Recently, a question regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (regarding women being silent in church) was asked. The literal interpretation of the text in itself creates and implies doctrine.

However, this question was asking about the historical context and interpretation of this text. This is clearly seeking an exegetical answer, rather than a doctrinal one.

Furthermore, it seems clear from these meta posts:

that any doctrinal discussion is off-limits. And I whole-heartedly agree with this guideline/rule.

Furthermore, per Are questions about the Old Testament from a purely Christian perspective off-topic?, it seems that the community has decided to allow topics that ask for the Christian perspective of text.

How far is too far? What is acceptable?

I believe that we need a canonical answer here with a sharp division to address these two and all future issues that will arise regarding doctrine, doctrinal stance, and doctrinal interpretation.

  • 1
    In order to insure fairness, I won't be answering on this topic. So, please post your answers!
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 18:00
  • 3
    I'd say it's too early to say the community has decided anything at all. :-) Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 18:29
  • 2
    I agree that doctrine is out of scope; where I think we are not in agreement is what is in the realm of doctrine. Your question is presuming an answer to that, with which I'm not sure I agree..
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 18:36
  • @JonEricson If you disagree, you'd better hurry to get your opinion in those questions. Because this one in particular has absolutely no dissension that doctrine is off topic.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 18:42
  • Not really the time or place for me to lay out my theory of consensus building. ;-) I'm comfortable with Soldarnal's answer: meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1/… Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:15
  • 3
    Soldarnal's answer agrees that C.SE is the place for doctrine... ie "practice and history of Christianity".
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:29
  • @GoneQuiet It's good to include that link, but you could think of that link as the follow-up to this question, since that link was only 2 days ago and this question was 2 years ago...
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 11:22

6 Answers 6


I prefer less doctrine, but I'm bias because I'm part of a non-Christian minority on this site.

I do like questions that explicitly explore how doctrine affects the interpretation of a verse, e.g.: Pre-Christian, Jewish interpretation of Psalm 22.

However an: "Is this a reference to Jesus?" type-question makes an assumption about the content of the Old Testament that I wouldn't agree with.

In response to Jon Ericson's comment:

There is nothing wrong with answering a question from doctrine. Any question I answer is inevitably informed by my own theological assumptions. Nevertheless, the more explicit we are about the assumptions we make and the more aware we are that these assumptions are not universal, the more open our site will be.

Despite my own religious beliefs, I try to word my answers so that they might be appreciated by Bible scholars who reject the divine authorship of the Bible. I think this is a level of universality we should try to achieve.

  • I agree with this completely. Unfortunately, doctrine must play somewhat of a role. I'd really like a nice, solid rule or guideline to help out our moderators know what to close or leave open. Could you help out by determining where the line is between doctrine and exegesis?
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:13
  • 1
    I'm glad to know there are non-Christians here. Out of curiosity, what examples of doctrine have you seen here that you would prefer to see less of. Feel free to link to the offending posts. I'm worried that we are all equivocating on the word doctrine. ;-) Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:17
  • 1
    Fair enough. I'd love to see the Micah question answered from a specifically Jewish (i.e., historical) perspective. I don't have a problem with discouraging askers from poisoning the well, so to speak. So the Micah question probably needs to be reworked. But assuming those questions were answered from a Christian perspective asserting they are prophesies fulfilled in Jesus, how would you propose handling those answers? Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:48
  • Excellent! Would that I had more than one vote to give to this answer! Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 20:01
  • 2
    As I read the Micah question, it's not specifically asking for Christian answers. It's asking whether the verse is talking about Jesus or not. I'll grant that it's not the most well-formulated question out there, but anyone is free to answer it.
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 1:52
  • The answer I accepted for the Micah question brought in history, and how Jews interpreted the verse at the time of Jesus.
    – stringo0
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 21:37
  • @Amichai, I'd love your thoughts on my answer at the question about interpreting the OT from a Christian perspective - meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/70/…
    – stringo0
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 21:39
  • @Monica: I've got my eye on the common author of those answers and I think others might too. The proper response should be to challenge assumptions in comments (as you have done) and vote down and/or ignore the answers if they aren't corrected. Ideally, we can add our own answers, which hopefully will be voted up. Questions are the trickier bit since the asker has some power to direct the conversation to a degree. Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 18:34
  • @Monica: Would a tag synonym be welcomed? (FYI: I've started using "Tanakh" in contexts where it makes sense after learning about the word from a good friend who has Jewish parents and converted to Christianity. But I worry that I'll sound a bit like the dentist who "converted to Judaism just for the jokes": seinfeldscripts.com/TheYadaYada.htm) Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 18:41
  • @GoneQuiet, thanks for bringing this to my attention.
    – Amichai
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 20:18

For the women speaking in church question, I can see being uncomfortable with the original phrasing:

How are we to understand this passage's application to church function today?

But the revised version fixed quite a lot with a relatively minor edit:

What was Paul's intent in conveying this command?

The first, to borrow language from the Inductive Method, lands the question in Application and the second is Interpretation. I think the edit rehabilitated the question altogether.

I'd say that any question that primarily addresses the meaning of a text to the original audience is on-topic even if the resulting answer has a clear application. Questions that assume a meaning of the text and jump right to application must be fixed to avoid losing our focus on hermeneutics.

What makes the Micah tricky is that it's suggesting an interpretive lens. If the question insisted on that lens (e.g., "This passage is about Jesus. Help me prove that."), it would need fixing. But in my opinion, it leaves room for other lenses to be applied. Maybe even the suggestion that a text should be interpreted one way or another ought to be off limits, but I think not. Suggesting an interpretation shows the asker has thought about the question on their own. If they were certain the particular solution worked, they wouldn't be asking the question (unless they were planing to self-answer, of course).

I'd further suggest that insisting on not covering doctrine is itself a doctrinal framework. If I had to leave my previous understanding of the Bible on the threshold of this site, it would make asking and answering here almost impossible and ensure that none of my words would be authentic. Avoiding application altogether would eliminate the most important reason for me to interact with these ancient texts.

We need to be careful with people bringing their own doctrine into this community, however. As I see it, the problem with outside doctrine hinges on those ideas drowning out the texts themselves. If each question brings a predictable set of answers in the form of "My pastor says...", the site has failed its mission. I propose solving the problem, not by making doctrinal evidence verboten, but by setting the value of such evidence for the general community at or very near zero. If an answer consist of nothing but doctrinal evidence, its not worth anything and ought to be voted down.

Letting the texts speak for themselves is our best hope for bringing in a variety of answers and allowing them all to have equal footing.

(My view on closing questions is a minority (possibly of one) position: I think no question that still has a chance to gather on-topic answers should be closed.)

  • There's no doubt that doctrine must play a role. The question is how much of a role we allow it to play? (Ideally, I'd like a hard-and-fast rule about this to help our moderators know what to migrate and what to leave.) The 1 Cor. 14 verse spoke quite clearly for itself regarding application in the modern church. Yet, that is application, which we should avoid. I would just like a single sentence or two to summarize a nice solid rule for this, if possible.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Richard: So you'd like to establish a doctrine of doctrinal migration? ;-) Personally, I find such rules do more harm than good on the StackExchange sites. I don't think moderators should be encouraged to act before thinking. (But I have a very idiosyncratic view of the whole business and you might want to take my words with a grain of salt.) Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:27
  • I agree that they should think before acting. Still, they will need guidelines on when to act. At least some basic principles other than "well sometimes yes, sometimes no!" Even if it's not "hard-and-fast rules", just some basic guidelines. That's what I'm looking for and what I'm not getting here.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:31
  • @Richard: I feel your frustration. I've been through this with several other site betas and I've seen this stuff get worked out. Maybe it will help to know that the sites are governed by a form of common law (rules + precedent) rather than civic law (just rules equally applied). The way things tend to work is we have a rule ("No Doctrine!") and then it's tempered by examples ("unless it's like one of these 12 exceptions found in precedent"). Moderators both apply the rules and create them in the same way judges do in England or the United States. Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:41
  • 5
    Being a moderator, I fully understand the subjective nature of moderating. However, writing guidelines is a critical aspect of building a system of rules and regulations. Common law does not exist in a vacuum! Ray's answer gives an example of a guideline that I've been seeking.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:48
  • I agree with both of you here. I definitely think we need something concrete, but I confer to @JonEricson's wisdom here that it can evolve. When I read the question, I was confused as to why the 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 question was problematic, but this answer explains it. I agree that the question should be flagged if it's asking for an application, but it should be okay if it's saying something like "What was Paul's intent in conveying this command?" I think the question should be re-opened with the question edited by a moderator.
    – stringo0
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 21:44

I think it will be pretty critical to have a very concise test that one can apply without looking at all the rules of what one can and cannot post on this site. For the exegetical questions (which are, I understand, what this post is asking about), I propose this test:

Is this something you'd expect to find in a Biblical commentary?

  • I like it: meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/4/… Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:52
  • good example, @JonEricson
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:55
  • 2
    I feel it necessary to note that this is not an airtight test. But it's an attempt at defining what is on-topic rather than what is off-topic. What is off-topic is what deviates too much from the center.
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:58
  • I borrowed this answer to feed an answer to a different question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/182/… I wonder if this would be a good place to mention that sometimes commentators take off their hermeneutical hats and put on pundit hats? Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 21:03
  • 3
    This is very understandable but I'm concerned that it doesn't draw the boundaries very concisely. I have complaints with a lot of commentaries because of their doctrinal bias. In some I agree with the doctrine and appreciate how its defended, in others I'm almost offended! Sometimes I pull out bits of understanding from them about a text, but I've come to expect to have to discard a lot of content from some Biblical commentaries
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 21:03
  • 1
    As mentioned in chat, I'm not really sold on this test myself. I was thinking of this as less of a definition than as a quick test that I use myself to check if my thoughts fit or not. I actually tried to downvote this, but it wouldn't let me
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 21:15

I like Ray's concise test, but I wonder if it will still allow rather too much room for bad questions as there is a huge and diverse range and style of commentaries. I think it needs to be explicitly combined with:

Does this question solicit research and concrete evidence-based answers or does it solicit opinion, controversy, open-ended chat and debate.

Obviously this criteria is in the FAQ but I'm also worried that some 'good' questions might end up failing Ray's rule. My own preference would be to keep it simple:

Questions about biblical text or the interpretation thereof that solicit research and concrete evidence-based answers

  • 2
    I think this is a very good description of what is GOOD, but it doesn't draw any lines about what is too much doctrine. Most doctrines however conflicting SHOULD have good research and be based on evidence.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 21:00
  • I also agree that this is a nice definition. But research and concrete evidence-based answers can be found about doctrinal interpretation of answers as well. I'm not sure if this is the best measure. (This is an unfortunately difficult answer.)
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 14:12

I think as long as the question is asking for an interpretation, it is valid. If it goes beyond, I would recommend a moderator edit it.

I highly disagree that the question on 1 Cor 14 is off-topic, especially in its currently edited form.

I really like Blundin's highly upvoted answer at the C.SE Question. The 1 Cor 14 question definitely passes the good question templates there.

I think if a question is in the "gray" area, it should be allowed and watched. If it starts to drift off topic, then vote to close it, or just down vote the off-topic answers.

If it's clearly a bad question, then definitely close it.

As long as a question is related to interpreting a passage, I think it's okay to allow such questions even if they result in answers from different doctrinal perspectives. Off-topic answers can be down-voted and commented on, to guide future answers.


It is difficult if not impossible to exegete and not have doctrine. Doctrine is simply 'teaching'. If you derive the meaning of a text, you are teaching.

If I understand what I have been reading:

You don't want discussions focused around resolving doctrinal issues which would require lists of verses supporting different positions in order to arrive at a solution that sums up and includes everything the Bible says about it.

But a question concerning a single verse supporting a particular doctrinal issue is OK.

So "Is Predestination a biblical teaching" is off limits, but "Does verse xxx support the doctrine of predestination" is OK.

"What hermeneutic is used on verse xxx to support predestination?" is better.

"What hermeneutic is used on verse xxx to support predestination when the plain language appears to make it support free will?" is best.

Do I understand?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .