The Anti-Scripture Scriptures – Part V, Hebrews 4:12 (The Nuclear Option)

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.”

This will most likely be the last post in this series.  If you’d like, you can see the first 4 parts using these links:

The Anti-Scripture Scriptures – Part I

The Anti-Scripture Scriptures – Part II

The Anti-Scripture Scriptures – Part III

The Anti-Scripture Scriptures – Part IV

In those previous posts I listed over 30 faulty common conclusions taken from scriptures (the Bible) that people use against the Bible to say that it is NOT the “Word of God.”  Hebrews 4:12 is perhaps the most used, and often perceived as the most powerful “Nuclear Option” to this end.

The end game?  To wrench the words of God from the Word of God.  To say that there is a higher, more authoritative source than the written word, usually themselves.  To make a claim that one’s subjective, existential, and private revelation, is somehow outside of the scrutiny of scripture.  To say to others, “I got this,” and here’s the way it is.  

One of the over-arching themes in the book of Hebrews is the close relationship between God and his word, such that the difference virtually disappears in some places.  For example, in Hebrews 13:7, it states, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”  The word of God here is “logos of God.”  The Medium and message united.

But, let’s get back to our original text, Hebrews 4:12 – let’s look at the immediate context of verse in 4:12. Hebrews 4:1 sets the context for this entire section and calls back to Hebrews 2:1-3 where the writer says, “We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard.” In Hebrews 4:1-2, he now draws attention to the promise of rest that has been spoken. In doing so he makes a comparison to the Israelites under Joshua. They too heard a message, but the author points out it had no value to them.

In contrast, the author  of Hebrews wants his hearers to receive the promise of rest with faith, and so he reminds his listeners of what was spoken through David: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” When in verse 12, then, when the author reminds his listeners that the word of God judges the attitudes of the heart, we see how: for the Israelites, their hearts were judged and shown hard because they did not receive the promise of rest with faith. The entire context, then, of two groups receiving a message points to understanding the phrase “word of God” as the message spoken by the prophets but “in these last days” “by his Son”.

Again, for those who say that the Logos in Hebrews 4:12 is either only Jesus or only the bible, are both wrong.  We can not divide medium (Christ) from His message (logos).  For a more thorough treatment of this idea, see “The Logos of the Gospel.”

We must remember that Hebrews is very unique in the way it treats the Scriptures. In most of the New Testament – especially in Paul’s letters – whenever someone quotes the Scriptures, they use “It is written” or some variant. In Hebrews, though, the Scriptures are always referred to as “spoken” in some sense when they are quoted. The word of God is very active/performative in Hebrews: it sustains the world (Hebrews 1:3), it sets up a priesthood (Hebrews 7:21), it will shake the world (Hebrews 12:25-27). It’s not surprising, therefore, for the author in this letter to describe God’s word as living and active, dividing soul and spirit, judging thoughts and the heart.

What “God said,” through whom He says it, and the manner in which it is relayed, are all purposed to detect hypocrisy and to lay open the true nature of the feelings of the soul.  His “truth” is adapted to bring out the real feelings, and to show people exactly what they are. Truth always has this power – whether preached, or read, or communicated by conversation, or printed on paper via the inspired memory and conscience of the Holy Spirit. There  is nowhere to hide from the penetrating, searching application of the W/word of God. That truth has power to show what we are.  It is also “like” a penetrating sword that lays open the whole man; compare Isaiah 49:2, Ephesians 6:17, Revelation 1:16 etc.  The phrase “the Word of God” here may be applied, therefore, to the “truth” of God, however made known to the mind. In some way it will bring out the real feelings, and show what man is.  Just two questions:

Is it wrong to say that Hebrews 4:12 is referring to the Bible alone?  Why?

Is it wrong to say that Hebrews 4:12 is referring to Jesus alone?  Why?  

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    1. I am not sure who you are struggling with in debate over the “Word of God”, but it sure seems like a bit of context might give some insight. Buried in a seminary textbook I can’t find, a theologian pointed out that “Word of God” refers to nine different things. 1)The Word of God was active at creation (Gen 1, John 1.1) 2) Word of God is the words God spoke to people like Noah and Abraham, 3) WoG is also the words spoken by prophets 4) I forget 5) The Word that became flesh and lived among us (ie Jesus Christ John 1:14) 6) the scriptures, 7) preaching is also the WoG, 8) the tangible Word experienced in water, bread and wine of the sacraments. and 9) I forget.

      In this schema, scripture is not the central form of the Word of God, Christ is the Word of God, and all other expressions of the Word of God proceed from Christ. This is not an attempt to wrestle the “word of God” from you, but rather a way of placing scripture under Christ. (So Jesus is THE Word of God, and scripture as an expression of Christ is also Word of God) In practice, this means that there is a canon within the canon, and that the clearer parts of scripture interpret the contentious parts. So, to answer your questions at the end of this blog by saying, “Yes, The Word of God, in its totality is this force that breaks into our lives, sometimes in scripture, sometimes in preaching, sometimes in the tangible Word of the sacraments, sometimes in prophecy, etc.”

      • what Xalem said.. no doubt some are trying to elevate some sort of aberrant private interpretation of their experiences above what they understand of scripture.
        … but really just because someone doesnt refer to scripture as THE word of god, does not mean we can accurately draw conclusions about their view of the authority or inspiration of scripture… or whether what they know of christ does not line up with what they understand of scripture.
        Christians are absolutely loathe to admit that anything they think they believe as a result of reading it in the bible is actually an interpretation of what has been written. Hence why we have thousands of denominations all claiming they believe what the word of god teaches.
        Its something that annoys me about most christians, we’ve been programmed to be stubborn and irrational.
        At the end of the day if someone believes christ has told them something directly or revealed some truth… and at the same time they are able to explain how scripture confirms it… then that is pervasive interpretive pluralism at work… ie that well meaning and informed christians read the same bible yet come away with different conclusions all convinced what they believe is from god. Christians who refuse to accept that reality have their heads in the sand and are rightly mocked by the world as we of all people should understand the weakness of humans and propensity to misunderstand things.

    2. I like Xalem’s explanation. Makes more sense than anything else I’ve heard. The overarching point of it does anyway.

      I would add to it that the Word of God breaks through into our lives in each of these different ways according to the whim and will of God, not us, and that to seek an answer in one way when He is answering in another is fruitless.

      He may be trying to say something to us through the preacher (for example) that we respect least, and we go looking for the answer in scripture (trying to prove/disprove the preacher), and end up missing the point entirely. And therefore, end up missing God. We MUST allow God to speak however God WANTS to speak, and quit limiting Him to only this or that “acceptable way”. That’s the only way it’s going to consistently work.

      I would also add that these are not the only ways God will speak. He can, and will speak any way He chooses. We just choose to listen, or not to listen. God is sovereign, not us.

    3. Well put, Miguel. I think the issue is not recognized so much in traditional evangelical circles because they are not seeing ‘new’ revelation. It is more on the left wing of the charismatic movement that this appears, where people expect…and run after…’new revelation’ and prefer to avoid the more static written word…it is less exciting and spoils all the fun of having a special standing as the source of something no one before in history saw!
      Of course, they are ignorant of the fact that this perspective was the heart of the Gnostic heresy that was addressed even in some of the epistles…special insight into divine mysteries that the rank and file were hopelessly unable to experience. Just an old heresy with a new label!

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