Basics of an Exegetical Paper
A exegetical paper is an essay, not a report. A report is a presentation of information gleaned from research, whereas an essay is a reasoned investigation that makes definite assertions and supports and defends those assertions. Some marks of a good paper are: clarity of expression, rigor in argumentation, correctness in form, balance in judgment, fairness in handling opposing views, breadth of coverage, discipline in focus, and plausibility of conclusions in light of all the relevant evidence.
The exegetical paper follows standard academic writing procedures (this does not mean it must be boring). This means that the paper is written in your own words, with proper credit given when quoting or referring to words or ideas from another person. The paper should also be written in good English, which includes proper spelling and grammar as well as prose that is free from informal English (slang, appeals to the reader, contractions, etc.). The text should be clear, coherent, and as concise as possible—wordiness does not equal scholarliness.
Elements of Exegesis
This section seeks to lay out the process of writing an exegetical paper, not the exegetical method itself. For a discussion of how to do exegesis, or the questions to ask in exegesis, see either your professor or one of the many good books explaining the process, such as these:
- Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible, by Daniel Doriani (P & R Publishing, 1996).
- New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, by Gordon Fee (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).
- Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, by Douglas Stuart. (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).
The writing of an exegetical paper typically entails the following phases:
- Preparation – choose a text.
- Exegesis – Explore and interact with the text itself. This stage involves your interaction with the text, not with secondary sources (e.g., commentaries, articles, etc.). Observe before interpreting and responding. Always let the text speak to you as you prayerfully yield to it.
- Research – Explore secondary sources on your text. Create and explore your bibliography of sources – reference works (Bible dictionaries, theological dictionaries, etc.), commentaries, articles, essays from collected volumes (polygraphs), other books that deal with your passage, genre, form, or topics raised by the passage and identified in your exegesis.
- Consolidation – Correct, refine, and confirm your exegesis based upon your research. Finalize your thoughts, claims, and conclusions regarding the passage. Develop the outline for your paper as the final step of consolidation – bring your thoughts to paper and begin to think about how it all fits together.
- Writing – Write your paper following all the steps of good writing. Make sure to leave time to edit your paper and to have someone else (e.g., your professor, your committee chairman, the Scribe: Covenant’s resource center for theological writing) look at it.
Outline of an Exegetical Paper
The typical exegetical paper is comprised of the following five sections:
- Introduction – The introduction of an exegetical paper serves the same purpose as all introductions and yet has some features that are unique to this genre. In addition to the general introduction (giving the text being studied, thesis, etc.) the introduction of an exegetical paper must also introduce the text. Components often included are:
- Literal translation
- Literary context and flow of thought
- Literary genre – of both the larger text of which the passage is a part and the passage itself
- Literary forms – found within the passage
- Structure of passage
- Commentary – This is the verse-by-verse comments upon the passage. Constantly ask is this observation relevant for interpretation and explanation—it is not necessary to comment upon everything in a passage. Components often included are:
- Grammar and syntax
- Semantic analysis
- Socio-historical background
- Motif-historical background (e.g., OT themes, other influences)
- Literary analysis and figures of speech
- Interpretation – This section returns to the passage as a whole and seeks to interpret the passage in light of the information given in the preceding sections of the paper. It is here that meaning is given to the information previously presented, including:
- Main theme/key thought
- Theological significance
- Conclusion – In the conclusion, tie all of the information presented together and return to the thesis presented in the introduction.
- Bibliography – Lastly, list all of the sources that you cited in your paper.
Format of an Exegetical Paper
Unless your professor requests otherwise, the following conventions are recommended.
- The paper should be typed and double-spaced using a clear, non-ornamental, serif font. Examples of acceptable fonts include Times New Roman or Palatino. The text of the paper should be set in 12-point type with footnotes in 10-point.
- Margins are typically 1″ on all sides.
- Page numbers should be included on all pages in a place that remains consistent throughout the paper (i.e., top right on every page, bottom center on every page, etc.).
- Only one space (not two) should be placed after the terminal punctuation of a sentence.
- Titles of books and other longer works should be italicized, not underlined. Titles of articles, essays, parts of longer works, or other shorter works should be enclosed in quotation marks.