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I feel like part of the controversies we have stem from basic misunderstandings in what words mean and how they should be interpreted. A major strength of the Stack Exchange system is that it allows expert or knowledgeable people to explain technical issues in the sort of language they can understand.

What guidelines should we give on uncontroversial edits?

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    Can I suggest splitting out the issue from the proposed solution here? – Caleb Apr 6 '13 at 7:37
  • the last example is quite different from the others and much more burdensome: if we are talking about knowledge specific to a particular tradition then I'd agree, but it should be ok to assume knowledge about the texts on this site, and by that I mean all the texts. – Jack Douglas Apr 8 '13 at 10:27
  • @Monica clarifications can be done in the comments or in chat as an alternative to bloating the answer in some cases. In some cases I'd agree, eg if it is obviously causing confusion, or is obscure even to those familiar with the texts. The particular example Jon has becomes more wordy rather than better IMO. – Jack Douglas Apr 8 '13 at 16:04
  • Incidentally, I don't think 'murder' is an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew word in Exodus 20:12. It may or may not be a good interpretation in this verse, but the wider usage is much broader than the English 'murder', is it not? – Jack Douglas Apr 8 '13 at 16:04
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    @Caleb: Done. While I'm at it, the guideline is for uncontroversial edits more than it is a standard we expect from authors. People should be comfortable with their posts being improved in these ways. – Jon Ericson Apr 8 '13 at 16:19
  • @JackDouglas: Can you help me think of a better example? (I moved the "answer" out of the question, so the comments should move there too.) – Jon Ericson Apr 8 '13 at 16:21
  • @Monica, that isn't what I mean. I'm suggesting that sometimes it is appropriate to comment in response if it's just a one-off: then they can get deleted or whatever and the problem is solved without bloating the answer (and conciseness often has a major bearing on readability, even in long answers). OTOH if something is an obscure reference of course it will help to clarify it. Links and footnotes are great because they clarify with minimal distraction. – Jack Douglas Apr 8 '13 at 16:46
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I don’t mean to always disagree and in the context I may be totally wrong, but my knee jerk reaction is, I do not think we really have a problem, at least not to me personally. It is more interesting (to me personally) to let the person making the question and answer use the terms they think are reasonable. We can always ‘google’ just a bit to see what they mean, while retaining the colorful expression that originally preserves the full twist of the question/answer.

For example I always giggle when one of the persons on this site asks a question with strange words I can’t comprehend. I usually like their questions and answers so I use him as an example in a positive sense as being good example for this site.

In Genesis 49:24, what is the meaning of the phrase מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל?

Now I have no idea who Ya'akov or Yosef are so I giggle to myself while associating them to the English names after reading the related verse. I feel like I had a good experience because the person forming the question is tickling my brain and its fun. Should I edit the question so that ‘any English speaker who is interested in this content would be able to understand what it means without additional research’? Maybe, but (personally) I prefer not. It makes me understand a few things about the question. Hebrew is important to him, so I should at least know that when trying to answer. What’s wrong with a little personality? I may be wrong, I get the feeling I should not be making rules around here but others should and then I can learn to follow a bit better, I am only giving my feeling about it in terms of preference.

Again when somebody uses the phrase ‘Tanakh’ in a question are we to enforce an English word that most people would understand instead? No, I do not think so. I would probably not use that word and prefer more commonly used English names. Forcing an English translation seems unnecessary.

All the No's, Not Even's, Not so fine's and Confusing's in your list I can understand but actually prefer them as they are as indicating the personality twist of the original question and answer that help understand the overall spirit and meaning conveyed by each. If we become word police we may as well censor broad vocabularies that make people refer to a dictionary or those that use any sort of palaver to express a slight gradation of terms. I personally loathe any kind of censorship in any kind of way. (Down-voting can take care of that, or when when truly intentionally offensive, deleting it.) I repeat this might not be the best policy for the site I am only explaining how many people might feel about things that should be 'considered' when attempting to make any policy.

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    @GoneQuiet - Technically transliteration is not jargon, but for me they are lumped together because it has the same practical outcome on me. I am basically a lazy slug, so my 'like or dislike' is related to what is being asked of me. Looking up a word or two does not bother me. Actually I enjoy it a bit. If I did not have Google I might feel differently, as I would have to page through an Encyclopedia or something and that would not go over too well. – Mike Apr 14 '13 at 5:14
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Why, yes. Yes we do.

But it's not just that some people want to use BC/AD and others BCE/CE. It's that some answers only make sense if you cut through (or already know) some rather specialized language. We are aiming high here, we want expert answers, and experts do use technical terms. The trouble not every expert uses the same terms. Jargon hides assumptions that we want to lay bear; doctrine can hide behind a single word.

More importantly, we want expert answers that anyone can understand. The use of specialized terms when general terms suffice hinder understanding. For that reason, I'm stealing observing best practices by modifying the Mi Yodeya guidelines for your consideration:


The following is a proposed guideline for use of jargon and specialized terms on Biblical Hermeneutics–Stack Exchange. It is not meant as a strict policy and is subject to change. We welcome comments and suggestions in the comments.

When writing questions and answers on Biblical Hermeneutics, the overall guiding principle you should have in mind is:

Will any English speaker who is interested in this content be able to understand what it means without additional research?

Here are some guidelines that come out of this:

  • Don't use technical terms gratuitously. If there's a general word or phrase that conveys your meaning smoothly, just use it.

    • No: Did Luke know of the Pauline corpus?

    • Not even: Did Luke know of the Pauline corpus (Paul's letters)?

    • Yes: Did Luke know of Paul's letters?

  • If you use specialized term that your readers might not know, define it the first time or link to a definition. You can keep jargon in a question title as long as you define or link it in the body.

    • No: In Koine Greek, the word is hapax legomenon.

    • OK: In Koine Greek (the language the New Testament written in), the word is hapax legomenon (only used this once).

    • Better: In Koine Greek, the word is hapax legomenon.

  • Terms that anyone who may be interested in the content would know are fine by themselves.

    • Fine: Did the LXX build on any previous translations? No one will care about this if they don't already know what the Septuagint is.

    • Not so fine: Paul usually used the LXX for quoting scripture. All a person needs to know to potentially care about this is that Paul quoted scripture.

    • Fixed: Paul usually used the LXX for quoting scripture.

  • Terms used differently by different traditions should be clarified.

    • Confusing: When the veil was torn, man could approach God.

    • Clear: According to the gospels, the curtain veiling the Holy of Holies was torn. The book of Hebrews explains the significance: people can enter into the presence of God.


To be clear, the above guidelines should represent uncontroversial edits and the polite thing to do when someone else falls short of them is to edit. Do you have any objections to these sorts of fixes?

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  • I don't think the last section can be improved in a question about "uncontroversial edits". For my money it should simply be removed: the rest of the post is great. – Jack Douglas Apr 8 '13 at 16:50
  • @Jack Douglas: The last item is one that I added to the Mi Yodeya guidelines and is also the one I feel will be most beneficial to us. If push comes to shove, we can certainly remove it and the other items will remain beneficial. But I feel that part of our struggles lately have come from misunderstandings of a very basic sort: same words; different meanings. When something seems wrong and offensive to a segment of our users, it would be helpful to show by context that it's not really intended as offensive. Maybe edits aren't the right tool... – Jon Ericson Apr 9 '13 at 16:20
  • I think edits are sometimes the right tool for this, but I also think that it is probably best to separate the ideas of uncontroversial edits like the others here from edits that really need to be made by someone who is very confident they understand the answer well enough to edit it. The former can really be done by any user with a little care, the latter must be handled with great sensitivity, don't you agree? – Jack Douglas Apr 9 '13 at 16:25
  • I do not have any objections but only mildly prefer that they are not corrected. I can understand all versions as they are and they retain the personality of the person involved when left untouched. Perceived personality helps me understand what a person is saying. I like to get a 'feel' for a person and then I know how best to respond. – Mike Apr 13 '13 at 5:17
  • From a more personal note; if someone made those edits on 'my post' I would accept them because if its important to someone I would bend to there preference. However I would prefer them to be untouched. It's not a big deal. – Mike Apr 13 '13 at 5:25
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I am of the opinion that using appropriate technical hermeneutical terms such as "hapax" and "corpus" and "metonym" is completely appropriate for this site. I do try to provide a link to the term the first time I use them or as I might have time but that's a courtesy.

However, what I think should be banned is the use of religious and philosophical jargon such as "Trinity" (as the basis of an argument), "heresy" as a reason to not understand the scriptures a certain way, "hypostatic union", etc. Those kinds of discussion should be saved for Christianity.SE.

If a person can't expound a passage without appealing to such loaded and unscriptural terms then I don't care to hear what they have to say. But if someone uses a technical hermeneutical term and I don't know it it is my job to learn it before responding to the post/answer. Avoiding those terms is to my mind "dumbing down" the most effective language rather than floating all boats with exemplary, in situ use of the best tools.

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