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.
These references look back to OT passages (Exodus 30:18, 19; Leviticus 16:4; Numbers 19:19) about the ceremonial washings of Judaism. They were designed to impress upon the Israelites that God is holy and that none who were defiled could enter His presence. They reminded everyone that sin must be dealt with before a priest or, indeed, any Jew could approach God. It seems very likely that this is what the writer was referring to.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day focussed on ceremonial ‘Purification’. A large part of the Jewish Talmud, including the largest book of the Mishna and no less than thirty chapters in the Gemara, is devoted to this subject.
Water jars were kept ready to be used before a meal. The minimum amount of water to be used was a quarter of a log, which is defined as enough to fill one and a half eggshells. The water was first poured on both hands, held with the fingers pointed upwards, and must run up the arm as far as the wrist. It must drop off from the wrist, for the water was now itself unclean, having touched the unclean hands, and, if it ran down the fingers again, it would again render them unclean. The process was repeated with the hands held in the opposite direction, with the fingers pointing down; and then finally each hand was cleansed by being rubbed with the fist of the other. A really strict Jew would do all this, not only before a meal, but also between each of the courses.
Is it any wonder that Jesus exposed the folly of such practices and the attitudes behind them?
Mt 23: 23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self–indulgence. 26 "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
But before we join Jesus in condemning them, what about us? Do we dress up well to look pious when we come to Church and then live like everyone else for the rest of the week? De we dot our theological i’s and cross our t’s without showing practical concern for those in need? We can be just like them straining a gnat out of our cup of theological tea while swallowing a camel of hypocrisy!
You would be a fool to wash the outside of your cup, but pour milk into the filthy, germ ridden inside, wouldn’t you? Yet that is how we behave when we try to pass ourselves off as good and pious when our hearts are evil in God’s sight. We need Him to wash our minds and our hearts. That cleansing is what is really important.
Laying on of hands
To most people this phrase conjures up thoughts of revenge – "If I lay my hands on him!" But I don’t think that is quite what the writer had in mind here! Jesus and the early Church practiced laying on of hands linked with:
• healing – My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live – Mark 5:23. See also Lk 4:40, Acts 9:17; 28:8)
• the gift of the Holy Spirit – when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money – Ac 8:18. Though this practice seems to have been the exception, rather than the rule.
• other spiritual gifts – Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership 1 Tim. 4:11-14, 2 Tim. 1:3-7 (See also Ti 4:14) It is not clear whether the gift was the result of the laying on of hands or the laying on of hands was in recognition of the gift that had already been given to Timothy.
• Selection of Church leaders – Do not lay hands on anyone hastily1 Tim. 5:22 though it may also refer to judging others. In either case we can be too quick. It is easy to hear a couple of eloquent sermons and so place someone into a position of leadership when they are not mature enough to carry it out or when their life does not live up to their words. (And if we are honest which of us fully practice what we preach?) Equally we are quick to judge when we see someone do something wrong, or even hear gossip to that effect. It is easy to draw the wrong conclusion on the basis of little or no evidence. It is also easy to write someone off following one mistake. It is a good thing that God is not so quick to condemn or write us off, isn’t it? Ps 103:8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
However you read these passages, though, it is difficult to argue that laying on of hands is a foundational gospel truth. But, if again you look in the OT you will, repeatedly see that the priests were commanded to lay their hands on an animal that was to be offered as a sacrifice
Lev 31 ‘When his offering is a sacrifice of a peace offering, if he offers it of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD. 2 ‘And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. In the same way the Jewish elders were to lay their hands on the head of the bull sacrificed for a national sin and a leader on the head of the goat sacrificed for his personal sin.
The symbolism is probably clearest in Lev 16:21 with the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement: Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 "The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land.
This verse couples laying on of hands with baptisms, or ceremonial washings. Looking at it in this OT context makes sense by making the link clear. Washing symbolised cleansing from sin and the laying on of hands its transfer from the sinner or sinners to the sacrifice. Two aspects of our forgiveness brought together and wonderfully fulfilled in Christ:
No mere man like Aaron has put our sins upon the Victim’s head. Jehovah Himself "has laid upon Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all." No human high-priest has confessed our iniquities, transgressions, and sins over a scapegoat; but the Lord Himself whilst hanging on the cross, made full confession of our iniquities, our folly, and our guilt; suffering under the judgment of them as if they had been His own. "
The people gathered in holy convocation, looked on in silence at this scene respecting the scapegoat; they did nothing, they said nothing. They uttered no prayer, nor petition. The stillness was only broken by the voice of another confessing their sins, and laying them upon the head of the victim. From beginning to end, the work of atonement was accomplished for them, and not by them; they had no hand in it all.
Soltau– The Tabernacle
4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Is 53
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2Co 5:21
Surely this OT practice was what was in the writer’s mind. The Hebrew readers would have naturally thought of the High-priest’s actions on the Day of Atonement, rather than the vague NT practice, when they read about the doctrine of laying on of hands.
So we need to ask ourselves if we have been washed and if our sins have been transferred to Jesus Christ, knowing that He died in our place at Calvary. It is not enough to appear pious to others, to attend Church or to have been baptised. Like a cup, it is more important that the inside, our mind and heart, is clean than the outside.
If this is true of us, then we have begun to understand these elementary truths. If not we have no secure foundation on which to build our lives and for eternity beyond this life.