This is in response to an attempt I made at an edit and discussion that ensued, which in turn lead to a Meta question. We know that this site focuses on meaning of the text, and stops short of application. It appears there is a generally accepted understanding that we will seek to avoid questions that pertain to applying the text and that the bottom line is whether intent of the questioner to understand the text.. That seems notably subjective. Can we agree upon some guidelines as to what constitutes applying the text?
I've been giving this a little thought, and it is a difficult question. But some word-pairs started forming, and they seemed to provide a helpful diagnostic. I'm not sure how helpful this will be but ... FWIW, then (n.b. ALL of these assume textually-based questions -- that's a given):
+-----------------------+-----------------------+ | On-topic | Off-topic | +-----------------------+-----------------------+ | - what the text meant | - what the text means | | - text production | - text consumption | | - descriptive | - prescriptive | +-----------------------+-----------------------+
(1) Meant/Means: This is, of course Krister Stendahl's (in)famous distinction that has been much discussed and criticized, and each of my three word-pairs relates to it. Essentially, though, as a diagnostic tool, if any given Q&A is attending to the linguistic, literary, or theological dimensions of the text as it was understood by its authors and reading community in antiquity (what it "meant", past tense), we'll be on safe ground.
(2) Production/Consumption: This might simply be another way of saying (1), but this shifts the perspective from "meaning" (as in (1)), to the activity around or processes in the text. If the Q&A is orientated towards processes and actions of textual "production" (authorship, editing, transmission), rather than "consumption", i.e., the text's use and adoption by recent or contemporary reading communities, then we'll be on safe ground.1
(3) Descriptive/Prescriptive: This is sometime stated in terms of "descriptive" versus "normative", especially in Brevard Childs's well-known essay on theological commentary. If something is being prescribed for readers of BH.SE, or if the Q&A in some measure is implying norms binding on readers here ... that's a problem. On the other hand, if a Q&A is describing the linguistic, literary, or theological dimensions of the text as it was understood by its authors and reading community in antiquity, then we'll be on safe ground.
Would these diagnostic word-pairs have helped in the cases of contentious questions in the past? I'm not sure, but these might be helpful tools for the discussions that ensue.
Any other word-pairs that could flesh this out? Or has this already been hashed through in some other meta-post that I haven't yet found?
- Of course, we might be interested in "consumption" by reading communities in antiquity -- that's part of (1), after all.
Can we define as a forum what it means to “apply the text”?
This is an interesting question and I'm going to suggest the answer is "No".
I'll explain my reasoning but first I'll list in general terms what I think we do have clearly defined and explain why I think what we have is superior to the alternative. I'm limiting my scope here to textual/exegetical questions/answers that are the source of most debate (rather than historical questions or those about specific hermeneutics):
- Respect the text
- Start from the text
- Work upwards from the text joining the dots
The interesting thing to note about these guidelines is that the words used are relatively easy to understand and agree on. There are indeed debates about what "the text" is but it's incredibly rare for that esoteric debate to make any practical difference to the site. Dan made a heroic attempt to exhaustively list and categorize the exact texts, but in practice we pretty much all knew what texts were on-topic. There are occasionally difficulties in deciding whether a question really starts from a text, or merely quotes a convenient text in lip-service to the guidelines and focuses on an 'idea' instead: I think we've been pretty successful in shutting these down. In short these guidelines are broadly understood, even by newcomers
At the other end of the spectrum we have words like 'doctrine', 'truth', 'Truth' and 'neutral', the understanding of which is heavily influenced by the framework you start from: even high-rep and highly respected regulars on the site commonly disagree on the definitions of these words. If we can't agree on them, how can we hope to usefully define the scope of the site using them?.
Back to the question, I think that the word "application" broadly fits into the latter category (as evidenced here for example). It's not that useful for defining site scope because we all use it to mean something subtly different, it is a religiously loaded word, and this is the nub of my point, it is better to define site guidelines without using religiously loaded words, not least because our raison d'être is the text, and not religion:
We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts. The answers we rate most highly stem from and work up from the text.
Finally, we don't need to use or 'define' the word 'application', because the (good part of the) aim of doing so is already achieved using better understood words and in a more flexible way. It's generally impossible to start from the text showing your work all the way up to your conclusions and also have your answer loaded with 'application' (understood as the last stage of the interpretive process), simply because that is usually a very long way away from the text.