Guidelines For Exegetical Papers English Language Essay

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These are basic guidelines to assist in interpretation of a biblical text, not rules to be followed. While the actual process of analysis of the text may not necessarily follow this order, these steps provide a basic structure to develop and write an exegetical paper. Since the kinds of passages vary widely, some may require a slightly different presentation of the results of exegesis. Also, the individual parts of the format may need to be adjusted to suit the needs of the individual text. For example, some texts will involve more attention to structure while others will require more attention to historical background. However, this format should provide the basic structure of the paper. While these guidelines were formulated specifically with Old Testament passages in mind, they can vbe used for New Testament passages as well. The guidelines in Stuart (Old Testament Exegesis, pp. 21-43) and Fee (New Testament Exegesis, pp. 25-50) will also provide guidance.

As a reminder, the five basic steps in exegesis are: 1) textual/translation, 2) literary context, 3) historical context, 4) theological communication, and 5) application.

1. The Text

This should be a personal translation of the text either from the original languages or from a comparison of several modern English versions (Jerusalem Bible, NRSV, NASB, NEB, NIV,etc. No paraphrases!) to identify any problems of translation which might affect the communication of the text.

This translation should be accompanied by a set of notes, designated by numbers (1, 2, etc.). These should discuss or explain any major textual problems in the Hebrew text and how you (or others) have dealt with them, as well as identifying and discussing any problems of translation where the sense of the text is not adequately communicated by the single English word or phrase. (Note: not all passages will need many notes; some may need many.) If the passage is long (as in some narrative texts), the translation itself may be omitted, but important facets of the text should still be discussed. Don't include notes simply for information; they should only be used where a problem or ambiguity will affect the communication of the text, or where terms need clarification.

2. The Structure and Composition of the Text

Structure:

This is an analysis of the physical organization of the unit. This assumes a canonical shape for most passages; that is, that the structure is deliberate and is related to the communication of the passage. The aim here is to begin hearing the text on its own terms.

a. the limits of the unit, the reasons for setting them (as chosen, given, or changed), and how this might affect the communication of the passage. This would include the use of rhetorical devices (inclusio), narrative breaks (time, characters, location), formulaic constructions, or other devices that help define the unit.

b. a sentence outline of the passage identifying major parts, their components, and any other elements that play a role in the structural composition of the unit. This outline should clearly delineate the flow of thought of the passage. Any deliberate structural patterns, such as an acrostic, chiasmus, parallelism, etc., should be made clear here.

c. the function of the parts in the unit as a whole. This should (usually) be a short paragraph summarizing how the unit is organized, and how the various parts of the outline fit together. This will be quite easy in some texts (narratives), and will be more difficult in others (proverbial sayings).

d. points of emphasis in the passage that are highlighted by the structure. What does the analysis of structure begin telling you about what this text is attempting to communicate?

Composition:

This section should include the identification and relevance of those features which begin to pull the reader (hearer) toward the message of the passage, including:

e. key words and phrases and their significance in the passage. Don't include words here simply for information; identify key words that directly bear on the communication of the passage, and explain why you think they are key terms. If necessary, you may need to define precisely how the terms are used in the passage, especially if they can have a range of meaning (words like nephesh, mishpat, chesed, ruach, sarks, harmartia, etc.). In some cases, you may need to compare terms in this passage with how they are used elsewhere.

f. compositional techniques such as repetition of words, catch phrases, refrains, etc., and their relevance. Be sure you show how these techniques are used, and why; that is, how are they used as a means of communication.

g. literary devices, such as metaphor, imagery, word play, rhetorical questions, etc., and their significance in communication.

h. the significance of formulaic phrases, such as "Woe!" or "Thus says YHWH" or "this happened so that it might be fulfilled." How are these used in the passage, what effect do they have, and how do they help us understand the communication of the passage?

i. the genre that is most closely associated with these features. This should include not only the identification of the genre, but also how it has been altered and adapted into the present context and its function in the present context. If possible, this should be a specific genre that goes beyond "narrative" or "poetry." However, in many passages, the exact identification of genre, although perhaps interesting, is not crucial to understanding the passage. You will have to determine if it is important or not.

j. other sources that can be identified in the text, such as oral tradition, other documents or quotations, redacted elements, the use or re-use of other biblical traditions, etc., and how this identification affects the communication of the passage. This will vary widely depending on the passage. For example, most Psalms or Romans, will have few redacted elements. However, many prophetic books, historical narrative, and some legal traditions, as well as teh Synoptic Gospels, may have elements that need to be identified. Again, don't just include this for information; include it only if it helps understand the communication of the passage.

3. Context: The Setting of the Passage

Literary:

This section should include an analysis of the physical context of the passage within Scripture, most importantly in terms of its immediate placement as well as it relationship to larger literary contexts; the focus here should be on significance for interpretation.

a. the relation of the passage to its immediate literary context. How does the passage fit into the flow of thought of the preceding and following passages? Is this passage integral to a sustained coherent idea, or does it stand somewhat disconnected from its context and function independently? How do preceding or following passages affect how this passage is heard?

b. the role of the passage in the larger composition of which it is a part, either a large literary unit or the book as a whole. How does the passage fit into the overall flow of thought of the larger units of the book? Is there a discernible macro-structure of which this is a part?

c. the place and role of the passage in the entire canon of Scripture. (This is an important step for a full exegesis. However, for most exegetical exercises this is simply beyond the scope of what can be done in a limited amount of time. The lack of experience of most students in doing exegetical work would also make this very time consuming.)

Historical:

This section should include an analysis of the historical setting of the text (if apparent). An important part of this step is to decide the relative importance of historical issues for interpretation. The focus here should be on significance for interpretation

d. any pertinent data that can be deduced from the passage about the religious, cultural or sociological setting of the passage and its importance for interpretation. Do not include here a lot of descriptive historical material. In most cases it is sufficient simply to reference a period of time. However, some passages will require more specific data than others.

e. comparison of this data with the posited setting of the genre of the passage, as identified above. In most cases, this will not play a large role in the exegesis since most scholars have become pessimistic about their ability accurately to connect genre with a Sitz im Leben. However, if there is some consensus concerning your passage, it may be important to include. Be careful to show the relevance of this information to the text's message.

f. any specific historical facts about the writing which bear directly on communication, such as author, the purpose of the book (or passage), the audience to which it was addressed, etc. Use only solid historical data here, and only if it is crucial for understanding the passage.

g. the world situation and political setting (if known) at the time of the passage and its significance for interpretation. Caution should be taken to use only well documented data and not speculative reconstructions of history. Again, some texts will require more of this larger context (Elijah narratives, Amos, Gospels) than do others (Psalms, Leviticus, Romans).

4. Communication of the Passage

This section should begin moving toward synthesis, a drawing together of the various parts already identified to see how they function to communicate a message. Be sure that your conclusions in this section are drawn rather directly from your analysis in the previous sections. There should be very little new material here. This is the place to pull together the various aspects of your analysis.

a. identification of the major concerns or issues being addressed in the passage. This should be done through a combination of several elements of your analysis above.

b. the 'effect' or impact of the combination of genre (or lack or adaptation of it), literary devices, and structure.

c. identification and summary of motifs highlighted by these features.

d. the relationship between the motifs and the concerns of the passage; that is, how the ideas highlighted by composition, literary devices and structure address the major concerns.

e. the relation of these motifs and concerns to the historical setting of the book; how can the historical setting further clarify the communication of the passage? This should also concern the effect of the passage in that particular historical setting; what did it speak to the audience then?

f. formulation of the communication of the passage into theological affirmations; what the passage says about God, what the passage says about us as human beings, and what the passage says about humanity's relation to God. These should be short, concise statements of the theological dimensions of the text.

g. the relation between the theological affirmation of the passage and the theological perspectives of other books or traditions within the canon. (Here, too, while this is important for a full understanding of the passage, for most students, this lies beyond their expertise and may be omitted or done very briefly.)

5. Application: The Significance of the Passage

Simply put, this section should answer the question "What difference does it make?" This should be a carefully thought out judgment of the theological value (importance, implications, claim) of the message of the passage as an authoritative part of the canon of Scripture for the community of faith. This will, of necessity, be filtered through one's own theological views, but should not be of a doctrinal or dogmatic nature. It should be one usage to which the particular passage can be applied in the life and ministry of the church. This should be the central idea around which an expository sermon on the passage would be constructed, although it should not be "sermonic." This is the last step you would take before the actual writing of a sermon. It may be necessary here to identify an "audience" to which your application is aimed.

Factors To Keep In Mind in Writing Exegesis Papers

1. The papers will not be able to show all of the exegetical work and analysis you have done; however, the conclusions should reflect the work. Put the conclusions in the paper with enough supporting evidence to show how you arrived at the conclusions. Don't make sweeping statements without showing how you arrived at that conclusion.

2. Do not let the papers become simply descriptive. I can read what the passage says; I want to know what it means. Do not include information that does not help communicate the meaning of the passage. For example, the historical background is not important to the message of some passages.

3. These are not to be research papers in the sense of a survey and summary of other people's opinions on the passage. While commentaries and other resources may be used (at a late stage in the exegetical process), the primary analysis of the passage should be yours, with the Bible as the primary source (inductive study). Again, I can read what commentators think of the passage; I want to know how you see it and how you would apply it. Do not forget to document carefully and accurately when you do borrow other's ideas.

4. The primary purpose of exegesis is not to go through an academic exercise; exegesis is not an end in itself but is only a means to an end. It is a tool. The goal of exegesis is to gain disciplined insight into a theological truth (or truths) communicated by the Biblical text so that that truth can be applied in the lives of God's people. Keep that goal in mind: Don't lose the forest while looking at the trees!

5. Be aware of your own assumptions in doing theological exegesis; that is, know where you are coming from theologically. During the process of analysis, continually ask yourself questions like: Why am I seeing this passage in this way? Am I reading my own ideas into the passage or am I letting it speak on its own? Am I using the passage to argue my own prejudices or am I allowing the word (and the Word) to confront me with truth? Am I forcing the passage to speak to an issue that it really does not address? Am I glossing over problems of interpretation simply because I do not really understand the passage? Am I ignoring a particular interpretation because it does not fit within my ideas? How would people have heard (read) this passage in 400 BC or in AD 90? The primary rule here is: Stick to the text! As much as possible, try to hear the text on its own terms.

6. If we take the Bible seriously as God's revealed word, there is always a dimension of interpretation that falls under the ministry of the Holy Spirit. While this fact is no excuse for inadequate or sloppy analysis from a human perspective, it requires a certain sensitivity and openness from the very beginning and at all stages of the process of interpretation. Always begin the interpretive task with a prayer for God's leadership in your work: "Lord, help me understand!" And then as you do your work, listen for the text to speak His word, again!

In this paper, you will interpret a biblical passage utilizing various biblical study resources.   This is a formal research paper.  You are expected to use sources, to document their use, in Chicago Style of Citation for Humanities, and to include a bibliography.  Papers that are not adequately documented will be graded down substantially.  Papers will be graded on both content and form.  Final papers should be 2500 words max.  See Submission Guidelines for correct format of paper.  Please note that papers should be submitted hard copy to instructor at class time and also electronically to the drop box on the course synapse page ('calendar' or 'assignments' section for Dec 8).  Late papers will be graded down one-half letter grade per day.  A typed rough draft showing research conforming to all minimum requirements below is due on Nov 19.  This early draft should be organized, readable, and include full citations, but need not be in paragraph form.  This rough draft will be given a mark of satisfactory or unsatisfactory and returned to student (no score toward final grade), but no final paper will be accepted on Dec 8 unless research is turned in on Nov 19.

 

The primary goal of the final paper is to provide your interpretation of a biblical passage of your choice (a list of possible passages is provided below).  I will be looking for how you interpret the passage according to its literary, historical, cultural, theological, and biblical contexts.  To facilitate your interpretation of the author's purposes and the original readers' understanding of the passage, you should consult various biblical studies resources.  Below are the minimum interactions with outside sources that I will be looking for in your papers.  These resources should be used to enhance your own interpretation, not a substitute for it.  It should be clear how the resources you use aid your interpretation of the passages.  Somewhere in your paper you should  interpret your passage verse-by-verse or paragraph-by-paragraph; but an overall interpretation should also be clearly elucidated.  Your paper will be graded on the basis of your interaction with the passage itself and your utilization of secondary sources.

 

Bible Dictionary and/or Encyclopedia

 

Select at least two topics that relate to your passage, and look these topics up in two different Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias.  Possible topics could include a key custom (e.g. sacrifice, priest/priesthood, king, etc.), theological term (sin, covenant, wisdom, etc.), person, or place.  You should select topics that will help you to understand the passage better.  It should be clear why you chose these topics, if two or more sources differed, and how this information helps to better understand the passage.

 

Concordance

 

Pick a key term that occurs in your passage.  Make clear why this word is a key term for understanding your passage.  Look this term up in an exhaustive concordance (be certain to pick a concordance for the version of the Bible you are using!). There is no need to footnote usage of a concordance.  You should make personal note of the following items, but only report information that turns out to be relevant to the interpretation of your passage:  How frequently does this term appear in the Old Testament (you should pick a word that occurs at least five times in the OT)?  In which book(s) of the OT does it appear most?  Does the term appear elsewhere in your book?  Read all the passages in your book where that term is used (or in at least five places outside of your book). How does your examination of this word in other contexts help you to understand its usage in your passage?

 

Commentaries

 

Select at least two biblical commentaries that deal with this passage.  At least one of them should be an extensive commentary on that book.  Do not use two one-volume commentaries on the Bible.  Read the introductory material in both commentaries concerning authorship, date and place of writing, audience, and purpose of the biblical book in which your passage appears.  Then read how each commentary interprets your passage.  In you paper, you may want to discuss how the interpretations in the two commentaries agree and how they differ.  Does one interpretation convince you more that the other, or would you take a combination of the two, or neither?  Give reasons for your opinion.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of each commentary (e.g. how do they handle literary and historical questions?  Do they attempt any theological or practical application?)

 

Journal Articles (required for an 'A' paper)

 

Find one or more articles that deal with your passage.  These can be found in biblical journals or edited anthologies (i.e. books containing several articles by various authors), but in any case the article must deal with interpretation of the passage (not merely devotional or sermon material).  Explain what the major point of the article is and how that affects your interpretation of the passage. 

 

Personal Application

 

At the end of your paper, briefly describe what you think are the important theological and/or practical implication of your passage as you have interpreted it.  Application should only occur after you have interpreted the passage in its original context.  Do not jump to practical (or even Christian) interpretation too quickly.  Remember - you are trying to understand the passage as its original readers would have understood it. 

 

SUGGESTED INITIAL STEPS FOR EXEGESIS PAPER

 

1)      Pick a passage.

2)      Read passage several times.

3)      Read the book passage is in.

4)      Read the chapter passage is in several times.

5)      Outline passage - according to what you discern to be the main points and sub-point.

6)      Identify main point(s) made in passage.

7)      Identify several key terms, concepts, and sub-points made in passage.

8)      Determine historical, literary, and biblical context-initial step; just find basic facts.

9)      With (8) in mind, consider revisions or new insights to (6) and (7).

10)  Utilize extra-biblical resources in library (see pgs 1-2) - dig deeper, use resources (e.g. Bible dictionaries, commentaries, etc.) to extend the depth of your knowledge of the passage (e.g. historical setting, cultural context, place in redemptive history, literary features and genre, etc.)

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