Wednesday, March 11, 2009

F.F. Bruce on the Warning Passage

F.F. Bruce's NICNT commentary on Hebrews says the following on Heb. 6.4-6:

The reason why there is no point in laying the foundation over again is now stated: apostasy is irremediable. Once more our author emphasizes that continuance is the test of reality. In these verses he is not questioning the perseverance of the saints; we might say that rather he is insisting that those who persevere are the true saints. But in fact he is stating a practical truth that has verified itself repeatedly in the experience of the church. Those who have shared the covenant privileges of the people of God, and then deliberately renounce them, are the most difficult persons of all to reclaim for the faith. It is indeed impossible to reclaim them, says our author. We know, of course, that nothing of this sort is ultimately impossible for the grace of God, but as a matter of human experience the reclamation of such people is, practically speaking, impossible. People are frequently immunized against a disease with a mild form of it, or with a related but milder disease. And in the spiritual realm experience suggests that it is possible to be "immunized" against Christianity by being innoculated with something which, for the time being, looks so like the real thing that it is generally mistaken for it. This is not a question of those who are attached in a formal way to the profession of true religion without having experienced its power; it is blessedly possible for such people to have an experience of God's grace which changes what was once a matter of formal attachment into a matter of inward reality. It is a question of people who see clearly where the truth lies, and perhaps for a period to conform to it, but then, for one reason or another, renounce it (p. 144).


Damian M. Romano said...

I like Bruce's take on this issue. Upon accepting Calvinism some years back this was one of the most difficult verses to "accept".

dshumaker said...

To what degree do you believe this apostasy is repeatable today? To put it another way, does the apostasy described in Hebrews refer only to those who would return to the Old Covenant, or do you see it as anyone who rejects the New after being intimitely involved in the New Covenant Community?


dopderbeck said...

Following Shu's comment: what is "apostacy?" Is any derogation from doctrines about "washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment" (v. 2) "apostacy?"

Scot McKnight said...


Brother, you know what I think about this, but Bruce's exegesis is a good example of wishful thinking. The point of the text is not pastoral recovery but God's judgment. This text has to be taken in the context of other warning passages in Hebrews where, once again, the concern is not pastoral recovery but the awful, irretrievable judgment of God.

For those of us who are not Calvinists, exegesis like this makes us cringe about exegetical honesty. Let the text say what it says and let our theology be junked.