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The Question: Are John 1:14 and Philippians 2:5-8 describing the same event?

I waited to raise this on the BH.meta until the Question had been answered so as not to interfere with the answer approval process, but to watch things play out. Now they have, so I am asking here.

The moderator curiousdannii left a comment to the effect that closing the Question was a consideration. I strongly agree. However, I want to hear from others, including curiousdannii and possibly from Christianity.SE before finalizing my own opinion.

I gave an answer to this Question for two reasons: 1. to keep the site focused on hermeneutics by giving hermeneutics-aimed answers and 2. to provide opportunity to see if an approved answer would stay on the topic of hermeneutics.

My answer was that they would not point to the same "event", but an "idea". That is one possible hermeneutical-oriented answer. There could be others.

The accepted answer demonstrates deep hermeneutics, essentially answering "yes" that it is the same "event". I believe this is a much better quality answer than mine, but it does not address understanding of hermeneutics. Gospels like John addresse "events"; Epistles like Philippians primarily—including here—address "ideas". Such a difference in genre, or the like, needs to be the focus on a hermeneutics site like BH.

I think the approved answer shows that the original Question was indeed seeking a theological answer. The answer approval proves to me that the Question was off-topic/theological from the beginning, not hermeneutical.

Should:

A. The Question be migrated to Christianity.SE?

B. The Question be Closed?

C. The Question or answer be edited?

D. Everything be left alone?

E. We do something else?

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  • While I'm not a mod, and I am a candidate in the election closing in two days, so I must think as a potential mod. As a mod I would still want to solicit feedback from other users and mods on a decision so complex as this. So, I feel the need to ask about this regardless. Nov 1, 2021 at 5:58
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    Thanks very much for raising this question and sparking this kind of Meta conversation. Regardless of what happens with moderation, increasing this type of community interaction will really help round out the site, and help us move towards creating community consensus on matters rather than Moderators just talking to each other about important issues.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 1, 2021 at 16:28

7 Answers 7

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This is a good question to remind us the purpose of BH.SE vs. C.SE. I agree with both

  • curiousdannii's 2 principles about Q's own merit, and
  • Steve Taylor's flexibility for the legitimate use of the site.

My own input (based on my answers to the election questions #3 and #6):

  1. The Q clearly starts from a Bible verse and asking about local context

  2. The Q wants to compare/contrast 2 verses. The OP's observation represents only a small step toward constructing a theology because the observation stays close with the local context. But because the Q does NOT explicitly bring systematic theology principle or historical consideration (such as how a particular Christian tradition treats this text), this small step is an "extra" (a tangent) and thus insufficient ground for it to be moved to C.SE.

  3. If I were a moderator I will put a comment to clarify:

    • on what basis the Q can stay open in BH.SE
    • the answer criteria to make it an appropriate answer for BH.SE

    by suggesting the OP to add focus to the Q with something like "An answer should provide an exegetical analysis for each verse within the local context (at most the book context) with a view for comparison on whether they are describing the same event, but without appealing to any doctrine for justification."

  4. If there is no response from the OP and most answers that come in ignore the above guidance, I will close the Q with "Needs details or clarity"


When I was considering to be moderator, I answered this way:

3. How do you distinguish questions that are about systematic theology (even ones that cite the Bible) from exegetical questions that touch on theological matters?

Systematic theology questions usually bring concerns external to the local context of the verse in question to be more important than the local context itself, such as doctrine (ex. Trinity) or a systematic theology category (ex. justification). The verse is usually made to be part of a group of other verses (some may be from other books/authors) to serve the need of the doctrine/category. Historical (diachronic) or canonical (synchronic) factors can be introduced as well.

But for exegetical questions, local context is primary, usually to discover what the author meant by a theological terminology within the verse, such as what Paul meant by "justified" in Gal 2:16.

6. How does the purpose and scope (allowed questions) of this site differ from Christianity.SE?

BH.SE is about Biblical texts and their interpretation. The question needs to start from a text and ask for any factor related to the process for determining the meaning of the text without regards to theology (although an answer can supply a theological factor used in the interpretation).

C.SE is about Christian doctrine, practice, denomination, and church history. If the question has to do with a verse, the question HAS TO start with a theological position or a denomination.

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  • I'm approving this because it has a useful way to improve/edit the question so it is less flaggable. I would still like to hear from others on this latest answer. Nov 2, 2021 at 6:58
  • I'm always a fan of disambiguation. If we're all in agreement that the question is exegetical in nature, there's surely no harm in specifying this as an explicit requirement for answers, to avoid the content that followed from diverging too far from the site scope. I like this idea of avoiding an unnecessary question closure by encouraging the OP to be clear and specific around what's in-scope.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 22:52
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Do both texts describe the same event ?

. . . is an hermeneutic enquiry.

I do not see how it can be anything else, nor has anyone (yet) attempted to show that it is not.

There are two possible hermeneutic answers :

Yes

No

Both answers then must demonstrate their conclusions from scriptural references.

Those with sufficient reputation may vote to close (and re-open) the question for the various reasons stated in the close/re-open process.

Any attempt to interfere with this properly structured process within Stack Exchange amounts to unwarranted censorship.


To state that 'gospels address events' and 'epistles address ideas' is mere opinion. The whole of the chapter John 17 addresses metaphysical concepts. There is not a single narrative 'event' in it, except the context of when it was spoken. Thus for the discourses of Jesus (in John and the other gospels) with his disciples.

This attempt to segregate gospels and epistles and to deny linking them is (in hermeneutical terms) simply outrageous and indicates a hidden agenda in the OP whose claim is that there is a hidden agenda in the original question under discussion.

The claim is not proven.

And the foundation of the claim is seen to be non-hermeneutic.

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  • True that it is at face value, but the quandary is that either a 'yes' or 'no' would lead to a theological system that is controversial and debated on Christianity.SE, where answers can also use hermeneutics to justify their answers. Here, we discuss hermeneutics only, not "theologically loaded questions" such as this seems to be. So, your answer needs to explain whether the question is "theologically loaded", it does not yet do that. Nov 2, 2021 at 6:39
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    The term 'theologically loaded' is a mere invention. You are suggesting motivation which is unproveable. We deal - here - with fact (the fact of what is written on the page of scripture). What the intentions are of the questioner . . . . is irrelevant. Your attempt to censor the question is as open to questionable motivation as is the question. And neither can be proved. Let's just stick to the facts shall we ? We have no interest in 'theological systems'. Nor are they relevant. This site is about facts.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 2, 2021 at 6:42
  • I disagree. Any 'loaded question' is a question that can lead to escalated disagreement regardless of the answer. Jesus often responded to Pharisees with loaded questions when they asked him loaded questions. It's not about intent, but how any answer can be used against the responder. This Collins Dictionary definition of 'loaded question' mentions nothing of "motive". Nov 2, 2021 at 6:47
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    'Do this text and that text describe the same event ?' is not a loaded question. The answer is yes or no. I disagree. (And no further comment from me, thank you.)
    – Nigel J
    Nov 2, 2021 at 6:50
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    These comments are useful for others to see different opinions, that this indeed is not something everyone agrees on. Nigel made his point clear. My view is that we must also consider what can happen after a question is answered. (I also bow out, mods please keep these comments.) Nov 2, 2021 at 6:52
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    @JesseSteele As a mere community member is it part of my job to ascertain the agenda hidden within a question? Wouldn't I then be tempted to answer what I assume to be the agenda rather than the question as presented? If an answer ignores the "loaded" aspect of a question then that question has been disarmed. If it responds to the "loaded" aspect, then it has been "triggered" IMHO. Nov 2, 2021 at 11:15
  • @MikeBorden very good points. I only clarify the “loaded” matter is not about motive, only capability of how any answer can be used based on either the question or it’s wording. You are very right, “motive” is nobody’s business, mod nor user. Nov 2, 2021 at 11:39
  • @Anne It won’t if the responders choose not to. But, the question here is how leadership (moderators) can reduce the likelihood of that being a reasonable option by helping questions to narrow their scope so we all know what is being asked and answered. Look at the answer marked correct and you will see why l, as a moderator, I would simply ask the user to clarify a little more in what is needed from an answer. That would be an easy way to keep the peace. Thanks for your entire comment. We want respect all around. Nov 2, 2021 at 11:44
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    @Anne We do remove hundreds of comments each month. Do flag a comment chain if it descends into argument.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 11:54
  • Hi Nigel, I disagree with the strength of your conclusions here - I don't think outrageous or hidden agenda are warranted terms. Jesse is engaging in a healthy process here - trying to grasp the bounds of the site scope, and that's an excellent quality for somebody seeking to participate in site moderation. Having your strong opposing view here is a healthy counterbalance to those who may lean the other way. This is why the VTC process is crucial to healthy site operation, and why we as a Moderation team need to be confident lots of experienced users are actively doing it.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 21:31
  • There are many questions very similar to the one in question which were veiled (poorly or otherwise!) attempts to spark a christological debate - seeking to abstractly prove some theological point, rather than seeking a genuine hermeneutical enquiry. It's only by raising Meta questions like this and talking it through that we as a community can journey towards a more closely aligned view of what constitutes the BH.SE site scope. Most of those who originally crafted the site scope no longer participate, so it's important for the current user base to wrestle through the same questions together.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 21:33
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Well, there are two principles to remember:

  1. Questions are considered on their own merits. A good answer can't make an off-topic question into an on-topic question. If someone thinks the question is primarily a systematic theology question, then they should vote to close/flag the question, even if it has good exegetical answers.

    Sometimes answers can illuminate the merits of the question to other readers. Answers might give clarity to an unclear question. On the other hand, an answer comes from one person's interpretation of the question, so just because a good answer is written it doesn't mean they read the question exactly how the asker intended.

  2. Answer "acceptance" cannot be relied upon to indicate anything other than that the question asker liked the answer for some reason. It doesn't mean the answer is the most correct, it doesn't even mean that the answerer understood the question how the asker intended (though it's pretty unlikely that someone who completely misunderstood the question would receive the tick.)

In this case, I don't think the issue of which answer was accepted proves the question was intended to be systematic rather than exegetical, as it really does get into the details of the text of Philippians. And while I can appreciate your point provided in your answer, it's not without potential disagreement too. I would say that if we are reducing the gospels to events/plot then we're not understanding them. And while it's good when answers do address genre, they're not required to.

I still think the question should be edited to more clearly focus on one passage. But it's not in a state to be migrated either. You can vote to close if you think it is primarily a systematic theology question, but otherwise I don't think there's any other appropriate action for the mods to take.

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  • Thanks for the clarity. I would never reduce Gospels to "only" events, but as I said "primarily". There is a genre difference between an Gospel and Epistel that bears insight into any answer of a question on verses from each. That was my point there. I agree with your comment ton the OP and your suggestion for other action. Nov 2, 2021 at 6:43
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This question was a journey for me, as no matter what it's definitely close to the boundaries of scope for the site. It doesn't get much more 'meta' than this, when we're debating the authorial intent of Questions rather than passages!

Why I reached the conclusion to keep it Open at the time

At least ten of us in the community engaged with the question, it has 354 views, and yet not a single person voted to Close it - only curiousdannii flagged it as potentially off-topic as 'theological synthesis'. As Moderators we do try to be careful about not single-handedly closing questions unnecessarily, and so that is a key influence in the what happened here. Perhaps as site users one or both of us may have issued Close votes and let the rest of the community weigh in... but unfortunately as moderators our votes are binding, and so there was no way for either of us to cast a non-binding vote to see what others would do - perhaps we need to raise a [feature request] for that...

To me, my conclusion was that this was an exegetical question that's inescapably anchored on a theological topic. We avoid these where we can, but sometimes we just can't get away from the fact that Biblical texts often speak about theological events! As with many questions on Revelation or Daniel, lots of texts hang on theological concepts - which isn't to say they can't be answered exegetically, but rather that there are inescapable theological components that end up getting drawn in, implicitly or otherwise.


Why I would keep it Open now

The question does make a lot of good points which are hermeneutical in nature - the OP has two texts which share lots of common features, and so they've asked whether this is accurate. It's a fair textual question about the intersection between two texts - even if the inevitable result of such an intersection enters the domain of systematic theology.

I don't entirely agree that all Questions are irredeemable by their answers. Yes, in the vast majority of cases this is true, but for an edge case such as this it's not unreasonable to let Answers have their due influence. In the past when some questions have been posed and stacks of waffly theological answers came back, I'd take that as a litmus test of "this is obviously not a textual question".

However, in this case we've got a question about two texts, with some excellent answers which apply the core hermeneutic toolset to these texts to explore their intersectionality. And to me, that's great to see.


Site Scope vs. Theology

I'm a programmer at heart, a bit of a logical purist, and can honestly get a bit pedantic about rule-keeping. However, I've also made my peace with the fact that this is a community site, and most of the community here on BH.SE really do have theological questions and issues they wish to explore somehow. The site scope isn't here to prevent anybody from using the Bible to engage in theology (heaven forbid), but rather to encourage the correct application of hermeneutic principles and exegetical techniques - before taking other legitimate steps that belong outside of the site scope (such as building systematic theology or application).

We regularly encounter the same phenomenon with applications of texts - users are actively discouraged from seeking out contemporary application. However, in practice most end up just writing Questions about the texts they're seeking to apply, with the hope that the exegesis is helpful for them. And it's left to the Answerers whether they wish to extend their analysis onward to application. But we'd never shut a Question down with the claim that it's a well-masked application question... "Hey, this isn't a purely exegetical question - you're just looking to apply this!"


Conclusion

I arrived at the personal view that this question is ultimately legitimate use of the site - it's an exegetical question that the user may or may not be seeking to use to explore a theological topic. The site content it generated was actually of high quality exegetically, it solicited high engagement from the community, and didn't generate a single Close vote.

But again, that's my own personal view, and so I'd hold it lightly and balance it against that of the community and the other moderators.

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  • Thank you! Please, I want your comments on my approved answer. I am a Bible student at heart, but also a programmer like you. I sense a somewhat 'boolean' (true/false) response, but not much about possibly requesting the OP be slightly edited. The approved answer has those suggestions. What do you think about it? Nov 2, 2021 at 6:56
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    I have a CS background myself and working within IT where IT rules for protecting the company are frequently met with hostility by users, demanding a pragmatic compromise and a lot of "education during solving/responding" to a user request/issue. So I admire how you have taken your pragmatic approach with BH.SE, and would like to give you a BIG THANK YOU for your moderating service. As in IT, it's always incremental with persuasion. I think future moderators should follow your example. Nov 2, 2021 at 17:27
  • Thanks @GratefulDisciple, appreciate your kind words.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 22:54
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While it is true that epistles often, and even primarily, expound ideas or the practical application of ideas it is not universally binding that this be so. For instance, in Galatians 1:17 Paul relates that he went into Arabia and an appropriate Hermeneutical question might be "Where in the timeline of the book of Acts does this trip to Arabia fit in?" Notice that an "event" described in an epistle is sought within an historical narrative.

The suggestion that Philippians 2:5-8 describes an idea over against an event is belied by the abundance of aorist tense (past event), middle deponent or active voice (subject performs the action) verbs these verses contain, some of which are in the indicative mood (describing an actual event).

I suggest this places the question squarely within the realm of Hermeneutics regarding the objection the meta OP has raised, as both verses under comparison are relating events which may or may not be the same: Hence the question under consideration.

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  • So, you argue that they are the same event based on Greek morphologies. I think you should offer this as an answer to the original Question, less the last paragraph addressing this meta. I would vote up your Answer. But, “event” or “idea” was never the basis of whether the Question itself is allowed. Your Answer certainly would help add to its value, thereby keeping it. Thank you! Nov 2, 2021 at 12:15
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    @JesseSteele "but it does not address understanding of hermeneutics. Gospels like John addresse "events"; Epistles like Philippians primarily—including here—address "ideas". Such a difference in genre, or the like, needs to be the focus on a hermeneutics site like BH." Here I am simply arguing that they both describe events and that the question (while obviously having theological implications as all bible questions must) is therefore primarily hermeneutical. Nov 2, 2021 at 13:07
  • Yes, it would make a great answer. Not my answer, but a very good one to help people learn Hermeneutics. Nov 2, 2021 at 13:11
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Just in case I am accused of doing the very thing I object to (abuse of the comments boxes), I have formed my comments into an answer.

The question itself is legitimate and there should be freedom for all who wish to answer to do so. [ Are John 1:14 and Philippians 2:5-8 describing the same event? ] The Q does not need to have anything 'done' to it. Unfortunately, by now putting this into the Meta section, a worrying development could arise. Could this give rise to insidious attempts to clamp down on the right of all to give their answers? The Q is legitimate. Nobody should be prevented from answering by closing the Q down, nor should those who disagree with either a Q or an individual's points be allowed to try to provoke them into giving an answer when they have chosen not to answer.

Instead of looking out for "well-masked theological questions" that attract answers (hence, the questions must be clear enough to the answerers), moderators really need to stop those who disagree with answers trying to start argumentative debates via the comments boxes. That so often results in arguments, where one person has a theological stance and rails against an answer that they don't like.

Is it really true that any 'loaded question' is a question that can lead to escalated disagreement regardless of the answer? Not if the participants don't want to argue! Not if the participants respect the right of others to answer differently to how they answer, and refrain from launching into their disagreements with such answers. This problem is mainly about abuse of using the comments box. If participants used the boxes correctly, even 'loaded Qs' would fizzle. But we often see provocative comments, as if trying to goad someone into responding.

Instead of trying to remove Qs that a few don't like the sound of, it would be better for moderators to let it be known (by their removal of comments that don't stick to existing rules) that they won't tolerate abuse of the comments boxes. The Answers are what matter, and we all know lots of people will disagree with some of them, but this is not the usual Social Media site where debates get going! Please clamp down on people who try to start arguments via the comments boxes!

And, thank you, moderators, for all the comments you DO remove - I'm sure there must be many. Yet, so often, comments boxes take on a life of their own, and they usually veer off into matters not directly related to the actual Q. They just pick fault with an answer they don't like, and some appear to have a hidden agenda of their own - to either silence or ridicule an answer they personally disagree with. That can't be right!

Don't forget that obtaining the right answers is largely a matter of asking the right questions. But it's not a crime on here to ask a less than perfect question. As long as questions stir people to think, and to use their answers to actually answer the Q, they should stand, and those people should not be picked on by those who have a different view.

A moderator may think a question is less than 'right' or 'perfect', but nearly all Qs on here have some merit and raise matters that make us all think. We do not want censorship of either Qs or As just because an inflexible, meticulous standard of exactness is applied. And we especially do not want to see abuse of comments boxes by those trying to 'deal with' Qs and As they personally might feel strongly about (in a negative way.)

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  • Piping in only bec this is my Q. Yes, comments are an issue. Thanks for explaining why, you think that is related here also. However, on “improving” a Question or Answer, I don’t consider improvement to be censorship. Editing/improving a Question is an alternative to deleting/censorship, so as to keep both good quality valuable Q & A. Nov 2, 2021 at 16:06
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    Hi Anne, thanks so much for your contribution here - it's great to hear your thoughts on this question. We've been making a special effort over the past few months to coach the community on 1) the site scope, and 2) use of comments, and we have seen marked improvements on both fronts.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 21:38
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    I don't think it's accurate that anybody's closing questions "that a few don't like the sound of" - if this were the case, you'd be more than welcome to Vote to Reopen such questions, or to raise a Meta question about them. I haven't checked your statistics or anything (and so this is not an accusation!), but I do often hear comments like this from other users who don't participate in the Vote to Close process, and so have never really formed a well-defined understanding of the site scope.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 21:44
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    BH.SE is scoped quite tightly to focus on exegesis rather than systematic theology or biblical theology or other theological processes which often follow, and so that tends to be the most common misunderstanding around the site scope. We're all about the text, and understanding it in its own context, without porting in concepts from other texts or theologies that may influence its meaning. Dannii explained some of the key principles rather well here, though there are many other Meta questions which explore the same topic.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 2, 2021 at 21:48
  • I like the question too and don't want it to go away. Attempts to modify or temporarily close the question and to coach/nudge/cajole the contributor toward a particular way of forming Q & A is only meant to help make it more targeted and to invite more quality answers that BH.SE is designed to be (text based). The same applies to C.SE (targeted and quality), but using a different evaluation of what fits more over there (theology based). Nov 4, 2021 at 4:41
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While it is true that epistles often, and even primarily, expound ideas or the practical application of ideas it is not universally binding that this be so. For instance, in Galatians 1:17 Paul relates that he went into Arabia and an appropriate Hermeneutical question might be "Where in the timeline of the book of Acts does this trip to Arabia fit in?" Notice that an "event" described in an epistle is sought within an historical narrative.

The suggestion that Philippians 2:5-8 describes an idea over against an event is belied by the abundance of aorist tense (past event), middle deponent or active voice (subject performs the action) verbs these verses contain, some of which are in the indicative mood (describing an actual event).

I suggest this places the question squarely within the realm of Hermeneutics regarding the objection the meta OP has raised, as both verses under comparison are relating events which may or may not be the same: Hence the question under consideration.

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