Before you start your Exegesis Paper

Jan A. Sigvartsen PhD

The Preparation Process

Exegesis is a process that helps you understand a text. Before you start writing your paper, I recommend using the following steps to facilitate this process. This process has been designed to assist you in understanding a text by identifying the key considerations that will play a significant role in adequately contextualizing your passage.

Step 1: Passage Familiarization

Read your chosen passage in English (in three different versions) and then in Hebrew repeatedly. This will help you identify the structure, keywords, and phrases of the passage.

Make a list of your preconceived ideas and what you have been previously told about the text. Being aware of any preconceived ideas you may hold regarding a text will help you consciously test them when you make your interpretation. 

Make a preliminary translation from Hebrew in your own words. Note if your translation is consistent with your preconceived ideas or if it is different.

Make a list of the keywords and phrases.

Do a word study of the most crucial word(s) or phrase(s). This involves identifying other occurrences of this word, the distribution of the word in the Hebrew Bible, its definition, and the different range of meanings this word may have. For more details on how to undertake a word study, click here or scroll down to the next article on this page.

Step 2: Historical Context

Note the immediate and the general background of the text and give estimated dates for any event(s) or person(s) in the passage.

Note words, ideas, and events that allude or refer to that historical background.

Note the social, geographical, and archaeological setting of the text. 

Step 3: Literary Context and Features

Situate your text within the literary structure of the book and identify the literary genre of the text (narrative, poetry, genealogy, prayer, dream, etc.).

Note the patterns (repetition of words, ideas, sounds) and the poetic devices (play on words, parallelism, rhythm, inclusio).

Outline the passage and establish its delimitations (where the passage logically begins and ends). Be prepared to defend your passage delimitation.

Step 4: Biblical Context (Intertextuality)

Search in the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) for texts which refer or allude to your text.

Justify your connection: note any parallels or echoes.

Analyze how your text is interpreted by the other texts.

Step 5: Other Considerations

Identify your personal (original) contribution and your findings in the text.

Write the outline of your project and incorporate the result of your exegesis with the primary concern to educate, edify, and challenge your reader.

Step 6: Theology and Relevance (for Theology and Seminary students) 

Please Note: The content of this step is not normally included in academic exegesis papers. However, exegesis is one of the core skills taught to clergy and theologians in both undergraduate and graduate programs. This is to promote accountability in Biblical interpretation and make Biblical text relevant to a modern faith community. Hence, exegesis becomes the foundation for determining the theological message of the passage - which is essential in the development of doctrine, denomination/church policy, sermon/worship preparation, Bible study, and article writing in denominational publications.

Use this step only if you are a Theology or Seminary student, or if your professor/lecturer has asked you to do so.

Locate the theology of the passage within the general trend of Biblical theology (God, Man, Covenant, etc.).

Identify the main ideas and issues raised and solved by the text.

Note in which areas this text is relevant to you, your reader, academic audience, or congregation.

How to do a Word Study

Jan A. Sigvartsen PhD

When writing an exegesis paper, it is important to do a word study of keywords/phrases to fully understand the meaning of the selected text. The easiest and quickest way to accomplish this goal is to become competent in Biblical Hebrew and familiar with a Bible software package. Using these skills/tools, follow the steps below to undertake a word study.

1. Parse the keyword you are researching using:

  • The Hebrew Bible

  • Your Hebrew knowledge

  • Bible Software

  • The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Sem. Ref. PJ4833 .D3 1848)

  • Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Sem. Ref. PJ4731 .B53 O94 1989)

  • Based on the English Bible: The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Sem. Ref. BS425 .S8 1984). Note the Strong’s [S] number matching the English word.

2. Find other Bible passages using the same Hebrew term to help you define the word's range.  The same word may have slightly or very different meanings, depending on the context.  Use:

  • The Hebrew Bible:

  • Bible Software

  • A New Concordance of the Old Testament (Sem. Ref. BS1121 .E95 1993)

  • Based on the English Bible:

  • New Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance (Sem. Ref. BS1125 .W5 1984). Arranged numerically by [S] numbers

  • The Hebrew English Concordance to the Old Testament (Sem. Ref. BS1121 .K65 1998). Arranged numerically by [G/K] numbers

3. Find a brief definition of the keyword by using:

  • Bible Software

  • The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Sem. Ref. PJ4833 .66 1980)

  • A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Sem Ref . PJ4833 .H6)

4. Lengthy articles in English on your Hebrew word may be found in the:

  • New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Sem. Ref. BS440 .N438 1997)

  • Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Sem. Ref. BS440 .B57 1974)

  • Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Sem. Ref. BS440 .T48 1997)

  • Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Sem. Ref. BS440 .T49)