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

1 Answer 1

The proposal made was to adopt this 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.

I think it is a great guideline (and clearly so do at least 12 other people who upvoted your question/proposal). However, I don't think every example is agreeable.

Examples

Allow me to respond to each of your examples as well:

  • 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?

    • No problems here. This is an excellent example.
  • 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?

    • There is an inherent doctrinal assumption in the first question, namely that the epistle of Hebrews is applicable to the reader today, who is presumably a Christian. Scholars don't agree on the audience of this text aside from (mostly) agreeing that it was written to Christians in the first century CE. This is thus an application question in both examples and are thus both off topic (this OP is primarily asking a doctrinal question about him/herself or Christians in general as is evidenced by the use of first person. S/he is also assuming the reader is a Christian by the use of a first person plural pronoun). It could be reworded like so: "Does Hebrews 6:4-6 imply that the recipients could lose their salvation?" Alternatively, the OP could begin by stating that s/he believes the text applies to all Christians and that s/he is a Christian, but then this would still be a question that begins from doctrine and thus would still be off topic.
  • 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?

    • No issues here. The second question clearly calls for subjective speculation beyond the text that is definitely off topic.
  • 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?

    • No problems with the first question here. The answer can use evidence from the context of this text as well as other extant writings of Paul to answer this question. The second question could also technically be on topic as well, though, as it is not asking if the practice is wrong, but rather whether Paul thought it was wrong. However, if the OP was looking to determine if it was still wrong today that would clearly be off topic.
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The phrasing of some of the examples in the question could be improved but the original intention as I understood it (and how it arose from the discussions at the time) was not to tightly define 'doctrine' as off-topic, but to insist that all questions start from the text. –  Jack Douglas Sep 13 '13 at 7:21
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I think your nitpick on the second example is unnecessary from the standpoint of whether the question would be on-topic. The issues you bring out are something that a quality answer might bring out, but the implied question is "Did the author of Hebrews intend X to mean Y for Z?". Of course there are twenty layers of assumptions in there, but they are all ones that cam be dealt with in an answer if necessary. –  Caleb Sep 13 '13 at 11:47
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If the inherent doctrinal assumption that the text means something to Christians is a problem, then the NT might as well be off topic. Sure Jews aren't likely to weigh in on NT questions, but we do not have to be a site where every question is of interest to every expert in the field. Whole subsets of questions might be based on doctrinal assumptions that make them not of interest to some participants. Likewise not every *nix guru on Unix & Linux is expected to give beans about Xorg desktop environments. That's ok. –  Caleb Sep 13 '13 at 11:47
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I think I need to clearly state my intentions in another meta post. My intention here is to take our guidelines literally and show that we aren't being consistent with what we're espousing. I'm fine with the site becoming whatever the community wants, but I believe the community is actually asking for something it does not want. I'm stretching the logic to extremes to show that this is the case. What you're witnessing is an INTP's approach to meta :) –  Daи Sep 13 '13 at 15:37

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