For once people have been enlightened — when they’ve tasted the heavenly gift and have had a share in the holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age — it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance if they fall away, since they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and holding him up to contempt. (6:4-6)
We don’t like the word “impossible in this passage, do we?
Is this really saying if a person rejects Jesus it is impossible for them to return to Jesus? Once lost, always lost?
One commentator argued this passage is likely the most controversial passage in the whole book of Hebrews. Absolutely!
We need to look to verse 10 for some guidance: “God is not unjust.” I think most of us would say a god who is unwilling to rescue a person who wants to be saved is a rather unjust god. By that point alone, I think we need to reject any interpretation of this passage that argues a second genuine repentance would be rejected by God after apostasy.
Some commentators have argued that the word “tasted,” used twice in this passage, means the hypothetical person only tried out Jesus, like a seeker who might try on religion for a few months. This is the person who tastes the free samples at Sam’s but then walks on without buying a box. He never really accepted Jesus in the first place. But verse 6 does indicate this hypothetical person has previously repented and the idea of “sharing” or partnering in verse 4 connotes active participation in the life of the Holy Spirit. This sounds like more than a seeker.
The best explanation I have read in my limited study of this passage comes from George Guthrie (Hebrews, NIV Application Commentary) who says the Greek construction of the last part of this sentence — “since they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and holding him up to contempt” — is best interpreted in a causal (“because they”) or temporal (“while they”) manner. So the last clause is best read: “as long as they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and hold ing him up to contempt.” Thus the point is that as long as people are in the act of rejecting Jesus they could not feasibly be turned back to him. Their hardness of heart would not allow it. Of course, if their hearts softened and they wanted to repent again, that would be possible. It is not that God would not allow them to return, their own hearts would not allow it.
He was the angriest, most bitter student I have ever taught. He made no bones about it. He hated God, hated the Bible, hated my Bible class, and I suspect he hated me by virtue of association. At first I was perplexed by him, then hurt, then angered, and by the end I just hurt for him. I have never met someone so unhappy with anything and everything. His anti-religious bent made more sense to me when I learned that he had been raised by a zealously religious parent who he claimed did not treat him in a very godly manner. He had been raised to have faith, but then he rejected all he had ever been taught. To him, Jesus was a disgraceful fake fit only for simpletons. God was a lunatic’s dream at best. All of it was an object of contempt. Try as I might to share a different view of God, religion, and Christians it was like speaking to a wall. He had one illogical argument after another for why what I was saying could not be true. His perception of God, Jesus, and Christians could best be described as caricatures. Everything was black and white, and religion was purely evil. His heart was hardened like stone. It seemed impossible to hope that he would ever turn again to Jesus. I would like to say he did, but I don’t believe he ever has.
Sad to say, today’s passage makes more sense when I think of him.