WRITING EXEGETICAL PAPERS
last update 18 October 2006

The Preparatory Process:

  1. Consider the following questions when preparing to write an exegetical paper:
    1. Who is the author, what do we know about her/him, and what does the author say?
    2. Why does the author express the answer in this manner, and in these particular terms?
    3. What does the author assume in this discussion?
    4. Are there certain terms involved in the author's presentation which are of particular importance to understanding the message? If so, what do these terms mean for the author (in this text)? Why are they used in this way? Is there a difference between this author's usage and normal usage of the term (i.e., does it have a technical or peculiar meaning for the author)?
    5. What are the main themes involved in this exposition of the author's opinion?
    6. How are these themes related to one another? Are there any that seem to be unrelated or contradictory? If so, how and why?
    7. Is the author's text argumentative, or is this a calm, thoughtful exposition of the author's ideas? If the author has an opponent in view, who is it and how is the author's exposition shaped by this opposing view? (I.e., what is the rhetorical strategy of the text?)
    8. What else ought the reader to know to understand the author's intention and message in this particular text?
  2. After answering these questions to your own satisfaction, choose one or more (depending upon the alloted length of your paper) to discuss in your presentation. Decide how you want to connect the topics in your discussion. Identify the major points you want to express, and how you will present them.

The Paper Itself

  1. The purpose of the paper is to state a thesis which involves a particular understanding of the text, and to defend it/them. The thesis should be stated clearly and precisely. The thesis should focus on an important issue regarding interpretation of the text; if it is not clear why your thesis does this, explain why it is interesting. (And, when in doubt, spell it out.) Be realistic in choosing your thesis: limit yourself to one which can be managed in the space alloted.
  2. The paper should be well-organized and coherent. Include only those questions or statements which are relevant to the topic and the argument you have selected. (Extraneous remarks or "filler" will detract from your aim and, therefore, will have a negative impact upon your grade). It should be clear to the reader that you have a particular view that you want to express, and that you know what is crucial to the defense of your interpretation. Anticipating and rebutting possible objections to your arguments will strengthen your position. If you can anticipate any objections that you are unable to rebut, noting these issues is preferable to pretending that they do not exist.

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