2. Those who tasted the heavenly gift
The word “tasted” is used concerning the heavenly gift, the Word of God and the powers of the age to come. What does it mean to “taste” something? I think that the basic meaning is to know by experience.
The word γεύομαι (geuomai, G1089) and its basic meaning is “to taste” and “perceive the flavour of, partake of, enjoy”. It is used in Hebrews 2:9 about Christ who “taste[d] death for everyone.” It speaks of an experience that is real, yet merely momentary. Even in the case of Christ the Lord who died for our sake, His “taste of death” was momentary and not never-ending. It is used in Matthew 27:34 where it is expressly said that tasting does not mean accepting the thing. I mean, the Lord tasted the wine, He tried it, but rejected it later. Therefore, this word does not have the meaning of tasting and then accepting it. The acceptance of the thing or rejection is not included in the definition of the word. It merely speaks of a knowledge by experience of a thing.
These apostates have tasted–they have had an experience with the heavenly gift, but this tasting does not imply that they’ve received the heavenly gift in truth. They have tasted it, but after a time rejected the heavenly gift. Arthur W. Pink observes the following on the meaning of “taste”:
Second, they had “tasted” of the heavenly gift. To “taste” is to have a personal experience of, in contrast from mere report. “Tasting does not include eating, much less digesting and turning into nourishment what is so tasted; for its nature being only thereby discerned it may be refused, yea, though we like its relish and savor, on some other consideration. The persons here described, then, are those who have to a certain degree understood and relished the revelation of mercy; like the stony-ground hearers they have received the Word with a transcient joy” (John Owen). The “tasting” is in contrast from the “eating” of John 6:50-56.
Dr. Grudem observes the following in a footnote about the word “taste”:
The word tasted is also used in Heb. 2:9 to say that Jesus “tasted death,” indicating that he came to know it by experience (but “tasted” is an apt word because he did not remain dead). The same could be true of those who had some experience of heavenly gifts, as can be true even of unbelievers (cf. Matt. 7:22; 1 Cor. 7:14; 2 Peter 2:20–22). In Heb. 6:4–5 these people’s experience of the Holy Spirit’s power and of the Word of God was of course a genuine experience (just as Jesus genuinely died), but that by itself does not show that the people had an experience of regeneration.
What is the heavenly gift? Commentators and preachers are divided on this one although the majority think that it either refers to the Lord Christ (e.g. Gill, Com. Cri. & Expl., Steve J. Cole) or the Holy Spirit (e.g. Owen, Pink, Henry, Grudem, Piper). Both have good reasons to think so although as Pink observes, there is not a great difference since ‘the difference is without a distinction, for the Spirit is here to glorify Christ, as He came from the Father by Christ as His ascension “Gift” to His people.’
John 4:10 seems to be a strong verse to see “the gift of God” which came down from heaven to be the Lord Jesus Himself. Note that the passage does not speak of a gift of God, but the gift of God. See also John 3:16; Romans 6:23. This description would then imply that these apostates had some kind of experience with the Lord...