In the Theology of Missions class at Southern Nazarene University, you will write an "exegesis" paper on one of two passages:
I hope you will approach your research on this as though it were a "treasure hunt" in which you are determined to find important and very valuable things.
- The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20
- The end-times passage of Matthew 24:14.
Here is some help on how to proceed.
"What did the Biblical author mean? (Exegesis) has to do both with what he said (the content itself) and why he said it at any given point (the literary context). Furthermore, exegesis is primarily concerned with intentionality: What did the author intend his original readers to understand?"
-- Gordon Fee in New Testament Exegesis. The following material is based on that same book.
In looking at Scripture, Bible students often jump immediately to asking the hermeneutical question: What does this mean to me?
Sadly, trying to do hermeneutics before doing exegesis (i.e., making "Scripture's meaning to me" the first thing I look for) causes people to miss the richness of many Bible passages. While Scripture has great relevance to our lives, making its personal relevance the first and only question we ask of a passage can actually prohibit us from fully hearing God's Word.
Here are some steps to help you do a proper exegesis of your chosen passage and write the results of that study and reflection.
- Step 1: Research the historical context of the passage.
- Are there things in the history and society in which Jesus said these words that might impact how they should be understood? What in that historical setting prompted Jesus to say these words? What do we know about the Matthew and his first readers? Are there things about Matthew that contribute to an understanding of the passage? What were the circumstances of the readers when they received this writing?
- Step 2: Determine the larger context into which the passage fits.
- What natural unit or section contains the particular text being studied? That is, if Matthew's Gospel had no chapter and verse divisions, how much of the surrounding text would belong to your chosen passage? Are there things that happen immediately before and after this text that may help us understand what these particular words are trying to accomplish? How does this larger unit relate to what seems to be the major themes and concerns of Matthew's gospel?
- Step 3: Reflect on issues of wording in the text on which you are going to write.
- What specific key words did the author use (as opposed to others he might have chosen with almost the same meaning) and in what order? Are there words in your chosen passage that do not occur frequently elsewhere in Matthew's gospel?
- Step 4: Try writing the text in your own words.
- As you do so, do you sense that your own theological positions are shaping how you understand the passage? If so, in what ways?
- Step 5: Analyze sentence structures and syntactical relationships.
- Is there meaning that grows out of the specific way the thoughts are constructed?
- Step 6: Reflect on the grammar of the original language.
- Do Greek scholars indicate that some phrases could be read differently if the grammar were constructed a bit differently? Are there any ambiguities in the Greek that make different interpretations possible?
- Step 7: Examine key words as they appear in the original Greek.
- What are the nuances of particular words used? Word of caution: Don't let your exegesis to be just a collection of mini word studies.
- Step 8: Research the historical-cultural background.
- What might not be obvious to today's readers? Would what was communicated to the original First-Century hearers be different than the associations made by today's readers? Do any of these differences significantly alter the meaning?
- Step 9: Determine the formal character or genre of the passage.
- What kind of saying is the text? Is it an apocalyptic saying? Is it a prophetic utterance? Does it have poetic elements? Does it employ overstatement?
- Step 10: Since this particular assignment deals with a passage in Matthew, take a look at how it appears in Gospel parallels.
- How does this passage appear in this gospel as it is related to the other Gospels? Is similar wording to be found in one or more of the others? Is that wording in the same context in the other Gospels?
- Step 11: Since this assignment looks at some words of Jesus, consider the life setting of the ministry of Jesus.
- To whom were these words spoken originally? At what point in Jesus ministry does the gospel writer place this passage? Should any significance be attached to the point of time in which the gospel writer places it?
- Step 12: Consider the broader biblical and theological contexts.
- What other passages of Scripture help us understand this text? [ other missions-related Bible passages ] Does this passage affect the meaning or value of other Scriptures such as Genesis 12:1-3? What would be lost or how would the message of the Bible be less complete if this passage did not exist? To what Christian doctrine or doctrines does your chosen passage relate? How major or minor is the passage's contribution?
- Step 13: Consult secondary literature (commentaries, book studies, etc).
- Investigate what others have said about the passage. Compare, incorporate and adjust.
- Step 14: Write the paper. Take the valuable things you found in your "treasure hunt" and weave them into a top-notch essay. Be sure to document all quotes (verbatim and paraphrased) and to include a bibliography page of all the sources you consulted.
- Take the point (or the several points) of the passage and turn them into a living word for your contemporaries. What does this passage mean or what should it mean to those with whom you rub shoulders day in and day out?
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