Chapter 8 - Misunderstood Texts of the Bible by Sir Robert Anderson

Chapter Eight

Sir Robert Anderson 

"It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance" (Hebrews vi. 4 - 6).
Although we can all distinguish between Christianity and the religion of Christendom, we are apt to miss the still clearer distinction between Judaism regarded as the Divine religion and as "the Jews’ religion." The Divine religion pointed to Christ, and was fulfilled in him, hut the Jews’ religion crucified Christ. That in our day Evangelical Christians should turn to altars and priests, is not only anti-Christian, but in every respect contemptible.But we fail to realise what a hold the outward symbols and ceremonies of their historic cult must have had upon the hebrew Christians, and how natural it was that they should cling to them. What need there must have been for warnings and appeals such as those of Hebrews vi.

A chief function of the groomsman. or (to use the Oriental phrase) "the friend of the bridegroom," was to present the bride to him. But if the bride turned to follow the groomsman when, after fulfilling his duty, he withdrew, she would be regarded as a wanton, and treated as an outcast. And this may illustrate the apostasy of those who turn back to "religion" after coming to Christ. "They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh"(v. 6). It is not that in fact they do this, any more than a man would really murder his brother because of hating him. And the Apostle very definitely acknowledges this in verse 9. But God judges a path by the goal to which it leads : and it behoves his people to accept, and be guided by, the Divine estimate of their thoughts and deeds.

And this is the purpose of the sixth chapter of hebrews. It is a perversion of it to treat it as intended to limit or undermine the heliever's confidence,or his sense of security in Christ. Indeed, no passagein the Epistle is better fitted to confirm and establish faith than that which immediately follows the warning words of these earlier verses of chapter vi.

"For this He did once, when He offered up Himself" (Hebrews vii. 27).
It is not "the poor of the flock" only who need to be told that the word "once" here means "once for all," and not "once upon a time." For if this had not been ignored by the wise and prudent, the Christendom ordinance of the Mass would never have been instituted.

The word ephapax is used but five times in the New Testament, and only by the Apostle Paul. In Hebrews ix. 12 we read that Christ "entered intothe holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption"; and in chapter x. 10, "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." And Romans vi. 10 tells us that "He died unto sin once for all." Though not a few Roman Catholics have a saving knowledge of Christ, they never enjoy settled peace, because they know nothing of a "once-for-all" sacrifice, and an eternal redemption. And the same is true of many a Protestant.

1 Corinthians xv. 6 is the only other passage where ephapax occurs. And the Apostle’s use of the word generally may well support a doubt as to whetherwe read it aright in taking it to mean merely that the "more than five hundred brethren" who saw the Lord on the mountain in Galilee were all present at the same time. For the Apostle’s purpose is to put on record the human evidence for the Resurrection. And as a matter of evidence the proof would have been immeasurably stronger if every one of the five hundred had received a separate and independent vision of the Lord. May not the passage mean that this was a "once-for-all" manifestation of Himself to His assembled disciples as representatives of all who should afterwards believe in Him.

"Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation" (Hebrews ix. 28).
As these words are usually read on "the text-card system," and without reference to the context, they are supposed to refer to the so-called "Second Advent" - a phrase which, both in theological literature and in popular use, points to the dread dies irae of a remote future. When a phrase has thus acquired a definitely distinctive meaning, it savours of pedantry to use it in any other sense.And as this particular phrase embodies and perpetuates a gross error of Patristic teaching, which would rob us of the Christian hope of the Lord’s Coming,we shall do well to discard it. For if Christ’s "coming to judge the world" be His second coming, the sceptic has good ground for asserting that the Coming revealed in the Epistles - "that blessed hope" - is a superstitious belief based upon Apostolic ignorance.

As noticed on a preceding page, the Second Advent of theology will be the fourth or fifth Coming of Christ.But what specially concerns us here is that there is no reference to it in Hebrews ix. 28, which speaks of His appearing a second time for salvation. And it is noteworthy that this word "appear" is the ordinary word for "being seen," and is so translated in 1 Corinthians xv. 5, 6, 7, and 8. It is wholly different from the word used respecting the Lord’s Coming in1 Timothy vi. 14; 2 Timothy i. 10 and iv. 1, 8;and in Titus ii. 13. Our verse therefore might be rendered, "By them who look for Him He will be seen a second time" ("the second time" is a mistranslation, due no doubt to the influence of the "Second Advent" doctrine).But the burden of this section of Hebrews is thedoctrine of the sin-offering. And the closing wordsof chapter ix. would bring vividly to the mind of a Hebrew Christian the ritual of the Day of Atonement.Upon that red-letter day of Israel’s sacred calendar,the High Priest offered the great yearly sin-offering, and when the prescribed ritual in all its parts was fulfilled, he passed within the veil ; and the assembled Israelites watched and waited until he reappeared to bless them. For his thus reappearing was a pledge and proof that the sacrifice was accepted and expiation accomplished.

The accuracy of the type is absolute. Why was Aaron commanded to put off his high-priestly garments before offering the sin-offering, and not to wear them again until after he had entered the Divine presence with the blood? Why, but because it was not until after the Ascension, when, having "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (v. 26), and, having passed into the heavens "by His own blood," that Christ was " called of God a High Priest." And while Aaron’s appearing again in his garments of gloryand beauty to bless the people will have, in the antitype, a literal fulfilment for the earthly peopleof the Covenant, the heavenly election of this dispensation have not to await that "second time appearing. For to them it is given by faith to enter into the holiest "by that same blood by which He entered there, and thus to behold Him apart from sin and sin-offerings."

Dispensationally, this part of the type will be fulfilled in a definite way to the elect remnant of Israel,who will be looking for their Messiah; but in its spiritual teaching it is a truth for every believer.For though the death of Christ, as the antitype ofthe sin-offering, is in God’s sight the ground of our peace, our own appreciation of His sacrifice, and our realisation of the peace it gives, depends upon our seeing Him by faith apart from sin. It is the Hebrews aspect of the truth which Romans connects with the resurrection of Christ. And it is truth which has no place in the cult of the crucifix. Therefore is it that, although many Roman Catholics may have a spiritual knowledge of Christ, they never seem to enjoy settled peace.

A right understanding of this Hebrews passage will prevent its being misused to support the figment that, at the Coming of the Lord, none will be "caught up" save those who will be "looking for Him." If this were true, multitudes of spiritual Christians would be left behind. For are they not earnestly warned by their spiritual teachers that they ought to live looking, not for Christ, but for Antichrist and all the horrors and terrors which, as the Lord declared in Matthew xxiv., must precede His Coming as Son of Man, for the deliverance of His earthly people in a.future age.

"If we sin wilfully . . . there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews x. 26 ff).
The preceding note upon Hebrews vi. 4 - 6 leaves but little to be said upon this kindred passage. And that little cannot be better expressed than in the words of Dean Alford’s Commentary. The sin here meant, he says, is "the sin of apostasy from Christ back to the state which preceded the reception of Christ, namely, Judaism. This is the ground-sin of all other sins. The verb is in the present, not the past.‘If we be found wilfully sinning,’ not ‘if we have wilfully sinned,’ at that day. It is not of an act,or of any number of acts of sin, that the writer is speaking, which might be repented of and blotted out; but of a state of sin in which a man is found when that day shall come."

Here, moreover, as in chapter vi., the immediate sequel plainly indicates that nothing was further from the Apostle’s purpose than to limit or weaken the faith of the Hebrew Christians. And it further confirms the view that the warning had reference, not to lapses in the sphere of morals, but to "drawing back" to the religion that was fulfilled in Christ. And if such words were needed in the case of those who were turning back to the Divine religion of Judaism, what a voice they should have for those who turn to the sham altars of Christianised paganism!

The prevalence of altars in our churches to-day is a sad and signal proof that there has been a grievous lapse from the faith of Christ during the last half-century. And it is all the more strange, because to recognise an altar in a Christian place of worship is to run counter to the doctrines of the Church of England. . . . That the Reformers wished to discountenance the notion of altars appears from the fact that, at the Reformation, altars were ordered to be called tables; because, as Bishop Hooper said, as long as altars remain, both the ignorant people and the ignorant and evil-minded priest will always dream of sacrifice. What concerns us more closely here, however, is that Christianity knows nothing of altars. Moreover, "the only priests under the gospel, designated as such in the New Testament, are the saints, themembers of the Christian brotherhood. As individuals, all Christians are priests alike."

"We have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the Tabernacle " (Hebrews xiii. io).
The popular exposition of this verse depends on emphasising the pronouns in order to make it indicate a contrast between Christianity and Judaism. But in the original Greek the pronouns are not expressed.If they were, we might convey their force in an English translation by printing them in italics.For example, a Roman Catholic might say, "We have an altar," thus implying a contrast with Protestants who have none. But without the emphasis, the phrase thus addressed to Hebrew Christians is equivalent to "There is an altar." And this is here the force of the Apostle’s words. For he is not propounding a new Christian doctrine, but illustrating and enforcing the practical truth which finds definite expression in the thirteenth verse. And with this end in view, he refers to ordinances of the Divine religion of Judaism, with which every Hebrew Christian was familiar.

As a general rule the altar contributed to the dietary of the priests. But in verses 10 and 11 he reminds them of the notable exception to that rule.The great annual sin-offerings of the Day of Atonement, of which the blood was brought into the sanctuary, were "burned without the camp," and the priests had no right to eat thereof. Regarded in its highest aspect, we can have no part in the sacrifice of Calvary, albeit, we receive to the full the benefits and blessings accruing from it: "Alone He bore the Cross" But the Cross testified, not only to God’s judgment upon sin, but to man’s estimate of the Sin-bearer. It told not only of the wrath of God, but of the reproach which men heaped upon Christ. Is the Christian, then, to share the blessings, and yet refuse to share the reproach? Surely not : "Therefore (emphatic) let us go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." This is the teaching of the passage.

Though expositors are generally agreed that it refers to the Day of Atonement. they differ as to whether the altar of sin-offering has its antitype inthe Cross or in Christ Himself. This betrays strange ignorance of the language in which Christian truth is revealed in the New Testament, namely, thetypology of the Pentateuch. For there was no altar of sin-offering. And upon the Day of Atonement the sin-offering victim was not killed upon an altar at all. The law is explicit; it was killed "beside the altar." And neither altar nor priest is necessary to a sacrifice. For there was neither altar nor priest in Egypt when the great Paschal sacrifice of Israel’s redemption was offered. And, moreover, the institution of sacrifice is as old as the Eden Fall.

Until we come to the heavenly visions of the Book of Revelation, the New Testament knows nothing of an altar. The word is used eight times in the Gospels and six times in the Epistles ; but only by way of narratival mention. Has the Christian then no altar? Assuredly he has; but its place is in the heavenly shrine of the Great High Priest. Altars and priests upon earth bear testimony, not to the Divine Presence, but to the apostasy of the professing Church.