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In this post in my series “God and Man at Yale Divinity,” I discuss my first week in the Master of Divinity degree program at Yale. This post contains referral links.

master of divinity

Yale Divinity School Reading Room. I prefer the spot upstairs in the back left corner. 

Estimated Reading Time: 15 minutes

Starting the Master of Divinity program at Yale has been one of the most exciting experiences of my life. I just completed my first week of classes at Yale Divinity School, and I cannot wait to resume classes next week.

This week was a short one—classes started on Wednesday—so I only have three days to discuss. Still, it was a great week, and I continue to be grateful to be here.

Starting the Master of Divinity at Yale

The first day of class was a busy one. Getting started at Yale has been both easy and confusing. The rigid scheduling to which I am accustomed does not exist here.

The first week or two is pretty lax as everyone shops around for the courses they want to take, and you’re several class meetings in before you have to finalize your schedule.

There are pluses and minuses to this. On the positive side, it allows you to try out courses before you commit. There are a lot of course options for those in the Master of Divinity program. So, there isn’t enough time to take everything you might find interesting.

The Master of Divinity is just three years (and the Master of Arts in Religion is only two). The shopping period gives you a chance to make the best choice.

The negative aspect, however, is the lack of certainty. On top of that, coursework starts early, so you’ll probably have reading assignments due while you’re still shopping around. As a result, you may be very busy at the beginning of the semester.

Getting started in the Master of Divinity program can, therefore, feel like it comes in fits and starts.

The Yale Shopping Period

As I discussed in my previous post, because of the shopping period at Yale, I am in more classes than I can possibly take. I am currently signed up for the following courses:

  1. History of Early Christianity
  2. New Testament Interpretation I
  3. The Cult of Mary: Early Christian and Byzantine Art
  4. Intermediate New Testament Greek
  5. Introduction to Theology
  6. World Christianity: Christianity as a Cross-Cultural Movement
  7. Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics
  8. Anglican Colloquium
  9. Elementary Biblical Hebrew (Auditing)

There are still three classes on my schedule that have yet to meet: Anglican Colloquium, Karl Barth, and World Christianity. I will attend the latter two on Tuesday.

The Anglican Colloquium meets on Mondays, however, and, since Monday is Labor Day, that class will not meet for the first time until the week after next.

The Anglican Colloquium is required for the Berkeley program, so I’m not concerned about it. It’s a mandatory part of the Master of Divinity curriculum for me. I should, therefore, know what I’ll be taking by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Master of Divinity Class Sizes

This week, I learned how the popular courses at Yale Divinity tend to work. Like most students, I’m starting at Yale with some of the popular classes that fit nicely into the Master of Divinity degree requirements. (See below.)

Two such introductory courses that I am taking—History of Early Christianity and New Testament Interpretation I—are massive. (Almost all Master of Divinity students take these courses at some point.) I believe each has between sixty and ninety students.  


When I signed up for these classes, they were scheduled to meet at the same time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. To facilitate more intimate discussion settings, however, the professors have divided the classes into smaller sections. These sections do not meet at the same time as the class is scheduled to meet. 

So, it appears that we are dropping our lecture period on Fridays, and we will attend one of the section meetings instead. There are several times slots from which to choose.

There is, however, some added complication here, as it makes it difficult to plan your schedule when you are signing up for classes. I planned my classes based on the published schedule, but now I have to find section times that work.

Finding times that work can be tricky, as I have other classes that meet during some of the scheduled section times. In addition, unlike many other students, I have familial commitments with my children that make crafting a workable schedule particularly important. If none of the section times had worked for me, I would have had to drop the classes. 

It looks like everything is going to work out, though. One of the courses, however, offered four different section meeting time options, and I had class conflicts with all but one. So, this is something of which to be aware when you’re signing up for classes. Having backup courses is, therefore, imperative.


It appears that teaching fellows will teach the sections. Teaching fellows are Ph.D. candidates from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. (The Divinity School does not have a doctoral program). I think serving as a teaching fellow is a requirement as part of their funding.

I like this. As I want to go on to do Ph.D. work after I complete the Master of Divinity, I think it would be an excellent opportunity to learn about the experiences of the teaching fellows.

One of the teaching fellows, however, when introducing himself, indicated that he was a sixth-year Ph.D. student, which is a bit daunting. I knew the degree could take that long at elite schools, but it still felt like a bit of a shock to hear someone say it out loud.

The Master of Divinity is a three-year program. So, eight to nine years is the timeframe from start to finish for me. That’s a long time, but I’m excited to get going.

Whittling Down My Schedule

As I previously stated, getting started at Yale is a bit of a process because of the shopping period. (The shopping period is not unique to Yale Divinity School. As the video above indicates, it appears to be a campus-wide custom.)

Wednesday/Friday Classes

I now have a good idea as to the classes that I will take. On Wednesday, Hebrew, Early Christianity, New Testament, and Cult of Mary all met. I intend to keep all these classes, except for the Cult of Mary.

I had signed up for the Cult of Mary because I was interested in the history of Marian devotion as well as Eastern Orthodoxy in general. The course seems significantly more art history than religious studies, however, so I don’t think it will be a good fit for my interests.

Besides, during the first class, we all introduced ourselves and explained why we wanted to take the course. After hearing everyone else talk, I knew others would be better suited for the course than me.

Art historians teach it, and many of the other attendees had an art and/or history background. Since it is a limited enrollment class, I decided to go ahead and drop it, rather than compete for a spot.

So, that’s one class down.

Thursday Classes

On Thursday, I attended Intermediate New Testament Greek and Introduction to Theology. The theology instructor stated during his opening lecture that those who have done previous theological studies might want to take Systematic Theologywhich is offered in the springinstead.

As I outline in the Master of Divinity degree requirement section below, an introductory theology class is required to graduate. Only Introduction to Theology or Systematic Theology can fulfill this requirement. Some people take both courses, but I’ll probably take the instructor’s advice and drop the Introduction to Theology class.

Remaining Decisions

As I stated above, I haven’t had the chance to meet with the Karl Barth or World Christianity courses yet. At this point, I suspect I’ll want to keep the Karl Barth course.

That course, however, is a seminar, which means it is a smaller class. From looking at the enrollment on Canvas (see below), there appear to be about thirty people shopping the course right now. So, I’m not sure if the instructor will whittle it down, and I won’t know until Tuesday.

(The reading for the first session is quite extensive, so I certainly hope that she wouldn’t assign such extensive readings only then to cut people from the course.) 

I am very interested in Karl Barth, so I’m excited about the class. If the instructor cuts people, however, I intend to keep World Christianity, barring my receiving any information during the first class that persuades me to drop that course.

Since I’m dropping Cult of Mary and Introduction to Theology, if I do not end up taking either Karl Barth or World Christianity, I will have to come up with another course that I’m not currently shopping, as I will be left with only nine-and-a-half hours at that point. So, we’ll see.

Starting at Yale feels like a bit of a process, but I’m slowly settling into the routine. Once I finalize my schedule, I think I’ll feel better about the whole thing.

Biblical Languages

I am taking both Greek and Hebrew this semester, although I’m only auditing the latter.


On Thursday, I had my first meeting with the Intermediate Greek course. It’s a second-year Greek class. I had three years of Greek in college, but my last Greek class was in 2006.

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I was nervous that I would be too far removed from my formal training in the language to be able to keep up. The professor said that I should come to the first class and see what I thought.

After the first meeting, I feel better about it. So, I plan to stick with it.

I must say that I was surprised by the small class size. Of the ten or so students in there, I believe there was only one Master of Divinity student other than myself. The rest were M.A.R. students.

That M.A.R. students would be in the class makes sense, especially those in the concentrated Bible program. The M.A.R., particularly in its concentrated programs, seems mainly designed to prepare students for further academic study, and Ph.D. work requires a lot of language knowledge.

Still, I would think a more significant number of Master of Divinity students would take advanced language classes. So, that’s a curious thing to me.

I would think that most of the people who take the elementary course would also take the advanced course. Only advanced language classes count toward the Bible hour requirements for the Master of Divinity degree (see below). So, I’m not sure why anyone would just take the elementary course unless they were only looking for some elective credit.


I’m auditing Elementary Biblical Hebrew this semester. While I had three years of both Greek and Hebrew in college, I don’t feel like Hebrew stuck as well as Greek did. So, I’m auditing the elementary course to help refresh my memory and hopefully prepare to take advanced Hebrew courses next year. 

Hebrew met for the first time on Wednesday. That class, too, was small, and a significant number of the students were not from the Divinity School.

There was a Ph.D. student, a faculty member from the Forestry School auditing the course, and a few undergraduate students. There was only one other Master of Divinity student in the class. This means only one Master of Divinity student is taking Hebrew for credit this semester.

I’m not sure how this compares to the elementary Greek course at Yale since I did not take that. I suspect that more people would be interested in Greek than Hebrew. When I was an undergraduate, my Elementary Greek class was significantly larger than my Elementary Hebrew class, and this trend continued throughout my undergraduate career.

My third-year Greek class had maybe ten to fifteen students, while my third-year Hebrew class—which was a mixture of second and third-year students—had only two. I was the only Hebrew minor in my graduating class.

Given the small numbers in the Intermediate Greek class, however, maybe the numbers are roughly the same. I’m a little surprised by the lack of interest in biblical languages at a major divinity school. And these numbers aren’t‏ even final. Were still in the shopping period, so the classes may get smaller still.

Master of Divinity Degree Requirements

Starting at Yale requires an understanding of where you’re going and the requirements of your degree program. The degree requirements for the Master of Divinity are a bit complicated. It’s a seventy-two-hour degree program, so you need to take twelve hours per semester over three years to graduate on time.

Basic Requirements of the Master of Divinity

The requirements are broken down into five areas plus electives.

  • Area I (Biblical Studies) – 12 hours
  • Area II (Theological Studies) – 12 hours
  • Area III (Historical Studies) – 9 hours
  • Area IV (Ministerial Studies) – 12 hours
  • Area V (Comparative Studies) – 9 hours
  • Electives – 18 hours

Additional Requirements for the Master of Divinity

There are also some additional sub-requirements, as I currently understand them.

  • Under Area I (Biblical Studies), you must take at least three hours in New Testament and three hours in Old Testament. Various courses can meet these requirements, but it’s popular to fulfill the entire Area I requirement by taking New Testament Interpretation I and II and Old Testament Interpretation I and II.
  • Under Area II (Theological Studies), you must take at least one introductory theology course and a basic ethics course. Either Introduction to Theology or Systematic Theology will meet the introductory theology course requirement. Theological Ethics or Introduction to Christian Ethics will meet the ethics requirements. (Also, if desired, Introduction to Christian Ethics can count under Area V instead.) I also understand that some Area III courses can count for Area II credit. This could be desirable if you wanted to take several history courses.
  • Area III (Historical Studies) must include two of the following courses:
    • History of Early Christianity
    • History of Medieval Christianity
    • History of Early Modern Christianity
    • History of Modern Christianity
  • Under Area IV (Ministerial Studies), Principles and Practices of Preaching is a required course.

In addition, you have to take a course in a non-Christian religion or comparative religion. You also have to take a class that “that either focuses on or integrates in a sustained way material on class, gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity, disability, and/or global/cultural diversity.” 

Various courses meet this “diversity requirement,” and they all appear to be in Area V. The World Christianity class that is currently on my schedule meets this requirement. (See Yale’s website for more information.)

Finally, you have to do a supervised ministry internship.

Master of Divinity Degree Audits and Electives

The requirements for the Master of Divinity degree are bit convoluted, but Yale’s student website allows you to do an electronic degree audit at any time. So, it’s easy to figure out what you need to take.

As far as the electives, almost anything can satisfy those requirements. This is where many people take classes outside the Divinity School. (You can, however, petition to have classes outside the Divinity School count toward one of the Area requirements if it fits.)

It also gives you room to go beyond the minimum requirements and focus on a particular subject-matter (New Testament, for example).

Note, however, that the denominational program classes do not count toward your degree at all. So, while I am getting half-an-hour of credit for the Anglican Colloquium, it does not count toward anything for the Master of Divinity degree. It doesn’t even count as elective credit. It matters only for earning a Diploma in Anglican Studies.

Full denominationally-based courses, however—for example, Anglican History or Catholic Theology—do count. (I understand, however, that there is a limit to the number of denominational courses that can count toward fulfilling one of the Areas with additional classes counting as electives.)

You can also read the Yale Divinity School bulletin for more detailed information about the Master of Divinity degree requirements.

Below is a talk on the different degree programs offered at divinity schools and includes a description of the Master of Divinity. The video is from Harvard Divinity School, so there will be some differences from what you’ll find at Yale. 

Old Testament Placement Exam

The foundational biblical studies courses are Old Testament Interpretation and New Testament Interpretation. Each is a year-long course, but you may take each semester independently.

So, for example, taking New Testament I does not obligate you to take New Testament II. You can also take New Testament II without taking New Testament I. (I’m not sure, however, if you can take Old Testament II without taking Old Testament I.)

Most advanced courses require you to have taken these courses as a foundation for more advanced studies.

The Old Testament department, however, allows you to take a placement exam. If you pass, you may register for advanced Old Testament courses without having had Old Testament Interpretation. You don’t get any credit for passing the exam. You simply can go right into the advanced classes.

Since I majored in biblical studies in college, I took the exam and passed, though barely.

(If you have a background in biblical studies from an evangelical institution, I’d recommend reading Introduction to the Hebrew Bible by John Collins before arriving at Yale. It can fill in the gaps in some areas of scholarship that might not be as heavily emphasized at more conservatives schools.)

So, I hope to take some advanced Old Testament classes in future semesters.

There is, however, no similar placement exam offered for New Testament.


Yale uses a website called Canvas to organize classes. It’s similar in concept to Blackboard, with which I was previously familiar. Professors upload reading materials, the syllabus, and various other resources there for students to access.

Students submit their work through Canvas, and professors post grades through the program. It also provides a medium through which to correspond with your classmates and instructors.

The classes I am currently taking have extensive reading assignments outside of what is found in the required textbooks. So, these readings—journal articles, selections from various other books, and the like—are uploaded to the site for readings.

Starting the Master of Divinity

I am discovering the reading at Yale to be rather extensive. I expected the workload to be heavy at an Ivy League institution. Having already graduated law school, however, I thought I had a pretty good idea as to what I could expect.

I was wrong.

If it keeps up at this pace, the reading will be more extensive than it was in law school. While I don’t mind it nearly as much as I did in law school, it will be a lot more time-intensive than I anticipated. I did not expect a Master of Divinity to require more work than a Juris Doctor.

Still, I am excited by all that I will learn. Starting a Master of Divinity at Yale has been one of the most thrilling experiences of my life, and I can’t wait to see what I will experience over the course of this semester.  

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See Also:

BTFO (Before the Fall Orientation) at Yale

Week 2: Opportunities for Spiritual Growth at Yale


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