2008 Hermeneutics: Theory & Practice

Session 1

Ben Blackwell (Durham University)

A Conversation between the New Testament and the Fathers: Expectations and Problems

Patristic interpretation of biblical texts is gaining an increasing amount of attention from within the biblical studies guild (e.g., Bockmuehl's emphasis on Wirkungsgeschichte in his Seeing the Word). Many studies in this area focus on the history of interpretation, starting with the biblical text and moving out from there to discuss how later interpreters have received the text. These are helpful studies, but they beg the question of whether we can frame the question of interpretation from the opposite direction. Can we have a heuristic exploration of NT texts by placing them in conversation with patristic writers? That is, can we start from the patristic writers and responsibly investigate the biblical text based on their interpretations? I initially explore a justification for this methodology within a historical critical context, but because of the limitations of THE historical critical approach, I then explore philosophical hermeneutics and theological interpretation as better models for framing the conversation. Within this discussion the issue of anachronism, or making the NT texts parrot later readings, is central. I argue that to counteract this problem we must allow each party to speak fully within the conversation. Thus, after listening to the patristic writers, we use their questions and constructions to interact with the biblical texts, but we also allow the texture of the biblical texts to speak for themselves. To conclude we will use Irenaeus' interpretation of the Pauline conception of adoption as a working example.

J.R. Dodson

Personification and Citations

Rather than introducing Old Testament citations with traditional formulae such as "it is written" or "Moses says," Paul sometimes employs personifications to recite an Old Testament passage instead. While scholars like F. Watson and V. Robbins have written extensively on categories in which to understand the utilisation of Old Testament citations, the use of personification to introduce an Old Testament passage does not fit precisely into any of their proposed groups. In fact, to our knowledge, a category for speaking personifications does not exist. Therefore, in this paper, after surveying recent discussions on categories for Old Testament citations, we shall suggest that the introduction of scripture by any inanimate object, abstract concept or impersonal being should be referred to as a personification formula. We shall then look at Paul's introduction of scripture through the mouths of Nomos and Dikaiosyne to demonstrate the distinctive affects and implications of a personification formula in contrast to more traditional ones.

Session 2

Nijay Gupta (Durham University)

Worship and Phronesis: Paul's Questioning of his Jewish Privileges and the Promise of a Cultic Hermeneutic (Phil. 3.2-11)

Philippians 3.2-11 contains some of the most powerful expressions of Paul's thoughts on Christian existence and, in particular, on his own Jewish heritage and 'privileges' (see 3.5-6). Paul is willing to count all of these things as liabilities in light of Christ (3.8). Though it is true that, on a number of occasions, he endorses the 'transvaluation of values', as one scholars puts it, it is difficult to align this statement with Romans 3.1-2 where Jews apparently benefit from circumcision and the possession of the law.

This paper argues that Philippians 3.2-11 is not about the restructuring of values per se, but about the de-prioritizing of such Jewish privileges as guarantors of true wisdom and phronesis. The claims of Jewish privilege involved, in large part, having the law as the path of true wisdom and the regulator of faithful worship. Paul could find fault with the law as it exacted the wrong penalty on Christ (see Gal. 3.13; 1 Cor. 2.8; cf. Rom. 2.20ff.). Thus, he makes explicit that his devaluation of all things is directed towards the desire for the 'knowledge of Christ' (γνώσεωσ Χριστοῦ [Phil. 3.8]; cf. τοῦ γν­ῶναι αὐτὸν [3.10]). This desire to know Christ is, unsurprisingly, cast within the cultic realm as Paul describes his converts as faithful worshippers (λατρευῶ 3.3). Paul offers the promise of a cultic hermeneutic where suffering and death are not shame and weakness, but demonstrations of power (3.10-11), and devotion and faithfulness (see 2.17). For Paul, knowing Christ offers a transformation of phronesis and the ability to recognize the one true God that is worthy of worship.

Session 3

Interpretive Pluralism in Theological Perspective: The Contribution of Karl Barth

The literature that is generally gathered under the heading of philosophical hermeneutics continues to have significant influence on contemporary (hermeneutically informed) biblical scholarship. However, in recent years a number of scholars from both the biblical and systematic fields have argued that the insights of philosophical hermeneutics must ultimately be judged by appropriately dogmatic criteria. Thus, while those who draw on the resource of philosophical hermeneutics often affirm and even celebrate the fact of interpretive pluralism, those who insist on locating interpretation within a theological framework are often suspicious of such pluralism in the light of the prior theological conviction that in the Bible: Deus dixit.

The theology of Karl Barth is central to this debate. In this paper I argue that while it is correct, theologically, to locate our understanding of interpretation within the wider dogmatic context of God's communicative action, the notion that this rules out ideas such as multiple meaning or valid interpretive pluralism is mistaken. I suggest that a reading of Barth's discussion of interpretive work in Church Dogmatics I/2 provides a way of understanding how the Word of God that the words of Scripture mediate, in so far as it is both revelation and hiddenness, divine and human, invites interpretation that is therefore marked by provisionality and plurality. This condition is entirely appropriate to the creaturely state of the interpreter. The reality of interpretive diversity, when seen within the perspective of a theology of covenant relations, is less a situation to be overcome and more the very condition for hearing the Word of God today.