The Book of Hebrews


Here we come to the difficult part of the text. The difficulty is not that the terms are not clear in the text. Rather the difficulty is that the text seems to teach truths which are contradictory to other clear teachings and doctrines of the Holy Scriptures. The text seems to teach a falling away of saints, that is, of those who once were true children of God. If this should be the teaching here it would imply that it is possible to have been a true child of God, to have been a possessor of true faith in Christ, and still to perish everlastingly in outer darkness of hell! 

Since we adhere to the principle that dogmatics may not rule over exegesis; that our dogmatic and confessional bias may not influence our interpretation, we cannot simply appeal to the confessions to interpret this text. We will need to interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture. 

Our first observation is concerning the term “those who were once enlightened.” What is the meaning of the term “enlightened?” The verb in the Greek text is “phootizoo.” The aorist passive participle is used: “tous apax phootisthentas”—the once enlightened ones. They are looked at as a class of people in distinction from those who were not enlightened. They were once and for all enlightened. This enlightenment will never be taken from them, and it cannot be repeated. The aorist tense points up the point action. It states the once and for all fact as a fact. It is not the tense which indicates completed enlightenment up to the present as one might expect in the case of those who have a saving knowledge of God in Christ. The term “enlightened” is used by the writer also in Hebrews 10:32, where we read, “But call to mind the former days in which ye were illuminated (enlightened), ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” Here the translation in the KJV of the text suggests that this is an enlightenment in a saving sense of inward, spiritual illumination in the sense of which Paul speaks of it in Ephesians 1:18. “. . . the eyes of your understanding (heart) being enlightened: that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints . . . .” In this latter passage the apostle is clearly speaking of the saving illumination, the inward calling as this accompanies the preaching of the gospel. It is evidently true that the Bible uses the term to “enlighten” in more than one sense and application of the term. 

This is evident from various passages of Holy Writ which we ought to consider briefly. In Luke 11:34-36 we read from the lips of Jesus “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body shall be full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body shall be full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light that is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body be therefore full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of the candle doth give thee light.” We have singled out a key sentence in the above quotation by italicizing it. There is such a thing as the “light in us” to be “darkness.” Evidently there is a distinction between natural light and enlightenment which is psychological, and the enlightenment which is spiritual-ethical enlightenment whereby we have a saving knowledge of God. Christ speaks of the fact that there is an inner duplicity in those who have the mere psychical enlightenment. They are children of darkness which they are naturally enlightened. With this accords the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 6:23b “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” Hence, we must have the single eye. We need the spiritual simplicity, truthfulness and uprightness of heart which loves the truth and hates the lie. And, again, we should notice what we read in John 1:9 “That was the true (real) light which enlighteneth every man coming into the world.” It is this light which comes from the Logos in the things made which enlightens “men.” Apart from this enlightenment they could not be sinners, who hate the light and do not come to the light because that their works are evil. These are they who keep the truth down in unrighteousness in unrepentance, and treasure to themselves wrath in the day of wrath and of the just judgment of God. (Romans 1:18, 21Romans 2:1-2

There is a sense, therefore, in which the Bible speaks of enlightenment which is tantamount to the external calling of the Gospel. We hasten to add that this “external” calling must not be misunderstood as it often evidently is. Too often the eternal calling is viewed as simply referring to the preaching of the gospel as it merely enters into the ear, so to speak. What is forgotten is, that, according to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, the seed which is sown by the wayside really fell into the “heart” of the hearers under the preaching; it is true not in a saving sense, but in such a sense that these hearers had to react in a spiritual-ethical response. Their response was that, they, under the impulses of Satan’s work, reject the gospel. However, let, it not be overlooked that this is a rejection from the heart. It is a willful rejection because those rejecting know what they are rejecting; they reject from the “heart” which had been naturally enlightened. There must have been an operation of the Spirit even here giving them to understand in a natural way the meaning of the Gospel. Do we not read here in Matthew 13:19 “. . .then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.” Surely they did understand this with their natural understanding. However, spiritually they did not understand. That is what Jesus means when he says “When one heareth the word of the kingdom and understandeth it not. . .” In a word, the light that was in them is darkness. The external calling, too, enlightened them “so that by hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive.” It is that which Isaiah speaks of in the sixth Chapter, where he asks: “Lord, how long? And he answered, until their cities be wasted. . . .” It is the Word of God to Isaiah which said “Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed but understand not; and see ye indeed but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert and be healed.” 

Such is the external calling which is accompanied by the Spirit in a non-saving sense of the term! 

The light that is in them is darkness! 

How great is that darkness! 

In the light of the foregoing we are able to understand that implications of the term “Those who have once been enlightened.” These are not sinners who perish without law, but they are those who are judged by the law and the prophets: they are those who have known the way and do not walk in the same. They are reprobate, hardened sinners, who hate the light. The god of this age hath blinded their hearts. 

For the writer to the Hebrews makes a few more instructive remarks concerning these who were once “enlightened.” 

In the first place: they have tasted of the heavenly gift. They are in this respect different from those who never heard the gospel, and never lived amongst the people of God. The heavenly gift is emphatically theheavenly gift. The Greek construction is “of the gift, of the heavenly!” It is the salvation in Christ to which the writer here refers. The term is here “doorea”; it is pure gift. It is without merit. Besides, it is a gift which is heavenly. It is that which is the very essence of the Mystery of the kingdom of heaven. This gift is evidently the fulness of grace in Christ. The gift of God is eternal life. This is what God hath revealed unto us in His Son. Of this they “tasted.” The idea of tasted is not so much that of nourishment as to power to discern and become aware of its inner nature. The term taste is derived from: tasten, oftaxare—to touch. These ascertained the heavenly flavor of this gift. They are keenly aware that to enter the kingdom means that they must repent from their sins, and serve God with undivided heart. They take a little of it in their mouth, they taste that it is good, but their hearts are evil and they reject it. 

In the second place is mentioned, that they are enlightened, and, therefore, are such as who have become partakers of the Holy Ghost. Now, what does this mean? Does this mean that they “received” the Holy Ghost, whom the “world” is not able to receive? Does it mean that they received Christ and all his benefits of the Spirit by a true faith? Evidently not! Sometimes the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit in the tense as he testifies in connection with the preached Word. We referred to this earlier in this essay. Particularly, because, in the next phrase mention is made of “having tasted the good word of God,” we hold that here the becoming partaker of the Holy Spirit must refer to the enlightenment of the Spirit by which they understood with their natural understanding the heavenly gift of salvation. They knew that they must be sorry for their sins, but they knew not subjectively how to be sorry for their sins. They did not enter into the rest! The text puts this in the fact tense. They were made such partakers. It is a fact of experience and history with such. They did not make themselves such partakers. That too was outside of their ability. They were made partakers. That was part of the “having been enlightened.” That they are partakers is not the same as that they had “fellowship” with the Holy Spirit. It was not with the person of the Spirit that they had fellowship, but they shared with others in the benefits of the preaching, its instruction, etc. In the days of the apostles this could refer to the charismatic gifts in the church: healing, prophesying, tongues, exhortation, teaching and admonition. In these they shared. It is a disconcerting thought, but it is true. One can even have been a preacher of these heavenly realities, felt their power and beauty, be a castaway!! Many first shall be the last, and last shall be first. Paul does not boast that he preached this gospel. He is less than the least of all saints! He rejoices not in that he speaks more tongues than any man, and prophesies more than all. He rejoiced in the words: I have kept the faith, I have run the race, and for me is laid away a crown of life! No mere partaker of gifts, but fellowship in Christ is blessed! 

That being made a partaker of the Holy Ghost cannot refer to actual receiving of the benefits of the Spirit in a saving sense in the text is also evident from the meaning of the term “metochous.” This term is distinguished from “koinonos” in that the latter suggests personal fellowship, while the former describes participation in some common blessing or privilege, or the like. (See Westcott in loco) Wherefore the being made a partaker of the Holy Ghost simply refers to the natural participation in the benefits of Christ, the gifts in the church without spiritual participation unto salvation.