World Through Word: Towards A Linguistic Ontology -- By: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 79:2 (Fall 2017)
Article: World Through Word: Towards A Linguistic Ontology
Author: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

World Through Word:
Towards A Linguistic Ontology

Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Pierce Taylor Hibbs is Associate Director for Theological Curriculum and Instruction in the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary.


We should have a “linguistic ontology,” that is, our ontology should be based on God’s speech as that which created, sustains, and governs all of reality. A linguistic ontology draws our attention to the covenantal and personal nature of reality and contrasts with long-held Aristotelian categories of “substance” and “accidents.” A linguistic ontology will help us to be more faithful to the biblical witness in understanding the world in which we live, a world that has been structured and is sustained according to God’s purposes revealed to us in Scripture.

There is a silver maple tree outside my window. The lower branches have been pruned, and the scars from the saw have turned deep brown after December rain. Do you know why that tree is there—why I can walk outside into the front yard and rest my hand on the cold bark?

Yesterday as I was sitting at a stoplight, a flock of starlings rolled in the wind like a flag as I sat waiting for the light to turn green. I thought about why they carried so well together—what was it that kept them caught up in the breeze?

Then I thought of the train line that runs through the suburbs of Philadelphia and out into the countryside where we live. The people who board it in the morning moonlight and ride the rail to some two dozen stops between Colmar and center city—how do they do it? What allows them to walk the platform, smoke a cigarette, hold a conversation?

God spoke. That is the ontological grounds for all existence and the foundation of all the coherence in our experience. Every bit of the material world, from the ground beneath us to the sky above us to the bones inside us, is there because the trinitarian God “opened his holy lips.”1 God’s word is what

accounts for the world. Not a fiber, not a quark is held together but for his speech. The same goes for the maple tree and the starlings and the passengers riding to the Market Street Station. I am and you are because he said. The Father spoke through the Son by the power of the Spirit; the vibrations of divine vocal chords put vigor in our veins, and set the rest of the world turning.

God’s speech accounting for all that is—for all that has been and will be—means that we must have a linguistic ontology. And only with the Trini...

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