh, that’s where God proved
His love to me

The anchor holds.

  1. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: The Epistles (Hebrews 1–7), electronic ed., vol. 51 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 102.  ↩

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