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Today a new user asked a question that is objectively based on a misunderstanding of the biblical text. He thought Paul was addressing the father of a virgin when in fact it was the virgin's husband. This resulted in a flurry of comments and a few close-votes (but no "welcome to the group" comments).

This raised a general issue for me: what should our attitude be toward questions that display ignorance or obvious misreading of the text. I saw this as a "teachable moment"... I was also grateful for the opportunity to delve into the text myself and understand how it could be misread by a casual student. So... besides reminding the group to welcome new users before criticizing their posts, I would ask:

What should our attitude be toward ignorant questions? Should we close them because they got it wrong, or welcome them as opportunities to teach?

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    I am not saying, categorically, that the following verse applies to the question in the link but it does apply in certain circumstances : But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 2 Timothy 2:23. The 'flurry of comments' may suggest that this verse does, indeed, apply. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 22, 2023 at 20:48
  • I'm pretty sure Paul wasn't speaking of a question that sincerely but incorrectly interpreted a scripture. As I read it, he is telling Timothy, as the leader of the congregation, to avoid getting involved in arguments over foolish doctrines and frivolous subjects. By the way, I noticed a good (but mistakenly based) question just now on C.se... same mistake as in the OP... another teachable moment IMO. Dec 22, 2023 at 21:27
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    The issue is not the quality of the doctrine which is the subject of the inquiry. The issue is the quality of the inquiry. Many questions are asked on Stack Exchange, generally, which are ill-prepared, unresearched and sometimes are posed insincerely with an adversarial intention behind them. 'Ignorance' may be a genuine lack of ability. But it can also be deliberate and intentional.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 22, 2023 at 22:09
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    The case which I cited - it seems to me- is a simple misunderstanding. But when it comes to sincerity, it is often a matter of opinion. For example when the issue is a supposed contradiction in the text it can be hard to tell whether the person actually wants to an answer or is attempting a "gotcha" question to prove the Bible has errors. (Personally I don't mind "gotcha" questions however.) Dec 23, 2023 at 4:32
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    But these 'gotcha' questions, in themselves, lack preparation and proper academic research. The huge majority assume they can barge into a site and pose a 'gotcha' question without, first, checking the archives to see if it is a duplicate and, more importantly, without simply googling the question to determine if there is commonly known explanation to the apparent contradiction. This is just laziness. And, in my own view, is inappropriate to the entire Stack Exchange platform, the whole purpose of which is to compile, over time, an academic archive, available to all.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 23, 2023 at 11:53
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    The vision of SE in general, though, is to design a site for experts. See How can we attract high-quality Biblical scholars and still be welcoming to interested amateurs?
    – Dan
    Dec 24, 2023 at 3:39
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    Some sites have a closure reason for "minimal research effort" BTW
    – Dan
    Dec 24, 2023 at 3:43
  • There are also people who seem to do nothing but pose "gotcha" questions.
    – Dottard
    Jan 7 at 21:14
  • @Dottard see hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/394/423
    – Dan
    Jan 8 at 15:19
  • Questions arising from honest misunderstanding could be edited by reviewers to use words like "it seems as if the text is saying..." for those mistaken presuppositions. Indeed, questions with factual errors (even in the presuppositions) create trouble and need some kind of correction as to fact.
    – Jesse Mod
    Jan 9 at 18:29

3 Answers 3

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I disagree with Nigel J on the purpose of the platform.

the whole purpose of which is to compile, over time, an academic archive, available to all.

It is true that an academic archive is one of the purposes of the platform.
Another purpose is to provide an environment in which people are encouraged to participate in the platform.
An environment of encouragement and helpfulness - without which the archive will suffer.

There are two clear options for any question posted.

  1. If the question contains enough information to provide an answer and it meets the criterion of the SE, then it should be answered as a serious question.

  2. If the question does not provide enough information to be answered and/or it does not meet the criterion of SE, then guidance should be provided to the asker such that the question can be re-opened if it is corrected.
    This potentially benefits the asker of the question and helps anyone looking at a closed question to know what is needed for a good question.

Further

  • Offense should not be taken by anyone in any situation. Taking offense is not constructive and it never aids in creating an environment of encouragement and helpfulness.
  • Sincerity and intent are difficult to interpret in person and even harder to interpret in the printed word. Respond as if the question was written with the best of intent until proven otherwise.
  • Questions should not be seen as unworthy because of any perceived lack of quality, laziness or because it's perceived as a "gotcha" question. guidance should be provided to help the question be corrected and re-opened.
  • It might be more helpful, academically and interpersonally, to rephrase a poorly worded question in the answer and then answer that question than to close the question. If it turns out the assumed question was not what the original question intended the answer is still useful.
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This is a good question, Dan F.

On the one hand, I do agree that it's important to let people have a voice and an opportunity to speak, even if the question is somewhat unrefined. This question is a Good example. The OP initially didn't post the proper codes (or whatever they are for interlinear bibles—Strong's numbers??) so that an answerer might have a clue as to what he was talking about. But I was enheartened to see that there was time and space given for the guy to clarify his question.

On the other hand, I have problems with two categories of questions:

  1. Questions that are slight rephrases that the poster has asked either earlier on on the same SE or on a somewhat related cousin SE. This seems to be smacking of an agenda. It is a frustrating thing to set aside the time to compose a well-researched answer, framed in a "put the best construction on it" manner, only to have the person go ad hominem on you.
  2. When the person posts a question with an unproven assumption and then uses that unproven assumption as a foundation for an accusation. This is an example of that sort of behavior. (And yes, I do realize this is an example that is not on Hermeneutics SE. I'm using it as a case study/example)

In the example in question above, the issues of concern were far more evident in the answers, rather than in the OP.

As to the purpose of the platform, as I've said before, without any concrete boundaries on what Hermeneutics is and isn't, clarifying with thetical and antithetical boundaries, there opens up much room for these sorts of events to happen. In a number of ways Hermeneutics SE is a sort of Wild, Wild West. If that's the case I don't think we really have any cause to complain if a post is voted down or up or even closed. Take, for example, this post. He provided fiction as if it were fact. I politely corrected him. He responded, telling me that my correction was "religious or traditional bias." As long as someone is allowed to post erroneous answers as if he were an expert and there's no corrective action taken, the original question becomes quite moot.

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There are some erudite questions on Biblical Hermeneutics. There are some interesting and worthwhile questions, though not scholastically impressive. There are some unlearned questions that could do with improvement (to sort of lick them into better shape). But what, really, is an 'ignorant' question?

Mistaken understanding on the part of the OP, or use of unresearched material that has just been taken as 'gospel truth' (when it is not) could be answered with benefit to the OP, if the OP is genuinely wanting to learn from answers. A sincerely asked question, no matter if lacking in accuracy or understanding, would not be 'ignorant' unless the OP responded by trying to get a debate going, to justify himself or herself. That would display an ignorant attitude on the part of the OP.

It's not so much the question that should be considered 'ignorant' as the attitude of the OP.

The site is really good at allowing OPs time to adjust their question if it fails to meet the standard of questions looked for. It is also tolerant of wording that shows English not to be the OPs first language. Especially with new OPs, latitude is given to help them see why this site is different to most others in not wanting debates or arguments started. Abuse of the 'Comments' section is one of the clearest ways of detecting an ignorant attitude (and not just on the part of the OP!)

As you put it, 'obvious misreading of the text' is not necessarily the same as 'ignorance', so I would encourage an attitude of long-suffering towards the former so that the OP can rectify that. However, if an ignorant attitude persists, with refusal to accept gentle correction, the question should eventually be closed.

Likewise, OPs who keep trying to rehash old questions to which they did not receive the kind of answers they were hoping for, should have a 'Warning' bell symbol attached to their thinly disguised repeat questions. This category is akin to politicians who don't get their desired result with a referendum, so they repeat the referendum later on, slightly rephrasing the wording to 'encourage' a different vote. Such questions should be looked out for, Moderators should give a warning, which (if ignored) should result in closure as the questions are foolish, with the OPs demonstrating an ignorant attitude.

That's my attitude.

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