18 May 2011

Is the Bible Sharper than a Two-Edged Sword?

Maybe so, but that's not what Hebrews 4:12 means, despite the number of times we've all heard someone refer to the Bible as 'living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit,' and so on.

The 'word' of God in Hebrews 4:12 is logos, a flexible Greek word which does at times (not often) refer to written Scripture (e.g., 2 Tim. 2:15?).

But if we are sensitive to the context we notice that logos has already been used a bit earlier, in Hebrews 4:2--'For good news came to us [lit. 'we have been good-news'ed] just as to them, but the message [logos] they heard did not benefit them . . .' The ESV rightly interprets logos here as something spoken (not something written), a 'message,' in accord with its connection with the verb euangelizomai, 'to speak the gospel/good news,' which occurs again in Heb. 4:6.

The word of God that is living and active and all the rest is the gospel. This is not mutually exclusive with written Scripture, of course. The two, gospel and Bible, overlap in all kinds of ways. But they are distinct, and one is being denoted in Hebrews 4 and the other is not.

I think Hebrews 4:12 is really getting at the same core idea expressed in Jesus' quote of Isaiah 6 in Matthew 13 to the effect that God's revealed truth does not leave people where they were: it either further hardens them or opens their eyes. To some the gospel is the aroma of life, to others the aroma of death (2 Cor. 2:15-17; again the logos of God, v. 17). Which is precisely what is meant in the context of Hebrews 4--the good news of promised rest for God's people landed on some to their hardening and on others to their rejoicing.

The gospel, joyfully heralded in all its truth and starkness, is a piercing message that penetrates as no other message does or can, either reinforcing our natural recalcitrance or igniting fresh freedom. The gospel is the truest, most incisive diagnostic, a spiritual x-ray, a light shining way down deep into the darkest recesses of the heart. Hearing it either further enslaves or further liberates. It does not leave us as we were.


Alan Knox said...


I agree that "word of God" does not refer to the Bible in Hebrews 4:12. However, I'm not comfortable with "word of God" referring to the gospel either. Why? Because of the near context of Hebrews 4:12. For example, consider Hebrews 4:13 which includes 2 interesting pronouns:

"And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4:13 ESV)

It seems that these pronouns point back to the "word of God" in 4:12. So, whose sight is the author referring to, and whose eyes?

I think that "word of God" refers to Jesus Christ, which even fits the broader context beginning in Hebrews 3.


Gavin Ortlund said...

Great post! I've often thought about how many different referents "the word of God" can have. In Heb. 11:3, for example, its clearly not saying that God made the heavens by means of the Bible! I think you're right that its the gospel in 4:12, and that totally helps interpret the meaning of the verse. So "Word of God" can at least mean: (1) Scripture, (2) the gospel, (3) Jesus, and (4) God's speech. I wonder how many more things could be added to the list.

Sam Bierig said...

Hey man,
My name is Sam Bierig. I am new to your blog, but this was a great post. Clarifying and Challenging.

Henry Godbee said...

I am late to the party but here goes. I am all for accuracy in interpretation and presentation, but this discussion approaches the time consuming, pointless activity of "examining the lint in each other's navel". Whether it is the written word, the spoken word, or the living word it is still God revealing himself to man. hhgodbee

Anonymous said...

The word of god here is clearly Jesus. If one should substitute "the word of god" for "the bible" it would read like this: For the bible is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Clearly the word of god here has to be a person hence the use of the pronoun "his" in the subsequent verses.
Revelation 19:13- also confirms this: And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.