Summary: What are the elementaty, foundational truths, referred to in Hebrews 6v2? (Baptisms and laying on of hands)
Chapter 6 vv 1-3 – Elementary my dear! (Part 1)
1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.
Last time we looked at the writer’s criticism of his readers’ spiritual immaturity. He continues this theme as he begins Chapter 6. This is because it is crucial to know where we stand and whether we are going forward in our Christian lives. Without such stock-takes it is easy for us to drift along.
This chapter is hard to understand. As I have studied it I have become increasingly convinced that we need to bear in mind its original audience and the problems and doubts that they were experiencing if we are to understand it properly. If we do this and read it in the context of the rest of the book I think we can avoid the confusion and anxieties that it has brought to sincere Christians. This book was written to Jewish believers, some of whom were wavering between Christianity and the old ways of the Jewish religion. This is exactly what the Jewish people had done at Kadesh Barnea (which was the writer’s focus in Ch 4:11) and this book was written largely to show these believers the folly of such an about face.
The first question that we have to think about is what the writer meant by the terms the elementary principles of Christ and the foundation in verse 1. Are they the three couplets listed in verses 1 and 2? When I began this study I thought that they were, but look at them
• repentance from dead works and faith toward God – 6:1
• baptisms and laying on of hands – 6:2
• resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment – 6:2
At fist glance that seems straight forward enough. I am sure that we would agree that repentance, faith, baptism, the resurrection and judgement are all elementary truths. Although, sadly many who call themselves Christians stumble over them, or even completely deny them.
But this passage doesn’t talk about baptism, it uses the plural. Why? Well different baptisms are referred to in the NT – John’s baptism, Christian baptism and the baptism of the Spirit (1Cor 12:13) are the main ones, but there is no other reference in Scripture to the doctrine of baptisms.
If we look at the Greek word used here – baptismos– it is found only 3 other times in the New Testament, where it is translated as washings. It is not the same as baptizo – normally translated as baptize. Two are in Mark 7:
4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. …8 "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do."
The other is also in Hebrews ch 9:10 and refers to various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.