Proposal for BNTC: Barth and Interpretive Pluralism

I have just heard from the Chairs of the Hermeneutics Seminar of the British New Testament Society that my paper proposal for this September's conference has been accepted.  It read as follows:

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.