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[Hebrews 6:4-8 NASB20] (4) For it is impossible, 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, to restore 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 produces 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.

[Isaiah 27:4-5 NLT] (4) My anger will be gone. If I find briers and thorns growing, I will attack them; I will burn them up-- (5) unless they turn to me for help. Let them make peace with me; yes, let them make peace with me."

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  • 1
    Luke 18:27 “what is impossible for man is possible with God”. Thus, it is too difficult a task for man to lead a backslider back to the straight and narrow, but if this person is one of the chosen few God himself will step in and put things straight. Jun 7 at 0:01
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Hebrews is not written to the body of Christ which is separate from the nation of Israel. It was written to "Hebrews" which is to "the Circumcision." Salvation for the Circumcision requires they stay faithful, or endure to the end, which means the end of their own life, or up to the Lord's return for Israel to the earth. (Matthew 24:13)

There were two churches or congregations during the Pentecostal Administration covered by the of Acts. The Circumcision, of whom Peter and the 12 were party to, is reached in the first 12 chapters (within Palestine). Proselytes in the land are also reached (The Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius are examples).

The body of Christ began in Acts 13:1-2 when Paul and Barnabas were severed from the Circumcision to go into the Gentiles. This new mission required a different gospel, the Gospel of the Uncircumcision. Also called "The Gospel of God, this gospel is recorded in the first 4 chapters of Romans by Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.

The Circumcision church leadership was usurped by James, the brother of Jesus who was not an apostle. He was a Judaizer and held fast to the Law of Moses. Eventually, the Circumcision church worked to prevent Paul from witnessing to the Gentiles and tried to kill him.

These are those spoken of in the Hebrew scriptures you quote. They were not members of the body of Christ, but of the Jewish congregation. God had promised He would bring in Gentiles as proselytes, but He never promised equality between Jews and Gentiles.

In Acts 28 the Circumcision church, Israel, was held in abeyance due to their rejection of the risen Christ. At that time Ephesians was written, declaring a new humanity in which Jews and Gentiles are fully equal.

Salvation in the body of Christ is permanent because of justification and reconciliation (Romans 3 Romans 5, I Corinthians 5). Our salvation is totally by God's grace through the faith of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). We do not have to "endure unto the end" to be saved, but are sealed the moment we believe with the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption (Christ's return to meet the church which is his body, in the air.)

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“Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at them, Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Mat 19:25-26

The proposition that man could, of himself, be saved was never a viable possibility. That said, the message of Hebrews (6:1-8) is stern yet not entirely without hope.

  • But if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. – Heb 6:8

The ground is only “close to being” cursed. The implication is that only if it persists in yielding thorns and thistles, does it “ends up being burned.” This little opening for hope aligns with the theme that God forestalls judgment, giving us time to repent and reconcile with him.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. – 2 Pet 3:8-9

We find this theme echoed in the parables as well:

And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. 7 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Look! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, leave it alone for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; 9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’” – Lk 13:6-9

The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; while you are gathering up the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and at the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.”” – Mt 13:28-30

Regarding the OP’s question, the message of God’s patience and mercy in calling us to repentance is beautifully expressed in the first part of Isaiah 27 (2-6 ).

  • Or let him rely on My protection, Let him make peace with Me, Let him make peace with Me. – Is 27:5

The end of the passage, however, paints a bleak picture of what happens if we persist to ignore God’s offer of peace. In contrast to the fruitful vineyard of God, the alternative is a desolate city of man’s own making (Is 27:10-11). Here, as in the Hebrews text, the end involves burning.

  • For the fortified city is isolated, A homestead deserted and abandoned like the desert; There the calf will graze, And there it will lie down and feed on its branches. When its limbs are dry, they are broken off; Women come and make a fire with them, – Is 27:10-11
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My view on Hebrews and on his position regarding saints-turned-sinners is embodied in this fairly lengthy post elsewhere.

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No, there is no contradiction.

Logical reading

I would read these two verses as follows:

A) Heb 4.6 -- For those who are fallen, they cannot repent.

B) Is 27.4-5 -- If you do not yield fruit then you will be burned unless you repent.

I don't see a contradiction between these two verses. Take someone with thorns. If they are able to repent, then they are not fallen, they are merely going through testing, which will turn to their benefit and allow them to overcome the world. Both A) and B) are true and they are saved.

If they are not able to repent, then they are fallen, and so again both A) and B) are true and they are burned.

Thus whether or not a person is able to repent is the question, and these verses do not contradict each other as they predict the same outcome in every situation.

Homiletic reading

Changing tack a bit, this verse in Hebrews is one of the "hard sayings" that makes all of us feel a bit nervous. Another is Mathew's parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22). Famous heroes of the faith, doctors of the church, have confessed to being terrified at reading this parable.

But the issue here is the definition of "fallen". In normal religious circles, people interpret this to mean taking up smoking, or not attending church, or dating someone not of the faith, committing some crime, etc. Basically outward things.

It is people who subscribe to this carnal definition of falling away that can't explain why Samson is in the Hebrews Hall of Faith a few chapters past this one.

Hebrews 6 is speaking of things of the spirit, not sensual things, so there is simply no outward act that you can observe which can determine whether or not the person is indeed "fallen" -- the only criteria we know is that if they were truly fallen, then they would not be able to repent.

Thus the moment someone is repentent, then that proves that whatever happened in their past was God's spirit doing the necesssary work within them to overcome the world, just as Samson achieved victory and in that victory became a Hero of the Faith.

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  • Hi @Robert. To my ears, that sounds like a theological musing rather than an exegetical one. Here, it feels out of place. Do you know what I mean?
    – Ruminator
    Jul 18 at 2:41
  • @ruminator Asking whether two statements contradict each other is a logical musing. If A and B have the same outcome in every state of the world, they cannot contradict each other. The exegetical part is just reading what A and B are actually saying and then running over the states of the world to see if they disagree.
    – Robert
    Jul 18 at 3:29
  • Okay, thanks, Robert.
    – Ruminator
    Jul 18 at 3:38
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There are many instances where the phrases of possibility and ability don't mean in the absolute sense, even in the modern English, like "I cannot commit adultery, I is impossible that I may betray my wife". The sense is not of physical possibility but that I would not, implying certainty, imperative and intention. "Would" also indicates certainty or uncertainty. The difference between the nuances of shall and will has also a similar effect where "will" shows certainty.

Since the ancient languages did not contain verbs and adverbs of justification and disclaimer, the modern reader who is used to hear the adverbs like almost in every general statement tend to misunderstand them. Thus we have absolutely no general statements in the postmodern language of the modern times. Few examples in English:

  • Used with verbs:

"His ideas sound impossible." (sound, seem, be: is/am/are, appear, look, prove)

"The bad weather made it impossible to play baseball." (made)

"I find it impossible to stay mad at him." (find)

"He is impossible to work with." (be: is/am/are, be + becoming, remains)

  • Used with adverbs:

"It is absolutely impossible to finish the project today." (absolutely, completely, totally, utterly, humanly, downright)

"It is almost impossible to reach him during the day." (almost, nearly, practically, virtually, simply, pretty)

"Her handwriting is literally impossible to read." (literally)

"It is physically impossible to achieve that goal." (physically, technically, scientifically, mathematically, logically)

"You are just impossible to live with." (just, simply, absolutely, completely, quite, totally)


Reading the verses in context helps to understand the sense. The same figurative sense of certainty applies to other verses about not being capable of sinning, or the impossibility of apostates to repent back to God.

  • 1 John 3:9: “Whoever is born of God does not commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he cannot sin (ού δύναται not able to) , because he is born of God.” (NHEB)

  • Luke 17:1: “He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no occasions of stumbling should come, but woe to him through whom they come.”

  • Matthew 7:18: “A good tree cannot produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit.”

  • Hebrews 6:4: ἀδύνατον (impossible): “For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit,” NET

BDAG3 on αδύνατος

ⓑ subst. οἱ ἀδύνατοι (Hyperid. 2, 10 contrasted w. δυνάμενοι εἰπεῖν, those who cannot speak; TestJob 45:2 [w. πτωχοί in a gener. sense]) of those weak in faith (opp. οἱ δυνατοί) Ro 15:1.—τὰ ἀδύνατα what is powerless Dg 9:6b.—τὸ ἀδύνατον inability εἰς τὸ τυχεῖν 6a; τὸ καθʼ ἑαυτοὺς ἀδύνατον εἰσελθεῖν our own inability to enter 9:1. Cp. δύναμαι w. neg.

② incapable of happening or being done, impossible (Pind., Hdt. et al.; LXX, Philo, Joseph.; Ar. 5, 2; Just.; Tat. 20, 2; Ath.).

ⓐ adj. ἀ. w. and without ἐστίν (B-D-F §127, 2) it is impossible Hm 11:19ab; παρὰ ἀνθρώποις τοῦτο ἀ. ἐστιν Mt 19:26; Mk 10:27 (cp. Philo, Spec. Leg. 1, 282; Jos., Ant. 10, 196; PCairZen 31, 8 [III b.c.]; dedicatory ins fr. Phrygia in Steinleitner 59, no. 31, 4f: Μητρὶ Λητῷ ὅτι ἐξ ἀδυνάτων δυνατὰ ποιεῖ.—Ps.-Lucian, Halc. 3 ἀδύνατος and δυνατός of that which God cannot and can do); οὐδὲν ἀ. παρὰ τῷ θεῷ 1 Cl 27:2 (cp. Pind., P. 10, 48–50); cp. Lk 18:27. W. inf. foll. and acc. w. the inf. (Wsd 16:15; 2 Macc 4:6; Jos., Ant. 5, 109; Ar., Just., Ath.) Hb 6:4, 18; 10:4; 11:6; Hs 9, 26, 6; MPol 6:1. οὐκ ἔστιν ἀ. ὑπὲρ ὀνόματος θεοῦ (sc. τοῦτο ποιεῖν) IPhld 10:2.

On δύναμαι to possess capability (whether because of personal or external factors) for experiencing or doing someth., can, am able, be capable.

ⓐ w. inf. foll.

α. pres. inf. (Poyaenus 8, 10, 3 φέρειν δύν.) οὐδεὶς δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13.—Mt 9:15; 19:12; Mk 2:7, 19 al. καθὼς ἠδύναντο ἀκούειν Mk 4:33 (w. ref. to level of understanding; cp. Epict. 2, 24, 11). Expressed with strong emotion in rejection of what is heard τίς δύναται αὐτοῦ ἀκούειν Who can listen to such talk! (REB) J 6:60. οὐ δ. ἀναστὰς δοῦναί σοι I’m in no position to get up and grant your request Lk 11:7. οὐ δυνάμεθα … μὴ λαλεῖν we cannot remain silent τὶ about someth. Ac 4:20. In questions πῶς δύνασθε ἀγαθὰ λαλεῖν; how can you say good things? Mt 12:34. πῶς δύναται σατανᾶς σατανᾶν ἐκβάλλειν; how can Satan drive out Satan? Mk 3:23; cp. J 6:52; Lk 6:42.

β. aor. inf. (IAndrosIsis, Kyme 4; Just. A I, 2, 4 ἀποκτείναι μὲν δύνασθε, βλάψαι δʼ οὔ; Ath. 15, 1 διακρῖναι οὐ δυνάμενοι) δύνασθαι … εἰσελθεῖν Mk 1:45.—2:4; 5:3; Lk 8:19; 13:11; 14:20 and oft. The impf. ἐδύνατο τοῦτο πραθῆναι this could have been sold Mt 26:9 (B-D-F §358, 1; cp. Wsd 11:19f).

γ. likew. the impf. w. pf. inf. ἀπολελύσθαι ἐδύνατο he could have been set free Ac 26:32.

ⓑ abs., whereby the inf. can easily be supplied (cp. Eur., Or. 889; Thu. 4, 105, 1; X., An. 4, 5, 11 al.; Sir 43:30; Bar 1:6; 1 Macc 6:3; 9:9, 60; 4 Macc 14:17b; ParJer 4:6 cod. C ἠδυνήθητε ἐπʼ αὐτῇ [s. ἰσχύω]; Just., A II, 15, 2 ἵνα εἰ δύναιντο μεταθῶνται ‘in the hope that they might possibly be converted’) Mt 16:3 (sc. διακρίνειν); 20:22b; Mk 10:39 (sc. πιεῖν); 6:19 (sc. ἀποκτεῖναι); cp. Lk 9:40; 16:26; 19:3; Ac 27:39; Ro 8:7. καίπερ δυνάμενος although he was able to do so 1 Cl 16:2. οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε (sc. χρῆσθαι τῷ βρώματι) you were not yet strong enough (=‘you were not yet up to it’) 1 Cor 3:2. ὑπὲρ ὸ̔ δύνασθε (sc. ἐνεγκεῖν) beyond your capability 10:13.

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  • Interesting. Something to think about.
    – Ruminator
    Jul 18 at 14:00

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