Repenting Apostates: Interpreting Hebrews 6?

Question
So I read your other article on Hebrews 6. I really enjoyed the article and it's helped me with this passage I understand your getting this interpretation from the present tense of crucifying "these people cannot repent while they are still in the midst of this sin" the rebuttals I was given from an arminian website is from F.F. Bruce who calls this interpretation "a truism hardly worth putting into words." Since it is always impossible to bring anyone to repentance so long as he persists in rejection. So after reading that I'm not sure how to view this Hebrews 6 passage and would really appreciate any help.
Answer

I love F.F. Bruce, and often rely on his commentaries; including the one that contains the quote you mention (NICNT). But I do think his arguments on this passage aren't his best. First, I should point out that his argument hinges on the idea that the participles are temporal rather than causal. He admits that a temporal use would imply what I think the passages teaches. So, he thinks that by arguing for a causal use, he's somehow rejecting that implication. But he's wrong. If the participles are temporal, then *when* the apostates stop repudiating Christ, they can repent. If the participles are causal, then *if* the apostates stop repudiating Christ, they can repent. Neither use suggests that the inability to repent is a permanent state.

I suppose I should also point out that Bruce offers no syntactical or grammatical argument against the temporal use of the participles. He actually acknowledges that the grammar can be taken either way. Instead, he argues for the causal use by denying that it would be reasonable for Scripture to say what a temporal use would imply (i.e., apostasy is a permanent state). But that is tightly circular reasoning that asserts in its premise (Scripture would never say such a thing) the very thing it is trying to prove (Scriptures does not say such a thing here).

In any case, Scripture states many truisms that mature believers can probably assume (thus disproving Bruce's premise above). But we don't on that account look for alternate interpretations of those truisms. Moreover, let's remember that the original audience of Hebrews needed some remedial theology. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's actually the point the author made in the immediately prior verses. I might also gently add that F.F. Bruce's intuitions about what can go without saying are probably not the norm for Bible readers. The more we know, the harder it is to think like someone that doesn't know very much.

Now, I do think Bruce is right that Scripture and experience teach that human beings can come to points in their lives where repentance is impossible. In fact, as a Reformed theologian, I think everyone is in that category prior to regeneration! So, I'm tempted to reply that Bruce's interpretation (that some unbelievers are unable to repent) is itself "a truism hardly worth putting into words." At the very least, such a response would highlight the fact that Bruce's own statement is heavily influenced by his theology.

Finally, there is the matter of the unforgivable sin, which Jesus identified as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matt. ‪12:31‬). The sin described in Hebrews 6 isn't blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; it's apostasy. If we call it blasphemy against anyone, it would have to be against the Son (Heb. 6:6). And Jesus himself said blasphemy against the son is forgivable (Matt. ‪12:32‬), just like every other sin besides blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matt. ‪12:31‬). Therefore, apostasy must be forgivable, too. Therefore, there must be a way for an apostate to repent. Therefore, Hebrews 6 doesn't teach that apostates can't repent.

Related Topics:

Backsliding Christians

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.