Being a fairly new BH.SE user (and I'm also a stauch believer in the Jewish faith), I have had some interesting experiences here that I would like to bring to the forefront. I think of this Meta post as a follow-up post to How can we educate new users about our site distinctives?

Based on what I had understood about this site, it is a "secular" Biblical Studies site, aimed at understanding bible passages using various hermeneutical approaches (whatever that exactly means).

I was quite surprised to find that the more I used this site, the more I found that a very large number of users are here to do exactly what this site does not offer, or what Dɑvïd refers to as:

religious, theological/doctrinal, ethical, [and] liturgical aspects... ...[being handled as] aspects of personal conviction, or the belief and praxis of historic and contemporary faith communities.

I also found that I and other users would sometimes be assailed over their "lack of belief" in whatever the religious principle or understanding might be, whether that was divine authorship of the Bible, etc. (Which, as an aside, is quite ironic, as my personal beliefs do not reflect the tone which I analyze with on this site.)

I have included a couple of recent examples (emphasis mine):

Example 1.

@רבותמחשבות thanks for your opinion. But your [sic] looking at it from a very plain and literal point of view. Your [sic] not seeing that there are deeper spiritual meanings to the scriptures.

My response was:

@diegob Thanks. However, the purpose of this site is not to discuss "deeper spiritual meanings". Had this question been asked on Christianity.SE, or even Judaism.SE, the answer would have been very different (and much more up your alley).

Example 2:

@Dan - you believe that the Hebrew texts and the NT texts had two different sources? Do you not recognize that the Holy Spirit is the source for all of the Bible, and as the original source He knows what happened in Genesis?

My response was:

Gina - Whether or not @Dan or you believe that the Holy Spirit is the source of the entire bible should have nothing to do with this site...

So I pose the question to the experienced users: Is there some way to explain to new users and/or unexperienced users that post either questions or answers that this site does not welcome "pure opinions, tangential discussions, or sermonizing" (courtesy of user3457 in the linked question). As an aside, I don't feel the need to do this specifically before new users post, it can be done anytime after they post as well.

Perhaps older, more established users could leave some sort of quick message to users when they do. What I would be looking for is some sort of short message that could be incorporated into comments to a question or answer that addresses the above points, as well as some sort of protocol for when or how it should be used.

Feedback welcome!

  • Related: hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/378/2070 – ScottS Apr 3 '18 at 20:21
  • "my personal beliefs do not reflect the tone which I analyze with on this site" - My understanding of this site is that it is not about 'personal beliefs' or about any kind of 'tone'. It is about Biblical Hermeneuitics which is a science. The text is there, historically, and one examines that text, word for word. The text speaks for itself. My 'personal belief' has no place in the analysis of the text. – Nigel J Apr 20 '18 at 12:56
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    @NigelJ that was basically my point - I try to keep my analysis as separate as possible. (As a result, challenging my personal beliefs is out of place here on BH.SE.) – user22655 Apr 20 '18 at 14:26
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    Part of the issue is the limited amount of space in comments. This is a site-wide limitation of 600 characters. We also don't want to overload the site tour with too much information. I generally try to link to the FAQ tag in my welcome message. But I for one am glad you are here and really appreciate your different perspective. I hope some user's views/criticisms will not affect your valuable participation. This has caused some users to leave in the past and I don't wish this site to be an echo chamber. – James Shewey Apr 21 '18 at 15:48


I have found that if one tries to view this as a "'secular' Biblical Studies site," one will be disappointed. Rather, as the tour states, at BH.SE the goal is that

We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts.

So rather than secular, the site is attempting to be inclusive of a variety of religious viewpoints (and hermeneutics). How successful this can/will be may only be revealed by an ever continuing process as the users/site evolve, but the viability of the goal is one that I questioned before ever partaking. Yet I chose to partake, because I saw the site as having potential for the expression of a variety of views on biblical texts (from differing religious viewpoints/hermeneutics).

So I view this site more as a public meeting place for single point-of-view "answers" on the interpretation of biblical texts (or hermeneutic principles and other on topic questions), where each viewpoint gets to make a case from their perspective (presuppositions, argument, etc.).

What new users often lack is a grasp that they cannot "assume" their hermeneutic, presuppositions, analysis, view of God, etc., are shared with those asking/answering questions. Getting around this is a big hurdle for new users. One must be able to clearly and succinctly state what some key presuppositions may be in their hermeneutic that inform an answer, and then logically argue using their hermeneutic (but then, not all hermeneutics even follow clear logic, and so there has been questions on the fit of certain hermeneutics) to come to an interpretation. Useful answers help users "follow" the argument of the interpreter, even if one does not fully agree with the argument/interpretation proposed.

Since I attempt to follow a grammatical-historical hermeneutic myself, I have perhaps been able to fit in better than some other types of hermeneutics. However, I have also argued extensively on some allowance for systematic theology (at least not a whole dismissal on the basis thereof), which I also acknowledge I use (and believe everyone does in their hermeneutic). A each "faith" view (Jewish, Christian, Atheist, or otherwise) approaches the text with presuppositions based on his/her understanding of who God is (or perhaps what the conception of a god has become, in an atheist view), what (if any) role He plays in the formation of the text being examined, and so forth. So making that clear (when needed) while answering a question is important, but (generally) not assuming any of that when asking a question is also important (though sometimes a question is specifically geared toward a particular hermeneutical approaches: e.g. What is the distinction between symbolic and apocalyptic interpretations of Ezekiel's temple vision?, What is Sensus Plenior and how does it impact the field of hermeneutics?).

Each user of a particular type of hermeneutic needs to figure out how to "educate" (succinctly) the reader on where that user's perspective is coming from, without expecting that the reader will agree; though even this can be challenging, for in one respect, it must be assumed that one is at least respecting the text and the concepts of language itself, otherwise no communication would occur.

Answering Your Question

So I have seen a number of users adopt welcomes on the site that within the text of those, it give links to various useful meta posts that deal with site expectations. This, at least, gives new arrivals some place to look at what may help them fit in. Some possible meta posts that are or could be linked to (usually one or more of the actual answers to these questions is linked to, but here I'm going to the question itself):

Having links to all of these (and others I'm sure that could be included) would be overload, but custom tailoring welcomes with the right types of links one would hope could be beneficial. I think at least linking to the site distinctive's link is good for welcomes, but depending on what one detects as a possible area to improve, one or more of the other links might be good. And it always helps to elaborate some.

So as an example, randomly pulled from a search, is this welcome by Susan:

Hi Leigh Anne, and welcome to BH.SE! We're a little different from other sites in that we require you to show your work. I know you're not the first to make this argument; could you cite sources? In this case you may have an especially high burden of proof because the argument you're making has been considered fallacious by some, as noted above. However, we still welcome your point of view, especially if you're willing to elaborate on your sources and their methods.

It links to two answers on two of the question posts I give above, and also gives some further helpful thoughts on how to improve the argument, while attempting to welcome the viewpoint. This type of response is the best that other users can do to help education/inform new and inexperienced users.

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    A good way of thinking about this site is that it is pluralistic: all religious viewpoints (including agnosticism, atheism, and apatheism) are welcome and for most questions all are free to make their case for how a Biblical text should be understood. Some questions do explicitly limit their scope to only a subset of the site's community, but they must do so explicitly. – curiousdannii Apr 8 '18 at 0:38

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