Teaching the Bible Using Art

This is my final project for my “Teaching the Bible in Church” class at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Due to copyright restrictions I cannot post the whole thing, but I post the majority of it here in case it is helpful or interesting to some.  I have written about the entire course separately.

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PART ONE: MAIN PEDAGOGICAL ASSUMPTIONS

Description of the Learners and Historical Assumptions

This curriculum is intended for the Adult Education Ministry at Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).  There are two full time ministers, one Parrish Visitor, and seventeen paid staff members at GBPC, including the Director for the Pre-school on site. The congregation’s reported total membership for 2008 was just over 1,200 people which is significantly greater than the average membership of 250 people.  Over the past ten years, the church has continued an overall trend of increased membership and worship attendance averages 702 people.  The church has a robust Christian Education program and enrollment averages 794.  The church is composed of a majority of affluent professionals, middle-class working families, and elderly people.  Generally speaking, the congregation is well educated, most having completed at least a Bachelor’s Degree.  The majority of the congregation is white.  There are some minority populations represented, but they are, however, the minority both as a whole and when broken down into specific racial and ethnic demographics.  Spiritually speaking the congregation is comprised of individuals who are just beginning in the faith to those who have been faithful Christians for many years. There are three worship services each Sunday (8:30, 9:45, and 11:15am) with the first and last service being contemporary worship and the 9:45, traditional.  Adult Sunday school is offered during each service.

This curriculum is intended for one of the two Adult Sunday school classes that meet during the 9:45am service though it could be adapted for use during the other services since these groups draw a different group of people.  While there are some elderly people that attend, this class tends to attract middle-aged and young adults.  The make-up of the group changes seasonally depending on when classes end but usually each class has an average of 15-20 people every Sunday.  In the past, these groups have tackled challenging curriculum with about half of the classes being taught by individuals with some Biblical education on the college, masters, or doctoral level.  Examples of course topics offered in the past are Christianity and Science, an in depth study of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, and Early Christian History.  That said most of these individuals are accustomed to read the Bible from a distinctly American or European-American point of view.  Though there is significant emphasis placed on historical context and socio-economic considerations, participants have not often been challenged to attempt readings from the perspectives of those from different cultural backgrounds.  There are some who have a deep appreciation of art and presentations similar to this curriculum have been given in the past though potentially not as in depth as this curriculum is intended to be.  Teachers in these courses tend to facilitate discussion rather than direct instruction though there are some participants for whom this is a stretch.

Aims and Goals and Content of the Curriculum

The aim of this curriculum is to challenge participants to view the Bible from the perspectives of other cultural backgrounds with the hope of expanding their understanding of the Bible.  The goals of this curriculum are listed below.

  1. To present participants with works of art[5] that depicts Biblical passages.
  2. To allow participants to assess the implications these representations have for the way they read the Bible.
  3. Help participants remember these passages more distinctly and with more detail.
  4. Better understand the perspectives of others outside their particular cultural background.

The curriculum will be comprised of four lessons each containing a specific passage from the Gospel of John.  This will be an in depth study of these miracles and could easily be expanded to include lessons for additional miracles should the situation require it.  The lessons are arranged in the order in which the miracles occur in hopes of helping participants learn the chronology of the miracles within the Gospel of John along with their content.  The common thread in these lessons is the specificity of miracle stories throughout the book.  The explicit curriculum will include the miracles themselves as well as the generalizations participants are able to generate during the lessons.  Implicitly, participants will learn how to better read the Bible for themselves in a fairly predictable and safe environment in which they are comfortable in hopes that they will be able to use the skills they learn during life’s unpredictable and often difficult events.  While the null curriculum is extensive due to the fact that the curriculum will be teaching only four specific passages of the Bible, the generalities made from these will be applicable in many other ways.  There is however, no explicit information on the nature of art and painting or the historical context of the paintings other than in a general way.  This curriculum can be augmented with other resources to address this if there is interest within the group.

The content of the curriculum is based on four Bible passages from the Gospel of John: John 2:1-11 (Jesus Turns Water in to Wine), John 6:5-13(Jesus Feeds 5,000 People), John 9:10-11 (Jesus Heals a Blind Man), and John 11:1-44 (Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead).  Supplies needed for each lesson are identical.  Teachers will need the following at each lesson: Leader Guide, Bibles, Projector, Screen, Laptop, Handouts (found in Appendices 1-4), Matrix Worksheets (Found in Appendix 5), and pens.  If a laptop and projector are not available, the handouts in Appendices 1-4 can be used to print transparencies.  The general Instructions are as outlined below.  Please see the lesson plans in Part Two for more specific delineation of each lesson.

Outline of Activities:

  • Opening/Gathering
    • Read Bible Passage for the lesson
  • Engaging/Exploring
  • Responding/Committing
    • Make broad generalizations about the paintings and the passage
    • Ask participants if these paintings or the discussion has changed the way they view the passage or the Bible in general.  If yes, how so?
  • Closing/Departing (7 min)
    • Ask for prayer requests from participants and close in prayer

Assessment Questions:

  1. Were participants able to identify similarities and differences in the paintings?
  2. Were they able to and explain these similarities and differences based on the paintings and the text?
  3. Was this model an effective way to teach this material?  Why or why not?

Since many people go to the Bible for meaning not realizing that they bring meaning to the text, as is pointed out in Martin’s Pedagogy of the Bible in his discussion of whether the text itself has inherent meaning.[6] This curriculum is designed as a creative means to present the ideas of hermeneutics in a way that will be received more easily than other more direct curricula.  In post-modernity many have come to believe truth is relative thus resulting in a defensive posture when discussing reading the text from different points of view.  As such, it is imperative to address “The Role of the Interpreter,” as some define it.[7] For some this will require helping them realize that they are an interpreter since this is often something relegated to those who contribute to various translations of the Biblical text, theologians, or local clergy.

While I do not fully ascribe to Martin’s proposal that the text itself holds no meaning, I do believe that some communities within the church catholic have gone off the deep end with respect to the Bible.  For many people now worship the Bible of God instead of the God of the Bible.  While modernity would have people believe that is it possible to be purely objective, “no one interprets in a vacuum” indeed, “everyone has presuppositions and misunderstandings.”[8] With this in mind, this curriculum is intended to help participants discern what they bring to the text, that they may then better situation what they take from the text. [9]

Appropriate Methods

The teaching method used in this curriculum is the integrative method.  Being that the participants are more used to some form of direct instruction where even discussion is a stretch, this method may be difficult for some to participate in at first.  There will be some participants however, for whom this method will be very comfortable.  These individuals will be able to help teach the other participants implicitly how to interact within this method.  In addition, more effort should be spent in the first lesson to emphasize the steps of this method as presented in Instruction: A Models Approach:

  1. Describe, compare, and search for patterns in a data set.
  2. Explain identified similarities and differences.
  3. Hypothesize as to what would happen under different conditions.
  4. Make broad generalizations about the topic and the discussion.[10]

In the case of this curriculum, the “data set” each week will be composed of two paintings.  As the participants examine this “data set” (step one) they can record their observations in the Matrix Worksheet found in Appendix 5.  This will help participants organize the information and better assess the similarities and differences as well as other patterns.  Within the framework of this curriculum, this will allow participants to group things together that they may not have thought to group together before.  Once these patterns are identified, step two asks participants will be asked to explain why they think these patterns have emerged thus engaging in data analysis.  In asking the question of why, participants have to explore the patterns they observed on a deeper level thus providing a higher probability of remembering what they have learned.  As they move on to step three, being asked to think hypothetically and imagine what it would be like if the circumstances were changed or it the miracle never happened at all, Biblical generalizations can then be drawn (step three) helping them to see overarching themes in the Bible.

Theological and Ecclesial Convictions

Within the Reformed Tradition, ensuring all people have access to the Bible is a fundamental concern.  In response to the way the Bible was being controlled by the church and motivated by the realization that the church was intended to be a priesthood of all believers, the reformers made it part of their purpose to put the Bible in the hands of the people.  As such, there was a corresponding increase on the emphasis placed on education.  After all, what is the point of having a Bible if you are not able to read it?  Since we know that the Bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (1 Tim. 16), ensuring all people can benefit from it is of utmost importance.  It is at this point that Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It? helps readers see that even what the Bible consists of is not an easily settled matter.[11] While this curriculum will not explicitly delve into this topic, helping people begin to understand that the Bible is not as straight forward as some claim it to be.  It is the Living Word and as such, it is dynamic and complicated in one sense while capable of being understood by all in another sense.

PART TWO: CURRICULUM

Lesson One

Miracles of Jesus in the Gospel of John

Lesson 1: Jesus Turns Water in to Wine (John 2:1-11)

Goals for Course:

One of our two 9:45am adult Sunday school classes will be exploring the Gospel of John through paintings depicting four of Jesus’ miracles.  In exploring how others have interpreted these miracles in the past, students will gain a better understanding not only of the texts but of how they have grown to understand the passage if they have heard it in the past.  Students will be challenged to explore the preconceived ideas they bring to reading the Bible with the results hopefully being a broadening of their understanding of these passages.

Objectives for Lesson:

Learners will be able to…

  1. Identify key characters in both paintings and compare the way they are presented to the text
  2. Understand the context of both paintings and discuss whether or not the differences in location are helpful or not
  3. Develop generalizations between the two paintings about what is important in this miracle
  4. Assess the implications of this miracle

Description of Learners:

This group is one of two Adult Sunday school is offered during the 9:45am service.  The group is composed of a majority of affluent professionals, middle-class working families, and elderly people.  Many have children and can only attend because of the nursery and children’s Sunday school classes that are made available.  Generally speaking, participants are well educated, most having completed at least a Bachelor’s Degree.  The group is white though there are individuals from minority groups who attend regularly.  While there are some elderly people that attend during this time, this class tends to attract middle-aged and young adults.  The make-up of the group changes seasonally depending on when classes end but usually each class has an average of 15-20 people every Sunday most of whom have established spiritual practices and incorporate their faith into daily living.

In the past, these groups have tackled challenging curriculum with about half of the classes being taught by individuals with some Biblical education on the college, masters, or doctoral level.  Examples of course topics offered in the past are Christianity and Science, an in depth study of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, and Early Christian History.  Most of these individuals are accustomed to read the Bible from a distinctly American or European-American point of view.  Though there is significant emphasis placed on historical context and socio-economic considerations, participants have not often been challenged to attempt reading from the perspectives of those from different cultural backgrounds.

There are some who have a deep appreciation of art and presentations similar to this curriculum have been given in the past though potentially not as in depth as this curriculum is intended to be.  Those who attend this Bible study have either just come from the earlier contemporary worship service or will be attending the contemporary worship service that takes place after this study.

Bible Passage:

John 2:1-11

Materials Needed:

Leader Guide, Bibles, Projector, Screen, Laptop, Handouts (found in Appendix 1), Matrix Worksheets (Found in Appendix 5), Pens (If a laptop and projector are not available, Appendix 1 can be used to print transparencies)

Outline of Activities:

  • Opening/Gathering (8 min)
    • Ice Breaker – Have each person introduce themselves and share a picture of a loved one they have in their wallet or on their cell phone.  In the event someone does not have a photo with them, ask them to tell the group about a favorite photo they have at home of a family member or friend.
    • Distribute handouts of the paintings for Lesson One, Matrix worksheets, and pens to those who wish to take notes
    • Hand out Bibles or make them available
    • Open in Prayer
    • Scripture Reading – Ask for a volunteer to read the passage aloud.  For some it may be helpful to follow along in their own copy or on the slide presentation.
  • Engaging/Exploring (20 min)[12]
    • Present first piece of art:
      • Ask participants to describe what they see in the painting and record them in the matrix worksheet
      • After showing the full painting show the detailed portions of the painting and ask participants to describe and record any additional characteristics they see.  To keep the conversation going here are a few example questions:
        • Who are the key characters in this passage? (Jesus, Mary, the steward, etc.)
        • Are each of these characters represented in this painting?
        • If so, where is ________ in the painting what is he/she doing?
        • Who is near Jesus and what is their reaction to Jesus (if any)?
        • Are the Bride and Groom present?  If so, where are they?
        • Does the table set up remind you of any other photos you have seen?  Maybe Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper[14]?  Show the group this painting as well so they can see the similarities.
          • Though The Last Supper is not based on our passage of John 2:1-11 showing this painting will help the participants to focus in on the miracle itself instead of getting lost in the business of Veronese’s painting.
      • Present the second piece of art: ____________________
        • Ask participants to describe what they see in the painting and write them down on the matrix worksheet
        • After showing the full painting, show the detailed portions of the painting and ask participants to describe any additional characteristics they see
          • Refer to the questions above if the group needs assistance.
      • Ask the participants to identify any similarities or differences they see based on the information in the matrix
      • Ask the participants to explain the identified similarities and differences using only what they see in the paintings.
        • What does it mean that both paintings ______________________?
        • Why does the first painting have ______________ and the second one does not?
        • Why does the first/second painting present _________________ in that way and the second in another way?
      • Ask the participants to hypothesize what would happen under different conditions
        • Here are some questions to ask to help keep the discussion moving:
          • What would have happened if Mary had not brought the lack of wine to Jesus’ attention?
          • How would the outcome be different if Jesus had not done this miracle?
          • What could have happened if Jesus made a show out of this miracle instead of keeping it low key?
  • Responding/Committing (10 min)
    • Ask participants to make broad generalizations about the paintings and the passage.  Some examples may be:
      • While different people highlight different aspects of a story when they paint it or tell it, it is still the same story.
      • Miracles are for the benefit of others.
      • Miracles affect many people whether directly or indirectly.
      • Wine is a symbol used by Jesus throughout the New Testament.
      • Ask participants if these paintings or the discussion has changed the way they view the passage or the Bible in general.  If yes, how so?
  • Closing/Departing (7 min)
    • Ask for prayer requests from participants and close in prayer

Assessment Questions:

  1. Were participants able to identify similarities and differences in the paintings?
  2. Were they able to and explain these similarities and differences based on the paintings and the text?
  3. Was this model an effective way to teach this material?  Why or why not?

APPENDIX FIVE: MATRIX WORKSHEET

Date: ______________________      Passage: John Miracle: ____________________________________________________

People Context (Place/Time/etc.) Other
Painting #1: ___________________
Painting #2: ___________________

*Please note: the boxes were originally much larger to allow for participants to write responses, but this did not translate to my blog post.


[6] Dale B. Martin, Pedagogy of the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 31-35.

[7] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Jr. Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised and Updated ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelon Publishers, 1993), 7.

[8] Ibid.

[9] While both Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible is it? and Dale Martin’s Pedagogy of the Bible have influenced my thinking with respect to this topic, I have been much more influenced by what I learned in a Master’s level Biblical Hermeneutics course I took prior coming to Princeton Seminary.  I have included two books from that course for this reason.

[10] Mary Alice Gunter, Thomas H. Estes, and Susan L. Mintz, Instruction: A Models Approach, 5th ed. (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007).

[11] Jaroslav Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It? (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

[12] The layout, steps, and terminology of this portion of the lesson comes directly from Gunter, Estes, and Mintz.

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One Response to “Teaching the Bible Using Art”

  1. Fall 2009: Teaching the Bible in Church « Says:

    […] the entire project due to copyright restrictions on the artwork I used, I will post what I can in a separate post so you can get an idea of what I […]

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