In Heb 6:4-6, what have those once enlightened “fallen away” from?
Here we see a most solemn declaration being set forth by the author of Hebrews; the antithesis of the progress he desired his readers to make. The basic premise is if you are not moving forward, you are dropping back. But such a superficial will not serve our purpose here. What they have fallen away from is a saving faith in Yeshua Messiah!
This passage has been interpreted in a number of ways.
Scofield claims that it is a warning against mere profession of faith short of salvation, or tasting but not really partaking of salvation (The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1315).
Ryrie’s approach is that hypothetically if a Christian could lose his salvation, there is no provision for repentance (The Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1736).
However, this approach is going to be from the premise found in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (AV)
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by
any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a
In Hebrews 6:4-6, a warning is given of the danger of a Christian moving from a life of true faith and spiritual life to the extent of becoming ineligible for further service (1 Corinthians 9:27) and partaking in the millennial glory.
By way of emphasis, the entirety of these three verses constitutes a single sentence in Greek as well as in the English of the NIV. The central edict is:
It is impossible for those who have … to be brought back to repentance.
Following the words “those who” is a description of the persons whom the writer affirmed cannot possibly be brought back to a state of repentance. The description he gave clearly shows that he had only bona fide Christians in mind.
They are said to be those who have:
- “once been enlightened,”
- “tasted the heavenly gift,”
- “shared in the Holy Spirit,”
- “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age,” and
- “fallen away.”
Once Been Enlightened
The first description is of individuals who have once been enlightened. This is in keeping with the natural way to reference the conversion experience (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3–6). The writer’s only used the verb “enlightened,” one other time; in Hebrews 10:32, where the reference to true Christian experience cannot be questioned.
Have Tasted The Heavenly Gift
The reference to those people who have tasted the heavenly gift, employs familiar ideas related to initial conversion (cf. John 4:10; Romans 6:23; James 1:17–18).
Those who would make an effort to evade this conclusion by diluting “tasted” to something less than full participation will fail—in view of the writer’s own use of this word (Hebrews 2:9)—to describe Jesus’ experience of death. One might also consider 1 Peter 2:3, which quotes Psalm 34:8.
Shared In The Holy Spirit
The writer’s description continues with the phrase who have shared in the Holy Spirit. The underlying Greek employs the word metochoi, used also in Hebrews 1:9 of the “companions” of the messianic King, and in 3:1, 14 of the Christian readers (and is also used in 12:8). For further details on metochoi, see
Archibald Thomas Robertson’s Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol.
V, pages 358, 375; Baker Book House © 1932, ISBN 0-8010-7710.
The forgoing expression led the author to consider those who had received the gift of the Spirit as a result of their conversions.
Tasted The Goodness Of The Word Of God … Powers Of The Coming Age
The writer concludes with a description of those who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming Age. The thought here quite naturally tends toward converts who have been instructed in “the Word of God.” They had received a genuine experience of its “goodness” and likewise had known, first hand, the reality of miracles.
The word rendered “powers” (dynameis) in NIV is the usual one in the New Testament for “miracles” and is an apparent reference back to the experience mentioned in Hebrews 2:4.
In every way the language presented in Hebrews 6:4-6 fits true Christians with remarkable ease. The vapid effort to extract from the passage a proclamation of mere professors of the faith rather than true converts is more than a little forced.
If They Fall Away
Having identified the target of his edict, the writer follows with the grim expression if they fall away. However, the English translation does not do full justice to the original language, where there is no hint of a conditional element (then). The Greek word parapesontas is in fact a part of the construction to which the preceding descriptive phrases belong (See citation on A.T. Robertson above, page 375).
Thus a more accurate translation would be:
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have
tasted … who have shared … who have tasted … and who have fallen away,
to be brought back to repentance.”
Far from treating the question in any hypothetical way, the writer’s language sounds as if he actually knew of such cases, and perhaps even had specific people in mind.
While the words “fall away” cannot refer to the loss of eternal life which, as the Gospel of John makes perfectly clear, is the inalienable possession of those who trust Christ for it. But the writer evidently has in mind a willful defection from the faith, that is, apostasy, withdrawal from their Christian profession (cf. Hebrews 3:6, 14; 10:23–25, 35–39).
The assertion that such a degree of failure is not possible for a regenerate person is a theological proposition which is not supported by the New Testament. Paul knew the dangers of false doctrine to a Christian’s faith and spoke of a certain Hymenaeus and Philetus who said “that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:17–18). The author of Hebrews warned that those who succumb, that is, “fall away,” after all of the great spiritual privileges they had experienced, could not be brought back to repentance.
Crucify The Son Of God Afresh
The reason repentance can no longer be theirs is expressed in the words because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. The words “to their loss” (NIV) might be better rendered “with respect to themselves.”
Those who renounce their Christian faith, with respect to their own conduct and attitude, are taking a step that is tantamount to a fresh public rejection of Christ. When they (believers) first trusted him, they thereby acknowledged that his crucifixion had been unjust and the result of man’s sinful rejection of the Savior. But by renouncing this opinion, they reaffirmed the view of Jesus’ enemies that he deserved to die on a cross. In this sense, “they [were] crucifying the Son of God all over again.”
The fact that this was most serious was precisely the writer’s point. Such people could not be won back to the state of repentance which marked their original conversion to Christianity, because they have already rejected the very best God has to offer. In affirming this, the author’s words suggested a deep hardening of their hearts against all efforts to win them back, not to Christian conversion, but to Christian commitment.
These "fallen away" are no longer "saved" and they cannot ever be brought to a place of repentance and secure salvation for themselves again. They have forsaken God's grace, turn from salvation, and are as they were prior to their initial conversion, but without the possibility of ever again being saved. The doctrine of "once saved, always saved" is not what is being taught in this text, but the doctrine of twice lost, eternally lost is clearly supported.