Hebrews 4:12 (KJV)

12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

I commonly hear people say that the "word of God" in this verse is the Bible/doctrine/gospel. But that doesn't make much sense for two reasons:

  1. The verses before and after are talking about Christ
  2. I don't know of anywhere else that says the word can discern thoughts

But at the same time, its hard to me to accept that its talking about Christ because I'm not familiar with any other places in the Bible that use similar language when talking about Christ (besides Him being called the Word). And notice "word" is not capitalized.

So who/what is Hewbrews 4:12 referring to?

  • 6
    I'd like to note quickly that capitalization is purely a translation and editorial decision. The original Greek was written in ALL-CAPs (and sans spaces or punctuation). So don't read too much into capitalization of words in English translations. Commented Oct 23, 2011 at 3:53

4 Answers 4


The λογος του θεου (word of God) here is probably referring to the message that was spoken. While at this place in the letter it could possibly be ambiguous, in 13:7 it's difficult to see how the same phrase could be understood as referring to Christ. That said, one of the major themes of Hebrews is the close relationship between God and his word, such that the difference virtually disappears in some places.

In addressing the first issue you bring up, let's look at the immediate context of the statement in 4:12. 4:1 sets the context for this entire section and calls back to 2:1-3 where the writer says, "We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard." In 4:1-2, he now draws attention to the promise of rest that has been spoken. In doing so he makes a comparison to the Israelites under Joshua. They too heard a message, but the author points out it had no value to them.

In contrast, the author wants his hearers to receive the promise of rest with faith, and so he reminds his listeners of what was spoken through David: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." When in verse 12, then, when the author reminds his listeners that the word of God judges the attitudes of the heart, we see how: for the Israelites, their hearts were judged and shown hard because they did not receive the promise of rest with faith. The entire context, then, of two groups receiving a message points to understanding the phrase "word of God" as the message spoken by the prophets but "in these last days" "by his Son".

Second, you bring up the odd description of the word of God. Hebrews is very unique in the way it treats the Scriptures. In most of the New Testament - especially in Paul's letters - whenever someone quotes the Scriptures, they use "It is written" or some variant. In Hebrews, though, the Scriptures are always referred to as "spoken" in some sense when they are quoted. The word of God is very active/performative in Hebrews: it sustains the world (1:3), it sets up a priesthood (7:21), it will shake the world (12:25-27). It's not surprising, therefore, for the author in this letter to describe God's word as living and active, dividing soul and spirit, judging thoughts and the heart.


Your instincts would be considered correct in Sensus Plenior.

He sustains the world (1:3), He sets up a priesthood (7:21), He will shake the world (12:25-27).

Since Christ is the Righteous judge, He will be the one to discern between the passing thoughts and the intent of the heart.

Before the incarnation he was still the Word. The Hebrew word Torah is a nice one since it means "the complete revelation of God" and is not particular about the form. When we say that he is the Torah on earth and in heaven, distinctions of method of communication disappear.

Though at first glance it may appear that Heb 13:7 doesn't fit, an English translation is difficult there. See how v8 just dangles. I think a case can be made that v 8 is attached as " word of God (Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.)". Paul is notorious for extremely long run-on sentences which are sometimes ambiguous to parse. (Sensus Plenior appears to confirm Paul as the source)

Other places which refer to him as the word are those which refer to him as the bread or the water, since each of those refer to him as the word as well.

Side note: If John spoke Hebrew or Aramaic he may have said "Behold the אמר of God", which could have been heard as 'word' or 'lamb'.

  • Christ cannot be the actor in 7:21 without contradicting 5:4-5 that shows that Christ did not set himself up as priest.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Oct 24, 2011 at 18:29
  • @Soldarnal The context of 5.1 is " For every high priest taken from among men " Jesus did not make himself a priest in the flesh. Only in resurrection was he made a high priest. By the one who said, "The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)" Now in order for there to be a contradiction, one must say that God didn't say it, or Christ is not God. Furthermore, the law of non-contradiction does not apply ...
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 0:13
  • Jesus is the unbegotten only son, the only begotten son and the usurping second son, all without contradiction.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 0:13

Before proceeding I recommend the reader consider this discussion on the b-greek forum because to my mind (and apparently to Erasmus' mind) the word LOGOS is almost universally translated into English as "word" (and in Latin as "verbum") when in reality the context and the language dictate that what is in view is the "utterance" of God.

Unfortunately "utterance" sounds too much like a cow part for English speakers and doesn't quite roll off the tongue with elegance. But it much better reflects the sense. In fact, I think if you look at the verbal form of LOGOS (IE: LEGW) it becomes much clearer. Below is a summary form of BDAG on LEGW:

① to express oneself orally or in written form, utter in words, say, tell, give expression to, the gener. sense (not in Hom., for this εἶπον, ἐν[ν]έπω, et al.)

② to express oneself in a specific way, say

③ to inform about / tell of someth., speak, report

④ to identify in a specific manner, call, name

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

So instead of "for the word of God is alive" it should read "for the utterance of God is alive" or perhaps "for the expression of God is alive".


This in turn is an allusion to this passage from Wisdom of Solomon from :

DRB Wisdom 18:

14 For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course,

15 Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction [IE: Israel, 70ad].

16 With a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment, and he stood and filled all things with death, and standing on the earth reached even to heaven.

Let's do the same with our question verses:

ASV Hebrews 4:

12 For the word [grr... "utterance" or "expression"] of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

Based on the intertextuality it is clearly the Messiah to whom the author of "To the Hebrews" refers. And he says as much in the first few verses of chapter 1.

  • Yes, it's a good point that in English "word of God" suggests a single word only, which is a limitation not present in Greek.
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 4:11

The word logos in Hebrews 4: 12 is derived from the philosophies of Philo of Alexandria that besides the better known meanings (Son of God, link between man and God,essence of all 'ideas' etc) also used logos from a scriptural point to mean the force emanating from God to order the universe.

  • 1
    OK, but can you help us understand why you think this, or where you got the idea from? Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 18:19
  • The author of Hebrews and all the educated Hellenist Jews talked in the language of Philo even if they did not agree with him about everything he said. We can only understand their language on their terms. The idea of logos as a 'force' that control the universe is far older than Philo though. Thismeaning makes perfect sense in the context and it is the simplist. Judge for yourselves. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 17:21
  • @Gideon marx can you give a reference in support of the statement that Hellenistic Jews talked in the language of Philo? Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 13:28
  • @RevelationLad The language of the time and its understanding in their milieu. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 15:03
  • I understand. I am curious if there is a reference you got it from or if it is a conclusion you reach from your own analysis. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 20:08

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