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We seem to have a more or less a consensus on our site that asking for the Biblical basis for a doctrine is permitted, even encouraged. We also tend to allow "What does the Bible say about X?" questions:

And a plethora of others.

But our Help Center says the following are off topic:

  • what the Bible says about a subject (unless you specify a doctrine/tradition)

I also recently got into a bit of a meta comment debate about this with a new user--which is what made me think of this issue to post here in the first place.

What is the true consensus of our community? Should "What does the Bible say about...?" questions be closed without a faith tradition? If so, we have a lot of closing to do.

If not, we need to update our Help Center.

  • possible duplicate of What does the Bible say? Questions – curiousdannii Aug 20 '14 at 7:16
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    @curiousdannii: It's perhaps a re-hashing of an old subject, but it's not a duplicate, in the sense that I'm asking us here to revise our official "off topic" list if we choose to keep accepting such questions. – Flimzy Aug 20 '14 at 9:22
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    As the "new user," I would actually like the FAQ to be changed. If there are tons of questions like this, that implies the community wants them to be allowed. And since this is a community driven site, that implies the rules should be changed. Having the FAQ disagree with current practice is confusing. – trlkly Aug 25 '14 at 14:04
  • "What is the biblical basis <insert some Christian tradition here>" vs "What does the bible say about <insert anything here, because I'm too lazy to search or read>" – The Freemason Aug 28 '14 at 15:24
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There is a clear, quantifiable difference between the two.

"What does the Bible say about a subject" leaves conflicting answers far too often.

  • What does the Bible say the age of the earth is?
  • What does the Bible say about whether Christians are required to tithe?
  • What does the Bible say about free will?
  • What does the Bible say about our ability to choose to accept Christ vs. predestination?

The list can go on. Each of those questions are rooted in "What does the Bible say about..." and each of them has opposing answers all with Biblical basis.

Now, if you re-phrase those as

  • What's the Biblical basis for a seven day creation and a 6,000-10,000 year old earth?
  • What's the Biblical basis for the tithe
  • What's the Biblical basis for the belief that Christians are not required to tithe>
  • What is the Biblical basis for the idea that we need to choose to accept Christ, and that we have the ability to do so?
  • What is the Biblical basis for the doctrine of Total Depravity?

Each of those has specific verses that can be used to say "This is the basis".

The bottom line is that "What does the Bible say about X" is often a matter of personal interpretation, or opinion.

For many answers that claim "The Bible says X", it is probably fair to expect that you can take some other verse (perhaps out of context) and say "No, the Bibles says Y or Z."

I'm sorry, but opening up the site to allow "What does the Bible say about X" is the wrong move. We allowed these in the past, and learned the hard way that it didn't work.

  • To play the devil's advocate, if someone does post a personal opinion rather than a consensus interpretation, why not let the voting show the answer's validity, just like we do for other questions now? For your example question about whether Christians are required to tithe I think there is likely to be a very large consensus view that based on verses like 2 Cor 9:7 the answer is a clear no, and probably anyone who disagrees would put another authority who does require it above the bible, meaning their position wouldn't really be an answer to the question. – curiousdannii Aug 24 '14 at 12:23
  • In essence I think you're just arguing against overview questions. Overview questions are hard, so maybe we need stricter guidelines, more help for writing and answer them etc, but we should still allow them. – curiousdannii Aug 24 '14 at 12:25
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    Perhaps instead of completely disallowing them, we could have strict guidelines on answers. This makes a bit more work, especially for hot topic questions, but ultimately a boon for the site. The guidelines should probably start where Flimzy mentions it in his post, but they need to be specific, so offending posts can be easily corrected and/or deleted with little effort spent on explanation. – fredsbend Aug 24 '14 at 15:05
  • What does the Bible say the age of the earth is? -- IMO the answer to this question is "The Bible doesn't say." IOW, I think such questions should be interpreted as asking for specific references, not implications which can be reasoned out. If we think that's too complicated to enforce, however (or too subjective), then I would accept your answer as a good alternative. Many such questions can probably be turned into "What is the Biblical basis for X view?" with little effort anyway. – Flimzy Aug 25 '14 at 11:59
  • These sorts of questions that sneak interpretations detached from a doctrine or denominational precedent into the site are one of the reasons I've been less involved lately. And it's not just new questions: Lots of old questions and answers (some of which I may be responsible for) are definitely opinions without explicit doctrinal references. That sort of stuff severely damages the value of the site. – svidgen Sep 2 '14 at 15:47
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Typically, I expect Stack Exchange websites to focus on verifiable answers; and I'm not sure that What does the Bible say about ... is typically verifiable—precisely because (as David says) people will say things like "Well, the Bible seems to be saying (or seems to me to be saying) such-and-such; but that's actually a metaphor—it's really talking about thus-and-so here." (Or vice-versa, of course.)

For example, many Christians might answer the question "What does the Bible say about how many days the creation of the universe actually took?" by answering "It says the creation of the universe actually took seven days." On the other hand, most Catholics would say, "Because the first chapter of Genesis is a story, not a literal history, the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say about how long the creation of the universe actually took."

I just don't think it's possible to answer most What does the Bible say about... questions completely free of interpretation—and those questions which can be answered that way I'd probably feel belong better on (for example) Biblical Hermeneutics.

  • I agree with this, and it seems to be the take of the community at the time the standing policy was made. I wonder if there might be a way to allow questions which specifically want to know which Bible verses address a specific topic. For instance, if I want to know "Which verses talk about the number of days of creation?" – Flimzy Aug 25 '14 at 14:44
  • Do we have something like a "biblical concordance" tag? – Matt Gutting Aug 25 '14 at 14:54
  • We have a 'reference-request' tag. Although that might be too specific. – Flimzy Aug 25 '14 at 14:56
  • To my mind this seems like an attempt to encourage good answering (i.e. ones which are clearly shown from the text and even handed in their interpretation) by placing constraints on the questions. This makes some sense since a bad question often elicits a bad answer. However I would predict seeing people struggle with this since most of the people answering here are Christians, and their study of the Bible does not stop at textual survey but is inherently hermeneutical, leading them to belief and action. – Tom Duckering Mar 6 '15 at 16:45
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My opinion is that these questions are okay, as long as the answers stick strictly to what the Bible actually says, and don't try to offer interpretation. As such, tagging all such questions as would be entirely appropriate (and perhaps should be required).

I realize that even this offers a little room for interpretation, as many verses speak in (possible) metaphor. As such, I think answers relating to such verses ought to mention simply "Some people take this verse to refer to X."

As an example, does Mark 12 predict the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD? Many think so, but it's not written directly in the text. A question about "What does the Bible say about the destruction of the Temple?" probably ought to include that text, but with a note saying "Some interpret this verse this way..."

  • So I upvoted because you have advocated guidelines for the answers, which is where I think we should take this. However, we have no specifics yet for guidelines for these answers. – fredsbend Aug 24 '14 at 15:07
  • If we take this route, then we will need to figure out how to handle when the Bible says one thing in one place, and seems to say another thing in another. Of course, those discrepancies can be resolved, but your average Joe probably doesn't know anything about that, hence the equally viable opposing answers I'm concerned about. Just sticking to "what it actually says" makes it worse, not better, because it actually says plenty of things that contradict if you ignore context. – David Stratton Aug 24 '14 at 17:56
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    @DavidStratton: I guess I would suggest that "What does the Bible say?" questions should be strictly limited to the actual text of the Bible. If the text contradicts itself, so be it. The OP can ask a followup question about how to interpret those verses according to a specific tradition. – Flimzy Aug 25 '14 at 7:30
  • For a case study you might look at BH, which also on paper discourages sermonizing, truth claims, and the like in answers but in practice lacks either the ability or the will to enforce it. Maybe being explicit (including tagging) that it's a reference request only could work, but be prepared for heavy moderation. – Monica Cellio Aug 27 '14 at 19:51
  • @thedarkwanderer: What isn't possible? – Flimzy Dec 17 '14 at 16:00
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I think we're splitting hairs here on definitions. This is pretty much the same thing, except that the OP would like to hear both sides of the argument. The only real reason I could see to close this question type is that it is too broad.

For example, "What does the Bible say about prophecy?" is probably too broad and likely won't include anything in the body to help narrow it down. Alternatively, the ones you list show what they are really looking for in the body. The OP in those questions wants to get an overview or the Biblical basis on a topic that has two opinions.

If anything, these questions are typically overview questions, which has these related meta posts:

We can reword them to better fit into that format if it makes you feel better, but I'm fine with most of these as they come in. I like to read the spirit of a question, not just the words.

  • So in summary, you think we should change the site policy to make these on-topic? – Flimzy Aug 19 '14 at 16:03
  • @Flimzy Yes, but for different reasons than you state. – fredsbend Aug 19 '14 at 16:19
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The difference between 'Biblical basis' and 'What questions'

The Help section on "What does the Bible say about X" should be changed, and moderators should propose alternative simple rewording because this site, as it presently is, deters new users who have a simple question.

Sometimes, when people ask "What does the Bible say about X" they could mean, "Give me the definitive, final answer on a topic." (such as sex or forgiveness). I suspect that is the type of question that we don't want here as it ignores the subtleties of various traditions.

But often posters mean, 'Where does the Bible teach about X?' Concordances are inadequate for searches such as 'forgiveness and restitution' or 'sex within marriage'. I think we should provide answers to these questions.

Once the original poster knows where the Bible mentions the topic, then they can ask a more detailed question here or go to the hermeneutics stack exchange.

Sometimes, I suspect rarely, do they really want to ask 'What do Protestants/Catholics/pick a tradition believe about X. And it is discouraging to tell the poster to do so.

In general, I think asking the poster to change his question from a 'What' to a 'Where' is sufficient' though of course you can find counterexamples.

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    What should it be changed to? – Flimzy Apr 13 '16 at 14:23
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    I suspect rarely, do they really want to ask 'What do Protestants/Catholics/pick a tradition believe about X. And it is discouraging to tell the poster to do so. -- I agree. Humans want the right answer, without having to think about it. This applies across all SE sites. "What's the best OS to use?" We just want simple answers. But that doesn't make the nature of questions simple. This is why we simply cannot allow such questions, even though that's what people want to ask. – Flimzy Apr 13 '16 at 14:24
  • Under poor questions, instead of "what the Bible says about a subject (unless you specify a doctrine/tradition)" rewrite to be "what the Bible says about a subject" (you probably mean, 'where does the Bible talk about this subject' unless you want to know what a particular tradition (such as Protestants) teach about the subject. – Fred Oakman Apr 14 '16 at 19:15
  • I don't think that's an improvement. "Where does the Bible talk about (Hell/original sin/purgatory/infant baptism)?" Even that requires a doctrine/tradition. – Flimzy Apr 14 '16 at 20:19
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    I don't see those as different questions. The result in the answers is almost always the same: about five "here's one", one or two attempts to be comprehensive (concordance), another saying the bible doesn't talk about it at all, and finally the rep mongers and crackpots stretching verses to fit the topic. And all have comments of people saying "you're wrong". It becomes a giant soup illustrating the dire need to not only frame these inquires, but all inquires to something much more reliably answerable. – fredsbend Apr 14 '16 at 23:42
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    I dont see the problem. People will up vote the better concordance replies, and the stretched verses will become their own questions to explain why or why not they should be included. I think we are missing out on a lot of good research. – Fred Oakman Apr 16 '16 at 4:22

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