6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Verse 6 gives us the reason why it is impossible for Christian Jews who revert to Levitical sacrifices to repent.
6 if they fall away,
The Greek word for “fall away” means to move away from a point of reference. The Greek word means fall away, fall down. These words do not mean to apostatize. The idea is an unfaithful act of sin or a decisive refusal to grow into spiritual maturity. The reason they could not mature was their reversion to Levitical sacrifices.
The readers were “dull of hearing” (He 5:11). They did not want to fully, exclusively engage with the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice over Levitical sacrifices. This placed them in the status of spiritual infancy (He 5:13). They still ministered to others as Christians, yet they remained immature (He 6:10). Like the wilderness generation they did not press on (Num 14:1–10). When the scouts of Numbers 14 returned, Israel believed the majority report that the inhabitants of the land were too difficult to conquer. This was a rejection of God’s promises for victory. This decision made their right to enter the land impossible.
The claim today that “fall away” means absolute apostasy ignores the “slothfulness” of these Christians who were baby believers (He 5:11; 6:12). The issue here was not that the readers were completely rejecting faith in Christ. Their problem was passivity toward the faith (He 2:1; 5:11–6:2). Their danger was to fall into a permanent state of immaturity. They had lost ongoing trust in Christ’s finished work. Their sin was a decisive rejection to mature in Christ. They did not want to put into practice the implication of who and what Christ is—that is, the finality of His work on the cross.
We find the issue of salvation is nowhere in this context (He 5:11–6:12). The warning here is not about loss of salvation but failure to grasp a mature view of Christ. The process of maturity cannot move forward if the New Testament believer reverts to the type rather than the Antitype. The Israelites could not enter the Promised Land because they would not take God at His Word. The same principle holds true for Christians who revert from the finished work of Christ.
There is no “if” in the Greek text. There is nothing conditional about this statement whatsoever. The words “fall away” relate to verses 4 and 5. The idea is that it is impossible for those who have experienced the ideas in those verses to repent. The readers of Hebrews had actually fallen away from the exclusive superiority of Christ’s sacrifice. (Scholars, please read the grammatical note at the end of this study.)
The words “fall away” do not refer to loss of eternal life but defection from the finality of Christ’s sacrifice. These people wanted to hold both the Old and New Testament economies at the same time. It was a reversion into Old Testament way of thinking. This caused them to enter a stage of stagnant immaturity.
The Greek word for “fall away” occurs only here in the New Testament. The word means to break a contract and render it invalid (Moulton and Milligan). The idea, then, is to turn away from God’s truth (He 3:12; 12:25). The Greek word for “fall away” is not the appropriate word for complete repudiation of Christ. The usage here does not describe a denunciation of Christ. Instead, the author described his readers in terms of what God had already accomplished for them (He 3:6, 14; 5:9; 4:16; 6:18; 7:25; 9:12, 15; 10:14, 19, 23, 35).
The falling away here is refusal to press on to maturity. The words “fall away” do not mean apostasy in the usual theological meaning of the term. It does not mean loss of salvation of a true Christian. These believers turned away from their initial true understanding of Christ and His work. This is not the same as backsliding.
The author clearly expected “better things” of these believers (He 6:9), indicating that the readers had not fully succumbed to distorted doctrine at this point. The argument here is not absolute apostasy or a total rejection of Christ but a co-mingling of Judaism with New Testament economy. The context indicates that the issue was a relative not an absolute one.
Mature doctrine is necessary to lead to a mature life.
The readers of Hebrews had an “evil, unbelieving heart” (He 3:12) like the Exodus generation (He 3:7–11). These people were about to commit the same sin as believers in the wilderness (He 3:8, 16). Their sin was that they did not take God at His Word (He 3:9, 13, 15). They forfeited God’s rest because they did not believe Him (He 4:2). The argument of “fall away” here is parallel to the wilderness generation.
Maturity is relative, based on stages of growth. Christians today can sit at the baby stage and not even reach the adolescent stage. They can become indifferent about the exclusivity and the superiority of Christ. This will stunt growth. This passivity about Christ will result in the same condition as the wilderness generation. That sin was not absolute apostasy but unwillingness to claim the promises of God without question. The issue at Kadesh-barnea was their lack of faith in what God could do (Num 14:20,39–40). Christians with immature doctrine cannot move to a mature Christian life.
[Note for scholars: All five participles are governed by the definite article tous. All five are in the accusative case, masculine in gender and plural in number. All five are substantive, not adverbial. All five are linked by the conjunction kai. These parallel conjunctions serve to bind the participles together as a unit. Normally adjectival and adverbial participles do not conjoin in the same grouping in the NT. Hebrews elsewhere does not combine adjectival and adverbial participles. The five participles, then, are packaged together as a single unit. Thus, the translation should be “…who have fallen away.” The significance of this grammar is that the author describes one group of people and there is no conditional or temporal aspect to the translation.]