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Lately there have been several questions in the format "What does (insert Bible Story) mean/teach us?"

These aren't scoped to request a particular view, and as worded, most of them are clearly asking for Truth and meaning, which is obviously off-topic here. Yet there are answers on these, and really, except for moderator action, they probably wouldn't be closed.

What's the scoop? Are we now allowing personal interpretation/exegesis? Have we ever allowed personal exegesis?

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    The status quo seems to be that some exegesis questions are deemed acceptable and others aren't. I think that this is right, but I also would be happy if the distinction could be clarified, but I'm not sure how to describe what makes the better questions better. – curiousdannii Dec 5 '14 at 14:45
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    Most exegesis questions that are not scoped to a denomination look to me like personal-exegesis requests; and that really looks like "opinion-based" to me. I don't see it as a good idea. – Matt Gutting Dec 5 '14 at 19:17
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No, we don't.

This has been the general scope of the site from the very beginnig and later as specific cases started cropping up we worked on making this clear in our guidelines. It is now the canonical position of this site that we do not allow answers to be based on personal exegesis alone nor do we allow for questions that call for such. Any and all questions that are ambiguous about what they do call for should be assumed to be overview questions and only descriptions of exegesis that is broadly representative of extant beliefs is allowed.

There are several general groupings of questions. The lines between these are pretty fuzzy and how to handle them is a judgment call the community and/or moderators have to make every time.

  • Some are "truth" questions:

    This label isn't the greatest, but to date we haven't come up with a better one. The idea behind these questions is trying to get to the bottom of what a verse really means. Often this is "as opposed to what some foolish group X says about it. Many of these are actually "refute this" statements masquerading as questions.

    "What does this verse really mean?"

    My observation is that these are are commonly asked by Christians and often about verses that are not universally clear --- either because they are hard to interpret or because they require a doctrinal framework in order to be understood. These questions are often asked to refute some other view that is a concern to the asker: either because they've already decided that other view is wrong and that the verse they are asking about refutes it, or because they genuinely haven't made up their a theological issue and the verse is related and they want to evaluate arguments to see which side is stronger.

    Christianity.SE is not equipped to handle these questions at all. If they are well formulated, leave assumptions at the door and are specifically about the details of a verse and what it could mean these may be candidates for migration to Hermeneutics.SE.

  • Some are beginner questions:

    A few questions are just trying to get the general lay of the land.

    "What is this about anyway?"

    These tend to be asked by non-Christians or new Christians who don't know what's what yet. They run across something that they've never seen or surprises them and what to know how it fits into the whole.

    These often need editing so that it is more apparent how they need to be answered, but the general format is that on an overview. These need answering with broad descriptions of what 'most' Christian groups would say about a verse with additional information about notable exceptions where it is interpreted differently. In spite of many users first inclinations to do so, answering these as if they were truth questions (e.g. "This verses means X") is not usually acceptable. These must be treated in a manner descriptive of whatever traditions are relevant. (e.g. "Most Christians take this to mean X, but group Y says it means Z instead.")

    In order to be asked, these really should be edited so that it is clear that a birds eye view is being requested rather than a argumentation for whether specific positions are correct. While this is an easy edit in many cases, it usually does not line up with the original intent of the author and forcing it is a bad idea. Forcing the question format into this mold when what the asker really wanted to know only tends to perpetuate the problem of personal exegesis answers and makes a giant mess.

  • Some are specific to a theological framework:

    These are the ones this site is best equipped to handle.

    "How does group Y interpret this verse?"

    These tend to be asked by the kind of experts we hope this site caters to best. Often they may be experts in their own traditions but less well versed in diverse other theological traditions. For example I am much more likely to ask questions about how Catholicism views specific verses than I am about my own tradition because I have plenty of local resources for understanding my own church's views but relatively few for understanding others.

    Note that comparison questions are okay as long as they answers they call for are descriptive of the differences rather than prescriptive of which interpretation is correct. No amount of reasoning about why one way on interpreting a verse is better than another is appropriate for this site. That's the sort of thing the Hermeneutics site is better scoped to handle. There exegesis questions can be answered with arguments for why one interpretation is superior to another. Not so here.

  • Some are troll questions:

    Trolls and neigh-sayers ask questions to. Sometimes these are thinly veiled attacks, sometimes they are more nuanced.

    "What could this verse possible mean that I would believe in?"

    These questions tend to be about things that non-Christians find preposterous. They either want to throw mud at Christianity or to to have someone convince them. Either way these don't really have a place on this site, although the fuzzy line between these and beginner/overview questions is a thin one and easily crossed.

Questions that can objectively answered on this site are ones that are bounded by some sort of predefined scope. Personal exegesis falls inherently outside of such boundaries. While some questions in this genre may be workable here, the vast majority of what people expect to be able to ask is actually not the purview of this site at all.

  • I think it would help to have a list of each of these question types. (Not saying you have to make the list!) – curiousdannii Dec 9 '14 at 2:01
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No, we don't. As explained in How we're different from other sites, posts by #6, we're not interested in what any individual thinks. We're interested in what various groups teach. That's been the case for quite a while.

Asking what a passage means without scoping it properly is inherently ask "what do you think it means?". That's opinion-based.

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Lately there have been several questions in the format "What does (insert Bible Story) mean/teach us?"

OK.

...Most of them are clearly asking for Truth and meaning, which is obviously off-topic here.

It's true. Truth questions are off-topic; but meaning, explanation, interpretation, and exegesis questions are not. How are you making this leap? If you outlawed these questions, what would be left?

Just in general, please stop closing so many questions. We like this site, and an abundance of closed questions threaten the morale of the community.

  • You contradict yourself here. You say truth questions are off topic then you go on to describe truth questions and say you want them to be on topic. That's not how this works. It may not be a very good name (we've been looking for another way to describe them) but questions that ask about what the correct meaning for a passage is are usually "truth questions". Speaking for a large if not exclusive portion of the active community here: The site "we" like is the one with the high signal-to-noise ratio maintained in large part by closing questions that would turn it into a discussion forum. – Caleb Dec 5 '14 at 12:38
  • @Caleb: When you say correct meaning, you're implying that such questions have some sort of "debate" or "opinion" dimension inherent in them. I'm not talking about these questions. Some questions may in fact ask for meaning in a very objective fashion. These are definitely on-topic. // And would you kindly spare me the bold typeface, sir? That implies some sort of condescension in your voice. I know that you're a moderator, and that you devote a lot of time to this site, but let's just talk this through like people. Like people chatting over a cup of coffee. Thank you. – Jim G. Dec 5 '14 at 12:44
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    Questions that can objectively answered are ones that are bounded by some sort of predefined scope. Personal exegesis falls inherently outside of such boundaries and as a site have consistently chosen to exclude questions which call for it. Those are the questions being asked about in this meta post, not ones with frameworks for judging answers objectively. – Caleb Dec 5 '14 at 13:41
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    And sorry about the bold. It's not great typography but comment formatting is pretty limited. And bold does not usually imply condescension in implies emphasis, which is what I meant to do: set that statement apart from the rest of the comment and make it emphatic. – Caleb Dec 5 '14 at 13:41
  • Jim: What's an example of such a question you'd consider on-topic? – Matt Gutting Dec 5 '14 at 19:18
  • @Caleb: No problem, Caleb. Thanks. – Jim G. Dec 5 '14 at 19:47
  • @MattGutting: What did Jesus mean by "not peace but division"? – Jim G. Dec 5 '14 at 19:50
  • I'd consider this at best questionable - none of the answers cites any reference to a defined theological/doctrinal framework. They all appear to be the responders' own opinions, not objective truth in any sense; and I'd be closing the question as opinion-based. – Matt Gutting Dec 5 '14 at 19:55
  • @MattGutting What's stopping you? I've already vtc'd in the past apparently. – 3961 Dec 5 '14 at 22:13
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    In response to "Just in general, please stop closing so many questions." There might be the makings of a good meta post in there. "Should moderators be closing so many questions?" Feel free to ask it and name me. Personally I'd LOVE to stop closing so many questions personally, it's just that if I don't, or one of the other mods, people who have been on this site a long time and should know better by now keep answering them, and that's counter-productive, too. It'd be a heck of a lot better if experienced members did the job and explained the rules to newcomers so mods don't have to. – David Stratton Dec 5 '14 at 22:21
  • @fredsbend: Thanks, man. I'll remember this next time you have a borderline question yourself. – Jim G. Dec 6 '14 at 0:10
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    @JimG. If I happen to ask a question that is primarily opinion based I hope you do vote to close. That is the duty of having that privilege. My primary objective is maintaining and increasing the quality of the site. I hope that is the first objective of all of this site's participants. So please do vote to close all questions that are off-topic and primarily opinion based, whether mine or another's. – 3961 Dec 6 '14 at 0:44
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    @DavidStratton I kind of wish the mods used their power vtc more often. – 3961 Dec 6 '14 at 0:45
  • @fredsbend: Now I pick what I like from the various opinions on topics rather than the whole. Ha! That shouldn't be hard. – Jim G. Dec 6 '14 at 0:54
  • @JimG. I'm not sure what you are suggesting, but that reminds me that my profile needs updating. – 3961 Dec 6 '14 at 1:06

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