“Consequently, let us move beyond the elementary doctrines of Christianity and advance toward spiritual maturity. We need not continually teach basic truths, such as repentance, faith toward God, ceremonial washings, laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead, and eternal punishment. With God’s permission, we will now proceed toward more advanced teachings.” (paraphrased)
The effectiveness of any teacher depends upon the receptivity of the pupils. Although the writer has just rebuked his readers for their immaturity, expressing regret they were still being nurtured by spiritual milk, he now encourages them to feed on doctrinal meat. Effective parenting demands children do not remain infants. He declares his readiness to help his readers develop an appetite for more nourishing instruction. He describes what they must turn from and then turn toward. They need to move beyond Judaism’s elementary messianic teachings in order to pursue the revelatory teachings of the Melchizedekian priesthood. All of the types and shadows of the Hebraic economy culminate into one definitive truth: the new covenant is superior and supplants the old.
The readers must “leave” foundational doctrines in the sense a builder “leaves” a foundation in order to build upon it. No building can be completed by lingering near its footings. The foundation becomes less prominent as the building is constructed and ready for use. Likewise, the rudimentary doctrines of Judaism must necessarily fade into obscurity as Christian doctrines are revealed and assimilated. Believers should not discard basic truths, but advance beyond them. We cannot mature by ruminating on early Christian instruction. The writer feels no need to reiterate such teachings, for the law served only as “a schoolmaster in order to bring us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24).
Primal doctrines are the beginning of the didactic structure upon which zealous Believers build (I Cor. 3:11). They are called “doctrines of Christ” because they contain teachings which have evolved from Judaism, the foundation upon which Christianity was built. The Jews are encouraged to leave dead ceremonialism, not the basic tenants of Christianity. The writer’s purpose is to wean his readers away from ritualism. He is not instructing them to discard Christian doctrines. They are not to dismiss these principles as irrelevant, but preserve them while advancing toward greater spiritual concepts (I Cor. 3:10). “Leave” (aphiemi) means to detach oneself from something. He instructs them to move past rudimentary discussions and learn things that will help them to mature spiritually.
The emphatic phrase “let us go on” shows the writer’s determination to advance alongside them. “Perfection” (teleios) is found a dozen times in this epistle and means to complete, mature, or equip. But maturity is only possible as they set aside the teachings of the old covenant and embrace those of the new covenant. The phrase, “Go on” means to be borne along to a destination, like a ship under sail. They had lingered in the harbor long enough: now it is time to venture into the waters of deeper truth.
A superficial glance might suggest the six fundamental truths he now lists are Christian doctrines. However, closer scrutiny reveals they are actually basic tenants of Judaism.
1. Repentance from dead works
“Repentance” (metanoia) is attached to the phrase “dead works.” Renunciation of Judaic ceremonialism is essential if one is to advance. Such works are lifeless because they cannot impart eternal life. The readers have been taught they cannot “earn” their salvation through ritualistic Judaism, for the end result of those things is death (Rom.6:21). “Dead works” includes the fatal reliance upon ineffective works of the law as the means of salvation (9:14).
2. Faith toward God
Simplistic belief in Jehovah is insufficient: Jesus said they must also believe in Him (Jn.14:1). No one can truly believe in God who does not know His Son (Jn.14:6 & 17:3). We become God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus, for God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (Gal. 3:26 & II Cor. 5:19)
3. Doctrine of baptisms
“Baptisms” (baptismos) is an all-inclusive term referring to Judaic washings and ablutions. As used in this context, it cannot refer to water baptism or the baptism in the Holy Spirit (9:10). Priestly duties demanded perpetual cleansing by utilizing the laver (Ex. 30:18-21). This external bathing was symbolic of the need for internal holiness. Paul uses this allegory when referring to “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
4. Laying on of hands
The ritualistic touching of animals and people was a common Levitical practice. The priest laid his hands upon:
<> burnt offerings (Lev. 1:4)
<> sin offerings (Lev. 8:14)
<> the scapegoat (Lev. 16:21)
<> workers – to commission them for public office (Num. 27:18-23; Deut. 34:9)
This symbolical act is carried over into the New Testament and is used in connection with:
<> confirming the selection of deacons (Acts 6:6)
<> receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17 & 19:6)
<> healing (Acts 9:17 & 28; Mk. 5:23)
<> sending out workers for ministry (Acts 13:3)
<> ordination (I Tim. 4:14 & II Tim. 1:6)
5. Resurrection from the dead
Although the doctrine of the resurrection was also an Old Testament belief, it was not clearly defined in that era (Isa. 26:19; Ez. 37:10; Job 19:25). When Jesus spoke of His resurrection, His disciples were perplexed (Mk. 9:9-10). Martha believed her brother would rise again, but did not yet understand that Jesus Himself was the resurrection (Jn. 11:24-25). The Sadducees denounced this doctrine, but Christ’s plan of salvation was designed to prepare Believers for eternal life (Jn. 5:28-29 & Mk. 12:18).
6. Eternal judgment
It is deemed “eternal” because its consequences continue forever (Jn. 5:29 & Mt. 25:31-46). “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” where “everyone will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10-12). The Jews believed God would judge, but the Old Testament provided few details regarding why, where, and when this would occur (Eccl. 12:14).
With initial teachings behind them, they can now move toward the final objective. The phrase “let us go on” in verse one is reaffirmed by “this we will do” in verse three. Spiritual advancement is a safeguard against apostasy (vv. 4-6). The writer is determined to grow alongside his readers. Despite their spiritual lethargy, he trusts God will help them assimilate and apply deeper truths. Their listlessness does not deter him from proceeding to unveil the profound mysteries of the Melchizedekean priesthood.
The writer believes God wants His people to progress, knowing that recovery from severe retrogression is impossible. All true growth depends upon divine guidance and assistance.“If God will permit us” does not mean the writer has doubts, but shows his desires are subordinate to the will of God and affirms his humble dependence on Him. This phrase serves as the introduction to 6:4-6, where the results of rejecting advanced training is specified.
QUESTIONS: THIRD WARNING: DON’T DENOUNCE (Part 2) – FOUNDATIONAL DOCTRINES
1. The writer tells his readers to totally disregard fundamental teachings. True or False?
2. In Galatians 3:24, with what type of professional person does Paul compare the law?
3. Who is named as the “foundation” in I Corinthians 3:11?
4. To “go on” means to be borne along toward a destination, like a ship. True or False?
5. What is the end result of a habitually sinful life? (Romans 6:20-21)
6. According to Galatians 3:26, how do we become God’s children?
7. Who did Moses lay his hands upon and consecrate for service in Numbers 27:18?
8. According o Mark 12:18, what Jewish sect did not believe in the resurrection?
9. Describe a lifeless church that provides only menial spiritual food. What is necessary for such a church to become alive?
10. List any Christian “habits” or rituals you perform each week.