Monday, 22 October 2018
…of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. Hebrews 6:2
From the idea of the foundation, which is repentance from dead work and faith toward God of the previous verse, the author now moves into that “of the doctrine of baptisms.” Here the regular verb, “baptize,” is not used. Instead, it is a plural noun, “baptisms.” It is found in this plural form elsewhere, but only in Mark 7:4 & 7:8 and also in Hebrews 9:10. The noun form in the singular is found in Colossians 2:12. Because of the rarity of the word, and its use in the plural, it is highly debated what is being referred to. However, understanding the audience, and the surrounding context, makes it clear.
First, the audience is the Hebrew people. Secondly, the context is a post-resurrection scenario. This is evident from the previous verse which refers to faith towards God, meaning in the completed work of Christ. It is also evident from the contents of this verse which speaks of the resurrection. It would make no sense for the author to speak of such things before and after mentioning baptisms, and then speak of something which was solely referring to Jewish traditions during the time of the law.
Therefore, the “doctrine of baptisms” may still be referring to baptisms which the Hebrews had encountered under the law – rituals for purification known as the mikveh, and the washing of items, hands, and the like – all of which are no longer applicable. It may further be referring to the baptisms which were mentioned in the gospels – that of John’s baptism of repentance, and Christ’s baptism by fire. And thirdly, it could include referring to the baptism of water as a symbol of what Christ has done, and which includes the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the “doctrine of baptisms,” is an all-inclusive statement about what applies and what does not.
Those washings under the old no longer apply. They were external rites which only looked to the purification found in Christ. The baptism of John was one of repentance, and which was to lead to Christ as well, preparing the people for His work (see Acts 1:5, 11:16; & 19:4). Then, there is the baptism of the Holy Spirit (the “fire” that John spoke of) which comes upon faith in Christ. And finally, there is the baptism of water as an outward profession of the faith professed in Christ (Matthew 28:19).
This then would be the “doctrine of baptisms.” It is an instruction which comes at an early stage of one’s Christian walk, and it is 1) to show the contrast between the Old and the New Covenant symbolism, 2) to explain what occurs in the believer concerning the Holy Spirit; and 3) to show the command of the Lord for those who have so received the Holy Spirit to make the outward profession through water baptism. It is then in line with the command of the Lord to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Those two ordinances were given for those who are a part of the body, and they are commemorative, not salvific, in nature.
After this, the author mentions the doctrine “of laying on of hands.” There are three different uses for the laying on of hands as this Hebrew audience would understand it. First is for healing. That is noted in Acts 9:17 & 28:8. The next is the ordaining of someone to a particular office, such as in 1 Timothy 4:14. The third is that of for imparting gifts of the Spirit, such as in Acts 8 & 19. There were laying on of hands for various reasons in the Old Covenant, and this Hebrew audience had been instructed on what the difference between the Old and the New now was. It should be noted that the laying on of hands was (and is) not a guarantee of either healing or the imparting of gifts. There are instances where associates of the apostles were not healed. Further, gifts are given in accord with the wisdom of God, not on any claim by man. Therefore, these layings on of hands are as much a petition for God’s attention as they are for the imparting that may occur.
The author then moves to the doctrine “of the resurrection from the dead.” Different sects of Jews under the old system believed differently about the resurrection. For example, the Sadducees said there was no resurrection. In order to ensure that those in Christ knew what it meant to be “in Christ,” the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead would have been carefully laid out. What would happen to those saints before the coming of Christ? What would happen to those who died in Christ, or those who did not accept Christ? What would happen to those who were alive when Christ returned? Each of these was something that would have been explained to this audience right at the beginning. They are basic tenets of doctrine, and each was answered concerning the resurrection in relation to Christ Jesus.
Within the same general framework of the resurrection from the dead would have been the final area of doctrine, that “of eternal judgment.” Those under the Old Covenant had ideas about judgment which stemmed from the writings of the prophets. For example, Daniel 12:2 speaks of the resurrection and of judgment. Such examples were incomplete in what they taught because there was no understanding of Christ’s coming, followed by His ascension, and then a second coming. Further, there is still the issue of the millennial kingdom which had not yet come in. All of these things had to be explained to understand the timeline of what would occur, and how the various categories of people would fit into God’s judgment on humanity.
But more specifically concerning the word “eternal,” Vincent’s Word Studies says, “…eternal certainly cannot here signify everlasting. It expresses rather a judgment which shall transcend all temporal judgments; which shall be conducted on principles different from those of earthly tribunals, and the decisions of which shall be according to the standards of the economy of a world beyond time.” This appears both logical and correct. The doctrine of future judgment is a core tenet of what the young believer was instructed on, as well as the understanding that it is a judgment which is based on God’s eternal standards.
Life application: The doctrines mentioned in this verse are basic doctrines which each young believer should be aware of and feel secure in. Though there are debates about the nuances of these doctrines, there should be an understanding that the practices in the New Covenant are not always the same as those under the Old. To reapply Old Testament practices to our time, after Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Covenant, can only lead to unsound ideas about these core doctrines.
Lord, help us to follow Your word alone and not the “traditions of men” when teaching and receiving instruction. And help us to keep our doctrine in proper context, not mixing Old and New Covenants, which can only diminish the glory of what Christ has done for us. May our doctrine be pure so that at Your coming we will be found acceptable in what our lips have uttered. To Your glory alone O God! Amen!