I read and pondered Hebrews 1-6 in my “Come, Follow Me” studies this week. Many scholars accept the Apostle Paul to be the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, so I will refer to the writer as Paul.
The Hebrew Saints were having a difficult time. They had accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, but their revered beliefs and traditions founded in worshiping the one true God and the words of His prophets. Their beliefs and traditions went back for thousands of years. It must have been difficult for them when the Apostles taught the Jesus Christ fulfilled the law of Moses and had set forth a higher law as a standard of belief.
In his Epistle to the Hebrews Paul tried to settle their questions. He taught them that the law of Moses, the prophets, and the ordinances are all important, but Jesus Christ is more important than all of them. He said that all things point to and testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the promised Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting. The message of Hebrews can be summed up in the idea that we sometimes must give up some good things, like traditions, to put Jesus Christ in the center of our lives. Our eternal salvation depends on Him.
Paul discussed numerous topics in his Epistle to the Hebrews, but I feel impressed to discuss his teachings in Hebrew 6. In the first verse of this chapter, the King James Version of the New Testament says, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection….” This verse can be confusing because it leaves the question, how do we become perfect without the principles and doctrine of Jesus Christ?
We are fortunate to live in a day when prophets and apostles walk the earth once again. The Joseph Smith Translation of Hebrews 6:1 helps us to understand it better. “Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ” (in Hebrews 6:1, footnote a). The New Testament Student Manual – Religion 211-212 [2014, 478) says that this “change supports the original Greek text of the phrase, which translates as ‘having left behind the beginning of the doctrine.’ The quote continues as follows.
The Saints addressed in Hebrews had already received the first principles, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel (including faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; see Hebrews 6:1-2). They were not to abandon those principles but were to continue growing toward spiritual maturity from that beginning point (compare 2 Nephi 31:5-21).
The Joseph Smith Translation of Hebrews 6:3 also contains a significant addition: “And we will go on unto perfection if God permit” (in the Bible appendix).
The Apostle Paul was concerned that some of the Hebrew Saints would fall away from the gospel of Jesus Christ and then commit the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin is to fight against the Savior and to put Him to open shame, almost like crucifying Him once again. Those who commit this unpardonable sin will not be forgiven because they turn from the truth, commit blasphemy, and refuse to repent. The Prophet Joseph Smith defined this blasphemy as follows.
What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy” (in History of the Church, 6:314).
The above statement may be a little frightening to some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was a little concerned when I read the statement again. The following words of President Spencer W. Kimball put my heart at peace: “The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file [members of the Church] to commit such a sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness , 123).
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also reassured Church members: “Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness” (“The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov 1995, 19).
The Apostle Paul wanted the readers of his Epistle to the Hebrews to have hope. He said that hope is “an anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). Hope is the quality that helps us to endure in faith. It is the assurance that we will receive our reward if we continue doing works of righteousness. (See Doctrine and Covenants 59:23.)
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then of the First Presidency, spoke of hope in one of his general conference addresses. His words help us to better understand what Paul was trying to tell the Hebrew Saints.
Hope is a gift of the Spirit. It is a hope that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection, we shall be raised unto life eternal and this because of our faith in the Savior. This kind of hope is both a principle of promise as well as a commandment, and, as with all commandments, we have the responsibility to make it an active part of our lives and overcome the temptation to lose hope. Hope in our Heavenly Father’s merciful plan of happiness leads to peace, mercy, rejoicing, and gladness. The hope of salvation is like a protective helmet; it is the foundation of our faith and an anchor to our souls” (“The Infinite Power of Hope,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 21-22).
To summarize Hebrews 6, I would say that we must do all that we can to avoid the “thorns and briers” of the world and keep our testimony of the gospel strong and growing. As we strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, we can also have hope in His promises.