Imagine a young man being mocked at work who fears that he will be fired for his faith. To avoid the shame and loss, he cuts himself off from all Christians and says, “I am not one of them!” He does so to protect himself from harm. That’s apostasy, a falling away from the faith.
And that is the kind of scenario Hebrews 10:24–25 warns against when the author admonishes believers to spur one another to good works, not to renounce meeting with each other, and to encourage each other.
In this article, I want to show how this admonition exhorts believers to hold fast to hope and to avoid apostasy. By doing so, we can come to a clearer understanding of how this passage relates to us today.
Hebrews 10:24–25 Warns against Apostasy
The word “neglecting” in Hebrews 10:24 means renounce or desert as in totally abandoning meeting together with Christians. John Kleinig says the word “denotes the severing of a connection” (2017: 499 ). The renunciation becomes obvious to others since Hebrews describes it as a habitual abandonment (10:24).
Meeting together describes any meeting that indicates association with Christians. Christians by custom met regularly, sometimes daily for meals and encouragement (Acts 2:46). They also gathered for organized worship (e.g., 1 Cor 14). Meeting together here probably speaks generically of any gathering that would mark one as a Christian.
The passage warns against renouncing one’s Christian brothers and sisters (Heb 10:25) and Christ (10:29) by deserting them, that is, by forsaking meeting with other believers. The consequence for apostasy (10:26) involves “the Day” (10:25). The Day refers to judgment (10:27–31). Judgment will come to those who apostatize (10:26).
In short, the author of Hebrews warns Christians against severing ties to the believing community through habitually choosing to forsake meeting with other Christians because of fear of persecution. This act amounts to apostasy, falling away (cf. Heb 6:6).
Thomas Schreiner explains, “Refusing to meet with other believers in this context signifies apostasy, the renunciation of the Christian faith. If believers renounce meeting with other Christians, especially because they fear discrimination and mistreatment, they are in effect turning against Christ” (2020: 321).
Hebrews has a number of warning passages, and each should be read in light of others. For example, Hebrews 6:6 speaks of those who have “fallen away.” They do so in part because they hold “[Christ] up to contempt.” The word contempt in Greek signals a public act of apostasy. This public act fits well into the context of Hebrews 10 in which some had denied the faith by denying association with Christians (cf. Heb 10:29).
David deSilva paints the picture well:
The author acknowledges that some Christians have pulled back from open association with the community—some are in the habit of forsaking the gathering of the church. Some have considered, in effect, that the cost of holding onto God’s promises is greater than those promises are worth (an evaluation that will provoke the warning of 10:26–31). They can no longer withstand their neighbors’ shaming techniques and are now beginning to feel ashamed of that which once gave them confidence. (2000: 342)
What Sort of Person Is in Question?
One way to understand who the passage envisions is to figure out what kind of person the passage does not envision.
* This passage does not apply to cancer patients who may need to avoid gathering while undergoing chemotherapy.
* The passage does not directly apply to those with compromised immune systems who want to avoid gatherings to avoid infection.
* This passage does not refer to those Christians who gather virtually during a 6-week stay at home order.
* This passage does not apply to those who meet at 30% of building capacity over three services instead of one or two services.
* Instead, this passage talks about those who sin deliberately (Heb 10:26) by renouncing Christians and Christ through habitually abandoning meeting with believers to avoid local, Roman persecution in the first century.
The passage identifies the kind of forsaking in question: it is habitual and deliberate. Such an act occurs when a person publicly disassociates with Christianity by ceasing and severing his or her connection to the body of believers. In the context of Hebrews 10, that means forsaking the assembly.
The specific context of the passage aims to encourage believers to hold fast to their hope (Heb 10:23). The reason why they need to hold fast to their hope is because some Christians had lost their property and belongings and otherwise underwent trials (Heb 10:32–35).
As a consequence, the author of Hebrews warns Christians against (1) renouncing meeting with Christians and (2) habitually avoiding associating with these Christians for the purpose of escaping the loss of property, public reproach, prison, and so on (Heb 10:32–35). Such an act amounts to apostasy because one falls away from the community of faith and so rejects the Son (Heb 10:26, 29).
How Does This Apply Today?
Our habits of life often reveal our heart. In this case, the author sees “the habit of some” as betraying a desire to deliberately sin by renouncing the body of Christ through forsaking association with Christians (Heb 10:25–26). The phrase “sinning deliberately” probably hearkens back to the category of high-handed sin that leads to being cut off from the community (Num 15:30–31).
Such a cutting off in the context of Hebrews occurs by publicly and habitually disassociating with Christians (i.e., not meeting with them) to avoid loss and shame. The word “neglecting” has the sense of forsaking, renouncing, or deserting. It’s strong. The habitual aspect means that someone neglects, or stops associating, regularly.
In the introduction, we imagined a young man being mocked and possibly even fired for his faith. In response, he cut himself off from all Christians and said, I am not one of them! He does so to protect himself from harm. That’s apostasy. And since Hebrews envisions such a scenario, it explains why no sacrifice can forgive his sins but Christ’s (Heb 10:26).
If he goes to Levites or Pagan priests, they cannot offer forgiveness. Only through Christ can our “hearts [be] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22). So denying Christ means there is no sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:26).
With all that said, some have cited this passage in the context of debates around temporary public health orders. However, I am not sure that is the best way to apply the passage. The author certainly assumes the Christian community meets together. Yet the passage focuses on the fear and motivation of an individual who willingly renounces Christianity by renouncing Christian assemblies.
Alone, Hebrews 10:24–25 cannot bear the weight of answering the question of how local churches should relate to human governments. Many more passages need to enter the discussion to discover a fuller picture.
In other words, Hebrews 10:24–25 and its admonition to not forsake meeting together has a limited (or indirect) application to larger questions of how often a local assembly should meet, when a local assembly should meet, how large an assembly should be, and whether it should temporarily reduce the size of its meetings due to public health orders.
The passage instead directly speaks to individual Christians within the believing community and warns them against apostasy. The form of apostasy involves habitually and deliberately forsaking the Christian assembly. In other words, the passage warns us that we will fall away or apostatize when we cut off any association with Christians and thus Christ.
 The “for” (a postpositive γὰρ in Greek) which begins verse 26 broadly ties the following verses to Hebrews 10:24–25.
 In Hebrews 6:6, the word παραδειγματίζοντας means public denunciation. If Hebrews 6 and 10 describe similar problems—and they likely do because the author writes to one audience—then this cross reference reinforces the public nature of apostasy within the believing community.