Tag Archives: Hebrews

The Word: Written or Incarnate?

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Note: this post is more of a Bible study than most. If you are student of Scripture, then I would like your feedback on this. The perspective I present below is not the traditional evangelical view with which I grew up and in which I am trained, so I would like to hear from both my evangelical friends (who are likely to disagree) and with my friends from other theological backgrounds.

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. 13 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 4:12-13, ESV)

How do these oft-memorized verses about “the word of God” fit with the themes of entering His rest, of belief and obedience? And how do these verses connect those themes to the following passage about Jesus being the great high priest?

“The word” in verse 12 here is most often understood to be God’s recorded word, the Scripture; i.e., the Bible: God’s word (and words) revealed through His prophets, His Son, and the apostles; and written down and canonized.

This seems a too-limited view, however, in light of the words used and the context following. Certainly Scripture is sharp and piercing; it reveals our thoughts and intentions, shows whether we are truly obeying or merely acting. Yet this does not satisfy the descriptive words “living and active,” or the verb “discerning.” Verse 13, further, uses personal language: “sight” (can a written word see?); “him,” not it; and a personal direct object, “to whom” our account will be given.

I think verses 12-13 are speaking of the living Word of whom John wrote in his gospel: the Word-become-flesh, Jesus Christ. Certainly the writer here is not speaking exclusively of the written revelation (of which his own words would become a part).

Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is alive and active, discerning, seeing, and waiting to receive an accounting of our belief or unbelief, our obedience or disobedience. It is Him to whom we owe our belief and obedience; Him to whom we will give account. He—not a book (even the Book of God)—is our great high priest, our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) before God, and our salvation. It is through Jesus Christ that we may receive mercy when our hearts struggle to believe and grace when we disobey.

The Foundry

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“[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature….” (Hebrews 1:3)

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son….” (Romans 8:29)

I never got to use the sand-cast foundry in my high school’s Industrial Arts shop. Something was wrong with it, as I recall, so we could only talk about how it works, but that foundry came to mind when I read the opening words of Hebrews.

In sand casting, a pattern is pressed into a frame of compacted sand to create a mold. After removing the pattern, molten metal is poured into the mold. When the metal has cooled, the mold is removed from the completed casting, rough edges are smoothed off, and any other finishing work is done. All told, the process is extremely detailed, requires intense heat and pressure, and can develop imperfections at any point.

Kind of like being a disciple of Jesus.

I used to think Jesus was the pattern a disciple was supposed to follow. I don’t think that’s wrong, necessarily—Paul suggests it in Romans 8—but when I read these words in Hebrews recently, I had to do some new thinking. Hebrews says Jesus is “the exact image of [God’s] nature.” In a sand-casting analogy, that suggests that God himself is the pattern and Jesus is the mold – the sand that’s pressed around the pattern.

However you look at, there are some important lessons for us as disciples:

  • We are metal that gets melted down, both to be refined (see Zechariah 13:9 and Malachi 3:2), and so that we can be poured into the mold. Melting is hot and hurts, but it’s the only way to get rid of the impurities in the metal.
  • Even after we’ve cooled down and been removed from the mold, there’s still work to do. Scrap metal must be cut, chiseled, hammered, or torched off. Rough edges need to be filed down.

All these processes, in metalwork, transform a chunk of raw metal into a strong, useful, even attractive tool. In the Christian life, the process is called sanctification, transforming a stubborn, sin-riddled chunk of humanity into a new creation, a disciple shaped into the image of Jesus Christ – who is “the exact imprint of God’s nature.”

It’s a lifelong task. Where are you in the process?