Writing an Exegetical Paper

As I prepare to teach Old Testament this Fall, I am reminded of how hard it is for many students to conceptualize and write an exegesis paper. This is one assignment I would drop completely, because of amount of work it creates, if I did not believe it was essential to learning how to read scripture. After all, my primary goal in a class of this type (Old Testament overview) is not to explain scripture but to provide a framework for reading scripture faithfully.

For that reason, I made this handout (Helps for Writing an Exegesis Paper) a few years ago to introduce the art of biblical interpretation. I assign different portions of this handout to be turned in throughout the semester.

I was wondering what resources you use to help students with exegetical papers and what thoughts you may have this handout? Remember, this handout is meant to introduce the basics of writing an exegetical paper.

Sorry for formatting this is what it looks like when I import the original document (my tech skills and patience are lacking). Click link above to view as PDF.

Helps for Writing an Exegesis Paper


Gordon Fee, New Testament Exegesis

Michael Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis


Seven Quick Tips:

1.  Establish the Text

What are the parameters of the text? Are there definitive starting and ending points and what signals them in the text? If there are any questions concerning the actual words of the text, decide which words are most likely original. If you do not know Hebrew/Greek, rely on commentaries written from the original languages.

2.  Meaning of Text

What do the words and phrases in the text mean to the writer? Look at things like usage in other texts (e.g. other Pauline letters) and sources of influence (e.g. OT).

3.  Flow of Argument

Examine how the passage relates as a unit. How is the text arranged? What parts are substantive, supportive, and connecting? Are parts seemingly out of place?

4.  Text in Context

What is text’s genre (prose, narrative, poetry, proverb, prophecy, etc.)? How does the particular passage function in the larger context of the letter? Is this a conclusion or supporting argument in the larger context? Is the text in the beginning, middle or end of a larger argument?

5.  Text in Historical Setting

Inquire whether a historical situation sheds light on the text. Examine the social, political, cultural, and economical situation surrounding the reading and writing of the text.

6.  Text in Theological Setting

What theological truth is expressed in the text? Relate the meaning to theology in the larger context (whole book; section of scripture, e.g. Pentateuch, Prophets, Gospels, Paul’s letters; concept, e.g. nature of God, soteriology, etc.).  This is a key component. The other steps should help you answer this question.

Questions to consider

What gifts of creation (the creator) are to be rejoiced in the passage?

What evils are to be repented of and lamented?

What transformations should be hoped for?

7.  So What?

How does this reading influence how the church should read scripture? What difference does the theological truth make for the church today? This should be a shorter section and not the main focus of your paper.



Remember:  These are only guidelines, not hard and fast rules.  I would expect you would think through all these steps as you prepare to write your paper, but not all of them should be included in the paper – include only those absolutely necessary for supporting your argument.


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