ABCs of Doctrines in the Book of Hebrews

The Doctrine of First Principles—Hebrews 6:1–3

Earlier, he said that the immature believer is one who has to be re-taught the ABCs of doctrine, and here, we see the doctrine of the first principles that need to be left behind. Verse 1a reveals their problem:

Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection.

They were “babes,” meaning that they did possess life and that they did not need more knowledge at this point. Rather, they needed to use what knowledge they had. They had lapsed into dullness because of disuse. Obviously, they have been saved, otherwise, they could not have been expected to be teachers as mentioned in 5:12. Therefore, they need to press on unto perfection, meaning, “to press on to maturity.” This is the goal that God has intended for them and this is the whole emphasis and theme of the Book of Hebrews. The emphasis is on their duty to progress because of the peril of relapse. He is going to teach them that it is going to be impossible to repeat the past. So the immature believer must leave the ABCs of doctrine and go on to maturity, passing from one phase of contemplation to another.

He mentions six of these ABCs of doctrine that they need to leave behind. There are three sets of these ABCs with two “baby doctrines” in each set: the first set deals with issues of conversion; the second set deals with issues of ceremonial elements; and the third set includes eschatology or prophetic things.

The first principles that need to be left behind are listed in verses 1b–2:

not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

The first baby doctrine that needed to be left behind was: repentance from dead works. The negative side of conversion is repentance and dead works refer to the works of the Levitical System that became dead because the life in them was only temporary; they came to an end with the death of the Messiah. Therefore, they need to repent or change their minds about going back to a dead Levitical System.

The second baby doctrine that needed to be left behind was: faith toward God. This is the positive aspect of conversion and deals with the once-and-for-all commitment they made to the Messiah when they were saved.

The third baby doctrine that needed to be left behind was: the teaching of baptisms or, more correctly, “washings or immersions.” These are the ceremonial immersions of the Levitical System. The word baptisms is plural because there are all kinds of immersions; such as proselyte baptism, John’s baptism, believer’s baptism, among others. Baptism by immersion marked the final point of separation from Judaism among Jewish believers.

The fourth baby doctrine that needed to be left behind was: the laying on of hands. This was the Old Testament means of imparting blessings and the way of appointing someone to an office. In the Old Testament system of identification, the priest would lay his hands upon the sacrifices (Lev. 16:21), and the individual would also lay his hands upon the sacrifice (Lev. 1:4). The animal was, therefore, identified with the sinner and would die in the sinner’s place.

The fifth baby doctrine that needed to be left behind was: resurrection of the dead. This, too, is an Old Testament doctrine, found in Job 19:25; Isaiah 26:19; and Daniel 12:2, that should be settled once-and-for-all. The fact is, there will be a resurrection, so they should not need to argue about or wrestle with this doctrine.

And the sixth baby doctrine that needed to be left behind was: eternal judgment; the judgment of the Great White Throne, which leads to the Lake of Fire. They should not be wrestling about whether unbelievers really have to suffer for eternity.

Thus, they do not need to wrestle with these six baby doctrines anymore, but they should leave these behind in order to progress from milk to meat.

He points out the importance of maturity in verse 3:

And this will we do, if God permit.

This goal of maturity is achievable if the will of the believer and the will of God agree. Certainly, God wants them to press on to maturity, but will they agree? He says: this we will do if God permit. The expression if God permit is a first-class condition that assumes He does permit. When he says: if God permit, he means, “This is the will of God.” But God will not force them to go on to maturity. However, one cannot be brought to maturity without leaving behind the indifference of Hebrews 5:11–14. This shows their dullness is not yet irrevocable or irreversible; they could still choose to go on to maturity. They had not yet made the decision to go back to Judaism. However, it is still possible for them to regress so far that it will be impossible to make progress toward maturity.

2. The Danger of Relapse—Hebrews 6:4–6

This is the crucial passage, for this is where he deals with the danger of relapse and the impossibility of going back. We must remember that they thought they had the option of temporarily giving up their salvation by going back into Judaism, and then being saved again later; they thought that the new salvation would erase their sin of apostasy. But in fact, the writer is about to show them that this is not an option for them at all.

In some translations, the phrase it is impossible is in verse 6, but it is better to place it where it appears in the Greek text. He begins with an affirmation in verse 4: it is impossible. In the Greek text, the sentence begins with the phrase “It is impossible,” emphasizing that this is a situation where it is impossible to renew repentance. The point is that they did have specific spiritual privileges, but there is the danger of the occurrence of a relapse. Therefore, in light of their standing before God he is going to tell them that there is something that is impossible for them to do.

By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum

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