Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
An Important Question
The question of whether or not genuine Christians can fall away is a crucial
one, especially for fundamentalist anti-Mormons who believe in the
"eternal security of the believer." They believe that once a person
is "saved" he or she is "always saved." The
One passage which powerfully teaches that genuine Christians can fall away is Hebrews 6:4-6. This is readily apparent in good translations of the text. Here is how these verses read in the King James Version:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
The Contemporary English Version phrases this passage in language designed to be easily comprehended, and I am impressed by the clarity and simplicity of the translation:
But what about people who turn away after they have already seen the light and have received the gift from heaven and have shared in the Holy Spirit? What about those who turn away after they have received the good message of God and the powers of the future of the world? There is no way to bring them back. What they are doing is the same as nailing the Son of God to a cross and insulting him in public.
Does Hebrews 6:4 Refer to Bonafide Christians Who Fell Away?
This question shouldn't even need to be asked, for it is obvious that the verse refers to mature believers who left the church. However, "eternal- security" fundamentalists cannot admit this point because it literally destroys their doctrine of salvation.
Some evangelicals claim that Hebrews 6:4 does not indicate that the people in question had received the Holy Ghost. The evidence is decidedly against this assertion. Equally untenable is the related claim that verses 4- 6 are not talking about genuine Christians. If anything, the author of Hebrews seems to go out of his way to make it clear that he is talking specifically about mature members of the church, hence his veritable laundry list of all the things these people knew and experienced.
For one thing, the end of the verse itself says the people in question had "become partakers of the Holy Spirit." The fact that these individuals had become "partakers" of the Spirit logically implies they did not receive it only once. Someone who has become a "partaker" of something has obviously experienced it more than once, and will do so again.
Furthermore, the use of the word "enlightened" is clear evidence that we are talking about people who were baptized members of the church. In early Christian sources (e.g. Justin Martyr), baptism is called "illumination" (Buchanan 106). The Syriac text of Hebrews 6:4 reads "those who have once descended for baptism" (Buchanan 106). Moreover, four chapters later, the author of Hebrews clearly applies the word "enlightened" to experienced, tested members of the church (Hebrews 10:32-39).
Dr. Harold Attridge notes that Hebrews 6:4-5 provides a series of common images "which recalls the conversion to a new life" (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 1264). Attridge correctly adds that "many unconvincing attempts have been made to ameliorate the severity of the warning" (1264). One anti-Mormon author wrote to me and said that not all true Christians partake of the heavenly gift because, he claimed, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says that participating in the gifts of the spirit "is not for all." But nowhere in 1 Corinthians 14 does Paul say any such thing. In fact, he says the saints are to "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts" (1 Cor. 14:1). Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul clearly seems to say that all good members of the church should enjoy at least one particular gift of the Spirit (see especially vss. 4-12).
Still more evidence that Hebrews 6:4 refers to full-fledged Christians who had fallen away is the declaration that they had "tasted the goodness of the word of God." Warren Quanbeck points out that this statement "implies, not sampling, but a genuine experience of the reality" (in Laymon 905). The Greek word for "tasted," geuomai, often carries a broader meaning, as in to partake of something in its entirety (Lenski 118-125). In Acts 10:10, it refers to partaking of a meal, not just to tasting the food. In Hebrews 2:9, we read that Christ "tasted" death, i.e., He fully partook of it. And according to the editors of the ultra-conservative Liberty Bible Commentary,
In the same sense these people [of Hebrews 6:4] have partaken of the heavenly gift and of the Holy Spirit. Further, they have fully experienced the Word of God and the powers of the coming age. (Falwell 683, emphasis added)
Not only is the view that true believers cannot fall contrary to scripture, but it is also repudiated in the writings of the early church fathers. The ancient saints understood perfectly that even mature believers could apostatize.
Unbelievers in Hebrews 6:4-6?
Surprisingly, a few anti-Mormons claim that Hebrews 6:4-6 refers to unbelievers. In all seriousness, one anti-LDS writer told me that in Hebrews 6:4 the ancient author "utilizes geuomai [tasted] within the context of unbelievers." How could an unbeliever experience the heavenly gift? And be a partaker of the Holy Spirit? And experience the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age? And how could an unbeliever be described as having once been "enlightened" when the author of Hebrews uses this term for seasoned Christians elsewhere in the epistle?
Let's recap what Hebrews 6:4-6 says about the Christians in question:
* They were "once enlightened." This same term is applied to experienced, tested members of the church in Hebrews 10:32-39.
* They had "tasted the heavenly gift." Some commentators weakly opine that in verse 4 the author does not mean "tasted" in its normal New Testament theological sense of "to fully experience something" (p. 3). They suggest that in this case the act of experiencing was brief or superficial in nature. Why the arbitrary switch in meanings? As we have seen, even the editors of the staunchly conservative Liberty Bible Commentary acknowledge that the Christians referenced in verse 4 "have partaken of the heavenly gift and of the Holy Spirit" in the same sense that Jesus "tasted" death, i.e., fully (Falwell 683; see also, Lenski 118- 125).
* They had become "partakers" of the Holy Spirit. Again, the fact that these individuals had become "partakers" of the Spirit indicates they did not receive it only once. Someone who has become a "partaker" of something has obviously experienced it more than once, and will do so again unless he chooses to stop partaking. Myles M. Bourke points out that the phrase "sharers in the Holy Spirit" refers to "those who possess the Spirit as a guarantee of the full possession . . . of the eschatological blessings" (in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:391).
* They had "tasted" the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age. As noted above, Warren Quanbeck observes that this statement "implies, not sampling, but a genuine experience of the reality" (in Laymon 905, emphasis added).
Not surprisingly, Theognostus of Alexandria (ca.
A.D. 200-270), a highly regarded ancient Christian theologian, viewed Hebrews
6:4 as a warning to spiritually experienced Christians (Roberts and Donaldson
6:156). Theognostus served in the presidency of the
Christian academy in
The Apostasy of Mature Christians and Hebrews 10:26
H. T. Andrews correctly observes that any attempt to soften the
"harshness" of Hebrews 6:4-6 is utterly destroyed by Hebrews 10:26
(in Eiselen, Lewis, and
When men have once been
enlightened, it is argued, and have tasted the heavenly gift and have become
partakers of the Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of
the world to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them
again unto repentance. (in Eiselen, Lewis, and
Andrews then observes that in Hebrews 10:26 this doctrine "is restated
in a form" which allows for no possible means of escape or
misinterpretation (in Eiselen, Lewis, and
For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. (RSV)
Notice the use of the word "we" in this verse. The author was applying this warning to himself as well as to his readers. Plainly and clearly, this verse, like Hebrews 6:4-6, teaches that genuine Christians can fall away.
The Bible teaches that mature members of the church can fall away. This doctrine refutes the idea of "eternal security" or "once saved, always saved."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:†
Michael T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The
Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical
History from American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts
from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the
Community College of the Air Force.† He
also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of
Civil War Studies from
NOTE: This article is an edited version of a chapter in the authorís book A Ready Reply.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND RECOMMENDED
Paul, editor.† HARPER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY.
-----.† THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE.†
Adams, Roger J.† THE ICONOGRAPHY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN
Reuben.† THE COMPLETE HEBREW-ENGLISH
Anderson, Bernhard W,
editor.† CREATION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Anderson, Richard Lloyd.† UNDERSTANDING PAUL.†
Angus, S.† THE MYSTERY RELIGIONS: A STUDY IN THE
RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY.†
Arrington, Leonard J. and
IN THE BIBLE.†
Barber, Ian.† WHAT MORMONISM ISN'T: A RESPONSE TO THE
RESEARCH OF JERALD AND SANDRA TANNER.†
Barker, James L.† APOSTASY FROM THE
Barker, William P.† WHO'S WHO IN CHURCH HISTORY.†
Barlow, Phillip.† "Unorthodox Orthodoxy: The Idea of Deification in Christian History."† In SUNSTONE, September/October 1983. 13-18.
Barr, James.† BEYOND FUNDAMENTALISM: BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS
FOR EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY.†
-----.† HOLY SCRIPTURE: CANON, AUTHORITY,
Barrett, Ivan J.† JOSEPH SMITH AND THE RESTORATION.† Revised Edition.†
Barth, Markus.† EPHESIANS 1-3.† The Anchor Bible.† Garden City,
Barry.† "The Right of the Firstborn
in the Old Testament."† In W.C.
Kaiser and R.F. Youngblood, editors, A†
TRIBUTE TO GLEASON ARCHER: ESSAYS ON THE OLD TESTAMENT.†
Benz, Ernst W.† "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of
God."† In Truman Madsen, editor,
REFLECTIONS ON MORMONISM: JUDAEO-CHRISTIAN PARALLELS.†
Black, Matthew.† THE SCROLLS AND CHRISTIAN ORIGINS.†
Brown, Raymond E.† THE EPISTLES OF JOHN.† The Anchor Bible.† Garden City,
-----, and Joseph Fitzmyer, and Roland Murphy, editors.† THE JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY.† Two Volumes.†
Bruce, F.F.† THE BOOKS AND THE PARCHMENTS.† Third Edition.† Westwood, New Jersay: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963.
Buchanan, George Wesley.† TO THE HEBREWS.† The Anchor Bible. Garden City,
Carson, D.A., editor.† FROM SABBATH TO LORD'S DAY: A BIBLICAL,
HISTORICAL, AND THEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION.
Carver, James.† "Answering An Ex-Mormon
Critic."†† Mormon Miscellaneous
Craig, William L.† KNOWING THE TRUTH ABOUT THE
Chadwick, Henry.† THE EARLY CHURCH.† Penguin Books Edition.†
Eissfeldt, Otto.† "El and Yahweh."† In JOURNAL OF SEMITIC STUDIES, volume 1, 1956. 25-37.
Eusebius.† THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH FROM
Jerry, executive editor.†
Elisabeth S.† "1
Corinthians."† In James L. Mays,
editor, HARPER'S BIBLE COMMENTARY.†
Werner.† THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE
NEW TESTAMENT.† 9 volumes.†
Frangopoulos, Athanasios S.† OUR
ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN FAITH.†
Furnish, Victor Paul.† "The Letter of Paul to the
Colossians."† In Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON
-----.† II CORINTHIANS.† The Anchor Bible.† Garden City,
Gonzalez, Justo L.† A HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN THOUGHT.† Volume 1.†
Grant, Robert M.† GODS AND THE ONE GOD.†
Griggs, C. Wilfred,
editor.† APOCRYPHAL WRITINGS AND THE
-----.† "The Origin and Formation of the Corpus
of Apocryphal Literature."† In C.
Wilfred Griggs, editor, APOCRYPHAL WRITINGS AND THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS.†
Hermann.† "The Influence of
Babylonian Mythology Upon the Biblical Creation Story."† In Bernhard W. Anderson, editor, CREATION IN
THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Hamblin, William.† "Aspects of an Early Christian
Initiation Ritual."† In John
Lundquist and Stephen Ricks, editors, BY STUDY AND ALSO BY FAITH.† Volume 1.†
R.G.† PRE-EXISTENCE, WISDOM, AND THE SON
Hayman, Peter.† "Monotheism--A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?"† In the JOURNAL OF JEWISH STUDIES, Spring 1991. 1-15.
Paul.† "Another Significance of the
Golden Calf Motif."† In John Welch,
editor, TINKLING CYMBALS.†
Hanson, Paul.† "War, Peace, and Justice in Early
Larry W.† ONE GOD, ONE LORD: EARLY
CHRISTIAN DEVOTION AND ANCIENT JEWISH MONOTHEISM.†
Jackson, Kent P.† "'Watch and Remember': The New Testament
and the Great Apostasy."† In John M.
Lundquist and Stephen Ricks, editors, BY STUDY AND ALSO BY FAITH.† Volume 1.†
Jerome.† THE HOMILIES OF
Jones, Edward T.† "A Comparative Study of Ascension Motifs in World Religions."† In Spencer J. Palmer, editor,
DEITY AND DEATH (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1978). 89-99.
Howard Clark.† JESUS AND GOD'S NEW PEOPLE.†
Kelly, J.N.D.† EARLY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES.† Revised Edition.†
Kimball, Spencer W.† FAITH PRECEDES THE MIRACLE.†
Joseph.† THE MESSIANIC IDEA IN
Rivkah Scharf.† SATAN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.† Translated by Hildegard Nagel.†
Magill, Frank N.† MASTERPIECES OF CHRISTIAN LITERATURE.†
Martin, Ralph P.† WORSHIP IN THE EARLY CHURCH.†
Mays, James L., general
editor.† HARPER'S BIBLE COMMENTARY.†
Bruce R.† DOCTRINAL NEW TESTAMENT
COMMENTARY.† Volume 1.†
-----.† THE PROMISED MESSIAH.†
Joseph Fielding.† HIS NAME SHALL BE
JOSEPH: ANCIENT PROPHECIES OF THE LATTER-DAY SEER.†
-----.† "Joseph Smith as Found in Ancient
Manuscripts." In Monte S. Nyman, editor, ISAIAH AND THE PROPHETS.†
-----.† "Premortal Existence, Foreordinations, and Heavenly Councils."† In C. Wilfred Griggs, editor, APOCRYPHAL
WRITINGS AND THE LATTER-DAY
-----, and Robert F.
Millet.† SUSTAINING AND DEFENDING THE
McDowell, Josh.† THE RESURRECTION FACTOR.†
Meservy, Keith.† "Discoveries at Nimrud and the 'Sticks' of Ezekiel."† In the NEWSLETTER AND PROCEEDINGS OF THE SOCIETY FOR EARLY HISTORIC ARCHAEOLOGY, Number 142, November 1978. 1-10.
-----.† "Ezekiel's Sticks."† In the ENSIGN, September 1977. 22-27.
J.P., editor.† PATROLOGIAE GRAECA.† 161 volumes.†
Millet, Robert L.† BY GRACE ARE WE SAVED.†
-----, and Joseph Fielding McConkie.† SUSTAINING
AND DEFENDING THE FAITH.†
-----, and Joseph Fielding McConkie.† THE LIFE
Milne, Mary K.† "
Morgenstern, Julian.† "The Mythological Background of Psalm 82."† In HEBREW UNION COLLEGE ANNUAL, volume 14, 1939. 29-126.
Mullen, E. Theodore.† THE ASSEMBLY OF THE GODS.† Harvard Semitic Monograph Series.†
Newman, Barclay.† A CONCISE GREEK-ENGLISH DICTIONARY OF THE NEW
Hugh.† "Irenaeus."† F.A.R.M.S. Preliminary Report.
-----.† MORMONISM AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY.†
-----.† SINCE CUMORAH.† Second Edition.†
-----.† THE PROPHETIC BOOK OF MORMON.†
-----.† "Treasures in the Heavens."† In Truman Madsen, editor, NIBLEY ON THE
TIMELY AND THE TIMELESS.†
-----.† "What Is A
Norman, Keith.† "Divinization: The Forgotten Teaching of Early Christianity."† In SUNSTONE, Winter 1975. 15-19.
-----.† "Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity."† In BYU STUDIES, volume 17, number 3, Spring 1977. 291-318.
Norris, Richard A.,
editor.† THE CHRISTOLOGICAL
CONTROVERSY.† Sources of Early Christian
Olin, John C., editor.† A REFORMATION DEBATE.†
Ostler, Blake.† "Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity."† In BYU STUDIES, Winter 1982. 31-45.
Thomas W.† "Jeremiah."† In James L. Mays, general editor, HARPER'S
Elaine.† THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS.†
Parrot, Douglas M.† "Gnostic and Orthodox Disciples in the
Second and Third Centuries."† In
Charles Hedrick and Robert Hodgson, editors, NAG HAMMADI, GNOSTICISM, AND EARLY
Paulsen, David.† "Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity:† Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses."† In HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW, volume 83, number 2, 1990. 105-116.
Peterson, Daniel C.† "Does the Qur'an Teach Creation EX NIHILO?", in John Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks,
editors, BY STUDY AND ALSO BY
FAITH.† Volume 1.†
-----, and Stephen D.
Ricks.† OFFENDERS FOR A WORD: HOW
ANTI-MORMONS PLAY WORD GAMES TO ATTACK THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS.†
Prestige, G.L.† GOD IN PATRISTIC THOUGHT.† Second Edition.†
Price, James L.† "The First Letter of Paul to the
Corinthians."† In Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON
Johannes.† PATROLOGY.† 3 Volumes.†
Bo.† THE EPISTLES OF JAMES, JUDE, AND
PETER.† Second Edition.† The Anchor Bible.† Garden City,
Reynolds, George and Janne M. Sjodahl.† COMMENTARY ON THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE.†
Rich, Russell B.† ENSIGN TO THE NATIONS: A HISTORY OF THE
Richards, LeGrand.† A MARVELOUS WORK AND A WONDER.† Revised and Enlarged Edition.†
Richardson, Cyril C.,
editor.† EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS.†
Riley, Hugh M.† CHRISTIAN INITIATION.†
Roberts, Alexander and James
Donaldson et al, editors and translators.†
THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS.† Ten
Roberts, B.H.† THE LORD'S DAY.† Missionary Pamphlet.
Robinson, H. Wheeler.† "The Council of Yahweh."† In the JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, volume 45, 1944. 151-157.
Robinson, Stephen E.† ARE MORMONS CHRISTIANS?†
William G.† THE TRINITARIAN
CONTROVERSY.† Sources of Early Christian
Jeffrey Burton.† SATAN: THE EARLY
Gilbert.† THE TRUTH ABOUT "THE
Eugene.† ANCIENT TEXTS AND
-----.† "Did the Freemasons Copy Their Ritual
from the Mormons?"†
-----.† MORMONISM, THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, AND THE NAG
Smith, Morton.† JESUS THE MAGICIAN.†
Smith, Robert F.† "Satan: Notes on the Gods."† December 1992 Draft, copy in my possession.
Snyder, Graydon.† ANTE-PACEM: ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE OF CHURCH
Sparks, Jack N., editor.† THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS.†
Stadelmann, Luis.† THE HEBREW CONCEPTION OF THE WORLD (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970).
Albert C.† "The Making of the New
Testament Canon."† In Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON
Press, 1971. 1216-1224.
James E.† JESUS THE CHRIST.† Thirty-Fourth Edition.
-----.† THE ARTICLES OF FAITH, Forty-Second
Latter-day Saints, 1976.
Thompson, Claude Holmes.† "The Book of Jude."† In Charles Laymon,
editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE.†
Turner, Rodney.† "The Doctrine of Godhood in the New
Testament."† In PRINCIPLES OF THE
GOSPEL IN PRACTICE. 1985 Sperry Symposium.†
Book Company, 1985. 21-38.
John.† THE CHURCH OF THE OLD
TESTAMENT.† Second Edition.†
Tzaferis, Vassilios.† "Crucifixion--The Archaeological Evidence."† In BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW, January/February 1985. 49-53.
Vestal, Kirk Holland, and
Arthur Wallace.† THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF
Vine, W.E.† VINE'S EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT
WORDS.† 4 Volumes.†
Wellnitz, Marcus Von.† "The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple."† In BYU STUDIES, Winter 1981. 3-35.
Westcott, Brooke Foss.† THE BIBLE IN THE CHURCH.†
White, James.† "Mormon Scholars Defend Their Church: A Review and Rebuttal of Offenders for a Word."† In PROS APOLOGIAN, Spring 1993. 1-9.† This article and the one cited below both appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of PROS APOLOGIAN.
-----.† "Hugh Nibley, The Universal Apostasy, And the Gates of Hades."† In PROS APOLOGIAN, Spring 1993. 10-12.
Robert.† THE CHRISTIANS AS THE ROMANS SAW
Winston, David.† "Creation EX NIHILO Revisited."† In the JOURNAL OF JEWISH STUDIES, volume 37, Spring 1986. 88-91.