A Probing Question on Perseverance from Hebrews

When I read Gene’s post, I thought it would be profitable for me to pose a theological question from Hebrews that was asked to me while having breakfast at UPS last week. I love to hear how you guys tackle this one.
Question:

Hebrews 11:29 says, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land,” but Hebrews 4:1-2 says that this very generation did not enter “his rest” because of their unbelief. Is this not an argument that one can lose their salvation? Did these people who once had faith and crossed the Red Sea later end up unbelieving and not entering God’s rest?

This would be a clear argumentation made by an Arminian. It was brought up by a Reformed brother who wanted to hash this out over breakfast, which we did for about an hour. Without going into details over our thoughts and conclusions, I would like to hear from you. How do you answer this line of questioning?

I must say that I haven’t heard this argument from an Arminian brother, but it doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be one that could arise in the future. There are a lot of issues here that could be discussion, not just “once saved, always saved,” and I think this is a real, legitimate question in the book of Hebrews dealing with perseverance. So do you have any thoughts on this theological investigation?

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7 Comments on “A Probing Question on Perseverance from Hebrews”

  1. Gene Says:

    Crossing the Red Sea is simply not saving faith. In addition, God rejected that generation, but He did not reject every single person in that generation. Moses, Aaron, probably Miriam, Joshua, Caleb, Eleazar, Phineas were not rejected.

    It’s worth noting that “entering rest” is indexed to crossing the Jordan, not the Red Sea. The generation that crossed the Red Sea is the generation that refused to cross the Jordan. The generation that crossed the Jordan entered the land…but they did not subdue the land completely, thus they did not enter their rest completely but only imperfectly, which foreshadows the reason for the New Covenant.

    Notice also verse 2, where were these people when they received the “good news” and failed to unite their faith to it. They were at the foot of Sinai, after they had crossed the Red Sea, not beforehand. So, if the Arminian is correct in this hypothetical, and crossing the Red Sea by faith is indicative of salvation itself, then we have a problem, because they are seen to believe before receiving the covenant itself. Now, you don’t need the Mosaic Covenant to be saved, because of the Abrahamic covenant, but the author here is speaking about the OC, not the AC, so any discussions about actions that demonstrate being converted should be indexed to the OC not the AC. Remember, this text is abt. comparing and contrasting the OC and the NC, so entering the rest is indexed to crossing the Jordan and a profession of faith is indexed the reception of the covenant. Their profession of faith in that first generation would come at Sinai, not Egypt, because @ Sinai they accept the covenant and its blessings and curses. It’s a false profession of course, and only a handful of them mean it, only 2 of whom survive to enter the land, and their actions certainly proved it over time.

  2. Timmy Says:

    Good thoughts Gene. Your line of thinking is very close to what we were discussing.

    But back to Hebrews 11 for a second. So would you say that the examples of faith therein do not all depict saving faith?

  3. Allan Says:

    I think it does, since we see God himself calls them righteous and other terms synomous with what we the believers in Christ are called. Not to mention they are our examples of pleasing and maintaining faith in a world without true faith

  4. Nathan White Says:

    …back to Hebrews 11 for a second. So would you say that the examples of faith therein do not all depict saving faith?

    No, they all depict the fruit of saving faith (and thus saving faith), just not in every person without exception. That is, was all of ‘Noah’s household’ saved eternally? Were all of those who marched around Jericho saved (all without exception?) The writer of Hebrews can still use the example of the faithful few without including every single person that participated in that particular event.

  5. Gene Says:

    We have to guard against subjectivising “faith” to say that this is saving faith, viz. related to conversion. What’s the author’s point here? He is saying they did something, they were rescued by God in some way and they made it to the stated goal. In this case it was getting to the other side. Here, he is talking about the nation as a corporate entity, not all the persons in the group being spiritually saved. By faith, they did this; they were safe from their enemies as a result, and so we must do the same and persevere to the other side of our Red Sea. The emphasis here is, I would add, on God’s faithfulness when His people obey Him, not just man’s responsibility to obey.

    Nathan, in that second generation, the text indicates they were the greatest generation of Israelites. They actually kept the covenant, so there is good reason to assume all or the majority of them are going to our neighbors one day in the kingdom.

  6. Timmy Says:

    One of the aspects which we addressed in our conversation has already been brought up here.

    Gene said:

    “In addition, God rejected that generation, but He did not reject every single person in that generation. Moses, Aaron, probably Miriam, Joshua, Caleb, Eleazar, Phineas were not rejected.”

    Nathan said:

    “That is, was all of ‘Noah’s household’ saved eternally? Were all of those who marched around Jericho saved (all without exception?) The writer of Hebrews can still use the example of the faithful few without including every single person that participated in that particular event.”

    This is an important point – that is, that not everyone had saving faith. I believe Gene correctly asserts that the author is referring to the nation as a corporate entity, not all having saving faith but some (remnant) indeed did. Therefore, the “by faith” is referential to the remnant who did have faith and persevered, of whom the blessings and praise of God came on behalf of God’s people in general.

    This principle can also be in other OT instances as in the sin of Achan in which his actions not only carried consequence on his life but also the life of others. Therefore, going back to Hebrews 11:29, “the people” who crossed the Red Sea were the corporate identity of God’s people, some having faith and others obviously not.

  7. Allan Says:

    Ok, (and you know me and my howevers 🙂 )
    However, (lol, I couldn’t help it)
    In light of Heb 11:1 which is what the entire chapter is about (saving faith) I may be wrong here but any type of God honoring faith is saving faith since we can not please God except by faith. The notion of Noah and his household being saved is an easy discussion. Noah was the one God spoke to because God saw the heart of man was continually upon wickedness but Noah was found righteous in Gods sight. God told him what he needed to do to avoid certain destruction, and Noah acted it. Now the question is quite interesting as to why his sons (and most likely their wives and his own wife) helped build this ark if they did not believe. No where does it state they did not believe what God said to Noah but infers they to believed and were saved.

    Although the issue of the crossing the Red Sea gave me pause for thought most definately. It was mostly because of how it was stated here, but when I read it from scripture (to me at least) it made sound sense in context of preceding verses. God rejected that generation is true, but did He reject them for salvation or entering the the promised land (His rest). Since they believed God in everything else up till here is it correct to assume now that unbelief struck (yet again) God would abandon His people He has saved time and again. (even in the wilderness he blessed and loved them. Maybe it is just me but that doesn’t sound like rejection of salvation) As the text concerning saving faith as we see from verses 13-16…

    13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

    I think we can state that the people who crossed the Red Sea by faith believed in the Salvation of God demonstrated in Egypt and beyond but was not rejected from Gods salvation (since some Jews stayed in Egypt) But were rejected/disqualified from obtaining the physical promise of the Land of Plenty (Gods rest). We can not infer that Gods rest was spiritual (like in Christ) in the promise land but the physical fulfilment of part of His spoken word to the patriarchs (it was only a physical depiction of God spiritual furture blessing) It would make no biblical sense to say they believed God enough to be equated in the hall of Faith but not everyone it speaks of is really there. It is very hard to hold this in light of verse 13 stating all died in faith…vs 16…God is not ashamed to be called there God. And yes in verse 13 all means all. It is of note verse a5 states (paraphrase) if they wanted to return they could take the opportunity and go… however as we note from the OT God wouldn’t allow them to return. The writer of Hebrews went to great pains to indicate each individual account and only three of instances regard a group metioned, and here we are suppose to believe only a small minority had saving faith instead of all as scripture stated? Maybe I’m wrong but I will listen, and yes, ask many questions. But I have learned to keep them (or try) to about 2 to 4 at a time. 🙂


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