Hate, A Word Study

Yesterday we studied the word “enemy” and found that it primarily refers to those who oppose, persecute, or hate someone. So what do those words mean, especially hatred? We’ve already done a study on love, so perhaps now we be a good time to discuss its opposite.

The Hebrew word translated “hate” is sane; the Greek word is miseo. Since both refer to the same idea, we will look at them together. First, however, we should make an important distinction. Just like people confuse disliking someone with being their enemy, people often confuse anger with hatred. When someone opposes us, it is natural to have ill-feelings towards them. Likewise, when we hate something or someone, anger is a naturally accompanying emotion. Anger, however, is not hatred, and hatred is not anger. If it were, then every time we became angry at a loved one we would have to admit that we actually hated them, which obviously is not the case.

Hatred is actually the lack of love (love, if you remember, is the desire to for the best interests of another). Love unites. Love brings together (1 Cor. 13). Hatred, then, is an aversion to a person or thing. Hatred sees something as undesirable and as ought to be shunned. Hatred divides.

We can further distinguish between two kinds of hatred, what we may call “cold” and “hot” hate. “Hot hatred” is that with which we are most familiar. It is an aversion that is accompanied by strong negative emotions. People often hate one another in this regard, and this is the idea the NT condemns when it says that to hate someone is to be a murder (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15). On the other hand, Christians are called upon to hate sin, just as God does (Rom. 12:9). In fact, it is our hatred of sin that will often keep us from it! (cf. Ps. 36:1-3)

“Cold hate” is an emotionless aversion and may be more clearly understood as disinterest. To “hate” someone or something in this regard is to consider it so unimportant that it is unworthy of your interest; that is, you have absolutely no desire to consider it. In this sense, people are said to hate God (although they do so in the other sense as well), a sad fact which as terrible consequences (Ex. 20:5; Rom. 1:30). In this sense, to ignore people in need is to hate them in this way.

In addition to these literal meanings, the Bible also uses the word in a figurative sense of “love less.” Thus, Jesus says that we are to hate our father and mother and even our own lives (Luke 14:26). The idea is that, compared to our love for God, all other considerations are so secondary that that simply don’t matter to a degree that they could be considered hated. The point is clear: God comes first! Another example is found in Romans 9:13, which says that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. The idea is that God chose Jacob before he was born to carry the Abrahamic blessing but rejected Esau for it.

Hatred, then, is neither good or evil in and of itself. Like love, the important question is the object. To hate people is wrong. To hate sin is good. We are capable of being angry without falling into hatred, just as God does with us. Anger rooted in love is righteous anger; anger rooted in hate is murder. Understood properly, love and hate, properly understood, help us properly define all of our relationships and ultimately will lead to a more fulfilling, and fulfilled, Christian life.

How Do I Love My Enemies?

Christians have suffered severe persecution throughout history. Those who persecuted, or opposed, them, were their enemies, and Jesus commanded His followers to love them.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Such a command seems impossible to fulfill when we understand “love” to mean having positive feelings about something and “enemy” as someone we don’t like. If that is what those words mean, then Jesus is telling us to like people we don’t like! In order to avoid a contradiction, we would have to understand Him to be saying, “stop disliking people and like them a lot instead.” Unfortunately, we don’t have that much control over our emotions. Fortunately, though, there are better ways to understand the biblical concept of an enemy (click here for our study on love).

The main OT word is ‘oyeb and the direct NT equivalent is echthros (the latter is almost always used to translate the former in the Greek translation of the OT). ‘oyeb essentially refers to hostility, and thus an “enemy” is one who is hostile to, or opposes, another. In light of this, Ex. 23:4-5 is particularly interesting. The Israelites were commanded to return the donkey or ox of their ‘oyeb if they found it wandering. Moses then says that if a person were to find the donkey of “one who hates you” fallen down, he was to help. The hating person is parallel to the ‘oyeb, which means that they have similar ideas. From this, we see that an enemy is one who hates another (the primary concept of hatred is opposition).

This meaning is demonstrated repeatedly throughout the OT. It primarily refers to the enemies of God and His people (i.e., the Egyptians, Ex. 15:9; the Canaanites, Deut. 12:10; etc.), though it also refers to personal enemies (as above, Ex. 23:4-5; of David—and ultimately Jesus, 2 Sam. 7:9-11; Ps. 110:1, etc.). Even Israel is called God’s enemy is passages like Isa. 63:10 when they fell into sin. In all of these, the idea is the same: a person or nation opposed to another, usually God.

Echthros is very similar to ‘oyeb except, due to the theological emphasis of the NT, it focuses more on personal enemies (in the OT, the focus was usually on the nation of Israel and her relationship with other nations. Thus, enemies, of individuals, Israel, or even God, are usually national in character. In the NT, the focus is greatly shifted to the individual and their relationship to Christ). Yet clear parallels are found with OT usage. We may have personal enemies, but this is especially the enemies of God becomes our enemies (Phil. 3:18; James 4:4, etc.). Every Christian was once God’s enemy in that they opposed His will (Rom. 5:10). Death is our enemy because it stands in opposition to both our will and God’s (1 Cor. 15:26).

An “enemy” is simply a person or thing who opposes, persecutes, hinders, or hates another. We naturally have ill feelings for those who oppose us. That does not mean, however, that an enemy is someone we don’t like. It just so happens that we don’t like our enemies! Further, people may be our enemies for several reasons. The main reason the Bible is concerned with is spiritual. People will oppose us because we follow Christ. Christian brothers ought not to oppose one another at all, but should live at peace in unity with one another.

In light of this, Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:44, while still not easy, make sense. He is not commanding us to have nice feelings for people we don’t like. He is commanding us to take care of even those who persecute us. After all, that is just what God did for us when we were His enemies (Rom. 5:10).

When was the last time you loved an enemy? How did you do so?

Why Would A Good God Allow Bad Things To Happen?

It is common (and biblical!) to hear Christians put forward a positive case for God’s existence. It is less common to hear atheists do so. Their argument goes something like this: We shouldn’t believe something without evidence; there is no evidence for God’s existence; therefore, we should not believe He exists. They have a negative case for their worldview. Many actually believe it is impossible to provide a positive case for God’s non-existence.

There is, however, one argument that atheists have used to try to argue positively that God does not exist. It is called the Problem of Evil. It’s important to look at for two reasons: first, if it is the one argument atheists continually use, then we must be prepared for it; and second, many Christians have a problem with it, too!

The argument goes this way: God would have the power, knowledge, and will to prevent evil in this world; there is evil in this world; therefore, the God must not exist.

Put a bit less formally, the argument says if God loves us so much, He would keep us from suffering. After all, every parent who loves their child would do the same. Who would stand by while their child played near a busy street intersection? Who wouldn’t pull their child out of a fire if they were able? Yet God allows people to suffer and die for no apparent reason. In other words, why would a good God allow bad things to happen?

The problem with the argument is that it makes a lot of unnecessary assumptions. We will address this problem repeatedly, so rather than try to look at all of them, let’s just look at one:

It assumes that we don’t deserve to suffer.

There are, of course, other issues involved. The first usually cited is free will. This, though, gets right to the heart of the matter. If a rapist goes to jail, does anyone complain about the “evil” they have suffered? Of course not. They got what they deserved for their crime. Imagine if a rapist were to say, “I cannot believe you would allow me to go to prison. How dare you!” That would be absurd. On the other hand, if they were allowed to go free, society would be justified in saying, “I cannot believe you would allow him to go free. How dare you!”

Every time we point at God and demand an explanation for our suffering, we are presuming our innocence; the argument only works if we do not deserve to suffer. The issue is not if God would allow suffering. It is whether He would allow unjust suffering. In actuality, those who use the Problem of Evil are assuming moral equality with God. They are simply justifying their own selves.

I agree with Voddie Baucham, who argued that the real question is not how a good God would allow suffering, but how a good God could know my evil and allow me to experience one moment of pleasure. The one suffering the evil is God, not me, for it is He has to suffer the injustice!

The opinion that we are basically good is no basis on which to try to argue the objective fact of God’s non-existence. It is simply an unjustified assertion. Others, then, will point to what they believe to be unjustified suffering (i.e., children starving to death in third-world countries). Before we allow them to condemn God for that, however, look at the clothes on their back, the shoes on their feet, the car they drive, the house they live in, and all the other niceties they enjoy. If they will not give up their luxuries so others can have basic needs, then what moral right do they have to condemn God? If they won’t help, why should they be mad at God?

The Bible declares that all men have sinned and deserve death. If it is true, then evil is not a problem. God would be within His rights to allow us to suffer much more than we do now. It is only by His grace and mercy that we do not.

We don’t like to think of ourselves as evil. It’s easier to think of ourselves as good. But so long as we live under that delusion, we will never—not even in eternity—understand why or how God could allow suffering.

What Is a Curse?

Having discussed the biblical concept of blessing, it only make sense to look at the biblical concept of cursing. Interestingly, just as there are many words to describe sin, there are a wide variety of words used to describe curses. For now, we will look only at three of those words, two Hebrew and one Greek.

The main Hebrew word for a curse is arar, which is used as the opposite of barak. Whereas barak refers to divine favor that empowers a person, arar refers to divine bondage that renders one powerless. Thus, when Adam sinned, the earth was “cursed” (Gen. 3:17), meaning it would no longer produce fruit with the abundance it once did (cf. Gen. 49:11, a prophecy that sees the removal of this curse when Jesus returns). Another interesting example is found in the story of Balaam, where the king of Moab asked him to “curse” Israel so that he could defeat them. He recognized both that Israel was too numerous and too powerful for him, so he asked a prophet to bind them.

In the ancient near-east, curses were just as superstitious as blessings were. They were thought of as spells by which one could summon evil forces to subdue others. The OT, however, completely strips away such ideas and, like blessings, sees curses as directly related to one’s relationship with God. Thus, the person who breaks God’s law is “cursed.” Looking again at the story of Balaam, he notes that he is unable to curse those whom God has blessed (Num. 23:8).

The other major Hebrew word is qalal, which has the idea of making something small. Both arar and qalal are used by God in Gen. 12:3. Those who curse Abraham (qalal, those who make him small, to consider him worthless) will be cursed by God (arar, they will be bound by God [for destruction]). In this, we see that God, ultimately, is the protector of His people, and their relationship with them defines their relationship with Him. The exact parallel arises ultimately in Jesus Christ. Those who bless Him are blessed–they are empowered to live as God intends; whereas those who curse, or belittle, Him are cursed by God, or bound by Him.

The main Greek word that translates these two is katara in its various forms. It has the literal idea of being brought low or brought down by a prayer (from kata, meaning “down” and ara, meaning “prayer”). In Gal. 3:13, Paul quotes the Greek translation of the OT in Deut. 21:23 which says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” The Hebrew is qalal here. The idea is that Jesus was brought low or “cursed” on the Cross. He was, in a sense, weighed down by the sin of the world. It is hard to imagine a greater act of humility than for the God of creation to be willingly brought low or bound by the evil of His creation. The idea of bondage is prominent here, for Paul calls the Mosaic Law itself a curse (Gal. 3:10), meaning that those who are under it are bound by it. In this, it stands, again, in complete opposition to the idea of blessing, which points to freedom and liberation.

In the biblical sense, then, a curse is that which comes from God and binds a person or thing and prevents them from living a life of freedom and abundance. Curses come as a result of sin, that is, by rejecting God’s will. Every person today–especially Christians–can choose to live under the blessing or curse of God. By accepting His Son and walking by the Spirit, a person will reap life abundantly; by walking in sin, he will reap destruction, both in this life and the next.

What Is A Blessing?

What does the Bible mean when it talks about blessing? Like “glory,” it can be somewhat hard to define, but since understanding it will help us live in Christ’s power, we should try to do so as much as possible!

The NT word is eulegeo, which originally meant “to speak well [of someone].” That meaning, however, is absent in the biblical usage. The meaning comes almost completely from the OT word barak. Barak is used over four hundred times, so it would be impossible to do it justice in a short article, but a few ideas can be sketched out.

First, the concept of blessing in the oriental world came out of its polytheism. It was deeply tied to good and evil forces. To receive a blessing was to have divine goodness “magically” work itself out in your life, whereas the opposite was true in the case of a curse. The monotheistic Jews, however, had a different concept. For them, blessings and curses came from God alone (Deut. 28). In fact, if a person was not rightly related to God, they could not bless, and even the blessings they did offer would be turned into curses (Mal. 2:2). Two biblical stories illustrate this concept perfectly. God promised Abraham that He would bless anyone who blessed him and curse anyone who cursed him (Gen. 12:3). In this, we see that if God is the source of all blessing, then God’s blessings or curses rested in large part on men’s relationship to His chosen people. In Num. 23-24, Balaam was asked to curse Israel, but he was only able to bless them. Again, God is the source of all blessings and curses.

Second, blessing primarily had to do with divine favor, which usually manifested itself in physical prosperity (Christians should not apply this directly to themselves, as we will see shortly). This prosperity was always conditioned on men obeying God’s laws and remaining in His good grace. In the case of the patriarchs, the fathers passed the blessing to their children via prophecy, since they acted as the first prophets. Yet it is important to note that God Himself established the covenant with each of them in His own time. By the time of the kings, it became apparent that the blessings of God were available to each individual Israelite who lived righteously, and those who did not were cursed. Finally, the Bible speaks of men blessing God. In this case, the concept is one of thanksgiving and praise.

By the NT, there is little discussion of men blessing men. Primarily the references are limited to Jesus’ command to bless those who curse you (Matt. 5:44 (KJV), etc.), the idea being to pray to God for their good. In the Gospels, Jesus blesses bread, which is to say He thanked God for it. The remainder of the uses (except in Hebrews, which focuses on OT stories of blessings) reference God blessing mankind. This concept is very similar to the OT idea. It is divine goodwill. Rather than being manifested in prosperity, however, it is manifested in spiritual growth and maturity (1 Cor. 14:16, etc.). All blessings are available in Christ to anyone who receives Him. When Paul said he could do all things through Christ, he was referring directly to this concept of blessing.

To be blessed by God, then, is to be empowered to live like Christ. The rewards that come with that, many temporal but ultimately fulfilled in glory, are the visible result of walking in our blessing. This is consistent with OT usage, in which walking with God was required to be blessed. In any case, this explains why we should not confuse our blessing with physical prosperity. Though God may bless us that way, the basic concept of blessing is always spiritual empowerment. If we are “blessed” materially, to be a true blessing, it must be tied to the edification of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Walking in blessing, then, is actually one of the most fundamental aspects of the Christian life. We don’t have to ask God to bless us. He has already done it. Now, we just have to receive that blessing, in faith, and live as He requires.

Your thoughts?

A Summary of Hebrews 10:26-31

This post will summarize Hebrews 10:26-31 and provide basic application. Readers interested in a detailed defense of these statements are encouraged to consult “An Exegesis of Hebrews 10:26-31.”

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb. 10:26-27, NIV)

The author of Hebrews delivers a stern warning in the first two verses of this passage. Three questions are raised. 1) To whom is the warning issued; 2) what is being warned against; and 3) what is the consequence of disobeying the warning?

In answer to the first question, the author is clearly speaking to Christians as evidenced by the fact that he includes himself (“we”) in the warning. Second, the phrase “keep on sinning” should be translated “deliberately sin” (cf. KJV); the particular sin being warned against is apparently apostasy given the immediate context (v. 23) and the immediately following application (v. 35). Some object to the idea that Christians can fall way from their faith, but we must not allow our own theology to decide what a passage means. Finally, the consequence for falling away is divine discipline. Though some see Hell in view, there is simply no basis for making such a claim, as fire is very often a picture of judgment in both the NT and OT.

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (10:28-29)

To prove his case, the author points back to Num. 15:17-36. Those who sinned deliberately were put to death. Since to reject one’s faith is to knowingly reject Jesus’ sacrifice and thus consider it worthless, the penalty must be more severe than death. While this penalty is not expressly defined, our own experience teaches us there are many things worse than death. Divine discipline in this life as well as a loss of rewards in the next are only two quick examples.

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (10:30-31)

The author concludes with a Scriptural basis for his warning. He sees apostasy as a sin against God Himself which He must avenge. Further, God judges His own people, as He did Israel for so long. God is not a dead God who cannot respond to our sin.

This passage is a very stern warning for every believer. It provides a negative motivation—fear of judgment—for walking the Christian life. Though apostasy is the sin in view, it seems that the principle may well extend to sin generally. To sin against God knowingly because we know we have been forgiven is to invite harsh judgment. Though believers in Christ may be eternally secure, their security is the very thing which calls them to a higher standard. Those who are in Christ must live as He lived.

Your thoughts?

What Is Glory?

"The heavens declare the glory of God" ~ Ps. 19:1

During today’s sermon, my pastor raised the question of what exactly “glory” means. He essentially defined it as majesty or honor, in which, of course, he is correct. Yet it would be good to look at it a bit closer (after all, if pastors were to give all the insights their study had revealed, the average sermon may well be several hours long!). What, then, is glory?

The NT word is doxa. Surprisingly, though, the NT’s usage has no relationship with secular Greek. Outside the NT, it is related to the word dokeo, which means “to think,” and thus, doxa originally referred to an opinion. The difference in the way the biblical writers use the word is nearly breath taking; they consistently use it to refer to honor or majesty. In other words, doxa in the NT is completely objective, being found in the object itself. Thus man has his glory and God has His (in fact, John sets these two meanings side by side in John 12:43. We will look at that verse shortly).

The only way to understand the shift in meaning is to look at the Greek translation of the OT, where doxa is consistently used to translate the Hebrew kabod. Its basic meaning is “heavy” or “weighty,” though it is rarely used in this sense. Usually, the basic meaning is extended and is used figuratively, sometimes negatively, as when the OT discusses the “heaviness” of work (Ex. 5:9), servitude(I Ki. 12:10), warfare (Judg. 20:34), misfortune (I Sam. 5:6), sin (Gen. 18:20), etc., and sometimes positively, in which case it is usually translated “glory” or “honor.” Persons have great wealth were described as kabod (Num. 22:15), and riches were considered the just reward of a righteous life (I Chr. 29:28). Men in positions of authority were to be honored (Ex. 20:12). In any case, the important thing to note in all positive usages is that the reputation of the individual is the main idea. Whether that reputation was automatically assumed because of one’s social status or whether it was earned through one’s deeds, kabod primarily speaks of a person’s honor. Thus, Proverbs argues that the righteous are honorable whereas the fool is not (Prov. 21:21; 22:4; 26:1, etc.); likewise, God’s rebukes Israel for honoring Him with their lips but not their deeds (Isa. 29:13).

When this idea is applied to God (kabod Yahweh), it carries the same meaning with an added nuance. Since God is fundamentally invisible, the “glory of God” is the way He manifests Himself on earth. Thus, the heavens declare it (Ps. 19:1), it visibly filled Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr. 7:1), etc. God’s actions reveal His glory. Thus, when men are called upon in the Bible to glorify God, they are not being asked to give Him something He does not have, but rather to recognize the honor that is intrinsically His. All this is finally and perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14), as Jesus is the ultimate and complete self-manifestation of God.

When the NT takes up doxa, it uses it in exactly this sense. Whether of man or God, it refers to the glory or honor of the thing itself. God’s glory, then, is the manifestation of His character, and thus man’s glory pales (to understate the case!) to His. Yet, in John 12:42, men loved the “glory” of men more than the “glory” of God. Perhaps this is because it is far easier to see man’s glory. How sad that so many Christians fail to see the doxa of God in their own lives! In missing it, they are actually failing to recognize who God is on some level.

All this, then, means that to glorify God is to see Him as He is each day. To deny Him that glory is nothing less than put our faith in something other than Him, usually ourselves. It appears as though the glory of God is hidden except to those who see it through faith. Can you see God’s glory? It is evident all around. We simply need to open our eyes.

Defending Your Faith

If you are a Christian, can you tell someone why you are? For many of us, it was just a matter of our raising. We don’t really know why someone ought to be Christian rather than, say, Muslim, beyond the fact that we believe Christianity to be true. Perhaps this is one of the reasons people find it so hard to share the Gospel with others. If we don’t know why we believe what we believe, how can we be expected to share it?

Even though many people insist that believing Jesus is simply a matter of faith and therefore requires no evidence, nothing could be further from what the Bible demands. In 1 Pet. 3:15, we are told to be ready to give a reason for our faith. The word for “reason” or “answer” here is apologia, from which we get our word “apologetics.” This doesn’t mean we are to ask people’s forgiveness for being a Christian. The word actually means “a reasoned defense.” Literally, when someone wants to know why we are Christian, we are supposed to be able to explain to them why it makes sense and why it best fits the evidence. It sure doesn’t sound like Peter is endorsing blind faith!

The word occurs several times throughout the NT. In Acts 22, Paul gives a speech to the Jewish people to try to prove to them that Jesus is the Christ and calls his speech his apologia. In Phil. 1:7, Paul tells the Philippians of how he will soon stand before the emperor and give his defense–his apologia–of the Gospel. Jesus uses the verbal form (apologeomai) in Luke 12:11 while encouraging His disciples not to worry about what to say when they are being persecuted, because the Holy Spirit will give them the words–their apology.

In fact, this blog is built on the concept of giving people a good reason to believe Christianity. Though our word is not explicitly used, in Acts 17:2, Paul reasons with people from the Scripture. He is giving a defense as to why our faith is true.

There are two main benefits to developing your own apology for Christianity. The first is that it will help you be more effective when sharing your faith with others. The simple truth is that most non-Christians have done just as little study as most Christians on what they believe and why. It doesn’t take a lot of work to show them that the evidence points strongly to Jesus Christ. The second benefit is personal. When you know why you believe what you do, when you have solid reasons for your faith, then your faith actually becomes stronger and deeper. Few things have given me the confidence to trust God with the daily worries of life as much as being able to step back and see why the big picture is true has.

Can you give a reason for your hope? If not, be obedient to Scripture and learn now. Follow this blog if it helps. You can subscribe at the top-right hand corner and get updates directly in your email inbox.

Slave, A Word Study

Paul often called himself a slave of Jesus (see Rom. 1:1 for one such example). Unfortunately, thanks to the blot on American history known as slavery, we often have trouble with this concept, which explains why most translations prefer to use words like “servant” or “bond-servant.” Such words a perfectly acceptable. It is unfortunate, however, that none of them quite catch the nuance found in the word the NT writers used. If “slave” brings to mind plantation work, “servant” brings to mind butlers and maids, which is certainly not the picture the Bible intends to paint.

The Greek word for “slave” is doulos. A doulos was one who was in the service of another who was called his master (kurios). There were several words used to describe this relationship, one of them being the word from which we get our word “deacon.” Doulos‘ emphasis, though, is on the slave’s relationship to his master. That relationship is two-fold. First, it is one of absolute dependence, and second, it is one in which even the will under subjugation.

Because of this absolute dependence (even of the will), the Greek world despised slaves. For them, to be human was, essentially, to be free. Thus, to become a slave was to become in some way less than human. This is so true that they did not even consider themselves “slaves” of their gods! Each man was free unto himself. For this reason, the idea of slavery was a completely secular concept. It rarely appears in their religious literature.

The Hebrew concept–in fact, the entire oriental concept–of slavery was similar with one exception. Slavery was still viewed as absolute subjugation to another, both mind and body, but it came to acquire religious significance as well since men were the slaves of their kings (cf. 1 Sam. 17:58). It is only a short step to consider all men servants of the King of Kings (Ps. 27:9, etc.).

Understanding this basic concept helps us more clearly see the importance of Christians as “slaves” of God and Christ. We are absolutely dependent on Him for everything, including our very being. As such, He exercises complete sovereignty over us, which demands that He claims the right even to our wills. Put differently, our singular will should be to do the will of God.

To take one example, Jesus said in Matt. 6:24 that no once could serve (douleuein, from which we get doulos, “to serve”) two masters. The reason is now obvious enough. I cannot be completely dependent on two things. If I am completely dependent on one, I cannot be partially dependent on another. Further, if both demand complete obedience of my will, then when their wills conflict, I must choose one of the two, in which case, I am no longer the doulos of one. As Jesus says, I will love one and hate the other. In this, we see the full nature of God’s call. If we are His slaves, then any degree of self-dependence is sin in that it denies God’s claim over us.

In a culture committed to radical individualism such as our own, such a message is offensive. It was in Paul’s day, too. That is why he pointed out that no one is really free. If we are not God’s slaves, then we are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:16). Satan’s lie in the garden was far deeper than Eve could have ever understood. Yes, she became like God in that she knew good and evil, but only God serves no one. When they fell into sin, they simply stopped serving a loving master and began serving a cruel one. The same choice applies to each and every person today, especially Christians. Who will you serve? Whose doulos will you be?

Can We Lose Our Salvation? An Exegesis of Hebrews 10:26-31

Hebrews 10:26-31 is one of the most commonly cited passages people use to try to prove that we can lose our salvation. Is that what it teaches? If not, then what is it saying?

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (NIV)

The Nature of the Warning

The passage opens with a condition: “if we deliberately keep on sinning . . .” First, we should note that the continuous aspect of sinning here, while grammatically possible, is probably an improper translation. The KJV better renders these words “if we sin wilfully.” The rendering of the NIV, NASB, and others seems to come from a theological concern. Everyone sins, and whatever the penalty described in this passage is, it is certainly harsh. Thus, since the verb used in the Greek can carry a continuous aspect, then these translations have chosen to see it in that light, thus softening the warning. The passage is not, in this view, warning against sin, but rather it is warning against continuous sin.

The passage itself does not support this view. In the first place, the text speaks of “deliberate” or “willful” sin. We may well ask the difference in a single deliberate sin and multiple deliberate sins. When we choose to sin, in full knowledge of the fact that what we are doing is wrong, there is little difference. Further, in the immediate context, the author of Hebrews warned against “wavering” (10:23) and later against casting away our confidence. These ideas are singular and should be treated as such in our translation of our verse.

The second half of the condition is directed at those who “have received the knowledge of the truth.” Three facts prove that true Christians are in view. First, author includes himself in this warning with the word “we,” and his salvation cannot be questioned. Second, he speaks of receiving rather than simply hearing. Third, what is received is knowledge of the truth, not simply the truth. Nothing can properly be said to be knowledge—especially not received knowledge—if it is not accepted.

Thus, the conditional aspect of the warning may be summed up this way: “If a Christian deliberately sins . . .”

The result of the condition is that “no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” The lack of sacrifice is consistent with the theme of the entire chapter. Heb. 10:1-14 deals with the inability of the old Levitical system to finally deal with sins. Heb. 10:15-25 explains that because Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient, we may have the boldness to walk intimately with God. The entire section, then, is dealing with the importance of the removal of sin if anyone, Jew or Gentile, is to have proper fellowship with God. The Christians’ deliberate sin is particularly heinous, then, because there is no further sacrifice to be made.

Thus, he continues, if there is no sacrifice, there can only be judgment, which is described by as a “raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” There is no warrant for taking this as a reference to Hell as is commonly assumed. Fire is often used to picture tribulation or God’s judgment (cf. Deut. 32:33; Isa. 48:10). We will look more at the nature of the judgment below. In any case, we may summarize the warning this way: “If a Christian deliberately sins, since there is no further sacrifice, there is only judgment.”

The Nature of the Sin

But since all Christians sin, it seems hard to accept the author of Hebrews just had general sin in mind. Otherwise, every Christian would spend every minute of every day under harsh judgment (or, alternately, all would be in Hell!). Likely, general sin is not in view. Apostasy is. That is, the author is warning the reader against losing his faith. This is evident throughout the entire book of Hebrews. The main point of the book is to prove the supremacy of Jesus over Judaism and encourage Jewish Christians to maintain their faith. This is even stated directly twice in our context (Heb. 10:23, 35-36).

Another confirming clue for this idea is found in the word “deliberately.” This same idea can be found in Num. 15:17-36. There, God distinguishes between sins committed in ignorance and those considered deliberately (lit. “with a high hand”). Those guilty of the former were forgiven. Those guilty of the latter were executed. Given that Hebrews goes on to say “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” seems to confirm the connection. The deliberate sin the book is consistently warning against is the rejection of one’s faith in Christ.

The Nature of the Judgment

The text does not explicitly state what the judgment will be. Whatever it is, it is worse than mere death. This, again, has caused many to suggest that Hell is in view, but it must be admitted that such a view is at best simply an interpretation. Experience, however, tells us that there are many things worse than death! Being given over to Satan for the destruction of our flesh (1 Cor. 5:5), being flogged by God (Heb. 12:6), being denied by Jesus before the Father (Matt. 10:33), and losing our eternal rewards (Matt. 25:28) all may be far worse!

Again, this all confirms that believers are in view, for the author quotes the OT: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  Whatever the judgment is, it is seen as God avenging Himself by judging His people in their rejection of Him.

In conclusion, this passage is not teaching that salvation can be lost. It is teaching that if a believer loses his or her faith, that they will come under extreme judgment, both in this life and in the next. It truly is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! While this passage, then, gives us confidence that we may stand before God secure in our salvation, it also serves to remind us how seriously we are to take our faith.