I found this Why is Jesus looking on an oddly standing stone? to be an interesting question, mostly because it raises an interesting question about what we do here.

The title of the painting and the overall feel clearly implies that there is a Christian focus to it, but the following objection was raised:

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about art interpretation.


"What is the author's stated meaning of this painting?" would put it firmly in the category of Art History, not Christianity.

Likewise, this argument was made for it being on topic:

This is question about Christianity! It's on topic! ☺ And I'm sure there's deeper meaning behind it, but the way the question is currently phrased leaves it too open to opinionated answers. Maybe "What is the author's stated meaning of this painting?" or something like that.

Dispensing with the specifics of this question in general, the greater issue is this: Is Christian Art on topic for the site?

  • You wrote in a comment "I think it is asking about the theological interpretation of a work. It is on topic." How do you propose to do this without it being opinion based?
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 23:23

3 Answers 3


I answered this question, and I did so because I felt asking what this picture referred to was on-topic. This is a question that can clearly be answered and doesn't seem speculative.

I feel, however, that asking for an interpretation, is not on-topic. Bye's answer to the question pretty much says why it should not be on-topic to interpret christian art.

The picture you asked about along with many other paintings are symbolic and are intended to elicit contemplation on the part of the viewer. As to what that painting refers to in the Bible is mostly an association within the mind of the viewer.

One person might be reminded of the temptation of Christ when Satan said turn these rocks into bread while another person might be reminded of the aloneness of Jesus and that he was like no other man who ever walked the earth. The more connotations that a painting can induce in it's viewers the better.

  • I'm not sure how you draw a distinction between "making an interpretation of the picture" on the one hand and "stating what the picture refers to" on the other. Doesn't stating what the picture refers to require making an interpretation of the picture? Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:18
  • @MattGutting If the picture title is "Christ in the Desert", I would argue it is not interpretation to say which scene is shown. To ask if there is some "deeper meaning", that is interpretation. I know a bunch of pictures where there is clearly a specific biblical scene that is shown, but I am certain there are aspects that the artist wanted to stress. Stating what scene is shown is not interpretation, most of the time. Stating what the author may have thought while drawing, or what he wanted to transmit (or what we can draw from the picture), that is interpretation. That is the distinction.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:26
  • For example, there is a picture showing Christ with the rich young man. Asking what scene is shown is clearly different than asking about specifics of the picture, e.g. why is the man looking away from the poor that Christ shows him, or something like that.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:28
  • This is fine and dandy for this painting, but indeed every painting and artwork is different. Take Michelangelo's David. Yes, it related to a Christian/Jewish story, but that leaves the answers as "well, David was preparing to fight Goliath." Boring and doesn't really tell you any more than the story already does. Then you get ones that have Christian undertones, like a picture of Santa praying. How do we answer that? Well, the author is saying that Christmas should be about Jesus. That's interpretation (probably right, but off-topic nonetheless).
    – user3961
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 19:53
  • 2
    @fredsbendtheGrinch Yes, that's the point. Interpretation should be off-topic, identification seems ok (but maybe boring)
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 20:13

We've looked at similiar issues before.

In Is Christian Fiction on topic? , I wrote this:

I would argue that Christian fiction, if you are talking about the theology inherent to it, is on-topic. Here's the argument:

  1. Theological is explored in a spectrum of written works - defining those rules would be too difficult if we institute a blanket rule.

  2. That said, Notability is still important.

Likewise, in Are Christian allusions on topic?, Wax Eagle wrote

I think that both questions are towards the borderline of what we allow (both of those books are literature not theology), but Lewis' works are pretty much universally on topic, as are Chesterton's. I don't see why Tolkien and Dostoyevsky shouldn't be just becuause they are literature.

So as with all things, mind the framing, make your questions clear and narrow, and questions about Christian allusions in literature should be mostly on topic.

In both questions, the answer was about the same - namely these types of questions may not be the focus of our site, but that doesn't imply they off-topic.

Personally, I think the question was framed well enough within our site guidelines to keep it open.


In answering this question it never occurred to me that it might be off topic. To me the question was actually asking about the nature of Christ. The poster himself, stated that he was not a Christian; in my mind that meant that what he was wanting to know was if Jesus had all of the characteristics of a normal human being.

To my mind it is basic to Christianity to understand that Christ was both human and deity at the same time. In this particular instance the question was why it is that he's Staring at a particular stone? That there might be some reasons why Christ would be staring at a particular stone, as opposed to an ordinary man staring idly a stone.

In my mind this question actuality goes to the root of Christianity, if I have miss interpreted I apologize.

But this discussion brings up another question about which I have recently had some misgivings. I have begun to wonder, considering the number of questions that are marked as off-topic and especially those that are asked by the new viewers of the site, if we have not become too restrictive in what questions we consider to be off topic.

To my way of thinking; considering that this site, is dedicated to answering questions about Christianity, and being fully aware that this is a secular site; I cannot understand why questions which can be biblically answered is not as basic to Christianity as what any particular denomination believes.

Therefore I offer up this question for consideration:

would it not be better, with new visitors, to use the comments section not only to referred them to site regulations, which they may or may not take the time to research; to perhaps the give them examples of how that question could be reworded in order to conform with site requirements? The

  • We do usually give advice for how to edit questions to bring them into line, and often we directly edit them for the new users. But one of the guidelines for editing on Stack Exchange in general is that you don't edit something that goes against the intention of the original author. Sometimes only minor changes are needed so we can just do them - for example adding our set phrase "what is the biblical basis for ...". But if it would change what the question is asking at a deeper level than that and the OP never responds to our feedback, then its appropriate to close it rather than edit it.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 0:46
  • I drafted this a while ago and link to it regularly for new users: Types of questions that are within community guidelines
    – user3961
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 7:03

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