The two “swords”: An example of how I go about looking for “hidden meanings” in Biblical texts (Part 1 of 2)

In this post and the next, I will, by means of an example, explain some of the methods and techniques that I use when trying to analyze a Biblical text to discern any “hidden meanings” or “inner meanings” that it might contain.  In this post, I will focus more on the actual content of a few Bible passages, and in the next post, I will discuss some of the methods that I used in analyzing these passages and that I use generally, and call your attention to some of the aspects of the process of “decoding” that I consider to be especially important.

As an initial point, it is important to note that I do not necessarily make the assumption that it is possible to find these “inner meanings” because of any deliberate design on the part of an author.  I think that in many cases the author’s unconscious thinking was being revealed “in spite of himself,” so to speak.  At the same time, however, one should not rule out the possibility of deliberate design in any particular instance.

Let’s start by looking at Hebrews 4:12, in which the author describes the “Word of God” as a kind of “sword”:[1]

For the Word [or utterance, or message, or meaning: logos] of God is living [zaō] and active [en-ergés], and sharper [tomōteros, a comparative form of tomos] than any two-edged [or “two-mouthed”: di-stomos, derived from stoma, which can mean either “mouth” or “edge” (or “blade”)] sword [machaira], even penetrating [or piercing, or going through: di-ikneomai] so far as the dividing [or partitioning: merismos, related to meros, meaning “part”] of soul [psyché] and spirit [pneuma], of joints [harmos] and marrow [or “the inmost (part)”: myelos, derived from myō, which means “to close, to shut,” and from which is also derived the word mystérion, meaning “secret teaching, mystery”], and (it is) able to discern [or “able to judge of,” or “able to separate,” or “able to interpret”: kritikos, derived from krinō, meaning “to judge, to sift, to separate, to discern, to interpret”] the deliberations [or conceptions: enthymésis] and intentions [or ideas, or notions: ennoia] of (the) heart [kardia].[2]

Two “swords” are being compared in this passage.  One is a “two-edged”—or “two-mouthed” (di-stomos)—sword.[3]  The other is the “Word of God”; and it can be reasonably inferred from the context that this was meant to be thought of as a “one-edged” or “one-mouthed” sword:  that is, a kind of “sword” that would “speak” (or “cut,” or “discern,” or “interpret”) with only a single “voice” or “speech,” as opposed to the kind that would allow a person to “speak out of both sides of his mouth.”[4]

Moreover, it seems that the “one-mouthed sword” was meant to be seen as being more powerful than the “two-mouthed sword,” and as being able to defeat a “two-mouthed sword” in battle or combat, because of the fact that it is “sharper” (perhaps understood to mean that it is “clearer” and “more distinct”).[5]

There is also a possible implication that the “one-mouthed sword” was meant to be associated with “spirit” alone, while the “two-mouthed sword” was meant to be associated with some mixture of “soul” and “spirit” (and thus perhaps also, according to the Biblical symbolism, with a mixing together of “feminine” and “masculine” elements).[6]

It appears to me that Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:8—which would be taking advantage of the same double meanings for the words stoma and di-stomos that I believe was meant to be seen in Hebrews 4:12—is discussing the use (by “the Lord Jesus”) of this very same “sword of Spirit”:

And then the Lawless One [a-nomos] will be revealed [or unveiled, or uncovered, or unmasked, or exposed: apo-kalyptō], whom the Lord Jesus will lift away [or “lift up,” or “take away,” or “take up”; more figuratively, “kill”: an-aireō] with the breath [or wind: pneuma] [or, “with the Spirit”: pneuma] of his mouth [stoma] [or, “of its blade [or edge: stoma]”—in which case the pronoun “its” would be referring to the “sword of Spirit”],[7] and will undo [or do away, or eliminate, or bring to nothing, or render ineffective, or make useless, or make inactive, or make void, or abolish, or nullify: kat-argeō, derived from argeō, meaning “to be inactive, to be out of work,” both of which words are related to ergon, meaning “work, deed, doing”][8] by the appearance [or manifestation: epi-phaneia] of his presence [or his “being near”: par-ousia].

This tends to suggest that the archetypal “Lawless One” or “Man of Lawlessness” or “Man of Sin”—who is sometimes identified with the figure of the “Antichrist”—was understood to be wielding the “two-mouthed sword” (which would, ex hypothesi, be equivalent to the “sword of soul and spirit mixed together”), rather than the “one-mouthed sword.”  That is why “God,” in the form of “the Lord Jesus,” would be able to defeat him in single combat.  (By the way, I hope that in the last passage you were able to get a scary little glimpse of the true schizophrenia-inducing potential contained within the Bible, given that the two different ways that I have offered of translating the same words makes it possible for quite different images to appear before one’s mind’s eye at the same time.)

This reading of Hebrews 4:12 at first appears to be contradicted by Revelation 1:15-16, in which the author says that when Jesus appeared before him in a vision, he saw “a sharp [oxys], two-edged [or two-mouthed: di-stomos] sword [rhomphaia] going forth [ek-poreuomai] out of [ek] his mouth [stoma].”

However, that same passage also says that “(Jesus’s) voice [or speech, or language: phōné] (was) as (the) voice [phōné] of many [or multiple: polys] waters [hydōr]”; and Revelation 17:1 also describes the “harlot of Babylon” as being “seated [kathémai] upon many [or multiple: polys] waters [hydōr].”[9]

Furthermore, the scene in which Jesus appears to the author of Revelation 1:15-16 takes place before Revelation 19:11-15 says that the author saw heaven “opened up” (anoigō),[10] allowing Jesus—the “Word [or Message, or Definition, or Meaning: logos] of God,” that is, the one called “honest [or trustworthy, or faithful: pistos] and true [or truthful, or sincere, or genuine: aléthinos]”—to emerge from heaven “in righteousness” (dikaiosyné) and “seated [kathémai] upon a white [leukos, which can also mean clear, or transparent, or distinct] horse [hippos]”—as opposed to being seated upon either “multiple waters” or the “scarlet [kokkinos] beast [thérion]” upon which Revelation 17:3 says the “Woman” (gyné) (i.e., the “harlot”) was “seated” (kathémai).  This “Word” or “Meaning” of God rides out for the purpose of “judging” (or “separating,” or “dividing,” or “discerning,” or “interpreting”: krinō) and “making war” (or “fighting,” or “doing battle”: polemeō).  And it is said that as Jesus rides out from heaven, “a sharp [oxys] sword [rhomphaia] goes forth [ek-poreuomai] out of [ek] his mouth [stoma]”—but this time, significantly, unlike in Revelation 1:15-16, no mention is made of Jesus’s “sword” any longer being “two-edged” or “two-mouthed.”  The ambiguity of meaning has now apparently disappeared from the communication of the “Word,” so that it no longer “cuts both ways.”



[1] The italicized words that you find in the brackets are, of course, the ancient Greek words found in the original text of the New Testament.  Please be aware that in this and all other translations you see on this website, I usually do not provide the actual Greek word form that appears in the Greek text, but rather the word in Strong’s Concordance (and most other Greek lexicons) under which that word form is listed; so the English translation that I give for the word will not necessarily correspond to the grammatical form of the Greek word that I provide.  And that means that when I give the definitions of a Greek verb, I will ordinarily be giving the Greek verb in first-person singular present active indicative form (which is the standard form by which a Greek verb will generally be listed in lexicons), but its English equivalent in the infinitive form.  Also be aware that the hyphens that you see in the Greek words are found neither in the original Greek words, nor, ordinarily, in English transliterations of the words.  I have inserted them to “break down” the words for the purpose of helping you to see etymological relations between various Greek words that you might not otherwise have noticed.

[2] Notice that the idea of “penetrating” or “piercing” (di-ikneomai) is here associated with the idea of a “dividing” or “separating” of two “parts,” which gives support to the hypothesis I offer in the Against the Lie essay that Jesus’s Crucifixion—that is, his symbolic “piercing”—may have been understood to signify a dividing or separating of a symbolic “inner body” from a symbolic “outer body.”  It also gives support to my more specific hypothesis that the “inner body” and the “outer body” may have generally been associated with, respectively, the idea of “spirit” or pneuma, and that of “soul” or psyché.  Moreover, observe that it is only the “one-edged” or “one-mouthed” sword of God that is portrayed as being capable of doing this kind of “piercing” or “penetrating” that results in a “dividing” or “separating”—which suggests an association between the symbolic “Crucifixion” and the notion of a final doing away of the typical prophet’s “forked tongue.”

[3] I believe that this passage involves what I think is probably a very important double meaning, one to be found not only in the passages discussed in this post, but elsewhere in the Bible as well.  The Hebrew language makes possible the same double meaning that the Greek language does.  That creates the possibility that imagery in the Bible (and perhaps in other esoteric writings as well) that involves warfare and armed combat might in some cases be seen as symbolizing conflict between different kinds of meanings or communications.

[4] Notice how this creates the ironic possibility that the author was actually using double meanings to express the hope that double meanings might be eradicated:  the same irony that I believe lies at the very heart of the Bible as a whole.

[5] Compare the use, in Gospel passages such as Mark 7:32-37, of the Greek word kōphos, which is used there to mean “deaf” or “mute”—but which more literally means “blunt” or “dull.”  That might tell us something about what Jesus’s “healings” of “deaf” and “mute” persons were really understood by the authors of the New Testament to accomplish.

[6] This suggestion is made more likely by the fact that Ephesians 6:17 speaks of the “sword [machaira] of the Spirit [pneuma].”

[7] Again, see Ephesians 6:17.

[8] Compare the use of kat-argeō in this passage with its use in Romans 6:6—which may suggest that what Paul there calls the “Old [palaios] Man” and “Body of Sin” was actually understood to be the “Man of Sin” (or “Man of Lawlessness”).  And that would in turn also make it more likely that, as I suggest in the following note, the “crucifying” spoken of in that verse may have been understood to signify a “separating” of the “Man of Sin” (or “Man of Lawlessness,” possibly corresponding to the archetypal “Antichrist”), representing the symbolic “outer man” of a person, from “Jesus Christ,” representing the symbolic “inner man” of a person—a “separation” that would have been understood to take place within each individual person.

Consider the use of the word kat-argeō in Ephesians 2:14-16; and also in 2 Corinthians 3:14-15, in which the word kat-argeō is associated with the “Old [palaios] Covenant”—suggesting that a mental association with the “Old [palaios] Man” may have been intended.  (Consider that the “veil” of 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 may have been considered to be functionally equivalent to the “dividing wall” of Ephesians 2:14-16, both of them signifying a kind of ongoing “inner division” within a person.)  Given that Paul associates the “Old Covenant” or the “Law” with “works” (ergon) in his writings, there is a possible suggestion that the “doing away” (kat-argeō) of the “Old Covenant” was thought to consist in its being all “worked out” (argeō or kat-argeō; pun intended).  Also compare the use in 2 Corinthians 3:14 of the word ana-kalyptō, meaning “to uncover,” with the use in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2:6, and 2:8 of the word apo-kalyptō, having roughly that same meaning.  Also compare the use of the word apaté (meaning “deceit, deception”) in Ephesians 4:22 with its use in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10.

In addition, consider that in Hebrews 4:12 (which I quote above), the “Word of God” is described as “active” (en-ergés, related to the word ergon), while in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 the “Lawless One” (or “Man of Sin,” or “Man of Lawlessness”) is described as being “made inactive” (kat-argeō, also related to the word ergon)—a comparison that might suggest the idea of two “swords” engaging in combat, and one of them being defeated and disposed of.

[9] One possible inference to be derived from this is that Jesus’s initial “voice” (or “speech,” or “language”: phōné) that was heard in Revelation 1:15-16 was itself understood to be the “many waters” upon which the “harlot” or “Woman” of Babylon was seated.  Also, the understanding of the authors may have been either that the “scarlet beast” lurked in the “many waters” as a kind of “sea monster” or “sea serpent,” along the lines of “Leviathan”; or else that Jesus’s initial “voice” (phōné) was equivalent to the “scarlet [kokkinos] beast,” since the “harlot” is described as being “seated upon” both of them.  The author of Revelation 19:13, which says that when Jesus rode out from heaven he was “clothed [peri-ballō] in an outer garment [himation] dipped [baptō] in blood,” may have meant to suggest that Jesus had used his “outer body” to temporarily “take on the role” of the “scarlet beast.”  In Hebrews 9:19, “scarlet [kokkinos] wool” is associated with “purifying in blood” and the “shedding of blood,” and Matthew 27:28, taking place just prior to the Crucifixion, says that the “cloak” (or “robe”: chlamys) that the Roman soldiers mockingly “put around” (peri-tithémi) Jesus—before taking it off him—was colored “scarlet” (kokkinos); and this may have been meant to prefigure the “putting off” by Jesus of the symbolic “outer body”—i.e., “Esau,” or what in my essay I call the “body of lies.”  (Cf. Ephesians 4:21-24 and Colossians 3:9-10.)

This symbolic “outer body” may have also been equated with the “red [or fiery-red: pyrrhos] dragon” spoken of in Revelation 12:3.  Consider that in the Greek Septuagint translation of Genesis 25:25, Esau is described as being “red” (or “fiery-red”: pyrrakés); this may suggest that the symbolic “scarlet beast” or “red dragon” was understood to be a kind of “alter ego” of “Jesus” (i.e., the symbolic “lamb”)—an “alter ego” that he would eventually have to “put off.”  In addition, compare Revelation 17:1-3 with Revelation 21:9.  In my document “The Relationship Between the New Testament Figures of Mary, the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, and Mary Magdalene,” I provide reasons to think that the figure of the “harlot” may have been understood to be a kind of “alter ego” of the figure of the “virgin bride,” such that these would have been considered to be merely two aspects of the same archetypal “Woman,” i.e., “Eve.”  If that is correct, then the comparison between those two passages would seem to imply that the “bridegroom,” i.e., the “lamb” (or “Jesus”) would have been understood to be essentially an “alter ego” of the “beast” and the “dragon” (or the “serpent”—i.e., “Satan,” according to Revelation 20:2), such that the “lamb” and the “beast” would have been considered to be merely two aspects of the same archetypal “Man” or “Adam”—a distinction that I believe would have been understood to correspond to the distinction between the “inner man” (or “inner body”) and the “outer man” (or “outer body”).  (Cf. Romans 7:21-25.)  Related to this, and as I also discuss in the previous note, in Part II of my essay Against the Lie I provide evidence that the “Man of Lawlessness” or “Man of Sin”—a figure that, as I mentioned above, has often been equated with the figure of the “Antichrist”—may have been similarly viewed as a single “aspect” of a dual-nature “Man” or “Son of Man.”  And this may pertain to the fact that in Western alchemical traditions the figures of “Jesus” and “Satan” have sometimes been depicted as “brothers.”

[10] Compare this use of the word anoigō, meaning “to open,” with the use of the words anoigō and anoixis (which means “opening”) in Ephesians 6:18-20, Colossians 4:3-4, and the Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 3:24-27 (all of which passages I discuss here).  Consider that a cross-reference between those passages and Revelation 19:11-16 seems to suggest that “heaven” is where the authors of the New Testament would have understood the “mystery [mystérion] of the gospel” or “mystery [mystérion] of Christ”—i.e., the “hidden meaning” (or “secret meaning,” or “inner meaning”: mystérion)—to have been kept “stored.”  And that interpretation can in turn be cross-referenced with New Testament passages containing either the word thésaurus, meaning “storehouse, treasury, treasures,” or the word tameion, meaning “storeroom, inner chamber, secret room,” such as Matthew 2:11, Matthew 6:6, Matthew 6:19-21, Matthew 13:44, Matthew 13:52, Matthew 24:26, Luke 12:3, Luke 18:22, and 2 Corinthians 4:7.