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The Help Pages seem to indicate that such questions are okay.

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.

But I don't see too many examples of such questions in the active questions list. That is, questions purely about the grammar, vocabulary, or translation of Biblical texts, without any further reference to ideas, theology, or historical context. For example, how to parse this verb? or what construction is this involving ὅτι? Would these questions still be exegetical? If not, are they still on-topic?

I wanted to ask in advance, because in the future I would love to use this Q&A as a resource to help me translate the Biblical texts. But I also wouldn't want to misuse this resource.

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To use a metaphor, I would distinguish between questions about grammar, vocabulary, translation in the air— that is, questions which do not relate to a biblical passage– and questions about grammar, vocabulary, translation on the ground— that is, questions about grammar, etc... in the context of a Biblical passage.

A question about grammar "in the air" might be something like: "What are the effects of word order in Koine Greek?"

Whereas a similar "on the ground" question might be: "Is there any particular reason why 'kai Theós ēn ho Lógos' is translated 'and the Word was God' and not 'and God was the Word'?"

The former I would say is off-topic while the latter is on-topic.

If I'm reading your question correctly, it seems like the questions you are interested in asking would be more along the lines of the latter.


To broaden my answer, Biblical studies intersects with a number of different disciplines where I think a similar dynamic would apply. For example:

  • Greco-Roman history
  • Linguistics
  • Egyptology
  • Literature
  • Theology
  • Textual criticism

Students of the Bible may run up against any of these in trying to understand a particular passage. While we may pick up the different hats of historian, linguist, etc... we do so in aid of the study of the Bible.

Greco-Roman history "in the air" might ask anything about that history— perhaps what the significance was of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon. This would be off-topic. But another question about the dates of reign of Tiberius Caesar might be on-topic if it's related to a particular passage.

As I stated before, I believe we do not want to become the site for questions about Greek or Aramaic— or Greco-Roman history or theology for that matter– but I believe we should be a home for questions about all those things when they are immediately in the pursuit of the Bible's meaning.

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Thanks for asking here. The short answer would be that language questions in the absence of some element of "interpretation" are off-topic.

You might already have seen some of the "Related" Q&As already on Meta linked in the right-sidebar. My sense is that this one has become "canonical":

Note the most up-voted answer (by quite a margin, by Hermeneutics.SE standards, and a "split" of +10 upvotes, and -0 downvotes, so no dissenting voices).

There is a Hebrew Language site proposal, although this is (I think) the third attempt to get that one going. The Greek Language proposal is doing better. The Latin.SE site is already up-and-running. These would, of course, be the best places for purely "language" questions.

I might add that sometimes participants in the site's Chatroom indulge in biblical language conversations, and if you had some quick questions, you could see if anyone there is willing to engage.

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  • But I think there is actually a middle ground between, say, learning Koine Greek and asking an exegetical question. That middle ground would be, how do you parse this verb in this Biblical passage? If the question quotes a Biblical passage, and asks about the parsing of a word or the grammar of a construction, do you think it might be on-topic? – ktm5124 Jan 19 '17 at 20:30
  • Hmmm... Doubt it. There are cases where parsing might be contextually constrained, but it would still (I'm guessing) be a parsing question. More interesting would be "grammar of a construction", and there are a fair few examples on the site already, I think. Why don't you drop in to Chat and try out some specific examples. The "veterans" would be happy to engage there, I think. :) – Dɑvïd Jan 19 '17 at 20:52
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    I gather this sort of thing is OK because the OP thought there might be something exegetically significant there? (Pretty tough distinction for OP to make, though.) Of course there's also this little expedition. (My own preference would be to allow more of this stuff, as it's obvious the Hebrew proposal, at least, is not doing well, and I think our scope isn't exceptionally broad here. But Soldarnal's answer to Dan's Q on this appears to have risen to the level of canon at this point.) – Susan Jan 19 '17 at 20:53
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    And maybe I'm being too draconian here. While I agree with Soldarnal that we don't want this site for learning biblical languages (or getting "homework" questions!!), it would be good to have scope to comment on language things. Risks: (a) getting incompetent answers (but that's probably true of any of our Q&As!); (b) getting could-find-that-in-lexicon/grammar type Qs. @ktm5124 – Dɑvïd Jan 19 '17 at 21:04
  • "...this little expedition..." -- lol! – Dɑvïd Jan 19 '17 at 21:05
  • (What does "grammar of a construction" mean in your first comment?) So, just to clarify: do we do syntax but not morphology here? Both obviously affect the meaning of the text and its translation value. It's just that parsing morphology seems a little more like nitpicking, and usually (though not always) obvious if one has a translation at hand. ¶ There are plenty of good questions that have answers in a lexicon/grammar somewhere, but people (most of whom don't even know the languages) aren't really expected to have exhausted those resources. IMO. – Susan Jan 19 '17 at 21:07
  • @Susan (I just picked up "grammar of a construction" from ktm's comment -- but I took it to mean syntax.) – Dɑvïd Jan 19 '17 at 21:09
  • @Susan It's true that a lot of morphology questions could just be answered by looking at an inter linear text. But I can think of some grammar questions that are harder to answer. For example, in Attic Greek I have learned three different forms of indirect statement: it can be introduced by a conjunction (οτι/ως, forgive the lack of diacritics) followed by a finite verb, or by an infinitive, or by a participle. I don't know how often these constructions show up in the New Testament, but supposing they do, they might be hard to understand or translate just by looking at a translation. – ktm5124 Jan 19 '17 at 21:18
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    @Susan Another example construction would be conditionals. I imagine that conditionals show up in the Greek of the New Testament. The grammar of conditionals is often complicated (for example, is it a contrary-to-fact or past general? etc.) and also can be hard to discern just by looking at a translation. If someone were to ask about a conditional in the NT, reproduce the relevant text, and ask what type of conditional it is and some tips on translating, then I think this would be one of those middle-ground questions that lie between pure language questions and exegesis. – ktm5124 Jan 19 '17 at 21:21
  • @ktm5124 That all looks like syntax to me, and I have no objection. – Susan Jan 19 '17 at 21:25

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