I assume the baseline here is interpretation of and principles behind understanding the 66 book Protestant canon.

  • What about the extra 7 Deuterocanonical books used by Catholics?

  • What about the extra 12 used by the Eastern Orthodox church?

  • What about other ancient Jewish literature considered of import to understanding the Canon(s)?

  • What about other Apocryphal NT works such as the Gnostic gospels?

  • What about other texts used by some sects such as the Pearl of Great Price used by LDS?

  • What about the Qur'an?

Obviously somewhere along this line the scope changes from being "Biblical" to being general hermeneutics on religious texts. Where is that line to be drawn for the scope of this site?

Bah. You beat me to it. – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 20:33
@Richard: So you downvote me because you're pouting ;-) – Caleb Oct 4 '11 at 20:38
(?) I didn't downvote... it's 0/0 at the moment... There... now I upvoted it, even! – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 20:46
Actually, I'm glad you asked because my question was a bit more of a rant than a question. (as can be seen in my answer.) (Even that is now deleted!) – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 20:47
I think I know you well enough to know you wouldn't downvote like that anyway, I was just poking. And now the SE overloards get to delete this whole thing as "too chatty". – Caleb Oct 4 '11 at 20:50
Well, we have to do something to keep them on their toes! ;) – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 20:52
Scope insofar as questions, or answers? – swasheck Jan 16 '13 at 18:01
@swasheck I think this is primarily a relevant discussion for questions. – Caleb Jan 16 '13 at 22:00
"ancient Jewish literature considered of import to understanding the Canon(s)" are the various Targumin included in that? – Double AA Feb 1 '13 at 19:53

5 Answers 5

What does a Biblical hermeneuticist study? Be careful; A Stack Exchange site is defined by an area of expertise, not the dictionary definition of its title.

I wouldn't to get too pedantic about a literal definition of what is actually — according to the Oxford-American-Heritage-Merriam-Webster dictionary — part of THE anointed Bible. That is not the way to go.

You build a site for a group of experts. If there are related texts which experts in this field tend to study because the texts are so closely tied to the subject, I would include them as "on topic" for this site.

Annotate those texts here, if you must, but err towards being inclusive if the experts here can authoritatively answer the questions posed.

I agree. Gnostic gospels, for example, are studied with the same methodology by some of the same people that apply hermeneutics to the Bible. The same academic expertise is applicable, so research on them should be on-topic. – dancek Oct 5 '11 at 12:08
@dancek completely wrong logic IMO. The same methodology may be used to study any book - but that should not make any book on-topic. This site is about the Bible - as Robert says and blundin suggests we can err towards being inclusive but the line has to be drawn somewhere. FWIW I think blundin has the balance right. – Jack Douglas Jan 6 '12 at 14:48

Primary texts open for direct examination include the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha (as defined below), and the Greek New Testament (see Peshitta exception below).

Secondary texts open for direct examination are extrabiblical texts that are helpful in understanding primary texts and/or are commonly referenced/studied by Biblical scholars (examples given below). Also included are translations of primary texts (in English, German, French, Coptic, Latin, etc.), the examination of which is best done using some reference to the primary texts.

Tertiary texts are helpful in understanding primary or secondary texts, but ought to be valid and reliable sources. Works from fields such as Archaeology, Egyptology, Assyriology, Textual Criticism, Linguistics, History, Literary Theory, and Theology may be helpful tertiary sources. Examples include lexicons, grammar textbooks, and commentaries on primary or secondary texts. Questions about the validity and reliability of tertiary sources and potential biases of the scholars who compose them are generally on topic as these posts serve as a reference to others studying primary texts who may consider using the tertiary sources of interest.

Textual Hypotheses are also on topic. This includes discussions of hypothetical texts (such as the Q source) and other such speculated source material (i.e. oral tradition, etc.) that has gained some strong support by multiple Biblical scholars. Such discussion has no document of its own to serve as a primary text, but discussion of relationships between primary/secondary texts, as well as other knowledge from theology, history, literature, semantics, etc., can be used as an objective basis for discussing the theoretical existence of and/or influence in shaping the text by these source material.

A Note on the Peshitta (a special use case). The Peshitta is a secondary text for the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha (and for a majority of Biblical scholars also for the New Testament). However, it is on topic for it to be addressed as a primary text for the New Testament as some Aramaic primacists assert (not to be confused with a primary source, which is a matter of debate).

Hebrew Bible

All extant manuscripts of the following texts:

Torah (Books of Moses)

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy

The Samaritan Pentateuch is also included.

Nevi'im (Prophets)

  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Kingdoms (I - IV)
    • Samuel (I & II)
    • Kings (I & II)
  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel
  • Twelve Prophets
    • Hosea
    • Joel
    • Amos
    • Obadiah
    • Jonah
    • Micah
    • Nahum
    • Habakkuk
    • Zephaniah
    • Haggai
    • Zechariah
    • Malachi

Kethuvim (Writings)

  • Psalms (including manuscripts containing 151 psalms)
  • Proverbs
  • Job
  • The Song of Songs
  • Ruth
  • Lamentations
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Esther (including manuscripts containing The Additions)
  • Daniel (including manuscripts containing Susanna, Bel and the Serpent/Dragon, and/or the Hymn of the Three Youths)
  • Ezra-Nehemiah / Esdras (I & II)
  • Chronicles / Paraleipomenon (I & II, including manuscripts containing the Prayer of Manasseh)

Care should be taken to clearly refer to relevant sections of the Hebrew Bible as chapter and verse sections as well as the order of content is not consistent between many translations, manuscripts, and critical texts.


All extant manuscripts of the following texts:

Note that the use of the term Apocrypha as a proper title is defined on this site as referring specifically (and exclusively) to the following listed texts (and the word should always be capitalized when used in this manner on this site). It is known that other works such as the Gnostic gospels are commonly referred to as "apocryphal" texts, but as per our site standards only the below-listed texts constitute the Apocrypha.

Texts and Additions to Esther and Daniel that are included in Roman Catholic, Greek, and Slavonic Bibles

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Additions to the book of Esther in Greek manuscripts
  • Wisdom of Solomon
  • Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach)
  • Baruch
  • The Letter/Epistle of Jeremiah (6th chapter of Baruch)
  • Additions to the book of Daniel in Greek manuscripts
    • The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews
    • Susanna
    • Bel and the Serpent/Dragon
  • Maccabees (I & II)

Texts in the Greek and Slavonic Bibles but not in Roman Catholic Bibles

  • 1 Esdras (in Greek; 2 Esdras in Slavonic; 3 Esdras in Appendix to Vulgate)
  • Prayer of Manasseh (in Appendix to Vulgate; included in some manuscripts of 2 Chronicles / Paraleipomenon)
  • Psalm 151 (included in Greek manuscripts of Psalms)
  • 3 Maccabees

Text in the Slavonic Bible and the Latin Vulgate Appendix

  • 2 Esdras (3 Esdras in Slavonic; 4 Esdras in Vulgate Appendix)

Text in an Appendix to the Greek Bible

  • 4 Maccabees

Care should be taken to clearly refer to relevant sections of the Apocrypha as text/book titles, chapter and verse sections as well as the order of content is not consistent between many translations, manuscripts, and critical texts.

New Testament

All extant manuscripts of the following texts:


  • Gospels
    • Matthew
    • Mark
    • Luke
    • John
  • Acts of the Apostles
  • Epistles/Letters
    • Romans
    • Corinthians (I & II, although historically they are believed to be the II & III letters sent to Corinth, the first of which is extinct)
    • Galatians
    • Ephesians
    • Philippians
    • Colossians
    • Thessalonians (I & II)
    • Timothy (I & II)
    • Titus
    • Philemon
    • I Peter
    • I John (not to be confused with the Gospel of John)


  • James
  • Jude / Judah
  • Hebrews
  • II Peter
  • John (II & III, not to be confused with the Gospel of John)
  • Apocalypse of John / Revelation

These are the primary texts which constitute 'the Bible.'

Examples of Secondary Texts

Examples of secondary texts include, but are not limited to:

  • Targum (Targumim)
  • Manuscript features such as the Masorah (defined in the narrow sense of textual features used by the Masoretes that are helpful to determine the precise texts of the Hebrew Bible)
  • Any translations of Biblical texts
  • Diatessaron
  • Peshitta (save for the exception noted above)
  • New Testament antilegomena, i.e. the Apocalypse of Peter (not to be confused with the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter found in the Nag Hammadi library), the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistles of Clement (I & II), and the Didache
  • Citations of Biblical texts in classical works (whether historical or religious works)
  • Classical works which aid in understanding primary texts

These are examples of secondary texts which are open for direct examination.

Did I miss it? Would not any translation of the text be on topic? (You mention various "relatively early translations" only.) Else all discussions using English translations would need full conversion to original language discussion, becoming inaccessible to much of the questioning audience. Also, there is no way the "hypothetical" (mythical) "Q source" can be "open for direct examination," no matter how many "Biblical scholars" support the idea of such a hypothetical text--there is still nothing direct, nor nothing to examine! Of course, relationships between extant texts are real. – ScottS Apr 16 '14 at 3:49
@ScottS they are on topic, but not primary sources. They are technically secondary texts since they help us understand primary texts. The goal is to go back to the primary sources when possible in answers concerning the texts. But keep in mind my definition has few votes, so.... – Dan Apr 16 '14 at 3:52
Primary sources should be the original language manuscripts only. All translations of those texts should be secondary, but on topic. The "Q" document cannot even be a secondary or tertiary source, but I can see the "concept" being on topic as it relates to textual studies (since the concept has been made distracting, errr ... relevant to it). If you clarified these points, I would upvote this answer. – ScottS Apr 16 '14 at 4:00
I'll do that as I have time. Keep in mind scholars don't all agree on what the original language of some texts was, for all we know most of the Hebrew Bible has evolved from much earlier Semitic languages, possibly some being non-literate. It's possible that most of what we have is merely translation. – Dan Apr 16 '14 at 4:05
I understand the theories about other original languages, but the fact is the only "original" text forms we have are in the commonly recognized "original" languages. That is, there is no document from an earlier language, so it cannot be a primary source at all. I personally lean toward a belief parts of Matthew's gospel may have been Aramaic; however, I believe the "inspired" text (for me, the text which God moved Matthew to produce in a whole form) to still have been written in Greek. That is, what exists is what was inspired and preserved, not anything that has passed away to history. – ScottS Apr 16 '14 at 16:00
@ScottS and my impression was that my answer allowed for folks from both (and other) perspectives to ask/answer concerning these texts. I added a sentence to the first paragraph. Does that clarify it? – Dan Apr 16 '14 at 16:19
I am not seeing any limitation on viewpoint in your answer, so I think you are fine there. I edited this to fit more what I was saying. Take a look to see if you agree. Essentially, all translations are stated as secondary (which are still directly examinable), and I clarified what I did not like about the textual hypotheses (that they were being treated equal to extant texts). – ScottS Apr 16 '14 at 16:56
@ScottS that looks great, thanks! – Dan Apr 16 '14 at 17:57
Good, then it gets my vote! – ScottS Apr 16 '14 at 17:59
@Daи +1 for your scholarly review-but.., isn't there a general statement we can make that makes the case for these and not others...? An 'algorithm' that would include your sources and exclude "The Gospel of Thomas", "Urantia Book", "Book of Mormon", and, oh yeah, "The Koran". – Tau Apr 17 '14 at 8:08
@user2479 good question, my current algorithm is an explicit whitelist for Biblical texts and a vague description of secondary and tertiary ones, with the understanding that they are on topic only so far as they help us understand the Biblical texts (which are listed). So in my mind, that pretty well excludes those others. I pretty explicitly exclude Gnostic texts in several places here as well. – Dan Apr 17 '14 at 13:14
@user2479: I'm not aware of all the dating of the Apocryphal texts noted, but perhaps the "algorithm" for primary texts should first be (1) authoring date based, using general consensus for the time of the authoring. So AD 100 (a conservative and "round" number for dating Revelation) might be the latest, as I believe Christians generally recognize it as last written. Like I said, I'm sure if that places any Apocryphal books noted above outside that. Cont.... – ScottS Apr 17 '14 at 13:40
@user2479: (cont.) And (2) early serious consideration for inclusion by a recognized Jewish or Christian group. "Early" being say by 5th c.? I hesitate to use "acceptance" rather than "consideration" as the article notes that "dogmatic" statements may have been quite late in coming, but the texts were at least considered at earlier dates. While the Book of Mormon purportedly was engraved 600 years before Christ, it was not under early consideration. – ScottS Apr 17 '14 at 13:47

Simply my opinion. I would argue that the term Biblical applies to:

  • The canonical 66 books of the Protestant
  • The extra 7 Deuterocanonical books used by Catholics?
  • The extra 12 used by the Eastern Orthodox church?


  • Ancient Jewish literature considered of import to understanding the Canon(s)?
  • Apocryphal NT works such as the Gnostic gospels?
  • Texts used by some sects such as the Pearl of Great Price used by LDS?

These books above could certainly be used to shed light on the Biblical texts, but should not be open to be the direct subject matter of the questions.

In regards to the Qur'an I would argue it has no standing in this forum as none of the Christian faiths nor Judaism recognize it as a canonical, inspired text.

I included the last one to help show that there is actually a progression of farther and farther away from a core, but actually many popular Islamic scholars today argue that the Qur'an is more similar to the OT than the NT is. – Caleb Oct 4 '11 at 20:37
Are we Christians here? I would disagree that this is a Christian site. It's a hermeneutical site. – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 20:39
@Richard You are right, one need not be a Christian to undertake Biblical Hermeneutics as an academic interest or discipline. Per Wikipedia though (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_hermeneutics) the understood common definition of the field limits it to Christian and Jewish texts. I feel like that should be the spirit of this forum. – blundin Oct 4 '11 at 20:43
Aah, nice find on wikipedia! Actually, because of that, I agree. – Richard Oct 4 '11 at 20:48

I think it's important to note that while we can accept discussion of the text of Judaism (Talmud) and Christianity (New Testament), we must stay far away from the doctrine of such.

Because of this, we can't use the New Testament or the Talmud to as a means to interpret the Tanakh/Old Testament. (Unfortunately, this is a bit counter-intuitive since that's somewhat the purpose of the Talmud, to my understanding.)

(Agree? vote up. Disagree with the use of Talmud for interpretation? Vote down, please)

For textual commentary/interpretation yes. To develop doctrine, no this the place for that. The same goes for other commentaries. We should stop short of developed doctrines and practical theology. – Caleb Oct 11 '11 at 22:59

If you read books by Biblical scholars, you will inevitably find the same hermeneutical techniques applied to other texts. For instance, I'm currently reading N. T. Wright's monumental survey of the rise of the belief of resurrection ("The Resurrection of the Son of God") and he treats extra-Biblical texts (such as Homer and "Books of the Dead") on the same intellectual terms as the Bible itself. Once you posses the tool-set, it's difficult not to apply it to everything.

But that's the answer side of the equation. If the question concerns the origin of the concept of resurrection in Paul, the complete answer will include an analysis of passages in "2 Maccabees". On the question side of the site, "2 Maccabees" does not have the same standing as books that have clearly been included in the Biblical canon. From what I understand, rabbis don't use it and many Christians reject it. I'm not sure if many books are being written about it by Bible scholars.

My suggestion for defining the Canon is that if you can find several copies of the Bible in a secular bookstore that include a particular book, its fair game for questions. Which means "2 Maccabees" is included (barely), but "Pearl of Great Price" isn't.

For clarity, my understanding is that most protestants consider 2 Maccabees to be non-canonical but helpful as a historical reference. – Ray Oct 11 '11 at 18:47
Pearl of Great Price is bound in a single volume with the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants with a KJ bible. It is called the Quad in the vernacular. Bookstore test fails... barnesandnoble.com/c/lds-quad-combination – Bob Jones Oct 25 '11 at 1:39
@Bob: My test (which is more like a rule of thumb) would require more than one edition in a physical store. And the book would need to be called a Bible. I'm not sure the Apocrypha would even make it these days. – Jon Ericson Oct 25 '11 at 8:01
@Jon Heck the Bible not make it under that rule, ;-) – Bob Jones Oct 26 '11 at 0:18
Enjoy the bookstore test while you can. It's going away soon. – fumanchu Aug 21 at 14:03

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