Over on the Skeptic site, they have a rule that all answers include references to sources. It's a hugely different site than ours, so such a rule isn't necessarily appropriate here. But there are answers that draw on knowledge outside of the texts in question that probably need to cite references in order to avoid inexpert opinions.

Looking through a sample of answers, I'm struck by how many people already reference commentaries, Wikipedia, dictionaries, professional research, multiple translations and so on. If we instituted a "cite sources" rule, I think the majority of us will continue operating as normal.

However, there are some answers that don't use outside sources and aren't particularly accessible to those outside of the particular hermeneutic tradition assumed by the author. Unlike, for instance, the Jewish Life & Learning site, we don't have a common heritage to draw upon. The only thing that holds us together is a common interest in the Biblical texts. If we don't take steps to educate others about our traditions as we answer questions, we risk speaking past one another.

Of particular concern is determining if answers represent or reflect expert opinion from the particular hermeneutic approach being used. If I say "this passage means such and such", there's no way to know if I'm speaking with authority or not. But if I say, "Augustine says this passages means such and such", anyone familiar with Augustine will be able to decide if it's authoritative or not. Further, we can evaluate Augustine's reasoning directly.

Should we require (or strongly prefer) answers to cite their sources?


5 Answers 5

If a statement is being made that cannot be deduced from the text (e.g. "Barthalomew was not a common name in Jerusalem in the 1st century."), it certainly makes for a much more helpful answer if that statement/fact has a citation. The same goes for the teaching of particular groups, since this too cannot be deduced immediately from the text (e.g. a certain Rabbi teaches, or the Catholic Church teaches, etc...).

If something can be deduced from the text, however, it doesn't necessarily have to have a source; though, it might help. On this question one person is able to argue directly from the text and provide a useful answer, while another person also provided a useful answer merely by being able to cite the church fathers. And of course, it's helpful to internally cite the text when pointing something out (e.g. "Amos wrote during the reign of Jereboam." Amos 1:1).

Lastly, if you're advancing an argument that isn't your own, it's best that it should be cited. Even if you're drawing from multiple sources to synthesize an argument, it seems wise to follow Richard's practice like here and include sources even if only at the end. Not only does it give authors their due credit, but it often provides the questioner somewhere to dig deeper much like a bibliography.

So I'm not sure that we should require sources, since often something can be reasoned from the text. But their presence or lack thereof is certainly something to consider when deciding whether an answer is useful.

Even in the case of the person who argued from Galatians, I'd argue they used an outside source to support their case: the New Living Translation. –  Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 22:42
I tend to agree with your conclusion. The one concern I have is that my "reasoning" doesn't always correspond to everyone else's. When we disagree about reasoning, outside sources might help us decide or at least have the proper context to evaluate. This is a potential question for the philosophy site. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 22:45
I would think that if someone thinks an answer is stronger with a reference they can add it or request it. Particularly in beta when you are trying to get lots of questions/answers. –  Bob Jones Nov 1 '11 at 1:58
@Bob: I think you misunderstand what the beta is for. We want lots of high quality questions and answers. I'd rather have 1 excellent post over 10 good ones, and either over 100 bad ones. The purpose of beta isn't to gather lots of users, but to gather expert users. –  Jon Ericson Nov 1 '11 at 4:42
Please define high quality. Or edit my poor quality ones so I can see your examples. As for expertise, can you name someone who claims to be able to unpack sensus plenior? If they came here, would they be able to cite their own work? –  Bob Jones Nov 1 '11 at 13:49
@Bob: I've tried my hand at one of your question. I'm not qualified to edit your answers beyond trivial changes--that's part of the problem. I've added an answer to this question covering sources. What do you think? –  Jon Ericson Nov 1 '11 at 23:55
Just to attach here what I've said elsewhere, I think showing your logic is a form of showing a source and would fit under this. Instead of "show sources" we should think of this as "show your work". –  Gone Quiet Feb 12 '13 at 22:26

Yes (but we ought to be liberal about what counts as a source)

First, here's a bit of Biblical justification for requiring sources. Deuteronomy 19:15 (ESV):

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.

Now we aren't talking about a crime (though some would argue that misinterpreting the Scriptures is more serious than any crime), but I think the principle of having multiple witnesses could still apply.

Second, there is a strong academical tradition of submitting research to peer review. We have a mechanism (voting) that simulates the review process, but we don't necessarily have enough people familiar with every aspect of Biblical Hermeneutics. When it comes to Historical-Grammatical hermeneutics and Midrash, we might be able to have enough people who have some knowledge to review answers. But do we have enough participants knowledgeable in textual criticism or Palamism or Quakerism or even Islam, to properly review answers from those perspectives? Fortunately, we can put all hermeneutical traditions to the same standards by requiring all answers to cite their sources.

Finally, citing sources gives readers a bibliography of where to go for more information. When I get an answer from the Talmud, I appreciate a pointer to where I can learn more about the interpretations provided. Part of the fun of a site like this is bouncing ideas off of other people and getting their ideas bounced off of us. If you are providing answers, citing sources is a great way to help your ideas rub off on someone else.

If you follow me so far, you might be worried that citing acceptable sources will be hard. Au contraire, my friend! Rather than try to establish an accepted hierarchy of sources, we ought to be open to a variety of references. For instance, if someone has written a paper or article on the subject at hand, they could cite themselves. (I really hope this would be uncommon unless the author is an established expert. But I understand that this may be the only option for some Sensus Plenior answers.)

More importantly, we don't need to spend a lot of time debating if a particular source counts for our purposes. Almost any public statement could be considered valid. All we want is to see that our community takes the minimal amount of effort needed to back up their position.


Yes and No.

There are obvious times that people ask for factual information or cite facts that really need to be substantiated. However, there are other times (sensus plenior exegesis, for example), when outside support shouldn't be required.

I don't think we can set a hard-and-fast rule on this. However, if someone is siting a fact or making a claim that seems questionable to you, feel free to ask for reference or clarification.

Ultimately, this isn't Skeptics.SE. I don't think we should make any such rule.


I agree with Soldarnal and Jon but would like to spin it slightly differently. It's not about citing sources per se; it's about showing your work. Some sites have a "back it up" rule (not just Skeptics but also, for example, UX). We should have a "show your work" rule.

Showing your work includes (not a complete list):

  • Laying out a logical argument starting from the text. This argument could be based on grammar, on other uses of the same word/phrase/idiom/idea, etc.

  • Laying out a logical argument based on history, cultural norms, etc. Sources will tend to be helpful here, even if it's just Wikipedia.

  • Repeating others' scholarship, whether ancient or modern. These sources should be identified, and the more clearly you can cite them the better. ("Rashi said" is weaker than "Rashi said on verse X (link)".)

Logical arguments aren't "sources" per se, though better answers will source any givens they rely on that aren't universally understood. Answers should be supported; sources are one way to do that.

Would this rule out pesharim as valid interpretations for the purposes of this site? –  Soldarnal Feb 5 '13 at 15:37
Sounds like a source to me -- better or worse depending on context, but still a source, no? If you are making the pesher yourself you should lay out the reasoning. Is "logical argument" too restrictive? By that I mean (a) that there are steps and (b) showing them. –  Gone Quiet Feb 5 '13 at 15:59
I was thinking more the circumstance where someone is making a pesher rather than quoting one. Basically I'm imagining a world where all the major interpreters of the past (Rashi, Philo, the Essenes, Paul, Origen, Luther, etc.. - many representing hermeneutical methods now out of favor) had access to this site, would each of those people be welcome to the table (even if their answers didn't garner many upvotes)? –  Soldarnal Feb 5 '13 at 16:55
I would want them to show some sort of path from the text to their interpretation. Just saying "X really means Y" (where X and Y have nothing to do with each other on the face of it) wouldn't be good, but if they offer any sort of support -- comparative texts, proof-texts, historical practice, grammar, heck even gematria -- that's "showing work" and would be fine. (Voting would depend on how persuasive it is, of course.) I'm not proposing a huge barrier here, but I think this is something we can do better on. –  Gone Quiet Feb 5 '13 at 17:00
I agree with the thrust of this answer (just like I agree with all the others), but just feel strongly that it should be a rule (-1). Soldarnal's last paragraph is about where I stand: "So I'm not sure that we should require sources, since often something can be reasoned from the text. But their presence or lack thereof is certainly something to consider when deciding whether an answer is useful." –  Jack Douglas Feb 8 '13 at 17:34
Soldarnal's statement about reasoning from the text is included in my "what counts as showing your work" list. What am I missing? –  Gone Quiet Feb 8 '13 at 17:52
@Jack Douglas: How do you see this rule being enforced? I don't actually read anything about enforcement here. If this answer were as highly voted as Soldarnal's, I'm not sure it would count as a mandate to delete or edit answers necessarily. We already operate on the "show your work" principle, in my opinion. We just do a poor job of communicating it to new users. –  Jon Ericson Feb 11 '13 at 22:58
@Jon why do you think we have a 'show your work' principle? My reading of meta is that it is generally agreed that in most cases 'showing your work' can make an answer more useful, not that there is any 'principle' to back this up. My underlying problem with this answer/rule/principle is that it explicitly favours some hermeneutics over others: we shouldn't do that more than we need to. –  Jack Douglas Feb 12 '13 at 7:47
@JackDouglas, what hermeneutics are incompatible with showing your work as I've described it in this answer? –  Gone Quiet Feb 12 '13 at 19:56
@JackDouglas: I don't mean we enforce the principle--rather nearly all of us follow it. I've noticed that when we ask in the comments for people to "show their work" (not usually in those words, of course) they often are willing to do so. We have some drive-by answers that don't, of course, but asking for more didn't drive them away. Lack of interest meant they weren't going to come back anyway. Probably the best sign someone is going to become a regular is their acceptance of pushes (via comments or edits) to give a little more to the site. –  Jon Ericson Feb 12 '13 at 21:22
@Monica ones that operate allegorically and rely on a whole unfamiliar system of rules which may or may not be self-consistent but would takes months of study even to form a fair opinion on. –  Jack Douglas Feb 12 '13 at 21:36
@Jon I agree that it is a de facto principle I just don't feel we need to codify it if you know what I mean. –  Jack Douglas Feb 12 '13 at 21:37

I believe that in the "Stack Exchange" Tradition, "Expert Answers" should be preferred.

Given this context, I find it hard to believe that an Expert Answer would not include some sort of reference, at least to another historical opinion.

But in the end, I certainly believe that we should ensure "Quality" and "Expertness."

Going further a bit further though--there is always going to be a better answer available, given inductive/isagetical questions.

I see no practical way to "Close these questions," without precluding future contributions.


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