This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Thursday, June 01, 2006

More on Theoretical Theologizing on Hebrews 6:4ff

Joe asked whether, as some claim, the way that Tom Schreiner and I address the gospel’s warnings collapses into the so-called “hypothetical view” as advocated by Thomas Hewitt and Homer Kent, Jr. I offered a lengthy reply here. Joe has asked a follow-up question.

I understand the parallel you draw between indiscriminate gospel preaching to elect and non-elect and the use of warnings. However, there seems to be a crucial difference between the two scenarios. The initial call of the gospel is directed to both believers and non-believers, elect and non-elect. We preach to Adamic humanity, saying, "Any who refuse to believe in Jesus will perish." Two types of people hear this statement and respond accordingly. It would be strange to say "Members of the elect who fail to believe will perish." Or to phrase it in a conditional form "if a member of the elect fails to believe, he will perish." The category of people in the protasis simply doesn't exist.

Similarly, the warning passages on your reading posit a group of people who simply do not exist, nor can they exist. Hebrews 6 is a perfect example with its string of participles. There simply will never be a person who has "once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, etc" and "falls away," if the first string of participles refers to regenerate believers. Thus, this group of people can only be theoretical, whereas on the traditional Calvinist view, the first set of participles refers to false believers.

In order for the analogy to work, it would be better to see the warnings addressed to professing believers, without any statement about whether one is truly regenerate or not. This would make the situation with the warnings parallel to the situation with the initial call of the gospel. On this reading, the warning could read something like "All members of the visible people of God who fail to persevere will perish eternally."

I hope the question I'm raising makes sense. Let me just say that I tend to agree with you and Dr. Schreiner on this issue. I simply raise this question because others have brought them to me.

Once upon a time many years ago, before that glorious mid-day moment when the light dawned upon me as my seminary friend kept pressing me to think biblically concerning the gospel’s warnings, I occupied my mind with the kind of theoretical theologizing that you represent well with your question. At that time, two wrong-headed notions loomed large over my thinking. The two wrong-headed notions were thoroughly entangled.

One wrong-headed and overly theoretical theologizing notion concerned the free offer of the gospel. There were two aspects to the matter. First, when we preach, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” is this an authentic offer to the non-elect? How can it be authentic, if the non-elect cannot and will not believe? Second, when we preach, “Unless you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you will perish,” is this an authentic threat to the elect who have not yet believed? Again, we young seminarians wondered how the threat could be authentic, if the yet non-believing elect can never perish.

The second wrong-headed and overly theoretical theologizing notion concerned the warnings of the gospel. First, when we preach, “If you persevere to the end, you will be saved,” is this an authentic admonition to the non-elect who hear the message? How can it be authentic, if the non-elect do not believe and will not be saved? Second, when we preach, “If you do not persevere to the end you will not be saved,” is this an authentic threat to the elect who already believe and who will not fail to persevere and be saved? Again, we young seminarians wondered how the warning could be authentic, if the believing elect person can never perish.

Honestly, I could confess to some shame for having used up more time with these questions than I should have. Nevertheless, in a sense, of course, it was necessary for me as a young seminarian to have to process these theoretical theologizing issues, because these were the structures of theological thought that were thrust upon us by those who went before us. The questions were raised in courses we were taking and in books we were reading. Evidently, these same issues continue to loom fairly large for young theological students today as indicated by your question.

The varied answers that we seminarians offered in response to these questions depended upon a number of other beliefs to which we had committed ourselves. As for me, Scripture had already persuaded me concerning God’s unconditional election of those to whom he desired to show mercy and of God’s unconditional reprobation of those to whom he desired not to show mercy. I cannot blame this truth for distorting my processing of the theoretical theological questions posed above. I have to blame my own distorted processing for temporarily leading me into wrong-headed notions concerning the free offer of the gospel whether with reference to the initial call to believe or with reference to the continuing call to persevere in belief. Because of my philosophically theoretical and quite antiseptic response to the questions I came to some rather awful conclusions however temporarily I held those awful notions. But thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ that he dissolved my wrong-headed thinking that wonderful spring day many years ago.

What was the major change that broke in for me that day? It was precisely what Jonathan Edwards observes concerning Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:27, which earlier I posted here.

He looked upon himself as still nearly concerned in God’s threatenings of eternal damnation, notwithstanding all his hope, and all his eminent holiness, and therefore gave great diligence, that he might avoid eternal damnation. For he considered that eternal misery was as certainly connected with a wicked life as ever it was, and that it was absolutely necessary that he should still keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, in order that he might not be damned; because indulging the lusts of the body and being damned were more surely connected together. The apostle knew that this conditional proposition was true concerning him, as ever it was. “If I live wickedly, or do not live in a way of universal obedience to God’s commands, I shall certainly be a castaway.”

That spring day, the light of the gospel broke in upon me to show me that I had been subverting the call of the gospel, whether the initial call or the continuing call, by becoming occupies with the doctrine of election in a theoretical way that the Bible does not do. I had fallen into the habit of categorizing people, including myself, on the premise of a theoretical imposition of God’s unconditional election of all whom he desired to redeem. Because historically speaking God’s election precedes our believing the gospel, I, like altogether too many, occupied my mind by theoretically framing my theology of salvation with God’s election as dictating every aspect so that my theology of salvation took on a rigidified form. I had failed to recognize the genius of John Calvin who in the final edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion wisely and rightly placed his handling of the doctrine of God’s unconditional election at the end of his whole discussion of the doctrine of salvation. Calvin came to recognize that the biblical teaching concerning God’s electing grace serves as a consolation that assures us who believe the gospel that we are God’s people. The biblical doctrine of election does not function as a theoretical premise upon which we should busy ourselves with questions whether the gospel’s call to believe is an authentic call to the non-elect and the gospel’s warning against unbelief is an authentic threat to the elect. Biblically speaking, the doctrine of election enters to explain why we believe and why we do not continue in unbelief as others.

The doctrine of election serves to assure us that if we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe because the Spirit has imparted belief to us, enabling us to believe in God who raised his Son from the dead and raises us also. Thus, the doctrine of election is altogether humbling. The only boast we have is in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31). Likewise, the doctrine of election serves to assure us that our preaching is not in vain (Acts 18:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:10). The doctrine does not serve to occupy our minds with questions that would stifle our calling all to repent and our threatening all that apart from repentance all will perish. It does not serve to stymie our admonishing and warning everyone that failing to remain in Christ Jesus will end in eternal destruction.

I had become accustomed to disconnecting God’s election from belief. Indeed, God’s choosing was unconditional, but Scripture makes it clear that God’s choosing is not abstracted from belief nor to be considered theoretically severed from the purpose for which God elected people. Rather, God chose us unto obedience (1 Peter 1:2). God chose us that we might be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4). In my zeal to preserve God’s unconditional election and to guard against allowing belief to condition God’s election of us, I had allowed my mind to abstract election from faith and from election’s purpose and do it in an unbiblical way. I had permitted my mind to lapse into a kind of necessitarianism. I allowed my mind to contemplate people as elect or as non-elect apart from belief, apart from obedience, and apart from election’s purpose, “that we might be holy and blameless.”

What is my point, then, Joe? It seems to me that the argument that some raise against the view presented in The Race Set Before Us and which you accurately capture is the same kind of theoretical theologizing that I formerly did which drove me to the adopt the tests of genuineness of faith view. As you express well in the following, I reasoned the following way.

In order for the analogy to work, it would be better to see the warnings addressed to professing believers, without any statement about whether one is truly regenerate or not. This would make the situation with the warnings parallel to the situation with the initial call of the gospel. On this reading, the warning could read something like "All members of the visible people of God who fail to persevere will perish eternally."

My wrongful preoccupation with the doctrine of election and my smuggling the doctrine of election in to explain biblical warnings and admonitions, especially a passage such as Hebrews 6:4ff, led me to such reasoning. It led me to agree with John Owen concerning the passage. It led me to twist and to mangle the plain sense of “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4-5). To make the passage conform to my preoccupation with the doctrine of election, I squeezed the plain and obvious meaning out of these phrases. Why did I do this? I did so because I presumed that otherwise the passage would jeopardize my doctrine of election. Why was this? It is because I preemptively asked the wrong question? I asked, “Does Hebrews 6:4ff imply that it is possible for genuine believers to fail to persevere and to perish?” Occupied with this question instead of with the function of the passage as a warning, I explained the passage antiseptically and clinically, just as John Owen does and as Roger Nicole and Wayne Grudem do in their respective discussions of the passage. I read the string of participles of Hebrews 6:4-6 as purely descriptive, as descriptive of people who already exist. As though the passage were a dead frog on a dissection pad, I isolated each participial phrase from the whole expressed thought. I analyzed each participle as simply descriptions of fraudulent individuals within the church as I neutered the passage of its warning function. I was preoccupied with the doctrine of election, so I endeavored to protect my belief in the doctrine of election from any implication of Hebrews 6:4ff that might seem to jeopardize my belief.

My mangled belief in God’s unconditional election would not permit me to hear the biblical warnings as addressed to me, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. My laying unconditional election over the passage to quell the sense of tension the passage stirred in me enabled me to transpose the passage from one of projection to one of retrospection, from one of warning to elicit steadfast loyalty to Christ to one of testing to expose those who are disloyal to Christ. Consequently, Christians who adopt the reading of Hebrews 6:4ff that I once held render the warning just as empty as does the so-called “hypothetical view.” The fundamental difference is that the theoretical theologizing that I formerly did to the passage at least had a group of people remaining to which the warning was addressed. The passage warned those unmarked but nonetheless real non-elect people among us who profess faith in Christ. My theoretical theologizing spared me the imagined undue tension the passage raised. I vainly imagined the warnings, especially strong warnings such as Hebrews 6:4ff, were not addressed to the elect but to the non-elect.

This interpretation of the passage leaves many Christians dissatisfied. Many rightly feel that something is missing. They sense that if the passage is a warning that it should touch themselves, so they add another factor to their interpretation of the passage. In order to place themselves under the weight of the warning and to feel its full impact they make a necessary adjustment in their doctrine of assurance of salvation. To feel the full weight of the warning, Christians believe that the warning calls into question the genuineness of their profession of faith in Christ Jesus. The warning subjects these Christians to the perpetual awful contemplation: “I may be a fraud. I may be a hypocrite. My faith may not be genuine. I may have tasted the good Word of God. I may have become a partaker of the Holy Spirit. I may have become enlightened. I may have tasted the powers of the age to come. Yet, I may be a fraud, a hypocrite, an apostate.” Thus, Christians who adopt this view do serious injury to the biblical doctrine of assurance of salvation. They render assurance of salvation little more than assurance that “I am saved today, but as for tomorrow, I cannot be confident. I may apostatize tomorrow.” This is how John Piper preached Hebrews 6:4-8. Consider his concluding comments.

I'll be very personal, to give it it's sharpest point. If in the coming years I commit apostasy and fall away from Christ, it will not be because I have not tasted of the word of God and the Spirit of God and the miracles of God. I have drunk of his word. The Spirit has touched me. I have seen his miracles and I have been his instrument for a few.

But if, over the next ten or twenty years, John Piper begins to cool off spiritually and lose interest in spiritual things and become more fascinated with making money and writing Christless books; and I buy the lie that a new wife would be exhilarating and that the children can fend for themselves and that the church of Christ is a drag and that the incarnation is a myth and that there is one life to live so let us eat drink and be merry—if that happens, then know that the truth is this: John Piper was mightily deceived in the first fifty years of his life. His faith was an alien vestige of his father's joy. His fidelity to his wife was a temporary passion and compliance with social pressure; his fatherhood the outworking of natural instincts. His preaching was driven by the love of words and crowds. His writing was a love affair with fame. And his praying was the deepest delusion of all—an attempt to get God to supply the resources of his vanity.

If this possibility does not make me serious and vigilant in the pursuit of everlasting joy, what will?

I trust that all can recognize how the doctrine of unconditional election has prejudiced John’s interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-8. Indeed, it is true that when individuals who have professed faith in Jesus Christ and then forsake the way of the gospel, those individuals show that they never were truly the Lord’s followers (cf. 1 John 2:18-19). True as this is, this is not the truth disclosed in Hebrews 6:4ff. It is the truth revealed in other passages, such as 1 John 2:18-19.

It is commendable that the interpretation of Hebrews 6:4ff, as presented in John Piper’s sermon, attempts to rescue the gospel’s warnings from disuse. It is regrettable, however, that the rescue effort does so at the expense of another biblical doctrine, namely, the doctrine of Christian assurance. The interpretation of Hebrews 6:4ff, that I once held and which John presents in his sermon, calls into question our assurance of salvation. Under such preaching, in order to feel the weight of the warning, we Christians are obliged to suspend our assurance of salvation and to engage doubt as we interrogate ourselves whether we have truly believed in Jesus Christ.

There is a better way to feel the full impact of the gospel’s warnings. It is to hear the passages say what they actually say. I believe that Tom Schreiner and I treat Hebrews 6:4ff rightly, as the warning should be. If indeed we will preserve the passage for what it actually is, namely, a warning to all who profess faith in Christ Jesus, including genuine believers whose confidence is not subverted by the warning (see The Race Set Before Us, pp. 202ff), then I see no other legitimate way to explain the passage. Every other approach that I have found fails to address the passage adequately so as to preserve its warning function for believers and at the same time not subvert the biblical doctrine of assurance that we will be saved in the Last Day.


Nick Nowalk said...

Good thoughts. Hebrews 6 is definitely a hard passage, probably the most difficult warning passage in the NT. I still have a few questions about it, but I overally I am settled on it. And honestly, most of my confidence towards this passage derives from the radical unlikeliness of other interpretations. So McKnight, in his influential essay (and presenting the Arminian view probably better than anyone), clearly doesn't do justice to how the author of Hebrews immediatly distances himself from the thought that authentic believers could apostatize by assuring his readers that he is convined of better things, things that accompany salvation (and as he says later, we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls). So clearly the author of Hebrews doesn't mean this in Hebrews 6.

Yet just as clearly, the Grudem/Nicole/Owen spin doesn't work either, because by forcing the election grid on a text that isn't concerned (primarily) with election, they clearly violate the intention of the author--surely these are actual Christians talked about, not really impressive frauds! This view, honestly, bothers me more than the Arminian view (even though I am a Calvinist), because it twists the text so thoroughly to get it to conform to a theological system. And you're right--the warning begins to lose its force here if Hebrews 6 is only addressed to "professing" believers who will be shown to be false when they apostasize.

So, along with the cumulative weight of the way you handle all the other warning passages in the NT on TRSBU, and with the obvious inabilities of other views to deal with this passage, it seems so clear that this warning in Hebrews 6 is saying exactly what it seems to be: if I should do these things and forsake Christ, I will be accursed and cut off. Therefore, I should fear, tremble and trust Christ, and this warning is one of (though not the only) the means by which God preserves my faith by His grace.

Alex Kirk said...

Dr. Caneday,

Thank you for investing the time in this blog to dialogue with us on these important issues. I appreciate your willingness to hear questions and the thoroughness of your responses. Please know that your book, TRSBU, was a tremendous help to me and that it has prompted much reflection.

I must admit, though, that I still have questions. Although it may be a bit overwhelming to list them all at once, perhaps by laying them all on the table you will feel the freedom to respond to any of them you wish, in the order you choose. I would be most grateful for your thoughts.

Before I ask any of my questions, let me say that, like you, I am a Calvinist who believes that the biblical warnings have a prospective (and not retrospective) orientation.

1) I cannot see how Acts 27:31 is parallel to the biblical warnings in Hebrews. The crucial difference, in my mind, is the angelic assurance of Acts 27:23-24. Paul received divine assurance that none of the men on the ship would be lost. Did the author to the Hebrews receive similar assurance with regard to the recipients of his letter? I cannot think so. So though I agree that the warning in Acts 27:31 can function in tandem with the assurance that Paul received, I fail to see how this example illuminates Hebrews. Can you help me?

2) One might point to verses such as Hebrews 10:39 as evidence for the author's view of his hearers: "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." Are we to understand this verse as making a definitive pronouncement about the spiritual state of the Hebrews? It seems to me that we must ask about the FUNCTION of these verses of assurance, like we do with the warnings. I would suggest that it is possible to read Hebrews 10:39 not as a definitive pronouncement, but rather as an encouragement to persevere. Its function, then, would be similar to a preacher who said to his congregation, "Here at First Baptist Church we are of those who have a concern for the lost and evangelize at every opportunity." Said in the context of a sermon we should understand this not necessarily as a description of what each individual member is like, but as an encouragement to be the kind of people who are actively preaching the gospel. Does this make sense? Is this a viable option?

3) How are we to understand Hebrews 6:9-12? "Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things--things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." My reading of Hebrews 6:9 is that it is a strong concessive statement. EVEN THOUGH we have just warned you, NEVERTHELESS we feel sure that the consequences described won't happen to you. The question is, what does the author mean by "feel sure" and how is this statement functioning? Does it mean that the author absolutely knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that his hearers would be saved?

4) In Hebrews 6:10-11 the author seems to point to past evidence of God's grace at work in their lives and then immediately to encourage them to persevere in their good works IN ORDER TO "have the full assurance of hope until the end." Again, in my reading, this suggests that the author has PRESENT assurance of their spiritual state, but his FUTURE assurance of their spiritual state and ultimate destination DEPENDS on their continued obedience. I'm afraid that this puts me in the camp of those who believe that we can have genuine assurance TODAY, but that FUTURE assurance depends on persistence of belief. (I am in agreement with you Dr. Caneday?) So, in other words, if someone asked me if I would be with Christ if I died TODAY, I would say "By his mercy, absolutely yes. I have assurance of salvation." But if someone asked me if I die twenty years from now, will I be with Christ, I would say, "I cannot finally know, but I have every hope that God will complete in me what he has started."

5) What does 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 mean and what relation does it have, if any, to our present discussion? "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God."

6) Is what you are calling the "preemptive question" completely invalid to ask of the warnings in Hebrews, or is it only a secondary question that we should ask only after we have asked about the function of the warnings? I would tend to the latter. I, with you, believe that we distort the passage if our first and programmatic question is, "Are the people described in these verses saved?" And yet, it seems to me that at some point we must ask this question if we are to synthesize the message of Hebrews with the rest of the New Testament. In formulating a doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, it seems that we must eventually incorporate passages like Hebrews 6. When asked as a secondary question, then, in the interest of our theological concerns, I would have to agree with Grudem et al. that this passage is not describing GENUINE believers. Am I still approaching the passage in the wrong way? Should we try to synthesize Hebrews 6:4ff. and 1 John 2:18-19?

7) At one point you state, "The interpretation of Hebrews 6:4ff, that I once held and which John presents in his sermon, calls into question our assurance of salvation." Could I modify this to read, "The interpretation of Hebrews 6:4ff, that I once held and which John presents in his sermon, calls into question our FUTURE BUT NOT PRESENT assurance of salvation"? In other words, in fairness to Pastor John, if you were to ask him if he believed that he is saved, I am sure that he would say "Yes" with all confidence. And yet I think that he is also saying that it is conceivable to him that if his passion for the Lord began to cool, he could fall away from God. When asked, "Do you THINK your passion for God will cool," he might say, "No! By God's grace I will press on and finish the race well." But if asked, "Do you KNOW FOR CERTAIN that you will not apostatize," he would probably say, "No, and that is why I need to continue to seek the Lord with all my heart and beg for his grace." If I have presented Pastor John accurately (with whom I presently agree on this particular matter), do you still think that he has undermined the doctrine of assurance?

8) What is the appropriate response to Matthew 7:21-23? "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" Doesn’t this prompt one to ask of himself, "Am I a phony?" Is this a bad question to ask? Does it undermine one's assurance?

9) You can probably see, then, that I am leaning toward a mediating position between you and Grudem. I acknowledge, with you, that we must first seek to understand the function of the warning passages and their forward-looking focus. But I am also inclined to read the description of Hebrews 6:4ff. as a description of "impressive frauds" among whom I might count myself if I do not make my calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Is this a tenable position?

Well, those are some initial questions. I'm sorry to write such a long comment! Please understand again, Dr. Caneday, that I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss these things with you. I want to understand you and not to misrepresent you. If your book or your previous entries have already answered these questions and I simply have not read carefully enough, please forgive me and patiently point me in the right direction.

With affection in Christ,


abcaneday said...


Wow! That note took a long time to write. I will be glad to respond to each of your questions. Please be patient. I will respond to each question as I am able to devote sufficient time to each.

Thanks for your questions. These are the kinds of question that I am looking for to make this blog project effective.

Alex Kirk said...

Dr. Caneday,

I don't know if it's a breach of blog etiquette to post another comment before hearing a response to my first comment, but please allow me to test your patience and offer one more set of questions. In turn, I will patiently wait for your responses. Thanks again for your willingness to engage in dialogue.

I just reread your entry entitled, “Does the View of Warnings in TRSBU Finally Collapse into the "Hypothetical View"?” and I still have questions.

1) In this entry you assert that Hewitt’s and Kent’s view “has no practical function to induce Christians to persevere in faithfulness to Christ.” However, you also state that “Advocates of the theoretical view believe that the wrong idea that the writer to the Hebrews corrects is the idea that falling away from Christ is rather inconsequential, so that it should not alarm anyone.” It therefore seems to me that Hewitt and Kent would argue that there view DOES have a practical function: it corrects the wrong idea that falling away from Christ is rather inconsequential. They would probably say that this should sober the readers and encourage them not to fall away.

I’m assuming that Hewitt and Kent would object to your characterization of their view as reducing the warnings to “mere theoretical exercises of the mind.” I would find it incredible if Hewitt and Kent would not agree with this statement of your view: “There is nothing idle or merely theoretical or hollow about any of the gospel warnings and admonitions. The warnings and admonitions do not set us on idle mind exercises.” But perhaps they don’t agree and if so, then I am simply amazed.

But if I am correct, and your discussion of their view is more of an analysis than a straight description, then I’m assuming that your objection to their view is that whether they agree with your assessment or not, in actuality their view does not achieve the practical function they assign to it. But please let me press you: “Why couldn’t the theoretical view of Hebrews 6 function effectively as a warning?”

2) At one point you say, in a parenthesis, “Who among us has any special insight to know who the elect are and who the non-elect are?” The context leads me to believe that you would agree with this rhetorical question—none of us can know whom the elect and non-elect are. But let me ask two follow-up questions: 1) does this mean that I cannot know whether I am elect? and 2) does this mean that the author to the Hebrews could not know definitively whether those to whom he was writing were elect?

3) I am still struggling with how your view does not collapse, in some way, into the hypothetical view. You may have sufficiently demonstrated that Hewitt and Kent understand the function of the warnings in a different way than you do. I can also appreciate that there may be a methodological difference since they start with the notorious “preemptive question.” But where I see overlap is in how your two views would answer the question: “Who are the referents of the description given in Hebrews 6:4-6?” I think both of your views would answer, “The referents are genuine Christians, but these descriptions are couched in such a way that it is clear that the group described is simply capable of being conceived with the mind. It is not legitimate to press this description so that it indicates that this is a group that exists outside of the mind, in actuality.” Is this a fair representation of your view? Or would you say that my original question is illegitimate to ever ask of Hebrews 6?

4) Does it have any bearing on our discussion that in most of the other warning passages in Hebrews, real, historical figures are being held up for the hearers’ consideration? The author to the Hebrews warns the congregation by appealing to the wilderness generation (3:16-19), those setting aside the Law of Moses (10:28), and Esau (12:15-17). Wouldn’t this suggest that we should understand those described in 6:4-6 as an actual category of first-century “believers”?

So here are some more questions to add to the stack! I hope this isn’t a discouragement to you Dr. Caneday. If nothing else I believe that my questions indicate the necessity of this blog! These are tricky issues and may only be hammered out (in my mind at least) through charitable discussion. I look forward to keeping this dialogue going and hopefully I will reach some clarity on the issue through your help (and perhaps the help of others).

I’m still waiting for that glorious mid-day moment!

In Christ,


abcaneday said...


I have no blog protocol that prohibits posing more questions before the first set is answered. Perhaps I should consider it, though. I could call it the Alex Rule. ;=)

You pose some tough questions. I will work through each and post my responses as blog entries, as I have been doing, instead of burying them in the comments segment.

I will work on responses in due course.

abcaneday said...


As I try to catch up on all the questions, I again read your four questions above. I am wondering if you would let me know whether any of my responses, thus far, have not addressed any of these four questions. I am thinking that some of my responses have touched several of these questions.

Let me know. Perhaps you would be willing to recast any of these questions in light of my responses, if you desire further responses.

Anonymous said...

I have recently published the authorized biography of Roger Nicole, entitled Speaking the Truth in Love: The Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole. It is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the publisher, Solid Ground Christian Books.

Unknown said...

Dr. Caneday, Thank you very much for your words and the whole presentation in the Book. At this very moment I am studying Hebrews 6 and I must say that because of my calvinistic background I used to interpreted the passage as a test of genuineness. However, though I did this, I always felt unconfortable thinking that my conclusions were driven from a theological prejudice rather than a good exegesis. Anyways at this point I would say that I am most satisfy with the means of assurance view, however I am wondering how do you understand the participle παραπεσόντας? This is not mentioned in the book. Do you see this participle as adjectival or adverbial? I am guessing you see it as adverbial in order to build the conditionality of the warning. However if that is the case how defend such rendering. I must say that I am struggling with this right now. For though I see that the means of assurance view is the one that best explains the text, I also see that and adjetival rendering of the participle is preferred. Could you please give some light on this?

God bless
Moises Zumaeta