Thomas Schreiner on Heb. 6:4-8

B&H Publishing launches a new commentary series called Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation. The inaugural volume is on Hebrews by Thomas Schreiner. What does an academic buyer (that’s me) do with a new commentary on Hebrews? I look up what it says about Hebrews 6:4-8, what else? Schreiner argues that the passage is describing Christians. He writes,

“Grudem, following a long line of Reformed interpreters, gives the best defense for the readers being almost Christians. According to Grudem, the author doesn’t use language that clearly demonstrates that those described are Christians. For instance, he doesn’t say they are forgiven of their sins or sanctified. Indeed, Grudem lists 18 different ways the author could have communicated clearly that the readers are Christians, all of which are lacking in the text. A couple of brief responses must suffice here. First, Grudem’s list demands more than is reasonable. We can’t expect that a writer uses terms to describe believers that fit our criteria. What must be determined is whether what is written accords with those being described as believers or unbelievers. Outside criteria can’t be imposed on the text as an abstraction to determined who is addressed. Second, we shall see that the readers are described as those who have received the Holy Spirit and as those who are sanctified (10:29). There is no clearer mark in the NT that one is a believer than receiving the Holy Spirit (6:4), so there are excellent reasons for thinking believers are addressed here.” (pp. 182-83)

“The language of renewing to repentance makes clear that the sin is apostasy. The danger isn’t simply that the readers would live unfruitful lives and thus not gain a greater reward. Repentance and faith are regularly used in the NT to describe the human response necessary to enter the people of God. So by saying that they couldn’t repent again, the author indicates that they would be outside the people of God if they fall away, that there would be no room for coming back in through repentance and faith. Such language precludes the notion that rewards are intended.” (p. 181)

“Those who think the text speaks of losing rewards instead of final damnation appeal to the illustration to support their view [vv. 7-8]. But such a reading fails, for it is not the fruit that is burned but the land itself! It would make sense to see a reference to rewards if it were the crops that were destroyed at the end. The author, however, describes the destruction of the land, not its fruit. The land refers to the persons in the illustration, and hence there is no doubt that the threat is eternal punishment, not loss of rewards.” (p. 191)

Commentary on Hebrews is a hardcover with 560 pages and sells for $39.99.

Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has also taught New Testament at Azusa Pacific University and Bethel Theological Seminary. He received a B.S. from Western Oregon University, a M.Div. and Th.M. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, and a Ph.D. in New Testament from Fuller Theological Seminary.

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6 thoughts on “Thomas Schreiner on Heb. 6:4-8

  1. The text of Hebrews in chapter six quoted above says “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” This is the act whereby a person is saved and has everlasting life. the ideas aired above involve more contradictions than they solve.
    John 5:24 is one case. “He that hears My Word and believes on Him Who sent Me has everlasting life and shall not come into judgment but is passed from death unto life.” This is very clear that salvation is eternal, once and for all. So to be lost again with no possibility for repentance produces a contradiction. If when we repent we have eternal life; then to lose it means that eternal does not mean eternal.
    Secondly the passage in question is not saying what the writer thinks it is saying, that the Christian may be lost. It is just that we do not go through the experience of being. ‘born again’ or ‘anew’ a second time. When the Lord Jesus talked with Nicodemus he was referring to the passage in Ezekiel chapter 36 where a new birth for Israel is prophesied. A Rabbi of Nicodemus’s standing ought to have been familiar with that passage of scripture. So, of course ought a present day theologian.

  2. Roger, Schreiner does not believe that a “Christian may be lost,” but he does believe that Hebrews is warning of the dire consequences that would follow upon apostasy, as an incentive to Christians to stay well on the side of truth.

    • It did not seem at all clear so thank you for the correction. I have that passage quoted to me so often by people who do not think that the lord Jesus can save completely all who come to God by Him.
      1Corinthians chapter three has the addition to it then with the wood, hay and stubble burned and a person “saved, yet so as by fire.” That is one’s work, what one has done with one’s life burned up, only gold silver and precious stones lasting for eternity.
      It gives one serious cause to review one’s life and what one has done or not done in service for the Lord Jesus.

      • Roger,
        I agree with your assessment. Just reading this commentary from Hebrews might lead someone to think he believes a believer could lose his salvation. I read it several times because I knew Schreiner held to eternal security. Note his comments here.
        He says, “”If I were not convinced of unconditional election, given all my study and reflection on this, I would surely be an Arminian,” Schreiner said. “The warning passages are so strong that I can understand why many think that believers can lose their salvation. What is interesting to me, and tremendously puzzling, is that there are so many believers who reject unconditional election, and yet hold on to eternal security. Such a position, I would suggest, is the most inconsistent of all. I think it is maintained not by virtue of detailed exegesis, but as a theological a priori. May I be pardoned for thinking that such a view comes more from the heart than the head.

        “Some people want to believe so badly in eternal security, that they leap over the warning passages and sustain their belief in eternal security. Personally, I think such people should be Arminian. I find the Arminian view that believers can and do lose their salvation much more biblically coherent than such a position. In other words, I just can’t grasp how anybody can reject unconditional election and then believe in eternal security, given the strength of these warning passages. It just passes all understanding for me.

        “Of course, I’m convinced that both these positions are wrong. I’m convinced that the Scriptures do teach unconditional election, and that God’s electing and sustaining grace is such that his sheep will never perish. And they never perish because they listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice, by which we are guided safely into our heavenly harbor.”

        • Thanks, Louis. I made my own remark based on Tom’s book with Ardel Caneday (The Race Set Before Us).

          • Eternal security has been purchased by the Lord Jesus, That work of His is of eternal and infinite value. Election is according to the foreknowledge of God and is concerning what we are to be, that is. “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans8:29,30.) “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the Sprit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” (1Pet341:2)

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