What is the “word of God” in Hebrews 4:12?
For the word of God 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.
This is one of the best known verses in the Bible. But do you truly understand it? To prove the weakness of modern Bible study and seminary training, just ask your pastor, “What is the ‘word of God’ in Hebrews 4:12?”
The answer will likely be the Bible, the written word of God.
The true answer has always been Jesus Christ, the living Word of God.
It is not both, for the context demands Jesus Christ as the Person of this phrase, and the Bible does not have the traits described in the verse.
Surely you have heard this verse touted as a description of the Bible? But it is not even indirectly dealing with the Bible. It is glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest; and to steal His glory by applying it to the Bible is a travesty of faithful preaching.
First consider the context.
The next verse (4:13) continues Paul’s thought with “neither,” showing the two verses are closely connected; for he is adding to the list of traits of the word of God. But look at the three personal pronouns he uses in this next verse. Clearly, a Person is under consideration, not a thing.
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. Hebrews 4:13
The following verse (4:14) concludes the thought from the proceeding verses with the words “seeing then,” and it clearly names Jesus the Son of God as the Word of God under consideration. Paul has been describing our great high priest, not the Bible.
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. Hebrews 4:14
Since our text (4:12) begins with “for,” Paul was giving a reason for his exhortation in the previous verse (4:11). We should labor to enter into God’s rest “for” fear of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. Hebrews 4:11
Having described God’s judgment on Israel in the wilderness for unbelief (3:7-19), Paul in our text warns the Hebrew Christians that Jesus, the mighty Word of God, would judge them for unbelief in the New Testament rest (4:1-10). Consider this warning theme (1:1-3; 2:1-3; 6:1-12; 10:23-31; 12:22-29).
In Hebrews 4:12-14, Paul is warning them to hold fast their Christian profession in light of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. He is not giving a lecture about the inspiration or value of the Bible.
This section of Hebrews was introduced in 3:1, with a clear identity of Jesus Christ as the great Apostle and High Priest of their profession. He is the contextual Person of our text.
Their participation with Jesus Christ was dependent on perseverance (3:6, 14), which Paul concludes by describing our Lord’s penetrating ability to detect any evil unbelief in their hearts (4:12-13). And he did this to exhort them to hold fast their profession of Christ (4:14).
Jesus the Son of God is the context.
Second, remember that Jesus is called the Word of God elsewhere in Scripture. So we should not be surprised at all of such use here.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. I John 5:7
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. Revelation 19:13
Third, we must analyze the terms in our text. They are not true of the Bible; but they are certainly true of Jesus Christ.
What does “quick” mean? It means living, or alive (II Tim 4:1). The Bible is not alive, though it has words about life. But Jesus is alive in the fullest sense possible (Deut 32:40; I Tim 1:17; 6:16; Rev 1:17-18).
What does “powerful” mean? It means the ability to accomplish something. The Bible is not powerful in the strict sense, for it is words describing God’s power; but Jesus is definitely powerful as the Mighty God (Ex 15:6; Psalm 62:11; I Chron 29:12; Isaiah 9:6; Jer 32:17; Matt 28:18; I Tim 6:15).
The Bible is figuratively called a sword (Eph 6:17); but only Jesus is sharper than any twoedged sword and able to divide between the soul and spirit (Rev 1:16; Psalm 139:14-17; I Thess 5:23-24).
What is a “discerner”? It is someone who knows the intents and motives of another. The Bible may identify man’s problems in general; but only Jesus knows the secret thoughts of individual men (I Chron 28:9; Jer 17:9-10; Matt 9:4; John 2:24-25; Rev 2:23).
Therefore, we see from the very verse itself that only Jesus Christ properly fulfills the traits listed. So we have proven from the context and the terms used that Jesus Christ is the Word of God named here.
But some will say, “Why isn’t ‘word’ capitalized in this verse, if it is referring to Jesus Christ?” Though the context and the verse have proven it to clearly be Jesus, some will still want to argue about its capitalization. They are not willing to submit to the obvious force of the context and terms used.
The lack of capitalization proves nothing, as the English language did not have standardized rules of capitalization for Deity in 1611 and the translators avoided strict capitalization when referring to names or pronouns of Deity that involved interpretation.
Consider Daniel 3:25. We see “Son of God,” even though Nebuchadnezzar only saw an angel (3:28).
Yet, Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6, powerful prophecies of Jesus Christ, do not capitalize “son.”
What happened to the Spirit between Revelation 1:10 and 4:2? It is first capitalized, and then it is not.
And further, we see “word” used elsewhere in the Bible for Jesus Christ without capitalization.
Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word . . . . Luke 1:2
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:18
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. I Peter 1:23
Luke 1:2 introduces Luke as an eyewitness and servant of our Lord. He did not witness or serve the Bible. James 1:18 must be Jesus Christ, for it describes a creation by the will of God and is distinguished from the engrafted word in verse 21. I Peter 1:23 is Jesus Christ by virtue of His incorruptibility, His work in the new birth, His perpetual life, and the identity of two “words” in verse 25.
It could not be much clearer. Hebrews 4:12 describes the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Word of God.
Why do most pastors today use Hebrews 4:12 to describe the Bible? Because they are part of the spiritual decline Paul prophesied for the last days. Paul described perilous times as those when much learning would result in little truth and men would prefer fables to truth (II Tim 3:1 – 4:5).
It is easier to preach the SOUND of a verse than the SENSE of a verse, even though God’s ministers are to rightly divide Scripture (II Tim 2:15) and declare its sense for understanding (Neh 8:8).
This simple example is to give God’s saints a tool to check their pastor’s and their own spiritual integrity. Will he or will he not alter his use of this text to preach the truth and glorify Jesus the Word of God? Will you or will you not alter your understanding of this text to hold to its true sense?
May the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, our great High Priest, be praised forevermore!