the weblog of Alan Knox

Sharper than any two-edged sword

Posted by on Jan 20, 2008 in discipleship, scripture | 19 comments

Most of us are probably familiar with Hebrews 4:12 –

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

I memorized this passage many years ago. I was taught that this verse teaches us about the power of Scripture – the written word of God. But, does the phrase “word of God” in this verse reference written Scripture? Let’s look at the passage in context.

In chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4, the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is the Sabbath rest for the Christian. He wraps up his discussion in the final part of chapter 4:

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 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. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:9-16 ESV)

Do you see it? If the phrase “word of God” references Scripture in Hebrews 4:12, then it is completely out of context. There is no indication in this passage that written Scriptures are in view here.

The author of Hebrews is talking about the word of God, but not the written word of God. It is Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. The one who is our Sabbath rest is also the one who knows our heart. He is also the one to whom all are naked and exposed. He is also our high priest, who has been tempted but did not sin. He is the one who sits on the throne of grace and the reason that we can approach that throne in confidence. He is here (living and active) “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”! What a reason for confidence!

We do not find this confidence in written words, but in the living word, Jesus Christ himself. I did not say this to take away from Scripture. For it is Scripture that gives us this description of Jesus Christ. However, our faith is in a person, not in a description of a person.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-20-2008

    When I was taught that the Word of God, as referenced in this scripture, was referring to the Bible, I always had trouble with that. How can words on a page discern my thoughts and intentions? I, too, don’t want to take away from the importance of scriptures, but like you I think it’s very important for us to understand that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.

  2. 1-20-2008

    Alan, we’ve always been afraid of the living Word of God because we cant’ control it. Yet it is the power in our lives to change us. Maybe if we engage it (or release it) we’ll see more change that we desire.

  3. 1-21-2008

    Joel and Jonathan,

    Thank you for your comments. May we all continue following the living word of God.


  4. 1-21-2008

    “When I was taught that the Word of God, as referenced in this scripture, was referring to the Bible, I always had trouble with that.”

    Same here, though my “troubled” thoughts came years later. Thanks, Alan, for drawing attention to this! We will surely fall into error if (and when) we ignore context to make the Scriptures say what we want them to say.

  5. 1-21-2008


    Thanks for the comment. Without considering context, we can make Scripture say whatever we want it to say.


  6. 1-22-2008

    Using a Greek grammar concordance a pastor loaned me, I looked up 4.12 and the verse following it I noticed that the word for “word” in 4.12 is the same as the word translated “account” or “do” at the end of 4.13.

    Of the translations I use, only Young’s Literal translation translates logos in those two verses using the same word both places: “reckoning.” That certainly makes more sense to me in terms of logic – why would anyone use one word to mean radically different things in the space of two sentences? And it makes more sense to me with regard to meaning – how would the bible be alive and judge me?

    While this is not the conventional understanding of the verse, it seems to me to be the most literal one.

  7. 1-22-2008


    I didn’t notice the repetition of logos. I’ll have to look into that. Thank you for pointing it out!


  8. 2-1-2008

    Perhaps this passage has the spoken Word of God in view rather than the written Word. These people failed to enter into the rest because they did not believe the spoken promise of God.

    There does seem to be a context to support this understanding. “… the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard” (4:2); “… they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief” (4:6); “today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (4:7);

  9. 5-12-2011

    Amen. This is a truth that is difficult for people to accept for some reason. Christ is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.

  10. 9-21-2011

    Great article, Alan! I have been mulling, facebooking, talking, and blogging about this, too. If the Bible is the entire word of God then why does the Bible tell us that if everyone Christ did during His three years of ministry were written down the whole earth could not contain all the books? (John 21:24-26)

    Obviously the Bible is not the entire word of God, but only a piece of Christ. We have to stop chopping Christ into pieces and it calling them “all” of Christ. He is so vast we will never stop discovering something new about our Lord and Savior. You put that so well here.

  11. 5-15-2012

    There is an interesting dynamic at work in the Christian (non-persecuted)Western world; cultural Christianity abounds, churches on every corner, surveys taken say we are a Christian nation. The sad truth is that we really do not know Him, whom we profess. I believe that the western church is simply an inoculation against the knowledge of the Truth. If that is so, we also must conclude that what we see in the western church world is not only “not God” but is actually of satanic origin. The devil has appeared as an “angel of light”. His chief tool in this deception is the use of the written scriptures. This should come as no surprise as most major cults use the scriptures as a tool for deception. The devil has convinced millions (with the aid of helpful pastors) that they have a relationship with “The Truth” because they have a relationship with the Bible. How sad for us all if we do not confront this deception in Jesus name.

  12. 7-27-2012

    Have you studied the “two-edge” or “two-mouth” sword idiom in this passage? Just curious about your thoughts on the writer’s understanding and use of it. I have been reading your blog since following you on twitter and really enjoy your insight.
    Blessings, Joe

  13. 7-27-2012


    I haven’t studied it farther than recognizing that it’s used to indicate a blade with two sharp edges when used in that context.


  14. 10-5-2012


    Having recently written a 4 part series called the “Anti-Scripture Scriptures,” The last part called Hebrews 4:12 – The Nuclear Option will be part 5. You beat me to it. Without getting into too much detail, I will make the argument that Hebrews 4:12 refers to Jesus and His written words. I have several reasons for this. My reasons center around the words:

    Promise – vs 1
    Gospel – vs 2
    Message – vs 2
    Spoken – vs 4
    Passage – vs 5
    Gospel – vs 6

    I agree with you that Hebrews 4:12 is talking about Jesus the person, but I also believe that it is referring to the written scriptures. “Logos”

  15. 10-8-2012


    I’m sorry that I’m replying so late. I’d be interested to know what in the passage/context leads you to conclude “logos” also refers to the Scriptures (i.e., the writings) in Heb 4:12.


  16. 5-6-2013

    This verse seems to suggest the spoken word is more effective than the written word?
    Romans 10:17
    So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
    Both OT and NT start with God speaking and writing follows, much later in many cases.
    I wonder if we’re reading our own bias toward reading into this, when it seems unlikely the first hearers of Gods word were able to, had the means to, or were inclined to write it down.
    And as readers, we have a terrible track record of understanding what was written.
    But, when God speaks to anyone by his Spirit, whether He reiterates scripture to us or provides daily guidance with a problem for instance, we seem to have no difficulty understanding.
    Does this suggest that hearing with our ears, mind or human spirit is more effective than reading?
    A sentence filtered through our eyes travels a different path than one through our ears.
    We all know there’s a difference between understanding and revelation, and I wonder if our sight is more suited to understanding while our hearing to revelation, or as some might call ‘knowing’.
    I think I see these themes (thru a glass darkly ) in scripture.
    Somehow, I wonder if the debate about man having a spirit and soul also factors in here, just to make it more interesting.
    Maybe an ENT doctor can explain how reading vs listening effects us.
    Just my crude thoughts on that.

  17. 5-6-2013


    I think that the phrase “word of God” referred to many different things in Scripture. We must examine the context of each usage in order to determine the referent.


  18. 5-7-2013

    This is something I have been working through myself recently, your blog posts are stimulating and have helped. We say that Christianity is more relationship than religion, yet it seems that Western Christianity more often has a relationship with their Bible than with the God of the Bible and they spend time praying at God rather than speaking with him. Satan and our Flesh deceives in many ways, the more subtle deceptions are the more dangerous; elevating the form or discipline over the relationship seems to be a common problem. It is, however measurable, demonstrable, and safer than constantly baring ones soul to the burning eyes of the Holy!

  19. 5-8-2013


    I’d go even a step further… Many have a special relationship with a specific interpretation of Scripture.