While meeting with some friends for a Bible study Tuesday, I stumbled into an epiphany of sorts regarding the scriptures we’re walking through right now. Consider, as we did, Hebrews 4 [ESV]:

[continuing a theme from chapter 3]…Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 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.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

For as long as I can remember, I have been told and taught in church that the “word of God is living and active” refers to scripture. To insist on that being an accurate interpretation is to flatly refute the many tools of interpretive and criticial exegesis given to us. It’s also completely disrespectful to the context and authorial intent.

Plainly, I think we’ve got this one wrong.

At a glance, we see just from this excerpt of the letter, the author is not talking about scripture anywhere within the logical literary unit. Secondarily, we see that this is not a parenthetical interjection, the line in question is clearly part of the main flow of the text, either as a narratival theme or possibly a sub-narrative (‘rest’, as we have discovered for the past month and a half, is a major theme in Hebrews, linked with disobedience and sensitivity to the leading of God’s spirit. A separate conversation.)

So the writer isn’t talking about the Bible. Where else in the New Testament do we see the ‘word of God’? John’s prologue. I’ve argued elsewhere that ‘word’ doesn’t exactly fit in the prologue, either. It is clear that the ‘word’ as found in John is a metaphor for Jesus, but being that the root is logos, ‘logic’ or ‘paradigm’ is more fitting for translation than a clunky, ill-fitting ‘word’.

(For the record, I do not say that ‘logic’ means something akin to gnosticism or just getting smart as salvation. Just because I dispute the ‘word’ does not mean I deny the employment of metaphor here. ‘In the beginning was the logic, and the logic was with God and the logic was God…’ Clearly, the ‘logic’ is the spirit of Christ, as found in Jesus, the prototype of what it means for man to live in communion with God. So, no, I’m not a heretic. ‘Word’ just is a poor translation, in my opinion.)

So, what is the author of Hebrews saying? “For the ‘logic of God’ [or, ‘spirit of Christ’] 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 to the thoughts and intentions of heart.”

I approach this thought another way: many conservatives recoil at the thought of judges legislating from the bench, complaining about people who view the US Constitution as a living document. Those conservatives argue in favor of the jurisprudence of original intent, or strict originalism. Being that many people have taken a living document approach to scripture and committed heinous religious, political and cultural atrocities, shouldn’t we argue for the jurisprudence of original intent when it comes to scripture? Some people open the Bible and come to wild conclusions, others gut the content of its salvific potency, is that same Bible living and active? Or is it the spirit of Christ that brings understanding to a reader in need of rest? Perhaps the way we understand it right now needs to be reworked.

Certainly understanding this verse as the spirit of Christ brings a greater level of understanding to the text. As it was, we had a disjointed passage with an ill-fitting verse in the middle. This passage is still somewhat disjointed–the author of Hebrews is clearly someone who is less Matthew and more Mark–but it clicks now, especially with the following passage.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the [spirit of Christ] 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.

[Note the brackets: the biggest clue to the true nature of ‘word’ is the fact that the following verse has the same subject with a different pronoun. If the verse in question were indeed about scripture, the pronoun following should be an ‘it’, not a ‘he’. Context clues demand that we work with what we’re given, not with what we assume.]

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The same spirit of Christ that brings judgment upon the heart, is the same spirit that, having endured all that Jesus did, brings us atonement and reconciliation to God. Which is a powerful theological reality lost when we simply assume a verse’s meaning based on osmosis. It is a sword and a sheath, a conviction and an aquittal, a turning of the back and a warm embrace; all contingent upon the state of a person.

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