“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 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 438-39).
I promised in my last post that I would return to the Hebrews 10 reference I gave in that post (called “The Reason To Remain: 1 John 2:28”). While thinking on the material for today’s post, however, George Guthrie’s quote from the book “Four Views On The Warning Passages In Hebrews” came to mind. I thought on Guthrie’s quote and then the text of Hebrews 10 and all of a sudden, I found a connection...
Before I get into what that connection is, I just wanna reprint the text of Hebrews 10:37-38 for all to see:
“ ‘For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now THE JUST shall live by faith; But if ANYONE draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him’” (Hebrews 10:37-38, NKJV).
The verses quoted are a reference to Habakkuk 2:3-4. Let’s read those verses to get an idea of what the writer is saying:
“For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, it will not tarry. ‘Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; BUT THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY HIS FAITH” (Habakkuk 2:3-4, NKJV).
In Habakkuk 2:3-4, we see a distinction between “the proud” and “the just” (v.4). So clearly, “the just” or “the righteous one,” is being mentioned.
Now, on to Hebrews 10:37-38. Verse 38 begins with the words,
“Now THE JUST shall live by faith.”
Notice that these words are the exact same words as those found in Habakkuk.
However, let’s look at the last phrase:
“But if ANYONE draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
What the writer has done is add this last phrase to Hebrews 10:38. However, who is the “anyone” of the New King James translation?
If you look at the “anyone” of verse 38 in the New King James translation, you will find that this seems to be an odd “insertion” into the biblical text. First, the New King James claims that the subject of the first phrase of verse 38 is “the just.” However, the Nestle-Aland and UBS texts (Greek manuscripts) state that the subject of verse 38 is “ho dikaios mou” [“my righteous (or just) one]. The Stephanus New Testament (1550) translates the subject as “ho dikaios” (“the righteous”--
Although there are mild differences between these descriptions of the subject, we see that the key word in all of them is “dikaios,” meaning “just” or “righteous.”
Either way, Hebrews 10:38 becomes weird when it reads like the New King James:
“Now THE JUST shall live by faith; but if ANYONE draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
There is a problem with subject agreement here. In the first sentence of the verse, the subject is “the just”; in the second, the subject is “anyone.” While the first sentences gives a SPECIFIC subject (“the just”), the second sentence gives a very broad and INDEFINITE subject (“anyone”).
How can a verse give a DEFINITE and INDEFINITE subject in the same discussion? This is weird. But I’ll tell you why it’s been done in the New King James Version: it’s been done because of a theological presupposition.
Think about it: if the subject of the one drawing back is “anyone,” then it doesn’t just include the righteous of the earlier sentence—but also the UNJUST, the UNBELIEVER!! For “anyone” is more broad than “just,” and includes more than the “just.”
What is the real subject of the second sentence of verse 38? “the just.” Let’s read the sentence in the Greek from the “Reader’s Greek New Testament” UBS text published by Zondervan:
“ho de dikaios mou ek pisteos zesetai,
Kai ean HUPOSTEILETAI,
Ouk eudokei he psuxe mou en auto.”
We are concentrating now on the second part of the verse, starting with “kai” and going through “auto”.
The “kai” means “and.” “Ean” means “if.”
So we have translated the first part of the second sentence to be “and if.” The key word we want to focus on is “huposteiletai.” The word itself comes from the word “hupostelo,” which means “to draw back, to shrink from.”
The word “hupostello,” however, is different from “huposteiletai.” What’s the difference? The ending, “etai.” Why is the ending significant? Because the “etai” ending tells us that the verb is a third singular, which refers to one person (it’s singular) and third person (he, she, or it).
So “huposteiletai” means “he draws back” (or “she draws back”). And in the context of Hebrews 10:38, who is the “he” who “draws back”? the answer is—“THE JUST OR THE RIGHTEOUS” (quoted in Habakkuk 2:3-4).
The translators of the NKJV have done what they’ve done because of a commitment to a theological presupposition. In their minds, a “just” or “righteous” person cannot turn away from Christ, so they translate the subject at the end of verse 38 as “anyone.” However, this translation doesn’t fit in the sentence itself.
I looked up the King James Version, and it does something similar with the “he draws back”: it translates the verb “huposteiletai” as “any man draw back.” However, as with the NKJV, this is a problematic translation. You can’t have a definite subject that then becomes broadened in the same sentence. For instance, I can’t say, “Jamie bought a pair of shoes; I told them not to buy them.” If Jamie (singular) is the one who bought the shoes, I can’t then direct my frustration with a PLURAL, indefinite group of people who I’ve given no introduction to in the beginning of the sentence.
There are two clues left, however, that will solve the problem. Look at the end of verse 38: “My soul has no pleasure in HIM.” At the end of the verse, the words of God refer to “him,” which is the singular pronoun. The “him” of verse 38 matches the “righteous one” of the start of the verse itself (“the just” or “the righteous one”).
Last but not least, verse 39:
“But we are not OF THOSE WHO DRAW BACK TO PERDITION, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39, NKJV).
Most translators of these verses attempt to disconnect “the righteous one” from “drawing back”; however, the writer now places himself in the same group as the Hebrew congregation and tells them that, since they are “righteous” ones, they should press on. This is why he says, “we are not of those who draw back to perdition” (NKJV). Why would the writer even compare he and the congregation to “those who draw back to perdition” IF they could not do so, if they could not “draw back” and face eternal destruction? If there was no such possibility, then the writer gave unprofitable advice to the hearers—and the warning is just a good prank. If this is just a psychological scare tactic, then George Guthrie's quote above couldn't be more right...
However, I believe that such translations have done an injustice to the Word of God. The truth is, the writer speaks of “the righteous one” who suddenly draws back; and if the righteous one does go back, he will be eternall destroyed. This is consistent with the rest of the biblical message (Ezekiel 18:24; Luke 12:42-46; Matt.10:22; Matt. 24:13; James 5:19-20).