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We have a section in our help center called What topics can I ask about here? and another called What types kinds of questions should I avoid asking? The latter contains generic SE guidelines that seem to be appropriate. The former is our chance to explain site scope, and I think it could be improved.

One thing I’ve noticed in our recent discussions of off-topic reasons is that we have a remarkable degree of agreement about the appropriate boundaries for this site. We just like different numbers of words, want to organize sentences differently, prefer to use a thesaurus more or less, etc. etc.

Regardless of what we do for close reasons, each must adhere to the 400 character limit. I wonder if the help section might be an opportunity to provide some slightly expanded yet organized (in a way that Meta could never be) education about what we agree about for newcomers.

Here it is as it stands:

If your question is about...

  • interpretation of a specific Bible passage
  • hermeneutical approaches
  • translation of Biblical texts
  • historical context (with regards to a particular text)
  • source criticism
  • ... then this is the right place to ask.

    Questions that do not arise from a Biblical text are off-topic unless they are about hermeneutical approaches.


    Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question.

    If your question is not specifically on-topic for Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange, it may be on topic for another Stack Exchange site. If no site currently exists that will accept your question, you may commit to or propose a new site at Area51, the place where new Stack Exchange communities are democratically created.

    For more help, see "What types of questions should I avoid asking?"

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    It seems to me that there are two main audiences for this page:

    1. People who meander onto Hermeneutics.SE and want to learn what we’re about before asking questions. (Rare!)
    2. People who have been rebuked for asking off-topic questions and are trying to do better.

    Within both groups there are probably those who just want a few bullets and others who really want to understand. Meta is available, but one could spend days trying to sort this out by reading Meta posts. Our current ‘on-topic’page is nice in that it has bullets that are short and simple. Unfortunately, topicality on Hermeneutics.SE is actually not simple....

    My proposal is to leave a simple, bulleted version (with revisions as suggested below) at the top and then provide a more extended explanation below for those who are interested. For the latter, I wonder if some adaptation of ScottS’s “Original Long Form” of proposed close reasons would be appropriate. I defer to him for that and turn now to the bullets.

    My concerns about the bullets as they stand:

    • The terminology of the first bullet “a specific Bible passage” is abundantly clear. We then use three other terms: Biblical texts, a particular text, a Biblical text. I don’t think the “text” terminology is helpful to the average visitor. If we mean “a particular passage,” we should just say that. If we mean “the Bible,” we should say that. I don’t think people consistently understand anything more subtle.

    • The third bullet, to me, indicates that general questions about translation philosophy (not about a specific passage) are on topic, but I don’t see how that jives with the statement at the bottom.

    • Most people don’t know what source criticism is. (That was ~5 months into my foray here, and although I’m not as savvy as many here, I’m also probably not less savvy than the average visitor.)

    • We need to include text criticism, and most people don’t know what that is either.

    • If the statement at the bottom is meant to indicate “a specific passage,” then there are more exceptions (authorship, source criticism, text criticism, dating...).

    My proposal:

    Questions are on-topic if they arise from a specific Bible passage or group of closely related passages and are seeking to understand:

    • the author’s intended meaning;
    • translation between the original language, ancient versions, and English;
    • historical context;
    • variations in the wording between manuscripts;
    • authorship, dating, and sources used.

    Questions are also on-topic if they are about:

    • hermeneutical approaches to interpretation of the Bible;
    • techniques used by scholars to determine the original wording of the Bible.
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      I'd be loath to see the "arise from a Biblical text" wording go. Perhaps "Questions are on-topic if they arise from a specific Bible passage or group of closely related passages and are seeking to understand:" would be a way of keeping it? – Jack Douglas Jun 13 '15 at 16:17
    • I have no problem with that; hadn't even noticed, but you're right that it's nice wording. Edited accordingly. – Susan Jun 13 '15 at 16:19
    • I like this a lot! – curiousdannii Jun 14 '15 at 0:11
    • I like this bullet points using simple language, though perhaps we ought to also "educate" just a bit, including after the simple language statements the more technical terms relevant (i.e. text criticism, source criticism, etc.). – ScottS Jun 14 '15 at 0:16
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      I'm not a huge fan of "group of closely related passages". Related on what basis? I can see the garden-variety proof-texter understanding this as 'they all have the same topic theologically' or 'they have the same English word in them' or 'my cross-reference tool links them'. The connections here need more basis than that, and I think we need to capture that somehow. – Dan Jun 14 '15 at 4:01
    • At the same time, I can think of no better way to word that without getting ridiculously complicated. – Dan Jun 14 '15 at 4:03
    • @Dan I’m not opposed to asterisk + footnote with explanation. The alternative we’re starting with is “a Biblical text”, and I don’t know what that means either. – Susan Jun 14 '15 at 4:09
    • Even better would probably be linking that phrase to a meta post explaining it further – Dan Jun 14 '15 at 4:15
    • Multiple passage questions are comparatively rare, so perhaps that can just be left out. – curiousdannii Jun 14 '15 at 5:48
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    Add below the bullet points of Susan's great answer more explanation for those wanting it and links to particularly relevant meta posts (anyone feel free to edit this and add relevant points and/or links—or create your own answer to add similar bullet points to what might be included in this help center update).

    To explain further, we are about

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    • I concur. I believe in leaving the simple explanations intact, but adding 'bullet points' to further add to their explanations. The average 1st time user will get as far as the basic explanation-terse, and to the point. The Main Point of Concern is for those who screen the 1st time posts, and other editing criteria. There has been a 'confluence of confusion' regarding our Site Directives, and the bullet points help to clarify areas in which editing is required. – Tau Jul 6 '15 at 13:34
    • Greek language site proposal no longer exists – Steve Taylor Mar 18 '16 at 9:20

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