Disability Studies and the Bible

NT 3XD3/6XD6

Winter 2020
In-Course Sessions: Feb. 18-19

“Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22).

The late founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, once lamented that these words of Paul are never taken seriously in the discussion of Christian ecclesiology, particularly in the topic of disability and the church. What the Apostle Paul suggests here is that what makes the church different from other social groups is the inclusion and empowerment of the so-called “weaker” members. The very identity of a believing community as the body of Christ is its willingness to embrace those members that are deemed “weak” (according to various secular “standards” or cultural understanding of normalcy) and empower them to be Christ’s disciples.


However, the witness of the Bible regarding this topic is far from unified. People with physical and cognitive disabilities are often depicted in problematic ways. They are depicted as outcast and marginalized, categorically excluded from leadership and participation in cultic service (Lev 21:17–23), and exiled from the city (2 Sam 5:8), and they are used as a plot device for making larger theological points (such as John 5 and 9). These diverse portrayals of disability raise not only exegetical concerns but also homiletical and pastoral ones.


This course is an exegetical study of biblical texts that portray (and sometimes stigmatize) disability and the disabled mind and body. We will analyze these texts by contextualizing them historically and ideologically, taking into account both ancient perspectives on health care and disability as well as modern assumptions in ableist hermeneutics. The main objective is to seek to determine how a culture’s understanding of the make-up of body and mind contributes to the ways in which disability are described in cultural artefacts (i.e. texts). We will provide a safe space in class (and online) to question the problematic texts and to reflect together on the pastoral implications of such literature. Our goal is to work collaboratively towards a biblical theological understanding of disability.


  • To become familiar with the problematic (biblical) texts on disability and disabled body;
  • To analyze biblical texts with a critical mindset towards the power dynamics and ideologies of disability at work in the text;
  • To know more advanced concepts for study of the exegetical methods that aid in the interpretation of individual passages.


  • To become sensitive to the historical and culture environment of the Bible;
  • To appreciate the value of being able to exegete the text for use in ministry;
  • To allow the texts to motivate, form and transform faith, worship and Christian way of life.


  • To explain key topics and major exegetical issues related to disability studies and the Bible;
  • To access resources that engage with literature in disability studies in a careful and critical manner;
  • To articulate the social, cultural, and theological significance of disability and distinguish them from their ancient/biblical counterparts.