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Heb 6:4-8 Whole Passage:

4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. 7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God ; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

What does it mean to "again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame"?

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2 Answers

Short Answer

It is a condition that can not actually exist, an absurdity. It is the consequence of an argument presented in the form reductio ad adsurdum, a "reduction to absurdity."

In one of its forms, this type of argument takes a set of premises to its logical conclusion and shows the results lead to an absurdity, thus demonstrating the invalidity of the premises.

A simplification of the argument

It is impossible that someone could be:

  1. saved 1
  2. not saved,
  3. saved again

because Christ would need to be crucified a second time

Detailed Analysis

The Resulting Absurdity

From the ESV:

since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

This rendering makes better sense of the Greek, clarifying three distinct ideas:

  • crucifying once again the Son of God
  • holding him up to contempt
  • to their own harm

Crucifying once again the Son of God

First, let's establish the absurdity of the idea that Christ's death could be applied more than once:

Heb 9:24-28 (ESV)

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This passage demonstrates the following, according to the book of Hebrews:

  • Christ does not offer himself repeatedly,
  • This would cause him to suffer repeatedly
  • He has appeared once for all
  • Christ died once to bear sins
  • He will appear a second time but not to deal with sin

At this point it should not be not necessary to argue this point any further, but may be instructive to recognize the importance of this theme in the book of Hebrews. For those who want to look further:

  • Heb 7:27
  • Heb 10:1,2
  • Heb 10:11-14

To their own harm

If the Son of God were to be crucified a second time, the person responsible would do so to their own harm. A similar argument is given by the author in the following passage:

Heb 10:26-31 (ESV)

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Notice how verse 10:26,27 is almost an exact parallel to 6:4,6.

This similarity in structure can also be seen by rephrasing both passages:

  1. If someone goes on deliberately sinning after he was sanctified, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but only fearful expectation of judgement.
  2. If someone falls away, after sharing in the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to restore him to repentance, because he would crucify Christ again to his own harm.

The second passage contains this warning: The Lord will judge his people, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. This stern warning instructs the reader how he should take the similar warning in the passage in question.

Holding him up to contempt

Not only does the previous passage state that "deliberately sinning" after being sanctified is tantamount to "trampling the Son of God underfoot," but it would also, "profane the blood of the covenant." Falling away can be described in these same terms. If we were to crucify Christ again, we certainly would be profaning his blood and trampling him underfoot. This is the flavor of "holding him up to contempt."

The Invalid Premises

According to the reductio ad adsurdum argument, these three premises can not be taken as a whole:

Condition 1:

  • have once been enlightened
  • have tasted the heavenly gift
  • have shared in the Holy Spirit
  • have tasted the goodness of the word of God
  • have tasted the powers of the age to come

Condition 2:

  • have then fallen away

Condition 3:

  • restored again to repentance

This can be simplified to the following:

  1. saved
  2. not saved,
  3. saved again

Here is a shortened version of the argument in support of this:

The consequence "since they are crucifying once again the Son of God" is especially instructive for analyzing the premises. Let's start here and work backwards.

First, a keyword is "again." This means Christ's crucifixion has already brought the person in question to repentance once. This is the "hook" of the absurdity in the reductio ad absurdum.

Second, we must establish what Christ's crucifixion accomplishes in the first place. According to Hebrews, the crucifixion accomplishes the following:

  • eternal redemption (9:12)
  • purifies our consciences (9:14)
  • puts away sin (9:26)
  • sanctifies once for all (10:10)
  • perfects for all time those being sanctified (10:14)

This shows that the premises describe those who were "saved" and then fall into apostasy so that they are "not saved." To double-check this logic, we can do a quick test in which we deny any of these premises and see if the logic holds up. The short version of this is simply to ask, if this is not talking about salvation, how could it result in the absurdity of Christ's death being necessary a second time?

To Believers

There is no argument at all if the author is not talking about salvation. If it is speaking of salvation, then it is a warning to those who are saved. Here are some additional features which support this conclusion:

The passage in question is sandwiched in between statements directed at believers like a parenthetical argument in the middle of a discourse on Melchizedek (5:11 to 6:12). The author opens by stating his desire to "go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance," and begins to wrap up with the conclusion, "though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things--things that belong to salvation." Both the beginning and ending of this parenthetical argument is directed at believers.

A Warning

The rest of the book has numerous warnings about falling away:

  • pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (2:1)
  • how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (2:3)
  • Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God (3:11)
  • But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (6:8)
  • much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven (12:25)

Conclusion

This is a warning not to fall away from Christ, because there is no second salvation. The absurdity of the necessity arising suggests the conditions are not actually possible, but we can not determine conclusively based on the arguments the author has supplied.

After all, the whole theme of the book is the superiority of Christ and sufficiency of his sacrifice and priesthood. The author doesn't just give his reader warnings, but the converse as well, encouraging them to draw near and actually run toward Christ:

Heb 7:25 (ESV)

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

and

Heb 12:1,2 (ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Heb 6:4-8 is the negative side of a dual argument with single goal:
To encourage the believers to remain faithful.

It is the stick that supports the carrot.


1 I support my use of the term "saved" here to mean believers based on the author's use of the word elsewhere, such as "neglect such a great salvation" (2:3), "things that belong to salvation" (6:9), and "he is able to save to the uttermost" (7:5).

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Don +1. I see everything you said clearly in the text! There is another question regarding Heb 6:4-6 maybe you want to copy / paste part of it there? –  JLB Mar 29 at 0:03
    
Don I want to run an interpretation of Heb 6:4-6 and get you take on it, can you email me - jlbottone@me.com –  JLB Mar 29 at 0:46
    
Thanks, JLB. I do plan to write a similar answer directed toward your other question. Will email you. –  DonJewett Mar 29 at 1:17
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Here is what commentator Constable has to say about your question:

". . . by repudiating Jesus Christ these apostates dishonor Him. The writer spoke of this dishonor as taking the side of Jesus’ enemies who crucified Him and publicly humiliated Him. The apostates in view crucify Him in the sense of passing judgment against Him again, by repudiating Him and His work, as those who literally crucified Jesus did. Evidently these 'hard cases' are not those who turn away from just any aspect of God’s will but specifically the doctrine of Jesus Christ."

I think Constable's comment is spot on. Apostates repudiate the very core of the Christian faith, which in a nutshell is the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The apostates to whom the writer to the Hebrews refers in chapter 6 were Jewish converts to the Christian faith who at some point turned their backs on Christ. We are not told why they did so, though the "judaizers" of their day (whom Paul calls the "false circumcision" in Philippians 3:2) may have exerted some hard-to-resist peer pressure on them to come back to Judaism.

Like the prominent Jewish leaders of Jesus' day who turned their backs on Messiah Jesus and clamored for His crucifixion, these apostates had similarly rejected Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Each group rejected both the Man and His mission. The primary difference between these two groups is that the former had never believed in Jesus in the first place, whereas the latter group had, but had changed their minds. Now who, I ask, was more culpable? I think the answer is pretty clear.

That is why the writer stresses the enormity of the sin of turning one's back on Christ. Make no mistake: these apostates were true Christians prior to their apostasy. Consider what they had experienced as believers:

  • spiritual enlightenment
  • a taste of the heavenly gift ("the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord")
  • being partakers of the Holy Spirt
  • a taste of the good word of God
  • a taste of the powers of the world to come (i.e., miracles performed in their midst, particularly supernatural healings)

A Christian who starts out strong in the things of the Lord and then for whatever reasons rejects the faith and returned to a pagan way of life does what is tantamount to the people's rejection of Jesus on Good Friday, and Christ is thereby dishonored (i.e., re-crucified, as it were, and shamed once again) in no uncertain terms. They said, "Away with this man. Crucify him. We will not have this man reign over us! We have no king but Caesar!" The apostates did something similar. The words they used may have been different, but the meaning was similar: "Yes, I've been enlightened; I've tasted of the heavenly gift, of God's word and of the miraculous powers of the risen Christ; and I've even partaken of the Holy Spirit. However, I reject it all, and I reject Jesus."

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@rhetorician-You realize this just flies in the face of Calvinism. However, I do agree w/you, I was going to post myself, but I couldn't find a reputable source for 1st century Hebrew apostates(from Christianity). –  user2479 Feb 1 at 3:06
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@user2479: I plan to post an answer to the second part of JLB's question, which concerns the "falling away" phenomenon addressed in Hebrews 6. As for me, I'm a four-and-a-half point Calvinist, and I may never be a full five-pointer. By the same token, however, I'm not a gung-ho Arminian, either. More on that, later. Don –  rhetorician Feb 1 at 5:03
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@user2479 are you sure you understand Calvinism's take on election? Many Calvinists, myself included, believe that a Christian can fall away: it is the 'elect' that don't. Anyway, thanks Don, and +1 :) –  Jack Douglas Feb 1 at 7:58
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@Jack Douglas-Calvinism's 1SAS(or irresistable grace/perseverence of the saints) does not proffer a "Once Saved, But Fell Away" alternative-since the "elect" are totally saved by the merits of Christ alone. Therefore, the 99 other sources to Heb. 6:6 state that those who fell away "weren't saved in the 1st place", which is the sticking side of Calvinism. I hang out with the DAISY's, although I believe in election by faith. –  user2479 Feb 1 at 8:18
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@JackDouglas You are using your presupposition to create a difference between terms that isn't supported biblically. I think you should answer this question to exposit your position, Instead of making a minor unsupported thought in the comment section. Or look at my other question regarding Heb 6:4-6 and answer it. –  JLB Feb 2 at 14:40
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