For Whom Does Hebrews 10:26-31 Teach A “Punishment Worse Than Death”? -- By: J. Paul Tanner

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 19:37 (Autumn 2006)
Article: For Whom Does Hebrews 10:26-31 Teach A “Punishment Worse Than Death”?
Author: J. Paul Tanner

For Whom Does Hebrews 10:26-31
Teach A “Punishment Worse Than Death”?

J. Paul Tanner

Research Professor, BEE World
Tyler, Texas

Hebrews 10:26–31 stands as one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the entire NT. The thought that there is a sin one can commit that results in God’s fiery judgment as a punishment worse than death is sobering. In an attempt to find a satisfactory explanation, one typically retreats prematurely to his theology without doing full justice to an exegesis of the text. If one is predisposed to Reformed theology, then he will likely view those addressed in this warning passage as mere professors of the Christian faith who have never truly been regenerated, and their punishment is nothing less than eternity in hell. Those of an Arminian persuasion, on the other hand, take the original audience to be genuine believers who renounce their faith in Christ, and for that they must face the punishment of eternity in hell.

Ironically, both theologies agree on the end result of the punishment: eternity in hell. In this article, I will make a case that this passage is not talking about a punishment in hell, and that this passage has something very serious to say to all believers. In doing so, three crucial interpretative questions will be addressed. First, in light of the context, who are those being warned and what is their spiritual status? Second, what exactly is the nature of the sin that the author has in mind? Third, what is the punishment that awaits the person who fails to heed the warning, and when is this encountered?

I. The Identity of Those Being Warned

It is imperative that we first take careful notice of the context in which this passage occurs. Beginning in Hebrews 8, the author has sought to elucidate the significance of the sacrifice that the Lord Jesus Christ has made in presenting His own precious blood in the heavenly tabernacle. Indeed, this sacrifice (presented in the very presence of God Himself) has secured once and for all the foundation of the New Covenant

promised long ago in Jeremiah 31. Furthermore, this sacrifice has achieved what the blood of bulls and goats could never achieve, namely, perfect and absolute forgiveness of sins before God (note especially Heb 10:11–18).

Having completed his doctrinal presentation, the author of Hebrews immediately turns (beginning in 10:19) to exhort his readers to res...

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