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What is the living Word?

living Word

According to Hebrews 4:12, “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The “word of God” here is the written or spoken Word. The ESV says that the Bible is “living” and active.

Some who read Hebrews 4:12 compare it to John 1:1 and conclude that the “word” referenced by the author of Hebrews is Jesus. It’s true that the same Greek word (logos) is used in both passages, but in the context of Hebrews 4, it is probably a general reference to all that God has said (and subsequently written down). The passage uses personification, to be sure, but the focus is on the written Word and the attendant divine power it has to judge. If we assume that the Word is Christ in this passage, we have the awkward comparison of Him to a “sword,” a metaphor used nowhere else in the Bible. Therefore, it more likely that the Word in Hebrews 4:12 is the written Word, not Christ.

The description of the Bible as “living” means that it has a vital power inherent to itself. The written Word of God accomplishes God’s purposes (see Isaiah 55:11). In the context of Hebrews 4, it is the power to accomplish God’s judgment. The previous verse warns those who would disobey God’s Word (verse 11), and the following verse speaks of giving an account to the God who sees all (verse 13).

The Bible is unlike other books, whatever emotional or social effects they may produce, in that it brings about lasting, supernatural change within a person. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Jesus likened the Word of God to seed in His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–23). Seed, like the Bible, is not dead, but living, and it has the ability to bring forth more life in abundance. Seeds produce a crop (verse 23).

The Bible, as the living Word of God, is not inert or powerless, as seen in the actions attributed to the Word in Hebrews 4:12: the Bible “penetrates” deep within us and “judges” our hearts and motivations. It is “active,” not passive. The Bible is resisted or ignored to our own peril (Hebrews 2:1–3).

We see the living Word of God in action in the pages of the Bible. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached the Word of God, and his audience “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Three thousand people were saved that day (verse 41). Later, as the apostles continued to preach, the number in the church grew to five thousand, because “many of those who had heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4, ESV). God’s Word, living and active, does not return to Him void.

The Bible is the living Word of God because it is the message given to us from the “living God” (Hebrews 3:12). The God who is alive works in this world through His Word in conjunction with the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 6:17). Jesus spoke of the life-giving property of His words: “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). The word of our Lord is efficacious for our salvation and sanctification (Acts 13:48; John 17:17).

Other indications that the Word of God is alive include the facts that it sustains man (Luke 4:4), it brings faith (Romans 10:17), it has freedom to accomplish God’s will (2 Timothy 2:9), it can be maligned (Titus 2:5), it gives spiritual birth (1 Peter 1:23), and it abides within believers (1 John 2:14).

We see the living Word of God in action every time a sinner repents and turns to Christ for eternal life. The believer’s changed life bears testimony to the living, active power of the Bible. Commentator Matthew Henry wrote of the Bible that it “convinces powerfully, converts powerfully, and comforts powerfully. It makes a soul that has long been proud, to be humble; and a perverse spirit, to be meek and obedient. Sinful habits, that have become as it were natural to the soul, and rooted deeply in it, are separated and cut off by this sword. It will discover to men their thoughts and purposes, the vileness of many, the bad principles they are moved by, the sinful ends they act to” (Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hebrews 4:11–16).

The living Word is active in the lives of those who receive it. According to the psalmist, the person who meditates on and delights in the Word will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:2–3). The Scriptures today are often downplayed in favor of manmade philosophies, personal experiences, or a “new” word from God. But the Bible cannot be ignored as if it were dead or obsolete. The Word of God is still powerful and very much alive. “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

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This page last updated: January 22, 2024