“For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.” (Heb 6:4-6 NET)
This passages is a rich source for theological controversy and exegetical exploration, but I’m going to focus on only one word from verse four: partakers, or in Greek, μέτοχος. One tiny piece of the puzzle in regards to this passage is whether “partakers of the Holy Spirit” is describing a saved, regenerate person, or whether it could be describing a non-Christian who is merely the recipient of some benefits associated with the Holy Spirit.
Let’s start with a look at the lexica:
BDAG: 1. sharing/participating in 2. (business) partner, companion
Louw-Nida: one who shares with someone else as an associate in an enterprise or undertaking – ‘companion, partner.’
And then let’s take a look at its actual usage in the NT, the LXX and some early Christian literature. These citations are a bit lengthy, but it’s worth taking the time to at least skim through them in order to get a feel for the ranger of meanings μέτοχος can have.
Ephesians 3:6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel
Ephesians 5:7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.
Luke 5:7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
Hebrews 1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
Hebrews 3:1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
Hebrews 3:14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,
Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
Hebrews 12:8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
1 Samuel 20:30 And Saul was greatly seething with anger against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of traitorous girls! For do I not know that you are an accomplice of the son of Jesse to your shame and to the shame of your mother’s uncovering? (LXX)
Psalm 45:7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions. (LXX)
Psalm 119:63 I am a companion of all who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts. (LXX)
Proverbs 28:24 He who robs his father or his mother and says, “That is no transgression,” is the companion of a man who destroys. (Aquila, Symmachus,Theodotion)
Proverbs 29:10 Men who are partakers in bloodshed will hate the devout, but the upright will seek out his soul. (LXX)
Ecclesiastes 4:10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. (LXX)
Hosea 4:17 “Ephraim is joined to idols, Let him alone. (LXX)
3 Maccabees 3:21 Among other things, we made known to all our amnesty toward their compatriots here, both because of their alliance with us and the myriad affairs liberally entrusted to them from the beginning; and we ventured to make a change, by deciding both to deem them worthy of Alexandrian citizenship and to make them participants in our regular religious rites.
Aristeas 1:207 The king received the answer with great delight and looking at another said: “What is the teaching of wisdom?” And the other replied: “As you wish that no evil should befall you, but to be a partaker of all good things, so you should act on the same principle towards your subjects and offenders, and you should mildly admonish the noble and good. For God draws all men to himself by his kindness.”
Sibylline Oracle 12:174 and a participant in lawful things, and a just minister of what is right
Iren. 1, 13, 1 It appears probable enough that this man possesses a demon as his familiar spirit, by means of whom he seems able to prophesy, and also enables as many as he counts worthy to be partakers of his Charis themselves to prophesy.
1 Clement 34:7 And let us therefore, conscientiously gathering together in harmony, cry to Him earnestly, as with one mouth, that we may be made partakers of His great and glorious promises.
Ignatius to the Ephesians 11:2 Apart from Him, let nothing attract you, for whom I bear about these bonds, these spiritual jewels, by which may I arise through your prayers, of which I entreat I may always be a partaker, that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.
Shepherd of Hermas 29:9 Moreover, adultery is committed not only by those who pollute their flesh, but by those who imitate the heathen in their actions. Wherefore if any one persists in such deeds, and repents not, withdraw from him, and cease to live with him, otherwise you are a sharer in his sin.
1 Enoch 22:13 And so it was created for the spirits of men, all who will not be holy but sinners, and with those who are lawless they will be partakers. But the things in spirit, because those being tormented here they punish less, they will not be punished in the day of judgment, nor be raised later from here.
1 Enoch 104:6 “Do not fear, you righteous, whenever you see sinners strong and prosperous, and do not become their partakers, but keep far from all their unrighteous deeds.
Testament of Benjamin 2:5 And so his associates were frightened, selling me to his friends.
Prayer of Levi 1:18 and make me and my sons a partner in your words, to do true justice for every age, for all ages forever.
As you can hopefully see from the examples above, μέτοχος has a fairly wide semantic range and is not a technical term referring only to a saving relationship. It generally refers to someone who shares or participates in something with someone else, and the exact nature of that relationship can vary greatly. It can refer to a close, personal, saving relationship (Heb 3:14), a loose association (Luke 5:7), or even to the beneficiary of prayers (Ign Eph 11:2).
To partake in the Holy Spirit means to associate with the works of the Holy Spirit and to share in some of the benefits of that association. It may mean to be in a saving relationship (all Christians certainly partake in the Holy Spirit), but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is a saving one. μέτοχος doesn’t carry any inherent meaning in regards to savings benefits, it simply means to partake of some benefit or influence.
The Holy Spirit has many roles beyond regeneration: spiritual gifts, convicting of sin, empowering for ministry, etc., and the benefits of those roles can certainly be shared with or partaken by non-believers. Non-believers can cast out demons, prophesy in Christ’s name and perform powerful deeds but that doesn’t mean that they are saved (Mat. 7:22). A non-believer who receives healing or who hears a prophecy has partaken of the Spirit — they have shared with and received the benefits of an association with the Holy Spirit — but that association isn’t necessarily a saving one. All the ground in Hebrews 6:7-8 received rain but some of that ground only produced thorns and thistles. Partaking of rain doesn’t mean you will bear fruit and partaking of the Spirit doesn’t mean you are saved.
All of the descriptive terms used in Heb 6:4-6 apply to Christians: we have been enlightened, we have tasted, we have partaken, we have come to repentance. But none of these terms describes Christians exclusively. Anyone, Christian or not, may experience such things. Properly understanding this passage therefore rests not on the specific, narrow meaning of terms, but rather in the broader context that is explicated by the author in the verses to follow.