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In Hebrews it talks about certain apostates that can’t be renewed to repentance because they have undergone certain things, which they have then rejected, signifying something terribly wrong and complete in their rejection of Christianity. One of these things in most English Bibles is that they were ‘once enlightened’ (φωτισθέντας) but the Peshitta uses the word ‘once baptized’.

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. (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001, Heb. 6:4.)

Interlinear text: but not be-able he one time baptism
(Kiraz, G. A. (2002). The Peshitta (Heb. 6:4).)

4 But this is impossible for those who have once been baptized

This switch of words also occurs in Heb. 4:8.

Being interested in a possible transcription error, I found the word for enlightened from the Syriac in the Peshitta in Ephesians 1:18 and it looks quite different:

Image of Syriac word

Is it possible the Peshitta is rendering the correct sense, or is enlightened the more accurate word to use?

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2 Answers 2

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The Greek word used in Hebrews 6:4 is φωτισθέντας which is pronounced "phōtisthentas." This word looks nothing like the Greek word for "baptize"-βαπτίζω. I cannot address if the Syriac words for "enlightenment" and "baptism" look alike and would be likely to cause confusion.

What I do know is that textual criticism, the art/science of determining the original text based on copies, operates on the principle that, all other things being equal, a copy is more likely to remove ambiguity and difficulties than it is to introduce them. Hebrews 6:2 mentions baptism (some translations of the Peshitta use the word "ablution" but that means the same thing) in connection with the basic teachings of the church. I can see a Syriac translator/copyist attempting to make things more clear because the question comes "what does it mean to be enlightened?"

However, the author of Hebrews answers that question for us in Hebrews 10. "Enlightened" appears in Hebrews 10:32 where it parallels the statement of 10:26.

10:26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. 28 Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

10:32 But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened.

This also parallels with Hebrews 6. Hebrews 10 teaches that after receiving the knowledge of truth (which is enlightenment), if we deliberately continue in sin, there is no sacrifice for us. Hebrews 6 says that those who have been enlightened and then commit apostasy cannot renew their repentance.

In fact, in some parts of the ancient church, "illumination" was a synonym for "baptism." The connection most likely comes from these two verses (Hebrew 6:2 and 6:4). However, it was recognized that having baptism did not mean that one had enlightenment. John Chrysostom said, "Heretics have baptism, not illumination: they are baptized in body, but not enlightened in soul: as Simon Magus was baptized, but not illuminated."

In conclusion, I take "enlightenment" as the original wording in Hebrew 6:4 based on the parallel teaching in Hebrews 10:26.

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+1 - Interesting .. I looked up 10:32 and Peshitta also used 'baptism' there. Maybe the Syriac copiests identified 'knowledge of the truth' as synonomous with baptism? or maybe the words do look alike? Good question. –  Mike Apr 11 '13 at 15:10
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I was going to answer this question, but you pretty much nailed it. The Peshitta often takes some liberty and adds commentary for clarification. Especially in the book of Hebrews. Another example is Hebrews 4:8, where "son of Nun" is added to clarify that Joshua is the subject of the verse, not Jesus. Great job. –  maj nem ɪz dæn Apr 11 '13 at 15:17
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They very well could take them as synonyms. Chrysostom was from Antioch and served as archbishop of Constantinople. Definitely a man of the East. –  Frank Luke Apr 11 '13 at 15:25
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I added a picture of the word enlighten to rule out a copyist mistake. It seems this it was an intentional commentary as @DanO'Day suggested. –  Mike Apr 13 '13 at 2:57
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The Early Church thought of baptism as enlightenment. Why they did that would require an essay, but it readily explains the Peshitta. –  Tim Gallant Jun 4 '13 at 14:29

The same Greek aorist passive participle appears again in Hebrews 10:32, and is also translated as "baptized" in the Peshitta. That is, the Greek verb φωτίζω occurs 11 times in the New Testament in various conjugated forms, and in nine instances the Peshitta translates the verb as most English translations do (i.e., to show, to light up) with the exception of these two verses in Hebrews, where the Peshitta translates the verb form as "baptized."

In the Book of Hebrews there is a fine nuance between partaking of Christ (Heb 3:14) and partaking of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4), which is the heavenly calling (Heb 3:1). One should lead to the other, but not always.

The idea is that you "taste" the living water through the Spirit, but it is not until you "drink" the living water that you are a partaker of Christ.

The difference is that when you taste the living water, the fruit is thorns and thistles (Heb 6:8). But when you drink the living water, the result is fruit in abundance (Heb 6:7). So when the ground tastes water, there is no fruit; but when the ground drinks water, there is fruit. Perseverance in the faith is also the result (Heb 10:32-33). In this particular passage of Hebrews the Peshitta translates the Greek word as "baptized." That is, after baptism the believer withstood and endured suffering, and thus was persevering in the faith.

So water baptism is an outward demonstration of an inward faith, however if the invisible living water (eternal life given by the Holy Spirit) is not swallowed, then one is not joined with Christ, and, ergo, there is no apparent fruit in the life, and there is no desire to persevere in the faith. Such a person develops a hardened heart through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13).

So through the translation of the Greek word φωτίζω, the Peshitta translation of the Book of Hebrews highlights (bad pun intended) the fact that outward professions of faith (baptism) do not necessitate the inward transformation, which comes only through faith.

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