In Hebrews 4:12 the word of God is told to be a two-edged sword:

Does this indicate the bad consequences the word of God (which according to revelation 19:13 might be Jesus Christ) has to those who don‘t believe in it, i.e. according to revelation the second death?

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A double-edged sword was sharpened on both edges of the blade, so that both were lethal. It doesn't mean that the sword had two blades, with one of them facing the user, but that neither of its edges was blunt.

The modern meaning of the idiom "double-edged sword" as lethal to the one wielding it is not applicable in any of the places where the phrase appears in the Old or New Testament (Judges 3:16, Psalms 149:6, Revelation 1:16), so I don't think the comparison of the word of God to a double-edged sword was meant to evoke the idea of good and bad consequences.

Looking at the metaphor in context, the verse seems to give a series of two characterizations of the word of God:

Indeed, the word of God is (1) living and (2) active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides (1) soul from spirit, (2) joints from marrow; it is able to judge the (1) thoughts and (2) intentions of the heart. (NRSV)

Apart from the obvious metaphor of sharpness, I think that what is emphasized by the comparison to a two-edged sword is duality: the word of God is two things, it divides two things, it judges two things.


First something about the Greek words involved here. There is a regular play on words occurring in the Greek that cannot be translated: The term for double edged is "distomos" = literally "two mouths". Hence the pun in places like Rev 1:16, 2:12, 19:15 where a two-mouthed sword comes from the mouth of Jesus.

The word for "sword" is different in Heb 4:12 (machaira = short sword of dagger) from the sword in Rev 1:16, 2:12, 16, 19:15, 21 (rhomphaia = large sword of doubtful identification but often thought to be a large Thracian sword?). This may be an allusion to Ps 149:6 with the same phrase, "double-edged (phomphaia) sword" and mouth. Hence, linguistically, the sword in Hebrews and that of Revelation is not directly comparable unless we can make the two words above close synonyms.

In any case, the sword of Heb 4:12 appears to be the same metaphor as used in other places from which we deduce the following.

  • The sharp sword is a metaphor of the Word of God (Heb 4;12) used for dividing, that the fundamental meaning of decision and making a distinction between very close things. That is discernment of spiritual and enternal truth.
  • The sword is a metaphor of a judge (Rom 13:4) for enforcing legal decisions
  • The sharp sword is a metaphor of the Spirit (Eph 6:17) for "probing the conscience and subduing impulses to sin" (W E Vine expository Dictionary of NT Words)

Overall, the "machaira" type sword is used as a metaphor for spiritual discernment and enforcing legal decisions.

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