Examining Universalism III: The Universalist Thesis
Well, again, this has taken awhile but I decided rather than scratch these first two passages in Hebrews 3 and 6 because they do not address the issue of final destruction or final judgment directly, as Packer says, I would explain these verses to show how misunderstood they are and how theologians with agendas (denominational bents, if you will) skew the meaning of verses to fit their presupposed theology.
(Heb 3:14) For we have become partners of Christ, that is, if we should be retaining the beginning of the assumption confirmed unto the consummation,
(Heb 3:15) while it is being said, “Today, if ever His voice you should be hearing, You should not be hardening your hearts as in the embitterment.”
(Heb 3:16) For some who hear embitter Him; but not all those coming out of Egypt through Moses.
(Heb 3:17) Now with whom is He disgusted forty years? Was it not with those who sin, whose carcasses fall in the wilderness?
(Heb 3:18) Now to whom does He swear, not to be entering into His stopping, except to the stubborn?
(Heb 3:19) And we are observing that they could not enter because of unbelief.
Verse 14 – We can go back to verses 1 and 6 of this chapter and see the same thing being talked about. The inference is that we who believe will be or are currently partners with Christ and will enjoy this partnership in the end of the age, or as some believe, the millenium.
Verse 15 – verse 7-8 also talk about a hardening and a warning to not be hardened against God and His truth. It is dangerous to be led astray by others’ teachings, even if it sounds right or makes us feel good.
“If,” eán (in Greek) implies a condition which experience must determine, an objective possibility, and thus refers always to something future. ( Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.) Therefore, the writer is telling his hearers, “If, possibly in the future, you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts as the Israelites of Moses’ day, wandering in the desert, did.”
Lastly, let me mention this. Verses 16-19 talk about how the disobedient (synonym: unbelievers) did not enter the rest of the land of Canaan. There are two different words used in verse 18 and 19 for unbelief. In verse 18, some translations use the word “disobedient,” and the word in verse 19 as unbelief. They are synonyms that speak mainly about unbelief that results in disobedience. They are not two different thoughts, but one thought and its consequences. One can read verses 18 and 19 as follows: 18 And to whom did he swear they would not enter into his rest, except those who were disobedient (unbelievers)? 19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of disobedience (unbelief).
And so, the importance of these verses is that unbelief can (or has, does as seen by the wilderness wanderers who did not enter Canaan) result in disobedience leading to loss of rest, loss of reward although what is most important is not the result of the disobedience or unbelief, but the root cause of it, a hardened heart against God. As important, is the fact that there is still an opportunity in the future of hearing God’s voice and heeding His voice by not hardening their hearts against Him.
These verses do not speak about a final judgment or destruction.
(Heb 6:4) For it is impossible concerning those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and become sharers of the Holy Spirit,
(Heb 6:5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age,
(Heb 6:6) and having fallen away, to renew them again to repentance, because they have crucified again for themselves the Son of God and held him up to contempt.
(Heb 6:7) For ground that drinks the rain that comes often upon it, and brings forth vegetation usable to those people [for whose sake] it is also cultivated, shares a blessing from God.
(Heb 6:8) But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to a curse, whose end is for burning.
Verses 4-6 are all one long sentence in the Greek and need to be treated together.
These verses talk about turning from truth and becoming apostate to the gospel of the kingdom of God. These are also the first verses which indicate that the author was addressing the Hebrews who had become believers in Christ, and were in danger of becoming apostate from the faith.
Earlier, in verses 1-3 of this chapter, the writer gave seven recommendations to the Hebrew believers as to how they should act. The writer urged them to: (1) leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ; (2) stop laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works; (3) stop arguing about what it meant about faith toward God; (4) leave the doctrine of baptisms of cleansings and washings; (5) leave the doctrine of the laying on of hands for the sacrificial animals; (6) stop arguing about the resurrection of the dead; (7) leave the question about eternal judgment.
Here in verses 4-6 the writer lists seven descriptions of those apostates who had come to know the gospel of Christ in truth. These seven results of the seven recommendations fully explain what apostasy is and what it brings.
Here, the first description of apostates is that it is “impossible for those once enlightened.” This enlightening is spiritual enlightenment, or spiritual understanding. Being enlightened is a gift of God’s grace, enabling one to understand spiritual things. The carnal, natural mind cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14). The natural mind may study the facts, but only God can put understanding in the mind, unlocking the spiritual meaning contained in those facts.
The second description is that they “have tasted the heavenly gift.” According to Ephesians 1:3, this heavenly gift is:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”
This heavenly gift contains a “taste of all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Apparently, those whom the writer was addressing had been very knowledgeable about the sacrifice and ascension of Jesus. They had, in a sense, intimate knowledge of the fellowship of His sufferings, being that they too have suffered greatly after becoming Christians. We know many Jews who converted to Christ were suffering immensely because of their new faith.
The third description was that they “were made sharers of Holy Spirit.” There is no definite article preceding “holy spirit,” therefore the emphasis is upon some quality or characteristic of holy spirit which each person has received. The Hebrews had received the gift of holy spirit, they were aware of the gift, and, therefore, they were responsible to God for what they did with that portion of holy spirit they had received. That everyone has been given the gift of holy spirit is attested to in Acts 2:17:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.”
Some people choose to interpret this verse as something which has not yet happened, something which will not take place until the “last days.” However, in Acts 2:16, Peter said, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” God has already sent a portion of holy spirit to everyone. Furthermore, we have been living in the “last days” ever since the ascension of Jesus. Therefore, everyone was being included in the writer’s thought’s here, not just Hebrew believers.
The fourth description was that they had “tasted the good word of a god.” Since the definite article was not used with theos, this could be translated as “tasted of the good, divine word.” They had tasted, or experienced, what the “divine word” said about Christ and his coming kingdom. The writer was warning them not to lose faith in the good news about Jesus being the messiah.
The fifth description was that they had tasted or experienced “and the powers of the coming age.” They recognized the power of holy spirit as a precursor of what it will be like in the next age, the kingdom of God.
The sixth description concerned “to renew them again to repentance” and having fallen away. In other words, they had tasted the good works of power, and fell away. The words fall away come from parapesontas, which means to fall by the wayside, to go astray, or to become lost. This is in relation to the proper manner of service and worship of God.
The writer was pleading with them to avoid such consequences. This is reminiscent of Paul’s experience with the Jews who followed him around, trying to convince his converts that they needed to be circumcised. The writer believed that someone was trying to turn these converted Jews back to the Old Testament style of worship. If they reverted to past beliefs, they could never again be renewed to repentance, or be brought again to a change of mind about Jesus as the messiah. They would be irrevocably lost, or out of the way.
The seventh description was that they “because they have crucified again for themselves the Son of God and held him up to contempt.” The author warned them that God would consider that they had again crucified His Son.
In the phrase “for themselves,” the word for comes from eautois, a compound of two prepositions which shows the cause of their crucifying the Son of God: it was for their own advantage, perhaps to escape persecution by the unbelievers who did not believe that Jesus was the messiah. However, to go back to the old Hebrew faith and deny that Jesus was the messiah would put him (Jesus) to “contempt or an open shame.”
This list of seven items signifies completeness. As we will see in the next passage, the writer also speaks about this in Hebrews 10:26-29.
When scripture says that those who turn away cannot be renewed again unto repentance, this does not mean that God deserted them. But it does mean that they have made such an irrevocable decision, that they are unable to ever again change their minds.
The writer pleads with them not to turn away. He knew the inevitable result of such action from the Israelite history of wandering in the desert. And some believe, this time they would not be missing 40 years but 1,000 years of sharing in the glory of Jesus, the Christ, during the next age.
The writer then turned to nature to cite another example. When it rains upon the earth, the one who tills the land receives a blessing from God. God sends rain upon the earth so that when they properly till the earth they will derive blessings, or food, from it. If they did not till the soil, the weeds would choke out much of the good crops. The same is true with our spiritual lives.
In verse 6:8, the author used the words from Isaiah 5:3-7 to warn the Hebrews.
3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why did I hope for it to yield grapes, and it yielded wild grapes?
5And now let me tell you what I myself am about to do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall become a devastation.
I will break down its wall, and it shall become a trampling.
6And I will make it a wasteland;
it shall not be pruned and hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thornbushes.
And concerning the clouds, I will command ⌊them not to send⌋ rain down upon it.
7For the vineyard of Yahweh of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the man of Judah is the plantation of his delight.
And he waited for justice,
but look! Bloodshed!
but look! A cry of distress!
The writer was telling them they would become the rejected briers and thorns if they departed from the faith of God, and Jesus, his Son. They would be rejected, meaning that after a rigid examination they will be disapproved, and then they will be near to being cursed. Near to being cursed by God means to be given up to barrenness. The writer did not completely close the door. It may be that God will still help them even if they turn away, but he warned that such help was an open option as far as God is concerned.
The phrase “whose end is to be burned” could be referring to a previous time when the Israelite people rebelled against Jehovah and turned to religions which promoted self.
Deuteronomy 29:12-13 records a covenant Jehovah made with Israel. Then, in Deuteronomy 29:22-28, came the warning of the dire judgment which would be brought upon them and their land if they turned away from Jehovah.
22“And the next generation, that is, your children who will rise up after you, and the foreigner who will come from a distant land, when they will see the plagues of that land and its diseases that Yahweh has inflicted upon it, will say, 23‘All its land is brimstone and salt left by fire, ⌊none of its land will be sown⌋, and it will not make plants sprout out and it will not grow any vegetation; it is as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Adman and Zeboiim, which Yahweh overturned in his anger and in his wrath.’ 24And all the nations will say, ‘⌊Why⌋ has Yahweh done ⌊such a thing⌋ to this land? What caused the fierceness of this great anger?’ 25And they will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of Yahweh, the God of their ancestors, which he ⌊made⌋ with them ⌊when he brought them out⌋ from the land of Egypt. 26And they went and served other gods and bowed down to them, gods whom they did not know them and he had not allotted to them. 27So ⌊the anger of Yahweh was kindled⌋ against that land to bring upon it all the curses written in this scroll, 28and Yahweh uprooted them from their land in anger and in wrath and in great fury, and he cast them into another land, ⌊just as it is today⌋.’
For anyone who has the knowledge of God’s grace and the work of Jesus, the Christ, it is a serious issue to turn away from that truth.
One has to import the presupposition of an eternal conscious torment in hell into this passage to get a final destruction or judgment. It just is not there in its own context. This is a warning to the Hebrews to not turn, but nowhere is the falling away permanent or non-reversible in an age or ages to come.
Heb 10:26-31, 39
(Heb 10:26) For if we keep on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
(Heb 10:27) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that is about to consume the adversaries.
(Heb 10:28) Anyone who rejected the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
(Heb 10:29) How much worse punishment do you think the person will be considered worthy of who treats with disdain the Son of God and who considers ordinary the blood of the covenant by which he was made holy and who insults the Spirit of grace?
(Heb 10:30) For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
(Heb 10:31) It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
(Heb 10:32) But remember the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great struggle with sufferings,
(Heb 10:33) sometimes being publicly exposed both to insults and to afflictions, and sometimes becoming sharers with those who were treated in this way.
(Heb 10:34) For you both sympathized with the prisoners and put up with the seizure of your belongings with joy because you knew that you yourselves had a better and permanent possession.
(Heb 10:35) Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward.
(Heb 10:36) For you have need of endurance, in order that after you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
(Heb 10:37) For yet “a very, very little while, and the one who is coming will come and will not delay.
(Heb 10:38) But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul is not well pleased with him.”
(Heb 10:39) But we are not among those who shrink back to destruction, but among those who have faith to the preservation of our souls.
Verse 26 – To sin willfully means that the act of sinning is done deliberately, not ignorantly; not an accidental act, but one done spitefully. It is not only a sinful act, but it is done in defiance of all that has been done by God, and his Son, Jesus.
The phrase “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” refers to an Old Testament scripture which the Hebrew believers were sure to know. Numbers 15:30-31 says:
30But the one ⌊who acts presumptuously⌋ from among the native or alien blasphemes against Yahweh, and that person must be cut off from the midst of the people. 31Because he despised the word of Yahweh and broke his command, that person will be surely cut off and bear the guilt.’”
The Old Testament prescribed certain sacrifices which were to be offered for known sin. But, if one did not follow the Levitical laws of sacrifice, then he would be cut off from among His people and be “on his own.” If the prescribed remedy was spitefully ignored, there was nothing else available. With this background, the writer was beginning to enlighten the Hebrew believers about the seriousness of going back to the Old Testament Mosaic Law.
In verse 27 we find out what there is to look forward to since there is no more sacrifice for sin to those who willfully sin: judgment and fury of fire. This is a future judgment as evidenced by the terms “fearful expectation.” Here is some food for thought. Was the payment for sin (death) taken care of by Jesus on the cross? Jesus conquered the wages of sin with His resurrection and therefore there appears to be no more need to make payment for sins. All those found in Christ, of course, are covered by His sacrifice. But what of the others? What of those who fall away? What of believers who will still be judged? So, what of those who willfully sin, as verse 27 states?
The future judgment will not be for sins but for works. Paul states this pretty clearly that our works will be judged and if found lacking, burned up (1 Cor 3:10-15). You see, Paul also explains that Jesus’ righteous deed gave all people justification. Romans 5:18-21 states:
(Rom 5:18) Consequently therefore, as through one trespass came condemnation to all people, so also through one righteous deed came justification of life to all people.
(Rom 5:19) For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.
(Rom 5:20) Now the law came in as a side issue, in order that the trespass could increase, but where sin increased, grace was present in greater abundance,
(Rom 5:21) so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul expresses this same teaching, salvation of all people in several other places that we have already discussed in this series. Jesus also stated that when He is lifted up from the earth that He would draw all men to Himself. (John 12:32) Not some men, but all men!
What the Hebrew writer is saying is that the grace of God in Christ has already forgiven sin and that our works are what retain our inheritance. God’s love saves all people, and that love is experienced in Jesus Christ.
Just because verse 27 talks about judgment and fury of fire does not mean there is a reference to an eternal conscious torment in a place called hell found here. No, there is a coming judgment for those who fall away that will be marked by a severity that will consume those who suffer it. But this consuming for those who willfully sin after coming to a knowledge of the truth will find themselves in outer darkness during the next age, the Kingdom of God. They will be under the rule of Jesus and His followers who reign with a rod of iron. This is the judgment that will devour or consume them.
Verses 28-29 are one long sentence. The writer most likely was referring back to a very familiar text to the Hebrew followers from Deuteronomy 17:2-7:
2If there is found in one of your ⌊towns⌋ that Yahweh your God is giving to you a man or a woman that does evil in the eyes of Yahweh your God to transgress his covenant 3and by going and serving other gods and so he bows down to them and to the sun or to the moon or to any of the host of heaven ⌊which I have forbidden⌋, 4and it is reported to you or you hear about it and you inquire about it thoroughly and, indeed, the trustworthiness of the deed has been established, it ⌊has occurred⌋, this detestable thing, in Israel, 5then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil thing to your gates; that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them with stones ⌊to death⌋. 6⌊On the evidence of⌋ two or three witnesses ⌊the person shall be put to death⌋. The person shall not be put to death by the mouth of one witness. 7The hand of the witnesses shall be first against the person to kill the person, and afterward the hands of all the people, and so you shall purge the evil from your midst.
The person who was guilty of worshiping other gods was to be put to death. Transferring this concept to the New Testament context means that the people who sin willfully after coming to a knowledge of the truth are guilty of idolatry. Such people are worshiping themselves, and making themselves into their own gods, which was the original sin of Adam.
Colossians 3:5 defines idolatry as, “…covetousness, which is idolatry.”
Verse 29 –
In the Old Testament, the people who turned away from Jehovah in idolatry were stoned to death because they despised Jehovah’s covenant. In verse 10:29, the author compared the sin of idolatry in the Old Testament and the New Testament and concluded that New Testament idolatry deserved “much worse punishment.” This comparison is rather frightening, especially in light of the fiery zeal which shall devour the adversaries.
The writer stated three reasons that the New Testament idolater is worthy of much more severe punishment. First, because “who treats with disdain the Son of God.” treating with disdain might also be expressed as “having stomped upon something contemptuously.”
Many of the people doing this are good, moral people. However, faith is the basic tenet of the gospel, not morality. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Those who live their lives in pursuit of worldly goods instead of pursuing spiritual things are adversaries, or enemies. They were pictured here in terms that most of them would never even think of applying to themselves. Yet, that is exactly the way it is viewed by God, and his Son, Jesus.
The second reason is that he “who considers ordinary the blood of the covenant by which he was made holy and who insults the Spirit of grace?” Many preachers and teachers almost make a fetish out of blood. It was not the blood, per se, but the death of Jesus which accomplished our salvation. Blood is only a symbol of his death because the life is in the blood; when one’s blood is shed, death occurs. Remember, it takes the death of the testator before a covenant, or will, takes effect. Therefore, it was the death of Jesus which such people consider an unholy thing.
Unholy simply means something which is common, or profane. It is not something considered as being set apart, or sanctified, to God. These people do not consider that the death of Jesus was any more significant than the death of any other person. To them, it was only a common event.
Most people might never put such a thought into words, but the way they live says it anyway. Again, as Jesus said, “If you are not for me, you are against me.” The book of Revelation pictures Jesus as spewing such lukewarm people out his mouth (Revelation 3:16)!
The phrase “by which he was made holy” indicates the grace of God. Notice, too, that the people who are worthy of much worse punishment, and who have treated with disdain Jesus, were “sanctified.”
Sanctified comes from hagiasthe, the verb form of hagios, which is most often translated as “holy.” As stated before, the word hagios, holy, or sanctified, has nothing to do with the character of the people designated as holy. It was something done for them by others, namely God, and his son, Jesus.
Therefore, the death, or blood, of Jesus, which activated the covenant (which some count as an unholy thing) actually was the same death which set all people apart to God for his service. Therefore, people should not live for themselves but for him who gave himself for them.
The third reason is that he “who insults the Spirit of grace.”
In the phrase “the spirit of grace” the definite article was used before spirit and also before grace. Therefore, this should read “the spirit of the grace. This is the one and only spirit representing the all of God’s grace as demonstrated in the sacrifice of His Son because of his love of humanity.
Anyone who treats this spirit with disdain or contempt is on dangerous ground. They insult the very act of love which was designed to give them the salvation they value so little!
This ends the third pathway which the writer followed to Jesus. The fourth pathway continues to the end of the chapter as the writer pled with his Hebrew brethren not to abandon their faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. He continued to extol the punishment reserved for those who do such a thing, noting that they would be guilty of all the things listed in the above verses. And, more than that, the writer warned of even more drastic effects of apostasy.
Verse 30 –
Verse 10:30 was another appeal to the Old Testament, this time to Deuteronomy 32:35 which says,
“To me belongs vengeance, and recompense,”
and to Deuteronomy 32:36 which says,
“For the Lord shall judge his people.”
35⌊Vengeance belongs to me⌋ and also recompense,
⌊for at the time their foot slips⌋,
because the day of their disaster is near,
⌊and fate comes quickly for them⌋.’
36For Yahweh will judge on behalf of his people,
and concerning his servants;
he will change his mind when he sees that their power has disappeared,
and there is no one left, confined or free.
These two verses are a good example of the fact that New Testament writers were not always careful to quote the Old Testament exactly. However, they were careful that they did not change the sense, or intent, of the scripture quoted.
These Hebrew brethren knew that the Jehovah of the Old Testament was now the resurrected man, Jesus. However, their faith was beginning to waver and they were considering going back to their former worship. At the time Hebrews was written the old temple worship and sacrifices were still available in Jerusalem. The writer was referring to all the warnings about sin to persuade them not to revert, and this was not the last of the warnings!
Verse 31 –
Jesus is the one who will judge his people. “Falling into the hands” indicates punishment, not love; therefore, “it is a fearful thing.” Those who have treated with disdain Jesus, and considered it as worthless, and treated it with contempt, will not find their judgment minimal. It will indeed be a fearful thing.
And finally, verse 39:
(Heb 10:39) But we are not among those who shrink back to destruction, but among those who have faith to the preservation of our souls.
With these words, the writer made clear the destination awaiting any “who shrink back:” it is “to destruction.” The word destruction comes from apoleian. In some translations this word is translated as “perdition.” This translation helps many misunderstand the text and insert the idea of eternal hell. Destruction does not connote a final judgment or a final destruction. The destruction is the destruction of what they were created for, the purpose God has for all His image bearers; worship of Him, love, etc.
Destruction was on the one side, but the other side was “but among those who have faith to the preservation of our souls.” Some claim this verse as proof that, “you have to believe in order to be saved.” However, there are several errors inherent in such a stand. The greatest error concerns the definition of the word “saved.” Many believe that what we do, such as being baptized, believing, being born again, keeping the sacraments, or whatever else some religious organization may impose, is necessary and must be added to the grace of God. They contend that God only “offers” salvation, and that we must do something to appropriate it, to be “saved.”
This verse simply will not support such erroneous positions. One reason is that the word used here for saving comes not from the usual word sozo, but from peripoiesin, which means to come into possession of one’s own property.
Faith is the one thing that can give us possession of our own soul. It is only then, when we come to faith in God and what was accomplished for us in the sacrifice of Jesus, that we can then possess our own soul, or experience the “saving” of it. Otherwise, we are controlled by the impulses of the flesh over which we have no real control.
If we turn back in apostasy, we become slaves to the very fleshly desires which caused us to turn away from the faith. Many people simply do not understand that they are either slaves to the Lord, in which lies freedom, or slaves to sin, in which lies complete domination and destruction (see Romans 7:4-6).
And so, again I leave it to you the reader, has Packer in fact proven that these verses support a final judgment or final destruction? Has he proven an eternal conscious torment in hell? I believe he hasn’t What do you think? Comment to this section and let me know. As always, God’s richest blessings to you.