Someone brought up a question that had been closed as being off topic (correctly, in my judgment) that had the tag. The tag wiki says:

The study of how a text came to be placed in a Canon of Scripture. Questions about whether a text should be included in the canon are off-topic here.

I am wondering if both are off topic here at BH.SE, as canonicity is an issue decided by specific religious traditions. Answering these questions generally requires ecclesiastical history and specific doctrinal statements of individual religious traditions. Not all Christians nor even all Jews agree on which books are canonical. I think those issues are best hashed out at C.SE and MY.SE, respectively. I know that C.SE considers these questions to be on topic.

So for clarification, should the following should be off topic?

  • Questions about how a text came to be placed in a canon of Scripture.
  • Questions about whether a text should or should not be included in a canon.
  • Questions about non-canonical works (it is fine to indicate that a work is disputed or not accepted by all traditions, but it should be labeled as "extra-biblical" or a more scholarly term rather than using doctrinal language such as "non-canonical").

Along the same lines, we have a tag and a few questions under it that also need to be reviewed. One of those questions seems on topic to me since it deals with as an abstract field of study, but the other questions may need to be reviewed for relevance.

It is my opinion that many questions along these lines could redirect their focus from a specific religious tradition to the text itself. For instance, a question about whether or not a given reading should be considered canonical could be rephrased to ask if it was original to the work or penned by the purported author.

Overall, are issues of as specified above theological and thus off topic? This is especially pertinent since as of right now we have no defined books which are considered "biblical" (note that the current top answer leaves this very open-ended).

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

  • 1
    -1 for "theological and thus off topic": that's not the yardstick on this site. Apr 8, 2014 at 5:41
  • The canon-criticism tag is no more, it seems, having gone the way of the dodo. Is that correct?
    – Dɑvïd
    Apr 8, 2014 at 7:36
  • @Davïd I suppose so. It hadn't when I initially wrote this in June 2013.
    – Dan
    Apr 8, 2014 at 13:30

4 Answers 4


Well, I wrote the current tag wiki and I'm not wed to either the wiki or the tag. Our existing questions push the boundary between us and the other religion sites. As you say, the only one question on our site belongs in the :

That leaves 10 questions that belong in if anywhere on the site. I asked one of those questions myself:

Notice that this focuses on a particular text that happens to mention the role of sacred texts in ancient Christianity. I hoped for an answer that argued from the text about the content of Paul's canon. That's not the answer I got.

The top question in this group is:

This is as much a question as anything else (though it isn't tagged that way). Noah Snyder's answer is solid. If we are to have this tag, this question is pretty much the model.

In the end, I think these questions can be asked on other sites, but one would hope that experts in our texts would also be good people to ask about the history of the texts. Maybe we should drop the misleading canon* tags and instead use something like or just .


The following are on topic:

  • Questions about how a text came to be placed in a canon of Scripture (not the canon, as there is no agreement on a single canon). This should be tagged with and primarily about how it came to be included in a specified canon from a historical perspective (as opposed to from a theological perspective, i.e. the focus should be on historical events, not on the doctrinal content of the text itself removed from the historical context). In order to answer these questions, a particular canon must be specified in the question.

  • Questions about canonical criticism (the interpretive method itself—these should be tagged with ).

The following are off topic:

  • Questions about whether a text should or should not be included in a canon (there is no agreement on a single canon).
  • 1
    Two questions: (1) Regarding inclusion or not in the canon, a question that was seeking arguments for/against that from within the text of the book itself should not be allowed? (Not that I believe canonicity completely derives from the text itself.)(2) Why do you consider "extra-biblical" as less offensive than "non-canonical" if it is a book you accept as canon being so-called "extra-biblical"? It seems to me that "non-canonical" should be fine, when speaking from one's own perspective (just like allowing arguments from different hermeneutics), as long as all realize there are differences.
    – ScottS
    Apr 10, 2014 at 19:06
  • @ScottS I'm contemplating removing that last part of this answer. You're not alone in challenging it (validly).
    – Dan
    Apr 11, 2014 at 2:15
  • @ScottS I removed that last part.
    – Dan
    Apr 14, 2014 at 14:03

The tag is extremely important and should be preserved. Important questions under this tag would include questions pertinent to the Canonical Interpretation of Scripture, such as how the arrangement of books in the Old Testament / Tanakh might impact the interpretation of the "excellent wife" of Proverbs 31 and/or Ruth. If we were to nix that tag we would lose an entire field of Biblical Studies... an entire hermeneutic. (Or at least, the tag for it.)

Concerning the tag, I would suggest that questions such as Why does the Septuagint contain non-Tanakh books? are a much better fit here than on History.SE because the expertise for answering such questions is here. (Let's not forget we are still maintaining a tag on this site.) Some overlap between SE sites is fine, but if the expertise lies here for a given set of questions (such as this one), we should maintain the scope to handle them.

So in summary, if the topic is Biblical Studies, I think we should strive to maintain the expertise and scope to handle it.

  • How would the arrangement of books have anything to do with interpreting a passage in a given text? Especially when many of those books hadn't even been written when those texts were and different traditions order the books differently? That seems like an anachronistic hermeneutic if I ever saw one....
    – Dan
    Jul 9, 2013 at 14:18
  • 1
    @Dan You could post that as a question on the main site -- it would be a good one to have on our site. But for now, take a look at the Canonical Interpretation link I included in my answer. This is a very big (and thus important) hermeneutical approach, just like Biblical-Theological, Historical-Grammatical, Sensus Plenior, etc. Whether you agree with it or not, it's big, and it's important to the field.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 9, 2013 at 20:53
  • 1
    @Dan It has also had a huge impact on how scholars have interpreted the minor prophets.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 10, 2013 at 0:25

All questions related to canonicity should be off topic. Canonicity is a theological concept decided by specific religious traditions, and there is vast disagreement on which texts are considered to be 'canonical.'

Specifically, the following should be off topic:

  • Questions about how a text came to be placed in a canon of Scripture.
  • Questions about whether a text should or should not be included in a canon.
  • Questions about 'non-canonical' works (it is fine to indicate that a work is disputed or not accepted by all/certain religious traditions, but it should be labeled as "extra-biblical" or another relevant term rather than using theological language such as "non-canonical").
  • "vast disagreement"? that's a bit of an exagerration Apr 8, 2014 at 5:40
  • @JackDouglas Jewish sects don't agree on which texts are canonical (for some it is only Torah, others accept all of Tanakh), Christians differ on the Apocryphal texts, and even within those there is great variation within traditions (especially within Orthodoxy). There are even some who also accept NT apocryphal texts and other early Church documents as canonical. I'd call that vast disagreement. But for the record, my other answer is actually my first choice - this is just to have clear direction on what the community does and does not want (I expected this to be DV'd into oblivion).
    – Dan
    Apr 8, 2014 at 13:27
  • Well we have very different definitions of 'vast' then: especially when you consider the lengths of the texts that are broadly accepted, even the difference in canon between Judaism and Christianity isn't what I'd call 'vast'. 'considerable', perhaps, and the differences between Christian traditions somewhere between 'slight' and 'significant'. Apr 8, 2014 at 15:09
  • Out of interest, which Jewish sects accept only the Torah and reject the rest of the Tanakh? Apr 8, 2014 at 15:12
  • @JackDouglas Samaritan Jews (who Rabbinic Jews would argue are not Jews). You can see this rift going back even to the time of the Gospels (cf. John 4). They also use an alternate extant set of manuscripts known as the Samaritan Pentateuch. Then there are Karaite Jews who accept Tanakh but not Talmud or Mishnah as valid secondary sources (keep in mind that for Jews these texts are the 'Oral Torah' and thus integral parts of it), and I believe there are some additional non-Rabbinical Jewish sects still in existence also.
    – Dan
    Apr 8, 2014 at 15:17
  • Yes, I know about Samaritanism, I was not aware anyone referred to them as a Jewish sect (and apart from you, I'm still not). I'm also aware of Karaite Jews who as you say accept the whole Tanakh so I don't see how they are relevant to my question. You're still over-dramatising the differences: why not go further and tell me about the man you met in a bar who only accepts the first 5 verses of Genesis as inspired? After all, "As of January 1, 2012, there were 751 Samaritans". Apr 8, 2014 at 15:41
  • @JackDouglas I didn't realize it was that small, and I'm being generous just like C.SE would consider anyone who claims to be Christian as Christian for their purposes, so also here with Jewish and the Samaritan Pentateuch which I've previously listed as a primary source for our purposes). Even so, the Apocryphal variations and other texts not traditionally included in any but some Oriental Orthodox canons is significant. Perhaps 'vast' is overstated. Meh, this answer isn't my top choice, anyways; I just wanted to create clear options.
    – Dan
    Apr 8, 2014 at 15:47
  • You don't create clear options by muddying the water with insignificant issues, and anyway, what's the point, why not just accept Jon's answer? It seems to have pretty wide support by the standards of this meta. Apr 8, 2014 at 16:06
  • @JackDouglas I upvoted Jon's answer, but I like clarity. It doesn't address some aspects of my question. My other answer is very clear and simple to reference.
    – Dan
    Apr 8, 2014 at 16:29
  • even if you do say so yourself eh ;) my -1 is for the last paragraph which seems petty. Apr 8, 2014 at 16:39
  • @Daи I think the answers (on the subject of canonicity) here are more serious than elsewhere. I trust the seriousness of those who contribute. I think so. Apr 8, 2014 at 16:43
  • @JackDouglas I would expect that due to our ongoing disagreement about what is offensive and the use of neutral-ish language to encourage maximum participation. No problems, I'm fine with upvotes or downvotes, so long as there are some votes! :)
    – Dan
    Apr 8, 2014 at 20:37
  • FYI I've discovered that even Wikipedia uses the term 'canonical'. You may wish to start a campaign there to stamp out the practice ;) Apr 9, 2014 at 18:15
  • @JackDouglas They refer to the Hebrew Bible as the 'Old Testament' also. I've pointed out before that a Christian bias is inherent to the field of Biblical Studies. I'd like to see BH.SE transcend that bias.
    – Dan
    Apr 9, 2014 at 20:25
  • They way it looks is that you just don't make any allowance for context. Apr 9, 2014 at 21:27

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