The Cure For Apostasy

A Study of Hebrews 6:1-9

Dr. John Woodward

To be assured of Christ as your source of living, you need to be assured of His salvation. However, the warning passages in Hebrews 6:1-9 and 10:26-39 are sometimes used to question the security of the believer. Let’s consider a brief explanation of these passages in their context.

This article will explore the meaning of Hebrews 6:1-9: “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:1-6).

This passage has been a challenge to Bible students and space does not allow for an exhaustive treatment of the various grammatical and theological viewpoints. But, the following analysis seems is most in harmony with the context of the passage and the teaching of the New Testament as a whole.

Let’s start with the background. This epistle was written to a predominantly Jewish readership that was being persecuted for their confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). Although the monotheism of the Jews was permitted under Roman law (due to their zeal and heritage) the religion of being “Christian” was not exempt from the imperial requirement to confess Caesar as Lord. Evidently some who has professed faith in Jesus had returned to the economic, social, legal, and religious safety of Judaism.[1] They were once again looking to the familiar Old Testament rituals (as practiced at the Temple in Jerusalem prior to is destruction in A.D. 70).

The writer’s “word of exhortation” (13:22) repeatedly warned these vacillating “converts” about the fatal consequences of looking away from Christ for a means of salvation. “… how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:3,4).

Leading up to chapter six is a section that rebukes the congregation for their lack of learning and neglect of spiritual growth: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14). The best way to gain confidence in the faith is to learn; the best way to demonstrate life is to grow.

So the writer urges, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection” [i.e., maturity-Col. 1:28; 4:12]. The teaching about Christ’s high priestly ministry in chapters 7-10 would be like solid food in comparison to milk. Therefore, the basic (milk) teachings would not be reviewed at this juncture (6:1,2).

Another reason for going on to a more comprehensive understanding of Christ’s superiority to the Old Covenant priesthood was that these basics would not be adequate to restore a backslidden believer (a professing believer who had returned to confidence in the Temple rituals or was tempted to do so). Such a turning away from Christ is known as “apostacy” (2 Peter 2:20-22).

Theologians debate whether the scenario of Hebrews 6:4,5 refers to those who were almost saved and then fell away or to those who were truly born again but (actually or hypothetically) lost their salvation. This passage has been difficult for both Calvinistic and Arminian viewpoints–difficult for Calvinists because it sounds like the saved person falls away and does not persevere; difficult for Arminians because those who “fall away” cannot be renewed to repentance (6:6).

Without tackling that issue presently, let’s take a closer look at verse 6 “… if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6). Translations seem to present a REASON apostates cannot be restored to repentance: “since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God …” However, what if the phrase described the CONDITION of those who were temporarily enticed back to Temple worship? Those returning to Judaism were avoiding persecution, but thereby insinuating that the animal sacrifices were still necessary for atonement, even after Christ’s perfect sacrifice on Calvary–“putting Him to an open shame”) A closer look at the grammar indicates the second option is preferred.

“Since” (Heb. 6:6) is not in the original text; rather, it is supplied to compliment the verb “crucify again.” This verb is a present, active participle, conveying the idea that they were in a condition of desecrating Christ’s sacrifice [by preferring temple sacrifices.] So the text should read, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance WHILE they crucify again for themselves the Son of God …” And what is the remedy for this wavering confession of faith that is inclined to take refuge in Judaism? The remedy is to go on to the deeper truths of Christ’s Superior priesthood! Thus, these backsliders COULD be restored to repentance if they were persuaded by the more complete revelation of God’s Word. And this fits the progression of thought in Heb. 7:1-10:24.

The writer is warning the readers as a pastor, not speculating about their ultimate decisions. The doctrinal debate about the possibility or impossibility of losing one’s salvation is not directly addressed here. However, saving faith is described as a faith that continues to believe (Heb. 3:6; Col. 1:23; 1 Cor. 15:2).

This warning is then illustrated from nature: “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed [the backsliders were flirting with judgment], whose end is to be burned” (Heb. 6:7,8).

After this warning and an explanation of his strategy to present the supremacy and finality of Christ’s person and work, the author reassures the Hebrew recipients of this letter that he expects them to persevere. “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner” (Heb. 6:9).

In the next article we’ll study a parallel passage in Hebrews 10:26-39. Therefore, don’t fear that true faith in Christ is not adequate to keep you securely in Christ: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” (Heb. 6:19). So, gain confidence in your faith by digesting the meat of the Word; demonstrate your spiritual life by growing.


[1] In addition to Roman oppression there was resistence from Jewish society: “The numerous Christian churches scattered throughout Judaea (Ac 9:31; Ga 1:22) were continually exposed to persecution from the Jews (1 Thess. 2:14), which would become more searching and extensive as churches multiplied, and as the growing turbulence of the nation ripened into the insurrection of A. D. 66. Personal violence, spoliation of property, exclusion from the synagogue, and domestic strife were the universal forms of persecution. But in Jerusalem there was one additional weapon in the hands of the predominant oppressors of the Christians. Their magnificent national Temple, hallowed to every Jew by ancient historical and by gentler personal recollections, with its irresistible attractions, its soothing strains, and mysterious ceremonies, might be shut against the Hebrew Christian.” – Smith Bible Dictionary, “The Epistle to the Hebrews.”

Grace Notes: September 9, 2004. Copyright © 2004 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

For further study on assurance, see GN “How to Have True Assurance” at

Posted in