The letter to the Hebrews is a letter that has perplexed scholars through the centuries. Depending on one’s theological tradition there may be different ways to exegete the treasures within. Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews provides a platform for four prominent New Testament scholars who layout their viewpoint in a systematic fashion.
The four viewpoints contained within the work are the Arminian, Classical reformed, Wesleyan Arminian, and the modified reformed perspectives. The four scholars who contribute to the work are as follows: Grant Osborne presents the classical Arminian position, Buist Fanning with classical reformed, Gareth Cockerill with the Wesleyan Arminian, and Randall Gleason with the moderate reformed position. Each contributor is given ample space to defend their position. Though there are four contributors, it is important to mention the editor Herbert Bateman and George Guthrie who concludes the work with some final remarks. Both are fantastic scholars and have impressive bodies of work. So what are the warning passages, and why are they important? The editor Herbert Bateman says it best when he writes, “The warning passage clearly force us to address the issue of assurance and the doctrine of eternal security.”
CLASSICAL ARMINIAN POSITION
A debate that has raged for centuries is that between Calvinists and Arminians. The classical reformed, or Calvinist view, emphasizes the sovereignty of God. A person will not be saved until God first acts to regenerate a person. The Classical Arminian view is that God acts to convict a person so they can make a choice utilizing their God given free will. Grant Osborne spends some time describing the controversy because it is vital to the Arminian position. That position being that there must be a balance between the Sovereignty of God and the free will of man.
Were the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews really Christians? Osborne concludes that there were some that were genuine regenerate Christians. This is seen by some of the language used in the book. Osborne speaks to the is matter, “This fits well with the descriptions above; indeed, it is hard to see this language as fitting those who are members of the church but nor actually saved. Such strong depictions can hardly describe such people-they must be actual believers.”
Osborne stays true to the classical Arminian view that a truly regenerate person can still turn their back on the faith. Though some were saved they will not receive their reward because they did not persevere. Osborne wrote this passage with Hebrew 3:7-19 in mind as it mentions the children of Israel in the wilderness.
WESLEYAN ARMINIAN VIEW
The Wesleyan Arminian view is authored by Gareth Cockerill who has written an impressive commentary on Hebrews. Cockerill agrees with Osborne’s assessment on Hebrews apostasy teachings. Cockerill spends a great deal of time dealing with the warning passages in Hebrews 2:1-4. In so doing he takes a different conclusion than Osborne in regards to believers losing their eternal reward for unbelief. Cockerill writes, “while the writer addresses all of the believers as true believers, some do not have genuine faith.” If they did not have genuine faith then they did not have true faith. As a result, they could not truly apostatize since they were never believers to begin with. They will face what Cockerill describes as “Repudiation and lethargy.”
MODIFIED REFORMED VIEW
Randall Gleason starts his portion of the work with great praise for the work of Grant Osborne. This is refreshing as many Arminian and Reformed theologians seem up in arms with each other. Osborne quickly moves from praise to a disagreement with the recipients of the letter. He provides evidence that the letter was meant for believers in Jerusalem, and states that it is warning of judgment upon the nation of Israel. Gleason points out that the evidence that the letter went to a church in Rome is not without merit, but inconclusive. It is inconclusive since the Septuagint and other Greek manuscripts were found in Palestine, and evidence from Qumran show that they also used the Greek text.
Gleason agrees in part with Osborne’s view of the apostasy described in the letter, but takes it a little further. In regards to the apostasy Gleason writes, “Hebrews refers to deliberate covenant unfaithfulness that would incite God to discipline his people.” Gleason then describes Hebrews chapters 3-4 and the retelling of the Israelites in the wilderness in a typological sense. Throughout salvation history anything done with Israel has been done through faith. Israel’s faith in the Lord and their deliverance from Egypt serves as a type for salvation in the rest of scripture. As a result, disobedience for believers brings about the denial of blessings, but not a loss of salvation.
CLASSICAL REFORMED VIEW
Buist Fanning takes the fourth view in Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. He is very honest and upfront by saying that some may not see his view as thoroughly reformed. Fanning makes the argument that, on the surface, the letter to the Hebrews makes a damaging case on the reformed doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. Fanning deals with all warning passages, but Hebrews 6:4-6 will be focused on for consistency with the critiques for the other views. Fanning makes the case, similar to that of Gleason, that Israel “experienced God’s blessings corporately as part of a covenant community. When most of them fell due to rebellion and unbelief, it was evident that they were not inwardly and truly members of God’s people.” Only true believers persevere and if they do not they were never really in the ranks of the believers. To truly understand Hebrews, we must look at the overall theology of the letter, and not bits and pieces.
Overall the work is very well done and informative. It is challenging as it offers four different theological opinions. Some may wonder if four views on the warning passages is needed, but it is something that is important. Having the four views forces the reader to consider other interpretations and will allow one to gain a better understanding of the material.
A great strength of the work is the exegesis contained within. Four brilliant scholars parse Greek terms, and look at history to delve into the true meaning of the epistle. Even if one does not agree with a particular view there is likely some points within the said view that would be beneficial.
Overall there were not many weaknesses with the work, but it may have been able to be condensed to a smaller volume. The introduction, though highly informative, was daunting. Most introductions are fairly short and give a brief over view, but the introduction in Four Views could have easily been a book of its own as it came in at nearly 80 pages.
Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews provides four very interesting views of the Hebrews. Though I am not a Calvinist I feel that the moderate reformed view laid out by Randall Gleason works best. He lays out the problem passages in view of covenantal theology and typology to arrive at his determinations. This makes sense given that the letter itself does the same in laying out salvation history from the fathers to Christ.
The work is a valuable asset for anyone who plans to teach or study the letter to the Hebrews. It will challenge one’s view and provide different viewpoints to help grow in knowledge and faith. It is written in such a way that the everyday layman can pick it up and understand what is going on. It is a must for everyone who is serious about the study of scripture.
Bateman, Herbert W., ed. Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2007.
 Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2007), Kindle Location 24.
 Ibid, Kindle Location. 10.
 Ibid, Kindle Location 112.
 Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2007), Kindle Location 526.
 Ibid, Kindle Location 559.
 Ibid, Kindle Location 666.
 Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2007), Kindle Location 1011.
 Ibid, Kindle Location 1104.
 Ibid, Kindle Location 1121.
 Ibid, Kindle Location 1135.
 Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2007), Kindle Location 1170.
 Ibid, 1181.
 Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2007), Kindle Location 1294.