THEO 1001 – Course Notes





1. In general.

The chief intent and policy is that the grading be fair. This means that equal effort, ability, and attainment will be rewarded by an equal grade. It also means that typically the effort and ability that results in a certain grade in some other Arts & Sciences core subject will receive the same grade in THEO 1001. As a matter of fact, over the past few years my average undergraduate grades have consistently been as high as or higher than those of my colleagues in the Dept. of Theology and in Arts & Sciences. Students with disabilities (e.g., A.D.D.) are of course able to make special arrangements, e.g., more time in taking tests.

2. Grading scale.

Unless there is an unusual distribution of scores, at the end of the semester a student’s overall score will result in a rather predictable final grade: 90.00+ = A 86.66+ = A-

83.33+ = B+ 80.00 = B 76.66+ = B- 73.33+ = C+

70.00+ = C 66.66+ = C- 63.33+ = D+ 60.00+ = D

I curve scores / grades at the end of the semester. No student will fail this course if he or she has made a reasonable effort.

3. The Tests.

Briefly (more fully below): The three tests, which are “closed book” tests (NO AIDS, whether books or notes or electronic devices), each give the student 12 texts from which he or she is to choose 10. Each of the ten questions quotes a verse, from students write 50 or fewer words (not more!). The 10 points for each question are awarded according to the strength or weakness of response to the presented verses. There are no “trick” verses, and no content that has been chosen for its complexity.

These tests will not be difficult if the student has done solid test reparation. Take courage: routinely, in my old-style tests more than a quarter of the class members score in the 80-95% range! Please consider the best ways for you to study, e.g., by using “flash cards.” And — to repeat myself — begin your review early.

D2L will randomize the verses you are asked about, so that one student will almost certainly not “get” the same verses.

4. The Essays.

As grader of the essays (more fully below), I begin to grade them at the hypothetical score of 76 — this is because a “B-” (see the scale above) is the standard grade in Arts & Sciences. There has been a very consistent pattern of scores and grades, over the years, and I am confident that 76 is a fair place to begin. A score of 76 means that the student has fulfilled the assignment more or less as instructed; but there is little flair or originality, no connections beyond what are obvious, little insight beyond what an “average” student would easily present. A higher score goes to an essay-writer who has clearly worked hard to develop some specific connections and reflections beyond the obvious, while presenting a thoroughly coherent, well-flowing essay. A lower score usually means that the writer has left out or misunderstood a significant portion of the assignment, or has not made connections between the parts of the essay, or has failed to suggest any structure or coherence.

Poor grammar and spelling are not used as a specific criterion for grading. However, it is inevitable that failure to write grammatical sentences and inattention to correct spelling and punctuation will make the essay more difficult to read, and hence will adversely affect the grade. If writing is not one of your strengths, please use the excellent campus Writing Center.

5. Extra Credit.

There are no “extra credit” assignments, chiefly because not all students will have the opportunity to take advantage of them (– too busy with other things). However, if you are experiencing something in life (e.g., the death of a relative) that has had a strong impact on your academic work, please let me know at least in general terms (I shan’t “pry”); I will take it into account when I assign your final grade.

6. Plagiarism.

Unfortunately, even at MU plagiarism is a fact of life. Faculty can no longer depend on students observing the “honor system.” Therefore I shall have to impose some restrictions on the subject-matter of essays, and ask that my students comply with various other measures that can keep this immoral activity to a minimum. I do not take plagiarism, or other forms of cheating, lightly.

THEO 1001 Essay 1: How to Study the Bible

Essay 1 = MAXIMUM 1,000 words, not including your name, course title, date — please give your word count on p. 1 . Essay 1 is a “hands-on” exercise in Bible study. Please follow these two principal guidelines:

1. Choose your text. Read as many as you wish of these passages, and choose one of them:

You can choose a passage from any of the texts that have been assigned in the course work.

2. Develop a structure/outline for your paper as follows:

(a) Introduction: One or two paragraphs, in which you briefly summarize your passage and state what you will attempt to do in your essay (the final form of this is probably best written last);

(b) A three-part main section, covering the “3 Levels of Meaning”:

(1) the LITERARY level (approx. 1 page):

Here you will point out some indicators of the passage’s structure and arrangement, e.g., repetition, opening/closing statements, dialogue, movement of characters, comments made by the narrator/author to the reader;

(2) the IDEOLOGICAL level (approx. 1 page):

Here you will collect and comment on some of the leading ideas of the passage. Don’t try to cover them all, and at this stage hold back from suggesting the meaning or meanings of the passage as a whole;

(3) the COMMUNAL level (approx. 1 page):

Here you will suggest the purpose of the passage, e.g., to encourage, correct, remind, comfort, exhort. Remember: it is unlikely that your author simply intended to convey raw data. If possible, conjecture an actual problem or other situation that your author intended to address in writing to a specific Israelite community. (NOTE: There is no single “correct” identification of [1], [2], and [3], in any of the passages.)

To anticipate what I shall repeatedly state in NEWS items: the “Communal” level is the most important in this assignment. On the basis of your observations at the Literary and Ideological Levels, you are do your best to say what the author intended to convey to his or her community – by telling this particular story in this way. A weak COMMUNAL LEVEL will inevitably result in a low score.

(c) Conclusion:

One or two paragraphs, in which you summarize your findings, and, if you wish, suggest the relevance of your chosen passage to life and faith today.

IMPORTANT HINTS AND TIPS — please read this slowly and carefully:

1. Sources.

You are not expected to do any research, e.g., in the library or on the internet. I am looking for your opinions/judgments, not those of others; hence I am not expecting polished pieces of biblical scholarship — I recognize that most of you are writing your first essay on the interpretation of the Bible. Try to put on paper your imaginative application of the first principles of responsible Bible study. Of course, use the notes in your Bible, but do not limit what you write to what you read in the notes. As for the major sources of the Pentateuch (= J, E, D, and P), I expect no reference to them.

2. Referring to your passage.

When summarizing or otherwise referring to your passage, use the general present tense, e.g., “In this passage Abraham asks Sarah. . . .” And note that the question “Did this happen?” is virtually irrelevant to your essay. Likewise, do not ask yourself the ambiguous question, “Is this true?” but “What was this author trying to convey to his or her community?” and “Why did he or she write about this?”

3. Comparisons, analogies.

To help bring your essay to life, feel free to compare what you find in your passage with material in passages we have studied in class, or with other texts you know of. Similarly, if you wish point out analogies between the way you are analyzing your text and how a student in another discipline would study texts, e.g., in English, history, philosophy. Engage your reader — write interesting prose. If you wish, give your essay an imaginative title.

4. Coherence.

Try your best to write an essay that “hangs together” — that has a sense of direction. Your reader should get the sense that the “three levels” together constitute “one method.” Use no section headings; there isn’t space for them. Instead, let your prose indicate your outline.

5. Your voice.

Above all, remember that we are hoping to see your insights and wish to hear your voice. Avoid the passive voice (e.g., “It is said that . . .”). Refer to yourself as “I,” not “we.” And please write in your own words — in a relaxed way (not like a professor!), friendly, low-key (but still grammatical!) style. Be direct and to the point. Ask yourself this: “Could my best friend understand my essay?”


For the final paper (1500 words max. – please give word count on p. 1) please choose one of the three options described below. Whichever option you choose, please supply an opening, single-spaced paragraph explaining WHY you have chosen your particular topic or subject-matter (this para. is included in word count)— for example, what in our semester’s work attracted you to the text or question your essay addresses.


Those who choose this option are encouraged to discuss their choice of book, chapter, or paragraph with the instructor. I strongly encourage you to choose a passage no longer than one paragraph. Several approaches are possible. For example:

(a) Take a small passage from a NT book (e.g., the Gospel of Mark), and examine it in the same way that we have examined Bible passages in class and in Essay I. The most important thing is to deal with the particular perspective of the author of the book and his community. In other words, whichever approach you choose, the paper is not simply to repeat or paraphrase what the passage is saying. Instead, please identify the chief theological points being emphasized by the author; perhaps compare your passage with the rest of the biblical book, in order to see how typical your passage is; and to suggest what the author is trying to tell his or her community.

(b) Choose a theme in one of the books (e.g., the “messianic secret” in Mark; “universalism” in St. Paul), and focus on several passages in which you find the theme. Then proceed as in (a).

Be sure to consult the footnotes in your Bible. For more help in interpreting a particular biblical book, look for a “commentary” on that book in the Library. But I am very little interested in others’ opinions.


By “major post-biblical text” is meant any ecclesiastical or theological writing that has been considered of importance in the life of the church. For example, there may be a saint you have heard of (e.g., St. Theresa) whose writings you would like to examine. Or there may be some recent document published by the Vatican or from some other religious tradition that you wish to explore.

By “response” I mean an essay that doesn’t merely report or summarize what the document says, but engages it in some sort of dialogue. (It is, of course, necessary to give a very brief summary, concerning the author and the document, at the start of your essay.) As with the other two options, the goal is to show your ability to detect a theological issue and discuss it.


You may choose any subject, issue, or concern. The important thing to bear in mind is that the paper is to show your own theological reflection; just how this is shown will of course differ from essay to essay.

Other possibilities include writing and interpreting a 21st-century “parable”; a short story whose underlying theme is theological; a theological reflection on an on-campus issue (e.g., panhandlers; religion at MU; censorship); a biographical (or autobiographical) reflection on an experience that has theological dimensions. Any subject-matter is acceptable, if handled well.

ANY COMBINATION OF (1) – (3) IS PERMISSIBLE, provided that the end result is a piece of work in which you are seen to be “thinking theologically.” Whichever option you choose, remember: early in the paper please state why you chose your topic. Creativity is very welcome.

A final reminder: the paper is to emphasize not your “gut reaction” to something, or your own personal faith, or even your research ability, but “reasoned discourse.”

THEO 1001 TEST 1, 2, 3 Review Guide

1. Context

Teachers test their students in a variety of ways – quizzes, tests, in-class exams, take-home exams, essays, and so on. For many years my THEO 1001 included three “Quizzes,” which were 100-questions, multiple-choice. Some students like the format, others don’t – those who don’t think it is too much “busy work” to prepare for them, and that it feels a bit like going back to High School. Those that do like them have told me that at least with a multiple-choice quiz you know that the answer is there on the page in front of you – so that if you have done some work you can probably work out the right answer by a process of elimination. Experts on pedagogy – the science and art of teaching – point out that multiple-choice quizzing is almost inevitably “passive”: the student looks for what he or she recognizes, rather than actually producing or generating an answer in response to a question or some other prompt.

2. “Tests” now replace “Quizzes”

Beginning Summer 1, 2019, each regular-year semester or summer session I shall develop a series of 10-question “short answer” tests, in which the student will choose 10 (out of 11) passages and write 50 words or fewer on each. 50 words MAX! More than 50 words will automatically result in a lowered score.

3. The “Questions”

The passages students choose from will be taken directly from the Bible and, in Test 3, from later writers. The passages will typically be the length of a single Bible verse, sometimes two verses – so, about 20 words. I have created a “Library” of typed-out Bible verses and sentences from later writers. From these, D2L will make random choices, but in any case every student’s Test will consist of 11 questions. Each “question” will be a set of three verses, from which the student will choose one to write about – 50 words in the space provided.

The great majority of the Test passages (Bible verses and quotations from later writers) will be from actual readings the class has been assigned. But each Test will likely include one or two selections that are representative of the sort of material we have been studying, so that students can show how to apply what they have learned from reading X to this new reading Y.

Questions for all three Tests will look like this (actual questions will be chosen by D2L on a random basis from the Question Library):

* * * * *

Question 9 Choose ONE of the following: (a), (b), or (c) –

(a) Genesis 2:4-5

When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens – 5 there was no field shrub on earth and grass of the field had sprouted, for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the ground, . . .

(b) Genesis 2:10

A river rises in the Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches.

(c) Genesis 2:21

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

Then there will be a space (like a D2L Discussion Forum box) for you to write your “short answer” – up to 50 words.

* * * * *

4. So what will you write with your 50 words?


The short answer is that you will write something, or several things, relevant to understanding the verse(s). But I shall not be looking for a specific range of answers, as if anything else will be “wrong.” Here are a few of the things that might figure in a response to the text, bearing in mind that in all six Modules our first duty is to understand texts in their own times and places, before going on to “appropriate” them for our own use. This is of course not an exhaustive list. Strongly encouraged: mention things you observed in your reading of the Study Guide and in the Catholic Study Bible – but not merely reciting words or phrases without stating or implying the reason for doing so.

● date of source of the text, or author, or event referred to; ● something in the text that is representative of a biblical or theological idea or question; ● something of special importance about a person or group referred to; ● the significance of this text in later theological development; ● ethical questions raised by the text; ● apparent conflicts between this text and “modern science,” and how to be resolved; ● appropriate place of this text in modern Christian faith and life; ● please avoid repeating the same information – you will not get credit for giving the same information in other responses.


Complete sentences are not necessary, but what you write must “make sense.” Avoid broad generalizations, unless connected with something specific in your text. A good response is “thick and rich” – like a hearty soup, full of good observations stated concisely. So an answer may be “correct,” but not score very well because it doesn’t end up “saying much.”

5. Time

You will have 60 minutes to complete each Test. Once you begin, you cannot put the Test on “Pause.”

6. Best Preparation

Read the texts – in the Bible and beyond the Bible (that is, in Modules 5 and 6) – repeatedly, slowly, thoughtfully. Most of us cannot study productively with the TV on, or while trying to do anything else at the same time, or when tired or otherwise distracted. Warning: In my opinion there are no short cuts! If you spend time and mental energy on your preparation, this will show in what you write. But if you wait until the last minute, and merely skim the readings and the Study Guides, what you write will likely be lacking in substance. It is of course not enough merely to paraphrase the text.


Once the course begins, I shall have much more to say by way of hints, tips, and encouragement, through the NEWS feature of the D2L site. I shall write something in NEWS every say, and I urge everyone in the class to check NEWS at least once a day, in addition to completing your Discussion / Response / Connections assignments. Thank you!