There have been a lot of discussions on meta about different aspects of site direction, but none directly focused on the fundamental question: What kind of site do we want to have? What should our culture be? In particular, what style of answers are we looking for?

This question is fundamentally about where do we want to be in the end, and not about how we get there.

We all agree that contributions must 'show their work'. Exactly where and how we draw the line is an implementation detail and outside the scope of this question.

We've provided answers that capture the main positions we know about. Please feel free to add your own if you have another outcome in mind.

Please up-vote answers you find acceptable, down-vote ones you don't, and abstain if you don't feel strongly either way. Please also up-vote the question no matter which of these you do, so we can gauge participation.


I'll be summarizing the comments of the posts with my picture attached. Feel free to let me know if I've erred or misunderstood something. Also, if you've changed your mind about your vote, feel free to change it at this time.

I did have a role in editing the posts, but authorship should be divided between Monica and Jack.

Mike points out (rightly) that "popular pressure" will ultimately be the method for enforcing whichever policy is adopted. Nothing will change as a result of this meta-question unless people actually post and vote according to the adopted policy. Like every Stack Exchange site:

We don't run Biblical Hermeneutics. You do.

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N.B.: I didn't actually write these posts. They were a collaboration between Jack Douglas and @GoneQuiet. The goal of this project is to give the community a chance to weigh on clear philosophical differences we've observed on the site. –  Jon Ericson Oct 4 '13 at 14:54
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Jon helped quite a bit with editing, too. –  Gone Quiet Oct 4 '13 at 14:58
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I applaud this. I don't have anything to add to it yet, OK I lied ... –  bimargulies Oct 4 '13 at 17:19
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For some reason although I try and engage in this subject but I feel too disconnected from it to help. The reality is that whatever style is adopted it would have no effect on my own enjoyment of the site. I would find it as easy to express my opinion covered in whatever idea-clothing is semi-enforced than any other idea. The only thing I do feel is that a negative proposition is not healthy as a goal. The top voted answer starts with 'avoid' which indicates to me the popular pressure on this subject at the moment is probably not constructive enough for a long-term solution. –  Mike Oct 6 '13 at 7:53

8 Answers 8

BH already has a "show your work" guideline and this still applies. In essence we1 propose to firm up this guideline and begin to enforce it more vigorously. The other answers here illustrated a division in the community2 and we hope to be able to move forward together by focussing on what we agree on.

Writing descriptively -- "such-and-such source says X", as opposed to "X is true" -- dovetails nicely with "show your work". If you do this you're most of the way to showing your work. We are not in general requiring this approach, but it's a helpful approach and answers that use it are likely to fare well. Specifying a framework explicitly in an answer can help readers understand the internal logic, particularly for frameworks that are unusual in the context of previous posts on the site or that seem to go outside the bounds of the question's context.

Answers should show sensitivity to other users of the site. This may include an extra explanation when later texts are applied to earlier texts (e.g. ones that read Jesus into the Hebrew Bible). Claims that could reasonably be seen as controversial or offensive must be relevant and supported from the text. "Supported" means an explicit link or citation of text, or clear logical reasoning starting from a cited text. Sometimes the text will be offensive, which we have to accept. The aim should be add no further offence to the the offence of the text.

It's OK to a degree for an answer to include personal anecdotes and other tangents, where this adds flavour and character, so long as the main line of an answer is supported, connecting the dots starting from the text. It's also ok to include opinions so long as they are relevant and labelled as your opinion or belief. Opinions and tangents should be garnishes, not the entire meal. If a post is essentially an opinion-based argument or testimony, it doesn't fit and will need to be removed or edited.

Under this policy we should expect to see more editing, as it's better to fix a post (by adding a link or adjusting the language) than to delete it. (Of course edits must respect the author's voice.) But posts that do not comply with this and cannot be edited to comply will be deleted.


1Jack and Monica worked on this post together.

2The results of this question have been somewhat inconclusive so far. The most-voted answers have the following vote breakdowns (as of this writing):
Avoid truth assertions (use qualified language): +12 / -7 (5)
Bring your own framework: +10 / -6 (4)
Good answers respect their questions: +8 / -4 (4)
Specify your framework: +6 / -5 (1)
This answer takes that history into account.

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If this kind of edit is supported by this post, I'm afraid we're asking for a site that supports censoring views we don't agree with. –  Soldarnal Nov 29 '13 at 18:46
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@Soldarnal I don't believe it is. However I'm not going to step in as a moderator unless there is a dispute between users: I'm just supposed to be an exception handler. As you can see I've commented on the post encouraging Kazark to consider rolling back or refining the edit, and I encourage you to do the same, in the real spirit of this post. –  Jack Douglas Nov 29 '13 at 18:53
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@Soldarnal it seems to be an unsupported connection between the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Christian faith. I think the connection needs to be explained and/or qualified, but not deleted. Hence my previous statement: "There's a fine line between pseudo-neutrality and censorship"). –  Daи Nov 29 '13 at 19:49
    
@Dan are you willing to take the time to re-edit? I think you'll be able to tread that fine line myself. –  Jack Douglas Nov 29 '13 at 20:08
    
That edit is consistent with the parts in bold. The claims are unsupported, controversial, and not obviously relevant. If someone can make them so, then great -- that I can't does not mean I can't edit to the extent of my cababilities. This is not censorship. –  Gone Quiet Nov 29 '13 at 21:20
    
I agree with Monica that these interjections are not necessary for the answer, but if the responder wants to write that he has the freedom to do so. I just qualified the language to alert the reader that they are about to here some Christian eisegesis. My recommendation for Monica is to DV since the interjection isn't necessary to answer the question - which is about the Hebrew Bible - not about the Jewish or Christian faiths. I still think DVs are the primary tool for answers, though - not edits and deletion. In fact, I'm not sure this needs any editing - just downvoting. –  Daи Dec 1 '13 at 1:12
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Remember that I don't think it should be required for answers to qualify their language, so I am fine with the original version of this question. I only think the pseudo-neutrality is required for questions, it is only a recommendation for answers. –  Daи Dec 1 '13 at 1:14
    
Really we need to get some closure on this question. Some votes. We don't need any more answers added to cloud up the scenario, either. We just need some clear votes to indicate direction. –  Daи Dec 1 '13 at 1:20
    
Dan, the consensus in this answer is that we don't require qualification for everything but we do require relevance and support for controversial/offensive claims, which the ones in that question are. –  Gone Quiet Dec 1 '13 at 5:52
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@Soldarnal I think this edit is supported by this post. Please consider if it still looks like censorship to you: your voice matters a great deal and I'm am very interested to know your opinion if you have a minute to review at some point. –  Jack Douglas Dec 10 '13 at 19:39
    
Note: despite the voting (+11/-1 at this writing), this policy has been largely cancelled by a Community Manager. I specifically asked about the parts in bold; see the link for more. Apparently controversial offensive claims are fine but you need to be able to point to an actual hermeneutic (you can't just fling it out there for the sake of preaching). –  Gone Quiet Jan 31 at 21:43
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Most of this is excellent advice but it failed us in one area. This site had no sustainable metric by which to judge 'reasonable' in "could reasonably be seen as offensive". What the new guideline does is clarify that a highest common denominator approach that judges other hermeneutics by the standards of any potential reader is untenable and that a least common denominator approach to 'offensive' where the normal expressions of each hermeneutical tradition are allowed so long as they are not socially (rather than doctrinally) offensive. –  Caleb Feb 1 at 11:40
    
@Caleb SE relies on human judgment all over the place -- like in determining what's "offensive" through flags, what's "not an answer" or "very low quality", what's off-topic, etc. This is no different. People who agree with the doctrine being spouted have nonetheless edited it out, which shows that (at least some) people can judge this even when it doesn't offend them personally. If not everybody can, well, that's fine -- different people will gravitate toward different (little-m) moderation tasks, so those who can will and those who can't can just leave it. –  Gone Quiet Feb 2 at 2:01
    
@Caleb and to turn it back on you, what's a "normal expression of each hermeneutical tradition", particularly where no tradition is specified? How do you know an assertion is part of the hermeneutic versus just an unsupported controversial opinion? –  Gone Quiet Feb 2 at 2:02
    
Also, on a site where people (including most of the moderators IIRC) have said that change takes months or years, a few of you decided only a few weeks in that this wasn't working. On what basis? This was changed only a bit more than three weeks after we got a moderator who was openly willing to prioritize the will expressed by the community here over his own personal feelings on the subject. That's not enough time to know if it was working. –  Gone Quiet Feb 2 at 19:32

Bring your own framework

We want a site that allows contributors to speak from within their framework. Overall, this broadens the appeal of the site, and it preserves the richness of expression when answers are given in the natural context of the one giving the answer, even if this means expressing one's framework or opinions as unqualified facts.

Our aim is to be 'expert' in the context of the internet. This will not be the best home for those who do not think deeply about the texts or those who cannot communicate clearly and effectively. But it is not our aim to be home only to academics or full-time theologians: that would narrow the user-base too far and not be sustainable.

Under this option is is generally OK to make statements that assert 'truth', omitting qualifications such as 'Group X believes…'.

This outcome is where we are currently heading. This is not a reason in itself for it to be chosen, but it is the least risky option. It's clear our traffic is growing, and although traffic can't be the only gauge of success on an expert site, it is necessary for the site to be viable:

Quantcast

This is not about individuals. There is no outcome that will please everyone and we need to recognise that whatever we choose will suit some and alienate others. This is not the aim of course but we must pursue the best long-term goal for the site.

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Jon - great comments. The end state of this website is for serious students and teachers of the Bible to discuss problematic passages... and to provide the "Weltanshauung" or template (paradigm, if you will) about the Bible. We can go in circles splitting infinitives grammatically, and many of us have formal graduate level training in Biblical languages. But the point is not to show off your knowledge, but edify people with the framework and understanding that you see in the Scriptures. Some have the Spiritual Gift of Knowledge and Teaching, and this site is a great place to teach (and learn). –  Joseph Oct 5 '13 at 2:32
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My DV is not an objection to the title, but to the statement that it is "OK to make statements that assert 'truth', omitting qualifications such as 'Group X believes…'." What this leads to is a lot of matter-of-fact answers (often contradicting other matter-of-fact answers!) which can leave the site visitor more confused than when they came. The truth-seeker doesn't want to hear all the experts claiming they know the "right" answer, yet contradicting one another without any indication of why they disagree. I think it is better to specify a framework, as modeled by Christianity.SE. –  Jas 3.1 Oct 5 '13 at 18:26
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@Jas3.1 isn't that handled by "We all agree that contributions must 'show their work'."? It's not that matter-of-fact answers are allowed: all answers must support their reasoning, it rather that they are permitted to do so from within their own framework rather than being forced to relativise every religious assertion. eg: under this proposal is is OK to state 'God is three persons' if you have built up to that conclusion from the text. OTOH 'avoid truth assertions' means you must say 'Christians believe God is three persons' regardless… –  Jack Douglas Oct 5 '13 at 19:58
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@JackDouglas When I go to C.SE and read the various (contradictory) answers to a theological question it helps tremendously to know "Answer A is from a Catholic perspective," "Answer B is from a Pentecostal perspective," etc. When I go to BH.SE and read answers to an exegesis question, I think it would help tremendously to know "Answer A is derived from an atheistic historical-critical hermeneutic," "Answer B is derived from a Traditional Jewish Midrashic hermeneutic," "Answer C is derived from a homespun Christocentric 'progressive sensus plenior' hermeneutic," etc. –  Jas 3.1 Oct 5 '13 at 21:59
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@JackDouglas "Show your work" is a great ideal, but in hermeneutics / exegesis, it's unfeasible to show enough in the answer (in a few short paragraphs) to "teach the reader how to fish." We end up leaving the reader with a fish, but little direction in where to go for more fish. –  Jas 3.1 Oct 5 '13 at 22:00
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@JackDouglas When I say "framework" I mean "hermeneutic," including any major presupposition like "Jesus is not the Christ" that might have a significant impact on your exegesis. So in response to your last note, I would say that the text is our focus (and the anchor of our site,) but knowing a person's framework (hermeneutic) helps us get an idea of where they're coming from and what approach they're taking in evaluating the text. It gives us some context, just as "tradition" does on C.SE. (It also gives us some grounds for sifting answers that have no framework behind them!) –  Jas 3.1 Oct 5 '13 at 22:07
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@JackDouglas IMO, requiring a framework to be specified = more expert input and less half-baked opinion. (Even if the framework is homespun.) –  Jas 3.1 Oct 5 '13 at 22:08
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@Jack "Jas3.1 isn't that handled by "We all agree that contributions must 'show their work'." Apparently not since we are having this conversation. Answers that I say don't show their work, because they interpret, say, a Genesis passage through the assumptions of gospel or apocrypha or something else without stating those assumptions, are considered acceptable answers by the mods. Making the connection explicit seems like it should come from "show your work", but you must mean something else by "show your work" or you wouldn't disagree with me on this. –  Gone Quiet Oct 5 '13 at 23:51
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@Jack, adding "group x believes" or "scholar x teaches" or "hermeneutic x derives" would solve the problem. I think that would be showing work and so should be evident from current guidelines, but since you've supported answers that don't do that (and thus don't show their work), apparently you think "show your work" has a lower threshold. So rather than trying to define "show your work", which obviously hasn't worked well enough, let's get at the core philosophical difference. You support unqualified opinions and assertions; I oppose them as bad answers on a Q&A site that's not a forum. –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 15:17
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@GoneQuiet My thinking is more along the lines of Dan and rhetorician: "group x believes" is an unqualified assertion. "X is true" is an unqualified assertion. They are just asserting different things. Worse, if you qualify the former (here is a link to a reference supporting "group x believes") you are getting away from the text and into frameworks, whereas if you qualify "X is true" (here is why I think X is true from the text), you are getting away from frameworks and into the text. –  Jack Douglas Oct 6 '13 at 15:23
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@Jack, "group x believes" or "scholar y teaches" etc is a second-order assertion (not about the text itself). It's like any other statement: "greek word X means" or "archealogists have found Y" or the like. But "this text means X" with no qualification is a first-order assertion about our primary topic here. It should be supported or qualified. –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 15:29
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@GoneQuiet exactly, the former is just noise unless you are particularly interested in the framework (and then perhaps you are better off asking/answering on C.SE/MY). "This text means X" is on topic and of course should be supported. Not with 'Group X believes' but with well argued comprehensible reasoning building up from the text to the assertion. –  Jack Douglas Oct 6 '13 at 15:32
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@Jack, but we have seen that sometimes people are unwilling or unable to support their text assertions. The text means what they say, full stop. Those are terrible answers, and if people won't fix them (why is that true?) they need to be either qualified (who believes this?) or deleted. Fixing is best; qualification is a way to let something remain instead of being deleted (you generally oppose deletion). Let me say it again: assertions about the text should be supported or qualified. –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 15:35
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@GoneQuiet I have never, to my knowledge, opposed deletion. My order of preference is: improved (ie 'show your work') or deleted. The point of difference is that I think adding 'Group X believes' makes an answer worse not better. –  Jack Douglas Oct 6 '13 at 15:52
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@Jack, I think you’ve helped me clarify my opposition to this proposal: “Bring Your Own Framework” is an attitude disrespectful of the questions. “Specify Your Framework” is not a perfect fix either, but it makes it possible to respectfully offer a perspective useful to people other than the OPs. If SYF is done poorly, down-votes & edits are appropriate, but I don’t see the possibility of BYOF done well. –  J. C. Salomon Oct 6 '13 at 17:00

Good answers respect their questions

If you have a few minutes to be philosophical, take a moment to read A Day at the Park. A key idea:

My favorite kind of answers are those that my questions give birth to.

Such answers begin with an honest curiosity and proceed to humbly address the concerns of the question, rather than wedging themselves where they do not belong.

Both of the original answers to this question are solutions to the same problem: sometimes answers destroy curiosity. Bring your own framework addresses a concern that novel approaches may lose their place at the table if only "standard" answers are permited. We would then be left with the answers that have already been accepted by various orthodoxies. Avoid truth assertions contends that answers that fail to qualify truth statements crowd out honest scholarship and alienate other potential answers.

I was more than willing to post both of those answers because I believe in them both. They identify pathologies (slavery to orthodoxy of some flavor and arrogant assertions) that could ruin a Q&A site. Their medicine (taken in moderation) will prevent great harm. But sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. If we create an orthodoxy out of qualifying statements or allow disrespectful frameworks to dominate our site, we will be no better off (indeed, much worse off) than before.

Therefore I propose that answers which fail to serve their questions or attempt to push curiosity aside must be ignored, downvoted, edited, or deleted as appropriate. To be clear, no ruleset can make these decisions for us. We cannot know beforehand what strategies answers might assume to destroy curiosity. It is inevitable that we will disagree on proper treatments and even diagnoses. If we adopt one or the other of the initial proposals, it will certainly help the site, but neither can promise to prevent problems that we have yet to discover. We must, instead, trust each other to be flexible and wise.


We've nailed down our policy on questions pretty well over the years. This meta-question is about answers. This meta-answer proposes that we can censor (in the sense of showing public disapproval up to and including deletion) answers that attack the question without sacrificing an environment that invites all comers. (I've gone into more depth about this policy in the Library.)

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Unlike other posts on this page with my picture attached, this is my own opinion in my own words. –  Jon Ericson Oct 5 '13 at 2:38
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I think this is the most important value to retain, and needs to drive our site along with the other top-voted answer(s) to this meta post. –  Jas 3.1 Oct 5 '13 at 18:28
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@Jon, I understand that you seek a compromise (that'd be great!), but I'm having trouble understanding what your position means. What do "respect/serve the question" and "push curiosity aside" mean? Can you point to some examples from the site that follow and fail to follow this approach? –  Gone Quiet Oct 5 '13 at 23:45
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@GoneQuiet: You and Jack have identified the two main causes of concern for me right now: 1. answers that assert the truth of their position so strongly that folks who don't agree with those answers are reluctant to provide alternative answers, and 2. a desire to create a site where the current scholarly positions are privileged over earnest (though unorthodox) answers. (I can supply examples, but I really think the original two answers already address the current set of issues well.) –  Jon Ericson Oct 6 '13 at 3:44
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@Jon, than I'm still confused about what position you're advancing in this answer. Sorry, I'm confused, not confrontational. What does "respect the question" mean? Do you mean that questions should specify their desired scope and answers should fit within that? (Almost no questions currently specify scope, so that would be a change.) –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 4:02
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Even with the edit and the chat discussion, I do not understand what this answer means beyond a vague good feeling. What actions could likely follow from this philosophy? How would the site change from today? Perhaps one of the 8 up-voters could explain it to me? –  Gone Quiet Oct 13 '13 at 16:41
    
Related comment with which I agree): meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/735/… -- “Bring Your Own Framework” is an attitude disrespectful of the questions, so is incompatible with this answer. –  Gone Quiet Oct 14 '13 at 22:58

Avoid truth assertions (use qualified language)

We want a site with broad appeal that welcomes diverse perspectives. This site focuses on the text and the process of interpreting it, using tools such as language, history, archaeology, and science. None of that is inherently religious, which is what distinguishes BH from other Internet sites about the Bible.

One of our core tenets is that hermeneutical process is (or ought to be) open to examination from all sides. Religious claims are often not open to examination. Not only that, but they're polarizing. Therefore, unqualified statements of religious truth are out of place here; this is a site about hermeneutics, not a site about Truth.1

Welcoming assertions of religious truth drives away some key groups of users, to the detriment of the site. This has been raised on meta by several users.2 If the current trend continues we will lose the Hebrew-bible-based, rabbinic persepctive, since few Christian users here have any background there. Allowing religious assertions of truth reduces the chances of getting the broad content we want.

In theory we already welcome all perspectives, and that's true to the extent that "welcome" means "accept questions and answers from". But that's not really welcoming; it's just not barring the door. To be truly welcoming we should be striving to not unnecessarily make people uncomfortable. For instance, insisting on the truth of a divisive statement creates a hostile environment. Using qualified language instead just seems neighborly.

An important measure of site success is user participation: if users don't continue to supply new, quality content, then eventually traffic will drop off. Area 51 lists top users based on participation; of the top 10, four are mostly inactive and one more has a long record of low-quality posts. The next 10 don't fare much better; more than half of them contribute minimally or not at all now. This trend should concern us.

This is not about individuals. There is no outcome that will please everyone and we need to recognise that whatever we choose will suit some and alienate others. This is not the aim of course but we must persue the best long-term goal for the site.

1 This meta post from C.SE explains a similar philosophy

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At Jon's request, editing to address comments.

This applies to answers, not just questions. (We already have some guidelines in place for questions, but less so for answers.)

The restriction here is on unqualified, polarizing assertions. As soon as you either support it (by showing your work, starting from the text that the question asks about) or qualify it (by saying something like "according to such-and-such hermeneutic", or "...so-and-so scholar", etc), then it is no longer an unqualified, unsupported assertion. This is not about footnoting every statement made about, say, Greek grammar. This is not Skeptics. But it is also not a forum.

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I upvoted this with the understanding that technically even so-called neutral statements are indeed assertions of truth in some ways, only we are specifying how such statements must be qualified ("Christians believe X" is good, "X doctrine is true" is bad). –  Daи Oct 4 '13 at 16:16
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To be fair, at least two of those four users left because the site was going in this particular direction... –  Soldarnal Oct 4 '13 at 21:35
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@Soldarnal some also left because it was not going far enough in this direction –  Daи Oct 4 '13 at 22:09
    
Should the community go in this direction, would it mean avoiding truth assertions only in questions, or in both questions and answers? Some more thoughts and an opportunity to vote/voice your opinion here. –  Daи Oct 4 '13 at 22:13
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@Dan I understand that and didn't say anything otherwise. I just felt it disingenuous to invoke e.g. Kazark's departure in support of a cause that caused him to leave. –  Soldarnal Oct 4 '13 at 22:21
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@Soldarnal gotcha, but I thought I've actually seen him around quite a bit lately. –  Daи Oct 4 '13 at 22:26
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@Dan Kazark has made it plain that he wont stick around if we carry on down this direction. –  Jack Douglas Oct 5 '13 at 6:24
    
@Jack, Soldarnal, this isn't about individuals. No solution can make everybody happy so it's likely that some people will leave no matter what. Let's not make this a referendum on individual users -- Kazark, me, or any of the others. –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 2:41
    
@GoneQuiet: Would you please take a moment to summarize the comments in this answer to go along with your edit of the title. May I also suggest submitting corresponding to this on in the "Bring your own framework". The comments are important, but show considerable confusion in the readers. Many seem to have forgotten the premises of the question, which is unfortunate. –  Jon Ericson Oct 14 '13 at 1:10
    
@Jon, does this edit address your question? –  Gone Quiet Oct 14 '13 at 3:42

Specify Your Framework

Everyone has presuppositions. I just want you to give me a rough idea of what yours are when you answer my questions. It doesn't help me if I ask a question about hermeneutics or exegesis and you just hand me the "right answer." I need to know why it is right. I need to know how you got there -- and I don't just mean "showing your work." I need to know why it's OK to follow the general process you are "showing" me in your answer -- and I need to know where to go to learn more about your approach.

If you're following a "historical-grammatical" hermeneutic, tell me. If you're relying on typology, just say that up front. If your interpretation relies upon a presupposition that Jesus is (or isn't) the Messiah, be up-front about it. If you're using some homespun variety of "progressive sensus plenior" then put a link in your answer to a place where I can learn more about your approach. (Just don't expect to get a lot of up-votes on usefulness!)

Are Truth Assertions OK?

If you are specifying your framework, it is fine to make truth assertions, because everyone will be clear that your claim is from the perspective of that particular framework. Again, just don't expect a lot of up-votes, since your answer will be most useful to a very small segment of the field (maybe only you!) And for the love of --- if you're going to answer questions about hermeneutics and exegesis, make sure you actually have a hermeneutic!!

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Jas 3:1 (or whatever your name is), I certainly agree with you. As you study the Bible more intently, and more thoughtfully, you begin to see patterns and clumps that come together. This website for me is a place where I can express original thoughts and ideas about the Scriptures that align with the PLAIN and NORMAL interpretation of the Scriptures.... Thanks for the opportunity to share with you all.... Joseph –  Joseph Oct 5 '13 at 2:29
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Might it make sense to ask folk to include this information in their profile rather than in every single post? –  Jack Douglas Oct 6 '13 at 6:45
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@Jack, I think it needs to be part of the (Googled) page, not hidden where non-SE folks won't know to look. Push, not pull. –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 15:00
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@JackDouglas Interesting idea... I hadn't thought of that. "Gone Quiet" brings up a good point though. Any response to her objection? –  Jas 3.1 Oct 17 '13 at 18:12

I made some comments in another forum, in which I said that Biblical Hermeneutics should not try to be just like the bigger, better resourced sites, because it is not possible for a small competitor to compete on an equal basis. I said that market successful 'Followers' find a niche where they can be successful because that niche is not served by the two (or three) big competitors. Also, I notice a sister site, Christian.Stackexchange.com - this site needs to differentiate itself as something different and hopefully special.

Biblical Hermeneutics does have a niche, which is for reasoned, well researched questions and answers, and should build on this. Beginning (or continuing?) to accept unsupported assertions of religious truth removes that differentiation. I am not saying here that religious assertions are not true, but those answers seem to belong in other sites. I also suggest that Google is less helpful for less well established players, since it is hard to get enough hits to put questions at the top of the first page. Biblical Hermeneutics needs to encourage target users (theology students, academics, etc) to ask their questions from within the site, rather than from Google - that way they get an answer from the site, rather than from Yahoo, Answers, Wikipedia or (say) Catholic encyclopedia.

I like the overall look and feel of the site, and on short notice can not easily suggest change. The one thing I noticed was that the process for asking a question is not glaringly obvious enough. You need to think of the casual visitor, who hopes to find an answer to a question, as the most important stakeholder, not the regulars who manage the site or even the people who answer questions. That means, make the site look as if it was written for them. From their first screen, show them where the Ask a Question button is, then guide them to the next step. Once I asked a question (in the 'Title' box!) that I knew was already on the database (Dating of Daniel), the way different possible questions were presented was excellent (even if the selections were entirely irrelevant - something that needs some work).

However: when I asked nearly - but not quite - the same question (Date of Daniel; Datin of Daniel), there was no list of possible alternative questions. I thought, surely this is more useful if I ask a question in my own way, and when that question has not yet been asked (or answered) the system offers alternatives that could be what I am after. So I tried another one (How are early Greek manuscripts that quote Jesus Christ properly understood), entering only 'ow are early Greek manuscripts that quote Jesus Christ properly understoo' and this worked fine!

What I definitely did not like was the system assuming I wanted to create a NEW question, putting up red, twitchy signs telling me what was missing, as soon as I asked. Making the site friendly for users means (I think) letting them ask a question to see what is on the database, this or or something like it. If it is NOT already there, ask whether I would like to submit a question and, if I do, then prompt for details and tags. So, if I go away and look elsewhere for my answer, that's OK - if I found the site easy to use, I'll be back.

Addendum: I am new to the site and am still learning what the site looks like and how it works. I have proposed that the site should be written and managed for the visitor who asks a question for which he needs an answer, rather than for contributors or moderators.

So, as such a visitor I ought to be surprised if I ask a question such as "Who bought the potter's field?" and find it closed on the grounds that there is another questions called "How did Judas die?" The second question may or may not contain the answer to the one I asked, but should I not be given an answer here, without having to navigate around the site?

In a similar vein, "Which tribes formed the nation of Israel?" was closed because it did not specify a particular passage in the Bible from which to answer it. But most of the questions I've seen do not specify which chapter and verse. I do not know if this question was asked internally or by someone actually looking for an answer. If the question was written by someone who wanted to know the answer, and who thought Biblical Hermeneutics could be a good resource to use in his studies, do you think he will come back?

Again, in this Addendum, I propose we should have a site that actually encourages visitors to come in and ask questions, in the expectation that those questions will be taken seriously and, if we have someone who knows an answer, will in due course be answered.

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As a dyed-in-the wool rhetorician, I've come to realize that regardless of the position one espouses on virtually any proposition, a confrontation with rhetorical realities is inevitable, eventually. Even the most ostensibly neutral, unbiased, opinion-free, balanced, logical, and yes, even polymathic expression of a position is informed by rhetoric, by which I simply mean persuasion.

Perhaps the rhetorical perspective is one of the best--if not the best--ways of looking at the presuppositions that inform every proposition, whether it originates in the hard sciences, the soft sciences, the arts, philosophy, all the -ologies, and even hermeneutics, which inhabits several "pigeonholes." Even an extreme nihilist likes to "pretend" (or acts as if) his/her words have meaning and are capable of being articulated, understood, and maybe even accepted as "true" by an audience, if only an audience of one (viz., himself or herself)! To think otherwise is to go insane. Even in insanity, however, there is persuasion, albeit a distorted version of it. But I digress.

Just because the extremes of rhetoric get the most attention (viz., polemics and dogmatism, on the one hand, and a flaccid pluralism on the other--though the latter gets far less attention today in my opinion), that does not mean, ipso facto, that the less intensely-held propositions are off the hook. Even a biology textbook will get off the beaten path of "neutrality" that is supposed to characterize the hard sciences and include, intentionally or not, some opinions, some educated guesses, and even more than occasionally an unsupported presupposition or two.

About the best we can hope for in a website like Biblical Hermeneutics is that there is a recognition among a critical mass of participants that each contributor to the website has something to offer, especially when it falls within the middle ground between the two extremes I've described above. Personally, being quite self-aware, rhetorically and self-reflexively speaking, I lean toward the dogmatic extreme, particularly regarding the interpretation of the Bible. On balance, however, I assume the Bible is in many ways very much like any other book or any other writing, whether from ancient times or from 2013, in that it doesn't interpret itself. No, it requires fallible and finite human beings, who will never get it right all the time.

That's why it's important to listen to and learn from each other, and more important be honest with ourselves and with one another about our presuppositions. Not that we need
constantly to be qualifying our answers (or questions) with "this is what my tradition says" or "I'm assuming X to be true," or "I know what I'm about to say may be controversial to some of you, but . . .", and so on.

By the same token, however, it's always a good idea to base particularly one's answers on a respect for the text and a respect for, and due deference to, each of the various disciplines that can potentially, at least, inform our hermeneutics. A very short list of these disciplines includes history, historiography, ancient languages, cultural anthropology, language as literature, world religions, philosophy, and philology, to name but a few.

None of us can truly interpret a writing on our own, free of bias, presuppositions, and the influences of those who have gone before. Why would we even want to? What's the sense in re-inventing the wheel over and over again? Clearly, we need to build on the foundation that has been built for us, even by people with whom we disagree. Maybe it's become too much of a cliché, but I think it still has some validity to it:

"All truth is God's truth, wherever it may be found."

Granted, it's not easy determining what the truth is, and even more difficult holding on to it, not to mention living in the light of it.

I realize I have hereby drawn a line in the sand, since there may be a few contributors to BH who posit neither truth nor God. That's OK. Perhaps I could tone down the statement by saying

"No one has a corner on the truth, and the best we can hope for is a measure of civility, irenicism, and consistency in applying reason, experience, as well as the tried and true, as we ask and answer questions vis a vis the biblical text."

Do not be surprised, however, if a full-blown paradigm shift in hermeneutics occurs, brought on by the rhetoric of a vocal minority that somehow captures the attention of a critical mass of supporters who agree with the minority in saying the old paradigm has outlived its heuristic value and needs to be retired.

In conclusion--and appropos the notion that we all need to stand for something or we may fall for anything, a well-respected and world-renown theologian once told me:

"Interpreting the Bible requires initially that we have an open mind, but that openness, like an open mouth at a smorgasbord, sooner or later needs to chomp down on something!"

And so it goes . . ..

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A site that freely accepts completely opposing views expressed academically, knowledgeably and politely, without resentment or bickering.

A site like this should be big. It should allow the exegetical frameworks that exists in the whole wide world, including the popular and unpopular:

  • Do you believe Jesus Christ is not to be found any where in your scriptures? You are welcome here.
  • Do you believe Jesus is pretty much everywhere in the scriptures? You are also welcome here.
  • Do you believe the bible is without any errors whatsoever as it was originally written? You are welcome here.
  • Do you believe the bible has a whole pile of errors in it? You are welcome here.
  • Do you think everything said by some famous bible professor alive today is pretty much true? You are welcome here.
  • Are you among those that think theologians of past centuries were generally more reasonable and logical then those today? You are welcome here.
  • Do you feel that looking at the original Greek or Hebrew provides novel fresh ideas that nobody has ever seen before for thousands of years? You are welcome here.
  • Do you feel that most everything has already been debated and the original Greek and Hebrew is not going to change much in world views as it has all been looked at before? You are welcome here.

I do not know what other type of extreme views there are, but if you have one, you are welcome here. This is the place for the 'world' to exchange biblical knowledge. Ideally our knowledge grows, we show our work and more often than not we 'quote published authors'.


Site Enforcement Policy

(Note: I have added this section as an appendix to answer various comments wanting my more detailed opinion. I am not fully confident in this part, just obliging the request to make my mind known).

We want a site that encourages anyone to join and feel accepted offering their established framework-based opinions or even their random opinions. However we encourage expertise, therefore a voting culture that encourages views to be expressed academically and knowledgeably is important. Comments should be generally limited to polite questions, small explanatory notes for voting up, or when voting down, a 'constructive reason' that gives the user the ability to increase the academic quality of the post.

This generous site ethos would mean a question and an answer can propose the wildest and almost crazy assumptions, so long as they generally identify how their assumption fits into other views within religious academia, past or present. This means general requirements for some reference to published literature, past or present, outside of the Bible itself. Literature that records past or historic views of the Bible passage in question, is the only way to know how one's own view relates to other's views. It is necessary for any level of academics to understanding how one's own view relates to other peoples views. To constantly ignore this requirement is to be non-academic.

A steady stream of mere opinion based posts, by individual users, without ever referring to published works or opposing opinions that indicate the user is trending towards increased knowledge and academic study, would be seen as intentionally opposing the encouraged ethos of this site. Such instances would require moderator intervention until the user agrees to make some effort in changing their style of posting and if not, eventually suspending their ability to post under site discipline until they communicate that are willing to do so. If moderator actions like this should ever be required, it should be done kindly, gradually (3-strikes?) and humbly, in that although we are actually not accepting an individual persons 'work', we must communicate that we accept them personally and must apologize that we can’t allow their behaviour for the disciplined needs for our specific site goal. We are not inferring they are morally wrong by not fitting in with the site ethos, but we would be morally wrong if we were rude in the way we were suspending them.

I do not know how moderation works but I think there should be moderator majority agreement for any action like this, if it was required. Individual moderators should not have unilateral power to effect major changes. If moderator agreement can't be achieved, it is better not to discipline than to discipline too much. Better to err in love then in judgment. Users should also respect the decisions the mods have made regarding any specific person as it would be a difficult job.

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Mike - I concur. Many people take no authority for what they believe and understand -- that is, they just rehash what many confused people already know (or do not know). One must have a template, or a baseline (paradigm?), from which to interpret the Bible. For example, it is divinely inspired? That affects your interpretation! The goal of this website should be to allow those with the Spiritual Gift of Knowledge and Teaching to express and explain their views with ORIGINAL material and concepts--and with authority based on carefully developed Biblical concepts. –  Joseph Oct 5 '13 at 2:37
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My concern is that this would lead to a site where the sound of opinions (whether unique or popular) would drown out the sound of expert input. When it comes to questions, anyone is welcome. When it comes to answers, I want Craig Blomberg and Grant Osborne, not the half-baked speculations of the freshman at the local Christian middleschool. I'm fine with innovation, but I want it to be grounded in a thoroughly established framework -- even if it's original. –  Jas 3.1 Oct 5 '13 at 18:20
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@Mike, this is a nice expansion of the "about" text but I'm left unclear on what you're actually proposing. One way to read this is that you support "no truth assertions" ("academically and politely"). Another way to read it is that you support bring-your-own-framework (your examples) with the addition of "no critical comments" ("bickering"). Those are very different positions, obviously. From other things you've said I suspect you mean the latter; could you please clarify? –  Gone Quiet Oct 5 '13 at 23:55
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@Jas3.1, you nailed it in that comment. –  Gone Quiet Oct 5 '13 at 23:56
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@GoneQuiet - All I have said is that we need to be ready to accept all the persons that hang out here while encouraging academic approaches. This is best achieved by down-voting bad answers and up-voting good ones (without adding disgruntled comments). This way we respect the persons asking and answering questions while encouraging sound thinking and supporting evidence. Call it the 'high road' if you will. –  Mike Oct 6 '13 at 2:09
    
@Mike, so I'm reading that as "bring your own framework and bar critical comments"; from past posts it sounds like you think any negative comment is "nit-picking" or "disgruntled". I think that would be even worse than "bring your own framework" alone; people have to be able to explain what's wrong with a post for the benefit of those who aren't schooled in the particular methods being used (or misused, or ignored) in it. –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 2:18
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@Gone Quiet - I am not saying people should bring their own framework as a person is unable not to. I am just saying be academic and loving about it. It is simply my desire that we have a positive goal like acceptance and academics. Many of the proposals here are negative propositions. Our site can't be based upon a 'Do Not' proposition. That would indicate something unhealthy and unattractive to a wide audience. I doubt you actually disagree with me. There seems to be a misunderstanding on something I am unaware of. –  Mike Oct 6 '13 at 2:57
    
@Mike, could you clarify what you mean? (Preferably in your post, not buried here in comments.) What change would you like to see on the site? What happens when your goals of "academic" and "loving" conflict? What would you like to see happen with the unsupported-opinion-stated-as-fact posts that we've gotten? Do you think it's ok to let those stand unchallenged in pursuit of being "nice"? It sounds like we are not communicating, as I believe we can be kind and have standards, and I'm asking you to take another try at it in your answer. –  Gone Quiet Oct 6 '13 at 3:03
    
@Gone Quiet - I think I understand you. You are not satisfied with an abstract principle and would prefer it spelled out at a lower level in more practical terms. Let me have a think and add that. Just have no free time at the moment. I hear what you are saying and is a fair request. –  Mike Oct 6 '13 at 5:03
    
@Gone Quiet - sorry forgot, i took the abstract as the question specifically wanted to avoid 'how to get there' subjects. but to try and answer i think always ignoring non academic answers is the most practical way to slowly shed them from our site. Giving them attention might just force them to more stubbornly bunker down and be persistent as it easily gets personal. I am hoping you get what i mean. i apologize if i have not been that clear. –  Mike Oct 6 '13 at 5:45
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@Jas3.1 - your concern seems unrelated to what i meant. –  Mike Oct 6 '13 at 6:30
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One one hand, “everyone is welcome” is a sentiment I’d like to approve; on the other hand, not everyone’s contributions are helpful or appropriate everywhere. If the perspective of your answer is too far removed from that of the question, don’t answer that question. –  J. C. Salomon Oct 6 '13 at 7:17
    
@J.C.Salomon - Yes I was tempted to delete my post as it is maybe too abstract for the question. The only reason why I have not is nobody has posted a positive healthy aspiration that comes close to my own ideal vision solicited by the title in the question. –  Mike Oct 6 '13 at 8:10
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@Mike: Ultimately, the truth wins out in the marketplace of ideas. Don –  rhetorician Oct 6 '13 at 13:19
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@GoneQuiet - I added a big section. I hope it is answers your question. I apologise if I have totally not answered it. For some reason on this subject I find it hard to communicate well. If anything gets across I put a lot of value on acceptance. I know it seems like strange hippy-love but that is really where I fall in the end. I feel it is very important to somehow indicate to others that they are accepted personally, even when being disputed with. Probably because that is what I personally crave from others. –  Mike Oct 7 '13 at 4:57

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