My book, What is Hell? is now available on Amazon. I am doing a series of podcast studies that focus on some of the content from the book. The studies look at the eight key terms that are often equated with hell, and about a dozen key passages that are thought to teach about hell.
If you want to learn the truth about hell and what the Bible actually teaches about hell, make sure you get a copy of my book, What is Hell?
Also, if you are part of my discipleship group, there will be an online course about hell as well.
In this study, we will consider two of the warning passages in Hebrews to see if they are warning Christians about the possibility of going to hell. We will look at Hebrews 6:7-8 and Hebrews 10:27.
Does Hebrews 6:7-8 warn about hell?
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
The book of Hebrews contains five warning passages (Heb 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 5:11–6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). The warning passage in Hebrews 6 is both the most severely worded and also the most widely misunderstood.
The author of Hebrews uses the imagery of a plot of land which is cultivated and planted so that a harvest might be gained from it. If the land produces crops, it receives blessing from God, but if it does not produce crops, it will get burned.
In the context, the land refers to the lives of Christians (Hebrews 5:11; Hebrews 6:3-4), and so it is upon Christians that the potential blessings or curses can fall. If, therefore, the cursing and burning refers to the fires of eternal hell, then this passage means that some Christians could end up in hell.
But is that what it means? No.
A careful consideration of three key terms in this text helps the meaning become clear. These words are “rejected, cursed, and burned.”
All three terms are parallel, and therefore help explain each other.
The word “Rejected”
The word rejected (Gk., adokimos) could also be translated as disapproved or disqualified. This word has nothing to do with whether or not a person has eternal life, but instead has to do with whether or not God finds a person useful and honest in their dealings with others.
Due to this, the word “useful” is a good synonym for the Greek word dokimos, while “useless” would be a good synonym for adokimos.
Therefore, if a Christian is adokimos, they still have eternal life, but God considers their “plot of land” to be useless for planting. (See the lesson on the word “Approved” in my Gospel Dictionary Online Course)
Rather than being fit for planting, the field of their life is only full of thorns and briars, which are the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world, so that any seed which is planted would get choked rather than produce a harvest (cf. Luke 8:4-15).
The word rejected is also found in Hebrews 12:17 (along with the word blessing which was mentioned in 6:7) in reference to Esau. Esau sold the blessing of his earthly birthright for a meal, and even though he sought to regain it afterwards with repentance and tears, he was rejected.
So the word rejected refers to the loss of earthly and temporal blessings and inheritance that God gives to those who obey and honor Him. Those who disobey God will not receive the blessings, but will be rejected and turned away from them.
This is not about going to hell, or getting turned away from the proverbial “gates of heaven,” but is instead about being rejected as a useful part of God’s plan here on earth.
The word “Cursed”
The word cursed (Gk., katara) is similar. The word does not refer to an action, but to a verbal, imprecatory declaration about something or someone.
In the context, this word cursed is the exact opposite of the blessing which was mentioned in Hebrews 6:7. The word for blessing is eulogia, and means “verbal praise,” and so the cursing is also verbal. It is a negative declaration that something is useless.
The word cursed is also used in Galatians 3:10, 13 to refer to the curse of the law and the curse of being crucified.
It is used in James 3:10 to refer to the curses that a person can utter with the mouth.
And it is used in 2 Peter 2:14 to describe the behavior and characteristics of false prophets (cf. 2 Pet 2:1). On this last text, it is important to note that in the context, Peter writes about the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Jude 7), which is similar to how the author of Hebrews goes on to describe the burning of this worthless field.
And just as the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah is not equivalent to burning in the fires of hell, so also, the burning of the field is also not referring to hell.
The word “Burned”
The third key term is the word burned (Gk., kausis). The word is not the normal word for fire (Gk., pur), but is the noun kausis, which is the only time this noun is used in Scripture.
The verbal form is found in 2 Peter 3:10 in reference to how, at the end of the age, this world will be burned with fire. This Petrine parallel reveals that the word does not refer to hell, but instead to some sort of temporal discipline and judgment in this life.
Indeed, in real life, the burning of a field is actually a way to prepare it for harvest. Often, when a field is full of thorns and briars, the quickest and easiest way to prepare it for plowing and planting is to burn the field.
This does not destroy the soil, but instead prepares the ground for future harvest. The burning of the field is a form of discipline and correction to change a useless field into a useful field, making it ready to be planted.
Putting the Three Terms Together
When the meaning and significance of these three terms are considered together, we learn that Hebrews 6:7-8 is not saying anything about how God will send some people to burn in hell.
Quite to the contrary, the author is saying that when a Christian fails to live as God wants and desires, and as a result of this failure becomes useless, God might “curse the ground” and burn over the field of their life, so that the field can be properly plowed and planted in the future.
This is a passage which explains the disciplinary and restorative work of God in helping unfruitful Christians become fruitful again.
This passage is not talking about Christians who lose their eternal life and end up in hell.
Just the opposite.
This passage affirms our eternal security because it is a passage about the discipline that God gives to His own children when they fall away and stagnate in their lives due to the riches and pleasures of life (cf. Rev 3:19).
The author of Hebrews states elsewhere that the Lord disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6), and that is what the author writes in Hebrews 6 as well.
One of the other warning passages in Hebrews also contains a reference to fire, so it too is worth considering, especially since it seems to be more strongly worded than the imagery of the burning field in Hebrews 6:8. This other text is Hebrews 10:27.
Does Hebrews 10:27 warn Christians about hell?
… but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:19-39 is another of the five warning passages in the book of Hebrews (Heb 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 5:11–6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29).
In the middle of this warning passage, the author reminds the readers what will happen to them if they reject the truth revealed in Jesus. The author writes that those who disregard what they had previously learned about Jesus will face the judgment of fiery indignation and punishment (Hebrews 10:27, 29).
Many see this as a clear reference to torment in the flames of hell, but once again, several key insights from the context reveal an entirely different understanding.
Fiery Indignation does NOT come from God
First, note that Hebrews 10:27 does not say that the fiery indignation comes from God. Instead, this indignation appears to be self-inflicted. That is, it comes from within the person to consume and devour them.
How do we know this?
The word indignation (Gk., zēlos) could also be translated as “zeal” or “jealousy” (cf. Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 3:3). The word itself usually refers to a sinful attitude (2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:20; Jas 3:14, 16), though there is a form of godly jealousy (2 Cor 7:11; 11:2).
So how can one determine whether or not the zeal or jealousy in question is sinful or godly? The word is often accompanied with a modifying adjective or a descriptive noun which helps determine whether the zēlos is sinful jealousy or godly jealousy. Here, the modifier is the word fire (Gk., pur).
As we have seen over and over from Scripture, fire is often a symbol of judgment, discipline, and destruction. Even when used in a positive way to describe the fires of purification (cf. 1 Cor 3:15), the fire itself is still a destructive fire that burns away all that is undesirable.
The context of Hebrews 10 reveals something similar here. Phrases such as “fearful expectation of judgment” (Hebrews 10:27), “worse punishment” (Hebrews 10:29), and “draw back to perdition” (Hebrews 10:39) reveal that the fire is to be understood in this negative, destructive sense.
Therefore, since the fire is a negative experience, the zēlos can also be understood as the negative, destructive, sinful form of jealousy.
If this is the sinful form of indignation or jealousy, then it cannot be God’s. Since it is sinful, human jealousy, it cannot be godly jealousy.
The jealousy, indignation, or zeal which the author of Hebrews is describing is not from God, but from the sinful heart of human beings.
This insight provides great help in understanding this fourth warning passage.
Don’t Reject the Truth!
The author is warning the readers to not reject the knowledge of the truth they have received through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:26).
For if they reject what Jesus revealed, then there is nothing for them to return to except the old religious system of sacrifices, which never did anything to help them with their sin. Indeed, the sacrifices themselves were sinful (Myers, Nothing but the Blood of Jesus).
The sacrificial system was based on fear, accusation, blame, and scapegoating, and Jesus came to set us free from all such things. But if one rejects the revelation in Jesus, then the only other option is to return to that broken and sinful system.
And what did Jesus reveal?
He showed us that we have nothing to fear from God. It is as John writes, the perfect love we have seen in Jesus casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18).
In Jesus we have learned that God does not punish, and therefore, we have nothing to fear.
Yet those who have not yet seen or understood this revelation of God in Jesus Christ, still live in fear of God. They do not know what God is like and so are afraid of God and live in fear of His judgment.
This explains the fiery indignation that the author of Hebrews has in mind.
Fear makes people feel that they are being unjustly judged. Fear causes a person to feel that the one whom they fear will not judge them correctly or justly.
Only when a person knows they are loved by the one doing the judging will they feel that this judge has their best interests at heart and will make sound judgments.
So when people fear the judge, they become indignant and resentful of the judgment they receive. They feel that all the facts were not properly considered or that extenuating circumstances were not factored in.
And so when people fear God, they become indignant and upset that God will judge them for the actions which they feel they were forced to commit by life’s circumstances. They become upset, thinking that God only wants to punish them, regardless of the reasons for their actions. They develop a raging indignation against God, or a fiery zeal based on incorrect ideas about God (cf. Rom 10:2).
This inner indignation consumes them. It devours them from the inside out.
The author of Hebrews is warning the readers that if they reject what is revealed in Jesus, then they also reject the love and forgiveness of God that is revealed in Jesus.
If they reject this, then there is nothing left but the inner turmoil of fiery jealousy and indignation which consumes people from within.
This is not eternal torment in the flames of hell, but the inner, psychological turmoil that comes from having an incorrect view of God.
But what about Hebrews 10:29, 31, and 39?
These verses contain references to punishment, perdition, and how fearful it is to fall into the hand of the living God. Do these references prove that some sort of punishment from God is in view?
They do not.
What is the “Punishment” of Hebrews 10:29?
In Hebrews 10:29, the Greek word for punishment is timōria. This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament.
In other Greek literature, it most often refers to helping someone who has been wronged by assisting them against those who committed the wrong. It is giving the offender what he deserves by doing to him what he did to others.
In other words, it carries the idea of a sin against someone else coming back and falling upon the person who committed it. This idea is nearly identical to the concept of indignation from Hebrews 10:27.
The fiery indignation was not from God, but was from inside a person who misunderstands God, and therefore, the indignation is a sin that consumes and devours the person who commits it. The word for punishment here has the same idea. Sin bears its own punishment with it.
What is the “fearful thing” of Hebrews 10:31?
Similarly, when Hebrews 10:31 says that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” the author has in mind the exact same concept that was expressed in Hebrews 10:26-27.
When people reject the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, that God is only loving and always forgives, then the only alternative view of God is that God is out to judge and destroy them.
And for those who have this view of God, for them, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a God who wants to judge and kill. But for the rest of us, who have seen God in Jesus Christ, we need not fear God in such a way.
Yes, God is a judge (Hebrews 10:30), but Jesus shows us what kind of judge God is. Yes, vengeance belongs to God and God alone will repay people for what they have done (Hebrews 10:30), but in Jesus, we see that divine vengeance looks like mercy and that repayment for sin looks like forgiveness.
When we have this view of God, then we see that God is love (1 John 4:8), and the knowledge of this love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
What about the “Perdition” of Hebrews 10:39?
Finally, we must consider the word perdition in Hebrews 10:39. The Greek word is apōleia, which means “destruction” (cf. Matt 7:13; Rom 9:22; Php 1:28; 3:19; 2 Pet 2:1, 3; 3:16) or “waste” (Matt 26:8; Mark 14:4).
The word itself refers to utter loss or complete ruin. It does not have anything to do with eternal damnation (2 Pet 2:3 in the KJV is poorly translated).
It simply means that a person is inviting destruction into their life, and into the lives of those who follow them and their teachings. This is exactly what happened with Judas, and what will happen with the antichrist, both of whom are called “the son of perdition” (John 17:12; 2 Thess 2:3).
The phrase “saving of the soul” in Hebrews 10:39 also does not refer to escaping hell and going to heaven, but to delivering your life from premature physical death (cf. Jas 1:21; 5:19-20; 1 Pet 1:9).
What is Hebrews 10:19-39 warning about?
So although Hebrews 10:19-39 is indeed a dark and ominous text, it is not teaching that some Christians can end up in eternal hell.
It is teaching that those who abandon Jesus after believing in Him and receiving the knowledge of the truth that He reveals will experience many negative and harmful consequences in their life.
They will become indignant toward God, feeling that He has unjustly judged them, and this fiery indignation will consume them from the inside out.
They will live in fear of God, rather than in the experience of His unconditional love.
And ultimately, if they continue on this path, they will bring destruction and utter ruin into their life. It is indeed a serious mistake to reject the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, for He alone brings love, hope, and encouragement into our earthly lives (cf. Hebrews 10:19-25).Do you have more questions about hell? Are you afraid of going to hell? Do want to know what the Bible teaches about hell? Take my course "What is Hell?" to learn the truth about hell and how to avoid hell. This course costs $297, but when you join the Discipleship group, you can to take the entire course for free.
Nelson Banuchi says
Because of how late in the day it is for me, I just read your article up to where you say: “So the word rejected refers to the loss of earthly and temporal blessings and inheritance that God gives to those who obey and honor Him.”
First of all, what the writer of Hebrews is warning of is not the loss of “temporal blessings and [a temporal?] inheritance (btw, what inheritance are you speaking of?) but of apostasy, of one forfeiting their salvation. It reminds me of Luke 13:6-9 and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is similar to what the writer of Hebrews had in mind in this section of his epistle.
So, whether one want to accept the “being burned” (NASB) as literal or figurative is beside the point; the point is, the person who yields usefulness is blessed but the one who is unfruitful is “worthless” (NASB) and, therefore, ready to be cursed and, if so, is finally “burned”; and even if figuratively speaking, the reference is to God’s final rejection of that person for salvation (John 15:6).
On “adokimos,” Thayer reads, that “which does not prove itself to be such as it ought: γῆ, of sterile soil, Hebrews 6:8; in a moral sense.”
Marcus Dods, regarding this verse, affirms, “Certainly it points not to a remedial measure, but to a final destructive judgment” (Expositor Greek Testament 4:300).
Also, “adokimos,” is used in Rom 1:28; 1 Cor 9:27; 2 Col 13:5; 2 Tim 3:8; Titus 1:16, all suggesting apostasy, a falling away from God to the point of a final forfeiture of salvation.
As such, it seems that the writer of Hebrews is warning against apostasy, that is, a believer turning wholly away from faith in God evidenced, so it seems, by his impiety and immorality and the absence of works befitting Christ-followers.
So, while it may “not [be] about going to hell,” for those who reject eternal torment, it is definitely talking about “getting turned away from the proverbial ‘gates of heaven’.”
I think the context of Hebrews bears out that the subject being warned against is a voluntary return to unbelief and the life of sin and not merely a loss of “earthy and temporal blessings” (which blessings, you did not enumerate or even mention) “and inheritance” (again, what inheritance are you referencing?). See, for example, Hebrews 2:1-3; 3:12-4:1-2,11;6:4-8; 10:26-31,35-38; 12:15-17,25-29).
I believe the context in Hebrews 6 is that the person’s works are burned and cursed, not the person’s life. The soil is the person, what grows on the soil is the person’s works.