This question has a different focus than What are we looking for in answers?, but is related. There is an explicit one for questions (What makes a good/bad question?), which itself links to the more robust answer: A helpful flowchart for asking questions on BH.SE

The question was initiated because of this question, and produced in the spirit of How can we educate new users about our site distinctives?


If an answerer does not want his or her answer downvoted to oblivion or even possibly deleted entirely, what can he or she do in the answer itself (the anatomy of it) to help prevent that? What are the key factors the BH.SE community values in at least not downvoting an answer on quality grounds? I realize different questions may need different emphases in answering, but what are the general points valued most of the time, the more of which makes for better answers?

NOTE: I have posted this question to supply a list of single topic answers for the community to vote on so that new users, or old users that want to improve answers, can look back to as a check list of items to consider including. The idea is to provide a better source to link to point new users to what matters, with what matters most indicated by community vote. Please feel free to not only add more answers, but edit into the answers I've given to start this any links to other meta posts that may give more depth to any parituclar point. ALSO: Please limit yourself (at least during the intial release of the question) to voting up no more than your top SEVEN points,1 so that some community distinction can begin to occur. Arguably all the answers indicate points that you may feel are good to include, but which seven, if they were included, would prevent you from downvoting an answer? You may want to vote for less even. Of course, downvote if you feel like an answer is totally irrelevant, or one answer is gaining way more support than you feel it should have (i.e. it is in your bottom 2-3 of the list).

Good answers on BH.SE tend to take time to compose. Hours, sometimes days, especially if one is not expert in the area and has not researched (or had the research background to draw from) to make good answers.

1 For those into numerology for your hermenutic, read into the number 7 whatever you will :-). I chose it because I was posting 12 answers to begin with, so 7 is just over half, and should begin to give some separation to the field.

  • When I 1st viewed this, I thought you were referring to "Excellent Answers", something you are very capable of giving. I asked a Meta question, which didn't gain any traction, although I had hoped it would solicit a meaningful discussion. In response to your initial inquiry, I posted this, which is an entirely different take on your initial inquiry. Dan has an excellent answer to your query.
    – Tau
    Jan 7, 2016 at 22:30
  • Here's another example of Dan's foray in this arena.......you can appreciate my remark about frustrated programmers ;)
    – Tau
    Jan 7, 2016 at 22:42
  • @Tau: The question that solicited this was not "your [i.e. my] initial inquiry." It was a user named Rich Diederich. His frustration in that post, and my long pondering on poor answers, prompted this here. Your links to Dan's points are both links I already provided in my question as well...
    – ScottS
    Jan 7, 2016 at 22:45
  • My bad-I didn't follow the other links. My take however, is patience, rather than prescription. In most instances, new "un-academia" users benefit more from specific guidance rather than a detailed explanation of site parameters. It's more an issue of learning how to adapt than a longer list of expectations.
    – Tau
    Jan 7, 2016 at 22:56
  • 1
    @Tau: I agree about "specific guidance," which is actually the point of this post. Each "Answer" is a short "specific" guide for just one part of a good answer. Each is not "prescriptive," nor really part of "site parameters" per se. Rather, the list, once votes start coming in, should help inform users descriptively what expectations are (i.e. what actual users of the site are more likely to downvote if they do not see that in an answer). That's the intention, anyway. It remains to be seen if it works out that way.
    – ScottS
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:04
  • And because "good answers on BH.SE tend to take time to compose" I look forward to the next Meta question "what is the anatomy of a good BH.SE process of accepting answers?" ;)
    – fumanchu
    Jan 21, 2016 at 16:50

13 Answers 13


Keep on Topic

The BH.SE site does not exist to prescribe how readers should live their lives in light of the text (though if the text contains a prescription of how to live, that may be noted as part of an answer about its meaning). So BH.SE is not a place to platform, promoting an idea other than what might be logically argued from the text in question, but a place to inform readers:

  • about different ways a text may be viewed, depending upon the hermenetic used (and how well any particular hermeneutic is used)
  • about a variety of points relevant to help a reader understand a particular text (or hermeutical method)
  • about methodology used by different hermeutics when approaching a text

So the point is: Answer the Question. Do so as succinctly but as thoroughly and accurately as you can from your hermenutical perspective.

  • 1
    I believe this is fundamental, and perhaps explains why some of the other (good!) principles here are not as up-voted as one might expect. E.g., discussing the "historical understanding" of a text might not be relevant for a question about language, etc. That is, one or more of history, literature, language, theology, may be applicable (and some not) for a given question, but "keeping on topic" will always be the right thing to do.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 9, 2016 at 11:23
  • "The BH.SE site does not exist to motivate readers to action or change, but to inform readers:" This seems to me to be an oxymoron — a change in knowledge is a change no more or less than any other. Jan 21, 2016 at 16:26
  • 1
    @JackDouglas: edited to "behavioral change," is that better? I think you get the jist of what I was trying to say, it is not about application but information.
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 16:53
  • I get the jist but I think the line you are dividing is artificial: much application is about belief (arguably all, really). A change in belief or knowledge is application. Perhaps you just mean there should not be overt or direct effort to change the readers mind? Or to put it another way, persuasiveness is good, assertiveness is bad. If so I think it's much better to stick with 'show your work' and let the character and style of the answerer show through as they see fit. Show your work also forces an answer to remain on topic or get unmanagebly long. Jan 21, 2016 at 17:15
  • @JackDouglas No, the "Keep on Topic" is intended to be geared toward not getting off on "preachy" asides (whether the work is shown or not), but also not get too "preachy" even if it relates to the text, because the topic for this site is about what the text says, not so much about how the reader should then respond to that text's message.
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 17:26
  • most of the questions on the site are about what the text means rather than what it says: this is why I argued before against the use of the word 'application'. I actually think the term 'preachy asides' is much more useful! Jan 21, 2016 at 17:32
  • @JackDouglas Would you be comfortable if "not exist to motivate readers to action or behavioral change" changed to "not exist to prescribe how readers should live their lives in light of the text"?
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 17:44
  • I think it depends on the question: if you have a minutes to scan the comment thread up to Mikes's comment here I think you'll see why I'm concerned. Very often behavioural change is very close the the surface of the text and while I don't want preachy answers I don't think answers should be discouraged from addressing behavioural implications if there aren't any great leaps in between. Jan 21, 2016 at 18:23
  • 1
    @JackDouglas The link was a bit hard to follow since one user's comments are now deleted, but I believe I agree. Somewhere (I cannot find where) I have argued likewise that some application that arises out of a text is appropriate to mention in a small way after the interpretation has been given. Basically, let the text speak for itself when it is doing its own "preaching," and just call attention to that if appropriate. So how about "not exist to prescribe how readers should live their lives in light of the text (though if the text contains a prescription of how to live, that may be noted)."
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 21:53
  • That covers it for me because it can't be used as a stick to shut down answers that don't agree with my theology as 'application': this has happened in the past which is why I'm labouring the point (thanks for your patience). My own preference would be different: something like "don't platform: an answer shouldn't be used to promote an idea or behaviour that can't be logically argued from the text in question" Jan 22, 2016 at 7:33
  • @JackDouglas: So I expanded further to incorporate a modified version of your language as well.
    – ScottS
    Jan 22, 2016 at 17:30

Show your work.

If you are personally analyzing the Scripture, show your logic, make explicit your connections.

Avoid making an mere assertion, especially one highly relevant to your argument, wihtout giving some background for why the assertion should be taken as true. Other answers here relate to this, as they themselves are steps that one might take to show work.


Be Clean, Organized, and Coherent in the Presentation

Things like (not all inclusive!):

  • Writing in complete, grammatically correct sentences.
  • Using headings, paragraphing, lists, and other layout factors.
  • Using vocabulary recognized in the field, or defining terms (or linking to such definitions) that may be unclear.
  • YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    – Tau
    Jan 21, 2016 at 1:03
  • A Well Organized, Coherent Presentation takes in consideration it's audience and makes it's case with the audience in mind.
    – Tau
    Jan 21, 2016 at 1:07

Provide links for the main data cited, and sources used

The value of answers can be enhanced by providing hyperlinks for important biblical citations (or those from other ancient sources) as well as the "secondary" literature (commentaries, study bibles, Wikipedia articles, etc.) on which the answer is based.

  • Not all citations and sources need linking, but if e.g. context or multiple versions, inform your answer, then a link might be in order.
  • If your source is online, then a link to see it in context (e.g, in Google Books preview, or Amazon's "Look Inside") can help take those reading your answer deeper into the subject.

For guidance on how to compose links, see the Help center article on formatting.

  • I almost added this as a distinct one myself, but chose instead the route of noting in most of the answers "Include citation and/or link references to..." In other words, most all of the "factors" one may address in an answer should have citations, so I put it with each individually.
    – ScottS
    Jan 8, 2016 at 21:39
  • I almost didn't add this as I thought it was implied in "Be Clean, Organized...", and in the one you mention. But it's one of the things that I find a welcome bit of "icing" on the "cake" of a good answer, so thought I'd make it explicit.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 8, 2016 at 22:47
  • A citation is just an appeal to authority. Unless the source itself does what we want answers here to do (namely that it logically and comprehenibly builds from the text), it adds nothing to an answer. The exception is sources to factual information rather than exegetical interpretation but I don't think they are in view in your answer. Jan 21, 2016 at 16:30
  • 1
    @JackDouglas Even massive, cogent, well argued and informed answers here often don't have the depth of evidence and argument provided by standard "scholarly" commentaries and journal articles. As a reader (and writer) of BH.SE A's, I'm aware how much more there is to say in response to many questions. Better answers will point to just such fuller considerations of evidence and argument: that's the point I'm making in this "answer". That is more, however, than simply "appeal to authority". I will happily provide examples if you wish! (P.s. ;) I note your linked meta-answer isn't hugely UVed!)
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 21, 2016 at 16:57
  • My link to my meta answer wasn't an appeal to authority, but a fuller consideration of evidence and argument ;) I am sure you can find academic sources arguing every side of every argument and which are 'better' will depend on your own framework. I'm not saying 'don't' link to them, or that they can't help an answer by providing further reading, but I'm reading your answer as discouraging answers without external sources which is something I'd very much like us not to do. Jan 21, 2016 at 17:18
  • @JackDouglas "...I'm reading your answer as discouraging answers without external sources..." In which case I had better emend, as that is not the intention at all! Rather, as noted in my reply to Scott's comment, "... a welcome bit of "icing" on the "cake" of a good answer...".
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 21, 2016 at 17:23
  • If your answer ends up saying 'citations are a really useful addition to some answers' then I'd be pleased to upvote it! Jan 21, 2016 at 17:27
  • 1
    @JackDouglas Although I don't understand your point of view on academic resources at all, I read this answer as being about something different. It assumes there are citations (to primary and/or secondary literature) and then points out that linking them up is nice.
    – Susan
    Jan 21, 2016 at 19:38
  • @Susan I can see that there is that reading of it too — but I won't be the only person to read it the other way and your comment is way clearer on that point than the answer. Jan 22, 2016 at 7:24

Keep a Civil Tone

You have a particular opinion about what the verse means, else you would not be answering. You also may have a deep passion about it. But keep the tone of your answer civil.

You are not providing an answer:

  • to accuse the person who posted the question that their question is dumb (downvote or vote to close it if you think so), or
  • to demean other answers posted (though your posting may disagree with them and even reference other answers), or
  • to denigrate other hermeneutic methods (though your posting may note disagreement with a method and why)
  • 1
    There is no such thing as a 'neutral' tone and I don't think we need to go beyond 'be civil'. Jan 21, 2016 at 16:32
  • @JackDouglas: Edited "neutral" to "civil." However, while I do not feel there is a "neutral" point of view (presuppositions, etc., as we have agreed elsewhere on), I do believe there is such a thing as a neutral tone to verbal exchange (i.e. one that is neither excessively praising nor patently accusatory).
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 17:05
  • I agree with you, knowing what you mean, but others might accuse you of having a non-neutral 'tone' based on the content of what you say rather than the manner. My own personal preference is for answers that don't have an academic tone because to me that evokes 'flowery' 'superiour' 'inaccessible' rather than 'reliable'. It's quite possible that we like the same answers though and just use the word 'academic' in different ways. Jan 21, 2016 at 17:26
  • @JackDouglas To me the use of u in superiour evokes 'flowery' 'superior' 'inaccessible'... ;-) Sorry, couldn't resist.
    – Susan
    Jan 21, 2016 at 18:54
  • @JackDouglas I can see your point, but perhaps even more so, if someone is a 'non-academic,' then would they even know what an academic tone is intended to be? In other words, I am using the word "academic" there as an appositive, academic = civil = neutral. So I have no problem dropping "academic."
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 19:44
  • Thanks Scott, and @Susan I won't pretend I was being ironic, I just can't spell :) Jan 22, 2016 at 7:28
  • FWIW, the best "academic" work I know doesn't sound "academic".
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 22, 2016 at 18:23

State Important Presuppositions

Your argument for a particular interpretation will depend upon some preunderstandings you have (your worldview, your belief in the nature of the Bible, etc.).

Such understandings that are critical to your argument need to be stated so that others can at least "follow" and "understand" your argument, even if they may not agree with your presuppositions or your argument. One important point to note is whether you are approaching the text as being (in some way) inspired by God or just as a human work.


Discuss Historical Context

Things like (not all inclusive!):

  • What (in your mind) relevant events were occuring when the text was written?
  • What (in your mind) relevant events were occuring when the events documented in the text occurred (assuming you even believe the event is historical, which is another point possibly to note)?
  • What relevant events occurred in the life of the one you deemed authored the text?
  • What other, non-Scripture literature may have been present to influence the text?

Include citation and/or link references to Bible histories, introductions, and such to show where your historical information is coming from is best.


Discuss Literary Context

This looks at the text as a piece in its larger literary whole of the book it is in, rather than just the granular level of Grammar/Linguistic points.

Things like (not all inclusive!):

  • What does the immediately preceeding text block (verses) indicate about the meaning of the text in question?
  • What does the immediately following text block (verses) indicate about the meaning the text intended to contribute to the dicussion?
  • What contribution does the text make to the topics or arguments found in the book?

Include citation and/or link references to books or journal articles that have done literary studies to show where your literary information is coming from is good, though properly showing your work can demonstrate this well for any of your own analysis.

  • Doesn't this privilege certain hermeneutics over others? I benefit from answers that are easy to follow even if they do what I would call 'violence' to the context. Jan 21, 2016 at 16:35
  • Almost all of these answers I initially provided may be weighed more or less heavily by certain hermeneutics. That is partly why I stated each one individually, so that members of the community could vote on what they view as most important to a good answer (based on their perspective). I'm surprised that both the Grammatical/Linguistic and Historical are not voted higher, considering that is what most answers on the site contain and historical context is one of the "on topic" areas.
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 17:01
  • The problem I am having here is that I agree with all the answers you give in that they are all helpful in some answers on the main site — but I'm worried about the 'feel' of the question and answers here on meta and that they might be later used to discourage or justify DVing answers on main that are otherwise excellent, but don't discuss literary context (for example) due to the hermeneutic of the person posting them. Jan 21, 2016 at 17:20
  • @JackDouglas I cannot control how people DV, but I attempted to head off your concern in my Q already, where I state: "Arguably all the answers indicate points that you may feel are good to include, but which seven, if they were included, would prevent you from downvoting an answer?" So it is the positive inclusion, not the exclusion, that are more likely to prevent down voting, but also this survey is gleaning what the community actually feels in terms of relative importance. For me, if many other points were there, but some of the big ones were not, I would likely not UV, but also not DV.
    – ScottS
    Jan 21, 2016 at 17:35

Discuss Historical Understandings of the Text

Also called Historical Theology, what have other commentators in history observed, stated, or concluded about the same text in question?

This may be cited for purposes of indicating where you got an idea from, or it may be cited to indicate that your idea has been recognized by others as well.

The more diverse in time and traditions you can cite from, the better. You will not always agree with other people, but you can still cite their ideas, and then provide your points of contention with their understanding.

Short quotations are good, especially if precise wording is important, but paraphrases and summaries can be useful as well. Just make sure that you definitely include a citation and/or link when providing any such historical information, because these ideas are obviously not your own, so give proper attribution to whoever did have them.

It is best to stick to more academic type sources. Books, professional journals, dissertations/theses, papers presented at conferences, etc. These sources have in some way been peer reviewed, and therefore carry more weight in credibility of the research done behind them.


Discuss Grammatical/Linguistic Information

Things like (not all inclusive!):

  • What key terms need defining?
  • What words have nuances that may affect meaning?
  • Does the text have manuscript variants that may be critical to discuss?
  • Does the structure of the sentence indicate anything?

Include citation and/or link references to original language lexicons, grammars, syntax information, and such to show where your grammatical/linguistic information is coming from is best.

N.b. If your expertise in the given language is limited (or non-existent), then exercise restraint in this area. Ability to look up information according to Strongs number, or glean equivalencies derived from interlinears, is not a basis for providing informed discussions of the kind valued on BH.SE.


Discuss any of the Author's Other Works

This relates to who you may believe to be the author of the text. Considering what other writings, if any, in the Bible you believe that author wrote, how might the language, themes, theology, etc. expressed elsewhere by that author inform upon the meaning in the text in question?

Include citation and/or link references to books or journal articles that have done studies of the same author's works to show where your parallel information is coming from is good, though properly showing your work can demonstrate this well for any of your own analysis.


Discuss Canonical Context

This relates to what may be relevant points to include from other Scripture, written by authors other than the one for the text in question. It is related to Historical Context, but more specific.

Things like (not all inclusive!):

  • What Scripture existed prior that may have directly influenced the author of this text (a quotation, allusion, etc.) and inform the meaning of the text?
  • What Scripture came later that may give commentary on how that later author understood the meaning of the text in question?

Include citation and/or link references to books or journal articles that have done studies of Scripture themes and historical development of the Scripture to show where your information is coming from is good, though properly showing your work can demonstrate this well for any of your own analysis.


Discuss Theological Context

Similar to the Canonical Context, except the focus here is upon what type of theological understanding did the author of the text likely have as the text in question was being written?

Things like (not all inclusive!):

  • Is the text in question mentioning something about God or another topic not previously mentioned in Scripture? or...
  • Is the text contributing to or utilizing from prior Scripture to inform further about a topic already part of the theological background of the author?
  • How does the theological context of the author inform then on the meaning of the text in question (this final point would be important for any introduction of theology into the interpretation of a text on BH.SE)?

Include citation and/or link references to books or journal articles that relate to the theological topics of the text in question to show where your information is coming from is good, though properly showing your work can demonstrate this well for any of your own analysis.

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