Hebrews 6:4-6 From An Oral Critical Perspective -- By: Casey W. Davis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 51:4 (Dec 2008)
Article: Hebrews 6:4-6 From An Oral Critical Perspective
Author: Casey W. Davis


Hebrews 6:4-6 From An Oral Critical Perspective

Casey W. Davis*

* Casey Davis is associate professor of New Testament Studies at Roberts Wesleyan College, 2301 Westside Drive, Rochester, NY 14624.

I. Introduction

Few biblical passages have caused more confusion and argumentation than Heb 6:4–6:“For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and 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, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.”1 Learned writers have struggled for nearly two millennia to decipher these enigmatic verses. Recent strategies have employed new approaches, including a synthetic look at the five warning passages in the book, discourse analysis, comparison to Roman patron-client relationships, and the investigation of OT backgrounds, Jewish apocalyptic, and pneumatological literature.2

All of these methods are viable because they recognize the mindset of the original audience. As Dave Mathewson states, “One of the important ways in which Old Testament allusions and echoes function is to create a conceptual or semantic grid through which reality is perceived.”3

Such a perceptual grid is crucial to understanding how the original audience would understand what they were hearing. The purpose of this

paper is not to propose a new insight but to take another step toward filling in that perceptual grid by adding to current and historical scholarship in order to go back to the mindset of the original audience, the original hearers. Scripture, as we know it, is a literary entity. That was not true for the majority of people in its original setting. It was created in a strongly oral culture, one in which authors structured their compositions for hearing audiences who thought the way hearing audiences think.

Unfortunately, before we can apply the original audience’s mindset to Heb 6:4–6, we must admit that we do not really know how that audience thought. Excellent work by Paul Achtemeier, William Harris, Eric Havelock, Walter Ong, and a host of others after them has shown that, although reading and writing had been around for centuries and was becoming an increasingly influential part of everyday life...

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