How to Write an Exegesis Paper

By John Drury

December 9, 2005

MIN511 Biblical Interpretation (IWU)

Question:

I would like some direction on this final paper

Reply:

It is good you are starting to think about this now before it sneaks up on you.  Obviously start with the info in the final workshop.  The sample paper is especially helpful at exhibiting what we are looking for.  If you end up writing exactly like they did, you will be golden :-)  You can also check out some of my exegetical papers on my website: www.drurywriting.com/john - scroll down to "Back to Basics - Exegetical Essays".  The ones with earlier dates will be more relevant (some of the later-dated papers are not structured verse-by-verse as required in this course).

Here's the basic way to go about your exegesis paper.  You should perform the first few steps asap.  Be sure to go in order (aka do not just start writing).

Step One: Pick A Text -  10-15 verses that are particularly interesting to you.  If you are unsure of your selection, feel free to email me and ask if it is a good choice or not.  I recommend you approve your text with me (not required, but smart -- this is for your sake so you don't pick something really hard).

Step Two: Observation, Observation, Observation -- Start digging into the text. Without any outside helps or outside sources, simply study the passage in multiple translations, writing down notes and questions.  Observation is the key to success.  Notice patterns, problems, special words, contextual matters, etc.   The goal is to have a long list of questions before you start doing any research or writing.  Observation is the road toward further study that will lead into your final paper.  Without this step it will just be a string of data and citations rather than a real exercising and developing of your own exegetical technique.  Armed with good questions, you will be able to run through the next steps with clarity and write a great paper.

Step Three: Seek Answers to Your Questions Via the Tools of this Course -- make use of ALL the tools in this course.  Here's a check list for you:

_ Observation

_ literary form

_ unit of thought

_ atmosphere

_ purpose

_ outlining

_ word study*

_ background study*

_ textual analysis*

_ theological implications

Consult outside sources as needed [those with an * will require outside sources] to complete this processes (see step four).  Your evaluation will depend on properly executing each of these skills with regard to the text.  Make sure to do ALL of them.  E.g., even poorly executed word studies will get more points than no word studies at all.

Step Four: Consult Outside Sources As Needed -- For three of these processes you will need outside sources: textual analysis, background study, word study (marked with an * above).  Begin observing soon so that you will know what words and phrases are important to your text and worth looking up.   Also, you may need to request materials from OCLS, so you want to get cracking soon.  Feel free to use sources for other processes if you get stuck (e.g., can't figure out the unit of thought, check out a few commentaries and see what they do and make a choice).  But only use these sources as needed; do not bog down your paper with too many citations.  You must cite everything you do use (if you do not, you will be committing plagiarism, and will therefore receive 0 points and be at risk of expulsion).   Just be careful to avoid becoming too dependent on sources. 

Step Five: Write Your Paper -- This is the last step.  Do not start writing while still exegeting or you will turn in a jumbled paper.  Do all the above steps, then organize the information and present it in a clear manner.  The outline of your paper should look like this:

Introduction -- includes identification of literary form, unit of thought, atmosphere, and purpose.  The purpose functions as the thesis for your paper.  (1-2 pages)

Outline -- provide an outline of your passage (about 1 page)

Body -- lay out a verse-by-verse study of the passage interweaving your observations, word studies, textual analyses (if any), background studies, and theological implications regarding the verse at hand.  For example, if there is an interesting word in verse 3 that you studied, discuss the findings of your study in the section on verse 3.  (4-6 pages).

Conclusion -- reiterate the purpose and note how your exegesis defends that larger purpose for the passage.  Summarize/synthesize your theological implications and tie them together for a final punch that points to the God revealed in the passage. Do not include any application of the text; save that for the sermon you preach on it down the road! (at most, 1 page)

Works Cited -- include by proper APA or MLA standards all works used. (does not count toward page requirement).  (Total Pages: 8-10 pages.)

Step Six: Edit Your Paper -- Make sure to plan your time so that you have enough left over to thoroughly edit your paper.  First run spell check / grammar check on your word processor.  Then read through it out loud to make sure it makes sense.  Then have some one else read through it and mark it up (we always make more sense to ourselves that to our readers :-).  Adjust all problems at each stage.  Lengthen or shorten the paper to fit the page requirement (8-10 pages, cf. workshop eight).  This step is very crucial.  In my years of writing exegesis papers, assisting others in writing exegesis papers, and grading exegetical papers, I've found that many people who could get an "A" end up with a "C" because they do not take the time to make the paper readable.  Take the time to remove style obstacles so that the grader can actually see your thoughts for what they are.  One cannot evaluation another's insights if he or she does not understand those insights because of poor writing/editing. 

Hope this helps!