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Building an Exegesis

Webpage designed by Kevin Hatcher ('07) in consultation with the Biblical Studies Department in July 2007.

Researching Introductory Components

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What are Introductory Components?

Introductory Components are elements that relate to the book or letter you are investigating. This is very important because these elements will shape the meaning of your passage and will help you understad the true meaning of your passage. For instance, if someone was studying the book of Revelation, it would be wise for him/her to research when the book was written. What Roman emperor was reigning when Revelation was written? What historical events had taken place that might effect the interpretation of the letter? Knowing the date the document was written will inform your perspective of the meaning of Revelation possibly from looking at it as something that will happen, something that has happened, or something that is happening.

The following are some key introductory components that you should research:

1. Author Who wrote the book or letter?
2. Date of the Document What are some possible years for the composition of the book or letter?
3. Place of Writing Where did the author write the book or letter?
4. Destination Where did the author send the book or letter?
5. Audience To whom did the author send the book or letter?
6. Life Setting ("Sitz im Leben") What was the political, social, economic, etc. background occuring at the time the book or letter was written, and how did it involve the author and audience?

Explanation & Advice

1. Author

Understanding authorship is very important to the exegetical process as this may change the purpose of the book or letter. The author's background will partly shape why the book or letter was written in the first place. However, one of the issues that you may face is a conflict among scholars concerning the identity of the author. For instance, was the apostle, Jesus' brother, another church elder, or someone entirely different the author of the letter we call James? You will need to research and find who the most widely accepted authors are and why they are considered possibilities.

2. Date of the Document

Like researching possible authors, the time period for composition of the book or letter (or even that part of the book or letter) is important to the purpose of your document. Like the issue of authorship, you may discover that there are several possible dates that most scholars have selected. Some of these time periods are considerably distant from each other. A good example is the last half of the book of Daniel. Some scholars believe that Daniel was written right after the exile to Babylon and Daniel's life. However, other scholars believe that at least part of Daniel may have been written during the Maccabean Revolt in the second century BC. Obviously, these two different dates would change the focus of part of the book of Daniel.

3. Place of Writing

Finding the place of writing might be more difficult to find out, although it can be very important. In fact, some books of the Bible may have very little information on where they were written. Don't be discouraged, continue searching for this information and gather the data you can.

4. Destination and 5. Audience

Both the destination and the audience are strongly related to each other. Usually if you find one, then you will find the other. Like most introductory components, the destination and audience may have multiple possibilities. However, the destination and audience will be strongly influence by (and may influence) who the author is and when the document was written. It is important that the destination and audience correspond with the possible author and dating. It does not make much sense for the author of the book of Matthew to be a Jew and very knowledgable in Jewish culture, but the audience to be people located in Greece (since they would not understand many of the Jewish cultural connections that the author makes).

6. Life Setting ("Sitz im Leben")

The life setting is the heart of why the book or letter was written. Typically, authors are responding to the situation of individuals or congregations and trying to explain the true Christian perspective on such issues. This may include political, social, economic, catastrophic, or religious issues. You will also want to try and answer questions like "what do we know of the community of which this audience is a part?" or "to what situation or question does the passage respond?" Again, the possible life settings will be shaped by the above introductory components, so make sure that the life setting matches the information that you research.

Sources for Introductory Questions

Now that you have an idea what to look for, you should think on where to look for it. The following types of sources typically have good introductory information.
  • Bible commentaries: Bible commentaries will typically provide most of this material in the first pages of the book.
  • Bible Dictionaries: Most Bible dictionaries have entries for each book of the Bible.
  • Introductions to Biblical Books: These books will have brief overviews of content and important background information on each book in the New Testament
All of the commentaries, dictionaries, and New Testament books listed on the Resources page are owned by Benner Library.

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It is very important to look for this introductory information in multiple books. Each author typically has their own opinion about introductory issues. For instance, some commentaries may say that some of the letters attributed to Paul (like Colossians) were not actually written by him. (1) Others may follow the more traditional belief that all of the letters were written by Paul.

It is also good to include several different theories regarding the introductory information. You do not want to make this the longest part of your exegesis, but you still need to show that you are aware of the different theories relating to introductory items. Including two or three possible authors, for example. may be a good idea as long as it does not take up too much space.

A final tip is that you may wish to use some of this introductory material in the body of your exegesis as well. This is fine as long as you make sure that you are not weakening your introduction.

Last updated July 18, 2007

Works Cited For This Page

  1. Soulen, Richard N. and R. Kendall Soulen. Handbook of Biblical Criticism. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2001.

Library Resources for Exegesis Projects