Do Christians Leave Behind the Basics?
Making Sense of Hebrews 6:1–2
ABSTRACT: In Hebrews 6, the author charges his audience to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” Most commentators read this command as a summons to advance beyond basic Christian teachings. A close look at Hebrews 6:1–2 within the context of the whole letter, however, uncovers several problems with the typical interpretation. The writer’s use of the words baptisms and foundation, the lack of distinctly Christian teachings, the dire warning in Hebrews 6:4–6, and especially the meaning of the word maturity all point to a different meaning: the author charges his audience not to leave behind Christian basics, but to leave behind old-covenant ways of relating to God.
Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1–2)
Does Hebrews teach its readers to “leave behind” the basics of the Christian faith in order to press on to maturity?
In the past generation, a chorus of voices, including Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, and John Piper, have encouraged their audiences, in various ways, toward a “gospel-centered” or “cross-centered” faith. Rather than leaving behind Christian basics such as the cross and Christian gospel, they would have us go deeper into them, and find true Christian maturity in these basics, not beyond them. The origins of such a gospel-centered Christianity are found in the pages of the New Testament, drawing most explicitly from the epistles of Paul, John, and Peter, as well as Hebrews.
It is Hebrews, after all, that opens with a stunning celebration of the uniqueness and centrality of God’s eternal Son, made human as the long-awaited Christ — an opening that culminates in the charge in Hebrews 3:1 to “consider Jesus.” This directive, programmatic for the entire epistle, then leads to a striking focus on Jesus’s person and work (as high priest and sacrifice) at the heart of the letter (chapters 7–10), and recurs in Hebrews 12:1–2, at the climax of the great tour of the faithful (11:1–40), in the charge to “run with endurance . . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:3 then follows immediately with the reprise, “Consider him . . .”
‘Leave the Elementary Doctrine’
However, readers today might find, at least on the face of the text, an exception to this gospel-centered focus in Hebrews 6:1–2. Before advancing to make his Melchizedek argument (in chapter 7), Hebrews pauses, from 5:11–6:20, to freshly secure his readers’ attention because, he says, they “have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). “Though by this time you ought to be teachers,” he explains, “you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12). Most commentators then take the list of six items in Hebrews 6:1–2 as Christian basics from which Hebrews’ audience should “move on” (or “leave behind,” Greek afentes, 6:1) in order to advance to Christian maturity:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
We can understand why most commentators would read this as a summons to leave behind the Christian basics. Nevertheless, when read in light of the full text of Hebrews, an apparent problem surfaces. Commentators generally agree that Hebrews addresses Jewish converts to Christianity pressured (and persecuted) by non-Christian Jews to discard Christianity’s distinctive faith in Jesus (as Messiah and eternal divine Son) and return to the emphases of their former Judaism.1 Within this understanding, viewing the list as basic Christian teachings fits less cogently (though not impossibly) with the design of the letter as a whole.2
Stirred by this tension, I undertake in this essay to newly examine Hebrews 6:1–2, and make the case that the six items in this list are not Christian basics, but pre-Christian (Jewish) teachings.
Usual Reading: Christian Basics
One caution to take in revisiting Hebrews 6:1–2 is that we are working against a long-established majority opinion. As we’ll see, however, several voices acknowledge some (serious) problems with the typical interpretation.
Andrew Lincoln sees the list in 6:1–2 as a reference to basic Christian teaching,3 as does William Lane, author of the magisterial two-volume commentary.4 Lane argues elsewhere5 that the list refers to “the firm foundation of Christian truth they had received when they first came to faith. . . . The men and women of the house-church had received catechetical instruction concerning these matters of Christian conviction when they first came to faith.”6 Harold Attridge finds that “the phrase [“elementary doctrine of Christ”] refers to the proclamation that Christ himself delivered. The phrase may allude to the same schematic view of the development of Christian preaching that was evident in 2:3.”7 Yet Attridge also concedes an enigma about the claim: “It is striking how little in this summary is distinctive of Christianity. This suggests that the formula was at least inspired by, and is, in fact, a catalogue of Jewish catechesis.”8 Importantly, Attridge adds, “Most conspicuously absent is any explicit Christological affirmation.” So too John Owen (1616–1683) catalogues another hesitation. He sees the list as basic Christian teaching, but acknowledges, “There is no little difficulty by the word ‘baptisms’ being in the plural.”9
Leon Morris10 and David deSilva11 both view verses 1–2 in reference to Christian basics.12 Interestingly, F.F. Bruce, finding something amiss with the usual reading, points out how surprising it is that verse 1 begins with therefore rather than nevertheless.”13 In the end, though, Bruce concludes that the list represents basic Christian teaching, but he notes how such basic teaching would correspond to Jewish teaching:
When we consider the “rudiments” one by one, it is remarkable how little in the list is distinctive of Christianity, for practically every item could have its place in a fairly orthodox Jewish community. Each of them, indeed, acquires a new significance in a Christian context; but the impression we get is that existing Jewish beliefs and practices were used as a foundation on which to build Christian truth.14
Overall, the mainstream of Hebrews commentators take the items in 6:1–2 as a list of Christian basics that the author is challenging his audience to “leave behind” or “leave standing” (afentes) so that they might be carried (ferometha) into Christian maturity (teleioteta). However, as we have seen, several observe some latent difficulties in this majority view, difficulties that I hope to show are better explained by a different interpretation.
Arguments for Pre-Christian (Jewish) Reference
The following five observations and arguments lead me in a different direction: that the six items in this list are not Christian basics, but pre-Christian (Jewish) teachings. This reading is both preferable exegetically and more coherent with the thrust of the letter as a whole.
1. ‘Washings’ (baptismōn) in the Plural
Hebrews’ use of baptismōn (“baptisms” or “washings”) is one of the reasons, on the surface, why this passage appears to offer a list of Christian basics. Our English baptism so closely resembles the Greek baptismōn that we might be prone to overlook two important realities.
First, as observed by John Owen, among others, baptismōn is plural, not the singular that would be expected in a Christian (new-covenant) context, where, as the apostle Paul notes in Ephesians 4:4–5, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Second, and more significantly, as noted by Bruce, “It may be significant that our author does not use baptisma, the Greek noun regularly employed in the New Testament to denote Christian baptism (and the baptism of John), but baptismos, which in its two other indubitable New Testament occurrences refers to Jewish ceremonial washings.”15 The other two occurrences are Mark 7:4 and Hebrews 9:10.
In Mark 7:4, Jesus refers to “many other traditions that [the Pharisees] observe, such as the washing [baptismous] of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.” The reference to the Pharisees gives to this use the plain association of Judaism and the old covenant, not of Christianity and the new. The same is true for Hebrews 9:10, which is, of course, even more important for our purposes since it occurs within the same letter.
Hebrews 9:9–10 reads, “According to this arrangement [namely, the old covenant], gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings [baptismois], regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” Not only are these “washings” in Hebrews 9:10 unmistakably associated with the old covenant, but also they have an important “expiration date,” so to speak, in the temporal marker “until the time of reformation,” which has now come in Christ and corresponds with Hebrews’ underlying chronological and redemptive-historical framework throughout the letter.
2. No Distinctly Christian Item
Second, no explicitly Christian reference appears in the list of six — and this in a letter that is at pains to show the distinctiveness of the new covenant with reference to the old. This is the concern Attridge captures: “Most conspicuously absent is any explicit Christological affirmation.”16 Thus, he concludes, “This suggests that the formula was at least inspired by, and is, in fact, a catalogue of Jewish catechesis.”17
Most notable, in this regard, is the mention of “faith in God,” rather than in Jesus.18 Also, “repentance” is said to be “from dead works,” which Hebrews clearly associates with the terms of the (pre-Christian) first covenant in Hebrews 9:14. “Laying on of hands,” “resurrection from the dead,” and “eternal judgment” — while all having a place in Christianity — were all taught and established in the first-covenant milieu as part of the Jewish preparatory period for the coming of Christ.19 They each arise in the pre-Christian (Hebrew) Scriptures and serve to prepare the way for the Christ, rather than being a distinct development that came with him and his apostles.20
3. ‘Maturity’/‘Completion’ (teleiotēta)
Third is the appearance of teleiotēta in verse 1. Most translations render this word as “maturity,” which may be a desirable alternative to “perfection” in this context; however, what’s lost is the linguistic connection with a central theme in Hebrews — namely, the movement toward “perfection” (or “completion,” as in eschatological “fulfillment”) bound up with the Greek verb teleioō and related words.21 As D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo write, “Perfection in this epistle is essentially a matter of completion — in particular, the completion of God’s plan of salvation.”22
Varying forms of the verb teleioō appear nine times in Hebrews (2:10; 5:9; 7:19, 28; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; and 12:23) — with only thirteen other occurrences in the New Testament. Additionally, we find two related nouns in 7:11 (teleiōsis) and here in 6:1 (teleiotēs), the adjective teleios in 5:14 (in the same context) and 9:11, as well as the unusual noun teleiōtēs (“perfecter”) in 12:2. In all, fourteen occurrences of the telei- word group in Hebrews contribute to what is one of the letter’s major themes.23
Moisés Silva provides the following “cursory examination of the contexts” of the fourteen usages in Hebrews in this summary:
Old Testament saints are perfected only with us (11:40; cf. 12:23), for only the divine arrangement mediated by Christ, who is the perfecter of our faith (12:2), may be called perfect (7:11, 19; cf. 9:11), and consequently only his blood can perfect the conscience (9:9; 10:1, 14); further, the author calls Christians to perfection (5:14; 6:1), and even Jesus, we are told, experienced perfection through his sufferings (2:10; 5:9; 7:28).24
The theme of “perfection” or “completion” unfolds in what we might see as three main streams in Hebrews — Christological, redemptive-historical (or covenantal), and ethical — all set against a profoundly eschatological backdrop. It may be most helpful in addressing 6:1 that we summarize these three avenues in that order, and make the connections as needed to what Silva calls an “eschatological interpretation of perfection in terms of fulfillment.”25
By “Christological maturity,” I mean the God-appointed maturation of Christ, as man, in his human life in preparation for his salvific work as both priest and sacrifice. While never being “imperfect” in the sense of being a sinner, Jesus was “made perfect” or “complete” by what he endured in life leading up to, and at, the cross. Karen Jobes writes, “Understanding the sense of perfection in Hebrews must begin with how the word is applied to Jesus in 2:10; 5:9; and 7:28.”26 The author’s first two uses of teleioō are 2:10 and 5:9, both contributing to memorable claims about Jesus’s being “made perfect” (and demonstrating how difficult is it to render teleioō in English). “Made perfect” is unideal given the implicit sense of previous “imperfection” it might convey about the one being “made perfect.” “Made mature” is no obvious improvement. Perhaps “made complete” carries the least baggage, but still, there’s no easy English equivalent.
In 2:10 and 5:9, Jesus is “made ready” or “prepared” for his role as “founder” (archēgos) and “source” (aitios) through suffering.27 Hebrews 12:2, where Jesus is said to be “the pioneer and perfecter (teleiōtēn) of our faith,”28 functions at least in this Christological sense. More than that, though, Hebrews 12:2 may bring all three lines together and thus demonstrate that the three are profoundly tied together eschatologically. Silva notes the parallelism between 2:10, 5:9, and 12:2 and rightly comments, “Any interpretation of teleiōtēn in 12:2 that is not consonant with teleioō in 2:10 and 5:9 stands self-condemned.”29
Redemptive-Historical (or Covenantal) Maturity
In addition to the overtones in 7:28, a redemptive-historical context is the backdrop for 7:11:
Now if perfection [teleiōsis] had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?
Here may be some reference to the eschatological “completion” of the individual (connected with what we will call moral or ethical maturity below), but the main force, confirmed by 7:19, comes along the redemptive-historical axis. The Levitical priesthood (and indeed, the whole law-covenant) was “incomplete” (unfulfilled) and pointed forward to a redemptive-historical “completion” (fulfillment) in Jesus, his priesthood, and new covenant. There are ethical implications to 7:19 (“the law made nothing perfect [eteleiōsen]”), but the covenantal and salvation-historical concerns are central.
Hebrews 9–10 develops this redemptive-historical fulfillment introduced in chapter 7. In 9:11 (“Christ entered through the greater and more perfect tent”), the reference is clearly objective and covenantal, whereas 9:9 (“gifts and sacrifices are offered [in the old covenant] that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper”) introduces the idea of “completing the conscience” (or “fulfilling the conscience”) which is echoed again in 10:1 and 10:14. Here completion is cast more in terms of the ethical (than, say, in 9:11), but only as an explicit effect of the covenant. Thus, eschatological fulfillment remains in view. Silva notes that “the perfecting of human conscience (9:9; 10:1, 14) is not a reference to forgiveness or fitness to approach God, which Old Testament saints did experience (cf. Psalm 32 and Romans 4), but to the enjoyment of the time of fulfillment, the new epoch introduced by the Messiah through his exaltation.”30
Finally, Hebrews 11:40 and 12:23 develop the perfection/fulfillment theme in terms of the completion of the believing individual. In 11:40, God has arranged history, in the coming of his Son and the inauguration of a new covenant, such that “apart from us they [i.e., old covenant saints] should not be made complete.” Perhaps most difficult of all to see in terms of eschatological fulfillment is 12:23 and the reference to “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made complete [teteleiōmenōn].” Silva explains that “if the reference is indeed to those who have died, perhaps the author intends us to understand that finally they too have received the promises; that is, they have now, though in heaven, been perfected together with us (11:40), and thus the eschatological note is present here too.”31
This brings us back to Hebrews 6:1 and its neighboring appearance of the telei- word group in 5:14.
Eschatological Maturity in 5:14 and 6:1
Silva has 5:14 and 6:1 in view when he observes that “the author of Hebrews in some contexts may restrict the meaning of perfect to those who are giving proper manifestation that they belong to the age of fulfillment.”32 Then he adds, “Indeed, the danger faced by the recipients of the letter was that of going back to the old, obsolete, pre-eschatological (!) covenant.”33 In other words, this “completeness” or “maturity” in 6:1 is not mainly a kind of moral or ethical maturity but eschatological fulfillment, as we’ve seen with the other uses of the telei- word group in Hebrews. Jobes says, “This eschatological understanding of perfection . . . makes good sense of the claims that the Christian believer is ‘perfect’ in Hebrews 10:14; 11:40; and 12:22–23.”34 Such a meaning also applies to the summons to be carried along to “perfection” in 6:1.
“Far more is at stake here than greater or lesser maturity within the new covenant.”
This, then, entails that the negative images in 5:11–14 (dull of hearing; not teachers; needing milk, not solid food; unskilled in the word of righteousness; children, not discerning) are not references to two stages of Christianity (beginning and advanced), but to two stages of redemptive history (the old covenant and the new). The old covenant is the milk; the new, solid food. But regardless of how the particular imagery works out in 5:11–14, the other usages of the telei- word group, alongside the arguments we have already rehearsed, prove sufficiently persuasive with regard to 6:1.35
4. ‘Foundation’ (themelion)
This fourth reason is far briefer than our treatment of the third. The use of themelion, well captured in the English foundation, better corresponds to the reading we’ve been developing of moving from old covenant (Jewish) to new covenant (Christian), rather than from beginning Christianity to advanced Christianity. There is an organic unity in the new covenant between new Christians and longtime, “mature” Christians that makes the foundation metaphor less appropriate than in the context of moving from old covenant to a distinct new covenant. “Foundation” is a fitting metaphor for the eschatological fulfillment anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures and which will be embodied in Jesus and his new covenant. The metaphor would be more strained in an intra-covenantal comparison of the neophytes and the well-versed.
5. The Nature of the Warning in 6:4–6
A fifth and final argument concerns the dire nature of the warning in 6:4–6, which comes immediately subsequent to our passage. Apparently far more is at stake here than greater or lesser maturity within the new covenant. Rather, what is in the balance is the abandoning of the new covenant (or the demonstration that one is not, in fact, a final partaker of the benefits of the new covenant, which include the grace of perseverance).
“The danger is the temptation to ‘go back’ to the first covenant, forsaking Jesus as its fulfillment.”
Now we return to the composite of the audience we get from the rest of the letter and ask, What is the specific case in Hebrews that threatens apostasy? The answer is not that the readers have been merely coasting or not taking their “growth in grace” seriously enough. It’s emphatically not that they know the gospel all too well, but are proving stubborn in “moving on” to other, more “mature” topics. Rather, the danger is the temptation to “go back” to the first covenant, forsaking Jesus as its fulfillment. Under pressure, the readers are seeking to return to the types, while minimizing (if not abandoning) the antitypes, and in doing so they are relativizing the exclusive sufficiency of Christ and his work.36
These five reasons, arising from the exegesis of 6:1–2, its context, and related passages, lead to the conclusion that the contrast intended by the author of Hebrews in 6:1–2 is not ethical (immature-mature Christianity), but redemptive-historical (old-new covenant). The “beginning-of-the-Christ word” (ton tēs archēs tou Christou logon), then, is not a reference to the basic Christian gospel but to “the beginning word” about the Christ/Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures and the old covenant that prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah and what we might call “the finishing word” of the new covenant. The author of Hebrews would have his readers “leave standing” or “leave behind” (afentes) the old covenant and its practices (now “obsolete,” palaioo, twice in Hebrews 8:13), which pointed forward to the Christ, and acknowledge the coming of this promised Christ and that with his coming an eschatological fulfillment (“maturity”) has come from which there is no viable going back.
Deeper in the Gospel
This reading of Hebrews 6:1–2 guards Christians today from finding in this text any encouragement to somehow “leave behind” the basic Christian gospel and attempt to “move on” to some form of “maturity” that assumes the gospel. Such an understanding would create pronounced tension, if not contradiction, with clear emphases in the epistles, and the New Testament as a whole. Christian maturity does not consist in leaving behind Christian basics, but rather in moving more and more deeply into the good news about Jesus and all God is revealed to be for us, at present, in him.37 And specifically, as we noted above, Hebrews itself is perhaps as good an example as any New Testament document of such “gospel-centeredness.”
“Christian maturity does not consist in leaving behind the basics of the good news about Jesus.”
While, on the one hand, the argument from Psalm 110 about Christ as our great high priest (in the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron) is complex, the subject manner at the heart of the letter is Christ’s person and work (chapters 7–10). The basics (stoicheion, 5:12) that the epistle clearly moves beyond, again and again, are readings of the Hebrews Scriptures with pre-Christian eyes. The “maturity” into which Hebrews hopes God will be pleased to carry his readers is, in essence, a Christian understanding of the Old Testament as fulfilled in Christ.
Hebrews’ concern is not that his readers are plenty familiar with gospel basics and now need to advance to other deeper Christian teachings. Rather, his concern is that in toying with the idea of returning to Judaism, they are demonstrating that what they lack is precisely an understanding of the gospel itself, the exclusive sufficiency of Christ and his work, and that the Old Testament Scriptures themselves testify to Christ as the great high priest and final sacrifice.
D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 609–10. See also Karen H. Jobes, Letters to the Churches: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 26. ↩
“The ‘elementary teachings’ of 6:1 presuppose a background in Judaism, and the author’s driving insistence that the old covenant has been eclipsed by the new makes sense only if the readers are still trying to live under it, or if they imagine that, having passed beyond it, they may legitimately revert to it” (Carson and Moo, Introduction, 610). ↩
Andrew Lincoln, Hebrews: A Guide (London: T&T Clark, 2006). ↩
William Lane, Hebrews 1–8 (47a) and Hebrews 9–13 (47b), WBC (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991). ↩
William Lane, Hebrews: A Call to Commitment (Vancouver, BC: Regent, 2004). ↩
Lane, Call to Commitment, 90. Likewise, Thomas Long concludes, “It is fairly clear that this ‘basic teaching’ consists of the essential truths of the Christian faith, the material that would be imparted to someone who was becoming a new member of the Christian community (Hebrews, IBC [Louisville: John Knox, 1997], 72). ↩
Harold Attridge, Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 162. ↩
Attridge, Hebrews, 163. ↩
John Owen, Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1968), 95. ↩
Leon Morris, Hebrews, EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). ↩
David deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistles “to the Hebrews” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). ↩
George Guthrie takes the list as “Christian instruction” and “Christian principles,” respectively. However, Guthrie observes, “The six ‘foundational’ tenets listed in 6:1b–2 all find parallels within Judaism and its basic practices of religion” (Hebrews, NIVAC [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998], 205). He points to Donald Hagner’s suggestion that “this may suggest that the readers were attempting somehow to remain within Judaism by emphasizing items held in common between Judaism and Christianity” (Hebrews, UBC [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012], 87). On the plural “baptisms” (“washings”), Guthrie concedes that “the author may be referring to repeated ceremonial washings as found in expressions of first-century Judaism” (205).
Paul Ellingworth (The Epistle to the Hebrews, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993]) finds the list to be basic Christian instruction, but Luke Timothy Johnson observes no “clear distinction drawn between things broadly practiced in Judaism and those specific to the ‘messianic movement’ centered in Jesus” (Hebrews: A Commentary, NTL [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006], 158). Johnson also acknowledges that baptismos was “used for ritual Jewish washings” and cites Mark 7:4. He recognizes how items in this list “are shared by Jews outside the messianic community” (159). ↩
F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 138. ↩
Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews, 139. Bruce quotes Alexander Naire (writing in 1913), who says, “It is significant that the points taken as representing the foundation of penitence and faith are all consistent with Judaism. ‘Doctrines of washings’ — how unnatural are the attempts to explain this plural as referring to Christian Baptism; ‘imposition of hands, resurrection of dead, eternal judgment’ — all this belonged to the creed of a Pharisaic Jew who accepted the whole of the Old Testament” (The Epistle of Priesthood [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1913], 15). ↩
Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews, 141. ↩
Attridge, Hebrews, 164. ↩
Attridge, Hebrews, 163. ↩
J. Clifford Adams notes the conspicuous absence of the cardinal Christian confession “Jesus is Lord.” See his “Exegesis of Hebrews 6:1f.,” NTS 13 (1967): 380. ↩
Dennis E. Johnson states that clearly the rite of the laying on of hands “is not connected to entering into the Christian life” (Hebrews in Hebrews–Revelation, ESVEC [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018], 83). Rather, laying on of hands points to a pre-Christian context, related to the priesthood in the book of Leviticus. There it is unavoidably a basic old-covenant teaching because, as Hebrews 7:11–12 claims, the law-covenant was grounded in the priesthood. For more on this first-covenant foundation and its place in the new covenant (which would not be considered a Christian “basic”), see David Mathis, “The Laying on of Hands,” Desiring God, February 8, 2018, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-laying-on-of-hands. ↩
The Old Testament plainly teaches repentance in Deuteronomy 4:30; 30:2; Isaiah 6:10; 9:13; 46:3, among others; eternal judgment in Isaiah 33:22; Daniel 7:26–27; Genesis 18:25; and resurrection in Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Exodus 3:6. Also, Hebrews 11:35 refers to Old Testament resurrections, and Mark 12:26 and Acts 23:8 refer to Pharisees who were not Christians but believed in resurrection. So, as John Piper observes, “The striking thing about this list is that it is not distinctively Christian” (“Let Us Press On to Maturity,” Desiring God, October 6, 1996, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/let-us-press-on-to-maturity). ↩
Moisés Silva, “Perfection and Eschatology in Hebrews,” WJT 39, no. 1 (Fall 1976): 60–71. Craig Allen Hill claims that “scholarship has to a certain degree failed to recognize the importance of this passage from the perspective of the theme of perfection” (“The Use of Perfection Language in Hebrews 5:14 and 6:1 and the Contextual Interpretation of 5:11–6:3,” JETS 57 no. 4 : 727). Hill emphasizes that “perfection language is used consistently and throughout Hebrews to indicate the perfection of the new covenant and the imperfection of the previous” (731). ↩
Carson and Moo, Introduction, 599. They cite David Peterson, Hebrews and Perfection: An Examination of the Concept of Perfection in the ‘Epistle to the Hebrews,’ SNTSMS 47 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). ↩
We could expand our search to include tel- words, of which there are five additional usages (3:14; 6:8, 11; 7:3; and 11:22), but their contribution to our study proves negligible. ↩
Silva, “Perfection,” 60. ↩
Silva, “Perfection,” 69. ↩
Jobes, Letters to the Church, 124. ↩
Leaning on Bruce, Silva notes the LXX background “in ceremonial contexts” in Exodus 29:9, 29, 33, 35 and Leviticus 21:10 and the Hebrew idiom “to perfect/complete the hands,” meaning “to consecrate, to qualify someone for priestly service” (“Perfection,” 61). A similar Christological orientation is carried in 7:28, but a redemptive-historical element is introduced there as well, as we’ll see below, as not only is Jesus characterized as “made complete” forever, but the context provides a chronological and salvation-historical framework (“the word of the oath [Psalm 110], which came later than the law . . .”). ↩
Peripheral to this essay, but perhaps interesting to note, is Silva’s observation “that archēgos and teleiōtēs have the same fundamental significance for the author of Hebrews that archē, aparchē and prōtotokos have for Paul (Col 1:18; 1 Cor 15:20; Rom 8:29; cf. Col 1:15)” (“Perfection,” 67). ↩
Silva, “Perfection,” 65. ↩
Silva, “Perfection,” 67. ↩
Silva, “Perfection,” 69–70. ↩
Silva, “Perfection,” 69. ↩
Silva, “Perfection,” 69. ↩
Jobes, Letters to the Churches, 125. ↩
For the roots and application of this argument in and to Hebrews 5:11–14, see Hill, “Use of Perfection Language.” See also the recent treatment by Dennis Johnson, Hebrews, who reads the passage as an exhortation to “move on from OT foundations” (80). “A better approach is to see these six phrases as OT themes foundational to the revelation of the Messiah and his mission” (83). ↩
As Don Carson concludes in his exposition of Hebrews 5:11–6:20, this ends up being a kind of variation of the Galatian heresy in that it dismisses the exclusive sufficiency of Christ. See “Jesus Is Better: Don’t Apostatize,” The Gospel Coalition, April 25, 2002, http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/Part-5-Jesus-Is-Better-Dont-Apostatize-Hebrews-511-620. ↩
John MacArthur, writing in 1983, and representing the minority reading, says, “We are never to leave the basics, the elementary teachings of the gospel, no matter how mature we grow in the faith. . . . At no time does the Word of God suggest that a Christian drop the basics of Christianity and go on to something else” (quoted in Hill, “Use of Perfection Language,” 734). ↩