Hebrews 10:29 and Apostasy

For a while now, I have promised Todd that I would post something on this verse so as to continue the discussion of whether baptized persons are sanctified, and if so, what does that mean? Here is the passage in English:

“How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”

And in Greek:

πόσῳ δοκεῖτε χείρονος ἀξιωθήσεται τιμωρίας τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καταπατήσας, καὶ τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης κοινὸν ἡγησάμενος ἐν ἡγιάσθη, καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς χάριτος ἐνυβρίσας;

It must be pointed out that what we normally mean by “sanctification” cannot be the meaning of the word here. The normal progressive becoming-more-holy of a believer cannot be what is meant, since the word describes an event that took place in the past. We do not need to over-read the aorist’s “point-like” action to come to this conclusion, although this is certainly a once-for-all type of action. It happened only once. Aorist is the normal past tense in the NT. To parse it, the word is an aorist passive indicative, 3 person singular: “hegiasthe.” It is the word right before the last comma.

Now, the context is obviously talking about apostasy (see verses 26ff). But what is the nature of this apostasy? Clearly, the apostasy is that of treating as common something which is not common. The contrast here is between “hegiasthe” and “koinon.” In effect, the person is denying the very nature of what Christ’s blood is. The very nature of Christ’s blood of the covenant is sanctifying, a set-apart quality which it has in and of itself, but also the language refers to that which it does: namely, it sets apart the people of God.

One contextual issue must be dealt with here. What is the relationship between this use of “hegiasthe” and the same root in verses 10 and 14? Verse 14’s use is obviously different, given the different form of the verb. It is a present participle, describing something that is ongoing. Also, the terms of the verse (perfected for all time) indicates that he is talking about those who really are saved for all time. This raises the distinct possibility that verse 10 is not talking about the same thing as verse 29, since verse 14 comes in-between the two verses. Verse 10 is, however, also talking about something in the past, since we have here a perfect passive participle, masculine plural nominative. However, note again that it is a different form yet from the present participle of verse 14 and the aorist of verse 29. The perfect form indicates completed action with continuing relevance for the present (e.g. “I have now finished” is a perfect example of the perfect tense). The aorist might be translated “I finished,” whereas the present might be translated “I am finishing.” I think, therefore, that verse 10 is talking about something different than verse 29. That for two exegetical reasons: 1. verse 14 comes in-between the two verses, and is clearly talking about something different than verse 29; and 2. the difference of the verb-form. The difference is also indicated by the fact that, in this chapter, apostasy does not rear its head until verse 26. The first part of the chapter is all about Christ’s sacrifice being once-for-all in place of all the repetitious sacrifices of the old covenant.

The immediate syntax is as follows: the “en ho” immediately before is most likely a dative of agent, meaning “by this thing he was sanctified.” “Ho” is a relative pronoun referring back to “the blood of the covenant.” The blood of the covenant did this sanctifying act. It should be noted that this actually happened. The way that John Brown takes it, for instance, is that the apostate would have been truly sanctified had he stayed in. I cannot go there. The text says that it actually happened. It is a plain ol’ aorist tense verb. There is nothing to suggest a hypothetical case.

One point should be noted about the exegesis here: the emphasis is on the parallel (and the “how much more” argument) progressing from the two witnesses of the OT law going to the Son of God and the Spirit of Grace as the two witnesses of the New Covenant.

A much more seriously tempting interpretation is that the person who is sanctified is Jesus Christ. The verse would then read as follows: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which that Son of God was sanctified (presumably as an offering).” This is John Owen’s interpretation. It has a great deal to recommend it. First of all, the closest antecedent of the pronoun in the verb “he was sanctified” is, in fact, the Son of God. Secondly, it does fit the context, since the first part of the chapter is all about Christ as offering and priest. A priest has to make an offering for Himself. But in Christ’s case, His blood is all that is necessary. The emphasis in verse 29 would then be a heightening of the sense of how sacred this blood is: “This blood of the covenant was so sacred, since it consecrated even the Lord of Glory to His mighty task of priesthood, and are you now going to treat it as profane?” I would say that this interpretation is quite defensible. Owen has defended it at length in his commentary on the passage.

If it does refer to the apostate, then I would offer this interpretation of it: the sanctifying that is being advocated here is the idea that a person is set apart from the world when he is baptized. He is no longer in the same position as an outright pagan. He is rather identified with the church. What is being described here is not the ordo salutis category of progressive sanctification, nor the definitive sanctification described in verse 10 (which is connected to faith in the Lord who has offered His body once for all), which is also an ordo category. Rather it is the set-apartness that a baptized person enjoys from the world. This says nothing about whether or not he has faith. Obviously, he never had faith by the very terms of the passage, if he is spurning the Son of God! There, that should be enough for the start of a good conversation on the passage.