“But If It Yields Thorns And Thistles”: An Exposition Of Hebrews 5:11-6:12 -- By: J. Paul Tanner

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 14:1 (Spring 2001)
Article: “But If It Yields Thorns And Thistles”: An Exposition Of Hebrews 5:11-6:12
Author: J. Paul Tanner


“But If It Yields
Thorns And Thistles”:
An Exposition
Of Hebrews 5:11-6:12

J. Paul Tanner

Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Studies
The Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary
Amman, Jordan

Chapter six of Hebrews, particularly vv 4–6, remains a classic interpretative challenge as well as a theological battleground concerning the issues of eternal security, perseverance, and assurance of salvation. Great evangelical stalwarts have parted company at this juncture. On the one hand, we find no less a scholar than I. Howard Marshall insisting that genuine Christians are being described but concluding that they may be “lost through deliberate apostasy.”1 On the other hand, F. F. Bruce, equally an evangelical champion of the faith, contends (in the Reformed tradition) that the subjects in view were never Christians at all. Rather, Bruce argues, the author “is not questioning the perseverance of the saints; we might say that rather he is insisting that those who persevere are the true saints.”2

Begging to differ with both these positions are those of the “free grace” camp who see this passage addressed to true Christians who—though not in danger of losing their salvation—are nevertheless in danger of judgment from God and eventual loss of rewards. The following exposition of Heb 5:11–6:12, written from this latter perspective, not only best accounts for the details of the passage (I believe) but underscores the urgency for all Christians to grow in spiritual maturity.

I. Hebrews Six in Relation
to the Author’s Argument

Chapters 1–7 of Hebrews form the first major movement within the book. In these chapters, the author of Hebrews argues his case for the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant by virtue of the superior Person on which it has been founded, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1:5–2:8, he demonstrated the superiority of Jesus to the angels, and explained why it was necessary for Jesus to temporarily be “a little lower than the angels.” This was a significant point, for angels were instruments of God used in bringing the revelation of the Old Covenant (2:2). Jesus’ superiority to them implies that the revelation of the New Covenant through Him is superior to the former revelation of God given in the Old ...

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