The Study of Salvation

By James T. Bartsch,

22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 24 Greet all of your leaders and all of the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Hebrews 13:22, 24

What is the Background of Hebrews?

This is the first installment of a larger treatise entitled,

Does Hebrews 6:1-8 Teach Us We Can Lose Our Salvation?

by James T. Bartsch

    Even as early as Origen, no one knew who had written this treatise. Daniel Wallace makes an interesting case for a co-authorship of Barnabas assisted by Apollos. The writer's mention of Timothy's having been released from prison (Heb. 13:23) indicates he probably wrote the document late in Timothy's life. There is no reference to the temple having been destroyed. This would have been a telling argument for the supersession of the Old Covenant. Therefore, a date of perhaps A. D. 68 or 69 seems likely.

    The simple title, "To Hebrews" seems to indicate that the recipients were Jewish Christians. The heavy emphasis on the OT Scriptures and theology, along with the frequent reference to "brothers" (adelphos, 80) (Heb. 3:1, 12; 10:19; 13:22-23) confirms that belief. That these Hebrews had previously confessed faith in Jesus as their Messiah is evident from such passages as Heb. 3:1; 4:14; 10:23.

    These Hebrew Christians were evidently undergoing some kind of pressure to renege on their confession  of faith in Christ and revert to Judaism. The writer tells them, "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it" (Heb. 2:1). He is concerned that they "hold fast" their "confidence and the boast of" their "hope firm until the end" (Heb. 3:6). He urges them, "Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). He worries, "Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it" (Heb. 4:1). He exhorts them, "Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience"  (Heb. 4:11). The catalog of exhortations and concerns of the author could go on and on, but the brief list I have given will suffice for an illustration.

    Despite all his misgivings about the readers' ability to resist temptations to apostatize, the writer remains optimistic they will not fall away. After delivering a fearful warning to them (Heb. 6:1-8), the writer opines, "But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way" (Heb. 6:9). Again, after a stern warning in Heb. 10:26-31, he continues, "But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39.

    Thomas Constable, in his online commentary on Hebrews, states the writer's message this way: "We will only realize our full eternal reward as believers, if we appreciate the greatness of Jesus Christ, and continue to trust God, rather than turning away from Him in this life." I agree with his assessment.

    I should make it clear from the outset that when I use the word "apostatize" in reference to these Hebrew Christians, I do not mean that they lose their salvation. Nor do I mean that they were never saved in the first place. I contemplate a genuine salvation on their part. But if they apostatize, they will lose reward and also lose their ability to serve God as effectively throughout eternity as they otherwise would have if they had remained faithful. More about that later.

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB 1995.)

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Updated February 26, 2022