On tension, words, and the Word: Or, why ‘Sola Scriptura’ misses the point.

“In this way a certain form of tension, conflict, and rupture is present in the Word or, more accurately, the “Word” is hinted at in the tension, conflict, and rupture that we encounter in the words. This deep eschatological wound within the text must not be confused with the Word of God but rather is a hint of this Word’s occurence, much as a crater is the sign that a volcano once erupted there. The Word itself…can be described as the Event that forms the crater. Here we can begin to perceive the idea of the Word of God as the happening of an unprecedented, volcanic activity. This activity is hinted at in the dynamic interweaving of the words expressed in the Bible, giving birth to those words, testifying to them but ultimately transcending them. This activity or event springs forth from a deep inner cavern that no words can claim access to. In this way the Word of God refers to what the believer encounters as a presence exploding from the heart of the text, a presence that can never be captured in some confession of faith or creedal formation, no matter how beautiful or profound it may be. Its energy cannot be reduced to some liturgical chant or rendered into a three-point presentation. The Word, if it exists at all, if “existence” is even the right word to describe its mode of dwelling, is not then the patch of meaning that covers over the wound of our unknowing but rather is that which causes the wound itself…

[On the other hand] to believe that the words are the Word reduces the text to what can be named, described, and transcribed. To treat it in this way means that we approach the Word as a thing that stands before us to be examined, poked, prodded, and played with. The Word of God, in this reading, thus refers to something, some thing, some set of things,” (Peter Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal, 55, 59-60).

It’s fascinating, to me, to think of this in light of the theological proclaimation of sola scriptura. The point isn’t the words but the Word which cannot be contained by the words.

  1. Mollie Coles Tonn said:

    “…is not then the patch of meaning that covers over the wound of our unknowing but rather is that which causes the wound itself…”

    This is an intriguing statement. And surely connotes a wrestling(tension) that may be inherent to reading something that is living.

    Language is our way of grasping, colouring, giving form to, truth. However it is not an exact science and is less conducive to an empirical type of analysis. Herein lies tension. Words are but shadow, as wondrous, transforming, and meaning bearing as they may be. To read, delve, experiment and communicate with words maybe one of our greatest pleasures and one of our greatest frustrations (and one of our greatest projects).

    Could it be said that all fall short of the Glory of God, including the the Word?…..but there is weight and beauty and truth, waiting, calling us in the living shadows.

    • Mollie Coles Tonn said:

      Above I mean to say the statement differently “….Could it be said that all fall short of the glory of God, including the words within the Word (not the Word itself)….but there is weight and beauty and truth (revelation)waiting and calling us from the living shadows.”

  2. societyvs said:

    “The point isn’t the words but the Word which cannot be contained by the words.” (JT)

    This is a pretty neat way of viewing scripture. We fumble about trying to contain what it is we are learning about God and our spirituality – and nothing really comes close to expressing it properly.

  3. James Tonn said:

    Wow -interesting article – I love some of the language, though sometimes I feel uneasy about some of the points, as I like the ideas here, but am not sure if I have the same conclusion as the author.
    I think the big picture here is that the problem with God’s Revelation really lies on the shoulders of the interpreters. Sola Scriptura must take into account God’s revelation through creation, through the prophets, through his Son, through the Scriptures, and by the Spirit.
    Some would say the author sounds neo-orthodox, and I hope he is not, but there are definitely some valid points that deserve attention.
    Thanks for bringing this forward John.

  4. jt* said:

    I just want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing here. When you use the term “Word” in “Could it be said that all fall short of the glory go God, including the words within the Word (not the Word itself),” what are you referring to? If by “Word” you’re referring to *the* Word (i.e. John 1, the second person of the Trinity) then I think I agree. But if you’re referring to the the Bible then I think I might disagree. I think it’s possible to talk of the word (Bible) as falling short in the sense that God is not contained within it’s pages. I like the picture Rollins paints here, that if God is the event that causes the wound then the Bible (word) is what covers over the wound (or perhaps even the wound itself?). By reading the Bible we see that God is here but that he is also not contained in the pages or the words themselves.

    Agreed. Although personally I still like to hold scripture highly (because while I may not be that smart I’m trusting tradition here!).

    What points do you feel uneasy about? And why might you feel that way? I think the author has Orthodox influences. I know he is pretty heavily influenced by the mystics. Good eye!

    • James Tonn said:

      I once did a “top ten neo-orthodox claims” list, as neo-orthodoxy is a hermeneutic stance by some when interpreting the Scriptures. The essence of N.O. that I recall is the belief that the words of the Bible are not in themselves the Word of God, but that the meaning behind the words is the true Revelation that is pure. Hardcore reformers (SOLA SCRIPTURA) chant that the text in its original languages is the pure Word of God/revelation of God – and see N.O. as a threat to the foundation of Christian Faith becasue they see a slippery slope in “subjectifying” the scriptures.
      I feel a little b it in the middle of the two groups, and that is why I liked this guy’s article. But, what makes me uneasy is the idea of Scripture’s text/words not being seen in the most holy way as the Scribes have always viewed them. I believe firmly in the text being the key to the meaning behind the text, and N.O. may put the Spirit in the forefront for interpretation – which I like, but only coupled with hermeneutic due diligence.
      The essence of what I meant to say above what that communication between God and humankind has been and will always be only as pure as perfect as the ears the message falls on. Our humanity is the biggest stumbling block to our interpretation of God’s truths held in Scripture.
      I have your blog on my gmail reader now, so hope to be a steady reader in the future! the other JT

  5. jt* said:


    Thanks for distinguishing between Orthodoxy and Neo-Reformed in terms of how they view the scriptures. That was really helpful. I’ve had similar sorts of questions as you on this matter. I think at the moment I have stronger N.O. leanings.

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