note -- this was written using a Greek font. It may not come out right elsewhere. Sorry. The word transliterated is 'fotizo', with each 'o' long.
The Use of Fwtizw in Hebrews 6:4
In one of the more difficult passages of the New Testament the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes that “it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.” Considering the force of this statement, and the tremendous stakes that are at hand, it would behoove us to take a closer look at what exactly is meant here. The first place we must begin in this process is to analyze the words which are used. One of the most crucial words we must look at is fwtizw, which is in the English translated as “enlighten”. It is, therefore, the goal of this brief paper to examine this word, and seek to find some light on the passage as a whole.
At its most basic meaning, fwtizw refers back to its root word, fw , meaning light. Literally, then, it is the action of lighting up, being lit up, or shined upon. This illumination can come from a variety of sources, but the word is used for what happens when light comes upon an object or when an object itself gives off light. In Revelation 18:1 we read of an angel coming down from heaven whose splendor “enlightens” the earth. However, it would cause a great deal of difficulty for interpreting Hebrews 6:4 if this was the only way the word can be used. Further study reveals that just as enlighten in English does not necessarily, or even primarily, refer to the literal act of being lit up, so too does fwtizw also have a more figurative meaning. It can refer to the process of gaining knowledge or understanding, and it can also be used in a religious sense of being granted understanding of the divine.
The metaphorical use of light goes back a very long time. This contrast between the light and dark has been a crucial pattern of thought throughout history, and in a great variety of cultures. Just as the light of the sun illuminates that which is hidden in darkness, so too is the soul able to be illuminated and brought out of the darkness of ignorance. Throughout the Old Testament, we find references connecting God with some kind of light, often as an characteristic of his presence or being. There is also a salvific sense of this light which illumines our path to allow us to come closer to God. What is important to understand is that this is not necessarily a mystical meaning, but rather a practical aspect of truly being given wisdom and direction for life. Being enlightened is being in the presence of God or being shown the path towards wisdom.
In looking at the New Testament writings we find a further development of the idea of light and enlightenment. Although, in some cases it still maintains its literal meaning, there is a more frequent tendency to use this in a figurative sense of being filled with an inner light. Luke 11:36 lays out very distinctly the intention of using light as a metaphor for a spiritual person, one who truly knows and walks with God. Thus, a person who is enlightened is like a lamp. John really develops this theme of light. Light becomes not only a metaphor for an aspect of God, but becomes a metaphor for the person of Christ himself. The light of the world is Christ, who shines in the darkness and enlightens everyone. Paul continues with this theme, saying that the Lord will “bring enlighten the things hidden in darkness.” In Ephesians 1:17, the word enlightened refers to knowing Christ himself. Through the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” we might come to know him, and this enlightenment of knowing him will give us great strength. Just as in John, Paul leaves the pattern of using light as a metaphor for an aspect of God, and instead uses a form of fwtizw as referring to getting to know the person of Christ and God directly. Knowledge of the Divine, through his self-revelation, becomes a experience of being lit up, being illuminated with the presence and knowledge of God.
It is with this last thought in mind that we finally come to consider Hebrews 6:4. One popular way of interpreting this passage has been to use a later sense of the word which we first find clearly in Justin Martyr. We find that enlightenment has taken on a cultic meaning and refers to this as being a word used for Christian Baptism. If we look at the passage with this understanding, the passage would prohibit Christian sin following baptism, under threat of eternal damnation. Interestingly, this was a very popular view of many in the early Church, with strict rules and guidelines restricting those who had been caught in sin. Constantine, himself, waited until his deathbed to be baptized so as not to risk falling into sin and losing out on salvation. Even modern scholars as recent as F.F. Bruce have felt the draw to understanding this passage as referring to baptism, and then develop the metaphors of the other phrases as also somehow relating to Christian rites. This interpretation does seem to fit rather nicely in Hebrews 10:32, where the author speaks of undergoing struggles and sufferings, “after you had been enlightened.” Enlightenment as being a early word referring to baptism is certainly a credible, if somewhat disconcerting, interpretation.
The passage of Hebrews 6:4 seems, however, not to be referring to baptism, but rather refers back to the Johannine and Pauline usage of Christ as the light, enlightenment as having had God revealed himself. It is in the passage itself that we find clues that may lead us to think that enlightenment is a knowledge and understanding of the divine through self-revelation. Instead of looking at the various phrases as separate pieces of the Christian life, the author of Hebrews might be elaborating on a single theme. Therefore, the enlightenment which is being referred to is not baptism, but the tasting of the heavenly gift, the sharing in the Holy Spirit, and the tasting the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the world to come. If we look at the passage in this light we are given an almost Trinitarian elaboration on knowing God. Thus, one who is enlightened has been given insight into the person and mind of God, and has tasted of the divine nature. With this definition one can understand how a person could be forever removed from the possibility of repentance if they decide to reject this illumination.
In a sense, these people have had God revealed to them and have rejected God for who they know him to be. Like a lover spurned, God rejects these people from the love and grace that he offers because they have fully rejected him. They knew him, and decided for whatever reason that he was not acceptable. In Hebrews 6:4, then, fwtisqentas, seems to refer to a divine self-revelation which fills the inner person with a new light and brilliance, and which cannot, once known, be rejected without the penalty of being rejected by the light itself. The sin which cannot be forgiven is to know the one who forgives and to reject both the forgiveness and the forgiver.