Saturday 30 June 2012

Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics

Yesterday, I was privileged to be among the great and the good at a conference hosted by the University of Nottingham in honour of Professor Anthony C. Thiselton on the occasion of his 75th birthday.
The title of the conference was ‘The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics’. Different speakers addressed the issue of how far and by what means a plurality of approaches to interpreting the Bible, as well as interpretations of biblical texts themselves, should be circumscribed – whether because of a commitment to theological responsibility (Stanley Porter), ecclesial responsibility (Walter Moberly), scriptural responsibility (Richard Briggs), kerygmatic responsibility (Matthew Malcolm), historical responsibility (James D.G. Dunn), critical responsibility (Robert Morgan), or relational responsibility (Tom Greggs).
This wasn’t a day for debate or interaction between those scholars. I suspect there would be some variance between them as to how much weight should be given to the different dimensions of responsibility articulated – how much, for instance, a particular interpretation of a biblical text should be constrained by canonical factors against historical factors, say, or whether my commitment to church creeds over here trumps your commitment to critical scholarship over there.
Versions of the papers will be published by Paternoster in a volume edited by Matthew Malcolm. An additional volume of essays written in honour of Thiselton (edited by Stanley Porter and Matthew Malcolm) is also being published, by Eerdmans.
After a drinks reception and evening meal, Thiselton himself addressed the topic of the conference. With humility, warmth and a light touch, he took us through five areas relating to responsible plurality in interpretation: (1) the significance of genre, particularly Umberto Eco’s contrast between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ texts; (2) the relation between the two testaments, raising issues of allegory, typology, and correspondence; (3) the goal of hermeneutics being formation, but not through a Bible that can mean anything we like; (4) the significance of Bakhtin on polyphony for ways of appreciating ‘concordance’ in the canon; (5) the careful distinction between different levels and types of pluralist reading. He finished with some stimulating reflections on the future of biblical interpretation.
Earlier anticipations of the conference can be found by two of the contributors to the day: Stanley Porter (here) and Matthew Malcolm (here and here).

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