6:1. The principles of the doctrine of Christ are the elementary matters which had been previously taught to the Hebrew Christians. They are encouraged to be leaving these things — not in the sense of rejecting their truthfulness, or attempting to unlearn them, but as a child leaves the first reader in school for one more advanced, or as he leaves milk for solid nourishment. And they are called to go on to perfection or maturity or completion. The idea of perfection will reappear in the coming chapters.
It is necessary to lay a foundation in the construction of a firm building, but once the foundation has been laid, it is not put down again and again. This point is the basis for verses four through six. Those who fall away, having once been instructed in the fundamentals, will not be reclaimed by beginning from the first as if they had never heard the gospel. if they experienced these initial responses and understood these fundamentals — but then fell away — they have rejected what they know and have no room in their hearts for a conversion as at the first. Again is an important word in understanding these verses.
Six matters are listed as elementary principles, and they have been variously interpreted. Some take these as elements of Old Testament teaching in contrast to the more perfect lessons of the gospel. It is true that the terms which follow are all used at times of elements of pre-Christian truth. On the other hand, it seems more nearly correct to think of these fundamentals as basics in Christian instruction, both in view of the larger context and the specific terms as well.
The six points are given in three pairs of two each. We might speak of these pairs under the headings of preparation, initiation and motivation or direction. First mentioned is repentance from dead works and faith toward God. Repentance and faith are joined also in Mark 1:15 and Acts 20:21. In repentance, one feels the guilt of his own sin and rebellion against God, is sorry for it, and purposes to change his direction of life. He abandons dead works (see 9:14), “works of righteousness” or “works of law,” which are dead because they lead to death, cannot bring spiritual life and are futile so far as pleasing God. Someone has pictured works springing from obligation as dead in the sense that they do not spring from life. They are as sheep’s wool draped over a wolf’s back; there is no vital connection between the animal and the wool.
In faith toward God one not only accepts intellectually that God is, but places his confidence in God for salvation. He does this by trusting the reconciliation God has already brought about through the life and death of Jesus Christ, and by throwing himself on the mercy and grace of God by identification with that sinless Son through living faith.
By repentance, man denies himself; by faith, he takes up his cross to follow Jesus. By repentance, he is crucified to the old way of life and all human merit or personal boasting; by faith, he takes hold of life in Christ and gratefully claims the merit and reward of Christ’s perfect life. Repentance and faith here stand for the initial hearing of the gospel and the response of the heart to it.
6:2. The next pair consists of the doctrine or teaching of baptisms and of the laying on of hands. The word here translated baptisms is that commonly applied to the various washings of the Old Testament (see 9:10; Mark 7:4). The doctrine of baptisms would therefore seem to involve explanations regarding the difference between Jewish washings on the one hand and gospel baptism in the name of Jesus the Messiah on the other. This would certainly involve some teaching on the significance of Christ’s blood and sacrifice, a point to be developed in detail later in the epistle.
Laying on of hands was done in healing, blessing, or simply giving approval and endorsement. Many scholars feel that the laying on of hands also accompanied believer’s baptism and signified the giving of the Holy Spirit, if so, these two teachings go together in a special way and have to do with Christian initiation, or entering upon the Christian life.
Resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment form the third pair of fundamental principles, and have to do with Christian motivation or direction. These are not the only proper motives, to be sure, but in the elementary teaching of the gospel one is taught to look to the resurrection and judgment as the completion of what God has already begun, and therefore as motives for faithfulness.
6:3. The writer acknowledges his dependence on the will of God. If God is willing, he will lead the reader to more advanced teaching and so to personal maturity.
6:4. Those who were once enlightened are Christians who have been instructed in the first principles of verses one and two (see also 10:32). The following terms refer to these same individuals. In the post-apostolic writings, “enlightenment” came to be a technical term for baptism. In the New Testament the knowledge of God through Christ in the gospel is put in terms of light (John 1:9; Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:12-13). Once is an important word, and means once for all time. This enlightenment can take place only once; it cannot be repeated.
Taste signifies experience (see 2:9). The heavenly gift may mean the Holy Spirit, the remission of sins, or (probably) the entire new life as a child of God. As partaker of the Holy Ghost, Christians are partners of the Spirit. He is God’s gift, the seal and earnest of future blessing and the originator of fruit well-pleasing to God (Acts 2:38; 5:32; II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:1314; Galatians 5:22-25).
6:5. Those who have tasted the good word of God are those who have experienced fulfillment of the precious promises God offers by claiming and receiving them in faith. The expression used here occurs also in the Greek Old Testament at Zechariah 1:13 and Joshua 21:45. The powers of the world to come probably refer to the miraculous manifestations given the infant church (see notes at 2:3-4), but to a Jewish Christian this phrase would speak of the present reality of the Messianic era in which such things would take place. The world to come is literally the Coming Age, which is how the Jews spoke of the era of fulfillment and blessing under Messiah in the Kingdom of God (see notes at 1:2; see also 1:14; 2:5; 13:14).
6:6. If is not in the original Greek, and the verb fall away is of the same tense as those preceding it in verses four and five. It is impossible to renew again unto repentance those who experienced the benefits of verses four and five, then fell away (our almost-literal English idiom would be “dropped out”). Not that all hope is gone, for God may once again give them repentance in acknowledging the truth (II Timothy 2:25). But it is impossible for those individuals to experience again the renewal through enlightenment which was theirs in the first hearing of the gospel (see Acts 11:18). They cannot again go through the fundamental process of repentance and faith, or of initiation into the body of Christ, as they did before (read this verse in the context of those preceding it). They have done that once, but have now rejected all that God offers. For such a person the gospel holds no appeal.
These individuals (considered hypothetically as among the readers) crucify for themselves the Son of God. By their apostasy they judge Christ to be an imposter and guilty of death. In such a person repentance cannot take place, for it is based on godly sorrow and a conviction of sin growing out of faith in Christ as the Son of God.
Such apostates put Christ to an open shame (see 10:29). This same verb is used in the Greek Old Testament at Numbers 25:4 (“hang them up,” KJV), where its point is clearly seen in a context of apostasy from God. Christians who fall away do just this to the Son of God. They hang Him on the cross again, whether they forsake Christ for the world, for antichrist religion, or simply for carelessness and indifference.
6:7-8. The earth or ground which drinketh in the rain and then bears produce meet or fitting and appropriate for those who have worked, receiveth blessing from God. On the other hand ground which produces thorns and briers or thistles proves itself unworthy of blessing and is rejected (the same word translated “reprobate” in II Corinthians 13:57) for cultivation. Instead it is burned over, perhaps to prevent the further spread of briers to the adjoining land. A double meaning is certainly intended here, for such unproductive and evil men will meet their end in the burning of hell (see a similar thought in Matthew 3:10,12; 13:30; John 15:6).
6:9. What is true in the physical realm is true also in the spiritual, and the author’s intention is to prevent this fate among his readers. Having given such a stern warning, he now quickly softens his tone to encouragement. He is persuaded or convinced that better things than this will come from his readers. He looks for the fruitful lives and works which accompany salvation, things closely aligned with it and holding fast to it (see Ephesians 2:10; other passages in notes on 13:21). His words are meant as a warning, not as a present judgment. His readers have shown fruits worthy of God in the past, and he urges them to remain steadfast in such a life in the future.
6:10. God is not unrighteous and will not forget any work or labor growing out of love and done because of his name or because of the relationship sustained to Him. The Hebrew Christians had ministered to or served the saints, their brethren — both in the past and in the writer’s present (see 10:32-34).
6:11. He wants every one of them to demonstrate the same diligence, not only now but to the full assurance of hope unto the end. Their danger was in stopping short of completion, of falling back before the goal had been attained. Against this he warns repeatedly (3:6, 14; 10:23).
6:12. They are not to be slothful (the same word translated “dull” in 5:11; see notes there), but rather are to be (literally “become”) followers or imitators of those godly men of old who did inherit the blessings contained in God’s promises. Success always comes through faith (which in the Bible means trust, reliance and commitment as well as intellectual acceptance) and patience or longsuffering perseverance.
6:13. For example, when God promised Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18 concerning his numerous descendants and other blessings, God could swear by no greater person than Himself, and so he swore by His own name or personal character.
6:14. In the Hebrew text of this passage, an idiom is used which simply means “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” The Greek Old Testament translated the phrase word for word and gave the rather awkward reading which our author quotes here and which is carried over into the English.
6:15. So, thus, in this manner and under these circumstances, Abraham first patiently endured; only then he obtained the fulfillment of the promise. He saw the beginning of the fulfillment in the spared life of Isaac. The rest he saw only by faith according to11:13, 39. As Abraham had to wait, so do we. This is the writer’s exhortation, and this is why he mentions Abraham.
6:16. It is the case with men to swear by the greater than themselves. Among men, an oath serves two purposes. Negatively, it is an end of all strife. When a man takes an oath there is no more point in disputing his word or questioning him. Positively, it is for confirmation. It gives all the assurance that is possible by the spoken word.
6:17. Because of this, God condescended to man’s own level of understanding and confirmed His promise to Abraham by an oath. This was to show or demonstrate to the heirs of promise (see 1:14; 9:15) the unchangeableness or immutability of God’s counsel or purpose and design.
6:18. God’s promise was made twice sure by two immutable things: His word (it is impossible for God to lie), and His oath (taken in His own name). As man views the situation, he may have full confidence in the promise of God.
Strong is emphatic here and is read by weak men who need the encouragement. Consolation would be better translated “encouragement.” Christians are those who have fled for refuge (the Greek Old Testament uses the same word of fleeing to the cities of refuge). The hope set before us is to be laid hold of or seized. God’s twice-sure word of promise is a strong encouragement for all Christians, by patient waiting, to do just that.
6:19. This hope is an anchor of the soul. The anchor was a symbol of hope in the ancient world as well as now. Our anchor is both sure or unfailing and steadfast or firmly fixed. We can have strong confidence in our hope. Within the veil indicates the most holy place of the tabernacle, into which only the high priest entered one day each year. The phrase here symbolizes the presence of God, and refers to the fact that Jesus has passed into heaven as the next verse will state.
6:20. Into the very presence of God in heaven our forerunner has already entered (see 2:9-10; 4:14). Forerunner in secular Greek was used of a scout, one who went before and led the way (see notes on “author” at 5:9). Jesus has not only entered into God’s presence for us (though as high priest He did that); He has also entered into heaven in front of us — leading the way and guaranteeing by His own entrance that the path is clear for us to follow.
The Christian’s hope is certain and confident. It is grounded in the person of Jesus Christ and is based on His sinless life and His atoning death. If our hope were in our own obedience or knowledge or power, we could have no strong confidence at all. But it rests in the Son of God, and for that reason it is sinful not to have strong confidence.
The Christian’s sin is no cause for loss of hope, but rather for genuine repentance and prayer — for throwing himself on the mercies of God through his mediator Jesus Christ. Because of the life Jesus lived and the death He died — and because the Christian is one with Him — God’s people ought to cherish a living hope. They have fled for refuge to the merciful and all-powerful Son of God. Nor do they wait for the death of a high priest, for Jesus is their high priest, and He lives forever — after the order of Melchizedek.
Next: Chapter Seven