Whoever is under discussion in this passage can indeed fall away. In Hebrews 3:1,12, he refers to his readers as “brethren” and he never gives any indication as to when he ceases to speak to fellow Christians. A few verses later, he writes, “but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:6).
Christ’s body is the church (Ephesians 1:22,23) and those who are in his body have been baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
“Throughout the book [of Hebrews] he gives warnings and exhortation intended for his readers, for that group of Hebrew Christians. Hebrews 6:4-6 is not being addressed to some nebulous, unspecified group of people. To take it seriously as part of the letter requires us to view it as being addressed and applicable to this community of believers.”/1
They were “once enlightened” means “those who have been made Christians” (John 1:9)./2 The term is a “reference to the beginning of the Christian life.”/3 This process is also referred to in Hebrews 10:32 and in that context they were admonished not to “cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35,36)./4
Justin Martyr tied “‘illumination’ [enlightening] to baptism calling those who had been baptized, ‘the illuminated ones.'”/5 They have “tasted the heavenly gift” and “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 6:4).
An examination of 10:26-38 is very important in determining the audience of our text. It is virtually impossible to miss the nature of the hearers. He speaks of the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross for them (Hebrews 10:8,9). They were “sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10,29). They were members of the covenant (Hebrews 10:15,16). They had been blessed to receive the “remission of sins” (Hebrews 10:18) and “consecration” (Hebrews 10:20).
They had their “hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22) and enjoyed the “confession of our hope” (Hebrews 10:23) and “received the knowledge of truth” (Hebrews 10:26). They had on them the “blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (Hebrews 10:29). “After [they] were illuminated” (Hebrews 10:32), they have “a better and enduring possession for [themselves] in heaven” (Hebrews 10:34). Finally, he refers to them as the “just” (Hebrews 10:38). And this chapter also talks about the possibility of apostasy.
“I know not how [the author of Hebrews] he could have chosen expressions which more forcibly describe the real and genuine possession of a Christian life.”/6
Apostasy is under consideration in these passages. The Hebrew writer has in mind far more than backsliding. It is final and consummate. “Falling away does not mean falling into sin, even grievous sin, but renouncing the faith of Christ wholly.”/7
It is indeed possible for this to occur. Why would Scripture be so replete with warnings if it was impossible for a Christian to fall? Why the endless warnings about false teachers in Scripture, if they pose no threat to Christians (Matthew 24:24; Galatians 1:8,9; 2 Timothy 3)?
We shall examine in the third article why this false doctrine appeals to so many people and what Scripture actually teaches.
1/ Verlyn D. Verbrugge, “Towards a New Interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6,” Calvin Theological Journal 15:1 (April 1980): 67.
2/ Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1977), 663.
3/ Gerhard Friedrich, Editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 9:355.
5/ Cyril Richardson, ed. Early Christian Fathers (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 283.
6/ J. B. Rowell, “Exposition of Hebrews Six,” Bibliotheca Sacra 94 (1937): 325.
7/ Herbert Hohenstein, “A Study of Hebrews 6:4-8,” Concordia Theological Monthly 27:6 (June 1956): 537.