Sharp as a Two-Edged Sword
(D&C 6, 11-12, 14)
John A. Tvedtnes
“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” (Hebrews 4:12).
Hebrews 4:12 is among several biblical passages cited in revelations Joseph Smith received for individuals who had come to believe in his calling, even before the Church was organized. It is paraphrased in D&C 6:2; 11:2; 12:2; and 14:2; and is quoted with a minor change in word order in D&C 33:1. In all but the latter, the Lord adds, “therefore give heed unto my word[s].”
The symbolism of the two-edged sword as the word of the Lord is made clear in Revelation 1:16, where the apostle John described Christ, saying that “out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword” (see also Revelation 19:15, 21). Elsewhere, it is a rod that comes out of the Lord’s mouth and by which he punishes the wicked (Isaiah 11:4, quoted in 2 Nephi 21:4; 30:9). It is undoubtedly for this reason that Revelation 19:15 says that “out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.”[i] From Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, we learn that, like the sword, the rod of iron is “the word of God” (1 Nephi 11:25; 15:23-24).[ii] In Revelation 2:16, the Lord admonishes “Repent; or else will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” D&C 19:15, which delivers the same message (“repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth”), substitutes “rod” for “sword.”
But why do some of these passages specify a two-edged sword, which is the source of the expression “It cuts both ways”? Perhaps it is because the word of God, like a sword, can be used in two different ways, as an offensive weapon that can wound or kill or as a defensive weapon to ward off blows from the enemy. If we ignore the word of God, it can destroy us, while if we obey his word, it can save us. For this reason, the Lord counsels us to take up “the sword of my Spirit, which I will pour out upon you, and my word which I reveal unto you” (D&C 27:18). The passage paraphrases Ephesians 6:17, which advises taking “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Both scriptures remind us that the word of God comes through the Spirit, to both prophets and others who need divine guidance. Regarding the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord has commanded,
“Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen.” (D&C 1:37-39)
[i] Cf. Revelation 12:5. Revelation 2:27 also mentions the rod of iron, citing Psalm 2:9.
[ii] For a detailed discussion, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Rod and Sword as the Word of God,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (Fall 1996). The article was republished in John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 1999) and is available on the web site of BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.