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I'd like to get some clarification/insight from the community concerning posts asking perceived or actual contradictions in the biblical texts. I think it is helpful to divide this into a few categories:

Questions asking about perceived or actual contradictions...

  1. within a single work written by a single author
  2. within a single work that may have been written by multiple authors and/or redactors
  3. between texts believed to have been written by the same author
  4. between different texts written by different authors in the same time period
  5. between different texts written by different authors in different time periods (i.e. one of the texts is in the Hebrew Bible or Apocrypha and the other text is in the New Testament)

Should all of these be on topic? Why or why not? Should there be any additional requirements for any of these categories of questions?

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I think they are all on topic.

Potential contradictions should be examined. Even if one does not hold to a necessary unity to Scripture by a Divine Author behind the text through inspiration (opposite what I and a number of people hold), that the Scripture is studied as a body of work shows that nearly all interpreters understand there is a connection between the texts. As such, if a potential contradiction seems plausible between two very different textual contexts (i.e. #5 example), it would seem an explanation would still be necessary. They may not believe there is an inspired relationship, but still question why if X said one thing, that Y thought something else that seems in contradiction, when both have texts included in the body of work known as the Bible.

Essentially there are only a few basic answers to such a question:

  • The texts do not even relate: so an answerer should show why from their perspective they believe so.
  • The texts relate only distantly, by implication, etc.: so an answerer should show why it is or is not a contradiction based off this distant relation. Did views change? Did one author not know about the other? The implication is being misread, so there is no contradiction, etc.
  • The texts relate straightforwardly to one another, covering the same topic: so an answerer should show why it is or is not a contradiction.
  • One text is an apparent quote or summary of another, so a very close relation: so an answerer should show why it is or is not a contradiction given such a close relation.

Basically, it boils down to presuppositions again. A questioner obviously believes the texts should be related, else they would not ask the question. I think it is enough that they are part of "Scripture" to consider this a potentially valid reason.

But the answerer can challenge that presupposition or not; if they agree to the relation, then they need to try to answer why they see it to either be or not be a contradiction (depending on what they believe the correct answer is).

The only "requirement" I would see on the part of the questioner would be to at least show, if it is not immediately obvious based on common words or themes between two texts, why they think the one may relate to the other.

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    Your last statement says it well. That is my main concern: the assumption needs to be stated. It's fine to make assumptions (we all do), but it should be stated when not obvious. +1 (I think I said the same thing, only much more verbosely :P) – Dan Jan 20 '15 at 22:08
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    @Dan, ScottS I think we need to avoid subjective standards like 'obvious' here - an obvious connection will depend entirely on your perspective. – Jack Douglas Jan 21 '15 at 14:16
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    To me, 'obvious' is something where someone outside of your religious tradition or other textual perspective could clearly see the connection. For instance, if the two texts are talking about the same historical event(s), or one text cites/references the other, it's obvious why they're related. But other connections may not be obvious. For instance, if an NT text uses the same language as the LXX does in a certain passage but no explicit reference is made, this is likely not obvious unless the Greek texts are both shown and the connection is made explicit. – Dan Jan 21 '15 at 16:00
  • @Dan you are placing quite a burden on all those who don't share your assumption that the texts are unconnected, and none on those who do. – Jack Douglas Jan 21 '15 at 16:21
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    @JackDouglas I think the burden is equally placed on all. The example I gave above about a linguistic connection equally applies to all, the same with a historical event. Literary connections are also equally applicable (is Paul employing the same rhetorical device as [insert HB author here]?). Whether you believe the texts are contiguous or not, you'd still need to simply explain the connection so that it is clear. – Dan Jan 21 '15 at 16:25
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    I think it would be best for all if the supposed contradiction is always explictly mentioned. – curiousdannii Jan 22 '15 at 7:05
  • @curiousdannii I think everyone agrees with that - this post is about whether the question would be allowed at all, because the texts are (Dan thinks) unconnected therefore there is no reason why they shouldn't contradict. – Jack Douglas Jan 22 '15 at 13:49
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I think the most important factor is how the texts are related to one another. Here are my (current) opinions on each of these categories:

#1 - Questions asking about perceived or actual contradictions within a single work written by a single author

I think these are great questions and they are on topic. The two texts cited are clearly connected being that they are now extant in the same work.

#2 - Questions asking about perceived or actual contradictions within a single work that may have been written by multiple authors and/or redactors

I think these are great questions and they are on topic. The two texts cited are clearly connected being that they are now extant in the same work, although one of the texts may or may not have been interpolated. For instance, do the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 conflict? If you adopt the documentary hypothesis, they may have been written by different authors. If you argue for the unity of the work, then it may be a literary or rhetorical technique intended by the author.

#3 - Questions asking about perceived or actual contradictions between texts believed to have been written by the same author

I think these are great questions and they are on topic. The connection between the texts is clear: the same author purportedly wrote both of them (although answers are free to disagree with authorship of one or both of the texts).

#4 - Questions asking about perceived or actual contradictions between different texts written by different authors in the same time period

I think these questions are generally on topic, so long as the connection between the texts is made clear. For instance, the following textual connections are easily justifiable:

  • The texts describe the same (specific) historical event(s)
  • The texts prescribe a belief or practice to the same (specific) audience

This is not the to say that these are the only acceptable textual connections, only that these are generally the most obvious. Other textual connections should be explained, because underlying every connection is an assumption (whether that of authorship, context, etc.). The assumption should be stated if not obvious.

The connection should not be anachronistic to the original historical, literary, and/or linguistic context in which the text was written. For instance, asking whether a Psalm that appears to support the Christian doctrine of the Trinity conflicts with a Psalm that appears to oppose it is off topic. The very idea of a Trinity is anachronistic to both texts (such a question should be asked on a site such as Christianity.SE).

#5 - Questions asking about perceived or actual contradictions between different texts written by different authors in different time periods

The main example of this is when one of the texts is in the Hebrew Bible or Apocrypha and the other text is in the New Testament. The key thing is explaining the connection between the two texts. When focused on understanding the New Testament passage, these questions are usually good, when focused on the Hebrew Bible passage, these are often off topic (since the NT contradiction is likely anachronistic to the HB text).

If the texts purport to describe the same (specific) historical event(s) or a New Testament passage explicitly cites the Hebrew Bible or refers to it, the question may be on topic if the question starts from and is primarily focused on understanding the New Testament passage.

It is imperative when asking these questions that the textual connection be explicitly stated, whether it be a specific hermeneutic approach or a historical, literary, or linguistic reason for believing the texts are relevant to one another. These questions may be prime candidates for migration to Christianity.SE.

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  • Your #5 would label this "poor ... and [probably] off topic" - would you go along with that? – Jack Douglas Jan 22 '15 at 8:20
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    @Dan I would have to say, based on Jack's example, that they are all on topic(if they are based on the text, and not some perceived view of the text{ie:Gnosticism}) The NT is full of references to OT passages; while an OT question answered by an NT source may 'appear' anachronistic, an NT question referenced by an OT source isn't, and therefore entirely on-topic. I'm inclined to agree that OT questions should reference OT sources(the NT can aid our understanding of OT references), however the NT questions can reference both OT and NT sources, since the text directly references them. – Tau Jan 22 '15 at 11:15
  • @JackDouglas I think that question is fine, it focuses on an NT text that explicitly cites a HB passage. Edit forthcoming. – Dan Jan 22 '15 at 15:52
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They should all be considered on-topic...

...and there should be no requirement on the OP to justify a link.

If the link is thought to be tenuous or if there are good reasons to dismiss a link, then it is the place on an answer to argue that perspective.

Of course it might in some cases be helpful to comment and ask the OP how the texts are linked from their perspective before posting an answer.

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  • Explain the contradiction between Psalm 62:4 and Mark 11:8? – curiousdannii Jan 22 '15 at 7:07
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    @curiousdannii To that question I would apply my DV on the basis that "This question does not show any research effort; it is ... not useful". Topicality is an orthogonal concept - I wouldn't vote to close it and I don't doubt that there exist good questions about links between different texts. I've tried to ask my own as an example. – Jack Douglas Jan 22 '15 at 8:17

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