I know a few of you VTCed (maybe for different reasons than that listed?), but I really don't understand the 'off topic' designation for this question: If we want to know what the Bible says about an issue, what methods can help us to find all the relevant scriptures? I could (just barely) understand a 'too broad' VTC and would be happy to refine the scope further under advisement - but 'off topic'?? The description "General philosophical or sociological questions" is far removed from my intent with this question. What's going on here?

edit: I've modified the question a little - is that sufficient to address concerns or are there deeper issues at play here?


4 Answers 4


I understand why some people thought it off-topic -

  1. Absent the excellent addition of saying "What methods / tools", some people may have thought this to be a truth question: "How do you know"

  2. Others may have thought this to be more about exegesis and less about doctrine.

That said, while I understand, I firmly believe this question to be wholly on topic, and have voted as such.

  1. Just because something is on topic for another site doesn't make it off topic for this one.

  2. These are basic tools that answer a lot of questions. If part of the SE mission is to help people find the answers to their questions, I can think of no better way than to tell people how to answer their own questions. (You know that thing about giving a man a fish, or teaching him to drink beer instead?)

The biggest thing that I think the question has going against it is that it may be too basic. As an expert level site, experts might conceivably be like, "Why should I have to tell someone what a concordance is."

That said, now the answer is here, when someone else asks a concordance question, we have an answer we can link to. Do I want a bunch of questions like these? No. But this one is good for what it is seeking to ask.

  • "too basic" I didn't want to say it earlier, but, yeah, I kind of feel like it's not even first semester Bible School stuff. I agree, I don't want a bunch of that either. I'm always in favor of experimenting, so I just vtr and undownvoted. I don't think I can upvote at this time though.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:55
  • 2
    @fredsbend I'm quite comfortable with a 'too basic' characterisation. But given that many of the questions we actually get display a lack of knowledge in this area (or at least a willingness to apply that knowledge), it seems to me to have a certain utility. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:17
  • (I agree, which is why I thought it good to answer!) Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:18

I wonder sometimes where the line is between "too broad" and "Off topic because... General philosophical or sociological questions are off-topic unless clearly asking for a doctrinal answer.

Often, the net effect is the same - because it's not seeking a specific doctrinal answer, it's too broad to answer. That works in reverse as well. Often a question has too many possible answers (too broad) because it's not scoped to ask for a doctrinal answer.

Looking at your example, I think that's what happened here. I wasn't one of the ones that voted to close, but I vacillate between those two choices on a regular basis.

  • Thanks for your answer. I would like to edit and get this re-opened, but an 'off-topic' ruling from the community doesn't give me much hope of a positive outcome! What's the main problem you see with the OP as it currently stands? Could it conceivable by re-edited to be a good question in your eyes? Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 4:01
  • 2
    Honestly, I don't see one. I'm very sorry to say this, but to me it looks like opinion-based. Honestly, the only way i can think of to be sure would be to use multiple concordances, topical guides to the Bible, and search through electronic versions of the Bible of keywords that might be relevant to the topic.. And still there's a chance that approach would miss something. I think the closest you could get is to be "reasonably sure" as opposed to "absolutely sure". I honestly don't think the question is salvageable. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 4:04
  • Well thanks for your honest opinion, I didn't use 'absolutely sure', but I guess any use of 'sure' at all is going to be subjective. The guys that answered didn't take a too literal view of the use of that word (which would be impossible in reality) and I thought they came up with good answers. The fact is, with various tools we can actually develop a high degree of certainty - I really think Fredsbend's comment is way off base. :S Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 4:16
  • @bruisedreed I want to clarify that exegesis is already on-topic for the site, and that is a good thing. But how to exegete has never come up until now. That's how I see the question. It is asking for methods of study, and the study subject just happens to be Christianity. Exegetical principles, in general, are the same across all texts. So this is more like "how to learn" rather than just learning. Do you see what I mean? That's why keep saying a separate meta to discuss this is needed.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:29
  • @fredsbend Re "Exegetical principles, in general, are the same across all texts." this part of your comment here is fundamentally at odds with the third point from Flimzy's below. I understand the community might find it hard to come to an agreement on this issue, but in my view, it would be helpful if we made a concerted effort to understand other people's points of view before we make judgments as to whether something is off-topic or not. With that in view, I take seriously your request to make the general issue a separate meta and welcome guidance at making that constructive. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:41
  • @bruisedreed For now, I suggest waiting a day or two to see what others say; that will help you see all the points and can address this fully, accurately, and successfully. Honestly, when I'm not sure where to go, I defer to Caleb. Hit him up in chat to weigh in, maybe.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:52
  • @fredsbend I already posted this: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/3838/… but I'm happy to edit in order to make it more constructive. I also posted on BH meta here: meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1039/… to see what they said about the specific OP. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:55

There are three problems I see with this question.

  1. The most obvious one, IMO, is that it's very broad--there are many ways in which one could find relevant scriptures. These methods range from the most obvious textual search (for instance to find all scriptures which mention the word 'money'), but could grow to include wildly speculative (When Christ said "turn the other cheek" was he really talking about money??)

  2. Also, as @fredsbend pointed out, that it's not really about Christianity, but rather about Biblical exegesis.

  3. Lastly, perhaps the least obvious problem, but also perhaps the gravest, is that the answer (at least for the purposes of our site) actually requires a doctrinal framework, precisely for the vagueness mentioned in #1. There are many different (and often contradictory) methods for Bible study, and which one you choose will affect the answer to this question.

  • 1
    Thanks for your response, it seems to be that your points 1 and 2 are a quite subjective, so I don't feel I can really comment constructively on them; regarding 3 however, I did specify the doctrinal framework of sola scriptura (from the start) - while I acknowledge that is still a broad doctrinal framework, could you be a little more specific as to why you think it's too broad for the question under consideration? Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 17:30
  • @bruisedreed: Sola scriptura isn't sufficiently narrow. Under that umbrella are still many methods of Bible study and theology.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 17:32
  • It seems to me that even if I specified an extremely well defined doctrinal framework e.g. 4-point-Calvinism, you could say exactly the same thing - indicating that it's not the doctrinal framework that's the problem, but only the range of possible answers (your point 1). Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 17:40
  • @bruisedreed: I assume you mean 5-point Calvinism (4-point Calvinism is usually mentioned as a joke, and usually heavily criticized by "true" Calvinists)... but that has a pretty well defined method of Biblical study. I.e. systematic theology, which would address my concern #3, and greatly reduce number #1's scope.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 17:43
  • Your assumption is incorrect - 4-point Calvinism is certainly not a joke and is taken as a serious self-description by many Southern Baptists. It is a well defined position in doctrinal scope, but not well defined in respect to preferred methodology of bible study. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:28
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    On #3, no. The fact that there are different approaches to hermeneutics and exegesis does not mean that you need a doctrinal framework. There are academic and non-academic approaches, but there is fundamentally not a Baptist vs. Catholic approach to exegesis (to interpretation, yes, but not to the approach). There are some pretty solid guidelines as to good vs. bad hermeneutics. John Dominic Crossan may be an idiot, but even he knows the same rules I do. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:00
  • You (and many others) seem to believe that there is nothing that can be known. I fundamentally reject that. Yes, I can always find some nutcase who doesn't agree on something, but just about every serious theologian can say things like, "Exegesis good, Eisgesis Bad." or "These are tools that properly used can be helpful." Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:01
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    @AffableGeek Yeah, John Dominic might know the rules, but he just likes to ignore them.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:02
  • To say that you need a "Calvinist" or an orthodox Concordance is just overreaching. On the Topical Bibles and Systematic Theologies, yes, there are several that come from certain perspectives, to be sure - BUT JUST NAMING THE TOOLS tells you that bias. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:03

Posting after the edit:

The question is not about Christianity. It is about the process of Biblical exegesis. That would open this site into a new area, that I think BH handles, that I am not sure would be very useful considering that, but I don't think it would be harmful either.

To discuss if we, the community, want questions like this then we need a separate meta post proposing it.

  • Ok, I know we have the BH site, but this question is probably a bit too simple minded for there and I think you are a bit too eager to entirely disassociate Christianity and the process of Biblical exegesis - the latter is very important to most Christian traditions (especially the Sola Scriptura denominations). I also acknowledge that it doesn't fit well into the 6 categories you've identified here: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/3409/… but I still feel intuitively that it belongs on this site. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 15:48
  • Maybe the best answer (and unfortunately it's not an answer I feel like I have the time or background to really give well) would be a good intro/overview of hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis.
    – wordsmythe
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 17:03
  • @bruisedreed I understand what you are saying. Exegesis is very important to most Christians. But the question is "How to exegete" not "How does this person/tradition/denomination exegete this passage?" We strive to be academic, right, so we assume that learning how to exegete is something done elsewhere or already known. Now, I'm not for or against this being on-topic, but as it is now, site policy hasn't really addressed it.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 17:17
  • 2
    Just because something is on topic for another site doesn't make it off topic for this one. Likewise, this is information that Christians use in understanding doctrine. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:11
  • @AffableGeek I agree with both statements, but this is what we need to determine now: Are we intent on staying a site that discusses Christianity, or will we expand into "How to do Christian study?" If we will expand, then we need to set a new boundary line, for example, will we now allow book recommendation questions? I think this topic needs a new meta post. If more people weigh in here, I think I can formulate it myself, but right now, I don't think I have enough information to properly scope it.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:23
  • I can't see any reason not to step into that territory. If you are going to ask about a doctrine, who wouldn't want link to the real heart of the matter? Shopping list questions are always off-topic in SO, but Christian Study, like other pastoral matters, are already on topic: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/a/869/1039 Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:26
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    @AffableGeek That's good history to know. I'm not sure where I set on this yet, but it is tending toward allowing it because I cannot foresee any harm, but I do think it would need some strict guidelines that I cannot seem to formulate in my own head right now. We just need to be careful to prevent opinion based answers. If it were any other topic than religion or politics, I would be less hesitant.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:39

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