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

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Comments on Hebrews 6:4-6 #2--Not a Conditional Warning?

Initially, when I posted Hebrews 6:4-6 #1 I intended to post a series of three entries. Upon reflection, however, I now anticipate posting a few more than three because I desire not to post lengthy entries. Thus, instead of engaging all four of the scholars cited in my previous entry I will engage each individually. As I do so, I will include the pertinent portion of the earlier entry, including the Greek and English text (ESV and NIV) of Hebrews 6:4-6.
ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ καλὸν γευσαμένους θεοῦ ῥῆμα δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος καὶ παραπεσόντας πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς
μετάνοιαν ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας
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, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (ESV).
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, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (NIV).
In a brief six-page essay, published in 1981, John Sproule challenges the long-standing translation and exegesis of Hebrews 6:4-6 by contending that the five participles in these verses should all be regarded as parallel descriptions of those under consideration and, therefore, as adjectival participles, including the participle translated "fall away." His contention is, in brief, that παραπεσόντας should not be taken as an adverbial participle. Thus, he rejects that it should be translated as a conditional, "if they fall away. . . ." Therefore, according to Sproule, the preacher characterizes a group of people whom he presents as "those who were enlightened, who tasted, who were made partakers, who tasted, and who fell away" (John A. Sproule, “παραπεσόντα" in Hebrews 6:6,” Grace Theological Journal 2 [1981]: 327–332).
Sproule reasons,
The five participles in the series are accusative, plural, masculine participles and they all function as direct objects of the infinitive ἀνακαινίζειν (v 6 ). All five participles are introduced by the single article τούς and they are connected to each other by a simple connective series, τε . . . καὶ . . . καὶ . . . καὶ . . . καὶ. The
series is broken after παραπεσόντας. Thus the two remaining participles in the pericope (ἀνασταυροῦντας and παραδειγματίζοντας) are not part of the series and they are rightly construed as adverbial participles expressing cause. . . .
Further, a single article governing several adjectival participles in a series is also a legitimate Greek construction (cf. Gal 2:20, Rev 1:5). Since παραπεσόντας is governed by τοὺς and is part of the series of connected substantival participles, it cannot be adverbial so as to function conditionally. Thus, in the opinion of this writer, τοὺς . . . καὶ παραπεσόντας is best translated as a relative clause, “. . . and who have fallen away.”
John Sproule provides the following sentence diagram that fits his analysis of the passage (Sproule, “παραπεσόντα" in Hebrews 6:6,” GTJ 2 [1981]: 329).

To view the above chart more clearly click on the diagrammatical analysis chart to isolate the view upon the chart alone.
If Sproule's reasoning is correct, then the passage should be translated as follows:
For it is impossible to renew unto repentance those who were once enlighted, who also once tasted the heavenly gift and who once were made partakers of the Holy Spirit and who once tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age and who once fell away because they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and subjecting him to open shame.
If Sproule's argument is correct, it has huge ramifications for correcting our understanding of Hebrews 6:4-6.

Is Sproule correct?

First, as I observed earlier, if Sproule's diagrammatical analysis is correct, then the plural article (τοὺς) must be equally distributed not only to the first four main participles, rendering them all adjectival ("those who" [substantival]), but also to the fifth participle (παραπεσόντας), constraining it to mean "those who have fallen away."

Second, as I also observed earlier, if Sproule is on target, then the adverb (ἅπαξ), meaning "once" (in the numeric sense, "once but not now") or "once for all" (in the conclusive sense of "once and never again"), must also be equally distributed to the four subsequent participles because if the article is to be distributed to each participle, so also must the adverb be distributed, given that the adverb intervenes between the article and the first participle. If so, τοὺς ἅπαξ conceptually attaches not only to the first four participles but also to the fifth. So, "those who were once enlighted" are being described further as "those who once tasted the heavenly gift," "those who once were made partakers of the Holy Spirit," "those who once tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age," and finally as "those who once fell away." This approach agrees with that of many others, e.g., J. A. Moffatt (Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. ICC. [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1924]) and C. Spicq (L'Epitre aux Hebreux. 2 vols. [Paris, 1952]).

Third, what if "those who were once enlightened" (τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας) is actually explained or described more fully by the three participial clauses that follow, excluding καὶ παραπεσόντας? Against Sproule's syntactical proposal, is it not more likely that "those who were once enlightened" is the overarching description that finds greater expansion and explanation as follows? "Those who were once enlightened, having tasted the heavenly gift and having been made partakers of the Holy Spirit and having tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance because they re-crucify the Son of God for themselves and subject him to open shame."

Fourth, it seems more likely that τοὺς ἅπαξ should be taken solely with φωτισθέντας and not with the four subsequent main participles. The reason for this is that if the author wanted all the main participles to be governed by τοὺς ἅπαξ, readers would at least expect a repetition of ἅπαξ, as in Hebrews 9:26-28 (English/Greek), if not a repetition of both τοὺς also, since ἅπαξ stands after the plural accusative article. For if τοὺς ἅπαξ is taken alone with φωτισθέντας, as descriptive of those who have experienced the regenerative light of conversion to Christ, then it is possible to make better sense of the next three participles as referring to enduring or to repeating aspects of Christian experience (tasted the heavenly gift, made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the coming age) rather than be taken as references to one-time events. Given the illustrative imagery of verses 7 & 8, this makes better sense of the adverb mentioned in "the rain that has many times (πολλάκις) fallen. . . ." Among frequent words used in Hebrews the adverb ἅπαξ and its synonym ἐφάπαξ are leaders, particularly used to contrast the repeated ineffectual sacrifices of the Old Covenant with Christ's singular and exceptional self-sacrifice for sin. In Hebrews 6:4-6 the point of contrast features "those who were once enlightened" (ἅπαξ) over against "being restored again to repentance" (πάλιν). Ordinarily "those who are once enlightened" are often "restored again to repentance." However, this is not so for "those who were once enlightened . . . if they fall away."

Fifth, it is possible, in a conceptual sense, to take the fifth participle (παραπεσόντας) as the only negative characterizing description of people who otherwise receive only positive characterizing descriptions. Because of its negative ramifications, however, stylistically the participle (παραπεσόντας) stands out distinctly from the other four participles, all of which provide positive descriptions: "enlightened" (φωτισθέντας), "tasted the heavenly gift" (γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου), "made partakers of the Holy Spirit" (μετόχους γενηθέντας πνεύματος ἁγίου), and "tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the coming age" (καλὸν γευσαμένους θεοῦ ῥῆμα δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος).

Sixth, some, such as Paul Ellingworth, take καὶ παραπεσόντας not as a conditional participle but as a concessive participle with the sense of the NEB, "for when men have once been enlightened . . . and after all this have fallen away. . . ." (The Epistle to the Hebrews [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993], 323).

My assessment of Sproule's proposal will continue as I interact with the other scholars who have adopted his approach. Watch for further entries on Hebrews 6:4-6.

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