Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't Underestimate The Knowledge Of The Writer...

“I am not speaking of attempting psychological archaeology here but rather of developing a heightened sensitivity to the fact that THE AUTHOR WAS NOT OMNISCIENT IN DEALING WITH HIS CONGREGATION (s), a fact to which the author hints in the text of Hebrews. The discussants have alluded briefly to this question, but it needs more attention. Too often in debates about apostasy, we treat the text as if the author thinks of those to whom he writes, or of those of whom he speaks, as ‘believers’ or ‘unbelievers.’ Yet real ministry situations, of course, are not so cut and dried. Any group of people gathered in the name of Christ will manifest a spectrum of spiritual conditions. That this was the experience of the early church seems to me to have a great deal of New Testament evidence in its favor. The author of Hebrews, others in the early church, you and I, are limited in our knowledge of the spiritual condition of any other person and, as pointed out by Jesus, as well as other New Testament authors, are dependent on outward manifestations in discerning the spiritual conditions of others (cf. Matt. 7:15-23; James 2:14-26)” (George Guthrie, “Conclusion,” from “Four Views On The Warning Passages In Hebrews,” by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, pages 438-439).

These words from George Guthrie are included in the conclusion of the famous book I’ve been dealing with for weeks now: “Four Views On The Warning Passages In Hebrews.” Just so you’ll know, Guthrie declares the Classical Reformed writer, Buist M. Fanning, as the winner of the four views. However, I’ve shown here at the Center for Theological Studies, Buist M. Fanning has major inconsistencies in his argument...

And George Guthrie is no different. The fact that he believes Fanning “wins” the argument shows that he is, hands-down, a “Classical Reformed” theologian himself.

I’m back to talk about Guthrie’s statement above. As he tells us above, the writer of Hebrews was not omniscient—he did not know the exact spiritual condition of every person in the congregation.

However, the writer provided clues as justification for his belief that the Hebrews had genuine salvation. I will only approach four chapters to make this case: Hebrews 5, 6, 10, and 13. The reason I will approach these chapters only is because they are the only ones that give us any insight into the spiritual condition of the congregation itself.

First, Hebrews 5. Let’s look at verses 11-12:

“[Christ, v. 5] of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, SINCE YOU HAVE BECOME DULL OF HEARING, for though by this time YOU OUGHT TO BE TEACHERS, you need someone to teach you AGAIN the first principles of the oracles of God; and YOU HAVE COME TO NEED MILK AND NOT SOLID FOOD” (New King James Version unless otherwise stated).

Notice that Hebrews had to “again” be taught “the first principles” of God’s Word. This tells us that the congregation had been taught these things once before, and that the writers were aware of this fact. The Hebrews congregation was no “new converts” congregation. We know this because the writers go on to say “by this time you ought to be teachers…” If the Hebrews were to be “teachers” by now, this signifies that the Hebrews were supposed to be mature in the faith, strong, since they had been in the faith for some time. However, they had become “dull of hearing,” which means that they were “retreating” in their growth in the faith.

In Hebrews 6, after discussing the impossibility of restoring to repentance those who fall away, the writers show their confidence in the congregation:

“But, beloved, WE ARE CONFIDENT of BETTER THINGS concerning you, yes, THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION, though we speak in this manner” (Heb. 6:9, NKJV).

The writers are “confident of better things” with the congregation, which means that they were not panicking about the spiritual condition of the congregation. But these “better things” are “things that ACCOMPANY SALVATION.” What does it mean for something to “accompany” something else?

This is the definition according to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:

“to cause to be in ASSOCIATION” or “to be in association with.”

For something to be in “association” with something else, it must be connected to it or related to it. To add to this, it must be an ADDITION to something, a COMPANION of something.

Therefore, when we read of “things that accompany salvation,” we are reading of actions CONNECTED TO salvation, or actions FOLLOWING salvation. This means, then, that the actions the writers are confident of are IN ADDITION TO salvation. In order for the writers to be concerned with “additions” regarding salvation, they had to be confident of the congregation’s salvation as genuine.

Peter speaks of “additions” or “accompaniment” to salvation in his second epistle (2 Peter):

“But also for this very reason, GIVING ALL DILIGENCE, ADD TO YOUR FAITH virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control PERSEVERANCE, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7, NKJV).

Peter tells the congregation to “add to your faith”; in other words, “build upon your faith.” And the congregation of the Hebrews was counted by the writer(s) to have a genuine salvation that, like any other, needed building upon. The writer or writers was charging the congregation to build upon their firm foundation (faith in Christ).

Why is the writer and his companion confident of the salvation and better things of the congregation?

“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10).

The Hebrews have performed a “labor of love” by “ministering to the saints”; in addition, not only have they ministered in the past, they “do minister” currently in the present moment of the epistle. They are continuing to endure for the cause of Christ.

In Hebrews chapter 10, the writer gives us more insight into the spiritual condition and persecution of the Hebrew congregation:

“But recall the former days in which, AFTER YOU WERE ILLUMINATED, YOU ENDURED A GREAT STRUGGLE WITH SUFFERINGS: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated;” (Heb. 10:32-33)

Notice that he says the believers were “illuminated,” or “enlightened.” Once again, the writer is allowing us to see how stern his warning in Hebrews 6 is to the congregation: for, if they, being enlightened, do what the persons of Hebrews 6 do, then they cannot be renewed to repentance—for to do so would be to recrucify Christ. He also says that they “endured a great struggle with sufferings...” The Hebrew congregation has endured much suffering. The persecutions that were given on account of the word (as Jesus discusses in the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:17 and Matthew 13:21) have come. And up to this point, the Hebrews have remained faithful despite persecution and tribulation.

In addition, they have also aided the writer and subjected themselves to public shame:

“for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven” (Heb. 10:34, NKJV).

The Hebrews had compassion on the writer (who was in prison) and had their own possessions taken away—possibly by governmental officials. And they did this “knowing that you have a BETTER and an ENDURING possession for yourselves in heaven.” The sole reason they allowed themselves to be persecuted so is because they realized their reward was greater in heaven than on the earth. The writer seems to know quite a few intimate details about the congregation to which he writes. Notice also, that the congregation reached out to the writer while he was in prison.

Therefore, it seems that the writer(s) knew his congregation quite well. Such statements, then, doesn’t sound like a writer who is ignorant of the congregation, or one who doesn’t have some idea of the spiritual condition of the congregation.
I included Hebrews 13 on the list of chapters I would include not because it tells us of their spiritual condition (although it does), but because the writer concludes with words encouraging them to persevere in the faith:

“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore LET US GO FORTH TO HIM, outside the camp, BEARING HIS REPROACH. For here we have no continuing city, BUT WE SEEK THE ONE TO COME. Therefore BY HIM LET US CONTINUALLY OFFER THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE TO GOD, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:12-15).

Notice that the congregation seeks “the one to come,” the “one” being the “continuing city.” Notice that, like Jesus, the Hebrews are to “bear His reproach” in their everyday lives. This “bearing reproach” is not just a one-time deal, for the Hebrews had already borne such reproach with their possessions having been taken from them.

It seems then, that the writer of the Epistle certainly considered the faith of the congregation to be genuine. However, their genuineness doesn’t prevent the writer from warning them of the consequences of turning back. While, as Guthrie says, the writer of Hebrews wasn’t omniscient, he was well-informed of the congregation’s spiritual condition. And if we believe that every word of the Bible is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16, Proverbs 30:5), then the spiritual evaluation of the congregation by the writer and his companion must count for something...

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