Fallen Away Or Fallen Down? The Meaning Of Hebrews 6:1-9 -- By: Hal Harless

Journal: Chafer Theological Seminary Journal
Volume: CTSJ 09:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Fallen Away Or Fallen Down? The Meaning Of Hebrews 6:1-9
Author: Hal Harless

Fallen Away Or Fallen Down?
The Meaning Of Hebrews 6:1-9

Hal Harless

A Brief History of the Problem

Robert Gromacki calls Hebrews 6:1–9 “[p]robably the most controversial passage within Hebrews.”1 Especially troubling is its assertion that renewal to repentance is impossible for those who fall. This interpretive problem has a long history.

The Early Church

Tertullian taught, based on Hebrews 6:1–9, that those guilty of a mortal sin, such as adultery or fornication, could not be restored. The followers of Novatianus saw the word impossible in Hebrews 6:4 as precluding restoration of those who denied the faith under persecution. Ambrose responded “that things which are impossible with men are possible with God; and God is able whensoever He wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven. And so it is possible for God to give us that which it seems to us impossible to obtain.”2 John Chrysostom taught that re-baptism was impossible, not repentance.3

Calvinist Interpretations

Calvinists generally see this passage as hypothetical or as describing those who stop short of full faith in Jesus. John Calvin taught that Hebrews 6:1–9 refers to the reprobate unbeliever.4 However, Albert Barnes took the hypothetical view:

It is material to remark here that the apostle does not say that any true Christian ever had fallen away. He makes a statement of what would occur on the supposition that such a thing should happen—but a statement may be made of what would occur on the supposition that a certain thing should take place, and yet it be morally certain that the event never would happen.5

Barnes clearly considered such apostasy hypothetical:

The passage proves that if true Christians should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew and save them. If then it should be asked whether I believe that any true Christian ever did, or ever will fall from grace, and wholly lose his religion, I would answer unhesitatingly, no … .6

Arminians, of course, roundly re...

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