Biblical Exegesis Paper Instructions

Theology of Missions

"For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel." -- Ezra 7:10

In the Theology of Missions class at Southern Nazarene University, you will write an "exegesis" paper on one of two passages:

  1. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20
    "19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
  2. The end-times passage of Matthew 24:14.
    "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

Approach your research for this as though you were on a "treasure hunt" in which you are determined to find important and very valuable things.

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 trying to understand Scripture, Bible students often jump immediately to the hermeneutical question: What does this mean to me?

Sadly, trying to do hermeneutics before 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 perhaps only question we ask may actually keep us from fully hearing God's Word.

Steps of exegesis

Follow these steps to properly exegete the passage from Matthew that you have chosen. Then, write the results of your study and reflection.

Step 1: Research the historical context of the passage, i.e., its literary context.
Are there things in history and in the society in which Jesus said these words that might impact how they should be understood? What in the actual historical setting might have 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 account?
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 often occur elsewhere in the gospel according to Matthew?
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 expressed?
Step 6: Look at the grammar constructions used in the original language.
Do Greek scholars think some phrases could be read differently if the grammatical constructions were somewhat different? Are there ambiguities in original language that open the door to varying interpretations?
Step 7: Examine key words used in the original Greek wording of the passage.
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 how to do exegesis.
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? Which of those differences might 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 parallel gospel accounts.
How does this passage appear in this gospel account 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 Gospel accounts?
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 originally spoken? 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 writers place it?
Step 12: Consider the 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 our understanding of God's Word be less complete if this passage did not exist? To what Christian doctrines, themes and concepts does your chosen passage relate? How major or minor is the passage's contribution to those doctrines?
Step 13: Consult secondary literature (commentaries, book studies, and similar material).
Investigate what others have said about the passage. Compare, incorporate and adjust.
Step 14: Write the paper. Take the 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?

    -- Howard Culbertson

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." -- 2 Timothy 2:16

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