Background question: Hermeneutics vs Exegesis

Are we a site for practicing exegesis where the experts happen be the ones with good knowledge of hermeneutics or is this a place where one could ask questions about the field and perhaps become an expert in hermeneutics?

If the answer to that is going to be "both", then we need to know where to draw the line on exegesis.

When does a topic or answer cross the line from being an exegesis of a passage based on the field of hermeneutics into being an argument for a piece of doctrine that would be more relevant posted to Christianity.SE?

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    Here's an example of what I think you mean: eschatological views are as much hermeneutical frameworks as they are doctrines. So dispensational premillenialism is one way of approaching the text, which will affect your reading of it; preterism is another. Or, Lutherans tend to see all of the Bible as relating to either "law" or "Gospel" and use that distinction as a hermeneutical key. But that is both informed by their theology and informs it. Some would say that this gets you onto the path of a Hermeneutical Circle (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutic_circle)
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 23:46
  • 1
    @Ray This makes me realize the importance of maintaining C.SE (meta) and J.SE (meta) as sites separate from BH.SE.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 13:12
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    I think that this is a critical question. +1
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 14:43
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    This question also needs to be considered from the perspective of Christianity.SE. Both groups need to know where the line is so that questions belonging in the other group can be migrated appropriately. We need to avoid both a gap between groups (that could lead to a question being migrated back and forth) and an overlap between groups (that could lead to some question being appropriate in both groups).
    – jimreed
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 14:52

3 Answers 3


I would like to suggest a place we could draw the line between Hermeneutics.SE and Christianity.SE.

Before I do let me note that this is a brainstorm idea, not one I'm overly invested in. In fact, I still think having two sites is arbitrary and not a useful distinction. However, that's not my call and if we are going to have two sites to deal with, we might as well define them as clearly as possible so that they both have a shot at being as high quality as they can be. In the end @Richard is right that this will come down to community consensus and that both communities must come to some level of agreement about their respective scopes, however we need to start somewhere and work out the details from there.

I propose that exegesis is in-scope for both sites.

Neither the field of Hermeneutics nor Christianity as a religion are meaningful on their own without the exegesis of texts. No good answers on Christianity.SE should be void of good exegesis that show how a particular doctrine was arrived at and the principles of hermeneutics cannot be applied to a text in any meaningful manner with wandering into the realm of exegesis.

However, Hermeneutics.SE should work forwards from a given text but stop short of application and doctrine...

Questions that start with a word or passage and ask for an analysis of it should be asked on Hermeneutics.SE. "What does word mean in Verse X:Y?" should be approached from a hermeneutical background that examines the text in context. Other verses and texts may be referenced in so far as they aid the understanding of the language and context of a passage, but not specifically to make an extended doctrinal point or provide application not derivable from the passage in question. A textual or hermeneutical relationship between passages should be shown rather than just theological.

Questions about a point of doctrine and what Scriptures support them should be off-topic. "Practical theology" or extended application beyond explaining the text should be discouraged.

...and Christianity.SE should only work backwards from doctrines to their defenses but avoid interpretations of single texts.

Questions that pose an individual point of doctrine or Christian tradition should be asked on Christianity.SE. "What do Christians believe about X?" or "What is the Biblical basis for Y?" should be demonstrated using exegesis of the Bible (or the relevant other sources like Catechisms, Creeds, historical writings, etc). These questions may be best answered by those with a good understanding of hermeneutics, but will be an exercise in knowing relevant passages and how they apply, understanding the theological frameworks of Christianity, etc. Verses used in support of an argument will be used on the basis of their theological relation, not necessarily the properties of the text.

Questions asking only about the meaning of a specific word or verse in a particular context should be off-topic. However, questions asking for the practical application of a verse or passage should be allowed. These would be defended using the text, but inside the bounds of a given theological framework. If needed, a parallel question about any textual issues could be asked on Hermeneutics.SE.

Both sites cover other topics besides the crossover zone at exegesis.

  • Hermeneutics.SE would be the place to discuss the various hermeneutical methods, deal with textual and historical criticism, and cover historical interpretations as they relate to the understanding of texts, etc.

  • Christianity.SE would be the place to discuss theological frameworks, points of doctrine, application of Scripture to daily life, the difference between different traditions, historical people and their influence on Christian practice and belief, etc.

This leaves Judaism.SE with a parallel role as Christianity.SE.

Practical application of texts and working backwards to defend doctrine from Scripture using a Jewish theological framework would squarely on topic there. However Jewish scholars offering their understanding of the OT texts under examination in questions here are more than welcome.

  • 3
    -1 Let's not worry so much about other sites and their scope - we can concentrate on making this site great. Commented Oct 8, 2011 at 14:27
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    @JackDouglas: I would argue that, without some thought put into scope, this site won't have a chance to be great! Would you like to see BH cluttered up with issues of theology or tradition between different Christian sects that really have nothing to do with hermeneutics? Or would you like to miss great questions that could use great answers from experts in hermeneutics because they were asked on the wrong site and don't get pointed to the right place?
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 8, 2011 at 14:38
  • No, I'd like BH to remain focussed of course: knowing what is on-topic on this site is a vital topic to discussed. Other sites need to decide for themselves and it is for the questioner to decide where he posts a question - we just need to focus on providing a great place for questions to be posted. Overlap in itself is not necessarily a problem we need to worry about. Commented Oct 8, 2011 at 15:06
  • @JackDouglas: I didn't say overlap was a problem. In fact my answer suggestion here proposes an overlap zone the size of Texas. This suggestion is all about defining what is on-topic on this site. How exactly do you think this works against making this site a great place for hermeneutics questions?
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 8, 2011 at 17:23
  • Follow up chat between Jack and myself here: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/1505/conversation/…
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 8, 2011 at 19:28
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    I completely agree with you. I particularly appreciate that this answer includes the "stop short of application". I beginning to see that as the key between exegesis and doctrine. Still, I think that Judaism.SE is a pretty solid site that does a good job of dealing with text in a hermeneutical way. I suspect that we won't be able to draw experts from that site easily.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 9, 2011 at 20:37
  • Also, I've deleted my answer as this one is really the answer that should be at the top.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 20:37

My thoughts on things that are generally out of the scope for this site (but may or may not be in scope on one of the other SE sites):

application (eg: applying the principle in a verse to "gray areas" not spelled out explicitly in the bible). "how should we apply this to our personal lives?"

Asking for speculative opinions about WHY Jesus, Paul, Moses (etc) would have taught in the scripture that....(whatever teaching)

Generalizing a large collection of verses into an overarching piece of doctrine on that particular topic (eg: "these verses clearly show post-millenialism is correct" or "what does the bible say about homosexuality/women pastors/modesty/etc.").

generally most areas where modern denominational groups differentiate themselves ("well, if one were catholic they might believe...but a lutheran would see this same verse and think..."). However, historical contrasts in worldview such as between a pre-christ jewish worldview vs. a new-testament worldview might actually be relevant and on-topic at times.


I don't think you really can draw too much of a line around exegesis, it itself is easy to pick out as being that. We just have to draw that line at theological discussions, but this is a hard line to draw sometimes, since everything on this site will at some point relate to theology.

We'll probably have to figure something out with concensus over time.

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