Has any prominent theologian ever explained why Jesus let a thief be in charge of the money? is the best question we've seen here in a long time. One objective piece of evidence is that it's got 14 upvotes, no downvotes at this time. Another piece is there is no squabbling in the comment section, and the slightest controversy ends with the OP thanking the commenter for bringing up a point.

I personally think it is a good Question because it asks an important theological question, and avoids the "What should I do with my life?" counseling trap. It avoids the horribly boring (and factually untenable) assumption that denominations / sects would each have an identifiable perspective on this. It asks for what the church has thought about a particular passage in a way that is both objectively verifiable and open to all sects. This is the wording I have been stumbling for.

The Answer is equally beautiful. I has 8 upvotes. It quotes numerous "important Theologians." I especially like that it has two great Catholics-- Augustine and Aquinas-- and gets a post-1517 denomination founder, and tops it off with someone alive during WWII! We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Instead of poring over the legalistic minutiae of some sect's rites, it is also the most evangelistic post I've seen, maybe ever. It points to the love of Christ for sinners.


In all honesty, ever since I saw the question, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. If one tries to internalize some guidelines from recent moderation as a consistent principle, this Q/A pair was missing a lot of needed guidance. Here are some things that could be said about this entry:

"Belongs in skeptics"; is a "thinly veiled attempt to discredit Christianity": (insinuating against Jesus's divinity because of an inability to judge character, or presuming a lack of omniscience, or that he associated with bad people)

"Needs to identify which Identifiable Group it is seeking information from"

"'Prominent' is too subjective a term"

"Unclear what you're asking". "Too broad", "Primarily opinion-based", "Too many possible answers".

"Missing denominational tags."

Thus if moderation were consistent and based on objective principles, I am doing a favor by pointing out how many rules this Q/A violated.


Both the Q&A'ers have reputation above 8k. These have been shown that the community respects and trust them. Moderation doesn't need to focus its attention on the responsible members of the community.

  • Why do you assume anybody with any experience around here would VTC the question? It is demonstrably and objectively answerable. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 14:27
  • 1
    Someone named @AffableGeek got three upvotes for a comment in which it was implied that "Prominent Theologians" was "the worst kind of questions" meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/2071/…
    – pterandon
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 14:30
  • 1
    I did, and I don't think any of them are things we do or say on a regular basis in regards to a question like this. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 14:32
  • You didn't read my explanation there. It was about off the wall proposals, not valid questions. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 14:34
  • 3
    Putting anything to do with voting in the first few words of a meta post is a bad idea. Just don't. State your question, make your case, or whatever, but don't start out whining about how people might vote. Use your space to make your case clear, and let people vote to agree/disagree on meta.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 14:42
  • +1 for asking a question that must be answered (did we skip the rules?) and offering different theories as to why this one got up votes. I also appreciate your feedback on the comment discussion. Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 15:40

4 Answers 4


I can't speak for the other moderators but I've viewed the question a few times, and even considered closing it. But my ultimate decision was that the scope was narrow enough that if the community didn't feel it was worthy of a few close votes, I wasn't going to go out on a limb and close something that was at worst borderline and at best quite good.

Let's evaluate the question as it's asked and figure out why such a hypothetical question is OK and other kinds of hypotheticals aren't.

  • Title: Has any prominent theologian explained X. On it's face that's kind of lazy isn't it? There is no real definition of prominent, and it's a yes/no question, which are kind of lousy here (they don't invite explanation).

  • Question: This is where you get a shot to redeem what is on it's face an instaclose title. Look at that question, it's well researched, it's got a scripture reference that specifically addresses the topic of the question, it's got a link to two other scriptures that support the theory posed in the question and it asks an interesting question. The only thing it could do better for me would be to give a limitation of what constitutes as prominent theologian. But this leaves it up to the answerer to prove (or assume) that their theologians are prominent. And honestly, this isn't a huge deal. A reader can read a theologian's work, check their wikipedia page etc to determine their validity as a prominent scholar. Yes it's subjective, but it's subjective in a way that's not really that hard to test (are you published? do you have a blog? how many people listen to you, those are things that are pretty easy to answer).

So yeah, I think the question turns out to be pretty good. I can definitely confess that I opened it wondering if it was going to be particularly constructive and was impressed with it in a way that led me to leave it open.

So yeah, your hypothesis 1 is correct.

I'd like to address hypothesis 3 for a minute though. Honestly, yes, sometimes high rep users do get the benefit of the doubt. That's kind of why we have the reputation system in the first place. It does not mean that the rules don't apply to them, but it does mean that they've earned the trust of the community in a tangible way. They have what's called social capital. If they choose to spend that capital asking terrible questions it's going to run out very quickly and they, reputation not withstanding, will have their questions closed, problems addressed and potentially account suspended if they refuse to respond to correction.

However, the idea that reputation doesn't and shouldn't grant you some benefit of the doubt seems a bit silly. People with high reputation should know the system and understand what makes a good question. If they ask questions on the margins then their questions might merit a closer look, but might stay open because they've earned that trust. However, if even a high rep user seems not to be learning and understanding the system than that should trigger a conversation with that user. I had exactly one such conversation yesterday.


[…]is the best question we've seen here in a long time. One objective piece of evidence is that it's got 14 upvotes, no downvotes […]

First of all, whether that's the best recent question or not is highly subjective. You'd be better of saying it's the one you liked best. I happen to think it's alright, but not "obviously" the best.

Second, vote patterns are not objective evidence about the quality of questions. Votes themselves are subjective, and voting patterns tend to follow other trends besides question quality. Quite often large numbers of votes is a counter-indication of quality. Especially for questions, it's often more of a popularity thing than a quality thing. Every SE site on the network is full of questions that for whatever reason become popular but aren't really good example questions.

For a recent example on Stack Overflow, see the croissant snafou. In spite of being an instant hit and getting lots of upvotes, the general consensus is that the appetizing picture had more to do with that than the actual quality of the question. It did spawn some better questions on more relevant sites (Programmers, Computer Science, even Code Golf), but it was a bad SO question, votes notwithstanding.

Another piece is there is no squabbling in the comment section […]

That's a much better indicator.

It avoids the horribly boring (and factually untenable) assumption that denominations / sects would each have an identifiable perspective on this.

Hmm, here we disagree again. This site is all about boring. And it's factually tenable that different sects and denominations hold identifiable perspectives on all sorts of issues. That's not to say it's the best scope for everything. Sometimes the best scope will be issue specific: the doctrine in question actually is the scope of the question.

I think the reason this question works without a sect actually has nothing to do with the "prominent theologian" bit. It's simply a general question that is in itself both specific and non-controversial enough that it requires no further scoping.

Think about the flip side of this. It would be ridiculous of me to try to ask "Have any prominent theologians ever explained whether infants should be baptized? If so what do they say?". That simply doesn't narrow the question down or provide any way to judge the accuracy of answers.

Instead of poring over the legalistic minutiae of some sect's rites, it is also the most evangelistic post I've seen, maybe ever.

I agree it's a very well done answer. But again, the only reason it works is because the scope of the issue is narrow and uncontroversial. The ecumenical nature of the answer is evidence of that. The question itself is not a model that can be used to turn issues into constructive questions across the board.

Here are some things that could be said about this entry

No, none of those things could reasonably be said about this question. Those are all possibly valid issues in some context, but I don't see how any of them apply here.

Neither moderators nor the community (who are just as responsible for comments, closures, etc) are perfect nor can they read and process everything. However I see no reason to use this question as evidence of either oversight or inconsistency. It's been reviewed, found acceptable, voted up and people moved on.

Both the Q&A'ers have reputation above 8k.

Really? <runs back to check> Sure enough. So what? I obviously reviewed this before because I'd already voted on both Q and A, and I reviewed the whole thing again before starting this answer and that hadn't occurred to me.

Sure high rep users sometimes get a pass because people assume they must know better, but again I see no evidence of that here. If you found an example of that somewhere, call them on it. However this seems like a counter example. Here I see the fact that high rep users earning their high rep by writing exemplary posts.


So, 9 years later, we still have this problem, and the best fix is still the same:

adding this (lifted from a question by Lee Woofenden):

Does the Bible anywhere state this clearly? If not, what Bible passages are quoted by Protestant churches and major Protestant theologians to support this belief, and how do they interpret those passages to support it?

will generally suffice for scoping a question to get a Bible-only answer.

As is the case on all stackexchange sites, "we prefer questions that can be answered, not merely discussed".

If the question doesn't say something like this, it is definitely fair game for people who believe there are multiple answers to the matter at hand to cast a close vote.

If you want to answer a question, even a popular question, that is in that category (of being fair game for closure), and the question is closed, then one of three things will happen:

  1. The question will be edited and your answer will be invalidated and should be flagged for deletion
  2. The question will be edited in a way that entirely validates your answer (good for you!)
  3. The question is left unedited but was so contentious that it garners a lot of comments and the moderators have to delete all the answers and maybe the question too.

It appears that this question is sufficiently scoped to avoid close votes because of the magical addition of the words "prominent theologians." But that's a red herring. The reason this question is sufficiently scoped is because it's asking a yes or no question.

Any single explanation for the situation, by any single "prominent"* theologian is enough to answer the question in the affirmative.

It still makes for a pretty poor question, in my opinion, as the first person to come up with an answer by a "prominent"* theologian is likely to have their answer accepted, even if that answer is not especially popular or accepted by any popular Christian sects.

If, on the other hand, the question were re-worded as "How do prominent theologians explain why Jesus let a thief be in charge of the money?" it would be too broad, and likely would have (and almost certainly should have) been closed as Too Broad.

*Whatever "prominent" means. And for that matter, whatever "theologian" means!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .