The text of Heb 6:4–6 has posed an ongoing problem for Christian exegetes throughout the history of the church. Ever since the Novatian heresy in the 3rd century, interpreters have offered a number of responses to this difficult pericope. Although precritical interpreters agreed that Novatian's exegesis was insufficient, they differed noticeably in their actual exposition of the passage. This is especially the case with 16th-century interpreters of this passage. Erasmus of Rotterdam, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, though all trained in humanism, came to remarkably different conclusions based on their hermeneutical approaches. Erasmus, armed with humanism but still a loyal supporter of Rome, could at once reject Pauline authorship while simultaneously relying on the tradition to solve the exegetical dilemma. Luther, who lectured on the epistle early in his career and subsequently relegated it to the four letters of the NT of "a different reputation," used the results of humanist exegesis but coupled them with his single-minded theology of God's mercy to reject Pauline authorship, thereby reading and using Hebrews selectively. Calvin, in a splendid example of what might be termed 16th-century canonical criticism, accepted the premise of authorship that Erasmus and Luther espoused yet assertively claimed the book to be canonical and interpreted the section through the lens of election and reprobation.

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