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The Book of Hebrews and the Wesleyan Daisy ("He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not")

The apostle Paul was a Calvinist. That’s how we can tell that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews, who was probably Apollos of Alexandria (Acts 19:24-28), was a Wesleyan.

Just look at Hebrews 6:4-6. The writer argues that a person can be “enlightened” to where they share in the Holy Spirit and taste in the heavenly gift (presumably salvation), the goodness of God’s word and the powers of the age to come, and then fall away. And if that happens, we are told that it is “impossible” (a-dynaton) to restore such a person to repentance, because they have re-crucified the Son of God and held him up to public contempt.

A Calvinist like me can argue that such a person came close, but was not truly saved, like what appears to have happened to John Lennon for a few weeks in the 1970’s. But this passage sounds positively Wesleyan to me.

Or look at Hebrews 10:26-31. We are told that if we “sin deliberately” after receiving the “full knowledge of the truth,” there is no longer a sacrifice for sins. If someone who blows off the Law of Moses deserves to die without mercy, “how much worse will the one who tramples the Son of God, profanes [literally, thinks to be a common thing] the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outrages the Spirit of grace, be counted worthy of punishment?”

This author does not mince his words. Again, one can dispute what is meant by “sin deliberately,” as to whether or not this means that a complete rejection of Christ is possible after being truly born anew through faith in Christ. But this author certainly seems to advocate such a view.

(Yesterday, I was told that a local Messianic Jew appears to hold a similar point of view. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a letter written specifically to Jewish followers of Yeshua around 69 AD who were being bullied into abandoning him would sound a similar note: that apostasy can cut oneself off entirely from a saving relationship with God.)

Perhaps it is my own bias, but I find Paul to be much more of a Calvinist than the writer of Hebrews is. True, Paul uses language that those who habitually practice sins on his sin lists in 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5 “shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” as if believers who commit such sins could lose their salvation. He speaks as if God might break off his Gentile readers from the olive tree into which they have been grafted, if they do not continue in their faith (Romans 11:21-22).

But the same Paul also writes Romans 9:14-18, where God has mercy on whomever God wills, and hardens the heart of whomever God wills. That’s pretty Calvinist! Imagine the author of Hebrews writing that; that’s not what his audience needs to hear. Paul also credits God with not abandoning Israel, despite its high degree of unbelief: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” (Romans 11:2) “For the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) And Paul’s conversion itself shows us God performing a “will freeze” on a convert who otherwise never would have placed his faith in Christ.

One may object that Paul is speaking on a national level, while the author of Hebrews is speaking of individual salvation. What seems evident to me is that the author of Hebrews sounds much more like a Wesleyan than Paul does. Yet Calvinists have ways to read Hebrews that are as plausible as the Wesleyan attempts to read Romans 9. And Calvinists have been quick to point out that Hebrews is the indispensible book for putting Old and New Covenants together

God’s word gives us the word of both Paul and the author of Hebrews, to give us a fuller perspective on the subject of eternal security. But the strongest voice in favor of eternal security is the Jesus presented in John’s Gospel (see my Patheos post, Whether one sides with the Reformed approach or the Wesleyan approach, both models require us to stretch one or more of the puzzle parts to make the rest of them fit.