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Does the text of Hebrews 10:26 and the context around it indicate one willful sin, or continuous deliberate sin in order to remove the sacrifice?

Why does the NRSV and other translations indicate the latter, whereas others like the KJV, ASB, and NAB indicate the former?

Additionally, how would early church fathers have interpreted the passage?

Thank you.

Heb 10:26 -

BLB: For if we sin willingly after we are to receive the knowledge of the truth, no longer remains a sacrifice for sins

KJV: For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

NRSV: For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

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2 Answers 2

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The two pertinent Greek words in Heb 10:26 are these:

  • Ἑκουσίως (Hekousiōs) = willingly
  • ἁμαρτανόντων (hamartanontōn) = present participle active, ie, in a continuous sense

That is, the phrase "willing sin" denotes the act of willingly continuing to keep sinning. When the KJV was translated, the simple present tense "sin" denoted this but is less clear in modern usage. This is why most modern versions go to some trouble to translate something like:

  • keep on sinning (NIV)
  • go on sinning (ESV, BSB, NASB)
  • etc

Thus, Heb 10:26 is discussing a life of deliberately continuing to keep sinning.

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This verse needs to be considered in context rather than in isolation. The author teaches his hearers not to backslide. He emphasizes that Jesus has become both sacrifice and high priest who has atoned for sin once and for all. He is particularly concerned with Jewish Christians tempted to revert to Judaism. This is why the early Church Fathers titled this work "To the Hebrews."

To understand the immediate context let's consider the preceding verses:

19 Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary 20 by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, 21 and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” 22 let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope...

The problem here is that some who have accepted the faith have slid back and no longer hold to their confession. In this context, the OP's question is beside the point. The real sin the author is concerned about here is apostasy. In that sense he is concerned with a continuous sin. But once a person returns to faith, both continuous and singular sins are covered by Jesus' sacrifice.

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