Problems with the Epistle to the Hebrews


#1

hi folks,

I'm brand new here, so feel free to redirect me to a different forum if I've got the wrong one. Also feel free to point me to an earlier thread if this stuff has already been covered. (A cursory search on my part didn't turn up anything directly related.)

I've been reading Hebrews lately, and a couple of questions have come up. I chose Hebrews in the first place because it deals with the sin of apostasy--and apostasy has been a major temptation for me lately. I'm just not sure I believe this deposit of faith anymore.

Question 1: Heb. 10:26-7 says (in RSV-CE): "For if we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment..."

The Hebrews Author has been arguing that the sacrifice of Christ is final--in contrast to the ongoing animal sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The verse quoted above seems to imply that, because of this finality, a deliberate sin (a mortal sin, presumably) committed after baptism cannot be forgiven. I recall that, in the early church, people commonly waited to be baptized until almost the moment of death, for precisely this reason. (The Emperor Constantine is an example of such a deathbed baptism.)

But then the Hebrews Author would seem to be in contradiction with the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of penance. I must be making a mistake, right? Can we dismiss this concern by simply citing development of doctrine?

Question 2: The first part of Hebrews Ch. 8 deals with the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ over the Old Testament sacrifices. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for the second." (Heb. 8:7). Sacrifices under the old law didn't really have the power to take away sin, and so the priests kept offering them, day after day, for centuries. But the sacrifice of Christ is once-and-for-all, and therefore superior, according to the Hebrews Author.

My question is: If the sacrifice of Christ is really superior, shouldn't that be reflected in the daily lives of Christians? It seems to me like the ancient Israelites would continually fall into sin, and then seek forgiveness through ceremonies involving sacrifice. In much the same way, Catholics (like myself) continually fall into sin, and seek forgiveness through the sacrament of penance. Outwardly, at least, nothing much seems to have changed, at least with regard to the lived experience of sin. So how can the new covenant really be superior to the old one?

I'm sorry for the length. Any feedback would be much appreciated.


#2

[quote="bransoncraig, post:1, topic:326235"]
hi folks,

I'm brand new here, so feel free to redirect me to a different forum if I've got the wrong one. Also feel free to point me to an earlier thread if this stuff has already been covered. (A cursory search on my part didn't turn up anything directly related.)

I've been reading Hebrews lately, and a couple of questions have come up. I chose Hebrews in the first place because it deals with the sin of apostasy--and apostasy has been a major temptation for me lately. I'm just not sure I believe this deposit of faith anymore.

Question 1: Heb. 10:26-7 says (in RSV-CE): "For if we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment..."

The Hebrews Author has been arguing that the sacrifice of Christ is final--in contrast to the ongoing animal sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The verse quoted above seems to imply that, because of this finality, a deliberate sin (a mortal sin, presumably) committed after baptism cannot be forgiven. I recall that, in the early church, people commonly waited to be baptized until almost the moment of death, for precisely this reason. (The Emperor Constantine is an example of such a deathbed baptism.)

But then the Hebrews Author would seem to be in contradiction with the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of penance. I must be making a mistake, right? Can we dismiss this concern by simply citing development of doctrine?

Question 2: The first part of Hebrews Ch. 8 deals with the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ over the Old Testament sacrifices. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for the second." (Heb. 8:7). Sacrifices under the old law didn't really have the power to take away sin, and so the priests kept offering them, day after day, for centuries. But the sacrifice of Christ is once-and-for-all, and therefore superior, according to the Hebrews Author.

My question is: If the sacrifice of Christ is really superior, shouldn't that be reflected in the daily lives of Christians? It seems to me like the ancient Israelites would continually fall into sin, and then seek forgiveness through ceremonies involving sacrifice. In much the same way, Catholics (like myself) continually fall into sin, and seek forgiveness through the sacrament of penance. Outwardly, at least, nothing much seems to have changed, at least with regard to the lived experience of sin. So how can the new covenant really be superior to the old one?

I'm sorry for the length. Any feedback would be much appreciated.

[/quote]

These are very good questions. It is good that you came to ask about your difficulties.

Regarding your first question, the classic interpretation of Hebrews 10:26-27 is that it is talking about those who persevere in apostasy until death. The Haydock Bible Commentary says this: "The apostle declares [that] there is no [remission] for the guilt of a person who perseveres and dies in apostacy." "[Apart from that,] apostacy, though enormous, like all other sins can be forgiven by true repentance." There are several lines of support to this interpretation. One is that if you continue the quote, he says that the flame of fire will "destroy the adversaries." If they had repented, they wouldn't be adversaries any longer. That indicates that they remained apostates until death, and those are the ones he says no longer have a sacrifice for their sins. The Church Fathers also understood the passage to be talking about permanent apostasy, and it is a frequent theme in the New Testament, which Jesus talks about when He discusses the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Regarding your second question, while it would make a great argument for Christianity if its adherents were always morally superior to non-Christians, the Apostles had no illusions that the grace of Christ takes away the weakness of human nature, and they make frequent mention of the fact that we all still sin and sin greatly. (That's why the duty of Penance is so prominent in early Christian literature, and has always been an element of the Sacrament of Confession.) What the Apostles taught was that the sacrifice of Christ gives us a framework within which to understand the weakness of our nature, and use it as a tool for acquiring merit before God. A classic theme of medieval theology is that without temptation, there could be no merit. The difference between Christianity and Judaism on this subject is NOT that Christians think temptation is an occasion for exercising virtue while Jews do not (on the contrary, Jews think that too), but the difference is that the sacrifice of Christ really takes away the guilt of our sins, which is something the sacrifice of animals cannot do. And that's what the author of Hebrews is talking about in chapter 8 when he quotes the prophesy of Jeremiah (verses 8-13): that God would institute a new covenant which is better than the Old Covenant, because it removes the old sacrifices and replaces them with the sacrifice of Christ, which is the only sacrifice that can truly take away sins. "And I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more." (Heb. 8:12) He wouldn't say that if he knew that Christians would no longer commit sin. But he says it because he knows that Christians have a better foundation for forgiveness.

Regarding the temptation to commit apostasy, I recommend a solid daily prayer life so that you can grow closer to God. Especially pray the Prayer of St. Michael, which is a beautiful and powerful prayer for deliverance from temptation. The truth is out there, Craig, and God wants to show it to you. It looks like you're trying to find it, so all you need is to draw closer to God, and He will draw closer to you.

Anyway I hope that helps. God bless!


#3

Q1 - I don’t think this is discounting confession by way of omission. I think he is just recognizing that apostates are not likely to seek forgiveness. The example of Constantine and others waiting for baptism most likely had to do with politics, rather than ignorance of the power accorded to the sacrament of confession. In any case, baptism is in many ways more powerful than confession because you are wiped clean not only of sin, but the stain of sin. Confession is a little bit different. If I can use an analogy of Abp Fulton Sheen. When you sin, it is like putting a nail in the cross. When you go to confession, it is like taking a nail out of the cross. But you are still left with a hole where that nail was. That is where the temporal debt of justice and penance come in. And act of penance is an attempt to fill that hole. If you are baptized, there are no holes, there is no stain left, you have a white garment.

Q2 - It is superior because the New Covenant is based on a single sacrifice. The Mass only re-presents that very same sacrifice. It does not repeat it as was done with the sacrifices under mosaic law. So the covenant is superior, but just as you say, the lived experience is not.


#4

=bransoncraig

I've been reading Hebrews lately, and a couple of questions have come up. I chose Hebrews in the first place because it deals with the sin of apostasy--and apostasy has been a major temptation for me lately. I'm just not sure I believe this deposit of faith anymore.

Question 1: Heb. 10:26-7 says (in RSV-CE): "For if we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment"

The Hebrews Author has been arguing that the sacrifice of Christ is final--in contrast to the ongoing animal sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The verse quoted above seems to imply that, because of this finality, a deliberate sin (a mortal sin, presumably) committed after baptism cannot be forgiven. I recall that, in the early church, people commonly waited to be baptized until almost the moment of death, for precisely this reason. (The Emperor Constantine is an example of such a deathbed baptism.)

First my friend,
WELCOME to
CAF!

2nd. Know that bcause there is only One God

God is capable of only One set of Faith beliefs [also logically]

God founded only One faith and church which is historically and biblically provable.

As to your verse:

It must be first read in the context of who; what; when and where? It was NOT written precisely for our current edification; even though it does have some relevance.

caps for emphasis not shouting:D
THEIR IS ONLY ONE INFALLIBLE RULE FOR RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE
Never-Ever, can. may or DOES one verse; passage or teaching make void; invalidate or override another. PERIOD.:)

There is only one unforgivable sin: denial of God Mt.12:32-32

Leaving the CC is exactly and precisely that One unforgiveable sin. Denial of Gods Words IS Denial of God Himself.:rolleyes:

Jn. 20:21-23"[21] He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained".

Note the transfure of Gods Power and Authority: cf. As My Father sent Me; I Am now sending YOU!" This same message is repeated in Jn. 17:18 and in different words, in Mt. 28:18. If one doubts this please READ Mt. 10:1-8.

But then the Hebrews Author would seem to be in contradiction with the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of penance. I must be making a mistake, right? Can we dismiss this concern by simply citing development of doctrine?

Question 2: The first part of Hebrews Ch. 8 deals with the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ over the Old Testament sacrifices. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for the second." (Heb. 8:7). Sacrifices under the old law didn't really have the power to take away sin, and so the priests kept offering them, day after day, for centuries. But the sacrifice of Christ is once-and-for-all, and therefore superior, according to the Hebrews Author.

Your partially correct. OT sins were NOT forgiven; they were "covered over" and that was sufficient in Gods view under the OT/ Covennt.

Lev.5: 13 “Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven. And the remainder shall be for the priest, as in the cereal offering." … Lev.6:7 “and the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things which one may do and thereby become guilty." ALSO read:
Numbers 15:25-28 as examples

My question is: If the sacrifice of Christ is really superior, shouldn't that be reflected in the daily lives of Christians? It seems to me like the ancient Israelites would continually fall into sin, and then seek forgiveness through ceremonies involving sacrifice. In much the same way, Catholics (like myself) continually fall into sin, and seek forgiveness through the sacrament of penance. Outwardly, at least, nothing much seems to have changed, at least with regard to the lived experience of sin. So how can the new covenant really be superior to the old one?

"Should'nt" and Isn't are as far apart as 'the east id from the west."
Take note of what the Pope has been emphasing:

THE YEAR OF RE-EVANGUALIZATION
followed by
THE YEAR OF FAITH

Never in the history of the WORLD has "the church" and our Faith been under such effective attacks. Thanks to the Mass [Satanic Media]; secular humanism seems to be winning.:o BUT there is a Groundswell; and underscurrent of the laity getting involved and learning; Living and sharing our Faith. That dear friend in the Holy Spirit. "Mt.16: 18-19 points out TWO critical facts:

The Keys to heaven access rest ONLY with the CC
The gates of HELL cannot; shall prevail:thumbsup:

READ 1 Jn. 1:8-10 & 1 Jn. 5:16-17 [space is limited prudently or I'd post them for you]

It IS mans nature to sin and God's most ardant desire that man be forgiven. Peter ask: 'How many times must I forgive? 70 times?" and JESUS relpies: NO NOT Seventy times BUT 70x 70 times!":extrahappy:

Being concerned is good; IF it motivate me an you to do something about it. Amen?

Some advice:

Reading the Bible is excellent:thumbsup: But it must absoutely be read in FULL accord with our 2,000 year old history and teachings. On ALL matters of Faith and Morals Mother church simply cannot [impossible]; be in error!

Again WELCOME to CAF!

pat/PJM here on CAF


#5

Thanks so much, dmar and Irenaeus for your responses! That is indeed helpful.

I still wonder, though: If the Hebrews Author was talking about persistent apostasy in 10:26-27, why didn’t he just say so? The specific sin of unbelief has already been mentioned in 3:19, so it seems odd that it would be referred to much more vaguely (as “sin”) in Ch. 10.

I will take your advice about the St. Michael prayer.


#6

Also thanks to PJM. Your message saddens me somehow, but you are probably right.


#7

Re: Hebrews 10: 26-27

Hebrews 10:26-27
Knox Bible (KNOX)

26 If we go on sinning wilfully, when once the full knowledge of the truth has been granted to us, we have no further sacrifice for sin to look forward to;[a] 27 nothing but a terrible expectation of judgement, a fire that will eagerly consume the rebellious.

Footnotes:

Hebrews 10:26 ‘If we go on sinning’; the tense used in the Greek shews that the Apostle is referring to obstinate sinners, and in particular, no doubt, to those who fall away from the faith.

Re: Hebrews 8:7…you hit on a monumental point:…a monumental aspect of the infinite power of our New Covenant…you are forgetting that when the Jewish covenant was broken by personal sin…there was not infinite blood to atone for their sins…but we have Christ’s blood to atone for our sins… always and in every circumstance of sin. God made the new covenant so that our sinfulness…no matter how bad was already paid for by the Blood of Christ…we can’t defeat his New Covenant…no matter what or how many times we sin…unless…unless by our own free will…we fail to seek forgiveness for our sins. So we can still choose to reject God’s love…but if we do…its all our doing. Yes…we are not better than our Elder Jewish brothers and sisters…what is better about Christians…is our Infinite New Covenant…and if we repent…the New Covenant…is never insufficient…the price of our sins has already been paid.

Father William Most +…says it this way:

In passing, we note that in the new covenant, as in the old, there
was a law to be obeyed, and on condition of that obedience, He
would be their God. The **obedience of the old was that of the people

  • very poor indeed**. The essential obedience in the new was that of
    Jesus, the guarantor of the new covenant:
    cf. 7. 22).

Pax Christi


#8

[quote="bransoncraig, post:1, topic:326235"]
hi folks,

I'm brand new here, so feel free to redirect me to a different forum if I've got the wrong one. Also feel free to point me to an earlier thread if this stuff has already been covered. (A cursory search on my part didn't turn up anything directly related.)

I've been reading Hebrews lately, and a couple of questions have come up. I chose Hebrews in the first place because it deals with the sin of apostasy--and apostasy has been a major temptation for me lately. I'm just not sure I believe this deposit of faith anymore.

Question 1: Heb. 10:26-7 says (in RSV-CE): "For if we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment..."

The Hebrews Author has been arguing that the sacrifice of Christ is final--in contrast to the ongoing animal sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The verse quoted above seems to imply that, because of this finality, a deliberate sin (a mortal sin, presumably) committed after baptism cannot be forgiven. I recall that, in the early church, people commonly waited to be baptized until almost the moment of death, for precisely this reason. (The Emperor Constantine is an example of such a deathbed baptism.)

But then the Hebrews Author would seem to be in contradiction with the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of penance. I must be making a mistake, right? Can we dismiss this concern by simply citing development of doctrine?

[/quote]

Or, the writer was emphasizing the reality that mortal sin kills the soul. Perhaps it was irrelevant to his point that we can be resurrected in the Sacrament of Penance - or perhaps he was addressing those who were tempted to deny Christ in the face of the lions, without the chance to repent before being eaten alive anyway.

In any case, you are right - he doesn't mention it - and it's true that the Sacrament of Penance was rarely used in the first century - it was assumed that once people took on the life of Christ, they would not commit deliberate sin again.

Question 2: The first part of Hebrews Ch. 8 deals with the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ over the Old Testament sacrifices. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for the second." (Heb. 8:7). Sacrifices under the old law didn't really have the power to take away sin, and so the priests kept offering them, day after day, for centuries. But the sacrifice of Christ is once-and-for-all, and therefore superior, according to the Hebrews Author.

My question is: If the sacrifice of Christ is really superior, shouldn't that be reflected in the daily lives of Christians? It seems to me like the ancient Israelites would continually fall into sin, and then seek forgiveness through ceremonies involving sacrifice. In much the same way, Catholics (like myself) continually fall into sin, and seek forgiveness through the sacrament of penance. Outwardly, at least, nothing much seems to have changed, at least with regard to the lived experience of sin. So how can the new covenant really be superior to the old one?

I'm sorry for the length. Any feedback would be much appreciated.

Those who make frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, together with the Eucharist, find that they overcome bad habits and temptations that seemed impossible at the beginning. The reason is that the Sacraments give grace - not always all at once, but in most cases, it builds up, just as good health comes on us gradually when we eat healthy food and exercise regularly - good health doesn't happen suddenly, but requires many doses of exercise and healthy eating before you begin to see the results.

In the same way, frequent use of the Sacraments builds up our spiritual health, until we are no longer tempted as much by sin.


#9

You will notice that the author used the word “willingly” or “deliberately”, then said, after “receiving knowledge of the truth”. These are powers of the Soul, the Will and the Intellect. In this case, the reason is refusing the truth and directing the will to love something other than God, choosing something other than God as the focus or goal of his life. The reason it cannot be a sacrifice for this sin is that a sacrifice requires the desire of the one forgiven to participate in that forgiveness. This person does not want participation in Christ. He is not “repentant”.
You will notice the thing about Penance is that the penitent desires to be the recipient of Grace, no matter whether the sin is venial or mortal. And his Will consents to the penance prescribed by the Priest, and in this the Will and Reason are again ordered to the Truth rather than being ordered in rejection of the Truth received.

John Martin


#10

In addition to what others have said, I’d just like to add that the Letter to the Hebrews was written to Hebrew Christians who were being tempted to go back to the Old Covenant and it’s temple and sacrifices, (the temple hasn’t been destroyed yet). So when the author states, if we sin deliberately after having received knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, he’s right. There is no sacrifice for sins outside Christs perfect once for all sacrifice. The Old covenant has no power to save us. The entire context of Hebrews demonstrates this. Tim Staples says it best.

In chapters one and two, Jesus is revealed to be greater than the angels; he’s revealed to be God. In chapters three and four, he is our true high priest, greater than Moses, and fulfillment of what the Sabbath symbolized. In chapters five and seven, he is the antitype of Melchizadek. In chapter eight, he is superior to and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in establishing the New. In chapters nine and ten, he is superior to the temple and its sacrifices. And it is in this context that the inspired author then exhorts his readers to endure the persecution that had already begun by this time (see 10:32-39). He calls them to “hold fast the confession of [their] hope without wavering” (10:23), and to remain faithful to the Church Jesus established rather than go back to an Old Covenant and its sacrifices that have no power to save (10:25-31; 12:18-25; 13:7-10).

If we understand the greater context, we understand that the author of Hebrews is not saying it is impossible to be forgiven of the sin of apostasy; rather, it is impossible for those who “have tasted the heavenly gift” of the New Covenant and would then return to the Old Covenant to be saved. Why? Because they are trusting in a covenant, law, priesthood, sacrifice, and more that do not possess the power to save. They are returning to a well without water.

We know from the rest of the New Testament, for example, 1 John 1:7-9, that Christ’s blood cleanses us from ALL sin, if we confess them. The Gospels are also clear that God will never turn away a repentant sinner. (The parable of the prodigal son comes to mind) But that’s the thing, we must repent. We must turn to Him for our sins to be forgiven. We can’t willingly sin and not repent and expect God to forgive us. “But if we CONFESS our sins, He is faithful and just and WILL forgive us.” (1 Jn 1:9)


#11

=bransoncraig;10739226]Also thanks to PJM. Your message saddens me somehow, but you are probably right.

Sometimes my friend; truth will do that:o

STAY close to God


#12

I just want to thank everyone for your generous responses. You have given me much food for thought. The historical perspective on Hebrews is especially helpful.

I have to admit that my questions were probably fueled by an interior struggle rather than pure intellectual curiosity. It’s encouraging in a way to hear from so many of you who believe these things so strongly. Maybe I’ll be back there soon.


#13

[quote="bransoncraig, post:12, topic:326235"]
I just want to thank everyone for your generous responses. You have given me much food for thought. The historical perspective on Hebrews is especially helpful.

I have to admit that my questions were probably fueled by an interior struggle rather than pure intellectual curiosity. It's encouraging in a way to hear from so many of you who believe these things so strongly. Maybe I'll be back there soon.

[/quote]

I believe you will! Don't worry we've all been where you are now at one time or another. That's why we're here to help.:thumbsup:


#14

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.