Biblical studies/Exegesis

Biblical studies/Exegesis

Purpose: A biblical exegesis is an objective, scholarly attempt to discover the original meanings of a biblical text, insofar as one is able to do so. It is not a personal commentary on a biblical passage, or a sermon about the text, or an application of the text to today’s living. In exegesis, one seeks to understand a text in its original historical and literary context: who wrote and/or edited it, when, where, why, and for whom. It is based on publicly available historical and literary evidence, not on your particular religious beliefs. Therefore, statements like: “God wants _____”; “Jesus taught or did _______”; “We should pray ____,” etc., are NOT acceptable thesis statements for exegesis papers.

Papers should utilize 1” margins, Times New Roman 12 font, be double-spaced, 5-7 pages long, excluding title page and works cited page, and be in typed in Word compatible format. You must support your work with information from scholarly literature using at least seven references, at least five of which come from your independent research and two of which may come from the course material. (More information is below.)

Select one of the biblical passages for study provided by your instructor.
Familiarize yourself with the passage you have selected
• Read your passage in different translations.
• Check for parallel passages in other gospels.
• Read the entire gospel, paying particular attention to the verses that appear before and after your passage.
• Check a bible dictionary or encyclopedia for any words you do not understand.
• Make notes of any points that may be useful for your paper.
Consult at least three recent biblical commentaries (5-7 works, no earlier than 1960)
• Refer to at least one Roman Catholic and one Protestant commentary.
• Note whether the commentaries agree or disagree on any points.
• Do the commentaries leave a conclusion uncertain?
• Are some views more appropriate than others? (For example: interpretations that are racist are “less appropriate” than those that are not.)
Write your exegesis. Detailed instructions are below.
About the writing process: you probably will not know what you have to say about your passage until after you have spent some time writing about it. Writing a research paper is a process of finding out what you have to say, and you will need to write several drafts in order to produce a high-quality paper.

In your first (rough) draft, just start anywhere, even if you aren’t sure where you are headed. Get some ideas down on paper, without worrying about organization, clarity, grammar, spelling, etc. After you have written two-thirds to three-quarters of that first draft, you will probably begin to figure out more clearly what you want to say. That clarity is the beginning of the second phase, in which you will begin to organize your material more carefully for a reader.

Begin your second draft by stating the thesis your paper will argue, and providing an overview of how the paper will proceed. Don’t assume your reader knows what you are thinking; you must walk her step-by-step through your analysis, “connecting all the dots” as you go. At this point you do need to pay attention to organization, grammar, and so on. Every paragraph must have a clear topic sentence, and every sentence in each paragraph should relate to its topic sentence. Deal with one topic per paragraph.

Your thesis should express your own original insight into the topic of your paper. It should not simply summarize what other people have already said. It should not be so obvious that it is boring or trite: e.g., “We should be nice to other people.” It should offer something fresh that you discovered in the process of your own research, analysis, and writing. A thesis should be a claim about which reasonable people could (or do) disagree. Your paper should explain why your position makes the most sense, based on your analysis of the evidence available to you. Unless there is room for disagreement, you won’t have enough substance to sustain an interesting paper.

Next, you should get some feedback on your draft: what works well, what is not clear, where more or less information is needed. Use SmarThinking for feedback on at least one draft; you can also use the Writing Center.

Finally, work on polishing your final draft. Pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. One way to do this is to read your paper aloud or have someone else read it to you, because you can often hear problems that are more difficult to see when you are reading silently.

Format of the Final Draft

Type your passage in single space on page one. Indicate the gospel, chapter, and verses you are quoting. Use the NRSV translation. Switching to double-space, provide an introductory paragraph that tells your reader the thesis you will be arguing. Provide a “roadmap” for the reader of how the paper will proceed. Set the passage in its historical, literary, and religious context. Then, using the biblical commentaries, explain the most important verses and phrases in your passage, working from earlier verses to later ones, and organizing the insights you drew from steps 2 and 3 above. End with a concluding paragraph that summarizes your findings and reiterates your thesis (using different words). If you wish, you can add some brief personal reflections at the end, about what this passage means to you, to your religious (or other) community, or to readers today.

Historical Context: address questions such as:

When, where, and under what circumstances does the text say the events described in your passage took place?
b. When, where, and under what circumstances did the person who composed this Gospel compose it? (What were the political and economic conditions?)
c. What sources did the writer use?
d. Who was the probable audience for the original text?
Religious Context: address questions such as:

What do we know or can be inferred about the author’s religious, social, and cultural background? What were the major religious and cultural influences in that time and place?
b. What religious views does the author express, and what spiritual guidance does the author offer to the audience of the text?
c. What can be known or inferred about the audience addressed in this text? What were the key religious and historical events of their time and place? What was their social, cultural and religious situation? What were their probable religious and spiritual questions and concerns?
Literary Context: Addresses questions such as:

What is the literary genre of the passage you have chosen? What does this literary genre intend to communicate? (For example: a gospel is a particular type of ancient biography, and ancient biographies have specific literary characteristics that differ from modern biographies. Is your particular passage a narrative? A parable? A sermon? A poem? A debate?)
b. What purpose does the passage serve within the book as a whole?
c. How does this text advance the goals of the author, in addressing the intended audience in their particular life situations, with their particular needs and concerns?
Include a Bibliography or Works Cited Page
Your paper must contain both citations (in-text, footnotes, or endnotes) AND a Bibliography or Works Cited page. Use Chicago Style 16th ed. or MLA (Modern Language Association) Style. Chicago Style is standard in Religious Studies. For guides to both citation styles, see: Your Bibliography or Works Cited list goes on a separate page: the last page of the paper.

You will need to use five-to-seven resources. Two may be from materials used in this course (your textbooks, or videos, articles, or other materials posted on Joule). Five should be from your own research.

List all resources you used or cited in your exegesis, in alphabetical order by author’s or editor’s last name. If you use a commentary that is a chapter in an edited collection of commentaries, then the author is the person who wrote the chapter, and the editor is whoever edited the book. Include both the author’s and the editor’s names, and the titles of the chapter and the book, according to the style (Chicago or MLA) you are using.

Video citations should include the full title, director, producer, and year of the video.

Website citations should include the title of the page, the author (if known), the complete URL, and the date you accessed the site.

About Citations and Works Cited

Use direct quotations sparingly. Synthesize the material in your own words and cite all sources you used in developing your ideas. Primarily, your paper should reflect your words and thinking. You may use parenthetical notes, such as (Johnson 361) or footnotes, or endnotes.

Citations tell the reader exactly where you found the information in your paper. Whenever you state a fact, or state something that is not common knowledge, or quote someone else’s words or ideas, you need a citation, which includes the page number on which you found the information. If you are using footnotes, number them sequentially throughout the paper, starting with the number 1. Do not repeat a number. You might have 10-20 footnotes in your paper of five-to-seven pages.

For this paper, when you quote or cite the Bible, simply give the biblical text, e.g. Mark 3:14-15. Since you will be referring to it many times, it is not necessary to give the name of the Bible or the page number in the citation. Anyone with access to a Bible can find the passage to which you are referring.

Research Materials

For a good, scholarly paper, please use as many of the recommended materials as possible, as opposed to other materials. Virtually all of the following commentaries can be found in the Loyola Notre Dame Library reference section or stacks. Your local library may have some of these resources, or may be able to get copies for you through Interlibrary Loan. Check with the reference librarian.


Since an exegesis is not a sermon on how a scripture passage helps one to live out his/her beliefs, do not use the Life Application Study Bible, Disciples Study Bible, The Good News Bible, or Amplified Bible.

Every translation of the Bible is already an interpretation, and for that reason, it is important to consult more than one of them. Scholars regard the following translations of the Bible to be among the best.

New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV). New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
The Revised Standard Version (RSV) appeared under the auspices of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the middle of the twentieth century. After several revisions of the original translation, a completely fresh New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was issued in 1989. It took into account changes in English usage over the intervening decades, including the use of gender-inclusive language when referring to human beings.

New Jerusalem Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985.
Roman Catholic priests in Jerusalem translated the original version in 1955. Scholars translated it into English in1966 and published an updated version in 1985.

The Catholic Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
This version makes use of the New American Version Bible translated by Roman Catholic scholars.
The New International Version Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. A group of evangelical Protestant scholars translated this version.

Study Bibles typically include introductions to each book of the Bible. You may use these: be sure to pay attention to the name of the author of the introduction, as well as to the editor(s) of the study Bible as a whole.

Jewish Annotated New Testament. Amy Jill-Levine and Mark Z. Brettler, eds. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. This text uses the NRSV translation but includes detailed footnotes for each book of the Bible, with references to other relevant Jewish texts.

Gospel Parallels

Throckmorton, Burton H. Jr. Gospel Parallels, 4th ed. rev., NY: Thomas Nelson, 1979

The HarperCollins Study Bible also contains a table of parallel passages in the Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament section.

Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

These standard reference works are good places to begin to study key words, names of places or people, and aspects of various societies and cultures represented in the Bible. In addition, they include articles giving background for each book of the Bible and a brief summary of its contents.

Paul J. Achtmeier, ed., The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: HarperSanFancisco, 1996.
Published under the sponsorship of the Society of Biblical Literature, this one-volume work includes articles by Jewish, Protestant (both liberal and conservative) and Roman Catholic scholars.

Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1979.
This is a four-volume work from a conservative Protestant theological perspective.

A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. Nashville: Abingdon, 1962.
Written by Protestant scholars, this four-volume work includes encyclopedic essays, maps, illustrations and bibliographies.
David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 Vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
This six-volume work provides more extended discussions of most topics, and includes articles by Jewish, Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars. However, it represents a less inclusive team of writers and editors than the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary.

Bible Commentaries

Bible commentaries explain the meaning of biblical passages, usually verse by verse. One-volume commentaries are an accessible source of information about the Bible, but their disadvantage is that the discussion of any passage is necessarily brief. The briefer the discussion, the more selective it will be about the issues treated and the perspectives represented.

Brian K. Blount, Cain Hope Felder, Clarice J. Martin, and Emerson B. Powery, eds. True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press (2007)

Raymond E. Brown, et al., eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990. This in-depth and scholarly volume is the work of Roman Catholic contributors.

Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989. Written for laypersons, college students, Bible teachers and pastor, this volume by evangelical Protestant scholars makes use of the New International Version of the Bible for its commentary.

Deryn Guest, Robert Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache, eds. Queer Bible Commentary. London: SCM Press, 2006.

Robert Karris, Ed. The Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992. This Roman Catholic commentary, designed for the non-specialist, includes both Catholic and Protestant scholars.

James L. Mays, ed. Harper’s Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988. Prepared under the auspices of the Society of Biblical Literature, the seventy-seven contributors to this volume are both Protestant and Catholic.

New Interpreter’s Bible (12 volumes, various authors; use appropriate volumes.) Nashville, TN Abingdon Press, 2002. Detailed Protestant (Methodist) commentaries on each book of the Bible.

Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds. The Women’s Bible Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox. (The most recent edition is the 3rd Revised and Updated edition, 2012.) This commentary brings together the work of some of the growing number of biblical scholars who are women. It focuses on aspects of books in the Bible that are of particular concern to women. Representatives from both Jewish and Christian traditions are included.

Daniel Patte, ed. Global Bible Commentary. Abdingdon Press, 2004.

Sacra Pagina Series, Collegeville: Order of St. Benedict, 1991 (Use appropriate volume)
Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series Vol. 1
John Donahue, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina Series Vol. 2
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina Series, Vol.3
Francis J. Maloney, The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 4 Catholic scholars.