I have 3 questions regarding the interpretation of scripture. The first is in Esther 8:17 it states the following, "And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them." From my understanding in Jewish tradition, people from other nationalities (Gentiles) could not become or convert to Judaism. The second question is regarding to 1 Corinthians 15:29 where Paul talks about the baptism for the dead. I am aware that Mormons use this scripture to back up baptisms for the dead. How would you interpret this verse? The last scripture is in Hebrews 6:4-6 it states that it is impossible for people who have shared in the Holy Spirit to be brought back to repentance. How does this verse relate to restoring people? Thanks for you time.
A relatively unknown fact is that a large percentage of Jews today are NOT descended by blood from the original Hebrews. There was a tribe of Jews in Ethiopia until modern times. They are black or at least more dark-skinned by far that the average Semitic people. The Jews in Central Europe have significantly lighter skin than Semitic peoples. Some have blonde or brown hair and even blue eyes. Compared to the population in these countries, they do have some Semitic characteristics (a larger percentage with darker hair, nose shape, and slightly darker skin). The conclusion is that Jews today are a mixture of primitive Hebrew genes and the genes of the peoples they lived among. The genetic evidence alone is sufficient to show that some conversions happened. A number of genetic studies of Jewish groups from around the world have been done. All show some genetic linkage to the ancient Hebrews and some genetic material from the local peoples.
Besides, we know from Jewish sources that the Jews have generally been very open to conversions. Rules were applied. Those who marry into a Jewish family have their children accepted as Jews, either in the first or the second generation, depending on whether the non-Jew as the mother or the father. Proselytes (those who choose to associate themselves with Jehovah, but do not have Jewish blood at all) were also accepted into the Jewish community, but their association needed to be longer in order to be accepted as full Jews. The Jews were not completely open-minded about such things. For example, no one was accepted as a priest who could not prove his direct descent from Aaron. When the Jews were successful materially or politically, the number who joined their number obviously increased. Apparently, under Esther, a number of Persians chose to associate themselves with the Jews and eventually were considered to be Jewish.
About baptism for the dead, I have already answered this question at the site. I have already answered the one from Hebrews 6 as well. Both Q & As are copied and pasted below. Bottom line, if people have left the Christian fellowship or become unfaithful for whatever reason, they can be restored to the fellowship, but they cannot be restored to salvation if they have lost it. Either they have actually "fallen away" in the Hebrews 6:4 sense or they have not. If they have fallen away (again, in the Hebrews 6:4 sense) then there is no way we can restore them to repentance. I believe that it is not our place to judge such people as fallen away. We should attempt to restore people, but we should be careful, lest we be taken away ourselves (Galatians 6). In my opinion, some have used the term "fallen away" somewhat uncarefully. If we restore those who have wandered off, then they have not lost the Holy Spirit.
1Cor15:29 – Baptised for the dead. What does this all mean?
Commentators have several possible explanations of 1 Corinthians 15:29. This is a difficult passage and we will probably have to settle for saying we are not absolutely certain what Paul is getting at. The question of interpretation depends on the question of whether there really were people being baptized for the dead in the church. This is debated. Possibly some sort of "baptism for the dead" was practiced by another group. Possibly Paul is talking about something hypothetical. Possibly there were actually people doing this in Corinth. One thing we can be absolutely sure of, Paul is not promoting baptizing for the dead!
My thought is that there was probably a fringe group somewhere which actually proposed baptizing for the dead and that Paul was sarcastically referring to them in order to shame those in Corinth who were struggling with belief in the final resurrection of all souls at the end of time. Sometimes when we come across more difficult passages (and 1 Cor 15:29 certainly is an example) we ought to start by asking what it certainly does NOT mean. Once we eliminate the possibility that Paul is actually implying that baptism for the dead is an OK teaching, I think we can decide that it is not a major problem that we are not exactly sure what Paul is referring to.
Does Hebrews 6:4-7 refer to it being impossible for fall aways to repent due to their state of heart and mind, and not that God is preventing them from being restored to the faith?
If you just read Hebrews 6:4-6 in isolation, I can imagine two possible interpretations. It could mean that for a person who falls away, their heart must be so hard that it becomes impossible for them to repent again. Another possible interpretation is that once a person falls away, God will not accept them once again to renew their salvation. In order to decide which interpretation is the correct one, I would go elsewhere in Hebrews and then look throughout the New Testament.
The first passage which comes to mind which helps me to decide which interpretation is correct is Hebrews 10:26-30. This passage says, "If we deliberately keep on sinning… no sacrifice for sins is left…Anyone who rejected Moses died without mercy…. How much more…who has trampled the Son of God under foot…who has insulted the Spirit of grace…It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Based on this passage, it is convincing to me that when a person falls away, the Holy Spirit (the deposit guaranteeing our salvation Eph 1:14) is taken away from us. We become liable to death again. Hebrews 6 clearly declares that this position is impossible to escape. As it says in 2 Pet 2:19,20, we are worse off than we were at first. Falling away is irreversible. Once we insult the Spirit and God removes the Holy Spirit from us, we are lost for eternity.
This conclusion has important implications about the doctrine of falling away. Many refer to people who no longer attend their church as a fall-away. I believe we should be very reticent to make such a judgement. Many have talked about trying to bring a fall-away back to repentance, when this is not possible. Instead, I believe we should say something like, this brother or sister is not being faithful right now. Who am I to judge someone as fallen away? Only God can decide such a thing, and it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
So, to answer your question, it is God who makes it impossible for us to be saved once we have committed the unforgiveable sin, have insulted the spirit, have trampled on the blood of Jesus, have committed blasphemy against teh Holy Spirit. I suppose you could argue that such a person would be unable to repent anyway, but I do not want to speculate on such a thing. If we reject the grace of God in such a blatant way that he takes away the Holy Spirit, then this is a final judgment of God. This is a hard teaching but I believe it is the best way to interpret passages on this subject.