Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Arminian trump card

“We now examine what I consider to be the most significant warning against apostasy in the entire Bible: Hebrews 10:26-30, 35-39.”

So this is the Arminian high card to trump the doctrine of perseverance. If this is a losing card, then any other card will be a losing card.

“The willful sin described here is generally understood to be the sin of apostasy (the same as in Heb. 2:1; 3:12; 6:6 and 12:25). It is the decisive act of repudiation of the faith. “

True, but irrelevant. That’s not a point of contention between Calvinism and Arminianism.

“It is significant that the Greek word for ‘knowledge’ used in this passage is epignosis.”

Is it really?

“Strong says…“

Strong is not a scholarly reference work on lexical semantics.

“Kittel says…”

i) Kittel is notorious for its word-study fallacies. Apparently, Ben is ignorant of Barr’s classic, devastating, and definitive review.

ii) We can’t assume that one author’s usage (e.g. Pauline usage) is synonymous with another author’s usage.

iii) Even if epignosis were a technical term for conversion, that’s irrelevant since Calvinism doesn’t deny that a convert can fall away.

iv) Apropos (i)-(ii), you can’t infer a theology of conversion from a mere word or phrase. So even if the author of Hebrews were using a word or phrase to denote conversion, that—of itself—doesn’t distinguish between a Reformed or Arminian model of conversion. Conversion is a theological construct. You don’t get that from word-studies.

“Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says.”

Vine’s is a quaint, popular resource. Useful, but it hardly represents the best in contemporary, academic scholarship, viz. BAGD, EDNT, or Louw & Nida.

“Especially consider the salvation language of 1 Tim. 2:3, 4, ‘This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge [epignosis] of the truth’, compared with Heb. 10:26, ‘For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge [epignosis] of the truth…’ While this is strong evidence in favor of viewing the apostate as one who had come to a complete and saving knowledge of the truth, the choice of epignosis by the writer of Hebrews does not, by itself, prove that such is the case. Epignosis and gnosis are sometimes used interchangeably in Scripture but the stronger sense of epignosis should not be ignored. Even if gnosis were used the context would still suggest saving knowledge.”

Here, Ben commits the illegitimate totality transfer fallacy. Even where the prefix intensifies the meaning of the root, that wouldn’t make the word epignosis mean “saving knowledge.” For that meaning doesn’t derive from the sense of the *word*, but from the sense of the *phrase* in which it occurs. It carries that meaning in 1 Tim 2:4 because the context is soteric.

“Paul Ellingworth writes in his commentary on the Greek text that this “knowledge of the truth” is: ‘…the content of Christianity as the absolute truth (Bauer 2b).”

Okay, Ellingworth is a bona fide scholar. But Ben makes very selective use of Ellingworth, as we shall see.

This also gives Ben secondary access to BAGD (though not the latest edition). But let’s stick with this definition. Notice that this definition throws emphasis on the *object* of knowledge rather than the *subject* of knowledge. Not on the psychology of the apostate, but on the objective content of the faith. Not how he knew it, but what he knew. So this doesn’t tell us anything about the mental state of the individual. The word doesn’t distinguish between the regenerate and the unregenerate.

“We need to pause briefly to consider an interpretation offered by some proponents of unconditional eternal security which looks to draw a parallel between this passage and 1 Corinthians 3:14-15.”

We can ignore this section since it’s directed at antinomians like Ryrie, Hodges, and Kendall. It’s irrelevant to the doctrine of perseverance.

“The greatest difficulty for Calvinism in these verses is the fact that the apostate is said to have been sanctified by the blood of the covenant.”

That’s debatable. According to Ellingworth, “Grammatically, the subject [of hagiazo] could be the covenant” (541). Since Ben has quoted Ellingworth once before, why doesn’t he quote him on the alternative rendering?

By the way, the Reformed interpretation of Heb 10 doesn’t depend on that alternative. But it’s striking that Ben keeps this bit of information from his readers.

“If the Holy Spirit has no intentions of saving the reprobate and has deliberately withheld saving grace from them, then how can it possibly be said that these supposed “reprobates” (i.e. apostates) have “insulted” the Spirit of Grace?”

They have insulted the Holy Spirit by disregarding the Scriptures which he inspired. He’s the agent of inspiration. The Spirit of prophecy. To disregard his Word is equivalent to disregarding his person.

The author of Hebrews has a bibliology which is tightly connected to his pneumatology. Ben has failed to observe this connection because he’s too busy superimposing his agenda onto the text to listen to the text.

Finally, Ben also has a series of statements in which he repeats the same idea over and over again. This is the payoff that he’s been working up to:


The last part of the verse creates big trouble for Calvinism with regards to the doctrine of limited atonement: “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” By repudiating the faith there is no longer any sacrifice available for the apostate. However, if Calvinism is correct then there never was any sacrifice made for the apostate to begin with. The “apostate”, according to Calvinism, is really just a reprobate who came to the very edge of saving faith and then turned away. The apostate never put faith in Christ and his turning away only revealed his true unregenerate and irrevocably reprobated nature. Calvinism asserts that Christ did not die for reprobates and never made any provision for their sins. How then can it be said that by the act of apostasy that there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins?” This difficulty only magnifies later in the passage as we shall see.

Some may object that the verse could be understood as simply stating that there is no other sacrifice available for the apostate to turn to and no other sacrifice that can be made since Christ died “once for all [time].” The fact remains, however, that such a statement seems unnecessary in light of the warning itself as there would never have been any sacrifice provided for the apostate (reprobate) to turn to in the first place (according to Calvinism).

The nature and scope of the atonement comes into sharp focus in these passages in view of God’s just judgment of the apostate. We need to remember that in Calvinism no provision has been made for the reprobate. Jesus Christ did not shed His blood for the reprobate. His sacrifice was not intended for those whom God had decreed to destroy even before the world was created. Most Calvinists say that the Holy Spirit “passes over” these reprobates and denies them the necessary grace to believe and be saved.

In what sense could they possibly have trampled under foot the Son of God when the Son of God made no provision for them? They have not truly rejected the blood of His sacrifice, for that blood was neither intended nor provided for them. The reprobates have nothing to reject for God has not made anything available for them. How then is God justified in judging them with regard to that “rejection?”

The passage answers this question for us in a way that creates even bigger problems for Calvinism’s cherished “P”. The apostates are condemned because the blood of Christ was not only truly shed for them but had in fact “sanctified” them. God’s gracious gift of salvation had not only been truly provided for the apostate but also applied to the apostate.


The problem with this objection is that Ben has overlaid an artificial grid on the underlying material. He’s forcing the author to answer the wrong questions, because these questions are important to Ben—not to the author. By contrast, the author is moving within a very different conceptual scheme. In fact, that was already explained to Ben by the two commentators whom he selectively cites.

As Ellingworth says, “Koinon [common] contrasts with hegiasthe [consecrated]…the apostate treats as profane…that which is in fact not only holy in itself, but the source of cleansing holiness for the believer. The language is cultic, not ethical” (540).

And Hagner also says “The word for ‘common’ (koinos)…is a cultic world meaning ‘unclean’ or unholy” (172).

So the author of Hebrews is using categories of ritual purity and impurity to describe the apostate. Sacred v. profane. The apostate was “holy” in the sense of cultic holiness—like the consecration of Israel.

Yet a ritually pure person could be unregenerate. Remember those OT admonitions about circumcising your heart, and so on? You could be a member in good standing of the OT covenant community, and still be a nominal believer. And you could be cut off from the covenant community through sacrilege.

And this carries over into the NT. To “defile” the blood of the covenant is cultic language. And our author’s usage is deliberately allusive of the Mosaic cultus.

Cultic holiness or unholiness is not about an individual’s actual state of holiness or unholiness, but about his standing before God. The high priest was sacrosanct because he was the high priest, and not because he was a good person. It’s an ascribed status.

Finally, Ellingworth prefaces this section (10:26-31) with the following statement:

“This raises the question of what exactly is the sin against which the author warns his readers in such severe terms. The immediate context suggests that it involves separation from the Christian community (v24). Thus offending against Christ as the Son of God (6:6), against his sacrifice, and against the Holy Spirit (v29), and failing to become one with Christ’s obedience to the will of God (v.36; cf. 2:4 and especially 10:5-10). The sin appears to involve a voluntary or willful failure, both in worship (nomos, v28) and in practical acts which express loving solidarity with other members of the believing community” (vv32-34), (530).

So Ellingworth defines NT apostasy in this letter as absenting oneself from the new covenant community. A form of self-excommunication. That’s the sense in which the apostate sins against the Son of God and the Spirit of God. And the converse of this, as he himself explains, would be participation in the life and worship of the new covenant community.

(Keep in mind that this is in the context of Messianic Jews who, under threat of persecution, were tempted to revert to the old covenant community.)

Needless to say, you don’t have to be elect or regenerate or redeemed to participate in the public worship of the new covenant community or express your solidarity through various activities. And you don’t have to be elect or regenerate or redeemed to profane the Lord or be guilty of profanation.

Infractions of ritual purity were culpable under the old covenant, and such infractions are aggravated under the new covenant. If the person of OT high priest was sacrosanct, then how much more in the case of his antitype? And if the apostate was once purified by his intensive contact with Christians, then his apostasy is an act of sacrilege.

In Scripture, it’s possible to “contract” ritual purity through certain associations. 1 Cor 7:14 is a case in point. The heathen spouse was purified by his marriage to a Christian spouse. And the children were purified by belonging to a Christian parent.

Conversely, as Paul also points out, it is possible to contract ritual impurity through certain associations. A member of the new covenant community desecrates his body by uniting his body to a prostitute.

Catholics (and Orthodox) can more easily identify with this outlook than Evangelicals, for categories of ritual purity and impurity are deeply imbedded in Catholic piety. The problem is that Catholicism has multiplied layers upon layers of man-made ceremonies or sacramentals.

The Protestant Reformation rightly rebelled against this suffocating superstition. So we accentuate the discontinuance of the ceremonial law. And that’s correct up to a point. But because this is not a part of our tradition, it can also blindside us to cultic categories in the NT.

And because the NT consists of occasional writings, this issue only crops up in certain situations, such as the relation between Christian and pagan in 1-2 Corinthians, or the defection of Messianic Jews in the book of Hebrews.


  1. Dear Steve,

    Interesting comments... Does Hebrews ever use "sanctify" in the sense you are here, in any other passage besides Hebrews 10:29? Does the NT ever use sanctify in the sense you are within the context of Christ's blood?

    God be with you,

  2. Ben: “The greatest difficulty for Calvinism in these verses is the fact that the apostate is said to have been sanctified by the blood of the covenant.”

    Steve: That’s debatable. According to Ellingworth, “Grammatically, the subject [of hagiazo] could be the covenant” (541). Since Ben has quoted Ellingworth once before, why doesn’t he quote him on the alternative rendering?

    Me: The "he" could also be "the Son of God" since Jesus was set apart not by any other man, but by God the Father, for his office as priest. OT priests were set apart and dedicated by God, who set aside and dedicated Jesus qua priest to God?

    And, this doesn't affect limited atonement. By my paedobaptist perspective, we have Hebrews saying that Jesus shed his blood "for those who draw near to him." "Drawing near" represents and pays off as "resting in God." So, those who do not "draw near" cannot be said to be "resting." In the OT, on the Day of Atonement, the priest would make sacrifice for "all those who did not work." If you "worked" on the Day of Atonement, then you would be put to death," and no sacrifice was made for you. But, they were put to death as covenant members.


    “Does Hebrews ever use ‘sanctify’ in the sense you are here, in any other passage besides Hebrews 10:29?”

    From Bill Lane’s commentary:

    “The cultic character of teleiosai in v[2:]10 is confirmed by the reference to consecration in v11. The vocabulary appears to be used in its OT significance, in which the people of Israel were sanctified or consecrated to God and his service in order to be admitted into his presence,” 1:58.

    “The apostate ‘has treated the blood of the covenant, by which he was consecrated [to the service of God], as defiled.’ The formulation reflects the cultic argument in 9:11-10:18…The phrase en ho hegiasthe, ‘by means of which he was consecrated,’ resumes 10:10,14…” 2:294.

    Keep in mind that Lane favors the Arminian interpretation of the apostasy passages, so I’m not begging the question by citing a Reformed commentator.

    “Does the NT ever use sanctify in the sense you are within the context of Christ's blood?”

    i) When we exegete Hebrews, we need, as much as possible, to stick to his own usage and literary allusions.

    ii) Keep in mind that, according to Ellingworth, the verb (to consecrate) may refer to the covenant rather than the apostate.

    iii) You’re verging on the illegitimate totality transfer fallacy. The verb (to sanctify or consecrate) doesn’t’ derive its meaning from the noun (“blood”) which it happens to take. You need to distinguish between the meaning of a sentence and the meaning of a word.