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Building an Exegesis

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

Selecting A Topic

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1. Choosing a Scripture Passage

Choosing a Scripture passage is one of the most important parts of an exegesis. Make a thoughful choice from the list of passages that your professor provides. What passage are you curious about? Which one sticks out in your mind so that you wonder whether there is something deeper than what you are reading? Remember, you're going to be spending a lot of time looking at these verses, so you should choose one in which you have a personal interest.

This table is set up to provide some tips if you are exegeting a passage from the New Testament:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John Make sure you compare the stories, narratives, and parables between these books. Resources like Kurt Aland's Synopsis of the Four Gospels are very useful. The Gospel of John should also be compared to the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John.
Acts The book of Acts appears to be in solitude in style, but there are some important things to remember. First, Acts was written after the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke leaves off. Second, be sure and look at the various letters especially the letters of Paul to see similarities between Paul's journeys and his writings.
Pauline Corpus
Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus,

Paul's Church Epistles were written to various churches and therefore address issues within congregations and define a Christian's relationship with the world. Be sure and look for parallels between these books since many times Paul addresses similar issues in many churches.

Hebrews and the General Epistles
Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude The General Epistles were written by multiple authors, all of whom have some controversies involved with their authorship.
Revelation Revelation is the only book in the New Testament that is considered primarily "apocalyptic literature." Because of this, there may not be many obvious parallels to the New Testament books. However, you should look at Old Testament works like Daniel and New Testament books that contain sections of apocalyptic work (like Matthew) for parallels. Be sure and pay attention to the Jewish connections in Revelation and the life setting of your passages.

2. Reading The Entire Passage

After you have selected your passage, the next step is to read the entire book or letter in which your passage is located. The main idea of this exercise is to start fitting the passage's meaning with the rest of the book or letter, not to skim the book to meet class requirements.

During your reading, you might want to take notes on what you are reading. Below is a list of example questions you may want to see if you can answer.

  • Can you identify any special emphases or concerns in the book?
  • What do you think the purpose of this book is?
  • Who are the recipients of the book? Are they Jews? Gentiles? Both?
  • Do the recipients have a relationship with the author? What kind of relationship?
  • What do you think the meaning of the passage is?

Write out any more questions specific to your book or passage that you thought about. This will help identify some of the issues you will want to address through your research and in your paper.

(Advanced Step) Reading The Passage In Its Original Language

After you have selected the passage and read the entire book, it is a good time to read your passage in the Greek or Hebrew. It is important to select a good copy of the Greek New Testament or Hebrew Old Testament along with other sources. Here are some suggestions:

Greek New Testament
Hebrew Old Testament
The Greek New Testament. Fourth Revised Edition, 1993. United Bible Societies, 1966. Luesden, Johanne. Biblia Hebraica. 2nd ed. Jacobi Duncan, 1833.
Mounce, William D. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Zondervan, 1993. Owens, John Joseph. Analytical Key to the Old Testament. Baker Book House, 1989.

3. Reading Different Translations

After you have chosen your topic and read the entire book or letter, you should read your selected passage in different modern translations. The following picture illustrates the difference between the various translations. (1)

Courtesy of International Bible Society

You will want to avoid the works that are under the "Paraphrase" category since these will not be as accurate with the Greek and Hebrew language.

If you are still unsure of what translation to use, the following list are popular and accepted.

How do I get it?
New American Bible (NAB) Composed by Catholic scholars. Purpose was to be as accurate to Greek thought as possible. Also used older texts found in Dead Sea Scrolls. Benner Library Call Number:
R 220.5205 B471n
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Update from the American Standard Version (ASV). Follows some of the styling of the King James Version (KJV). Benner Library Call Number:
R220.5204 B471n
Available online at
New International Version (NIV) Composed by large group of translators. In most instances, fits the ideas intended to be expressed by original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Benner Library Call Number:
R 220.52 B471niv
Available online at
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Updated from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) for accuracy, more intelligible English, and greater clarity. Benner Library Call Number:
R 220.52 B471nrs

Take notes on any differences you found between your translations. This will help you with your word studies and must be included in your paper.

For more information on translations, please view the Guide to Popular Bible Translations (2) and Bruce Metzger's The Bible in Translation. (3) Be sure to take notes especially about differences in translations, especially key words. This will be helpful later on when you are working on a Word Study.

Works Cited For This Page

  1. About Bible Translation. 2007. Internation Bible Society. 15 June 2006. <>.
  2. Guide to Popular Bible Translations. United Methodist Publishing House. n.d. Accessed 8 August 2013 from <>.
  3. Metzger, Bruce. The Bible in Translation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2001.
Last updated July 18, 2007

Library Resources for Exegesis Projects