I just found your site yesterday [years ago now, note the date of initial posting], and have been looking around at various meta discussions on distinctions between it and C.SE, or how much doctrine should be allowed, etc. And I came to the question I have posed here.

A Bit About Me (so you know where I am coming from)

Here are some relevant points to which I will later reference.

  • (A) I am a Christian.
  • (B) I am of the independent fundamental Baptist persuasion (but consider myself a kinder, gentler version than some of my fellows).
  • (C) I am [at the time of initially posting this] a PhD student studying Systematic Theology [now graduated].
  • (D) I believe the Bible is verbally, plenary inspired by God--so every word matters.
  • (E) I believe we have those words preserved for us in the original languages.
  • (F) I believe there is a single right interpretation of each passage of Scripture (though there can be many implications and connections related to that).
  • (G) I believe there is objective truth.
  • (H) I believe the Bible is wholly true (this does not prevent it from truthfully relating untruths).

Things that Seem to Need an Answer for Site Viability

So as I am looking at the few discussions on what this site is trying to be, apparently some type of "neutral" ground (no or little doctrine) for Biblical interpreters to meet and discuss the text of the Bible and what it may mean. But the following come to my mind that seem to be against the whole viability of the idea (numbers in parenthesis below indicate a reference to the about me points above):

  1. If we don't agree at least on the broad scope of the correct religion (A), then at least assuming (F) and/or (G) are held, we each already believes the other one is wrong to a large extent about what the broad point (meaning) of the Bible is. So why would one want to interact to any significant extent with another deemed to be so far off in error?
  2. There are numerous in my camp (B) who would deem this a definite matter of separation, in which to participate with such diverse views on something related to the foundations of what we believe would be going against the teaching of the Bible itself. At the very least, this is going to create a skewed set of contributors who do not represent the diversity it appears you seek.
  3. Coming from the field I do (C), and as other questions here on meta contemplate, how exactly can one keep doctrine from both affecting interpretation (truth builds upon truth (G)), and also how can one truly separate the meaning of a text from the doctrine (teaching) of that text? The meaning is the teaching; it is the doctrine. So the goal seems untenable.
  4. If there is no agreement on (D), which probably means no agreement on (H), then discussion about the text is essentially irrelevant. Who cares what some men wrote a few thousand years ago, and especially who cares with respect to exactly what it means (the point of Biblical Hermeneutics). Why would I want to interact with anyone about the text of the Bible if that person does not consider there to be anything ultimately significant about it? In other words, if the Bible is just stories, or just other ancient people's opinions, then it really has little ultimate value if I know exactly what is meant. So it seems having contributors who do not hold to (D) affects the viability of the site.
  5. Similar to the point above, if (E) is not held, then do we even have the right words to be looking at to be interpreting? That is not to say there cannot be some discussion about which words belong (when more than one variant in a text is there), but there are many who would say we don't have or know what the original words were (of course, if (D) was not held, no big deal). Well, if we don't have them, why try figuring out what the meaning is of what we have? Again, there is no ultimate significance to the endeavor of hermeneutics if the words are deemed all wrong. So having contributors who do not hold to (E) would seem to affect viability of the site.
  6. If one holds to (F), then all answers but one (or none, if the right one is not given) are wrong. Of course, there can be partial truths contained in various answers. Unfortunately, sometimes the best presenters or arguers for an interpretation are not giving the correct interpretation. Further, truth (G) is not determined by consensus, so votes really help little in the matter. And if one does not hold to (F), then either (A) all answers are equally valid, so why have this site, or (B) some subset of answers are all valid, but who decides? In other words, if (F) is not held, then every question here would be subjective, and one could never arrive at (G). If one cannot arrive at (G), what the text actually is saying, then why have this site?

It seems to me that the viability of this site is compromised more by these issues than the numbers of expert people participating.

You should check out this book: amazon.com/Scripture-Biblical-Studies-Historical-Theology/dp/… (in no way meant as a reply to your question - just I think you would find it very interesting - it more or less supports your line of reasoning). – Dan Feb 23 '13 at 18:43
This is not an Oprah Whinfrey talk show, where a group of people, all with lousy ideas will be interviewed and then the host chooses the best to be applauded as the wonderful truth with up votes. It is a secular site where people who sometimes think each other are going to hell, can post their view, which might have nothing in common. A pretense of ecumenicalism and compromise is not necessarily intended. Just a friendly character and human respect as a believer would show their own family that did not believe. Kindness is not compromise. – Mike Feb 24 '13 at 3:44
@DanO'Day: Thanks for the link. I may need to read that sometime. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 11:27
@Mike: I'm not sure why you feel my question implies the site is like an Oprah Winfrey talk show. However, precisely because it attempts to be a "secular site" dealing with a "religious" text that I pose my questions. The Bible is a religious, not a secular, book. Its meaning can only be rightly understood with a religious mindset. While "ecumenicalism and compromise" might not be intended, it appears to be unavoidable. The compromise comes not in being kind (I agree there), it comes from the implication that all views are equal. But God does not consider a false teacher equal to a true one. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 11:38
@ScottS - I do see what you are wrestling with in your consicience. I personaly do not beleieve the scripture can be shared without authoratative declaration of its truth. Put it this way - this site is not 'trying to be secular' I would disagree with that sentiment, rather, it is secular. SE is not a Christian tool. It more like a paper manufacturing plant, you can write what you want on it. For me all I know is I publish the gospel on this paper, as the one and only truth, what others do is irrelevant to me. I do not over complicate it. I publish the gospel. This can't be bad. – Mike Feb 24 '13 at 15:51
@Mike: First, perhaps my point might be clearer by saying there is not really a true "secular." All people approach life from foundational worldviews that are religiously oriented (even atheism is a religious position based in the concept of believing there is no God--its very definition is in reference to spiritual things). Even something as "objective" as basic math still has at its core whether one believes the universe is ordered that way by design or by accident. The "secular" areas are really just points where most people agree because they have fit it into their worldview of reality. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 18:20
@Mike: Second, I agree publishing the gospel is good. But my understanding from this site is that would fall under "doctrine" and technically not be allowed. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 18:22
"my understanding from this site is that would fall under "doctrine" and technically not be allowed" where do you get that from? As you've already alluded to, banning doctrine would in essence ban everything from the site! That is if you are using the word 'doctrine' in the same way I use it, another word for a framework for understanding the texts. The site rule can be summarised: "Questions must start from the text". They may contain doctrine, ask for doctrine, be informed by doctrine, but they must start from the text. Answers otoh must merely attempt to answer the question. – Jack Douglas Feb 25 '13 at 8:33
@GoneQuiet I honestly doubt that you and Dan mean exactly the same thing either ;) – Jack Douglas Feb 25 '13 at 13:43
@JackDouglas: I agree "banning doctrine would in essence ban everything," which is why I question the concept. My confusion is with GQ and Dan's view. The text teaches something (it gives doctrine). Later texts often build upon and depend upon some previous doctrine to understand. Obviously, if one is answering a question in Isaiah (I'll keep it OT for our Jewish friends), one cannot go back and rehash doctrine learned from all prior OT revelation in making a case. Additionally, later revelation can also clarify previous (though that would not have been known to the original recipients). – ScottS Feb 25 '13 at 14:47
ScottS - If I may make a suggestion about the format of your question - Switching the identifiers out for points under the heading Things that Seem to Need an Answer for Site Viability, to be something other than the numerals used in the A Bit About Me section, might make referencing the points in that section easier more some to follow. Something like roman numerals, or letters, perhaps. – user66001 Mar 2 '13 at 22:24
@user66001 that's a very good suggestion! You're new to the site right? Great to have you participating here on meta so soon :) – Jack Douglas Mar 3 '13 at 18:45
@JackDouglas - New to this sub site, yes, but not new to the SE network. Thankfully found SE about a year back. Thanks for the comment - Am glad to be of help. – user66001 Mar 3 '13 at 23:22
@user66001: Good suggestion. However, I replaced the first set of numbers rather than the second, since the second set is what is used in answers below to reference to (so I wanted to keep those numbers parallel to the answers). – ScottS Mar 4 '13 at 15:38
For those wondering my answer to @curiousdannii, I gave that here – ScottS Dec 17 '15 at 14:17

I've noticed you're refuting everyone's answers - which makes me think you already have the answer(s) you're looking for ;)

This site and the entire Stack Exchange network has a doctrinal statement. From the FAQs for this site:

Biblical Hermeneutics—Stack Exchange is for anyone who wants to know what a Biblical text means (exegesis) using the techniques or rules of interpretation (hermeneutics).

We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts.

Under the section describing site etiquette, it says,

Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated.

Be nice. Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you. We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.

Be honest. Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Provide better answers of your own. Best of all — edit and improve the existing questions and answers!

You apparently already know this, but you seem to be trying to get someone to admit it, so I'm going to just spell it out (although I think it's obvious). The doctrinal stance of this site is postmodern relativism. We are not a Christian website. Perspectives here have "no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration."1

For Christians, this worldview is unacceptable. And yet it is practically unavoidable in Western culture. We benefit from many sources of information that have adopted this doctrinal statement - to include almost all of our news sources and educational systems. Yet we generally don't retreat into private communities and close ourselves off from the world (with the exception of some Anabaptists - modern day Amish and Mennonites). We engage the world and its systems.

In the same way, some of us choose to participate despite this doctrinal statement, playing by the rules to some extent in order to glean linguistic, philological, cultural, and historical insights from the text that we would otherwise possibly never encounter. Some don't abide by the rules at all, and for the most part, they're still accepted in the community.

But I certainly don't just run with an 'accepted answer' as if it is the truth or even as if it resolves the question. For me, the answers here are a great start. I learn a lot from the community and hopefully they've also benefited from my insights and research. But for the most part, it's just one piece of the textual puzzle in my tradition. For my tradition, personal holiness is also a factor in interpreting scripture, as is Patristic consensus. So I don't ask questions looking to find "truth," I'm just looking to glean some insights along the way to truth. Also, as an Eastern Christian, I don't view Truth as an abstract concept as it seems to be presented in Western thought. For me, truth is a person. Seeking Him on a Q&A site would be silly. But the Q&A site often teaches me some great things that help me along the way as I continue to journey.

A Point-By-Point Response

  1. I want to interact with someone who I may deem to be in error for the purposes I stated above, namely that I may glean linguistic, philological, cultural, and historical insights from the text that I would otherwise possibly never encounter. I taught as an adjunct professor at a state university for a few semesters, and my students were often dead wrong about a great many things. And yet I still learned a lot from them. The danger when we close ourselves off from outside opinions is groupthink.2 Evangelicalism is historically notorious for its anti-intellectualism and groupthink tendencies. This is often reinforced when universities formulate along doctrinal lines and students are essentially indoctrinated rather than taught to think and critically evaluate research.

  2. Consider the flip-side of this point. By refusing to participate, a particular way of interpreting and understanding the scriptures will never be shared with many in the outside world. Remember, most people don't get their biblical answers from seminary (most will never attend), they get them from Google. And this site ranks near the top for the questions and texts it addresses (we average 1,134 visits per day currently). By withdrawing from a site such as this, your voice and perspective won't be heard by many who may never set foot in one of your churches or seminaries. Consequently, they may never realize an alternate way of interpreting the text exists apart from the answers they find here.

  3. That really depends on the question. Some questions are purely linguistic/philological. Some are cultural/historical. Often these questions can be answered with no systematic theology in the response (I intentionally worded this statement like this rather than using the term 'doctrine'). Is this truth? It can be. Let's suppose someone asked, "Is 'anthropos' singular or plural?" Like it or not, anthropos is a nominative masculine singular noun, and anthropoi is the nominative masculine plural form. While you are arguing that even this assertion is doctrinal because it makes a truth assertion (and I do see your point), that is not the sense in which we use the term doctrine on this site. I will be operating with the community's definition of doctrine hereafter (which is more akin to systematic theology), and I have no interest in getting into a semantic debate about this point. I see the point you are making - but I'm telling you that this is what it means here. We don't consider an answer to a question about Greek grammar to be doctrinal. On the flip side, if someone were to answer the question by adding, "the reason that the word 'anthropos' rarely occurs in the singular is because it is not good for man to be alone," that would be doctrinal (and unrelated to the question).

  4. I completely disagree with this point. You are making some big assumptions, namely that anyone who does not approach the text with the same view of inspiration as you has nothing relevant to say about it. History itself demonstrates this to be false. Many early Church Fathers challenged the authenticity of various phrases in scripture yet never considered the book to be irrelevant as a result. In fact, why would anyone bother debating potential inconsistencies, textual and scribal errors, and manuscript discrepancies if they didn't consider the contents of the Bible to be highly relevant? Take me for example. I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets, apostles, and other early Christians to write scripture. But I don't consider everything they wrote to be scripture - and I believe human error occurred in some places. Yet the pursuit of the best text and translation is still highly relevant to me. To assert otherwise is to make assumptions about my motivations, which would be fruitless.

  5. I think this is a great question ("do we even have the right words to be looking at to be interpreting?"), but I don't agree that the entire exercise is futile if we don't have the right words. For instance, certain parts of the New Testament may have originally been written in Aramaic or Hebrew, and we no longer have copies of manuscripts in these languages.3 We also certainly don't have copies of most Old Testament books as they were originally written (the Masoretic text is newer than our New Testament manuscripts), and we don't even know what many of the words mean anymore in some of the ones we do have (have you ever attempted to translate Hosea?). So does that mean I should just disregard these books altogether? No! The Greek manuscripts make it clear to me that these books are of great importance to my faith. Not to mention, a whole bunch of the apostles made arguments from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) that cannot be supported by the Hebrew text. By modern standards, they were poor exegetes. And yet I believe that they were inspired by God. But by making this assertion, that means I must also consider the Septuagint to be scripture, even though it is a (potentially erroneous) Greek translation of the Old Testament (Western Christians rarely make that jump - they just translate the Hebrew incorrectly so it lines up with the New Testament quotations - which is dishonest in my opinion). An underlying point needs to be cleared up here before proceeding. You've described yourself as being "of the independent fundamental Baptist persuasion." I cannot speak for you, but you have presented some ideas in your arguments that are sometimes labeled as "bibliolatry," i.e. viewing Christians as "people of the Book." The Bible is made to be an end in and of itself, rather than a means to an end. To me, the Bible is important because it points me to Christ. But the Bible was not incarnated, nor did it die and rise from the dead for me. I cherish it because it points me to Jesus - not because of any abstract theological statement about its inspiration and role in my faith.

  6. In reality, every question is subjective based upon the original poster (OP - the person who asked the question). They get to choose the 'accepted answer,' I agree that the accepted answer is not always the most true, nor is it necessarily right. You have acknowledged that "there can be partial truths contained in various answers," and there can also be partial falsehoods contained in mostly true answers. But answers are not evaluated as being true or false for most of us here. The community will often vote down and/or edit unsubstantiated claims (no sources), off-topic or tangential responses, and offensive statements ("all Christians are deceived fools," etc.). But at the same time, the community often up-votes responses with which they personally disagree, whether based on the quality of the answer, the amount of research that was clearly conducted, or the thoroughness of it. Some will also up-vote solely because they agree with an answer, and that's OK too. But the community does not determine truth. The community votes for what it considers to be good answers, and the OP accepts one of those answers. This is indeed a purely subjective process. But again, it does not determine truth. It just determines what types of answers the community deems to be helpful. Those who find these answers via search engines will make their own evaluations based on the answers themselves. This too is subjective. In my mind, I don't see why this would be a problem for anyone in Protestantism. If the meaning of each verse is so plain to see, why are there 23,000+ Protestant denominations all claiming to have the 'true' interpretation of scripture (often with no historical backing to their position prior to the 16th century)? It seems to me that really all of Protestant Christian Biblical interpretation is subjective anyways. Yes, I am being snide here, but the doctrinal position of 'Sola Scriptura' in some ways makes relativism part of Protestant theology.

I hope you now understand why I (and potentially others) find this site to be viable (whether or not you agree). I also hope you participate, even especially if you disagree with me. How can I grow and learn "the truth" if nobody from another perspective ever challenges me? :P

1 cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relativism

2 cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

3 cf. What portions of the New Testament are purported to have originally been written in Aramaic?

Good answer about the site (yes, I read that info). But some of your statements strike at the question of the site's viability and stated intention. 1) "For Christians, this worldview is unacceptable," so you are going to have a hard time drawing them. 2) "I don't ask questions looking to find 'truth,' I'm just looking to glean some insights along the way to truth," misses the fact that any real insight is truth (it is something true), else it is leading away from insight; so you are looking for truth here (in the abstract Western view). And whatever is expounded about the text is doctrine. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 19:51
I've been pondering your opening statement: "I've noticed you're refuting everyone's answers - which makes me think you already have the answer(s) you're looking for." Not quite. I've yet to see a point by point answer to my sub-questions as to how others are able to view this site as really viable (at least, the way it is generally stated that the site is supposed to be with inclusive views and no doctrine) in light of those points. To me it seems a fundamental contradiction--that it cannot exist as such. So I am seeking how others might view those points as not in contradiction (to them). – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 21:19
I see. The tag on the post was discussion. I didn't realize the question wasn't rhetorical. A point-by-point response would turn into a debate - not a discussion. Plus, several of the points are not questions - they are arguments/syllogisms. I'll address them as questions, but I don't care to go back and forth with rebuttals and counterpoints. – Dan Feb 25 '13 at 2:01
+1, but re "that is not the sense in which we use the term doctrine on this site": I don't think there is an agreed meaning of the word 'doctrine' on the site. Everyone seems to mean something slightly different and I agree that it is often best to chose a different word(s)! – Jack Douglas Feb 25 '13 at 11:30
@JackDouglas - true, but I also don't know of anyone who is using it to refer to a purely grammatical response on the basis that such an answer contains 'truth,' as Scott seems to be doing. – Dan Feb 25 '13 at 14:09
do you mean the 'de facto' "doctrinal stance of this site is postmodern relativism"? I think the only explicit doctrinal stance is the doctrine that the texts deserve to be taken seriously. – Jack Douglas Feb 25 '13 at 14:09
Thanks for the answer expansion. I will have to read and comment later on it (no more time right now). Regarding definition of doctrine. A text teaches us something (that is doctrine = "teaching"). Later texts often depend on previous doctrine to interpret correctly. Additionally, later texts can shed light on previous texts, giving more information (ex. Heb 11:19 for Gen 22). A reader in Moses's day did not know this fact, but we do. So interpretation cannot exist in a doctrinal vacuum. A "purely grammatical response" is just one piece of helping to understand what the text is saying. – ScottS Feb 25 '13 at 16:04
@JackDouglas I think we encountered that the last time someone on staff at SE stopped in - by placing everyone's ideas on equal standing regardless of everyone's background we make this site purely subjective. Also, see Kazark's answer here (this is a reaction to relativism). I would say that the system itself also implies a relativistic doctrinal statement - but this does not mean that participants must adopt this stance. They just must play along while here to some extent. – Dan Feb 25 '13 at 23:12
PS @ScottS I agree that doctrine is generally unavoidable when someone asks the meaning of a text. In those cases, I just state my bias/perspective and run with it. Generally no one has any qualms about this. See this response and this one for examples where I've given almost purely doctrinal responses. – Dan Feb 25 '13 at 23:22
@ScottS So long as the question begins with the text (and not with doctrine) it is usually fine if the response is doctrinal. It's just appreciated when this bias/perspective is stated from the outset. Also, when stating doctrine as fact - we generally prefer a source (Smith claims X; Hezekiah 16:4 says X=Y), but it is not required. Hezekiah is a great book for illustration purposes :P – Dan Feb 25 '13 at 23:25
@Dan I missed your response for some reason—I see what you mean now and agree completely :) – Jack Douglas Mar 3 '13 at 18:47
Your expanded answer was a worthwhile read. While I certainly can make some points against some assertions you make, I will avoid debate. All the answers here have helped in given me an answer as to why you each feel the site is viable. What your answer particularly has allowed me to do is process more carefully what specifically to me the site is lacking that it seems to need in clarifying for its audience and mission. So I hope to compose another meta question with my proposed answer to that at a later time. Thanks for the input. – ScottS Mar 4 '13 at 15:30
@ScottS I'm glad you found it helpful. I hope you didn't take my pokes too personally. If I can't have fun, why bother writing at all? :P - I'm looking forward to your next meta question. – Dan Mar 4 '13 at 15:54
@Daи I've learned a lot from your point by point responses...especially #2. I'm gonna be much more selective with my selected answers from now on :| – Charles Alsobrook Jul 26 '14 at 4:59

Firstly: this is an excellent question to ask, thank you for introducing yourself this way and helping us to think through these issues. It's also a great idea to know what you are getting into before you leap in.

I am a PhD student studying Systematic Theology.

From our perspective that makes you just the kind of person we want to attract to the site. Of course we may not suit you, but that is for you to decide :)

apparently some type of "neutral" ground (no or little doctrine)

This is the subject of much debate: I'm one of those on record as asserting many times that "neutral" ground doesn't exist. My hope is that folk from a broad spectrum of traditions might contribute here, and that in some cases we might learn something from those who are very different from us (without necessarily embracing everything they say or stand for).

You are a Christian and so am I, but this is not a Christian site, nor is Stack Exchange a Christian network and of course it is good to bear that in mind. As a Christian I find some of the content here very valuable despite the gulf of tradition and theology between myself and the contributors; for example, Dan O'Day is Orthodox and Frank Luke is Classical Pentecostal: I encourage you to cast an eye over a few of their top answers and think about whether you agree with me!

I'll now try and briefly address your points:

  1. "So why would one want to interact to any significant extent with another deemed to be so far off in error?": Because we have something wonderful in common: the Biblical texts themselves. An answer I disagree with or even think is spiritually harmful or dangerous is likely to make me look again more carefully at the text. It may also provoke me to post an answer I think is better :)

  2. The faq says: "We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts". That is not a statement of diversity being our goal, rather it is a statement that our focus and scope is defined by Biblical Texts. Some will not feel able to contribute to a site that does not insist on a statement of faith beyond "I take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts": this site is regretfully not for them, so yes our scope skews our audience (any site definition would), but no that is not a problem because we are not aiming for diversity, but focus.

  3. I understand the word 'doctrine' much as you do and have long argued against any effort to ban it here and there is no consensus on the site that doctrine is a bad thing in answers.

  4. "...Who cares what some men wrote a few thousand years ago...": This kind of answers itself: if someone doesn't think the text matters, they are unlikely to be interested in this site. Most if not all contributors here believe it matters very much.

  5. You don't even have to have a faith to understand the science of Textual Criticism? I don't think it is controversial to say it is generally accepted we have a pretty good idea of the content of the original text of the the Bible. Evidence from manuscripts, the DSS, etc is pretty solid.

  6. I think you misunderstand the purpose of votes :) They have the same fundamental purpose here as on SO where you are active: noise reduction. They don't determine 'truth' any more than the 'accepted answer' tick does, but take any question here or on SO with a large number of answers and ask yourself whether you'd prefer to read from the top down or the bottom up?

Thank you. I could tell I'm the type of person you seek. I thought it might be helpful to note some hefty reasons why people like me might not want to participate. I would agree that neutral ground does not really exist. A further question arises: is it worth supporting the effort in trying to learn "something from those who are very different" knowing that much of what may be out there is untrue and leading others astray? It was the post about not being a Christian site that helped lead me to asking this question. I look forward to an expansion of answer that addresses my questions. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 11:45
Good additions! Of (1) I grant that everyone is trying to understand the "in common" text. I struggled with the site wanting to be expert thoughts, but really it is still a public debate forum like Paul in Athens (Act 17). (2) is related to (1): the site is about expressing various points of view on a text, not necessarily giving an authoritative answer. Perhaps it would be helpful to have users roughly categorize themselves so uninformed visitors know what viewpoint one is coming from. (4) but if they do not believe its God's word, it matters far less (and they may seek to tear down truth). – ScottS Feb 25 '13 at 15:22
(5) Have you read Bart Ehrman's (a leading textual critic) recent works? That we have the real words is being attacked (Ehrman is wrong, but leading many astray). (6) But votes mislead. On SO, high votes generally means it is a good answer (according to the community). But a "good" answer about the Biblical text leads one to truth, whether or not the community recognizes it (and the Bible indicates many will not). That is problematic. – ScottS Feb 25 '13 at 15:29
@ScottS Interesting suggestion on (2): in practice I think we do in various subtle ways: eg your use of the them 'OT' helps me understand your perspective (it is not a term our Jewish contributors are likely to use). In practice I think it takes only a cursory look at a post to have some idea of the framework of the poster. – Jack Douglas Feb 25 '13 at 15:29
on (6) yes I agree it is problematic: in that sense this site is experimental as it does not fit the QA model as well as SO (but imo fits it considerably better than c.se). My personal opinion is that the site is useful despite it's problems (just like SO has problems but remains useful). – Jack Douglas Feb 25 '13 at 15:35

Biblical Hermeneutics is not for everyone

I see you've gotten a bunch of responses from many of the other regulars on the site. I'm thrilled that so many of my colleagues have taken it on themselves to defend the work we do here. I also see that you are extremely active on Stack Overflow, which means you've probably learned all the ins and outs of our quirky system of peer review. Given your current course of study, you have more training to answer questions here than I will likely ever have. However, there's a good chance this site isn't for you.

To quote your question:

So why would one want to interact to any significant extent with another deemed to be so far off in error?

That is something you need to ask yourself and if you can't find an answer, then thank you for you interest and I hope you find what you are looking for.

We work without a safety net

The common theme with all six of your arguments against this site's viability seems to be that we can't have expert answers if we don't agree on a a series of a priori assumptions. Whether or not that's true (and I'd argue that it's not), the arguments fundamentally misunderstand the nature of our site. On Stack Overflow, answers can be judged for correctness by objective standards. Checking if a number is even is not the same as checking if it's prime. Take the code, apply a compiler/interpreter to it, supply some sample input, and check the output to see if it matches what you expect. If not, the answer is wrong.

Now it's possible to get something similar in Biblical Hermeneutics: compare an answer to some formal doctrine. If the answer disagrees with the well-defined set of established teachings, it's wrong. However, our site is a high-flying circus act without the benefit of a safety net for two important reasons:

  1. There are already (at least in theory) sites for interpreting the Bible through the lens of a specific doctrine: Mi Yodeya, Christianity—Stack Exchange, and Islam—Stack Exchange. Now these sites also are pluralistic since it's very difficult to get a bunch of Jews, Christians or Muslims to agree on every detail of their faith. But if we picked one of those doctrines, we'd be no different than whichever site studies our chosen religious affiliation.

  2. Getting the right answer is at best a secondary goal for us. Our primary goal is to study the philosophy of Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) by exercising it (exegesis). Answers aren't so much judged by whether or not they are True as they are by whether or not they follow a consistent hermeneutic. While that requires more work than simply comparing answer to a catechism, we find that it actually helps sharpen our interpretive skills.

Everyone is their own doctrinal framework

I appreciate you letting us know about your background, but even though you've given us a lot to go on, I don't know what your doctrinal framework is, yet. Baptists believe a lot of different things. Are you a Calvinist or Arminian? Are you a Four-Point Calvinist, a Hyper-Calvinist, a Neo-Calvinist. a New Calvinist, or a Christian Reconstructionist? As we divide the doctrinal pie further and further, we eventually realize that each of us represents our own little doctrinal framework. In fact, the whole point of a statement of faith is to delineate doctrinal differences that matter to a community from those that don't. And we can't vote people off the island.

Personally, I find that this makes the site way better than if we all agreed on a list of premises we all followed. I'm delighted by the answer I got to my third ever question here because it comes from a hermeneutic tradition that I hadn't spent much time studying. Maybe that answer is wrong, but at least I learned something from it. I'm humble enough to admit I don't know everything and even the things I know might be wrong.

Our shared principles

As it happens, we do have a couple of points in our "confession of faith":

  1. The Bible is worth studying.

  2. If something is worth studying, it's worth studying systematically.

And that's about it. No, we don't include verbal and plenary inspiration. But if you want to bring your system of hermeneutics to bear on our questions, you are more than welcome to. I can understand why you might not find answers that come from other places very valuable; that shouldn't bother you unless you plan on asking questions. The peer review process can be valuable even if you disagree with the feedback you get. If nothing else, you can get your two cents in on our questions, which we hope will have a broad audience.


I'll let Paul have the final word:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.—1st Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)

I wanted to thank you for your answer. My current studies have limited my time in being able to interact further on this matter at this time, but perhaps again in the future. – ScottS Mar 9 '13 at 14:59

All you said strikes right to the core!

I am responding not so much as an answer to your question about site viability, but to interact with you concerning your activity or inactivity in a site that may fail.

I am here because I care about what Scripture says and what it means. I have appreciated the "non-doctrinal" stance of the community because, at least in theory, it avoids vain disputes over matters that have been debated for generations. I do not mind looking at peoples doctrines when it comes with the package of honestly seeking to know what Scripture says and what it means. When Q & A must begin with the text and must show all the steps and must support all assertions, it puts a check on mere opinions and musings of man. Moreover, it creates an environment, at least in theory, that is open to exploring the meaning of passages that may have been misinterpreted historically for various reasons.

Anyway, I have been sadly disappointed to discover that 1) this is not a Christian site; 2) this site does not seek to know truth.

So, why am I still here?

On the one hand, I remain involved because , I do not have access to scholars, experts in Biblical studies who can see what I do not see and who are willing to interact with me on the text. If there is err in what I share, surely the atheist & scholar will point it out! I can exercise discernment here as well as anywhere else in the world. Disregard for popularity, Refusal to compromise on matters of faith, coupled with a healthy dose of humility on matters not regarding truth serves to make me stronger. Moses grew up in in the palace of a pagan pharaoh, not amongst his God-fearing Hebrew family.

On the other hand, because I care more about truth than about being right, perhaps in some small way I can be a doorkeeper of truth amongst any who do not care about truth. Joseph served in Pharaoh's court! Daniel served in Babylon!

All that said, I do not know if the site will be viable. The world itself is an unstable place; thus, here, as in the world, I consider myself in it, but not of it. If the site fails, it will undoubtedly be due to all the things you pointed out. What I do know, is that that I am always deeply grateful when I encounter people who sincerely seek to share or discover truth from a heart that loves the Lord. I was ever so thankful that you answered my post today. And so, perhaps you will stick around for those who are Christian, who do care about truth, who believe the word of God is preserved by Scripture in its original languages, who believe there is a single right interpretation of each passage of Scripture, who believe there is objective truth, and who believe the Bible--Old and New Testaments--is true.

Thank you for your heartfelt response. My biggest issue is the rejection of systematic theology. Hermeneutics and exegesis is not just what a word means and what the grammar allows--that is important--but also, what does that word mean within the totality of Scripture (part of systematic theology). So not allowing such arguments is not allowing key tools for a full interpretation. Some questions (like yours) can be answered more on a grammatical basis, most cannot. – ScottS Mar 21 '14 at 13:22
Please do not throw out your baby with the bathwater. A comprehensive investigation of a passage in the context of the whole of Scripture would be welcome here. Many who participate draw upon what portions of their disciplines are applicable to the site and exercise discipline beyond those boundaries. If you allow scripture to honestly speak for itself from its context every step along your investigation (rather than proof-texting or taking things out of context) what's to scoff at about that! As you say, some passages can only be addressed this way. – user2027 Mar 21 '14 at 17:39
I read @Soldarnal 's post indicating that Systematic Theology is off topic. Based on the Wiki article, it seem there are parts of systematic Theology that would be on-topic & parts that would not. Application is off topic, unless it stems from the practical theology presented in Scripture itself. Historical interpretation may not be welcome either unless the logic is delineated step by step and shown to be derived from Scripture in context. But all is not lost. – user2027 Mar 21 '14 at 17:52
Generally the attitude toward logical connection of texts into a doctrine on a topic (which, in my mind is part of interpreting what the texts mean from God's perspective) seems to be shunned--and thus, really trying to understand the text does not appear to be the goal. Rather, the assumption is that the text's meaning is only derived from within its small (local) context, and not in the context of the whole canon itself (i.e. what systematic studies of a doctrine have to say in bearing on the meaning of the text in question). – ScottS Mar 21 '14 at 18:34
Various links from within this meta post point to discussions of just such a nature. I just contributed an answer to this question about handling bias that would probably relate to allowing or not of systematic theology answers. – ScottS Mar 21 '14 at 19:14
meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/974/… – user2027 Mar 24 '14 at 19:29
I'll have you know that your post here I think was instrumental in my becoming more active in the site – ScottS Apr 3 '14 at 18:07
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Since I've been rather active on this site for a while now, I thought I should answer my own questions, based on my own perspective (which is not to disparage the answers given, since they originally helped me decide to participate).

  1. "So why would one want to interact to any significant extent with another deemed to be so far off in error?" Because:

    • There is still opportunity to present my view.
    • There is much to be learned about making a good argument through the interaction with those of a different perspective.
    • There are errors in everyone's perspectives, so having others point out our own improves us; while looking for the errors in theirs also improves us.
  2. Of those viewing it as a matter of separation to not participate and then perhaps creating "a skewed set of contributors who do not represent the diversity it appears you seek." This can still threaten viability, but diversity cannot be legislated. I chose to participate. Yet one very prominent user in reputation and quality of posts at the time I posted this question originally later backed out in a big way because she felt it unwise in her opinion to continue based on grounds of separation (I speak of Monica Cellio, a.k.a. at points known as GoneQuiet, but now known as deleted user3457 on BH.SE; her posts and comments have largely been purged from active view to all but those with the rep to see deleted posts). She was a great loss to the quality diversity of the site. So this issue can still threaten viability, but long term, I believe diversity will come anyway, as not all will hold positions of separation on this matter, even from those of us (Christian, Jewish, or otherwise) who do tend to a separatist leaning. My resolution for this matter came in viewing the site as a public forum of academic discussion, not a place of worship.

  3. "How exactly can one keep doctrine from both affecting interpretation ..., and also how can one truly separate the meaning of a text from the doctrine (teaching) of that text?" This has been partially resolved to a workable medium (I believe) through:

    • The more adamant view against theology has softened.
    • One is allowed to bring theological presuppositions to an interpretation, but one must (a) state those and (b) not rely fully upon those for an answer. That is, if they are part of "showing your work" on how you come to an interpretation, that is fine; but they cannot be dogmatically asserted as the answer, only how they may relate to the answer one gives.
  4. "Why would I want to interact with anyone about the text of the Bible if that person does not consider there to be anything ultimately significant about it?" Because:

    • If they are here and participating, they see something significant about the text.
    • My interaction may help them to see (what I believe to be) the larger significance of the text.
  5. "Do we even have the right words to be looking at to be interpreting? ... There are many who would say we don't have or know what the original words were .... Well, if we don't have them, why try figuring out what the meaning is of what we have?" My answer here:

    • This is a forum for academic discussion of the wording, so such contention actually adds to the viability of the site on that level.
    • Variants that do occur are largely not significant to the meaning.
    • Those variants that are significant allows for discussion of the meaning still, including variant meanings, which also adds to viability.
  6. I'll only repeat my final question here: "If one cannot arrive at [the objective truth], what the text actually is saying, then why have this site?" Because I believe there is an objective truth, then my answer to that is that "one can arrive" at it. Voters may not vote for the answer I would deem the best answer conveying a truth, but again, the "truth" can be put forth, whether it is recognized as such or not.

I did not re-review the many previous answers to this. Perhaps my later reflection now matches some of what was originally said back then, but at least for anyone interested, this is my "take" on answering my own original challenge.

The site, largely, seems viable—assuming one treats it as it is, a public space, not a private space for Christians, Jews, Atheists, or otherwise only.


I think if this site grows, it will form natural organic sub-groups, partially solving the diversity tension. Not to say on subjects where nothing is really at stake that we can’t all enjoy each other and learn from each other. What I mean is, if large number are present a question could be phrased seeking a specific desired answer, which essentially excludes other views. And a large numbers of posts under that hermeneutic could be provided.

For example, I might want to know a Pentecostal view of ‘such and such’ related to tongues and do not want to hear people try and debunk the gift. (I am not a Pentecostal I am just using this as an example).

Or, I may want to take advantage of some of the Jewish people on this site and ask a question about something in the Hebrew Scriptures that might refer to Jewish culture and they might be able to help? Personally I find it takes much more patience to hear Catholic answers on Christianity.SE than it does to here Jewish answers here (and I am sure some Jewish people loath a few of my answers). But this could be partly because I am genuinely more interested in Jewish culture having married into a Jewish family. I do not have much making me interested in Catholic culture. I am the last person on the world that would be seen as politically correct, I am just giving you a flavor of my own interest that is natural and which creates some commonality for me on this site. Who knows maybe one day a Muslim who studies the Bible will provide some exegeses on this site, wonder how that would play out? Would we all feel guilty making him feel less welcome by subtle down voting and requests for additional references? Would we all up vote when he happened to call something like it is? I don’t know, let’s wait and see.

I do not think a ‘Christian only’ site would solve the problem as GoneQuiet correctly pointed out. Even an evangelical site, would still have its problems. If the site does not grow, I think it could eventually become an evangelical dominated site, or a Jewish dominated site, but even if any lopsidedness does occur, there is nothing wrong with letting a secular vehicle be driven about by whoever wants to drive it the most. It is just a tool that can facilitate the discussion of many groups. If only one group predominantly uses it then that’s just life. You seem to be in my kind of group.

More practically, where else can you find people who can sharpen you own ideas and have similar interest to you? If you post an answer on your own church ministry site, I will probably never notice it, as the world is filled with sites like that. If you post one here, I will probably notice it. Why? Because SE is a good tool for enabling more than just amateur Q & A. I think this site in particular has much more going for it than its current membership size would indicate. I could see this site having future relevance in the world, twenty years from now as a commonly viewed location of serious controversial issues.

As an evangelical I admit it would be obviously better that everyone is an evangelical, but for those who are not yet, or who never will be, it does not mean they have no use, as though everything written by people that did not agree with me was fully useless. If that were so I should not be allowed to search the Jewish Library online, or the Catholic Encyclopedia should be disallowed. I should throw newspapers away and become a hermit. We are living in the world; why not enjoy those aspects in it that do not contradict our own faith in God? Almost all my family is not Christian, does that mean I should not miss my mother and father when I have not seen them in a long time? Does that mean I should never want to know their opinion, as it is useless in terms of my eternal salvation?

Bottom line, of course you are the right type of person for this site. So are many others that will really dislike your views. That said, it takes effort to post quality answers, so you do not have to join if you don’t want to.

Thank you. I agree cultural insights can be gained (but a commentary can give me that). My questions really relate to the site being a "secular vehicle" that can "be driven about by whoever wants to drive it." That is not something that should occur with a site based around a divine (or religious or spiritual) text. I realize one can be an expert in Hebrew/Greek, a historian, etc., and not a believer in Jesus Christ as Savior, and yet still be of "use" in textual matters. But if the basic beliefs about the text itself and truth differs, we are not even talking on the same plane. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 12:19
@GoneQuiet: Your comment gets at the heart of my viability question. Doctrine divides. It offends. When one does not like the teaching another sets forth and fundamentally disagrees with it, it is offensive. Here, I'm commenting to Mike (a fellow Christian), but you take offense (I assume) at my mention of Jesus Christ's role. But for me, that assertion is validated by the text of Scripture (of course, I believe you and I would even differ on what we mean by "Biblical" hermeneutics... Tanak (OT), New Testament, Apocrypha(?)--which book do we speak of). – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 18:32
@GoneQuiet: No offense at all (I'm not easily offended). Of course, my answer is that human being was God in the flesh (so it does not violate the command), and I happen to be a Dispensationalist, so I believe God will still keep his eternal covenant with his people. Its not about assertion of superiority, its about assertion of what one believes to be true and why we believe that (which is what we all are doing when we interpret) and thus what one believes others should believe about reality. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 18:54
@GoneQuiet: I may need to apologize in that I realized perhaps you were somewhat offended by my putting "use" in quotes (since you emphasize useful in your reply). But I did that because Mike had stated in his answer "but for those who are not yet [evangelical], or who never will be, it does not mean they have no use" (note the last word). So my statement was in answer to his wording that yes, there is some use and value in gleaning from others not like minded. Please read it in that context, not that I am implying a devaluing of others as people (which it could be read that way). – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 19:25
@GoneQuiet: I'm glad I could clarify that. – ScottS Feb 24 '13 at 19:53

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