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Something has not felt right to me about various comments I have seen regarding the need to stay exclusively within a text for it to be a valid hermeneutic 'for this site'. Actually that's nonsense. I realized that I believe the we need for this site some form of hermeneutical protection. Who knows who will be mods in the future and what narrow set of hermeneutics they might approve of. What I mean is that while some hermeneutical approaches are in vogue in the world today and especially in America we have the grammatical-historical with futurist tendencies on prophecy, we must make sure that neutrality is protected by not trying to sell that as 'our hermeneutic', the correct one, making those who use an 'other' hermeneutics as second class citizens. (I generally find nothing wrong with the grammatical-historical method personally and think the futurist hermeneutic is almost incomprehensible nonsense, yet I would not oppose it as a valid hermeneutic. I would not even throw down-votes at it. But my preference is irrelevant.)

Two hermeneutics that do not need to be protected (currently) as they are personally valued by various users and mods are historical-grammatical and historical-critical. Both of them 'seem' more objective as they tend to be based on drawing out the meaning of a particular text without any application or intensive synthesis with historical dogma, the rest of the scriptures (analogy of faith), allegorization, or even historical fulfillment of prophecy. I am not sure how many hermeneutic approaches will be considered second class by those who promote these two but I suppose it is not important to define them as long as we seek to protect them whenever a new user begins to use them here.

First, we need to separate 'application' of a text in the form of a scripture a sermon from hermeneutics that require 'application of data outside of a text’ as essential to the hermeneutic. Just because we don't like sermons (which might be a bad thing) does not mean that a hermeneutic should not rely on external data to help define the meaning of a text. In many cases if you were a ‘purists’ imagining that exegesis can be performed in a test tube that is without a hermeneutic bringing a bias into it. If it is dreamed that one can only stay objectively stuck to the text in question then we would be able to hesitantly conclude nothing that valuable to anyone, especially ancient fulfilled prophecy. True, I think we can all agree that we do not want people standing on their soapboxes and using a text only to insert their pre-made sermons upon the rest of us. On the other hand, this does not mean we should encourage those promoting their ‘within-the-text-only’ hermeneutic to leave narrow minded and condescending mini-sermons in comments against anyone using a different hermeneutic from them. I know for one I do not appreciate somebody popping by and questioning weather I am allowed to go outside of a text, as it is some supposed no, no.

For example, Historicists ‘need’ and ‘must’ apply the scripture to history as an essential part of their hermeneutic. They must! go outside the text! Christianity is founded on an exegesis on NOT what an original verse meant in its historical setting (something applauded as exclusively worthy of study in current American religious culture and echoed here) but how the prophecy played out in history, something some are doubtful should be really in-scope on this site?! Christians believe that Jesus is how many prophecies 'played out' in the past. In fact for Christian users the historicists hermeneutic is the basis of our entire religion. If we accept this as a valid hermeneutic for our fundamental beliefs, then we must accept a historicism hermeneutic that might see Greece, Rome, or what have you as the key to understanding the meaning of any given prophecy. Often Jewish and Christian bible scholars conclude the same meaning of a prophecy under the review of history, just not those related to Jesus.

I bring out the historicist hermeneutic purposefully because it breaks the pseudo intellectual agreement of the historical-grammatical and historical-critical approaches. The test tube exegesis where one always stays in the text is just an exegetical philosophy really, not the only thought to think. Yes there are some valid aspects of those two hermeneutical approaches, but they are not Lords of the universe. If we do not identify the danger that an imposition of these hermeneutics might unconsciously tend to have against other valid hermeneutics we may allow our site to become thought police and a form of censorship, while pretending objectivity and neutrality. To avoid all these potential biased subjective evils, I am wondering if is it not important as a fundamental charter that we accept all hermeneutical schools without prejudice? And how can we safeguard this fundamental charter?

Should we collect hermeneutics used by our users and publish them somewhere so that if we find someone stopping by our questions or answers and dropping a sermon against our hermeneutic we can refer them to the charter of freedoms, protecting the sites neutrality? Do we all feel we are promoting a neutral platform, respecting any hermeneutic? Or do we think we can force our hermeneutic on others because from our reference it is currently in vogue. For example, just because a historical-grammatical and futurist hermeneutic is in vogue in America right now and applications from a text are almost considered a form of evil eisegesis, in one hundred years that might be considered rubbish thinking. So why should we assume it is the only way today to properly analyze scripture? Besides, this is not a hermeneutic respected in isolation for thousands of years; it is our modern trends that say this is obvious. Should we not allow the hermeneutical expressions of those who have lived thousands of years before us in the field of biblical study to be valid? Should we protect all these hermeneutical approaches both past and future, or should we just get on a rocking horse and promote our own today? Which is the higher-minded approach? Which is the approach we should take founding a new technology that supports ideas and sharing? Should we be insular and snobbish or broad and truly academic?

Should the users form a charter of hermeneutical protections to ensure a neutral foundation of free thought for this site?

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    For a such a piece that includes a significant indictment against sermonizing, isn't your tone a bit ... preachy?
    – Caleb
    Jul 14 '13 at 19:56
  • That note aside, there is certainly some interesting food for thought here. I'll probably be responding next week, but in the mean time it seems like it would be useful to have a couple more specific case studies of how you think this problem is playing out. Frankly in a few cases I've seen quite the opposite: where low quality content was tolerated in the name of not throwing out the sole representation from an alternate hermeneutic. In general we seem to have more of a need for curbing some types of participation than protecting it. How do you propose these two needs balance?
    – Caleb
    Jul 14 '13 at 19:59
  • @Caleb - I know what your saying and yes I am being preachy. I preach at people who preach at me. I agree there is more of a problem here when people pass of lazy posts as a 'hermeneutic', nevertheless when hermeneutic agendas lead to the totally absurd conclusion that we must avoid application on the subject of prophecy- there must be a certain attempt at protecting hermeneutics overall.
    – Mike
    Jul 14 '13 at 21:04
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What is the scope of this site?

There are many good questions, but not all good questions are a good fit for this site. To determine whether a question is a good fit for this site, we need to determine whether it fits within the scope of this site. My understanding of this site's scope is that we cover questions about:

  • hermeneutics (the philosophy of interpretation), and

  • exegesis (the meaning that can be drawn from the text)

Doctrine is explicitly off-topic. That doesn't make doctrine bad, or wrong, or unimportant... it just makes it off-topic for this site.

What is historicism?

Historicism is a particular bias in thinking that affects interpretation. As such, there are two ways that you could seek answers pertaining to historicism within the scope of this site:

  • You could ask hermeneutical (i.e. philosophical) questions about the impact that historicism has on interpretation

  • You could ask exegetical (i.e. text-focused) questions about what the text says to help you determine whether a given historicist view is allowed for by the text

However, as soon as we start asking questions about what a historicist should consider to be the correct fulfillment of a given prophecy from Scripture, we have left the realm of hermeneutics and exegesis and entered the realm of doctrine.

Do we need a charter?

I don't think so. I think the question is based on a misunderstanding of what we're trying to do with this site.

Your question implies that all interpretations should be welcome, regardless of what hermeneutical approach they follow. I think this would make sense if the scope of this site were "Bible interpretation," but it is not. We are not trying to welcome the application of all hermeneutical approaches. We are trying to answer questions about hermeneutics (the field), and questions about exegesis (the meaning of the text, drawn from the text.)

If you want to change the scope of the site, you'll have your work cut out for you, and we will eventually need to remove the "no doctrine" restriction. But until you get the scope of the site changed, your questions and answers should stick to the scope we currently have.

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  • I agree with most of what you say and yet somehow you miss the point. Exegetical interpretation from a text that argues from history 'outside the text' must be allowed on this site, if it is to allow the practice of hermeneutics (historicism is a hermeneutic) . This means the possibility of arguing that Jesus 'did not' fulfill (or did fulfill) ancient prophecies based on the facts of history to which the prophecies foretell... is all about this site. It's as simple as that. This is not a debate, it is an open-and-shut case to me.
    – Mike
    Jul 15 '13 at 23:20
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    @Mike Exegesis is not "the practice of hermeneutics," and the goal of this site is not "the practice of hermeneutics." Otherwise, the practice of the "new" postmodern reader-response hermeneutic would be on-topic for this site, but it is not. That's where you're missing my point.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 15 '13 at 23:24
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    @Jas3.1 I'm not so sure reader-response questions are off-topic. Is there somewhere we wrote that down?
    – Soldarnal
    Jul 16 '13 at 15:21
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    @Soldarnal Questions about the hermeneutic would be on-topic, of course, but I'm referring to the practice of it; i.e. answering an exegesis question with "well, to me it means _____". Reader-response is not exegesis. That was my point.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 17 '13 at 1:00
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I personally think the mods are doing a good job here but I really do believe for the long run, and to secure good principles from the start, it would be a good idea to have a growing list of known and acceptable hermeneutical approaches, regadless of how we may personally feel about them. By making a growing list of pre-approved hermeneutical approaches we can discourage other users from raising a VTC vote, or adding insulting and unwelcome comments, based simply on their dislike of that approach. It can also help caution a mod from being tempted to close a question that mistakenly appears to them as contradicting the guidelines of the site when on further reflection does not (we can all make mistakes, even a mod).

It's not that I do not generally trust other users, or mods, to make the right choices (actually I generally do) - its just that certain methods of exegesis, including those that draw from 'sources outside of a given text'; such as original language references to secular works, history, commentaries, etc. need to have a kind of immunity and protection from potentially grouchy critics which is one of the biggest dangers reducing the pleasure of study that this site promotes. After all we must be up-beat, not frowning critics if we are to enjoy ourselves and each other's inputs. There is really no reason for professionals using a well trodden hermeneutic to be harassed by some arm-chair critic or complainer, it can greatly diminish the joy of study and learning that should really drive the engine of a site like this.

There are other reasons why an approved list of hermeneutical approaches would be helpful:

  • prevents foolish assumptions that only one way is objective
  • pre-approves well trodden and different hermeneutical paths that enrich the history of the subject
  • provides transparency, which is a central tenant of any kind of anti-corruption, anti-bias framework
  • can be used as a framework for accountability for those who just post whatever random thoughts they have without support or defense from a known hermeneutical approach used by others (appealed to in this list of freedoms when challenged)
  • relives the burden of mods making personal judgment calls when users accuse each other's hermeneutics of breaking the guidelines of this site
  • makes it much clearer what is in-scope and out-scope without needing a crystal ball or philosophical rubik's cube to determine some secret criteria

Note: About allegorization. Some like classical eastern Orthodox trust in the allegorization of Greek church fathers and actually can use that as a hermeneutic to interpret scriptures. I personally do not use this approach at all but I propose it should be protected as it is a known hermeneutical approach. Many commentators also dabble in allegorization and when it becomes wide spread, affecting several well known commentators, I believe it can be said to be a valid hermeneutic as a traditional view has thus been established similar to the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We have simply replaced church fathers with famous bible commentators. This allegorization is valid when references are provided.

For those who make up their own systematic hermeneutic that nobody besides themselves or close friends use, I am not sure that this can appeal for validation and immunity from a list of hermeneutical approaches. We can't offer full free expression to random ideas representing no known form of logic as that would mean if a genuine lunatic kept posting irrational rubbish on our site we would have no agreed means of removing it. We can't tie a moderators ability to remove that from the site as it is for this very sort of thing that we need a mod to help us be accountable to known hermeneutical practices.

At least this is what I personally would like to see the most. I do not think such strict guidelines are needed on other sites as they do not rest upon a certain expectation of some academic approach, but here we need to spell the rules out more explicitly and in a positive way. Not a list of do-nots, but a list of pre-approved 'dos'. It must be a positive charter that prevents potential negativity, bickering and criticisms that often ruin religious conversations and exchanges of information.

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