The Word: Written or Incarnate?


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.

4 thoughts on “The Word: Written or Incarnate?

  1. Renée

    I think you’re absolutely right to make the connection between the word of God and the person of Jesus, invoking the beginning of John’s gospel, which refers to Jesus as the word of God. You’re right, I think, to open up the passage in Hebrews to this broader, overlooked, interpretation. At the same time, Jewish readers would probably also make the connection to the written Scriptures, the Torah and other sacred writings (Psalms, prophets, etc., what we call the “Old Testament”)–they are the “people of the book.”

    I think the mistake that gets made, fundamentally, is not that the passage refers to either the written Scriptures or the incarnate Word, but in the word “or” itself. The premise of “A cannot be non-A” (i.e., if it refers to the written scripture it can’t also mean something that is not the written scripture) is a logical construct of Greek thinking, which is the basis for most western philosophy. But it’s not the only way of thinking, and, as far as I’ve come to understand, not the way of thinking & seeking for truth in Judaism. It’s possible for two seemingly contradictory (or mutually exclusive) ideas to co-exist–that’s really the definition of a paradox. I have a hunch that God’s truth lives in paradox a lot more than we (western) humans are comfortable with! “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (Is. 55:8)

    1. Randy Ehle Post author

      You’re absolutely right: it’s not one or the other, but both/and. Thanks for the reminder, too, about the difference between the Greek and Hebrew minds.

      As I spent some more time in the book this morning, moving into chapter 6, I briefly reviewed the preceding chapters and was reminded of the author’s consistent theme to this point: the preeminence of Jesus Christ – over angels, over death, over the devil, over Moses, over the previous high priests. Again, I think it’s both/and, but both the specific and the broader contexts seem to point toward Christ.

  2. Matt Cain

    Thank you for the study. I love the broadening of the typical use of this passage. Yes, I too usually think of this passage in the more narrow sense of the written Word because of my background. As I am thinking about it though, I don’t think it needs to be either/or, but both and. I think this is what you are saying when you say “This seems a too-limited view”. My reaction is that we can continue to use this verse in the way it is traditionally used, but we can expand it to certainly include the person of Jesus–and I see nothing wrong with that–in fact that seems very good and consistent with Scripture. Thanks again!

    1. Randy Ehle Post author

      Yes, Matt, it’s definitely both/and. Thanks for making that clearer than I did. See, too, my reply to Renée’s comment, above, regarding the broader context of the first several chapters of Hebrews.


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