The Dual Themes “Faith-Perseverance” and “Unbelief-Shrinking Back” in the Warning Passages of the Epistle to the Hebrews

The community that the author of Hebrews is addressing has become “lazy/sluggish”, “dull in understanding” and need to be taught again the basic elements of the faith. Their current state could lead them to apostasy from the faith; in fact, some are neglecting assembling together or already have, and it is possible that a discussion on the issue related to a second repentance was going on within the church. Despite the discouraging situation of spiritual laziness among his recipients, the author encourages them to press on to maturity because he still believes that they can remediate their situation. Crucial to their spiritual health is the understanding that the Mosaic Law and cult cannot lead to perfection nor can it take away sins. Rather, it is through Jesus, the Son of God and great high priest (and King/Lord) that they have free access to God and holiness, as long as they hold fast to the confession. Therefore, what the addressees need is both faith and perseverance if they wish to avoid God’s disapproval. It is this “parenetical” aspect of the Letter, also known as the “warning passages”, that will be the focus of this paper, which, with several scholars, I will identify as 2.1-4, 3.7-4.13, 5.11-6.12, 10.19-39, and 12.14-29. I suggest that in spite of the unique nature of each exhortation, these five warning passages share one central pa?a???s?? aiming to place its readers vis-à-vis only two possible paths: “faith-perseverance” or “unbelief-shrinking back”. In order to create this effect on his addressees through these warnings, I argue that the author does so mainly in two ways: (1) by constantly alternating between positive and negative concepts throughout each warning, especially with regard to "exhortations" and "consequences"; (2) by means of three explicit quotations from the Septuagint (Haggai 2.6; Psalm 94[95MT]7b-11; Habakkuk 2.3b-4;) that he reworks in order to combine condemnation and salvation, and eschatology and present. Thus, with such juggling and creativity, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews manages to reach his audience and to bring them into understanding that the nature of the salvation they were offered and have experienced posed both greater privilege and greater danger; hence a carefully written Letter continually urging a decisive response from its recipients.