The Divine Word of God
In the book, “Taking God At His Word”, Kevin DeYoung writes, “Scripture, because it is the breathed out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God.” Over the last 200 years, many critics have disputed such a claim. They have accused Christians of worshiping the Bible and not making necessary distinctions between the Bible and God. Some have said that we need to see the truths behind the Bible, and not worry so much about the Bible itself. However, the Bible itself actually supports DeYoung’s claim, and often deliberately blurs any distinction between God and the Scriptures.
Hebrews 4:12-13 is one of the most famous statements in the Bible about the Bible:
“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. 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.”
This famous text assumes the closest possible relationship between God and his written word, even between Jesus and the Bible.
In context, it’s obvious that the passage is talking about the Bible itself. (Notice it says, “For the word of God is living…”) Hebrews has just been expositing and applying Psalm 95 for two chapters. In 4:2, it explains, “Good news came to us just as to them, but the message (literally, the ‘word’) they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” So “the word of God” in 4:12 is obviously the message of God written in the pages of Scripture that Hebrews has already been citing.
However, Hebrews goes on to describe the Bible with startling attributes, even the attributes of God himself. Consider the following:
“The word of God is living and active”
Earlier in the same passage, Hebrews had warned against falling away “from the living God” (3:12). The “word” is obviously being personified as “alive”, as having a power all its own (see Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 1:18, Col.1:5-6, 1 Thess. 2:13; also Deut. 32:47, Isaiah 55:10-11). Interestingly, in John 6:63, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Jesus clearly makes a connection between the Spirit who gives life and his words. Hebrews 3:7 pointedly introduces Psalm 95 by saying, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says.”
As Hebrews 4:12-13 continues, the attributes it describes look increasingly like the attributes of Jesus as the “word of God”.
“Sharper than any two-edged sword”
Consider how Jesus is repeatedly described: Rev. 1:16, “In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” Rev. 19:11-15,
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True… He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.”
These references echo the Old Testament images of the Divine Angel of the Lord (Joshua 5:13, Num. 22:23, 1 Chron. 21:16), as well as Isaiah’s Servant (Isaiah 49:1-2).
“Discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”
How do swords “discern”? For that matter, how does “the word” discern’? Who is it who discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart? In fact, this is an activity of God. Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind” (Cf. Psalm 94:11, 139:23, Jer. 20:12; 1 Chron. 28:9, 1 Sam.16:7). Jesus says in Revelation 2:23, “I am he who searches mind and heart.” The prophet Simeon said of Jesus, in Luke 2:34-35, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
“No creature is hidden from his sight”
Did you notice how the subject changes? Suddenly, v.13 starts talking about a “him”, because it’s been talking about a “him” all along. You cannot separate God from his word.
“All are naked and exposed to the eyes of him.”
Interestingly, in Revelation 5:6, Jesus is described as having many eyes:
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”
The imagery is taken directly from Zechariah 4:8-14,
“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you… These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.”
Did you catch the weirdness of the language there? The “word of the Lord” came to Zechariah, but then that “word” says, “You will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.” What “word” is speaking? Then the word explains that there are seven “eyes” that see everything, which Revelation then connects with the Lamb.
Some scholars have argued adamantly that when Hebrews 4:12 talks about “the word of God”, it only refers to Scripture and can’t be referring to Jesus as the “word of God.” But these scholars have forgotten that Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians, likely Levite Christians. And intertestamental Jewish literature is full of speculation about the “word” of God (דָּבָר—Hebrew; מימרא—Aramaic; λόγος—Greek). Sometimes, the “word” was seen as a hypostatic-manifestation of God himself and as a title for the Divine Angel of the Lord.
Consider this passage from the intertestamental, apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, referring to the Angel of the Lord at the Exodus:
“Your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth” (18:15-16).
Similar things can be seen throughout Jewish literature. The Jews were very familiar with the idea of the “word of God” as a personal manifestation of God in his Divine Angel, sent from “the LORD of hosts” (as we saw in Zech. 4:9).
Because of this intertestamental Jewish tradition, John Owen, who was very familiar with the rabbinic writings, defends seeing Hebrews 4:12-13 as an explicit reference to Jesus:
“In writing this epistle to the Hebrews, our apostle accommodates himself to the apprehensions and expressions that were then in use among the Hebrews… Now at this time there was nothing more common or usual, among the Hebrews, than to denote the second subsistence in the Deity by the name of “The Word of God”. They were now divided into two great parts; first, the inhabitants of Canaan, with the regions adjoining, and many old remnants in the east, who used the Syro-chaldean language, being but one dialect of the Hebrew; and, secondly, the dispersions under the Greek empire, who are commonly called Hellenists, who used the Greek tongue. And both these sorts at that time did usually, in their several languages, describe the second person in the Trinity by the name of ‘The Word of God.’ For the former sort, or those who used the Syro-chaldean dialect, we have an eminent proof of it in the translation of the Scripture which, at least some part of it, was made about this time amongst them, commonly called the Chaldee Paraphrase; in the whole whereof the second person is mentioned under the name of מימרא דיי, “Memra da-Iova,” or the “Word of God”… And for the Hellenists, who wrote and expressed themselves in the Greek tongue, they used the name of ὁ Λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ, the “Word of God,” to the same purpose; as I have elsewhere manifested out of the writings of Philo, who lived about this time, between the death of our Saviour and the destruction of Jerusalem.”
Owen concludes, “It is Christ himself who makes the word powerful and sharp: the principal efficiency is in himself, acting in and with it. That then which is here intended [Heb.4:12], is the spiritual, almighty, penetrating efficacy of the Lord Christ, in his dealing with the souls and consciences of men by his word and Spirit… the same person all along is intended.”
The 18th century Baptist, John Gill agrees,
“This is to be understood of Christ, the essential Word of God; for the Word of God was a known name of the Messiah among the Jews… Therefore the apostle makes use of it when writing to them: and the words are introduced as a reason why care should be taken, that men fall not off from the Gospel, because Christ, the author, sum, and substance of it, is the living God, omnipotent and omniscient; for not a thing, but a person is spoken of, who is a Judge, and a critical discerner of the secrets of men’s hearts: and certain it is, that this Word is spoken of as a person, and is said to be a priest in the following verses; to which may be added, that the several things said of the Word exactly agree with Christ.”
In conclusion, we have seen that Hebrews presents the Bible as God’s powerful Word, but it immediately blurs the distinction between the Bible and God, even the Bible as “the word” and Jesus as “the Word”. There is a Person behind all the ‘words’ of the Bible, who is himself ‘the Word’. They are essentially his ‘words’. To not believe and receive the Bible is not to believe and receive him.
As DeYoung says,
“God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate.”
Matt Foreman is the pastor of Faith Reformed Baptist Church in Media, PA. Matt is a graduate of Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He previously served as the Founding Chairman of the Reformed Baptist Network, is the secretary for the RBN Missions Committee, and is a lecturer in Practical Theology at Reformed Baptist Seminary. Matt also writes music for worship; some of which can be found at ekklesiahymns.org.
"Bavinck on Speech Acts and the Power of God's Word" by Bruce Baugus
"8 Properties of Scripture (by Mastricht)" by Ryan McGraw
The Word: Above All Earthly Powers, with R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, D.A. Carson, Philip Ryken, and Mark Dever
 Kevin DeYoung. Taking God At His Word. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014) p.119
 Cf. Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” Harvard Theological Review 94:3 (2001): 243-84. John Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010).
 See Matt Foreman and Doug Van Dorn. The Angel of the Lord: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Study. (Dacona, CO: Waters of Creation Publishing, 2020).
 Owen, p. 359.
 Gill, J. (1809). An Exposition of the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 396). London: Mathews and Leigh. In fact, this Christocentric interpretation of Hebrews 4:12-13 was the almost unanimous consensus in the early church fathers. Numerous quotes could be given.
 DeYoung, p.119.