Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
October 10th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Is Hebrews 4.12-16 Christological?

English: Fountain Street Church organ, Grand R...

English: Fountain Street Church organ, Grand Rapids, Mi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The word of God.”

That is a title we often use for Scripture and as such, it seems that this is the intent of Hebrews 4.12-13. The message of God. The Law. The Gospel. Something dealing with God’s utterance. I hear that interpretations to the contrary are largely abandoned.

The christological explanation has been generally abandoned since Calvin, even by A. T. Hanson 1965, who interprets the previous passage christologically. If the word of God were intended to mean Christ, one would not expect him to be compared with an inanimate object such as a weapon.1

What sayeth ye? Read Hebrews 4.12-13.

Now read Hebrews 4.12-16 as a whole. This is from the REB:

The word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing so deeply that it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it discriminates among the purposes and thoughts of the heart. Nothing in creation can hide from him; everything lies bare and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render account.

Since therefore we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to the faith we profess. Ours is not a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in every way as we are, only without sinning. Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to give us timely help.

Now, back to the notion that since the passage compares the Logos of God to a weapon, it couldn’t mean Christ…

Hebrews is Alexandrian. Most scholars acknowledge this, seeing in Hebrews the connection to Philo, etc… (and Plato).

Which brings me to a sufficiently Alexandrian Jewish book, the Wisdom of Solomon,

All things were lying in peace and silence, and night in her swift course was half spent, when your all-powerful word leapt from your royal throne in heaven into the midst of that doomed land like a relentless warrior, bearing the sharp sword of your inflexible decree; with his head touching the heavens and his feet on earth he stood and spread death everywhere. (Wis 18:14–16.)

By the way, word/Logos here is connected to the whole realm and refrain of the Wisdom of God, a personified attribute of God.

But we also have Revelation,

Out of his mouth came a sharp sword to smite the nations; for it is he who will rule them with a rod of iron, and tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God the sovereign Lord. (Rev. 19:15.)

My contention, then, is that Jesus is meant here in Hebrews 4.12-16. The Word of God is Jesus, who is the final revelation of God the Father (Hebrews 1.1-3)

  1.  Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 261.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

10 Responses to “Is Hebrews 4.12-16 Christological?”
  1. I don’t know if you’re right, but it’s an interesting argument. Good job…

  2. Interesting possibilities, Joel. I think the thing that makes me doubt this is the way in which this follows an extended exposition of the importance of hearing God’s voice, and whether the “word” refers back to the “voice”.

    • Doug, I think that’s a good point — but Hebrews begins with the notion that we are now to hear God’s voice via His Son.

      • I guess one question there would be whether this is an example of “speaking to us by his Son” or speaking to his Son. And some of that would also depend on how we translate the pros of 1:8 and elsewhere. “To” or “about”. I think the former makes better sense of the argument.

  3. Most have abandoned the idea that Hebrews and Philo are closely related, especially since Williamson’s work on the subject. Spicq’s 2 vol. work offers possibly the most detailed argument for seeing Philo and Hebrews in the same light, but he was masterfully wrong.

    Also, I tend to read 4.16ff in two ways: picking up and continuing what was started in 2.16 as well as a the beginning of a new section in Hebrews (see 10.19ff where the section ends).

    • I think they are related via common sources — so, both knew Plato. Both were somewhat Alexandian. Both were Jewish. I’m ready to abandon Philo’s window into early Christology just yet.

      • If you get the chance, read Spicq’s chapter on Philoisms in vol. 1 of his commentary. You will certainly find it interesting.

        I would agree with you on one point: both are Jewish. I do think it is a fanciful stretch to say that the author of Hebrews knew Plato, even if it is indirectly via Philo. I understand the allure towards Philo, but I am not as convinced as you that his writings lurk in the pages of Hebrews.

        Cliff

  4. Oxford NRSV commentary, “Verse 13: The Greek word translated “account” is “logos,” the same word translated as “word” in v.12.”

    Clearly “logos” is the same as in John 1:1. Jesus. How could it be interpreted any other way than a christological explanation?

    What is the alternative?

    The blog post starts…
    ““The word of God.”
    That is a title we often use for Scripture and as such, it seems that this is the intent of Hebrews 4.12-13. The message of God. The Law…”

    Except “The Law” has always been interpreted to mean Moses’ law. So, we need to be circumcised? No bacon? The whole Hebrew thing is to deviate from the law. What exactly is implied as the alternative? Since I am rather dense, please explain. If Logos is Jesus, I can only assume that the alternative is that the word of God is the bible…which is totally ridiculous, since it didn’t exist before time (John 1:1).

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