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Final Project Requirements and Sample Paper
Reading the Bible Responsibly:
You will write a 800-1,000 word paper that synthesizes and responds to a real-world example of Bible reading that may or may not be “responsible.” You will evaluate the content using the tools and principles from the course. You can pick from a sermon (local or not), podcast episode, social media post, meme, or other content.
Elements of the Paper
Your paper should contain the following elements:
Section 1: Summary of the content (~200-250 words)
Give an overview of the content (sermon, podcast, article, meme, etc.) you are evaluating. What scriptures is it using? What assumptions is it making? What is the point, whether the point is stated explicitly or not?
In this section, you are not yet assessing or making any judgments about the content. You are simply summarizing it.
Section 2: Using the Two Tools: Genre and Context (~175-200 words each)
Now dive into the scriptures the content uses. Spend about ¾ page on the genre. (If, say, the sermon is using Genesis, describe what Genesis is actually trying to do. What kind of writing is it?)
Spend another ¾ page on context. If the content is quoting a scripture passage, describe the broader context in which the passage appears. (If, say, the sermon is quoting a verse from one of Paul’s letters, talk about what’s going on in the broader paragraph and book in which the verse appears). Use the material from the course, including the instructor videos and the Fee & Stuart book.
You are still not net making judgments about the content itself. You’re describing the source material the author/preacher/etc is using.
Section 3: Evaluating the content (~250-350 words)
Now start evaluating. You are pairing the summary of the content you did in section 1 with the tools you used in section 2. You are answering questions like these:
Is the content you are evaluating using the scripture accurately and responsibly according to the genre of scripture it is?
If they’re quoting Genesis to make an argument about the age of the earth, what has this course taught you about how to responsibly read Genesis? Is that an accurate way to apply the genre of Genesis?
If they’re quoting a proverb as though it applies to everyone at all times equally, is that what the genre of “proverb” is trying to do?
Is the content you are evaluating using the scripture accurately and responsibly according to its broader context?
If they’re quoting a scripture about “eye for an eye” in order to make a case for vengeance, what other scriptures might they be ignoring or leaving out? How (if at all) would those scriptures change the point the content is making?
Between 800-1,000 words
Clear headings to mark your three sections
Free of spelling/grammatical errors
Final Project: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle
My final project will be evaluating this scripture graphic. This graphic, featuring positive thoughts on a floral backdrop, seems designed to encourage people who are feeling stressed. The words encourage people who feel stressed to change their thoughts and actions. The instructions are a mix of vague references to scripture along with generic, positive, self-help thoughts.
The words tell stressed people to take a step back, inhale, and laugh. Then, these people are encouraged to remember their identity and purpose. The next phrase, which I’ll be exploring further in this paper, is vaguely related to scripture. The graphic reads, “You’re never given anything in this world you can’t handle.” This kind of encouragement comes from one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, and the rest of this paper will evaluate that reading. The verse reads, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). This graphic is building off of that scripture, which tells people that God provides a way out from temptation, and that there is no temptation so strong that we’re powerless to escape it.
The rest of the graphic contains additional positive thoughts, including a command to “be strong” which shows up a few times in scripture. Other thoughts are a mix of scripture and motivational thoughts. “Be strong” and “love others” show up several times in the Bible. “Be flexible,” “love yourself,” and “just keep moving forward” are additional encouraging thoughts, though they do not occur explicitly in the Bible. However, this graphic makes no claim of being expressly Christian, so it’s understandable that not all thoughts would be from the Bible.
Genre and Context
This graphic quotes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which falls in the genre of “letter.” Letters are found in the New Testament. They would have originally been heard by the church when someone read them out loud, not silently read by individual Christians. New Testament letters usually contain three elements: an opening or greeting, the main body, and the closing. Today’s passage, 1 Corinthians 10:13, is found in the main body.
Some letters were written to specific churches; others were written to specific people; still others were written to Christians at large. 1 Corinthians was written to a specific church. The letters are usually occasional documents, meaning they were written to address specific concerns. 1 Corinthians addresses several: sexual immorality, lawsuits among Christians, proper and orderly worship, and others. We have to remember that we’re reading someone else’s mail. There were specific concerns in the Corinthian church that Paul was addressing, and so his primary audience was not us; it was the Corinthian church.
The passage at hand comes in the middle of a larger discussion about rights, freedoms, and discipline. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul discusses how Christians should think about eating idol meat. Some Christians see no problem with it. Others are in danger of losing their faith. Paul tells the strong Christians, whose faith wouldn’t be harmed by eating idol meat, to give up their rights to eat meat if it causes trouble for the weaker Christians who might have real difficulties.
In the following chapter, Paul discusses how he practices what he preaches. He lists some rights that he himself has given up. He could marry, but he hasn’t (9:5). He could quit his day job and live off people’s offerings, but he hasn’t (9:6-12). So he says, “I have not used any of these rights” (9:15) as a way of telling them that if he can give up those big things (marriage, income), then surely they can give up eating meat at certain times. In addition, Paul notes how not using these rights has enabled him not to be dependent on others (9:19), and in doing so, he is free to do ministry as he sees fit (9:20-23).
Now we get to the passage at hand. Paul encourages self-discipline among Christians, comparing the Christian life to those who rigorously train for an athletic event (9:24-27). Paul uses previous generations during the time of Moses as a warning. God was not pleased with them (10:5) because of their practices of idolatry, revelry, and sexual immorality (10:7-10).
Paul says those things happened as examples of people who thought they were on solid ground but who actually weren’t (10:11-12). And now Paul arrives at his conclusion and the verse at hand: there is no temptation we can’t overcome with God’s help (10:13).
This is a well-meaning graphic full of helpful encouragement, but it distorts the meaning of the 1 Corinthians passage. First, the author of the graphic doesn’t seem to be using the wording in context. The context in 1 Corinthians is about temptation and sin, not about burdens and stresses. Paul is discussing previous generations and their mistakes. He is saying that we should learn from them, and that if we fall into temptation, we don’t have an excuse. God will provide a way out if we look to him. This graphic could be guilt-inducing, because it seems to imply that nothing we’re given (stresses, like health or financial difficulties) is too much. So if we ever feel like it’s too much, we should just suck it up. That is not the message of Paul in 1 Corinthians.
Related to this, the graphic doesn’t seem to respect interpretational limits. Fee and Stuart remind us that “a text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or readers.” The Corinthian church would not have understood some generic self-help speak about stress not being more than they could handle. Paul is making specific references to the temptations and sins of the Israelites in the wilderness. In a related context note, in another of Paul’s letters, he acknowledges that there might be times we’re so overwhelmed that we don’t even know the words to use in prayer (Rom 8:26-27), so surely Paul is not saying that if we’re overwhelmed, we just need to suck it up, because it surely isn’t more than we can handle.
However, the graphic does do a good job of comparing contexts. Whereas other issues Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians are very specific to the Corinthian readers (head coverings, taking pride in sexual immorality), the concept of facing temptation is universal. We might not face the exact kinds of temptations they did, but we do face temptation. And God is there to help us, just like he was with the Corinthians. We too can learn from the mistakes of previous generations, who might have thought they were standing firm but who eventually fell into temptation.
Overall, this graphic probably reads 1 Corinthians irresponsibly, making too broad a point about life’s stresses when it should be focused on temptations. It also mixes scripture with self-help in such a way that makes the two sources (scripture and pop psychology) almost equal, which can get us into trouble. The irresponsible reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 often leads people to feel guilty for feeling stressed, even when overwhelming things do happen. But the graphic does remind us that God is with us, and that’s a helpful message.