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THBS100 Introduction to the Bible

Unit rationale, description and aim

The bible is a book that needs interpretation. All literature necessarily requires the reader to derive meaning from the text by the application of cultural conventions, social mores and personal perspectives. The task of decoding any piece of literature is historical and social, derived from the traditions of reading, thinking, and understanding the world in which one is educated and socialised. However, in this respect, the Bible presents unique challenges. The Bible was not composed as a solitary work by a solo author. It emerged as a set of texts written by various authors over a long period of time utilising different literary genres, which have subsequently been edited, collected, and arranged into a “canon” of texts that purport to tell a single, continuous story. Moreover, the books of the Bible have their origins and find their continued purpose in the faith-life of religious communities where they function as sources for prayer, theological and spiritual reflection, liturgical expression and ethical behavior and pastoral practice. Deriving meaning from the biblical texts requires the reader to be competent in negotiating between the complexities of the text and its interpretation within overlapping contextual horizons defined by time, culture, literary genre, religious tradition, professional practice, gender, and class.  


As the title of this unit suggests, Critical Approaches to the Bible: Interpretation and Exegesis examines the history of critical approaches to the Biblical texts from the earliest communities of faith from which the canon of the Bible emerged through to the present day. Based upon a solid historical appreciation of critical methods, students will be encouraged to apply their knowledge to develop a personal hermeneutic or interpretive method and apply that model to selected texts of the Bible with a particular emphasis upon texts for which interpretation has proven to be or remain sources of debate within the Church or the wider community.  


This unit builds upon knowledge and skills acquired in THBS100, in order to facilitate the development of greater competency in applying established and emerging methods of interpretation to biblical texts. 

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - describe the aims, interpretive foci and typical techniques employed by practitioners of two critical approaches to biblical texts (GA4; GA5)

LO2 - develop a personal hermeneutic based upon an understanding of one of the two critical approaches described in LO1 (GA4, GA6)

LO3 - apply the hermeneutic to selected biblical texts (GA5; GA6). 

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account


Topics will include: 

  • the history of biblical interpretation 
  • current discussions about finding meaning in written texts 
  • the formation of the biblical canon and the task of translating Scripture 
  • guidelines for reading biblical poetry and prose and writing exegeses  
  • guidelines for using biblical interpretation in teaching and preaching, and applying biblical texts to current theological, spiritual and moral issues 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

The Bible is an ancient text, often viewed by modern readers as a “dead letter”, which has nothing of value to say to contemporary problems. As Christians, and as future teachers, ministers, pastoral associates and members in faith-based organisations, the Bible remains the inspired word of God. It is far from a “dead letter”, but a living resource for faith and reflexive faith-practice. The question that confronts contemporary leaders of the Australian church is how can one interpret the biblical texts, as well as “teach” and communicate its message to people in 21st century Australia? 


This unit is designed to provide students with the opportunity to struggle with this problem and arrive at a hermeneutical method for interpreting biblical texts that will underpin their future work and ministry. The emphasis is on the communal context of biblical interpretation. For this reason, the unit utilises a mixture of cooperative and collaborative learning strategies that requires students to work together in groups of varying sizes throughout the semester. Cooperative and collaborative learning are educational approaches that involve groups of learners working together to solve a problem or complete a task – in this case, discussing the “problem” of interpreting and teaching the Bible, with a view to completing assessment “tasks” that will demonstrate mastery of the subject knowledge and a developing capacity in the skills of biblical interpretation. 


The unit is delivered in Attendance and Multi-Mode and, as such, utilises the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) model – sometimes called “Scaffolded instruction” – which uses a mix of focus lessons (I do) and guided instruction (We do), collaborative learning (You do together), and independent work (You do). Focus lessons will be delivered either via an online classroom or on campus and students will be given the opportunity to work collaboratively with other students under the guidance of the lecturer or tutor to explore ways that the knowledge and skills discussed can be applied to selected biblical texts. Further digital resources and activities will be provided online via the University’s eLearning portal (LEO) to work together and on their own to deepen their knowledge, improve their interpretative skill, and demonstrate their mastery of the subject via assessment tasks. In multi-mode offerings, students will also be introduced to the use of the relevant software program (Adobe Connect). 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The Gradual Release of Responsibility model of instruction suggests that cognitive work should shift slowly and intentionally from teacher modelling, to joint responsibility between teachers and students, to independent practice and application by the learner. All activities and tasks undertaken in the lecture/workshops and in the students’ independent study build towards the assessment tasks. While students will work collaboratively on weekly tasks related to the topics later tested in assessment tasks, the final submission of assessment tasks will be individual and will be assessed accordingly. The three assessment tasks have been designed to allow students to demonstrate and apply what they have learned in the lecture/workshops and in their independent reading. The assessment tasks will be assessed based upon achievement of each learning outcome. 


The first assessment task will focus on LO1 and, therefore, require students to describe, compare and assess two current critical approaches to the Bible against the background of the history of interpretation. The emphasis is on assessing current critical methods on the basis of their utility and relevance in the modern Church. Students will also be expected to demonstrate critical thinking and a capacity for personal reflection (GA4) , along with an appropriate level of achievement in appropriating the values, knowledge and skills of biblical scholarship (GA 5).  


The second assessment task builds on the first by requiring students to develop their own hermeneutic model of interpretation based upon one of the critical approaches previously considered in assessment task one. Students will be expected to demonstrate both a thorough understanding of the established critical method (LO1), to work critically and reflectively with that method (GA4) to design an approach that is appropriate to their personal and professional lives within the modern Church. The approach developed by each student will be assessed for its applicability to relevant problems in biblical interpretation faced by leaders, local pastors, pastoral assistants, teachers, or parishioners in modern faith communities and faith-based organisations (GA6). 


The third assessment task brings together the work of the first two assessment tasks by providing students the opportunity to apply their interpretive tool or hermeneutic model to selected biblical passages (LO1, LO2, LO3). The task will take the form of an exegesis, exegetical essay, homily or lesson that seeks to read, interpret and apply the message of a biblical text or series of related texts within a specific situational context as determined either by the lecturer in charge or the student in consultation with the LIC or tutor. Students will be expected to demonstrate creativity and innovation in the design of the tool or model (GA4), as well as the knowledge and skills appropriate to biblical scholarship (GA5) in the application of the biblical text to specific issues or problems in current church practice or belief (GA6). 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Verbal or written presentation:  Require students to demonstrate their ability to compose and present a brief description of two critical approaches to the Bible and a concise assessment of the utility of both approaches for exegesis and application of biblical texts to contemporary issues in the modern Church. 



GA4, GA5 

Verbal or written presentation: Require students to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving skills in developing an appropriate interpretive tool or hermeneutic model for use in pastoral or educational contexts where biblical interpretation is a key component of one’s personal or professional practice. 


LO2, LO3 

GA4, GA6 

Verbal, written or multimedia presentation: Require students to read, interpret and apply a biblical text utilising their previously deigned interpretive tool or model. The task will require critical thinking, reflection, creative design and the application of the pastoral values, discipline knowledge and exegetical skills of biblical scholarship. 


LO1, LO2, LO3 

GA4, GA5, GA6 

Representative texts and references

Bruggermann, Walter. The Bible Makes Sense, rev ed. Cincinnati: St Anthony’s Messanger Press, 1089. 

Davies, Eryl W. Biblical Criticism: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. 

Lake, Meredith. The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History. Sydney: Newsouth, 2018. 

Moyise, Steve. Introduction to Biblical Studies, 3rd ed. T&T Clark Approaches to the Bible. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. 

Shea, Mark P. Making Senses of the Bible: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did. Dallas: Basilica, 1999. 

Tate, W. Randolph. Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach, 3rd Ed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008. 

Virkler, Henry A. and Karolynne Gerber Ayayo. Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.  

Westphal, Merold. Whose Community? Whose Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church. The Church and Postmodern Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009. 

Witherington, Ben. Reading and Understanding the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. 

Wright, N.T. Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, rev ed. San Francisco: Harper One, 2013. 

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