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?


4 Answers 4

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

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 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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