Calvinist Sleight of Hand: A Brief Arminian Interaction With Wayne Grudem’s Arguments Against the Compatibility of Foreknowledge And Conditional Election

A while back someone on the SEA discussion board referenced the following comments by Calvinist Theologian Wayne Grudem arguing against the compatibility of foreknowledge and conditional election.  Below is my brief interaction with this quoted material.

The idea that God’s predestination of some to believe is based on foreknowledge of their faith encounters still another problem: upon reflection, this system turns out to give no real freedom to man either. For if God can look into the future and see that person A will come to faith in Christ, and that person B will not come to faith in Christ, then those facts are already fixed they are already determined. If we assume that God’s knowledge of the future is true (which it must be), then it is absolutely certain that person A will believe and person B will not. There is no way that their lives could turn out any differently than this. Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined for they could not be otherwise. But by what are these destinies determined? If they are determined by God himself, then we no longer have election based ultimately on foreknowledge of faith, but rather on God’s sovereign will. But if these destinies are not determined by God, then who or what determines them? Certainly no Christian would say that there is some powerful being other than God controlling people’s destinies. Therefore it seems that the only other possible solution is to say they are determined by some impersonal force, some kind of fate, operative in the universe, making things turn out as they do. But what kind of benefit is this? We have then sacrificed election in love by a personal God for a kind of determinism by an impersonal force and God is no longer to be given the ultimate credit for our salvation. (Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine  p.589)

Grudem’s argument employs the usual Calvinist sleight of hand in an attempt to make foreknowledge causative in nature. He makes a subtle and unjustified shift from will be to cannot be otherwise. That is false. What will happen is not the same as what must happen, or what cannot be otherwise. It is just the same old conflation of certainty (what will be) with necessity (what must be) that has been refuted for ages. Here is how I would specifically respond to Grudem’s argument:

Grudem: “The idea that God’s predestination of some to believe is based on foreknowledge of their faith encounters still another problem: upon reflection, this system turns out to give no real freedom to man either. For if God can look into the future and see that person A will come to faith in Christ, and that person B will not come to faith in Christ, then those facts are already fixed they are already determined.”

Response: Actually, they are not already fixed, but they will be fixed and God foreknows how they will be fixed. The crucial question is who will fix them? The proper answer is that the agent will fix his choice when he makes it, and freely so. Foreknowledge doesn’t change that at all. 

Just think about it. Suppose there was no foreknowledge. There would still be one future choice (in this case) and not another. So how does adding foreknowledge change anything? It doesn’t. The future will follow one particular course of events regardless of whether anyone has foreknowledge of those events or not. That tells us nothing of the nature of future choices, whether they will be free or not.

And adding God’s foreknowledge, which simply mirrors that single course of future events, doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of those choices either. They can still be made by the agent with full power to do otherwise, even if God foreknows how the choice will go.

Grudem: “If we assume that God’s knowledge of the future is true (which it must be), then it is absolutely certain that person A will believe and person B will not.”

Response: Yes, absolutely certain (will be), but not necessary (must be).  This is where that distinction between certainty and necessity is crucial. Notice how he makes the subtle shift from certainty to necessity below, with no logical warrant for the shift, and no argument. He essentially just asserts that if something will be a certain way, then it must be a certain way. But that is just an assertion, nothing more; and this assertion assumes the very point in contention (and so is question begging)

Grudem: “There is no way that their lives could turn out any differently than this.”

Response: There it is, the unwarranted and subtle shift from certainly to necessity. What he should have said was “there is no way that their lives will turn out any differently…” And why is that? Because of the choices that they will certainly make. But they can certainly make free choices just as well as predetermined choices. Whether a choice is free or predetermined, it will still eventually happen. If they were to make different free will choices in the future then God’s foreknowledge would simply mirror that course of events instead.

Again, just adding foreknowledge to the way things will be doesn’t change anything. It tells us nothing with regards to whether or not there is any real freedom in the choices that will be made. It does not magically change will be to must be. Calvinists like Grudem just assume and assert that it does change it, but they have no real proof or argument, just an assertion.

Grudem: “Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined for they could not be otherwise.”

Response: Again, notice the wholesale shift now from certainty to necessity. All he is saying is that because it will be a certain way it must be a certain way (could not be otherwise). That’s it. And again, that is nothing more than an assertion. Grudem just switched cards when nobody was looking and hoped nobody would notice.  I will just counter assert that the certainty of a future act does not make it a necessity. That was easy.  And notice how just tweaking his sentence changes everything:

“Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined [yes, but by who?] for they [will not] be otherwise.”

Just change “could not” to “will not” and there is no problem. Why? Because “will not” does not necessarily imply “could not”. And I can agree that their destinies are determined, but they are determined based on the free choices that they will certainly make, with full power to do otherwise (and God’s free response to those choices).

Grudem: “But by what are these destinies determined? If they are determined by God himself, then we no longer have election based ultimately on foreknowledge of faith, but rather on God’s sovereign will. But if these destinies are not determined by God, then who or what determines them?”

Response: This is all based on a false dilemma that Grudem has created by deliberately conflating certainty with necessity. There is no such problem with those who understand that crucial distinction between what will be (certainty) and what must be (necessity). And, as I said before, the future is determined by both God and people. People will make free will choices (many of which are direct interactions with God), and foreknowledge does not change that.

So we determine our destinies, though God foreknows those choices (and the end results of those choices). But God also foreknows his very real interactions with us that are yet future as well. He foreknows His own actions and responses, just as He does ours. But His foreknowledge of His future free actions does not mean He has no power to choose otherwise or no freedom to do so. It is just the same with us.

Grudem: “Certainly no Christian would say that there is some powerful being other than God controlling people’s destinies. Therefore it seems that the only other possible solution is to say they are determined by some impersonal force, some kind of fate, operative in the universe, making things turn out as they do.”

Response: Of course, this does not follow at all if one does not conflate certainty with necessity. We control our destinies based on the choices we make and the way we respond to God and His actions and interventions in our lives. God’s prior knowledge of that doesn’t change that truth at all.

Grudem: “But what kind of benefit is this? We have then sacrificed election in love by a personal God for a kind of determinism by an impersonal force and God is no longer to be given the ultimate credit for our salvation.” (p.589)

Response: Another huge leap in logic. There is no “impersonal force” necessary, only choices made by real persons. And if God has determined to make salvation conditional, then He is still the one who determines who gets saved and who doesn’t. Those who believe will be saved and those who do not will not be saved. That condition and His response to that condition was His choice, not ours.

The only choice we make is if we will meet the God ordained condition for receiving His salvation, but it is still God alone who saves, and for that reason God still gets all the credit for salvation. It is exactly because we cannot save ourselves that we need to trust in Christ to save us. If we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need to trust in Christ to save us, now would we?

So the condition of faith (the fact that we need to trust in Christ to be saved) is what makes salvation all of God and all of grace, and it is why faith is the perfect condition for receiving salvation which by its very nature excludes boasting:

“What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  (Romans 4:3-5, emphasis mine)

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace.” (Romans 4:16, emphasis mine)

So conditional salvation/election and God’s foreknowledge of who will be saved are fully compatible.  Despite Grudem’s assertions, it does not follow that such a view (when properly understood) leads to a fate like controlling impersonal force behind God, and it doesn’t lead to the idea that we or any such non-existent force gets the credit for salvation rather than God.  Grudem’s argument is riddled with unwarranted assumptions, nonsequiturs and question begging, and for that reason is hardly persuasive.

_________________________

Related:

Dr. Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom and the Future

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism and Why You Should Be An Arminian

 

Perseverance of the Saints Part 9: Hebrews 10:32-39

We finish our exegetical examination of the warning passage in Hebrews 10 with verses 32-39:

[32] But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, [33] partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. [34] For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have a better possession and a lasting one.  [35] Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. [36] For you have need of endurance, so that when you will have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [37] ‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. [38] But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’  [39] But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (NASB)

Verse 32:  “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.”

Here we encounter the word “enlightened” again.  Grudem argued that the term was used only of hearing the gospel in Hebrews 6:4, and therefore had no reference to any saving experience.  Verse 32, however would strongly suggest otherwise.  Here the writer of Hebrews uses the same word to describe those who were truly saved and the fact that they were “enlightened” seems to have reference to conversion rather than just hearing the gospel message.  His audience is instructed to remember that after they had been “enlightened” they “endured a great conflict of sufferings.”  Verses 33 and 34 give us more information regarding what these “sufferings” entailed.  They suffered by being made a “public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations” and they accepted “joyfully” the seizure of property, “knowing that [they had] a better possession and a lasting one.”

These had suffered joyfully for the sake of the gospel and yet we are to believe that this enlightening had reference to only hearing the gospel?  Such a shallow concept of “enlightened” simply does not fit the description that immediately follows.  It makes no sense to say that as the result of merely “hearing the gospel” they endured a great suffering.  Many hear the gospel, reject it, and suffer nothing for it.  It is only those who embrace and appropriate the gospel by faith that are willing to suffer for it.

It should be clear, based on the context, that “enlightened” means far more than just “hearing the gospel” to the inspired writer of Hebrews.  It has reference to conversion itself which only reinforces the contention that the “enlightened” apostates of Hebrews 6:4 were truly saved prior to having “fallen away.”  We also find that these “enlightened” ones gladly suffered the seizure of their property because they knew that they had a “better possession and a lasting one.” (verse 34b)  That can only mean that they were looking forward to the heavenly reward of their faith and proves that they were indeed in the faith since faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)  They had already passed one test of faith and were now being called on to pass yet another.  The reminder of their past success is for the purpose of strengthening their resolve that they might not “shrink back” from the faith they began with (see comments on verse 38 below).

Verses 35 and 36: “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you will have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

Notice that the inspired writer is not admonishing them to gain confidence (i.e. believe the gospel and be converted), but to keep the confidence that they already have.  They are being told to endure in their faith which plainly assumes that their present faith is genuine.  In fact, their faith has been proven so by the way they had responded to prior trials.  However, they cannot rest on what they had done in the past but must continue to press on in the face of present trials to gain the promised reward of final salvation.  They “have need of endurance.”  The inspired writer never questions whether or not his readers have genuine faith.  He only questions whether or not that faith will last.  This is the main concern of the entire epistle.  Verses 37-39 decisively drive this truth home:

‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’  But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Just as Hebrews 6:7-8 conclude as a further description of the apostates in verses 4-6 so do verses 10:37-38 conclude as a further description of the apostate spoken of in verses 26-31.  The point that is very important here is that the servant who “shrinks back” in verse 38b is not a different servant from the one who lives by faith in verse 38a.  It is the same servant, “and if he [that same servant] shrinks back [from the faith that made him righteous], my soul has no pleasure in him.”  Robert Shank quotes Franz Delitzsch:

The subject in both clauses is the same- the just man, the man who is justified by faith; and in the sense in which hupostellesthai is here used is that of not keeping faith, wavering in faith, forsaking the path of faith and the community of the faithful.  The just man, the man accepted before God, lives by faith; but if he loses his faith, and faithlessly draws back from the right path, his acceptance is forfeited.  That such apostasy is possible even for those who have been truly justified, i.e., for Christians who have more than a superficial experience of divine grace, is one of the main points of instruction in this epistle. [Life in The Son, 163]

It cannot be overstated that the servant is described in verse 38a as “righteous” by God Himself.  It will not do to say that the servant only appeared righteous, for the Lord Himself confirms the servant’s justification.  This righteousness is due to a life of faith.  However, if that same righteous servant were to shrink back from the faith that justified him, then the Lord would no longer take pleasure in him.  And why not? Because “without faith it is impossible to please Him”(Heb. 11:6).  What happens to those who shrink back?  Verse 39 tells us that they shrink back “to destruction.”

Adam Clarke is even more frank with his comments concerning the servant mentioned in this passage as well as the erroneous translation of the KJV:

But if any man draw back] kai ean uposteilhtai. But if he draw back; he, the man who is justified by faith; for it is of him, and none other,that the text speaks. The insertion of the words any man, if done to servethe purpose of a particular creed, is a wicked perversion of the words ofGod. They were evidently intended to turn away the relative from the antecedent, in order to save the doctrine of final and unconditional perseverance; which doctrine this text destroys.  (Commentary: Hebrews pg. 209, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD)

This is detrimental to Grudem’s exegesis.  If Heb. 10:37-38 speaks of the same servant, then we have even more reason to believe that Hebrews 6:7-8 has reference to the same land.  The servant of 10:37-38 shrinks back from the faith which had made him righteous, and the land which once bore fruitful vegetation in 6:7-8 later bears thorns and thistles upon “falling away” from the faith.  These are not descriptions of irrevocable reprobates who rejected the gospel message upon hearing it; these are descriptions of true believers who have turned away from the truth that they had once fully embraced.

It is significant that the writer of Hebrews altered the text from which he drew this warning.  The LXX reference in Habakkuk speaks of one who is puffed up in pride shrinking back contrasted with the righteous one who lives by faith, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-[Septuagint: And if he shrinks back I will not be pleased with him.] but the righteous will live by faith.” (Simon J. Kistemaker, Hebrews, pg. 302)

Donald A. Hagner explains the significance of the altered reference:

The author also transposes the clause of Hab. 2:4 (which the LXX begins with the words, ‘but if any of them shrinks back’) so that it is the righteous one who must directly confront the possibility of turning back and experiencing the displeasure of the Lord.  The author thus accepts the messianic understanding of the passage (as in the LXX) but applies Heb. 2:4 to the Christian believer (despite the singular, my righteous one). (NIBC Hebrews, pg. 176, emphasis his)

If the writer of Hebrews was trying to express what Grudem believes he was trying to express (that the apostate never had justifying faith) then the Habakkuk text would have better served the author’s purpose left as it was originally penned.  Instead, the author of Hebrews deliberately changed [inverted] the reference to describe a single servant who shrinks from the faith which had previously justified him before God.  That the writer of Hebrews changed the reference in such a way further demonstrates that he understands and defines apostasy as the decisive repudiation of justifying faith once held.

In verse 39 the author expresses confidence that his intended audience has not presently abandoned the faith and is given as positive encouragement in order to complement the negative encouragement of the previous warnings.  The inspired author is not expressing infallible confidence that they will persevere since even in Calvinism no such infallible assurance can be given to another.  While he is supremely hopeful that these “justified servants” will not shrink back, he cannot be certain.  Such uncertainty is the basis for the dire warnings and urgent encouragements which preceded verse 39.

Conclusion:

We have found in verses 32-39 further confirmation that our exegesis of Hebrews 10:26-31 was accurate.  One who is both justified by faith and sanctified by the blood of Christ can yet shrink back from the faith and face eternal punishment as an enemy of God.  We also gained further insight into the warnings expressed in Hebrews 6:4-8 by confirming that “enlightened” has reference to the experience of conversion and not just exposure to the gospel message.

We have also discovered that the metaphor of the land in Hebrews 6:7-8 parallels the description of the righteous servant who shrinks back from the faith in Hebrews 10:38.  This undermines Grudem’s main thesis which was built on the errant assumption that the metaphor in 6:7-8 had reference to two lands rather than one.  Just as it is the same justified servant who shrinks back from saving faith in Heb. 10:38; so it is the same productive land which ceases to bear fruitful vegetation and instead bears thorns and thistles upon “falling away” from the faith.  The servant (10:28 ) and the land (6:7-8 ) are both “destroyed” and “burned” as the result of  falling away from faith once held.

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Perseverance of the Saints Part 8: What Kind of Sanctification is Being Described in Hebrews 10:29?

We now examine another interpretation that looks to make this sanctification merely outward with no internal reality. It looks to compare the sanctification described in 10:29 with the outward ceremonial cleansing referred to under the old covenant in 9:9 and 9:13.

Peterson and Williams see it as “a covenantal sanctification in which persons are set apart as part of God’s covenant community, the church, but are not necessarily saved.” They conclude that “covenantal but not saving ‘sanctification’ appears in Heb. 9:13 and 1 Corinthians 7:14. In view of the contrast here between the Old and New Covenant, we interpret “sanctified” to mean set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God.” (Why I Am Not An Arminian pg. 86)

Grudem follows this basic understanding by citing numerous passages, most of which occur outside of Hebrews, that do not necessarily have reference to inward sanctification. He then concludes:

These other examples do not of course prove that hagiazo in Hebrews 10:29 must refer to something other than the internal sanctification that accompanies salvation, but they mean that we should not assume that hagiazo means saving sanctification either. Moreover, the entire context in which 10:29 occurs, from 9:1 to 10:39, is concerned with parallels between the Old Testament Levitical sacrifices and the better new covenant sacrifice of Christ. Because a ceremonial focus pervades this context, a ceremonial sense of sanctify would be appropriate in 10:29. This is especially true in the immediate context of 10:19-31, for the author is speaking of the fact that the congregation in general has a ‘new and living way’ (10:20) available by the blood of Jesus, and therefore can ‘enter the sanctuary’ (10:19) and “draw near” (10:22) into God’s presence. (Still Sovereign, pp.177, 178).

So for Grudem, Peterson, and Williams it seems that “sanctified by the blood of the covenant” means little more than “given the right to go to church and assemble with believers as they worship.” This is not only extremely weak but impossible to sustain in light of the very context to which Grudem appeals. Before we examine this context we need to note that Peterson and Williams have probably gone too far and hurt their position by stating that “sanctified” means “set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God.” Are they then asserting that an eternally and irrevocably condemned reprobate is “set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God?” Such a thing does not seem friendly to their position at all and may betray the difficulty of describing this sanctification as anything less than that which accompanies salvation. Unfortunately, they did not bother to further explain how such a thing could be said of reprobates who have never belonged to God in any covenantal sense, so we can only speculate.

As we noted in my last post concerning who is sanctified in Hebrews 10:29, the context of the passages in question has to do with a comparison between a “sanctification” that is merely outward, performed by sinful priests, and a “sanctification” that is inward, performed by the holy Priest King, Jesus Christ. We noted that the main focus is the cleansing power of Christ’s blood in contrast to the blood of animals which can never remove sin or cleanse the conscience. The point is that Christ’s blood brings forgiveness and makes believers holy and acceptable in God’s sight, which makes Christ and His eternal priesthood far superior to that priestly ministry of the OT.

Grudem is correct in assuming that the context of the passage has to do with making worshippers fit to enter the presence of God, but he has not gone far enough. The only reason that these worshippers can “‘enter the sanctuary’ (10:19) and “draw near” (10:22) into God’s presence” is because these worshippers have been truly sanctified with the soul cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. They have been made fit and acceptable to enter God’s presence and boldly approach the throne of grace only because they have been truly purified through faith in the Son of God and have been forgiven and made holy on the merits of His blood. What Grudem seems to be suggesting is that some sort of “outward” cleansing has made these worshippers fit to enter God’s presence (which to Grudem means little more than going to church as noted above); but will the context bear this out?

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshipper perfect in conscience, since they relate to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:8-10)

The inspired writer is concerned with demonstrating that the way to enter God’s presence under the Old Covenant is obsolete and has come to an end. It was inadequate to truly purify and was therefore a shadow of the fulfillment that was yet to come (“a time of reformation”).

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (9:11-12)

Only through Christ’s blood can one truly enter the holy place in the New Covenant which has surpassed and supplanted the Old Covenant. Only those redeemed by His blood have access with and through Him to the holy place and into God’s presence. It is no longer possible for someone to enter God’s presence through that which provides only an outward cleansing because the Old Covenant has been replaced with the New which demands that God’s worshippers enter His presence truly purified by the blood of His dear Son. The writer of Hebrews is not saying that there remains a “sanctification” that is merely outward by which sinners can go to church with believers or hang out undetected with true worshippers. He is stating in no uncertain terms that the only sanctification available by which one can enter God’s presence is that wrought by the blood of Christ which forgives and purifies sinners who put their faith in Him….

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (9:13, 14)

Grudem appeals to verse thirteen to support his theory that the sanctification described in 10:29 is merely outward. The problem with this suggestion is that the context works against it since the writer is again describing the replacing of the Old Covenant with the new due to the inadequacies of the Old Covenant. The inspired writer is in no way suggesting that one can still receive an outward cleansing through the blood of animals for the purpose of approaching God in worship. Rather, he is stating that the New Covenant is superior and the Old Covenant obsolete because Christ’s blood provides real inner cleansing of the soul (see Hebrews 8:6-13).

Hebrews 10:1-18 continues to emphasize the replacement of the Old Covenant with that of the New Covenant with particular attention being placed on the fact that Christ’s blood is superior because it provides a once for all atonement by which the sins of those who approach God are forgiven. Consider especially verses 11-14:

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (emphasis mine)

The context suggests that “perfected” has specific reference to forgiveness of sins (cf. 10:1). The blood of the New Covenant is superior because it provides forgiveness for those who are being sanctified as a result of that atonement. Those who are being sanctified in this passage are those who are benefiting from the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s sacrifice through faith in His blood (cf. Rom. 3:25). It is an inward and real sanctification. This leads us to the climax of this teaching and the practical implications of it in verses 19-25.

Let’s review and draw a few conclusions based on the context and the suggested interpretations of Grudem, Peterson, and Williams.

1) The context makes it plain that there are only two possible cleansings in view. The first cleansing [sanctification] is that of the Old Covenant which was merely outward and did not take away sins. This cleansing was by the blood of animals which foreshadowed the inauguration of the New Covenant. The second cleansing [sanctification] is that of the New Covenant. This cleansing is inward, brings forgiveness of sin, and makes worshippers holy so that they can draw near to God in confidence. There is no third cleansing in the context of these chapters! It is either an out ward sanctification wrought by the blood of animals, or it is an inward sanctification wrought by the blood of Christ. Therefore, if our Calvinist writers want to say that the sanctification described in 10:29 is merely outward then they must also affirm that it is wrought by the blood of animals under the Old Covenant.

2) The New Covenant in Christ’s blood has replaced and made obsolete the Old Covenant. There is only one way that someone can be “sanctified by the blood of the covenant”, and that must be the blood of the New Covenant since the Old Covenant no longer exists (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:8-10; 10:1-18). Therefore, the apostate described as sanctified by the blood of the covenant could only have been sanctified by the blood of the New Covenant since there is no longer any other sanctification or covenant available.

3) Hebrews 10:28 and 29 reinforces the fact that the apostate has been sanctified under the New Covenant since he deserves a more severe punishment than those who were under the Old Covenant.

4) The connection and uninterrupted flow of thought from 10:19 to 10:29 makes it clear that the blood which sanctified the apostate is the same as the blood of Jesus which gives believers confidence to enter the holy place:

Therefore, brethren, since we [believers] have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…if we [believers] go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…and [the believer who so apostatizes] has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant [that same blood of Jesus by which the believer had confidence to enter the holy place in verse 19] by which he was sanctified…

5) It would be nonsense to say that the apostate has trampled under foot the Son of God because he rejected and regarded as unclean the blood of bulls and goats which only gave him an outward sanctification. The outrage of the apostate’s actions is firmly connected to the fact that he regarded the blood of the covenant “by which he was sanctified” as unholy [common]. Therefore, the blood could only be Christ’s blood as there would be no outrage in regarding the blood of animals as unholy under the New Covenant, nor would such a thing constitute the trampling under foot of the Son of God.

Contrary to the assertions of Grudem, Peterson, and Williams, the context is plainly against their interpretation. It is the soul cleansing blood of Christ that has been under consideration as that which replaces the Old Covenant blood of animals in the two chapters leading up to this warning. Furthermore, verse 19 plainly indicates that Christ’s blood is that which is again in sharp focus leading up to the description of the apostate.

We applaud Peterson and Williams for finding the suggestion that the one sanctified in Hebrews 10:29 is Christ to be “contrived.” However, we find it just as contrived to suggest that the blood of the covenant that sanctified the apostate was anything less than the blood of Christ by which the apostate was inwardly sanctified prior to repudiating the faith. The only interpretation which is faithful to the context is that which admits that one who has been truly sanctified with Christ’s blood can yet abandon the faith to his or her eternal destruction.

In our next post we will examine Hebrews 10:32-39.

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Perseverance Of The Saints Part 5: Hebrews 6:4-9

Audience:

There is general agreement that this letter was written to Hebrew believers who were in the midst of some sort of testing which threatened their faith. “To the Hebrews” is a later addition to the epistle, but it is clear from the context of the letter that the writer assumed his audience to be very familiar with both Jewish history and rituals. The writer of Hebrews seems to have a few goals in mind which are closely related. He wants to expound on the supremacy of Christ and warn against defection from Him to some inferior and inadequate belief system. It would seem that His emphasis on Christ’s supremacy is partly, if not primarily for the purpose of demonstrating to his readers the foolishness and spiritually fatal nature of such a defection. He seems particularly concerned that his readers might be persuaded to return to Judaism. He is also concerned about the hardening affects of sin in the hearts of those who let it go unchecked. The nature of this sin is not always clear, though it is certain that the inspired writer sees the ultimate culmination of such sins and the spiritual hardness that results from them as the decisive and deliberate act of apostasy.

I am personally convinced that the writer of Hebrews is specifically addressing believers and warning them of the real danger of apostasy throughout the epistle. There are many passages that could be referenced to support this conclusion, but chapter three alone seems to be sufficient. The writer of Hebrews addresses his audience as “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” who have confessed Christ (verse 3). It is to these “holy brethren” that the writer directs his warnings against allowing their hearts to be hardened, the end result of which is the apostasy in view in the numerous warning passages throughout the epistle (3:8, 12, 13, 15, cf. 2:1-3; 4:1; 6:4-8; 10:26-39; 12:15-17, 25). Despite this, I believe that even if we take the position that the writer of Hebrews viewed some of his intended audience to be those who have yet to make a genuine profession of faith, the warning passages that we will be examining still give conclusive evidence that true believers can abandon the faith to their own eternal ruin.

While there are several such warning passages throughout the epistle, we will only be examining the warnings found in Hebrews 6:4-9 and 10:26-39. We will begin with a brief analysis of Heb. 6:4-9, acknowledge some objections to our conclusions, and then move into Hebrews 10:26-39 where I believe the main objections to our conclusions drawn from 6:4-9 will be sufficiently resolved. This post will focus on Hebrews 6:4-9 and the next post in the series will deal with Hebrews 10:26-39.

Hebrews 6:4-9:

[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 the ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon 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. [9] But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. (NASB)

The Arminian position is that this passage describes truly saved individuals as they had been “enlightened” (see Heb. 10:32), and made “partakers of the Holy Spirit”. This “partaking” of the Holy Spirit means full participation, and cannot properly refer to mere influence, as some have claimed. Notice how this same Greek word is used in Heb. 3:1- “…holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling”, 3:14- “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”, and 12:8- “partakers” in God’s chastisement as true sons. No unbeliever can rightly be said to partake of the Holy Spirit in such a way. (Rom. 8:9; Jn. 14:15-17).

They also “tasted” the “heavenly gift”, “the good word of God”, and “the powers of the age to come.” The word “tasted”, like “partakers” denotes not a partial, but complete experience, as evidenced by the way the same word is used of Jesus in Heb. 2:9, “that…he might taste death for everyone”. F. Leroy Forlines elaborates on the use of “taste” by the author:

It is my position that the word taste is one of the strongest words that could have been used. In tasting, there is always a consciousness of the presence of that which is tasted. There is always an acquaintance with the distinctive characteristics of that which is tasted. This is evidenced by 1 Pet. 2:3. By tasting, the believer learned that one of the distinctive characteristics of the Lord is that He is gracious. There is also the matter of contact in tasting. In other words, tasting may be called conscious acquaintance by contact.

He continues…

When we apply the previous observations to the subject under consideration, we learn that those mentioned here have had an experience in which they became consciously acquainted by contact with the heavenly gift. The heavenly gift either means Christ or salvation. In either case, it would mean that the person would be saved, because only a saved person has such an acquaintance with Christ or salvation. (The Quest for Truth, pg. 278)

We also note that the seemingly hypothetical “if they fall away” rendering of the NIV and KJV is inaccurate. All of these clauses are in the aorist tense in the Greek denoting completed action. There is no hypothetical “if” in the Greek text. The apostates spoken of have just as surely fallen away as they have been enlightened, made partakers of the Holy Spirit, etc. The aorist tense may also demonstrate that the inspired writer is speaking of actual instances of apostasy that have already occurred. It is likely that these instances of actual defection are what prompted the writer to compose his epistle of exhortation to these Jewish believers. This would shed more light on the encouragement and confidence expressed in verse 9:

But beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking this way.

Some have concluded, based on the confidence expressed in verse 9, that the writer of Hebrews is speaking only of hypothetical defection in verses 4-6 which could not, in fact, befall the believers he is addressing in verse 9. They see the warning of 6:4-6 as a warning against impossibility. In addition to the use of the aorist in verses 4-6, Robert Shank rightly observes:

Some appeal to verse 9…to contend that such apostasy cannot actually occur. But they fail to reckon with the transition from the third person (‘those, they, them’) in verses 4-6 to the second person (‘you’) in verse 9. The writer is ‘persuaded of better things of you,’ but not of ‘them.’ While he is persuaded that ‘you’ have not as yet apostatized, he declares that ‘they’ indeed have done so. Instead of assuming that the apostasy which engulfed ‘them’ cannot overtake ‘you’, the writer holds them up before ‘you’ as a tragic example for their solemn warning and proceeds earnestly to exhort his readers, ‘And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end; that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises’” (Life in the Son, pp. 177, 178)

Some have taken the approach that all of the descriptive terms of verses 4-6 could just as well refer to unbelievers who came to the brink of saving faith but then rejected it. Grudem takes this position in Still Sovereign. He labors to cast doubt on the common interpretation that these descriptive terms can only be properly used of true believers:

[My] interpretation…would argue that the [Arminian] view has been premature in reaching the conclusion that the terms must describe genuine saving faith and true regeneration. It would argue, instead, that a closer examination of the terms used will show them to be inconclusive regarding the question of whether they indicate genuine salvation. (Still Sovereign, ed. Shreiner and Ware, pg. 140)

Grudem argues that these terms might be used in a way other than what Arminian exegetes have long assumed. He appeals to the way that the terms are used elsewhere in the NT and in extra-Biblical Greek sources, as well as a comparison with other terms used to describe believers in the epistle. Strangely, he believes this to be his most significant argument, but the fact that other terms are used to describe true believers elsewhere in the epistle in no way demonstrates that the terms in verses 4-6 were not also intended to describe spiritual blessings that only regenerate believers could experience.

While I find his approach to be strained and problematic on many fronts, I am convinced that the context of the passage, as well as a careful comparison to the similar warning given in Heb. 10:26-39, renders Grudem’s extensive argumentation moot. The lynch pin of his argument, in my opinion, is not the terms used in verses 4-6, but his understanding of the metaphor of the field used in verses 7-8. Grudem is convinced that the descriptions of the fruitful and barren field make his case that the descriptive terms used in verses 4-6 are not describing true believers [see also Peterson and Williams, Why I Am Not An Arminian, pp 84-85]. He states:

…these terms tell us that the people had experienced many of the preliminary stages that often precede the beginning of the Christian life, but they do not tell us that the people had experienced any of the decisive beginning stages of the Christian life…However, an examination of the metaphor of the field in verses7-8, which the author uses to explain verses 4-6, showed that the people in 4-6 were like a field that received frequent rain but only bore thorns and thistles. This indicated that, in the authors mind, the people in 4-6 had received many blessings but had never borne good fruit because they had been like bad ground the entire time: There had never been true spiritual life in them. (Still Sovereign, pg. 172)

We will re-visit this claim in a future post when dealing with Hebrews 10:26-39. Grudem also appeals to the confidence expressed by the writer of Hebrews in verses 9-12, which we briefly dealt with above. For now we will take a closer look at verse 6 to see if the further description of these apostates comports with Grudem’s claim that they are unbelievers who “had simply heard the gospel and had experienced several of the blessings of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Christian community.” (ibid., 172)

Verse 6: “…and then having 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.”

The important elements to focus on in this verse are the facts that these apostates cannot be renewed again to repentance, and that by their actions they have re-crucified the Son of God to themselves. The first thing that must be acknowledged is that these apostates had repented. If this were not the case then it would not be proper to say that they could not be renewed again to repentance. So what kind of repentance is in view here? If this repentance was only superficial, then what would it matter that these apostates could not be renewed to it again? Is the writer of Hebrews trying only to say that these apostates could never again be renewed to a repentance that was not genuine in the first place? The most natural way to understand this is that the writer is describing the impossibility of being renewed again to genuine, and therefore saving repentance. This is a startling and grave warning, but the weight of it can only be felt if the repentance being described is saving.

Repentance, here, is the experience of spiritual reorientation. This is the way that the author uses the word just a few verses prior to this dreadful warning:

…let us press on towards maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God.” (Heb. 6:1)

This “repentance” has reference to a turning away from “dead works” towards God in faith. You can’t have one without the other. One cannot place saving faith in Christ while still clinging to “dead works” (which could refer either to sinful acts or attempts to earn the favor of God through obsolete Jewish rituals), and one cannot truly repent of these dead works without also turning to God in faith. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. It could be described as one motion of turning towards God viewed from two different perspectives. Forlines’ observations are excellent:

While repentance includes a ‘from’ and a ‘to,’ the stress of repentance is on the to instead of the from. Repentance is a forward moving word. This is not to diminish the importance of the from. It is to place primary focus on the to. The ‘to’ of repentance is identical with faith. In Acts 20:21 Paul speaks of repentance toward God.’ In 2 Timothy 2:25, he speaks of ‘repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’ Faith and repentance are involved in each other. To exercise faith implies a change from unbelief, whatever the from of unbelief may be. Repentance terminates in faith. If we tell a person to repent, or if we tell him to believe, we are telling him to do the same thing. Repent stresses that change is involved. Faith stresses the end to which change is directed. (The Quest for Truth, pp. 254, 255)

Grudem, however, looks to drive a wedge between repentance from “dead works” and “faith towards God”, but can only do this by appealing to passages outside of Hebrews which have nothing to do with the text in question. Four of the passages he mentions actually serve better to establish the vital connection between faith and repentance described by Forlines above [Mark 1:15; Acts 19:4; 20:21; 26:20]. To hold these up as examples of repentance taking place without reference to saving faith is to beg the question. The only other passage Grudem can come up with to keep his sinking ship afloat is Luke 17:3-4. Here he argues that repentance is being used only of sorrow for sins which falls short of genuine repentance “unto salvation” (Still Sovereign, pg. 149). The most glaring problem with Grudem’s appeal to the Luke passage is that it is plainly addressing inner personal relationships and has nothing to do with repentance toward God; so of course it is not addressing repentance unto salvation. That is not, however, the case in the Hebrews passages.

With this in mind, we have no reason to think of these apostates as anything other than defectors from genuine saving faith and repentance. In fact, in a very real sense these apostates have now “repented” of their former commitment to Christ. This is not a case of backsliding or a general lack of commitment, but a total repudiation of the faith once held. Grudem agrees with the seriousness of this act when he says:

“This is a public repudiation and mockery of Christ characteristic only of hardhearted unbelievers” (ibid. 151)

This reality leads us into the second important clause in verse 6, “…since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame.” It is important to note the “again” (i.e., afresh, re-crucified, etc.) in this phrase as it parallels the “again” of repentance in the first part of the verse. Just as surely as they had repudiated their “dead works” in turning to God in saving faith; they have now repudiated the Lord in whose blood they had once trusted (cf. Heb. 10:29). They have done a 180 which required such a state of hardness that the affects are permanent. They cannot be renewed again to repentance having now fully “insulted” (Heb. 10:29) that blessed Spirit of Grace in whom they had come to partake of through faith in that blood they now disdain (Heb. 6:4, cf. 10:26, 29). The context would suggest that the “dead works” spoken of in 6:1 include those ceremonial “works” which foreshadowed Christ. The apostates had previously abandoned these ceremonial practices in order to cling to the perfect work of Christ in faith. Now they have abandoned Christ’s perfect work and returned, in unbelief, to these now meaningless shadows that prefigured Him.

He later comes to the arbitrary conclusion that this repentance was not “repentance unto life”. Grudem seems to envision that these apostates had somehow made a “decision to forsake their sin” without actually following through. But there is no contextual warrant for this assertion. In fact, as we have seen, the context argues strongly against such an interpretation since verse one spoke of true repentance from dead works and faith toward God. There is no contextual reason to believe that the writer of Hebrews has some other view of repentance in verse 6. Certainly, if the author was suddenly describing something other than true repentance we would expect him to have given some indicator of this to his readers. We would especially expect such a qualifier since the descriptive terms being used in verses 4-6 would most likely be understood by his intended audience as describing true believers, and even more so since these terms directly follow an address to genuine, albeit immature, believers in verses 1 and 2. To claim that the metaphor of the fields would remove any ambiguity is to engage in an unreliable hermeneutic. The proper method should be to interpret the metaphor of the field in light of the clear language of verses 4-6 and not the other way around, as Grudem has done. We noted a similar error in the Calvinistic interpretation of 2 Peter 2:20-22 here.

In closing we again quote F. Leroy Forlines’ important insights into the significance of these apostates being said to have re-crucified Christ to themselves:

In 6:6 it is said ‘they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.’ Let us note that this is a crucifixion in relationship, that is, to themselves. An example of crucifixion in relationship is found in Galatians 6:14 where Paul says, ‘By whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.’ So far as reality was concerned, both Paul and the world were living and active; but so far as relationship was concerned, they were dead to each other. They had no relationship existing between them. The relationship of Christ to the unsaved is that of a dead Christ; but to the saved, He is a living Christ. A person could not crucify to himself the Son of God afresh unless he were in a living relationship to Him; therefore, such could be committed only by a saved person. (The Quest for Truth, pg. 279)

Conclusion:

We have so far shown that the descriptive terms used in 6:4-5 can only properly be used of true believers. Any doubts or objections to this have been sufficiently answered with a careful examination of verse 6. Only true believers can be said to have repented from dead works, and only those who have fallen away from genuine faith can be said to re-crucify the Son of God to themselves. We have mentioned that the metaphor of the field and the confidence expressed in verse 9 do not negate the implications of verses 4-6 with regards to apostasy from genuine faith. We will deal more with Grudem’s objection regarding the metaphor of the field in our next post dealing with the warnings found in Hebrews 10:26-39.

Go to Part 6

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