The impossibility expressed in Hebrews 6:4 to 6, namely the impossibility of renewing certain people to repentance, has caused difficulty to almost every Christian who has read the passage. It troubles those who believe in the eternal security of the believers; for it seems to teach that some will fall away and be lost, and it troubles those who believe that salvation may be lost; for it seems to teach the impossibility of one ever being saved again after having fallen away. It is the author’s opinion that a careful examination of the text itself, along with a dispensational interpretation of the passage, will clear away all seeming difficulties.
It may be well to state first of all what the passage does not teach. It does not teach that the falling away is the result of sinful acts or immorality or indecency, but it is the result of going back to the first principles or shadows of Judaism, instead of going on to perfection in Christ who is the fulfillment and end of Judaism. Neither does the passage teach the impossibility of the grace of God availing for any sinner, no matter what his sin may have been. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Even under the Law God stood all the day long with outstretched hands to that disobedient and gainsaying people (Isaiah 65:2), and how much more gracious is He now in this dispensation of the grace of God. If you are unsaved, all of your sins are unforgiven, but not one is unforgiveable if you by faith receive Jesus Christ as Saviour. If you are saved, you have already been forgiven all trespasses Colossians 2:13; for Christ your substitute suffered the penalty for all of them. If you are a child of God but have left the Father’s house, as did the prodigal (Luke 15), remember that while the son was yet a great way off, the father was moved with compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. There is not a passage in the Bible which teaches that God will not receive the sinner whose heart is turned to Him, no matter how great his sin may be. Therefore, the subject of this passage is seen to be outside the category of general sinning and a renewing to repentance.
It will be helpful next to examine the text a little more critically. This is one passage which should be read in the Revised Version for greater clearness of meaning. The Authorized Version clouds the meaning by placing an “if” at, the beginning of verse six, which is not in the Greek text nor in the Revised Version, and by translating, “seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh,” instead of, “while they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh”. A very literal translation of the passage would read: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, as well as tasting of the heavenly gift and becoming partakers of Holy Spirit, both tasting the good Word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and are falling aside, to be renewing them again unto repentance while crucifying again for themselves the Son of God and putting Him to open shame.” This translation is not a private interpretation, but is in harmony with other more accurate and recognized translations. It makes one point very plain, and that is that the impossibility is not caused by one act of sin or of rejection, but by the continuation in that falling back into a religion which has been brought to an end through the death of Christ. It is impossible to renew them to repentance while they are crucifying again the Son of God. But there is nothing here nor in any other place which would indicate the impossibility of such an one being saved if he desisted from putting the Son of God to an open shame and instead turned to Him and confessed Him as Saviour. The impossibility continues only as long as the recrucifying of the Son of God continues. This should satisfy any soul who is trusting in Jesus that this passage has no reference whatsoever to themselves. But to whom does it have reference?
This passage had reference and primary application to those Hebrews who lived in the days of the apostles, when God’s dispensations were changing, when the old was decaying and vanishing away and the new was being established (Hebrews 8:13). There is no one upon earth today who could possibly exist under similar conditions; for these conditions have passed away and no longer exist. Adam lived under what is called the dispensation of Innocence and also the dispensation of Conscience; Noah lived under the dispensations of Conscience and of Human Government; Abraham lived under those of Human Government and of Promise; Moses likewise saw two dispensations, that of Promise and that of the Law added. It should not be difficult for anyone to see the impossibility of one today in this dispensation of the Grace of God living in exactly the same circumstances and in the standing before God which Adam knew in Innocence or that Moses knew under the Law, or that any one in any other dispensation past or future has known or yet will know. In like manner, the Hebrews addressed here had been born under the Law and in their lifetime they were seeing a change of Dispensation from Law to Grace. No other generation has gone or ever will go through this experience. They were adherents of Judaism and as such they were children of God in covenant relationship, and that even after they had crucified the Lord Jesus Acts 3:17, 25; Ephesians 2:11, 12, 17). It is evident that no Gentile could ever stand in this position; for all Gentiles were aliens and strangers from the covenants, and were not nigh to God, but afar off. These Hebrews who had been reared under a Divine religion which stood only in meats and drinks and divers baptisms and carnal ordinances (Hebrews 9:10), are now informed that the One who was typified by all of this religion has now come and by means of His efficacious and vicarious death He has brought an end to that religion and that its forms and ceremonies and sacrifices have no further meaning. Peter had told them at Pentecost that they crucified their Messiah in ignorance and that God was willing to forgive them and to send Jesus back to them if they would only repent (Acts 3:17 to 21), but Paul tells them in Hebrews 6:4 that they are no longer in ignorance, but have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and that to again reject the Son of God after His resurrection and the manifestation of the powers of the Millennial Age, was to recrucify for themselves the Son of God and to make impossible their salvation. These people had crucified Him once, and now there was the danger that they would by their action crucify Him again. It would be impossible for any today to recrucify Him in that sense; for none such had part in His first crucifixion. We may crucify Him by rejecting Him, but we cannot re-crucify Him, as could these Hebrews.
The true meaning of the passage can be found only by considering it in the light of its context (Hebrews 5:11 through Hebrews 6:9), as well as in the light of the entire epistle and its relationship to the other epistles of the New Testament Scripture. “The first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12) are synonymous with “the principles of the doctrine of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1). These principles or rudiments were the foundations of Judaism. These Hebrews should have known that all of their religion was typical and emblematic of a Reality which was yet to come, but they didn’t, and the Apostle said that they needed a teacher to instruct them in these things which concerned infanthood. Being instructed concerning these things in this epistle, they are told to leave behind (same word translated “forgive, send away, neglect”, etc.) these first principles and to go on to perfection (or to maturity; the same word translated “full age” in Hebrews 5:14). Judaism was the kindergarten, but Christ was and is the University for those of full age. If a university graduate should go back to kindergarten, he would by that act be making void all that he had acquired in college; and just so for one to return to religion after being enlightened concerning the crucified and resurrected Christ, was to make Christ of none effect. The kindergarten had its place once, but there, is no place for it now that Christ has come. These Hebrews had now come to a place of crisis. The book of Hebrews makes it to be another and a greater Kadesh-barnea (Hebrews 3:7 to 19). They had to choose whether they would go on with Christ or go back to their religion. The former involved going forth unto Jesus outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Hebrews 13:13), the leaving behind of the ceremonies and ordinances of their religion, and the desertion of their magnificent temple; the latter resulted in crucifying afresh the Son of God, putting Him to an open shame. Those who fell in the latter class were like the land which drank in rain from heaven but brought forth thorns and thistles, being rejected and nigh to cursing.
Considered in the light of the entire New Testament Scripture it is interesting to notice that Hebrews 6:4 and 5 refers to the Pentecostal experience. The whole nation was enlightened and made to taste of the heavenly gift, as Israel of old tasted of the good fruit of the land which the spies brought back (Numbers 13:25 to 27), they were made partakers of Holy Spirit (the name so used without the definite article usually refers to powerful manifestation of the Person of the Spirit, but not to the Spirit Himself), and they tasted of the powers of the age to come. It is noteworthy here to understand that the miracles of the Pentecostal era were manifestations of the powers of the age to come (i.e., the Millennium), and not a means of establishing the Body of Christ in the world, as is so often taught. To reject this testimony of the Holy Spirit was to sin against the Holy Spirit. They had sinned against the Son of Man in crucifying Him, but that had been forgiven them (Luke 23:34). Now they were sinning against the Holy Spirit, and in so doing they were re-crucifying the Son of God, and there was no forgiveness possible for that sin (Luke 12:10); for in that sin they had rejected the once for all sacrifice for sins which Christ had made, and there remained no more a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:28). There is only one sin that the death of Christ cannot cover, and that is the sin of re-crucifying Him, and thus making void the once for all sacrifice for sins. The nation of Israel committed this sin all during the period of the book of Acts, and forty years after Pentecost God destroyed their city, their temple and their religion.
The Apostle Paul is proof that one may commit the unpardonable sin, and yet be pardoned. His own testimony concerning himself was: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious” (I Timothy 1:13). It was the Holy Spirit who was witnessing to the resurrection of Christ in the Acts period, and Saul was blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. This constituted the unpardonable sin, and the re-crucifying of the Son of God. But God’s grace found this blaspheming Saul, the chief of sinners (I Timothy 1:14, 15), and not only saved him, but made him the greatest apostle and exponent of the grace of God that the world has ever known. Paul’s experience does not contradict the fact of an unpardonable sin, but shows that sin to be that of continuing to crucify afresh the Son of God, and the while one is doing that it is impossible to renew him to repentance. Saul ceased and was saved. Likewise, it is impossible today for sinners to be saved the while they reject the Son of God, but if they cease they may be saved.