Which Degree? MDiv vs. MA vs. ThM - Seminary Comparison

Which Degree? MDiv vs. MA vs. ThM

Do you know the difference between the various seminary degrees?

Look no further! We’ll take a brief tour through the three major graduate-level seminary degrees, highlighting their basic differences, so you can choose the program that best fits you.

Master of Divinity (MDiv)

The Master of Divinity (magister divinitatis) is the most common degree for pastoral ministry in North America. The MDiv is a considered a “professional” degree because it is designed to prepare people for a ministry profession in the church or pastorate.

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the body that accredits most seminaries in the US, defines the MDiv as a program that prepares people “for ordained ministry and for general pastoral and religious leadership responsibilities in congregations and other settings.”[1]. A typical MDiv curriculum includes courses in Greek and Hebrew languages, systematic and historical theology, pastoral leadership, counseling, and spiritual formation. Depending on the seminary, the program may also include courses specific to a denomination or religious tradition.

A typical MDiv takes three academic years to complete and ranges between 70 and 100 credit hours. For example, Denver Seminary’s MDiv program is only 72 hours while Reformed Theological Seminary has a 102-hour program. An MDiv requires a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent) for admission.

Master of Arts (MA)

While the MDiv is three years and offers broad preparation for ministry, seminaries also offer Master of Arts (magister artium) degrees which are typically only two years long and which have a specific ministry or academic focus.
There are two types of seminary-level Master of Arts programs. “Professional” MA degrees prepare students for a specific ministry role such as Asbury Seminary’s . “Academic” MA programs are designed “provide a basic understanding of theological disciplines for further graduate study or for general educational purposes.” An example would be Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s . Some Academic MA are designd to prepare students for additional academic study such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
A typical MA can take up to two academic years to complete. It is between 30 and 60 credit hours in length and requires a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent) for admission.

Master of Theology (ThM)

A Master of Theology (ThM) is generally a one-year academic degree taken after completing a three-year Master of Divinity program. The Master of Theology (theologiae magister) is a postgraduate degree considered by the Association of Theological Schools (accrediting agency) as the minimum required qualification to teach bible or theology at an accredited Bible college.

The ThM is designed “to provide a fuller mastery of one area or discipline of theological study than is normally provided at the MDiv level. The program may serve a variety of aims, including further graduate study at the doctoral level, preparation for some forms of teaching, the scholarly enhancement of ministerial practice, or disciplined reflection on a specialized function in ministry.”[3] The ThM builds upon the professional focus of the MDiv through supplemental academic research, aimed toward a teaching role. As such, the ThM curriculum includes more extensive language study (Greek and Hebrew) and a specialization in one or more fields, such as systematic theology, or church history.

Dallas Theological Seminary merged the 3-year MDiv and 1-year ThM into a unique, integrated four-year ThM that offers students all the essential theological courses offered in a three-year curriculum with additional emphasis in Greek and Hebrew language studies, Bible exposition. In addition, it offers a customizable emphasis that students can direct toward their ministry or academic calling.

wdt_ID Description MDiv MA MA ThM
1 MDiv MA MA ThM
2 Type Professional Professional Academic Professional/ Academic
3 (Total) Length 3 Years 2 Years 2 Years 4 Years (3+1)
4 (Total) Credit Hours 70-100 30-60 30-60 120[4]
5 Prepares for PhD Prepares for PhD

Choosing a Program

If you’re looking for broad preparation for a ministry profession like a pastoral or missionary position, the MDiv is a good fit. If your ministry calling doesn’t require work in languages, you may find that a professional MA serves you well. If you don’t intend to work in traditional church-leadership or anticipate PhD work, an academic MA may be helpful. And if you’re hoping for elements of both professional and academic training with an advanced research component geared for teaching, an MDiv and a ThM, or Dallas Theological Seminary’s 4-year ThM, will offer you the deep training you need.

Whatever degree fits you best, may the Lord grant you grace and peace in your studies, life, and ministry as we together seek to see the Lord’s kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

[1] ATS, Degree Program Standards, 1.
[2] ATS, Degree Program Standards, 17.
[3] ATS, Degree Program Standards, 41.
[4] This has been calculated by adding the 30 credit hours of a typical ThM onto a standard 90-credit-hour MDiv, (30+90).

Share This Post:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on google
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Compare seminaries

Recent Posts

Connect with Us


Explore Scholarships

Dallas Theological Seminary is so committed to this model that we are offering free tuition for the final 24 required hours to every ThM student who is enrolled in classes in the fall 2017 or spring 2018 semesters.