This site has dozens of open exegesis questions that ask for interpretations of biblical texts but that do not specify a tradition. Of these, many have lain dormant for years and have not recently been tested by a vote-to-close process in the review queue. However, some have undergone such a process in the last year or so, and remained open. Here are several examples:

In each case, some close voters voted to leave open, while others voted to close. My 10k superpowers reveal that the last two of these were actually voted "leave open" by a moderator, removing them from the queue (and under normal circumstances essentially guaranteeing that they remain open). The others were not closed as a result of regular users clicking "leave open" rather than "close" – and some users do this more than others.

To be clear, I don't have a philosophical problem with users judging questions differently. Maybe there is a truly undefinable gray area within which there are no guidelines except the whims of voters. However, before resigning myself to that unsatisfying possibility, I'd like to explore why only some of these exegesis questions get closed. Here are my specific questions:

  • How do these differ from "truth questions"?
  • What specific criteria would help differentiate these from the many no-tradition-specified exegesis questions that are closed? (recent examples 1, 2, and 3)

Some might suggest that the answer to my questions can be found in a related question, Questions to Christianity vs Questions about a denomination. It indicates that tradition scoping is only required in order to "[narrow] questions to answerable proportions," but seems to conclude that so long as "all Nicene Christians" agree, tradition scoping is not required. Affable Geek also argued for this in a less-well received meta post.

I'm completely at a loss to explain how such a view coincides with posts like we can't handle the truth. This view seems to treat anyone outside Nicene Christianity as second class citizens, which surely violates the general principles communicated in Christianity.SE vs. Survivor and elsewhere. If something along these lines is indeed the answer, I hope to see a robust case for it in light of these (dare I say) foundational posts.

  1. I could give many more examples of these no-tradition-specified exegesis questions, given just a bit more time to trawl through the close votes review queue history. Thus I'm not interested in the specific rationale for closing or opening any of these particular questions – I'm looking for general principles that can be used to guide close voters.
  • 2
    As much as I'd love the site to keep allowing non-scoped exegesis questions so that I can answer them if I want to, I don't see how allowing them isn't bringing us right back to popularity contests in which the answers from the biggest and best-represented denominations "win," whereas those from smaller and less well-represented denominations "lose." Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 22:43
  • 3
    "Close them all. Let God sort them out." Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 19:15
  • Related: christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4204/… Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 8:26

4 Answers 4

  • All exegetical questions less than 60 days old which have no tradition specified should be flagged for a moderator requesting that they be moved to the Hermeneutics Stack Exchange if they are on-topic for the site, not too broad and not primarily opinion based.

  • Questions older than 60 days should be closed or edited to re-scope them or bring them on topic (if possible).

  • Remaining new questions should be closed.

Why would we do this?

For three reasons:

  1. Unscoped questions often deteriorate into competitions, bickering and arguments amongst theological positions without restricting the question to "What does school of thought or denomination X believe about Y"
  2. The Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange was created for the exclusive purpose of exegeting specific texts (the site was almost named Biblical Exegesis). This isn't to say that the exegesis that was done historically at the Christianity Stack Exchange isn't of good quality - it is - but organizing questions on the basis of their topic is in the interest of both sites. It allows each site to better focus on higher quality answers within their realm of expertise with less distractions. It is important to remember that reputation is transferred and gained at both sites and your are welcome to participate in both communities. Participation in one community is not at the cost of the other. To the contrary, the relationship between the two sites can and should be a symbioses.

  3. Migrating helps to broaden perspective answers. Because the Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange includes all Biblical traditions, it has the benefit of Jewish scholarship and exegesis that you might not otherwise get at the Christianity Stack Exchange. Understanding the hermeneutic methods and ways in which New Testament peoples would have understood and interpreted the Old Testament enhances our ability to understand both the NT and OT and the broader perspectives benefits all.

How does Biblical Hermeneutics prevent #1 above?

Biblical Hermeneutics avoids this by

  1. Downvoting answers that are prescriptive instead of descriptive. If an answered sermonizes or pulls in half of the New Testament to make their point, this is generally downvoted. BH.SE seeks to be a place that is free from denominational politics. BH.SE feels that we can objectively exegete a given text without doing that by requiring answers to show their work with citations. So far this most often results in solid, but uncontroversial exegetical commentary (with some exceptions).

  2. Closing questions about systematic theology. These questions are wholly off-topic. This is firstly because that is the expertise and focus of the Christianity Stack Exchange and everyone here does an outstanding job. Secondly, this manages the same problem that the denomination tagging solves for this site - It avoids bickering and flame wars. Those kinds of discussions are good, but this is not a discussion site, it is a Q&A site and we want people to go have those (valuable) discussions in a discussion forum that is suited to that format.

Other Limitations, considerations and objections and proposed guidlines

Below are proposals for additional refinements for guidelines. For now, we can just stick to the above in the quote box. But the below should be further discussed and can be moved up (or not) as consensus is reached.

  • These guidelines would only apply to scoped exegetical questions. Questions about the Biblical Basis for a belief or questions that are not about a specific verse or passage that are unscoped (that is, they do not ask from or about a specific tradition) should remain on Christianity.SE and be treated with current standard guidelines.

  • "I'm Catholic and the Catholic church doesn't believe that laity doesn't have the authority to interpret scripture - only clergy under direction from the pope who ultimately receive guidance and their authority from God.

    Great! Again - All traditions are welcome on Biblical Hermeneutics. If answers are "too protestant" or conflict with The Church's teachings in some way, please help by adding the canonical answer provided from the by the doctrines and teaching of the Catholic church. However, if you really feel that for some reason, BH.SE cannot provide the same or better exegesis from Catholic teachings, this can be respected and questions tagged with the Catholic perspective needn't be migrated. I would ask you please itemize and note your objections in the comments so that we can further refine and develop these guidelines with due consideration and respect.

  • Questions about historical background can (should?) be migrated.

    One very important aspect of the Hermeneutic process is to understand and establish the historical background and context to a passage. For this reason Historical Context questions have been a part of the Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange since infancy and will continue to be an integral component. Questions about New Testament history and should therefore either 1) be edited to ask about a specific tradition or denominational distinctive or 2) a relevant passage should be found about which the question can be asked. It is not uncommon to do this on BH.SE to bring a question in scope. For example:

    Is there extrabiblical first-century documentation of sadducee theology?

    The Bible mentions a few things about the sadducees' beliefs but doesn't reveal much detail. Are there any documents aside from the Bible from the first century AD (or first few centuries) which document what the sadducees believed?

    This question could be migrated to Mi Yodeya, History.SE or BH.SE. The best option however seems to be to migrate the question to BH.SE and edit it to read:

    Is there extrabiblical documentation of sadducee theology?

    In Acts, Luke notes

    The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.

    Here and elsewhere, the Bible alludes to various beliefs of the Sadducee. Judasim has texts like the Mishna and Talmud. Is there anything similar for Sadducean theology and if so what are the earliest extant works or is any of this theology detailed in the Mishna or Talmud?

    This is the ideal way to handle this question because it can't be scoped to a denomination but it can be scoped to interpretation of a specific text (Acts 23:8, though as the OP alludes to other texts could be used.) By keeping this at BH.SE or C.SE, this will probably give a better and more domain-specific answer with more expertise and History.SE is too generalized and will give a more broad and less nuanced overview. As this involves components of textual criticism it is a good fit for BH.SE, so this is the ideal way to manage this question.

  • We may want to migrate questions sometimes even when they do specify a tradition

    Often questions will ask for a perspective as a throwaway. There is little reason the question needs the denominational perspective. For now, we can comment asking the OP why they want a denominational perspective and ask if they would be willing to have the question migrated. As we collect data from that exercise, we can determine if we need to continue to ask, or if a mod can just migrate as these guidelines develop.

  • "I don't think this is a good idea... there's nothing wrong with keeping things here. We can do a fine job."

    There is something wrong with keeping the questions here. There is a subject domain where the question is more closely matched. Migrating these types of questions will better categorize the content across Stack Exchange.

    If you feel that exegetical questions are better served on C.SE for some reason, please articulate and itemize your arguments as why in the comments below for discussion.

  • "left as-is" implies old divisive or opinionated unscoped questions should be left open, which is not something we really want. Perhaps some old questions should be left open, but some should definitely be closed. So I still think we need some sort of criteria, even if we migrate all the (good) new ones.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 4:10
  • I like the protocol, but it seems premature. We can't even decide whether to keep them in the first place.
    – user3961
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 15:59
  • @curiousdannii - I agree. I have revised again. Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 18:00
  • I'd vote for this, because it is much more consistent for us as mods to follow a guideline like this, but if the denomination is specified or hinted at (tagged Catholicism, KJV only, etc...) then it really shouldn't be moved because the kind of hermeneuitics practiced at the other site is not what is being asked about. hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/3455/400
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 16:07

So my perspective is that there are several levels of interpretation. It's hard to split them, up, but here is my go:

  1. Word definitions, syntax questions (ex. what does the crazy old-timey KJV syntax of this verse mean?)
  2. Identifying referents (ex. who is the king mentioned in this verse?)
  3. What is the point of this verse, or what is the basic doctrine it teaches?
  4. How does this verse contribute to a larger systematic theology?
  5. What contemporary application should we derive from this verse?

With these levels I'd suggest that:

  • levels 1-2 are almost always allowed on this site
  • some level 3 questions are, depending on whether there are any real disagreements over the verse. This is subjective, and the community will disagree over some of these questions. If there is a small disagreement, then these questions will usually be easily converted to overview questions
  • we migrate all unscoped questions to Biblical Hermeneutics
  • level 5 questions aren't allowed at either site, but come to chat!
  • To your level 1-3, I would certainly add "What is the biblical basis for ...?" since this scopes a question without requiring a denomination. Biblical basis eliminates popularity contests because, if there is no genuine basis, there is no answer. Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 7:33
  • @DickHarfield Yeah I wasn't thinking of them at all, they're usually fine by themselves.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 7:38
  • Thanks, this is helpful. Though I'm not quite sure what you have in mind for #4. And #3 is the tricky spot for me – it seems like we're treating them differently from truth questions. "Is infanticide a sin?" would get closed even if no one here knows of any Christian group that supports it. So why would "What does this verse teach" survive? Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 12:25
  • @Nathaniel an example of the difference between levels 3 and 4 would be, looking at John 16:28: level 3 would be about the implications of Jesus' preexistence, mission, and future glorification. Level 4 would ask about how it contributes to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Son's generation from the Father
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 13:04
  • @Nathaniel I guess for the simple cases of level 3, I'd consider them to be implicit overview questions, especially if they're about things which I've only ever heard one interpretation of. Perhaps that infanticide question should also be allowed to be open if we take it to be an implicit overview qn? Or perhaps we should require both kinds of questions to have explicit overview notices?
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 13:06
  • I'd at least lean toward making them explicitly say "overview," though that still feels a little like a back door for marginalizing non-Nicene Christianity. It's an improvement, though, because it makes it more clear that answers need to provide evidence that multiple traditions hold a view – i.e., I can't just quote R. C. Sproul, I also have to quote someone like Aquinas; otherwise I haven't actually answered the question. Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:17
  • This is good. I like the categories, the hard yes on 1 and 2, hard no on 4 and 5, then soft yes on 3.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 13:32
  • I'd note that 4 can take an overview form (e.g. What is an overview of the major interpretations on this verse?) Those are good if it's actually a verse with several major views, so it's not for every question about verse interpretation.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 13:35
  • 1
    I'm surprised this has a zero score. It's the best, most helpful answer by a lot.
    – user3961
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 16:02

Building on curiousdannii's answer, let me suggest the following guideline:

All non-trivial exegesis questions must specifically ask for the view of a particular Christian tradition or denomination, or for an overview of interpretations. Otherwise, they are off-topic.

My commentary:

  • What does "non-trivial" mean?
    • Exegesis questions may be considered trivial if they require no textual analysis beyond basic rules of language (definitions, syntax, etc.) and no known self-identifying Christian group disagrees with any other over the interpretation.
    • Thus a single example of a self-identifying Christian group that disputes a text's "literal" or "clear" or "obvious" meaning makes the question non-trivial.
  • What does "specifically" mean?
    • The asker of the question (the "OP") must specify whose viewpoint is desired. Other users may ask the OP to clarify, but may not assume that the OP means to request an overview, or the view of any particular denomination.
  • What does "overview" mean?
    • An overview question recognizes the existence of disagreement among self-identifying Christians on a particular passage, and is sufficiently limited in scope as to be answerable without being "too broad."
    • "Too broad" is a judgment call, but generally speaking, if more than several views must be treated to answer the overview question well, the question is too broad.
    • Answers to overview questions must demonstrate an attempt to provide an overview – such as by describing the views of two or more traditions, or by arguing that only one view exists and describing that one.

Here are some answers to possible objections:

  • All you've done is moved the gray area from "no-tradition-specified exegesis questions" to "too-broad overview questions"
    • A reasonable critique, but consider:
      1. The number of questions in the gray area is smaller, because this requirement forces OPs to clarify their questions, and in response some will specify a tradition rather than an overview.
      2. While the "too broad" judgement call is, unfortunately, impossible to avoid, it is familiar to our users and comparatively easy to explain.
  • Wouldn't it be better to simply consider all no-tradition-specified exegesis questions off-topic, not just the "non-trivial" ones?
    • The consistency of such a policy may be appealing, but consider:
      1. This proposal is more similar to current prevailing practice.
      2. The definition of "non-trivial" is purposefully narrow – it allows the few truly non-controversial questions to be asked, but cannot be applied if disagreement is shown to exist.
  • What are some examples of existing questions that would not be closed? I'm trying to wrap my head around exactly what "non-trivial" entails here. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 1:01
  • @Mr.Bultitude My thought is that "trivial" would include #1 and #2 from curiousdannii's list. Possible examples would be this one and this one, though I could be convinced otherwise if it's shown that there is disagreement. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 1:11
  • I down voted this answer. I don't think exegesis necessitates a "tradition". In fact, I think it's the other way around. Exegesis creates doctrine. Such a rule forces answers into appeals to authorities. Nothing wrong with it inherently, but it is often boring. But these authorities commonly let doctrine determine the veracity of exegesis, meaning, they have a systematic theology to support. With this rule, we'd not allow exegesis questions at all. We'd only allow the form "How does x interpret this verse?"
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 13:28
  • The above comment found originally on this related meta post: Biblical definition questions- on topic or opinion based?
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 13:29
  • @fredsbend Well it's circular - theology comes from exegesis but also informs exegesis. Hopefully no one would deny that. As to this post, I do still support it, and think any exegesis questions on any slightly contentious verses should explicitly ask for an overview of interpretations.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 13:42
  • @curious Yes, kind of. This is where the subjective lines get drawn. For example, I'd agree with an interpretation that looks at similar verses by the same author (because we assume authors are usually consistent, but we should also accept the fact that people's thoughts develop over time and sometimes they change their mind). But comparing verses in books by different authors can be quite problematic, and it's anachronistic if you're trying to interpret the older verse by looking at newer versus.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 15:28
  • My point is that exegesis is an effort to determine what the author was trying to say. Often however people think exegesis means finding out the theological truth. I find the more you believe in infallibility the more likely you are to take this erroneous definition. I think because the correct approach can challenge infallibility. Basically, when taking the correct exegetical approach the conclusions that the author was inconsistent, or changed his mind, or lied, or doesn't know what he's talking about are all on the table.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 15:31

I propose a fairly simple heuristic:

Such questions should be on-topic unless they violate other site guidelines.

  • Unfortunately I don't think this works... in my question I suggest that these are actually "truth questions," and some disagree with me. So do these violate the site guideline of "no truth questions," or not? Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 16:29
  • @Nathaniel That would be up to the judgment of the close vote reviewers, or if it's contentious, the outcome of a specific Meta post for that question - there is no need for another blanket rule. Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 16:35

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