Have you ever heard of a sword drill? A sword drill is a Bible quiz to help children find important passages in Scripture. Because Ephesians 6:17 calls the word of God the “sword of the spirit,” these quizzes are called “sword drills.”
Although the word of God is known as the “sword of the spirit,” don’t make the mistake of assuming that every passage that mentions the “word of God” and a “sword” is speaking about Scripture. This is especially true with one of the most commonly misinterpreted passages in Scripture, Hebrews 4:12, which reads:
“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
This verse is often used by Protestants to argue that Christians don’t need a teaching Church to understand the Bible, because Scripture itself is an active agent judging us and convicting our hearts of the truth.
One reason for this misinterpretation is that the reader fails to recognize that other things are called the “word of God” besides Scripture. For example, Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the Word of God in John 1:1. The same is true for the Apostles’ preaching and the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Which of these does Hebrews 4:12 have in mind? The answer is found in the context.
If you read the following two verses, you’ll see exactly who Hebrews 4:12 is describing:
“No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession” (Hebrews 4:13-14).
These verses gives us three solid reasons why the “word of God” in Hebrews 4:12 cannot refer to Scripture. First, it says, “No creature is concealed from him.” How can anyone conceal themselves from the Bible? That just doesn’t make sense. Second, verse 13 speaks of everything being exposed to his eyes. A person has eyes, not a book. Third, all is “exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” At the end of time, do we render an account of our lives to the Bible or to Jesus? Obviously, Jesus. The last verse is the clincher, as it summarizes all that has just been said, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest … Jesus, the Son of God …” The word of God spoken of in Hebrews 4:12-14 is not the Bible, but Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Still, someone may say Hebrews 4:12 is a rather odd description for Christ. We don’t normally speak of Him in terms of one who is like a sword that can penetrate the deepest recesses of the heart. Where did the author of Hebrew get such images? The answer may be found in the book of Wisdom.
In Wisdom 18:14, Wisdom describes God’s judgment on Egypt as, “Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne bounded, a fierce warrior, into the doomed land, bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree.” Like Hebrews 4:12, the word of God is spoken of as an active personal agent who is associated with a sharp sword.
Earlier in the same book, the Wisdom of God is described in terms very similar to Hebrews 4:12:
“… all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle. For wisdom … pervades and penetrates all things (Wisdom 7:23-24).”
All of the main elements of Hebrews 4:12 (i.e., the word of God, the sharp sword, the ability to penetrate the deepest recesses of the heart) are found in reference to God’s Wisdom in these two passages in the book of Wisdom. And we know that Christ is the Power and Wisdom of God (1 Corinthian 1:24), so Hebrews 4:12’s description fits perfectly with Christ.
So the next time you encounter the “word of God” in Scripture, take a moment and study the context so you don’t misinterpret what you’re reading.
Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.