“Indeed, the word [Logos] of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account [Logos].”
A while back I read “On the Incarnation” by the church father Athanasius, and I stumbled upon an interesting passage written by him, “For the Son of God ‘is living and active’(Hebrews 4.12), works daily, and effects the salvation of all.” He says, “For the Son of God is living and active,” and then references Hebrews 4:12. Here I found that Athanasius from the 4th century is assuming that the “word of God” from Hebrews 4:12 is Jesus. You may be wondering why this fascinates me. Your thinking, “Gabe is probably just really nerdy so he likes to point out really small details that don’t really mean anything to the rest of us.” While that is definitely not the case, and I’ll explain why, first I want to briefly explain who this church father was.
The History of a Theological Giant
Athanasius lived during the 4th century and was immensely important for the survival of orthodoxy. When he was just a young man, before he became the Bishop of Alexandria, he accompanied the then Bishop to the council of Nicea in 325 C.E. The Council of Nicea ended up affirming orthodoxy over the Arian heresy that said Jesus was divine, but not co-eternal with the Father. In other words, Jesus was not God, and there was a time when Jesus, before the incarnation, did not exist. He was, according to this heresy, created by God the Father before the rest of creation. He was to be honored above all other creatures but was not the creator God. While orthodoxy won the day in 325, it became seriously under threat in the years to follow.
Arianism was on the rise and looked like it would ultimately defeat orthodoxy. The emperor Constantine became a supporter of Arianism just a few years after the council of Nicea (the council which he summoned in the first place). And even was baptized as an Arian on his deathbed. Athanasius after becoming the bishop of Alexandria spent the rest of his life being forced into exile by the Arians and then briefly being able to return from exile only to have to go back into exile once more. He spent his entire life fighting the Arian heresy, and died shortly before getting to see the fruit, and ultimately the success of his efforts. It may not be an overstatement to say that without the efforts of Athanasius we might all be Arian’s today!
Back to Hebrews!
Now to explain why I’m not quite as nerdy as you think, or at least why what I’m talking about is actually cool. When many Christians today, including myself growing up, hear this passage from Hebrews being read, we are told this is about the Bible. Essentially you could replace the phrase, “word of God,” from the passage with, “Indeed, the Bible is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” and it would still have the same meaning. But what’s interesting and different about how Athanasius deals with this passage is he could essentially replace the phrase, “word of God,” from the passage, and replace it with, “Indeed, Jesus Christ is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and it would still retain the same meaning to him. So this theological giant from the 4th century who ultimately defeated the heresy of Arianism, (and who by the way is the first one to come up with a list of the exact same 27 books we have in our New Testament in 367, a critical milestone in the process of canonization of our New Testament) understood the “word of God” in the Hebrews 4:12 passage as referring to Jesus not the Bible. That’s really significant if you think about how many people when asked what the “word of God” in this passage is referring too would answer by saying the Bible.
So anyway here’s why it further blew my mind
The Greek word “Logos” that we translate as word in this passage never means the Bible. It can mean a lot of things: reason, word, principles, the gospel message, but it is never really used in the New Testament to refer to the Bible, the Greek word used to refer to the Bible is Graphe. But typically Logos in the NT either refers to Jesus, or the gospel message (which is in a deep sense also Jesus, He is both the message and the proclaimer of the message). Here in this passage, I thought Athanasius was wrong, that it actually was referring to the gospel message. But the other day I was reading the passage as well as verse 13, whom everyone seems to ignore when quoting the passage; And I realized he was totally right! Verse 13 makes it pretty clear that the preceding verse is about Jesus.
(Pull out your Bible for this one kids)
“Indeed, the word [Logos] of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart, And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account [Logos].” Verse 13.
The passage says concerning this Logos that, “it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart…” If this was referring to the bible it would seem to give some sort of weird sentient qualities to the Bible. And the last time I checked the Bible wasn’t up walking around and thinking for itself. But besides that, verse 13 makes it clear that verse 12 is referring to a person, “before him,” and “to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” “Him,” and “to whom,” are referring to a person, so we know verse 12 is not talking about a book or the Bible. It also says to the one to whom we must give an account [logos]. We know from other scriptures that Jesus is the one to whom we must give an account (see Matthew 25 the parable of the sheep and goats). On top of that the words “word,” and “account,” are both the Greek word logos thus seeming to make a connection between these two subjects, that the one to whom we give account (the logos) is also the same logos spoken of in verse 12, the word of God.
So besides this post being about finding myself admitting to a 1,600-year-old dead dude that I was wrong and he was right, it’s also about the importance of historical theology, of those Christian men and women who have gone before us and whose shoulders we stand upon. We shouldn’t do our biblical interpretation or theology in a vacuum, or more accurately I should say we shouldn’t pretend as if we are doing theology and biblical interpretation in a vacuum. We’ve been gifted with a wealth of resources. 2,000 years of resources! And they guide, encourage, and sometimes correct us, all in the pursuit of being more faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.