Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 18, 2011

“Falling Away” (παραπίπτω parapiptō) in Hebrews 6:6

Hebrews 6 is a scary passage to me. I don’t think those who believe in the doctrine of eternal security (i.e., “once saved, always saved”) have ever taken the warnings in this passage seriously. I will address the full context shortly, but the heart of the passage is found in vv. 4–6: “It is impossible… for those who have fallen away (παραπίπτω parapiptō \pah-rah-PEE-ptoh\) to be renewed to repentance.” The question that has always occupied my mind about this passage is, “How far do you have to fall before you can’t be restored to repentance?”

Context and Contrast

The broader context, Hebrews 5:11–6:12, informs in part the understanding of the warning in verse 6. Verse six also has four words that are only found in that verse in the New Testament, I will break those down later. But first, let me address the context. The author of Hebrews begins this section by chiding the readers for not having obtained a level of maturity they ought to have obtained. In fact, “maturity” is a prominent theme in Hebrews 5–7, which has nine words from the τελειόω (teleioō, \teh-lay-AW-oh\ “I make perfect,” “I complete,” “I become maturity”) family scattered throughout. Hebrews 5:11–6:12 is also bracketed by an inclusio of νωθροὶ γεγόνατε/νωθροὶ γένησθε (nōthroi gegonate/nōthroi genēsthe, \noh-THROI geh-GAW-nah-teh/ noh-THROI GEH-nay-stheh\ “have become lazy”) making the contrast between maturity and laziness even starker.

If that contrast isn’t enough, the author goes on to speak of the need for the Hebrews to go back to baby food (γάλα gala, \GAH-lah\; gen. γάλακτος galaktos, \GAH-lah-ktawss\ “milk”) instead of eating solid food. What I find interesting is what the author of Hebrews considers “elementary” teaching: repentance from dead works, faith in God, teachings about baptism (TNIV: “cleansing rites”), laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment. These strike me as pretty important doctrines, but do you notice what is missing? Think 1 Corinthians 13 here, especially where Paul makes the connection between maturity (τελείος) and love. Faithfulness (i.e., acting consistently on faith) and hope are included in the closing verse of 1 Corinthians 13 as well.

The (Neglected) Meat of the Passage

The imagery of “eating” is carried through into the stern warning of 6:4–6. Here is the meat, I believe, the author of Hebrews is talking about: being enlightened, tasting the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit, and tasting the goodness of God’s word and the powers/miracles of the coming age. I’m not sure if the structure and syntax here is significant: two different words are used for “and” here, one indicating a strong connection (καὶ kai) and the other (τε te) a weak connection. I present a modified diagram below:

4 It is impossible

    for those who were once enlightened, also (τε) having tasted of the heavenly gift

    and (καὶ) who have been sharers in the Holy Spirit

5    and (καὶ) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God along with (τε) the miracles/power of the coming age

6    and (καὶ) yet have fallen away (παραπίπτω)

for [these people] to renew continually (ἀνακαινίζω anakainizō, \ah-nah-keye-NEE-zoh\) in repentance

because they recrucify (ἀνασταυρόω anastauroō, \ah-nah-stow-RAW-oh\ [\ow\ as in “how”]) the son of God to themselves

and (καὶ) hold him up to public shame (παραδειγματίζω paradeigmatizō \pah-rah-dayg-mah-TEE-zō\).

Allow me to give a brief treatment of each of the four hapax legomena (literally, “once spoken,” referring to words only used once in a text) to better understand what is meant by “falling away” and the other terms.

παραπίπτω

The word παραπίπτω is found six times in the OT, five of which are found in Ezekiel 14–22, referring exclusively to Israel’s unfaithfulness and defilement, from worshipping other gods to just simply living like God couldn’t do anything for them. The other occurrence is in Esther 6:10, where Haman is instructed not to be unfaithful to the words and actions of praise he unwittingly bestowed upon Mordecai. Given that the word is primarily used of the exiled Jews in the OT, I would hazard a guess that the NT usage of the word has a parallel meaning. In other words, this passage isn’t talking about the normal ups and downs of the life of a Christian, but a steady pattern of unfruitfulness, a lack of faith in God, and even idolatry. (We still have idolatry today, lest we think we’re off the hook.) Judah had to fall pretty far to be removed from the Promised Land and exiled to Babylon. I hope that none of you reading this have fallen that far yet, but if you have, hang on, because all hope is not yet lost.

ἀνακαινίζω

The ἀνα- prefix of this word and the next word below means “again,” and often times will simply be translated as “re-” plus the base word meaning. The NT doesn’t have a verb for “newing” something, but the -καινίζω part comes from the adjective καινός (kainos, \keye-NAWSS\ “new”). The word is found three times in the LXX, twice in the Psalms (103:5, 104:30) and once at the end of Lamentations (5:21). In the Lamentations passage, Jeremiah says something that is particularly relevant to the Hebrews passage:

21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;

renew our days as of old

22 unless you have utterly rejected us

and are angry with us beyond measure.

We know that Israel was eventually restored to the Promised Land, so even the Exile was not enough for God to utterly forsake his people for all time. We are, after all, in a covenant relationship with God. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” Just as we can’t enter heaven by good works alone, so too we cannot lose our salvation simply on the basis of evil works alone. We would pretty much have to tell God ourselves that we want nothing to do with him any more for him to grant that desire and remove the blessing of salvation.

A question from my friend Eric Weiss in the comments after I originally posted this prompted me to expand on this particular word. I had originally translated the word in the passive voice, “to be renewed,” admittedly because I wasn’t paying attention to the parsing of the verb. It is a present tense active infinitive. As an infinitive, the subject is “those who have fallen away.” As an active voice, it should be translated “to renew” (many translations have “brought back,” but I think “renew” is a better translation). As present tense, the focus of the action is not on the time of action so much as it is on the aspect of the action, that is, it is continuous action. The implication of this goes back to the author’s statement in 6:1 about not returning to repentance. In other words, if you want to advance in the Christian life, repenting over and over again is not the way to go. At some point, you have to decide to grow up and move on to maturity.

Since I’m on the subject of tense, the other two verbs I deal with below are also in the present tense, so the focus there is also on continuous action. If you’re continually repenting, it’s like you’re continually crucifying Christ and continually holding him up to public shame.

ἀνασταυρόω

Protestants often give Catholics a bad rap about their view of the Eucharist, that the elements actually turn into the body and blood of Christ (the fancy word for that is transubstantiationism). Christ is recrucified in the Mass each week, so the Protestants complain. I don’t want to debate that point, because I don’t think it is profitable, and I don’t know that it is a completely accurate characterization. My point is, the only time “recrucify” is mentioned in Scripture is here in this passage, and it has nothing to do with Eucharistic theology. Those who have fallen so far so as to warrant exile (if we borrow the OT meaning of the word) after having known the enlightenment and blessings of God, must recrucify Christ to restore their salvation. But Christ, let alone anyone else, can only be crucified once. It’s impossible for him to be crucified again. But is that the author’s point here? I’ll come back to that in a moment.

παραδειγματίζω

The final hapax legomenon refers to holding Christ up to public shame. If you think about it, though, this is exactly what the original crucifixion was. Hebrews 12:2b (NIV) says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The word for “shame” in Hebrews 12:2 is the more common word (a noun) for “shame” (αἰσχύνη aischynē \eye-SCHOO-nay\), but the idea is the same. In the LXX, παραδειγματίζω is found in Numbers 25:4 in reference to the capital punishment delivered to the men seduced by Moabite women, in Jeremiah 13:22 in reference to those destined for exile, and in Ezekiel 28:17 in the prophecy against the king of Tyre (which some mistakenly take to imply Satan). A related word (δειγματίζω) is found in Matthew 1:19, where Joseph decides he wants to hide Mary so as not to expose her to public shame.

The Author’s Intent

I think the author of Hebrews here uses the hapax legomena because he is using a literary device known as hyperbole. We all know that in spite of the Jews’ idolatry and apostasy (falling away) that got them exiled, God led them back into the Promised Land to rebuild their nation, their religious traditions, and their faith. They never had a problem with idolatry again after the exile, so they learned their lesson. The author is saying it’s a pretty serious thing to trash Christ or trash your faith. In fact, he repeats this warning in even sterner language at the end of chapter 10, which forms an inclusio with this Hebrews 6 passage. The author realizes it is an impossibility to recrucify Christ. His purpose here is to say that Christ’s crucifixion the first time around should have been enough, and they need to get back to living out the implications of that. They could lose their salvation, but it would seem that they had not reached that point yet.

But the author doesn’t think the Hebrews have fallen that far yet. He (they?) says, “We are convinced (πείθω peithō \PAY-thoh\) of better things in your case.” This same confidence is repeated in Hebrews 10 (note the connection to that chapter again) when he reminds them how they endured persecution and exposure to shame and insult, and in Hebrews 13:17–18 with respect to the leaders (NIV: “Have confidence in your leaders” is a better translation in my opinion than “Obey your leaders”).

Faith

The author’s remedy for the danger of falling away is to continue meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). The word ἐγκαταλείπω (enkataleipō \en-kah-tah-LAY-poh\; if you’ve been picking up on the Greek, the gamma-kappa γκ is pronounced \nk\) is translated “giving up” (NIV), “forsaking” (NASB), or “neglect” (NLT). This is the same word Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1 on the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is how important the author views “meeting together” (ἐπισυναγωγή episynagōgē \eh-pee-soo-nah-goh-GAY\; see a familiar word?) as the body of Christ on a regular basis. Don’t give up. Don’t make excuses. Make it a priority, because it’s for your own strengthening and encouragement as well as for those who attend with you.

Hebrews 11 provides the encouragement for Christ-followers to remain faithful and endure hardships. This is what the author is building to in Hebrews 6–10, especially since he praises them twice for their character, in 6:9–12 and 10:32–39. The patriarchs endured similar struggles, and although they were not perfect, they persevered faithfully even though they never saw the ultimate promise of the Savior.

Conclusion

The bottom line here is the author of Hebrews is puts it in the strongest words he can muster to emphasize it is possible to “lose” your salvation. But he also seems to use language that suggests his readers have not progressed to that point yet. Indeed, it seems to take a pretty serious act of apostasy to lose your salvation (e.g., Matthew 10:32–33; 1 John 2:23). But I think the real message in Hebrews 6–10 is not the author’s warning, but the author’s call to perseverance and faithfulness in the face hardship and persecution. The Jews, after all, spent 70 years in exile, but they eventually returned to their Promised Land. In the last part of Hebrews 9, the author lifts up the blood of Christ, which purifies us from all uncleanness and prepared the way for us to live with our Savior eternally.

Peace,

Scott Stocking

This post was revised from the original on 11/19/11, adding additional material to the ἀνακαινίζω section and additional material on Hebrews 11.

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11 Comments »

  1. Scott:

    What are your thoughts re: the significance (or not) of ανακαινίζειν being a present infinitive?

    Comment by EricW — November 19, 2011 @ 12:58 am | Reply

  2. My initial thought is that I didn’t translate that very well. I guess I rushed through that part. I translated it as passive, but it is active voice. So it probably should be something like “to renew into repentance” or perhaps (emphasizing result; see Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 369) “to renew with the result of repentance”? Is it reference? “To renew with respect to repentance,” that is, they can’t renew repentance, because they already repented (turned around) once.
    Here’s a thought: Let me use a compass as an analogy: Let’s say before you became a Christ-follower, you were facing east. When you repented, you did the 180 degree turn and are now facing west. As a Christ-follower, then, your static orientation is to the west. When you stop living like a Christ-follower, or “backslide” as some call it, your orientation is still westward, but your movement is eastward (taking the term “backslide” literally). In other words, you haven’t “repented” of Christ-following, that is, you haven’t turned to face the east again. But what the author of Hebrews is saying is that if the backslider “repents” again, he or she will indeed do just that, turn to face the east. That may not be the intent, but it is the reality. There is no salvation in that direction.
    I think the context of talking about maturity (solid food, not milk) is the key here. You don’t get back on track by going back to the elemental teachings of the faith. You get back on track by growing up and acting like a mature Christ-follower. I had meant to include some discussion on Hebrews 11 in the Faith section, but it was late last night, and I forgot about it, so I will post an amended version later today, and include some of these thoughts as well.

    Comment by Scott Stocking — November 19, 2011 @ 6:59 am | Reply

  3. not bad,,
    thought we need to rememebr that the biblicals are written to a cetain people at a certain time for a certain reason..
    so, who is the writter taliknig to?? the hebrews

    which ones?? all of them or, a specific group within the hebrew body of believers? and if it is a cetian group or number of believers which ones???
    here we may consider the seeds sown by the sower… all of those in questions are believers but, there is a difference amongst the group.. not all abelievers are the same in degree… for instance,,,
    some this and some that and some the other… allbelievers all saved yet, there is a difference in degree…much like john in his first epistle declares… “that our joy may be full”… here, in the letter to the hebrews
    that you may have a full blown experience….
    some ideas we ned to consider:
    what is the aspect of salvation that the author has in view? salvation in terms of being saved? or is there more to it than that? is salvation a limited experience to the here and now or, does it transfer and or extend into the hereafter?
    and if it transfers what are the implications of our actions and reactions in the here and now?
    another need to know is who is he talking to?? who are the ones who have tasted and hae participated in the holy spirit?
    these are questions that run the gamut of the letter. the letter reads both as a reprimand and an encouragement to those who are on the verge of losing the eternal blessing toward which they have been working.. not that their entrance into the
    eternal of heaven is earned, it isn’t it is given yet, the other writters, also indicate that waht the believer works for is rewards… rewards of position and place in the ever after… a closeness or, proximity to God. A complete or entirely fulfilled
    experience in the presence of the almighty.

    Comment by michale lovato — November 19, 2011 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

    • Michael, thank you for your comments. I understand the importance of delving into all the contexts of a Scripture passage. My posts are usually focused more on the linguistic aspects of the text rather than the sociocultural or religious aspects, but I also recognize those are not always separate issues. I appreciate your contributions with respect to some of the other contextual issues. Keep reading! Good to hear from you.
      Scott

      Comment by Scott Stocking — November 19, 2011 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  4. The Orthodox consider this passage to be against rebaptism.

    None of my commentaries address the present infinitive. I would have expected the aorist, so I think there may be some significance to the present tense infinitive, though I’m not sure what that would be.

    A guy at ETS a number of years back presented a paper arguing that parapiptô παραπιπτω relates to paraptôma παραπτωμα, and therefore might mean “sin” rather than “fall away.”

    Comment by EricW — November 19, 2011 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

    • So do you think my emendations to the section on ἀνακαινίζω represent a valid assessment of the issue of the present infinitive (and present participles) in that passage?

      Comment by Scott Stocking — November 19, 2011 @ 8:29 pm | Reply

  5. You wrote:

    for [these people] to renew continually (ἀνακαινίζω anakainizō, \ah-nah-keye-NEE-zoh\) in repentance

    The object of the infinitive is τους…παραπεσοντας, so he’s saying that it’s impossible for the Lord and/or the church/pastors to renew such persons to repentance, so I would re-order the translation so it doesn’t appear like “these people” are the ones doing the act of renewing on others – e.g.,

    4 It is impossible…. 6 to keep renewing [these people] to repentance….

    Comment by EricW — November 19, 2011 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

  6. Object or subject? The subject of the infinitive is in the accusative case as well, so I suppose it could go either way. What if εἰς is serving as ἐν here (Wallace, p. 369, #8)? It is impossible for [them] to renew continually by repentance. One might expect a middle infinitive, perhaps, but the reflexive pronoun after “recrucify” could be serving double duty in that regard. Or the implied object of renew might be “commitment” or “belief” or some other concept. See also Colossians 3:10 where the cognate ἀνακαινόω is a middle voice participle followed by εἰς.

    Comment by Scott Stocking — November 20, 2011 @ 7:54 am | Reply

  7. Good points. I initially thought the accusative participles made the “such people” have to be the object and not the subject of the infinitive, but I can see the reflexive idea. I don’t know if the author of Hebrews uses εις for εν, though.

    With the tenor of the rest of the epistle, it might be right to see it as reflexive. E.g.:Therefore, leaving the elementary teachings, let’s move on, folks, and not again or repeatedly keep laying down the basics. For it’s impossible to keep renewing you people to press on to the higher calling if, after having experienced God’s power, you fall back again to your former state of unbelief and doubt, because that means you’re again crucifying Jesus and waiting for God to take care of the sin problem and feeling helpless about yourselves, because you’ve forgotten who Jesus is and what He has done. Listen up, folks: The sin problem has been dealt with. God has made a new covenant with you. There is no more remembrance of sins on God’s part, and there should be none on your part, either. Hello? Jesus has entered into heaven itself, into the true tabernacle, and has sat down at God’s right hand. He’s not redying and redying for your sins; He’s just waiting for death to be destroyed.

    Comment by EricW — November 20, 2011 @ 9:15 am | Reply

  8. By Jove, I think we’ve got it!

    Comment by Scott Stocking — November 20, 2011 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  9. […] those of you who didn’t follow the comment thread on the latest SMGB post, I wanted to sum things up. My friend Eric Weiss and I tossed around a few ideas on the passage, […]

    Pingback by Hebrews 6:4–6: Wrapping It Up « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — November 22, 2011 @ 9:40 pm | Reply


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