Hebrews 6:1-3: Going On Toward Perfection

1Therefore, leaving the beginning of the message of Christ, let us carry on to maturity, not re-laying the foundation of repentance from dead works, of faith in God, 2of the doctrine of baptism, of the laying on of hands, of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3This we will do if God pleases. — Hebrews 6:1-3 (from my TFBV project)

This is too short of a passage to recommend for separate study, but it will make for a reasonable sized blog entry. Put this passage inside of the broader picture of Hebrews 5:11-6:20. To summarize this background, our author has established his idea of the priesthood, and given us the human attributes of Jesus as a priest, but now he begins to make a transition to discuss the essential nature of the new priesthood. All priests had the human characteristics of the priesthood. Why was Jesus different?

As we move forward we are going to see that a perfect priesthood, in his view, is what will bring perfection or maturity and a clear conscience to believers. The two tie together. So in these few verses we have a study of our side of the problem. What is it that we need? First, in 5:11-14, he tells his readers that they are not mature enough to hear everything he has to say. I’ve already discussed what I see as the key text here, verse 14, being trained to distinguish good and evil.

But at the beginning of chapter 6, he calls on the people to keep on moving, “moving on toward perfection.” As a United Methodist, with connections to the Wesleyan tradition, this phrase “going on toward perfect” is an important and central text. I’m going to suggest, however, that our author has a dual meaning in mind. First, he’s moving on toward perfection, or completion, in his argument about the priesthood. There is a parallel here between the divine work and the human work. The divine priesthood, or the divine effort on behalf of humanity, moves from the partial (the old priesthood) to the complete (the priesthood of Jesus). God doesn’t stop with the job partially completed. Second, he’s referring to the lives of the believers. Now at this point I listed these in what might be seen as reverse order of importance. What he is explicitly saying is that the believers need to keep moving forward.

But what is his primary thought? I would suggest that he sees the moving forward of the heavenly and of the earthly as necessarily intertwined. He is calling on his readers to get on board and move on toward perfection, as God did through the ministry of Jesus. He says he’s not going to lay the foundation again. In this foundation are six elements:

  1. repentance from dead works
  2. faith in God
  3. baptism
  4. laying on of hands
  5. resurrection of the dead
  6. eternal judgment

I have heard some interesting thoughts from this, including someone who thought that one of the foundational thoughts involved was how to raise the dead, thus raising people from the dead should be a regular, foundational part of ministry. But look at the list carefully. In many modern traditions we don’t have all the elements, laying on of hands especially, in accepting someone into the body of Christ, but those in churches with a any sort of high church flavor will recognize much from the baptismal ceremony and vows. These are the elements that go into bringing people to a basic relationship with Jesus and with his church in most of the Christian tradition. So what our author is telling us is that he is not going to talk again about the basics of salvation, rather, he is going to move on to matters of the Christian life after one’s conversion. Verses 4-6 especially refer to one’s continuing Christian life.

With that, he places even the course of his argument in the hands of God and then proceeds to some of the most difficult text in the book, Hebrews 6:4-6.

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