I don't mean to hash and rehash this subject over and over, but I think that my understanding has developed to the point where I believe I can offer something somewhat concrete.

Over the course of this site, we've struggled a bit with how much doctrine we should allow and what types of doctrinal questions should be on- or off-topic. I think that a comment to the latest round of specific questions on this subject has opened my eyes and help me gain some clarity on this subject.

So, I'd like to propose this new guideline for questions:

Questions are on topic if they are focused on the text, rather than things to which the text may apply.

Questions that seem to be seeking to apply the Bible are off-topic.

Examples:

  • On Topic: What does "living sacrifice" mean in Romans 12:1
    Off Topic: What does it look like to be a "living sacrifice" as Romans 12:1 mentions?

  • On Topic: Does Hebrews 6:4-6 imply that we can lose our salvation?
    Off Topic: Should we accept Hebrews 6:4-6 as an argument for possible loss of salvation?

  • On Topic: Why are some birds listed in Leviticus 11 and others not?
    Off Topic: Is Leviticus 11 useful for birds not known at the time of authorship?

  • On Topic: Did Paul disapprove of baptism of the dead in 1 Corinthians?
    Off Topic: Is Paul in 1 Corinthians saying that baptism of the dead is wrong?

I tried to make the distinctions as subtle as possible there but still accurate to the above guideline. That last example is particularly subtle until you have this Wikipedia article in mind.

The essence is this: Is the OP attempting to understand the Bible or apply the Bible? Application of the Bible is obviously doctrine, which we all agree is off-topic for this site.

What do you think?

Is this a good guideline?

The biggest challenge of this is that we are attempting to get into the mind of the OP. That's what makes this a guideline (since it's subjective) rather than a rule.

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+1 this is right on the money for me –  Jack Douglas Dec 2 '11 at 16:24
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+1 Yesterday, I was thinking the same (nearly) thing as I edited my question about the turkey. Another way to look at it is: does the question spring from the text or do you need to bring something from the outside into the text for it to be a real question. Generally the something is doctrine, but not always. Sometimes it's ornithology. ;-) You're last point is well taken--sometimes the asker just phrases their question poorly. Comments usually can help clear things up. –  Jon Ericson Dec 2 '11 at 16:58
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+1 This is well-stated. –  Gone Quiet Dec 2 '11 at 19:31
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The bible is much more than just something to understand. It is MEANT to be applied to all Christ followers. I think you are extremely limiting the power this site could be used for if you prohibit the application of the text to the lives of the readers. I think this site should be used for anything that relates to the bible. If that can't be so, I'd like a site that does. –  Shredder Dec 10 '11 at 1:47
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@Shedder application is on-topic - but the question needs to start from the text and work upwards, not start from a concept and then approach the text –  Jack Douglas Dec 16 '11 at 8:35
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It seems that providing a gentle redirect to the asker to a place where such practical questions could be answered would also be within the scope of such a transition. A move to Christianity, perhaps? I agree with @Shredder that a result of a hermeneutics-oriented question should absolutely be within scope. However, not everyone wants to get into Niphal, Puals, Ablative Genitives in order to arrive at the application destination. There's space for both --- perhaps just not right here. Gentle redirections is my suggestion (which I think is something that is already done here). –  swasheck Feb 3 '12 at 15:48
    
@JackDouglas, since the FAQ links here I just want to confirm: we ultimately decided that application is off-topic, right? That is, come here to understand the text, but go to C.SE or Mi Yodeya to address what this means about how you should live your life. –  Gone Quiet Mar 29 '13 at 18:33
    
@Monica no, that's not my understanding. My personal view is now that we do need some sort of tightening up of criteria for what is allowed in answers. What form that should take has not been agreed on however afaik. –  Jack Douglas Mar 30 '13 at 10:39
    
@JackDouglas, I was asking about questions, the topic of this meta post (linked from the FAQ and heavily up-voted). The post seems clear but the comments could cause some confusion for someone coming here via that route, which is why I'm asking you to clarify your (old) comment saying "application is on-topic". That doesn't seem to match actual practice? (Once this is cleared up we should probably clean up the comments, again only because of its FAQness.) –  Gone Quiet Mar 31 '13 at 1:19
    
@Monica sorry, I thought you meant is application generally off-topic site-wide. The way I still understand this post is that if a question starts from application it is off-topic (and we've closed many that do), but not that a question obviously starting from the text cannot also mention or ask for application. The reason for this stance is that application and meaning are not easily separated however asking 'does this question start from the text' has an objective yes/no answer (even if it is sometimes hard to be sure). Perhaps we should both add answers to this question with our own ideas? –  Jack Douglas Mar 31 '13 at 13:46

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