I find that some Christians are edgily nervous about how we speak about Scripture. A good Anglican phrase like 'God's Word written' (Article 20) as a description of Scripture raises eyebrows twitchily. The gist of such responses as I best understand them is that the Word of God is in the text but is not the text. After all 'the Word' is Jesus Christ who is alive and reigns in heaven and thus is certainly not a set of words, not confined to one book, and not constrained by the limitations of first century men and their pre-Christ predecessors. Positively, so this theology goes, Jesus Christ the living Word of God lives in and through our lives, not via a text.
I suspect that a great attraction of this line of understanding of the relationship between 'the Word of God' and the printed words of Scripture is that Scripture itself, read from start to finish, makes all readers nervous about siding with law over grace, and about the prospect of being enslaved by the letter rather than being made alive through the Spirit. Further, (as recently pointed out here in a comment to an earlier post in this series) Jesus himself warns against reading Scripture in such a way as to not see the wood for the trees:
'You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.' (John 5:39-40)
Yet even here, Jesus offers an important clue about the significance of 'Scriptures' (here directly meaning the Old Testament writings): 'they bear witness about me.' What is true of the Scriptures of Jesus' day is also true of Scripture (Old and New Testaments) of our day: they bear witness about Jesus.
But there is something we might miss here. The writer of the fourth gospel writes these words down for the benefit of his readers. How are his readers to 'come to [Jesus] that [they] may have life'? By reading the words of the Gospel according to John is the answer.
'Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30-31)
In other words, for John the 'words' of Scripture (the Scriptures of Jesus, which we know as the Old Testament; the new authoritative writing being written down by John as witness to Jesus) lead to 'the Word' which is both alive and gives life. No division exists between the words and the Word, between text and the Truth. A similar situation is expressed in the closely related First Epistle of John: the Word of life is the eternal life in which believers participate, attested to in words proclaimed by the writer and his colleagues, and in the specific instance of this epistle 'we are writing these things so that (y)our joy may be complete.' (1 John 1:1-4). Again, no division exists between words and the Word, between text and the Truth: written words give and enhance life in Christ the living Word.
In the end Scripture is much much more than a set of books reflecting the constraints of the contexts in which the actual words were written in ancient times, seemingly beyond our present power to fully comprehend a world unknown to us. Scripture is the means by which we meet Christ, anticipated in the Old Testament, presented in space and time in the gospels, and interpreted for us in the epistles. The power of the words of Scripture lies in their presentation - making present to us - Jesus Christ the living Son of God, the Word of God made flesh. The Word of God, Christ as the full revelation of God, is written for us in the pages of Scripture. We know no other Christ, we have no other access to Christ the Word than through Scripture.
When we think about Scripture as the Word of God written, as the unique witness to Jesus Christ, we see tradition and reason pale almost to insignificance. Reason tells us nothing about Christ. Tradition is the church seeking to understand Christ, but can add nothing to Scripture and always needs testing that it is aligned with and not against Scripture, lest we dishonour the fullness of Christ revealed to us in Scripture.
Scripture Alone because no other source of revelation leads us to the true Christ. We could say that the Word became text and dwells among us still!
For Anglicans, if this line of thinking is acceptable, we might take care when speaking about 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason.' These three are not a trinity of co-equal authorities. If Christ is the centre of our communion together, then Scripture is both supreme authority above Tradition and Reason, and Scripture is the expression of the Word from which Tradition and Reason proceed.