What does Hebrews 3:12 mean?
ESV: Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
NIV: See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
NASB: Take care, brothers and sisters, that there will not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
CSB: Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won't be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
NLT: Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God.
KJV: Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
NKJV: Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;
Verse Commentary:
Prior verses quoted from Psalm 95, which warns Israel not to repeat their mistakes in the wilderness. There, Israel lost faith in God. They gave in to fear, and that led to disobedience and stubbornness. They did not "hold fast," and as a result, that generation was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. God did not send Israel back into slavery in Egypt, but He disciplined the people for their lack of faith.

Here, the application of the Psalm is made explicit. The Israelites' lack of trust caused them to fall away from God, and this resulted in discipline. The author of Hebrews is warning the Jewish Christians who read these words not to make the same mistake.

It's especially important to see the full context of this verse, since it uses two particular Greek words, apistias and apostēnai. These are translated in the ESV as "unbelieving" and "fall away," respectively. Apostēnai is the word from which we get the term "apostasty," which means a rebellion or defiance of authority. It is most frequently used to describe those who completely leave the Christian faith. However, like most such terms, there are varied levels and meanings of "falling away." In this case, the meaning is that of sin and faithlessness, not open rejection of God.

Once again, the context makes it clear that salvation is not at stake. The Promised Land is not a metaphor for heaven—Israel's rescue from Egypt is the symbol of salvation. God's wrath against the Jewish people in the wilderness was not to send them back to Egypt (symbolizing a return to an un-saved state). Rather, it was to deny them the blessings of the promised inheritance. Parts of chapter 4 will further support the idea that the author is speaking of sin in the life of a saved believer, not the potential loss of salvation.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 3:7–14 uses the example of Israel's forty years in the wilderness (Numbers 13—14) as a warning. This is directed at Christians who fail to ''hold fast'' their faith in God during persecution. Israel was saved from Egypt, as believers are saved from eternal death through salvation. Israel was offered the Promised Land, as believers are promised victory through our spiritual inheritance. Israel lost faith and didn't trust God against the ''giants'' of Canaan, as believers can be tempted to lose faith in the face of persecution. The ancient Israelites were not sent back to Egypt, just as God does not revoke the salvation of Christian believers. However, both can expect hardship and a loss of fellowship if they fail to trust in God.
Chapter Summary:
Hebrews chapter 3 uses a reference to Israel's wandering in the desert from the story of the Exodus. In this incident, the nation of Israel came to the border of the Promised Land and then lost confidence in God. Rather than trusting Him, most of the people gave up hope. As a result, only a tiny remnant of the nation was allowed to enter into Canaan. This chapter explains that Jesus Christ is superior to Moses and all of Moses' accomplishments. Christians, therefore, need to encourage each other to fully trust in God, in order to see fulfillment of His promises.
Chapter Context:
In chapters 1 and 2, the author of Hebrews showed that Jesus was not an angel. In fact, Jesus' role as Messiah required Him to be fully human. Starting in chapter 3, the author will explain how Jesus is also superior to various Old Testament characters such as Moses. This will help to set the stage for later references to Christ's superiority. Part of the warning in this chapter extends into chapter 4. Namely, that Christians who doubt God's promises risk missing out on the victories He has in store for us.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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