Most simply put, exegesis is an exposition or an explanation of a text. You are assigned to present a critical interpretation of a passage from Scripture. The root of the word is from the Greek exēgeisthai to explain (via Merriam-Webster). Exegesis involves a process of examination by which one comes to understand a particular passage of the text. A passage from the Bible that captures a full event or narrative is called a pericope. Your professor’s specific instructions and your own research interests will of course dictate what pericope you choose to perform exegesis on or the specific materials needed for your work. You can always ask a librarian to assist you in finding the perfect resource, too!
First, you will want to explore the context of the passage. This involves imagining yourself as part of the story. What is the date? What is going on in history? What are the societal forces at work?
Second, you will dive into the text. Explore the word choice, grammar, and perceived intent of the author, and engage with others who have written on the subject before you.
Finally, analyze the text theologically. What do you believe is the point of the pericope you analyzed, and how do you apply it to your daily life?
From Wikimedia Commons, this picture of artwork at Chora Church in Istanbul shows the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph going to Bethlehem for the Census of Quirinius (photo by Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche).
After you have chosen a pericope from scripture (or one has been assigned to you by your Professor), the first goal is to explore the context of the passage. Read the text using several translations of the Bible, while noting variations (some of our selection is below, but do note we have many bible translations in many languages, including Greek and Hebrew), and scan your chosen passage for any hint of date, time, historical events, social roles of characters, key phrases, and important theological concepts (for example, in the story of Jesus's birth in the Gospel of Luke, Luke 2:2 mentions the census when "Quirinius was governor of Syria"). Think of all the interesting historical and cultural things of note here! Who was Quirinius? What was the Jewish people's reaction to the census? How did this exhibit the place of the Jewish people in that society? How does Luke use the Census to make a point in his story? How does this timeline of Jesus's birth compare to the other Gospels?
Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias are great ways to explore context.
Listed below is a couple of great bible dictionary and encyclopedia resources available at the School of Theology Library. Look around these call numbers for similar titles, and use bibliographies in what you find to extend your search! The School of Theology Library also has access to BibleWorks and Accordance, computer programs that are great for comparing translations, learning about the geography of areas in the bible, exploring and learning the original languages, and more!
Finally, search our library's online catalog. Biblical commentaries are usually listed under the subject heading "Bible. Criticism, interpretation, etc." It is usually better to search for the entire book your passage is from ("Bible Criticism Interpretation Luke" for the above example).
After exploring the context of the text, next up is to go line by line, verse by verse, through your pericope, exploring its terms, idioms, and structures. Read the passage as deliberately as possible, and highlight things that stand out to you, whether it be use of words, repetition, argument, or the like. Have dictionaries near by and consult them to discover the original meaning (for example, the meaning of New Testament Greek may have a slight nuance that is missing in English). Make note of words and start to formulate what you think the text is saying.
The School of Theology Library has many resources to consult during this process, including Interlinear Bibles (bibles that show the original language with an English translation below), concordances (an index that shows you where particular words show up in the Bible), and Commentaries.
Information on available Biblical Commentaries can be found on the left hand side of this guide. Remember, along with Interlinear Bibles and Concordances, we have access to BibleWorks and Accordance software inside the library!
Note, when searching the ATLA Religion Database, you can search by scripture citation as well, for find the perfect resource within the database for your paper!
The final step in writing exegesis is to sum up your findings of what the text is trying to say, and offer modern-day application.
Consult biblical commentaries like the ones below and books in our catalog to see what other scholars have said about your chosen pericope. Delve into essays by once again consulting journal articles and essays, like those in the ATLA Religion Database. Consult bibliographies in the dictionary and encyclopedia articles you consult. Search subject headings of books you find useful, or search the area around that call number in our open stacks.