On Elementary Doctrines

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2)

Three pairs of foundational teachings are the Hebrews instructed to leave:

  1. Repentance of dead works and faith toward God;
  2. Instruction about washings and the laying on of hands;
  3. The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment;

Now, although it’s true that many Christians have not digested this milk yet and have no clue about these things and are not mature, yet this is not the writer’s point. We have to remember that the writer is talking to Hebrew Christians here. And so the question we should ask is how this relates to their immaturity specifically.

The writer is admonishing them not the lay again a foundation, by which he refers to the old Jewish practices rather than Christian doctrine. You have to ask yourself the question what is distinctively Christian about this list. Where is the mention of Jesus or salvation by grace alone? Can you believe or practice these things and not be a follower of Jesus Christ, believing Him to be the Messiah? No!

Let’s look at them again:

  1. Something has changed regarding the way of repentance and faith towards God. Our faith should now be in Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). Repentance should now be based on conviction from the Holy Spirit, which is now available through the resurrection of Jesus, and sin should be put to death. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)
  2. The specific ancient Greek word translated baptisms is not the word regularly used in the New Testament to describe Christian baptism. It is the word used on two other specific occasions (Hebrews 9:10 and Mark 7:4) to refer to Jewish ceremonial washings. Yet these washings will not save you. Only Jesus’ blood will save you, and Christian baptism should only be seen as an outward sign in obedience to Jesus of an inward change which is a work done by the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands is also a reference to these washings.
  3. The object of their hope has changed! No longer should they aim to please God through works, thereby escaping the final judgment and be resurrected from the dead. Now their hope should be in Jesus! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Now, these elementary principles to move beyond are all items in the “common ground” between Christianity and Judaism. This was a “safe” common ground these Jewish Christians retreated to. Because Christianity did grow out of Judaism, it was a more subtle temptation for a Jewish Christian to slip back into Judaism than it was for a formerly pagan Christian to go back to his pagan ways. Of course, these Jewish Christians did not want to abandon religion, but they did want to make it less distinctively Christian. Therefore, they went back to this “common ground” to avoid persecution. Living in this comfortable common ground, you would not stick out so much. A Jew and a Christian together could say, “Let’s repent, let’s have faith, let’s perform ceremonial washings,” and so forth. But this was a subtle denial of Jesus.

2 thoughts on “On Elementary Doctrines

  1. My question would actually be: How can we apply this to our lives as Christians in the world in this day and age? I don’t understand how it does any good to stand in correction a group of people that existed almost 2000 years ago, without applying it first to self or a specific group that is practising said rituals today. It is very easy to say “Paul said this to those people”.

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    • Hi Sabrina,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree it’s very easy to sat “Paul said this to those people,” but proper understanding of any text starts with the original context in which it is written. That was the purpose of this post. But, you have lovingly challenged me to answer the question “how can we apply this to our lives as Christians in the world in this day and age?”. And so, I think this will have to be answered in the next post! 🙂

      In grace,
      Marc

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