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Mike recently posted an answer to another meta question that got me thinking about this distinction and the impact this has on BH.SE's viability (I'm beginning to wonder if ScottS was really onto something in this post). The reality is that the lines are still blurred - even in secular academia.

What is/are Biblical Studies?

The preface to The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies (published in 2008) gives an excellent statement concerning this:

What is (or should it be are? but we shall stay with the singular) Biblical Studies? Is it a watered-down version of theology with the doctrinal parts omitted? Is it like Religious Studies, but concentrating on Judaism and Christianity? The answer is that Biblical Studies is a collection of various, and in some cases independent, disciplines clustering around a collection of texts known as the Bible whose precise limits (those of the Bible) are still a matter of disagreement among various branches of the Christian churches. These disciplines range from Archaeology, Egyptology, and Assyriology through Textual Criticism, Linguistics, History, and Sociology, to Literary Theory, Feminism, and Theology, to name only some. That these disciplines should have come to be connected with the study of the Bible results from the unique position that the Bible (however understood) has occupied in Western history, art, and culture for some 2,000 years. No comparable collection of texts has been subjected to such sustained critical examination and elucidation over such a long period of time.

If you continue to read the preface, you will see that this diversity is the current state of the field. The confusion inherent to BH.SE is symptomatic of the greater lack of precise definitions in the field itself. If Oxford hasn't figured it out yet, we should also expect some roadblocks and challenges when it comes to determining our scope and future direction. But we also shouldn't avoid defining our site simply because the field itself has not done so (considering that many Biblical scholars and scholarly Biblical publications are affiliated with religious traditions or are decidedly pluralist, there is no impetus to do so for many, and there will likely never be universally agreed-upon terms for this reason).

The History of Biblical Studies

The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies has articles on the history of Hebrew Bible and New Testament scholarship which are fascinating and extremely helpful to understanding where the field of Biblical Studies has come from and where the field is going. I will quote portions of the abstract for each article:

Hebrew Bible Scholarship

Seventy years ago, the discipline was still reacting in various ways to the theory of the history of Israelite religion and sacrifice and the theory of how and when the Old Testament had been composed, which had received classical expression fifty years earlier in J. Wellhausen's Prolegomena (1883). In Germany, the discipline faced the determined attempts of the ‘German Christian’ movement to banish the study of Hebrew and the Old Testament from universities and the use of the Old Testament from Christian worship. However, the ending of the Second World War initiated a period of consolidation with strongly marked theological interests, until the emergence, in the late 1960s, of new methodologies including structuralism, literature criticism, feminist and liberation theology, deconstruction, and canonical criticism.

New Testament Scholarship

[There are] three scholarly generations that differ sufficiently to be labelled as times of continuation (1935–62), transition (1960s and 1970s), and innovation (1980–2005). The changing social, political, and economic environments are reflected in a tendency towards cautious theological synthesis in the first generation; theological radicalism, internationalism, and ecumenism in the second; and a new pluralism, including some retreat from or repudiation of theology, in the third.

Given these statements, the current direction of the field of Hebrew Bible scholarship includes "structuralism, literature criticism, feminist and liberation theology, deconstruction, and canonical criticism." The current direction in the field of New Testament scholarship includes "a new pluralism, including some retreat from or repudiation of theology."

A Christian Bias is (Currently) Inherent to the Field

As an example, the The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies refers to the Tanakh as the Old Testament, as do many other scholarly institutions and publications. But if one would study the history of Oxford and the development of Biblical Studies as a field, he/she will find that many of the top institutions have a decidedly Christian background. It is only recently (post-1960s) that existing Biblical Studies methodologies and approaches have significantly expanded to Jewish scholars (as well as Muslim Quranic scholars). The current direction of the field is moving away from exclusively Christian language and biases (to the point of repudiating theology in the field). BH.SE has the opportunity to move in this direction by evaluating the bias inherent in the terms often used in the field.

It should also be kept in mind that the chapter divisions commonly used in the Hebrew Bible reflect the Christian textual tradition. The common chapter divisions and verse numbers have no significance in the Jewish tradition. The Christian chapter and verse divisions are often not supported by many manuscripts in numerous languages and thus questions concerning these texts should specify the location of the text and manuscript used where pertinent. The divisions used in critical texts or specific primary manuscripts should be preferred over those used in modern English Christian and Hebrew Jewish Bible translations, as those used in critical texts are more precise in scholarly discourse (even Christian Bible references do not line up between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant English Bible translations).

The Distinction Between Scriptural Study and Biblical Studies

Michael C. Legaspi wrote an excellent book about this distinction entitled The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies. According to a review of the work,

Legaspi describes the shift he explores as one from a “scriptural Bible” to an “academic Bible,” with the latter having lost its status as (authoritative) Scripture. Rather than tie the origins of the demise of the “scriptural Bible” to the Enlightenment, as is often done, he attributes it to the crisis of epistemological authority engendered by the Protestant Reformation (p. viii). The center of his thesis is that eighteenth-century approaches to Scripture as a text like any other were not a rejection of a “scriptural Bible” (it was, he argues, already a thing of the past) but an effort to preserve its presence in a new cultural context (p. 9). “The academic Bible was created by scholars who saw that the scriptural Bible, embedded as it was in confessional particularities, was inimical to the socio-political project from which Enlightenment universities draw their purpose and support” (p. viii). Legaspi’s interpretation of the period and phenomena involved is thus focused on “social causes” rather than “intellectual antinomies” like the tension between faith and reason (p. ix).

Legaspi goes on to discuss early Biblical scholarship at Göttingen, observing that

the Bible (now “academic” rather than “scriptural”) was taken up as an object of philological, moral, aesthetic, and antiquarian interest (pp. 31–32). The university’s goals were “to avoid controversial ideologies, outmoded systems of thought, dogmatism, and extreme positions on either end of the theological spectrum” (p. 41). Accordingly, its various administrators and instructors (the author focuses on J. M. Gesner and C. G. Heyne) developed the institution’s overall orientation as empiricist in method and motivated by the “social utility” of the subjects of study and a desire for “irenicism” in its demeanor (p. 78).

This last statement sheds significant light on the overall distinction between Scripture and Biblical Studies.

Given all of the above information, I believe that some of the main points that define and distinguish Biblical Studies from the study of Scripture are as follows.

Biblical studies...

  • embraces pluralism. It therefore avoids controversial, extreme, and dogmatic theological positions. It should be kept in mind that Biblical Studies is not specific to any religion, thus assertions that are authoritative, established, and/or non-controversial in one religious tradition may not be so in another.
  • is empiricist. Concerning epistemology, Biblical Studies emphasizes evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. All hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Where this cannot be done (which is often the case in this field), empiricists will opt for skepticism rather than rationalism.
  • desires irenicism in its demeanor. This includes conducting discourse in a polite, academic tone but goes beyond this to include advocacy of peace and conciliation. This often takes the form of religious pluralism in an interfaith context such as BH.SE (as opposed to the ecumenism seen in exclusively Christian or Jewish scholarship). This will generally mean that theological positions that are viewed favorably within the field are those that advocate universalism, inclusivism, and subjects with social utility such as feminist and liberation theology.

Site-Specific Considerations for Future Direction

While the field of Biblical Studies itself is very broad and thus allows a variety of future paths, BH.SE's scope is slightly narrower in a few areas, specifically:

  • This site is for anyone interested in Biblical texts and the field of Biblical Studies who takes the process of understanding the Biblical texts seriously. This site is not Christian, nor is it Jewish, nor is it affiliated with any specific religious tradition. Whether we allow for "the presence of diverse doctrinal absolutism" or embrace pluralism, the site should not favor any specific religious tradition over another nor allow a tradition's terms used in scholarly discourse to dominate discourse on BH.SE (for instance, using 'Old Testament' or 'Tanakh' as a primary tag rather than 'Hebrew Bible').
  • We don't allow doctrinal questions. This meta answer goes so far as to assert that "any discussion of beliefs, doctrines or theology belongs on Christianity.SE.," to which I would also add MiYodeya.SE. Another meta post explains that BH.SE "should work forwards from a given text but stop short of application and doctrine.... 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 [sic]."
  • We don't allow questions that are specifically about the Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew languages. Our About page makes it clear that these types of questions are off topic. Thus questions should only receive answers that explain the language insofar as it helps understand a specific text (we have inconsistently allowed several questions that violate this rule, however).
  • We don't allow questions about ancient history without reference to Biblical texts. This is also stated on our About page. It might be better to edit this statement to say "without reference to specific Biblical texts" (I also believe we have been somewhat inconsistent on this as well).
  • We must be nice. According to site policy, "Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated. Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you because we’re all here to learn, together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know, and bring your sense of humor." We don't all agree on what constitutes being rude in this field, however. The definition of civility is "formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech." I believe that not allowing the needless disparagement of biblical and related scholarly texts, religious traditions, and theological positions would be a good start. A user has noted that many "biblical scholars" of the past did not follow this rule, which is true. At the same time, I believe that Legaspi has made it clear that Biblical Studies as a separate discipline from scriptural studies (which exclusively represented perspectives within or in opposition towards various faith groups) did not come to exist until the late 18th century in Germany. Thus you will not find examples prior to this as these would be examples relevant to C.SE or MY.SE not to what we are aiming for on BH.SE.

I believe that BH.SE also has some unique challenges that we must address and resolve soon in order for this site to remain viable:

  • We are inconsistent. We have not followed two out of the three site distinctives I listed above which came directly from our About page. We need to ensure that we follow (and enforce) existing site guidelines and maintain our distinctives.
  • We don't agree on what texts are on topic. As mentioned above, neither do Christians or Jews for that matter. We must specify the texts that are on topic in order to move forward satisfactorily. Once we have done that, we must also not allow people to disparage these texts needlessly simply because of their religious tradition or personal prejudices.
  • We do not have agreed-upon definitions of commonly used terms in the field. Some terms have differing academic, textual, and even pejorative meanings. Examples include apocryphal, pagan, and (as it stands) biblical. For instance, I might (correctly) refer to Porphyry as a pagan philosopher, meaning that he was a polytheistic writer from the classical world. At the same time, I might discuss the meaning of the Greek adjective ἐθνικός which occurs throughout Biblical literature, which was somewhat of a derogatory term used by first-century Jews to refer to a Gentile. But I might also call a modern non-Judeo-Christian scholar a 'pagan' in a deprecatory fashion. This last use is inappropriate, but the first two have a place in scholarly discourse within the field of Biblical Studies. The alternative to having a central list of definitions is requiring OPs to define their terms when they use them, which seems excessively burdensome but may be the only way forward if we do not wish to standardize our terms and their meanings.

False Dichotomy?

There are those who might argue that distinguishing between the study of Scripture and Biblical Studies creates a false dichotomy. I believe that Legaspi sufficiently defends the distinction in his book (and he even argues for a return to Scriptural study - thus against the direction of this site - but decidedly within a specific religious framework), but I would also argue that our site definition and the existence of C.SE and MY.SE justify (and perhaps even necessitate) such a distinction.

There are certainly those who will refuse to acknowledge such a dichotomy, or who will patently reject one field/approach over the other. These individuals are free to ask their questions on a site that encourages asking and answering exclusively from the perspective of their specific religious tradition. For those who acknowledge the distinction, they will learn (and many have already learned) to tailor their question(s) to each site in order to remain within site guidelines and to receive answers suited to the strengths and scope of each site.

What Does The Community Want?

I think I've made my position abundantly clear. It's time to hear back from the community. What do you want? Do you want a site devoted to Biblical Studies (as defined), or do you want a place for the study of Scripture?

It is my belief that existing sites already exist for the latter, and thus a choice for the latter or a choice for both brings our site viability into question. Thoughts?

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    This is an awesome question for so many reasons, but not least because of the extensive research and thinking you have done for us. Thank you! – Jack Douglas Sep 7 '13 at 7:28
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    @JackDouglas thanks! I won't lie: I spent almost an entire day reading and thinking and writing to produce this. Of course everyone is free to disagree, but it was good to organize and develop my thoughts on all of this. I basically ended up returning to ScottS's post about site viability, and I'm honestly beginning to wonder if he's right. Perhaps this site is pursuing an unattainable ideal. – Dan Sep 7 '13 at 7:34
  • When hermeneutics stops short at application, it ceases being hermeneutics. To ask "What did the text mean to the author and his audience?" is an exegetical question. To ask "What does the text mean to us today?" is a hermeneutical question. The interplay--or symbiotic relationship, if you will--between the two questions as participants attempt to answer them is necessary, good, and proper. To attempt to hermetically(!) seal one from the other is to wind up with either a truncated and feckless hermeneutic or an eisegetical mishmash, neither of which is preferable. Don – rhetorician Sep 30 '14 at 18:22
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    @rhetorician The main issue we often see (certainly exhibited in your answers a lot) is not a matter of where to leave off, it's a matter of where to start. While there is unresolved tension adout how far this site should run with answers, there is solid agreement on where answers should be required to start and build from. We don't want just the conclusions of applied hermeneutics, we want the process that gets there starting from the specifics of the text. Your comment about truncation is concerned with the wrong end of the stick. – Caleb Oct 1 '14 at 5:50
  • @Caleb: I prophesy that we'll never see eye to eye on this issue. And that's OK. Neither of us will lose a night's sleep worrying about it. It's kind of like the lap dog who took umbrage when encountering a blind man's guide dog on the bus: they just didn't see eye to eye. Perhaps I can put our dilemma this way: the goal, and even the raison d'etre of hermeneutics--to me, at least--is application. The Bible is not a textbook; it is an owner's manual. God meant its timeless truths to be applied. The OT, Paul tells us, was written for our instruction, – rhetorician Oct 1 '14 at 17:01
  • so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). The true test of the effectiveness of instruction is in the doing, not the hearing. "Don't be hearers only, but doers of the word," said Jesus' step-brother, James (1:22). The Scripture is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). It should never become simply an intellectual exercise, though God is pleased when we use our intelligence to get at and apply its meaning to our lives. I have much more to say, but . . . (John 16:12). – rhetorician Oct 1 '14 at 17:15
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I keep reading this and I think you are starting to lose track of what this site is all about. Stack Exchange's mission with every site is to make the internet better. We also like to talk about expert answers to your questions. But don't get too hung up on the word "expert"; we really mean knowledgeable. On our sites we have some honest-to-goodness experts. It's really cool to have your programming question answered by the person who designed the framework or to answer a networking question asked by a game design genius who comes back to share his results. But these are very much the exceptions and not the rule.

We like experts, but we don't cater to them. John Carmack answered one question and never even bothered to register. Frankly, I think his time is better spent designing games and giving awesome presentations. I think that the experts that do hang out around our sites do so because they love teaching. They see users flailing around as an opportunity and not a turn-off. It pleases me no end to read posts from the people I look up to in the Perl community who have dedicated decades patiently helping wave after wave of new users understand that language's peculiar charm.

This isn't going to be a walled garden for people who already know how to study the Bible. Think of me as the angel standing before Eden; it was nice when the site was young and Google hadn't discovered it, but we aren't going back there. From now on, expect to see more evidence that people haven't the first clue about how to read our texts. Every time we do site evaluations the results are clear: the internet sets a low bar for Biblical Studies. It's easy to make the internet better.

Plus, and this isn't news to anyone, many great Bible scholars of our day publish books, blogposts, give talks and sermons, contribute to journals and so on. We all know where to find these. But the average person struggling to read the Holy Bible they got as a confirmation gift isn't about to read that stuff. They might like to get an answer to a question or two from someone who has read up on the scholarship, however. That's where this site really shines.

A complaint about your top user.

When I look over the list of top users by reputation, I'm appalled by the name at the top. Do you know that that guy doesn't have a degree in anything related to Biblical Studies? He hasn't even taken an accredited course in the field. He don't read either Greek or Hebrew, much less Aramaic, German, Latin, Egyptian, etc. and so on. His answers are hopelessly grounded in Christian theology and his questions are often too basic. Why do you let that guy stay at the top of your reputation list?

Let me tell you out of the love that I have for you: my posts have been upvoted, not because I know the Bible better than you do (I don't), but because I'm better and more eager to explain what I do know to people who are looking for such knowledge. You are my people, but you waste a lot of time fighting over things that are not mission critical. (I have too. I still do that more often than I should.) Will changing our name help even one person understand Job's anguish or David's joy or Paul's pleading? Will changing our scope make Joseph or Jesus or Isaiah step out of the page and become real people? Do our comments, chat and meta posts raise the level of net human knowledge?

Summary

I respectfully ask that if you are not interested helping users who are far from expert, please don't hinder those of us who are.

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    I appreciate your answer. I hope by now that you can see that I do want to help people who are far from experts. And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure there are some minimum quality standards that help them find good answers and not get distracted by crap. And if you read my comments to users (even those who in my opinion post crap), I hope you can see that I am trying to help them (my most recent examples apparently were deleted as they were on questions that were also deleted, but not by me). – Dan Sep 12 '13 at 18:54
  • When dealing specifically with most users (not mods), this is my general tone. I hope you can come to see that while we disagree on what approach should be taken here, that doesn't mean that I care any less about helping users. – Dan Sep 12 '13 at 18:56
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    And @JonEricson, while your answers are indeed grounded in Christian theology (as are mine), you've learned to communicate your perspective respectfully. My contention is with those who refuse to do so. I'm also pointing out that we've stacked the deck in favor of Christians here. I'm asking us to evaluate biases inherent in the field. This will make the site a more welcoming place. – Dan Sep 12 '13 at 19:03
  • And @JonEricson, it does seem that this post is more of an emotional reaction to the events of the past few days than it is a response to the specific points I've made. I can somewhat get that - I have no idea what you have to deal with on a daily basis in the SE neighborhoods. At the same time, I would appreciate a response to my actual arguments and not just a general impression of them. I respect your opinions because they often challenge my own and cause me to re-evaluate my positions (same with Jack, Caleb, Monica, etc.). – Dan Sep 12 '13 at 19:08
  • I am also trying to make the Internet a better place by making this site better - in the best way I know how. I get that we disagree on how. Please help me understand why we disagree. Also, it seems you're reading an entire context into this answer that is simply not here. This post is asking about future direction in regards to Biblical vs. Scriptural studies. I'm presuming you want a site with both - I clearly only want a site for Biblical studies. If you do want both, please explain how these two can coexist without causing most non-Christians to leave. – Dan Sep 12 '13 at 19:37
  • @Dan: One word: democratically. – Jon Ericson Sep 12 '13 at 20:25
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    same here, I throw these ideas out so the community can vote and voice their feedback. So far the post about allowing no doctrine has 18 upvotes and Monica has the top answer here. That seems to indicate to me that the community wants less doctrine/dogma. But I get that we still need to wait to see the final outcome. – Dan Sep 12 '13 at 20:31
  • Sadly it is difficult here due to low meta participation. Getting even 5 upvotes is a big deal it seems. I'm trying to get clear definitions and guidelines. – Dan Sep 12 '13 at 20:37
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    @Dan You drew some distinction in your post above so I know you know how to interpret it, but this comment takes a major step backwards. The "post about allowing no doctrine" is in the context of question scope but you just cited it as proof of something else. Not wanting our question scope to include questions about doctrine is entirely a different thing than wanting to force theology-neutral answers! Every time that "18 vote" statistic is used in support of something other than question scope I feel like my own vote is turned against me! – Caleb Sep 13 '13 at 7:27
  • That is an important distinction @Caleb. Good observation. I'll chew on that. – Dan Sep 13 '13 at 15:43
  • @GoneQuiet: Let's try another way: when I contemplate the site envisioned in the question... well, I'm not interested. I might ask and answer questions there, but I'd never enforce rules that way. It just wouldn't be fun or rewarding. – Jon Ericson Oct 6 '13 at 5:37
  • You are no longer #1 in rep. :) – ThaddeusB Oct 3 '15 at 1:36
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Some notes:

You'd like to attract actual experts, but you want to be welcoming to the enthusiastic amateur. That's tough in this field. The experts I've asked have shied away from this site because of the enthusiastic participation of the folks who post the most out-there interpretative answers. And I picked the phrase 'out there' as a weakening of the characterization from, I think, Jon Ericson.

You'd like to make a home for people of various faith traditions. However, the constant tide of Christian readings can make it tough sledding for the rest of us. In prior exchanges here on meta, we've had only a partial meeting of the minds on the nature of majority-minority relations. One aspect of this is that things that seem very clearly Christian to some of us don't seem very far off of the neutral position to many Christians. That's life.

If I were dean, which I am not, I'd suggest sticking to a rather tight focus on 'what do the words mean.' We can argue all day long about the precise boundary where doctrinal considerations arrive.

I think that one source of the problem here is the combination of NT and HB studies. At least until some Muslims or Baha'i show up, there's no problem of 'appropriation' with the NT. It's a Christian text written by Christians for Christians. Over the centuries, there have certainly been some violent controversies over the text, and maybe someday there will be a battle royal here over an NT text. The co-location of the two topics means that natural modes of thought and expression for NT questions are potentially a problem when applied to HB questions.

Mostly, I wish that Dan would prevail here. I can see myself continuing to show up and participate in a site that applied his criteria.

If I continue to find the typical HB question decorated with unsupported claims about Chinese astronomy, or elaborate allegorical interpretations in a Christian mode with no citations, I'll probably become quiet. or Quiet.

One more note on Stack Exchange mechanics. The Stack Exchange system has a low-ish bar for question management, and a much higher one for answers. On this site, I'm afraid, what is needed is just the other way around. The posts that drive some of us away are just about all answers. I don't offer a pat answer for the solution here; there are definitely problems with trying to talk the diamonds into imposing a whole lot of discipline via deletion. That's not the usual SE way.

Some Responses to Jack

I'm not seriously proposing that the solution to these arguments is to tighten the scope to peshat. I couldn't write answers about cognate cultures under those rules :-) Dan proposes something far more flexible. I framed that remark as I did because I agree that it's not going to fly. It was a way to trying to capture some of what seems hard to me about the situation.

As I've written before, an ounce of owning one's assumptions is worth a pound of gatekeeping. If Mike Bull would preface his answers with some note about what tradition he comes from and some sort of 'well, here's one way to look at the text,' I wouldn't have the same level of reaction to them.

I don't mean to accuse the Christian community members in general of blindness to these issues. I see some downvotes. I recognize that the downvotes that aren't there can reflect the low traffic and honest disagreements. If the early beta of stackoverflow had been plagued by people entering answers that threatened, for some reason, to send a fraction of the expert population to their address bar with a headache, Atwood et. al. would have had a problem on their hands. Downvotes were 'expensive'. But heavy-handed moderation was not desired. They didn't have this problem, so they didn't change site mechanics to address it.

Let me make an entirely positive alternative suggestion: if there were more upvotes of answers that were consistent with the consensus here, such as it is, there's be less issue with the presence of answers that lead to fraught conversation.

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    thanks for the notes. Sometimes I think I'm standing alone and for nothing, it's refreshing to know there are others who see things from this side of things as well. – Dan Sep 22 '13 at 23:29
  • Thanks for this helpful post, it's very well written and articulates your thinking clearly. A tight focus on 'what do the words mean.' is obviously one option for changing the site, but I'm personally worried we'd become so niche that the site would no longer be viable. Btw, I don't think you are right with the implication that Christians don't notice the POV answers. I personally find many that I don't find very useful, and I think the voting on the site broadly reflects a bias towards the kinds of answers you and I prefer. – Jack Douglas Sep 23 '13 at 8:57
  • Re your Chineese astrology example: What part of 5 downvotes do you think makes that post a "decoration" as if it was representative of how we wanted things to look? Do the votes and comments make it pretty clear that NONE of us are passing that off as exemplary answering? – Caleb Sep 25 '13 at 12:51
  • It had no downvotes only a little while ago. – user947 Sep 25 '13 at 13:22
  • @bmargulies you touched a point in your answer about Muslims showing up, so I would like to draw your attention to this post where the similar Muslim case is also explained : meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/714/… – bib Sep 26 '13 at 3:30
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I think to create a construct of terms dividing 'biblical studies' form 'scriptural studies' it biting off to much to chew for this site, even years to come. The subject that divides them is simply too complex and overlapping. Oxford will never figure it out. The problem is that each style starts with presuppositions on the meaning of scripture as a whole, with endless splits on each side. Maybe its just better to state the assumptions one thinks is reasonable in their Q&A rather then hoping that everyone will ever agree on what those assumptions should be. In the end the reason why I think stackexchage works is because of its technology. Users being able to vote and interact with comments is central to its success. So is some moderation that maintains a certain amounts of credibility in researched answers. Of course a certain standard of civility and even political correctness has to be observed as it is a public site catering to many views.

If we get too insistent in specific assumptions about scripture such as we must not assume, their infallibility, or we must assume their infallibility. If we insist scripture must be revered and obeyed in order to understand its meaning, or deny such a claim and insist rather that we must critically imagine the possibility of even great misleading and unethical teachings within it, we can't force our view on the public and expect the site viable.

Actually all things considered, the current direction within the FAQ is probably just about right (and I actually resented some of those devloments a bit at first). All we can hope is that more and more people join being satisfied to allow differing views and different approaches to scripture itself, so that we can build a knowledgable community that offers something unique in the world. I still believe this site will naturally grow to fill its niche market. Its just a given that scriptural exegesis that starts with original languages and ends before full doctrine and application is 'limited'. Naturally there is not a huge population in the world that will find that interesting but I still do. I also do not mind people sharing thoughts completely opposed to mine. I still find that kind of exposure, exposure to my intellectual opposites, one of the best ways to learn.

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    Mike, I believe that you often go far beyond the text in your answers into the realms of doctrine. Also, I don't think participants need to agree with site assumptions such as pluralism, they merely must learn to operate within that framework. I see your point concerning being satisfied with the existing approach/standards (which I've demonstrated are inconsistent), but it makes me question why I wouldn't just ask my question on C.SE instead so I can get a 'full' answer from my preferred perspective. – Dan Sep 7 '13 at 15:07
  • And Mike, please don't take this as a personal attack. The reality is that I often enjoy hearing your perspective as it aligns closer to my own approach to the text (allegorical/typological), however I just don't think it is always on topic and justified here at BH.SE (not to say that is never is, just not as often as it is currently used). – Dan Sep 7 '13 at 15:10
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    @Dan - ha ha I get what you mean about sometime wanting the full answer. To me this site looks at the root and the blade shoot of the plant but only '1 cm' from the ground! No higher or we have failed. The down side is stubby shoots are not that pretty sometimes. A full grown plant is much more enjoyable to look at. I see this site like a woman with her lovely hair cut to military levels and although her beauty is impaired, looking at her little whiskers has its own attraction to me for it is the start of important matters. Funny though no more unity at a whisker level then among dogmatics. – Mike Sep 7 '13 at 16:35
  • If I may slightly rephrase what you are saying in the first paragraph: the Stack Exchange system does a pretty good job of crowdsourcing community standards. It's a bottom-up system, not a top-down one. Thank you for the insight. – Jon Ericson Sep 12 '13 at 17:23

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