“If I go home and open my Bible, will there be two creations stories in Genesis 1-3 like there are in the Bible that you had me buy for our class?” This question was one that a student posed to me during office hours. Gently, I answered, “Yes.” This student said that, although she had been a Christian for a long time, she was disturbed because she had never noticed this fact about Genesis. As a result, the student did not know what to think about the Bible anymore. I, then, ask her, “Is your problem with the Bible, or with what you have been taught about the Bible?” Her difficulty was with the latter.
This exchange demonstrates my teaching philosophy’s goal: to teach students to become critical, analytical, and historically conscious readers of the Bible. This process begins by showing them that first and foremost we must focus on the Bible in its historical context. That pedagogical goal means that we have to understand the diverse worldviews and cultural encyclopedias of Biblical authors and their original audiences. To accomplish this task, I focus on ancient literary and, especially, non-literary sources—inscriptions, coins, papyri, and material remains—through a combination of dialogical lectures, communal exegesis exercises, out-of-class readings, hands-on assignments, and multimedia outlets.
For instance, I have developed a hands-on group assignment for teaching students how to read an occasional New Testament letter. I have translated an ancient letter on a papyrus that a certain Hilarion wrote to a woman with whom he had fathered a child. I have included also a picture of the papyrus to provide students with an idea of how ancient Christian letters looked. Students read the letter and answer basic questions about it: who’s the author, where’s the author, who’s the recipient, where’s the recipient, what’s the relationship between the author and recipient, and what is the occasion for the letter? Such questions and attention to detail exemplify how to interpret a New Testament letter in its historical context, which allows students to see more clearly the theological difficulties that early Christians faced and their solutions to these dilemmas.
Being a historically conscious reader of the Bible means that students must know that we stand on the shoulders of past interpreters. The second step of my teaching method examines how past Christian theologians and current Biblical scholars have interpreted various Biblical texts. For example, I have designed an assignment that looks at Augustine’s, Thomas of Aquino’s, Martin Luther’s, E.P. Sanders’s, and James D.G. Dunn’s interpretations of the Pauline theme of justification by faith. The point of this assignment is to understand their various interpretations of justification as well as the historical context of the interpreters themselves.
Finally, my pedagogical method moves to the interpretation of a Biblical text for the church today. I push students to consider both the theological principles that we glean from the Biblical text itself and previous interpretations of the passage in the quest to make meaning for the contemporary church.
Two types of assignments assess my success as a pedagogue. First, I give weekly quizzes and a cumulative final exam. These assignments ensure that students are reading and understanding both the Bible and secondary material related to it. Second, I assign a term paper that stems from a research question that students formulate with my aid. This assignment demonstrates their ability to think critically, analytically, and historically about the Bible and its past interpretations. Moreover, the paper pushes students to consider the theological implications of their findings for the church today.
In sum, I desire students to appreciate the Bible in its historical context and our theological ancestry, understanding that we are a product of a long line of interpretational lineage that stretches back to the earliest followers of God. This knowledge will allow students to leave my classroom better prepared to be critical, analytical, and historically conscious exegetes.