The Meaning of Hebrews 4:12 Explained

Hebrews 4:12

KJV: 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.

YLT: for the reckoning of God is living, and working, and sharp above every two-edged sword, and piercing unto the dividing asunder both of soul and spirit, of joints also and marrow, and a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart;

Darby: For the word of God is living and operative, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

ASV: For the word 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.

Discover Hebrews 4:12

What does Hebrews 4:12 Mean?

Verse Meaning

After we die, or experience the Rapture, God will do a spiritual postmortem on us at the judgment seat of Christ ( Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He will examine our innermost attitudes and motives. The "scalpel" He will use is His Word. The Word of God is "living" because it is the word of the living God ( Hebrews 3:12), and it is "active" (energetic, powerful). The sword in view (Gr. machairan) was originally a small one like a boning knife that cooks used to cut up meat. In its double-edged form it was a symbol of judges and magistrates in the Roman world. It illustrated the power of those officials to turn both ways to get to the bottom of a case. However it is possible that by the time Hebrews was written machaira (sword) had come to mean a sword of any size, long or short. [1] The Word of God can express and distinguish what is "soulish" (natural) and what is spiritual in our motivation and actions. It can do so even when those elements are as close to each other as our joints and marrow. It is even able to expose our thoughts and attitudes (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5).
"What the author is saying is that God"s Word can reach to the innermost recesses of our being. We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything, for there are no secrets hidden from God. We cannot keep our thoughts to ourselves." [2]
Many Christians use this verse to show that God will judge unbelievers with His piercing Word, but in the context it refers to God judging believers to determine rewards ( 1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Context Summary

Hebrews 4:11-16 - Entered By Faith And Prayer
There is no escape for disobedience and unbelief, because we have to do with the omniscience of God. The conception of Hebrews 4:12-13 is of a victim appointed for sacrifice and thrown upon its back, that the keen edge of the knife may do its work more readily. The divine scrutiny is still sharper. There is so much of the soul in what we do, that is, of our opinions and activities. God distinguishes between these and those promptings of His Spirit which are really important and influential. Only what is born of the Spirit will stand the test of eternity!
Shall we not fail in that scrutiny? Will he not detect in us that evil heart of unbelief? We need not fear; because our High Priest has passed the veil that hides the invisible and eternal and has entered the divine presence. "Mercy and grace to help in time of need!" These will meet our supreme needs-mercy for our sins, grace for our helplessness and frailty. [source]

Chapter Summary: Hebrews 4

1  The Sabbath-Rest for Christians is attained by faith
12  The power of God's word
14  By our high priest Jesus, the Son of God,
16  we may and must go boldly to the throne of grace

Greek Commentary for Hebrews 4:12

The word of God [ο λογος του τεου]
That just quoted about the promise of rest and God‘s rest, but true of any real word of God. Living Cf. the Living God (Hebrews 3:12). In Philo and the Book of Wisdom the Logos of God is personified, but still more in John 1:1-18 where Jesus is pictured as the Logos on a par with God. “Our author is using Philonic language rather than Philonic ideas” (Moffatt). See John 6:63: “The words which I have spoken are spirit and are life.” Active Energetic, powerful (John 1:12; Philemon 3:21; Colossians 1:29). Sharper Comparative of τομος — tomos cutting (from τεμνω — temnō to cut), late adjective, here only in the N.T. Than Often so after a comparative (Luke 16:8; 2 Corinthians 12:13). Two-edged “Two-mouthed” Present middle participle of αχρι μερισμου — diikneomai old verb to go through, here only in N.T. Even to the dividing Old word from μερος — merizō As in 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 15:45, but not an argument for trichotomy. Psychology is constantly changing its terminology. Of both joints and marrow From αρμος — arō to join, comes Μυελος — harmos old word, here only in the N.T. μυω — Muelos (from κριτικος — muō to shut), old word, here only in N.T. This surgeon goes into and through the joints and marrow, not cleaving between them. Quick to discern Verbal adjective in -κρινω — ikos from εντυμησεων και εννοιων καρδιας — krinō skilled in judging, as the surgeon has to be and able to decide on the instant what to do. So God‘s word like his eye sees the secret lurking doubt and unbelief “of the thoughts and intents of the heart” The surgeon carries a bright and powerful light for every dark crevice and a sharp knife for the removal of all the pus revealed by the light. It is a powerful picture here drawn. [source]
[]
d The exhortation is enforced by reference to the character of the revelation which sets forth the rest of God. The message of God which promises the rest and urges to seek it, is no dead, formal precept, but is instinct with living energy. [source]
Lit. coming through . N.T.o Even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow [ἄρχι μερισμοῦ ψυχῆς καὶ πνεύματος ἁρμῶν τε καὶ μυελῶν]
Μερισμὸς dividingonly here and Hebrews 2:4, is not to be understood of dividing soul from spirit or joints from marrow. Soul and spirit cannot be said to be separated in any such sense as this, and joints and marrow are not in contact with each other. Μερισμὸς is the act of division; not the point or line of division. Joints and marrow are not to be taken in a literal and material sense. In rendering, construe soul, spirit, joints, marrow, as all dependent on dividing. Joints and marrow ( ἁρμῶν, μυελῶν, N.T.o) are to be taken figuratively as joints and marrow of soul and spirit. This figurative sense is exemplified in classical usage, as Eurip. Hippol. 255, “to form moderate friendships, and not πρὸς ἄρκον μυελὸν ψυχῆς to the deep marrow of the soul.” The conception of depth applied to the soul is on the same figurative line. See Aesch. Agam. 778; Eurip. Bacch. 203. Attempts to explain on any psychological basis are futile. The form of expression is poetical, and signifies that the word penetrates to the inmost recesses of our spiritual being as a sword cuts through the joints and marrow of the body. The separation is not of one part from another, but operates in each department of the spiritual nature. The expression is expanded and defined by the next clause. [source]
The word of God [ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ]
That which God speaks through any medium. The primary reference is to God's declarations concerning his rest. The fathers explained it of the personal Word as in the Fourth Gospel. But in the Epistle there is no approach to any definite use of λόγος with reference to Christ, not even in the description of his relation to God in Hebrews 1:1-14, where, if anywhere, it might have been expected. In Hebrews 6:5and Hebrews 11:3we find ῥῆμα . Everywhere in the Epistle Christ appears as the Son, not as the Word. In this passage, the following predicates, ἐνεργὴς, τομώτερος, κριτικὸς , would hardly be applied to the Logos, and in Hebrews 4:14he is styled Jesus the Son of God. [source]
Quick and powerful [ζῶν καὶ ἐνεργὴς]
Note the emphatic position of ζῶν livingLiving is the word of God, since it is the word of “the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Living in its essence. For ἐνεργὴς activeenergizing, and kindred words, see on John 1:12; see on Philemon 3:21; see on Colossians 1:29; see on Philemon 1:6. Manifesting itself actively in the world and in men's hearts. Comp. 1 Peter 1:23. [source]
Sharper than any two-edged sword [τομώτερος ὑπὲρ πᾶσαν μάχαιραν δίστομον]
Τομώτερος sharperfrom τέμνειν tocut, N.T.oolxx. The word of God has an incisive and penetrating quality. It lays bare self-delusions and moral sophisms. For the comparison of the word of God or of men to a sword, see Psalm 57:4; Psalm 59:7; Psalm 64:3; Ephesians 6:17. Philo calls his Logos ὁ τομεύς thecutter, as cutting chaos into distinct things, and so creating a kosmos. Ὑπὲρ thanis literally, above. Πᾶσαν anyis every. Δίσμοτον only here and Revelation 1:16; Revelation 2:12, lit. two-mouthed. In lxx always of a sword. See Judges 3:16; Psalm 149:6; Proverbs 5:4; Colossians 900); of rivers with two mouths (Polyb. xxxiv. 10,5). Στόμα mouthof the edge of a sword, Luke href="/desk/?q=lu+21:24&sr=1">Luke 21:24; Hebrews 11:34. Often in lxx, as Genesis 34:26; Joshua 10:28, Joshua 10:33, Joshua 10:35, Joshua 10:37, Joshua 10:39; Judges 1:8. So occasionally in Class., as Homer, Il. xv. 389. Κατεσθίειν or κατέσθειν todevour is used of the sword, Deuteronomy 32:42; 2 Samuel 2:26; Isaiah 31:8; Jeremiah 2:30, etc. Μάχαιρα swordin Class. a dirk or dagger: rarely, a carving knife; later, a bent sword or sabre as contrasted with a straight, thrusting sword, ξίφος (not in N.T. but occasionally in lxx). Ῥομφαία , Luke 2:35(see note), elsewhere only in Revelation, very often in lxx, is a large broadsword. In lxx of Goliath's sword, 1 Samuel 17:51 [source]
Piercing [διΐκνούμενος]
Lit. coming through. N.T.oEven to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow ( ἄρχι μερισμοῦ ψυχῆς καὶ πνεύματος ἁρμῶν τε καὶ μυελῶν ) Μερισμὸς dividingonly here and Hebrews 2:4, is not to be understood of dividing soul from spirit or joints from marrow. Soul and spirit cannot be said to be separated in any such sense as this, and joints and marrow are not in contact with each other. Μερισμὸς is the act of division; not the point or line of division. Joints and marrow are not to be taken in a literal and material sense. In rendering, construe soul, spirit, joints, marrow, as all dependent on dividing. Joints and marrow ( ἁρμῶν, μυελῶν, N.T.o) are to be taken figuratively as joints and marrow of soul and spirit. This figurative sense is exemplified in classical usage, as Eurip. Hippol. 255, “to form moderate friendships, and not πρὸς ἄρκον μυελὸν ψυχῆς to the deep marrow of the soul.” The conception of depth applied to the soul is on the same figurative line. See Aesch. Agam. 778; Eurip. Bacch. 203. Attempts to explain on any psychological basis are futile. The form of expression is poetical, and signifies that the word penetrates to the inmost recesses of our spiritual being as a sword cuts through the joints and marrow of the body. The separation is not of one part from another, but operates in each department of the spiritual nature. The expression is expanded and defined by the next clause. [source]
A discerner [κριτικὸς]
N.T.oolxx. The word carries on the thought of dividing. From κρίνειν todivide or separate, which runs into the sense of judge, the usual meaning in N.T., judgment involving the sifting out and analysis of evidence. In κριτικὸς the ideas of discrimination and judgment are blended. Vulg. discretor. [source]
Of the thoughts and intents of the heart [ἐνθυμήσεων καὶ ἐννοιῶν καρδίας]
The A.V. is loose and inaccurate. Ἐνθύμησις rare in N.T. See Matthew 9:4; Acts 17:29. Comp. ἐνθυμεῖσθαι , Matthew 1:20; Matthew 9:4. In every instance, both of the noun and of the verb, the sense is pondering or thinking out. Rend. the reflections. Ἔννοια only here and 1 Peter 4:1. It is the definite conception which follows ἐνθύμησις Rend. conceptions. [source]

What do the individual words in Hebrews 4:12 mean?

Living [is] for the word - of God and active sharper than any sword two-edged even penetrating as far as [the] division of soul spirit of joints and also marrows able to judge [the] thoughts intentions of [the] heart
Ζῶν γὰρ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ ἐνεργὴς τομώτερος ὑπὲρ πᾶσαν μάχαιραν δίστομον καὶ διϊκνούμενος ἄχρι μερισμοῦ ψυχῆς πνεύματος ἁρμῶν τε καὶ μυελῶν κριτικὸς ἐνθυμήσεων ἐννοιῶν καρδίας

Ζῶν  Living  [is] 
Parse: Verb, Present Participle Active, Nominative Masculine Singular
Root: ζάω  
Sense: to live, breathe, be among the living (not lifeless, not dead).
λόγος  word 
Parse: Noun, Nominative Masculine Singular
Root: λόγος  
Sense: of speech.
τοῦ  - 
Parse: Article, Genitive Masculine Singular
Root:  
Sense: this, that, these, etc.
Θεοῦ  of  God 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Masculine Singular
Root: θεός  
Sense: a god or goddess, a general name of deities or divinities.
ἐνεργὴς  active 
Parse: Adjective, Nominative Masculine Singular
Root: ἐναργής 
Sense: active.
τομώτερος  sharper 
Parse: Adjective, Nominative Masculine Singular, Comparative
Root: τομός  
Sense: sharper.
ὑπὲρ  than 
Parse: Preposition
Root: ὑπέρ 
Sense: in behalf of, for the sake of.
πᾶσαν  any 
Parse: Adjective, Accusative Feminine Singular
Root: πᾶς  
Sense: individually.
μάχαιραν  sword 
Parse: Noun, Accusative Feminine Singular
Root: μάχαιρα  
Sense: a large knife, used for killing animals and cutting up flesh.
δίστομον  two-edged 
Parse: Adjective, Accusative Feminine Singular
Root: δίστομος  
Sense: having a double mouth as a river.
καὶ  even 
Parse: Conjunction
Root: καί  
Sense: and, also, even, indeed, but.
διϊκνούμενος  penetrating 
Parse: Verb, Present Participle Middle or Passive, Nominative Masculine Singular
Root: διϊκνέομαι  
Sense: to go through, penetrate, pierce.
ἄχρι  as  far  as 
Parse: Preposition
Root: ἄχρι  
Sense: until, unto, etc.
μερισμοῦ  [the]  division 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Masculine Singular
Root: μερισμός  
Sense: a division, partition.
ψυχῆς  of  soul 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Feminine Singular
Root: ψυχή  
Sense: breath.
πνεύματος  spirit 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Neuter Singular
Root: πνεῦμα  
Sense: a movement of air (a gentle blast.
ἁρμῶν  of  joints 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Masculine Plural
Root: ἁρμός  
Sense: a joining, a joint.
καὶ  also 
Parse: Conjunction
Root: καί  
Sense: and, also, even, indeed, but.
μυελῶν  marrows 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Masculine Plural
Root: μυελός  
Sense: marrow.
κριτικὸς  able  to  judge 
Parse: Adjective, Nominative Masculine Singular
Root: κριτικός  
Sense: relating to judging, fit for judging, skilled in judging.
ἐνθυμήσεων  [the]  thoughts 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Feminine Plural
Root: ἐνθύμησις  
Sense: a thinking, consideration.
ἐννοιῶν  intentions 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Feminine Plural
Root: ἔννοια  
Sense: the act of thinking, consideration, meditation.
καρδίας  of  [the]  heart 
Parse: Noun, Genitive Feminine Singular
Root: καρδία  
Sense: the heart.

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