What assumptions can be brought to a text? When does work need to be shown when it comes to assumptions inherent in various hermeneutical approaches?

I am primarily asking about questions. Feel free to comment on any options you agree with if you'd like to see such standards required for answers as well. For the record, my current thinking is that these standards should be enforced for questions (edit/close/delete nonconformity), but only encouraged for answers (answers that don't follow these guidelines might be downvoted but don't require editing/deletion).

  • I do think that good answers should follow these guidelines. I just think that editing/deleting bad answers rather than simply DVing them into oblivion is a mild form of censorship and I want to avoid that.
    – Dan
    Nov 9, 2013 at 5:56

4 Answers 4


The Bible is not one continuous book, it is a collection of texts shared by the Judeo-Christian religious traditions

  • We can't assume that two authors of separate works agreed (except when stated explicitly in the text itself). You can't cite Mark as evidence to support a position advanced by Paul without supporting your reasoning. For instance, if you made the case that Mark was likely a disciple of Paul, then you could probably conclude that Mark's understanding of a topic is similar to Paul's - but this 'if' should be stated. But to flat out assume that James and Paul agreed on the topic of faith's role in salvation (and who was the subject/object of saving faith) is not acceptable. Apparent contradictions (even if explained away as paradoxical or perceived) require justification/explanation. Even more tenuous are citations from the Hebrew Bible to support New Testament teachings. Continuity between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is an assumption and should be explicitly stated as such (and in the case of questions about the Hebrew Bible with no mention of New Testament texts, it's relevance will likely also need to be defended). There are of course exceptions, such as when a New Testament text itself cites the Hebrew Bible. In fact, using instances where a New Testament text cites a Hebrew Bible text would be a strong argument that the author considered his or her work to be in continuity with it.

  • The use of hermeneutics that carry religious/doctrinal assumptions still requires the explicit statement of these assumptions in order to fully 'show your work'. For instance, if your hermeneutic is allegorical and its primary assumption is that everything in the Bible points to and is centered on Jesus Christ - this should be explicitly stated. If it's not stated and your answer makes an unsupported assertion that X Hebrew Bible passage is a prophecy pointing to Jesus, it will likely be downvoted for not showing its work. In addition to being an assumption, claiming continuity between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is also a doctrinal assertion in most cases. Once your assumption is stated, that still does not necessarily mean your assertion of fulfilled prophecy is well supported, but it is one step in the process that ought to be stated for the benefit of readers who find your answer via a search engine.

  • We can't assume that there is any sort of harmony or canonicity in the compiled texts referred to as the Bible on this site. Canonicity is a doctrinal concept, and is dismissed for this reason. But unity or harmony in subject matter is an assumption that must be supported. This means that you are not free to 'proof-text' ideas/assertions using passages from various authors in varying time periods (with the exception of when the author of the text does so him or herself).

I know that I was very redundant in making this point, but I felt it needed to be said. This is all part of having a logical argument so that all 'leaps in logic' are supported.

  • 2
    @Dan-"We can't assume that there is any sort of harmony or canonicity in the compiled texts referred to as the Bible on this site". I couldn't disagree more. The fact that it is "Biblical Hermeneutics" and not "Koran" Hermeneutics or "Marvel Comics" Hermeneutics is implicit in stating that the 'Bible' is the scope of the 'Hermeneutical' discussion and therefore all input is based on the 'Bible' as our source reference. Canonocity was decided long ago-whether or not you agree with the conclusions is really not your choice. But you if DO agree(and most do), then it is our measuring stick.
    – Tau
    Nov 10, 2013 at 3:17
  • @Dan-In your case, if we drop the word 'Bible' and just say 'Hermeneutics' we might get crashed by a bunch of physicists discussing string theory. As to your point on 'merely' literature, IF/ You discuss the Bible as authoritative(worthy of hermeneutic)::THEN/you must rest on the conclusions that it makes-regardless of your feelings about them. That you use a 'methodolgy' and framework to understand it is ENTIRELY WITHIN the scope of our discussion; to disregard 'prima facie' it's content is without.
    – Tau
    Nov 10, 2013 at 3:32
  • @Dan-I believe in 'showing your work', just like our algebra teachers expounded. To say "A=Z" without any point of reference belittles the audience and casts doubt on one's conclusion. But as to 'not proof-texting' ideas from various passages within Scripture, when it clearly is the model for evaluating text of those WITHIN Scripture again strikes at the heart of the 'Authoritative/Canononical' foundation it rests on. 'Bad' Hermeneutics can easily be deciphered-even if other source texts are used.
    – Tau
    Nov 10, 2013 at 3:49
  • 1
    @user2479 one can bring these assumptions if they'd like, but they are assumptions, regardless of who decided them long ago. All I'm saying is that these assumptions need to be stated, then you are free to proceed. I'm not banning perspectives that believe the texts are canonical - I'm just asking for this assumption to be stated when it affects how one interprets a text.
    – Dan
    Nov 10, 2013 at 6:21
  • So you believe that the Bible has contradictions, so you should point this out in all answers you make. Nov 18, 2013 at 20:43

The Bible as a Work of Literature

  • This site approaches the Bible as literature, not as Scripture / sacred writings. Participants need not agree with this stance, they must merely understand that this is the site's approach to the text. We cannot assume that the text was 'inspired' by a deity - this is an assumption (and doctrinal assertion) that should be explicitly stated.
  • We cannot assume that the text is true or accurate. This doesn't mean that we must assume it is false or inaccurate, just that any assumption of either must be explicitly stated and/or defended.
  • We cannot assume that the text applies to a specific group (or to oneself) today. I've addressed this in depth elsewhere so I will say nothing more about it.
  • We cannot assume the text is relevant to a later issue or idea in history (cf. anachronism, e.g. asking what a first-century text says about a Christian doctrine that developed post-15th century). It is best to ask "What does this text mean?" rather than "What does this text say about [anachronistic topic X]?" or even worse, "Does this text mean [X]?"

We don't know who wrote these texts

In a court of law, if we were to assert that someone was the author of a work, we would need to provide proof. Self testimony is generally sufficient proof, but less so if the person is dead (and there is a dispute about whether the text was written within their lifetime or not). We could also look at their writing style and compare it to works that we definitively know were written by them, or ideally we could produce eyewitnesses who saw them write the text (or in modern times, unaltered video footage of them doing so).

When discussing ancient texts, we generally don't have this level of proof. Granted, we aren't discussing texts in an effort to defend them in a court of law, but we still should be careful about what assumptions we make about authorship. This can be confusing because many books are commonly named after their presumed author (such as the Gospels), but scholars disagree on whether or not the Gospels' namesakes are truly their authors. It is OK to limit the scope of a question by assuming certain authorship, but this assumption should be stated as such (e.g. "Assuming John wrote the fourth Gospel, what...?").


The default should always be that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

If someone doesn't hold that point of view, then they should state it.

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