How to Write an Exegetical Paper

by John Mack

An exegesis is essentially a critical interpretation of a text. Exegetical papers are quite common, especially in academic studies of religious texts. Exegetical papers seek to uncover meaning in a text by looking at external factors not necessarily intrinsic to the text. Thus, referring to the place or time period in which a text was written to analyze the text would count as an exegesis. It is important to remember that an exegetical paper does not simply summarize or recount what a text is about; rather, an exegetical paper primarily seeks to critically evaluate a text.

Refer to the original language in which the text was written to uncover any problems in translation. While most languages have many words with equivalent meanings, often there are words in one language that do not have an equivalent meaning in another language. For instance, Greek has four words for love that refer to different types of love, whereas English only has one word for love. If you were trying to write an exegetical paper that includes the theme of love in a text that was originally written in Greek, it may be important to make a footnote that specifies for the reader the type of love to which the text is referring.

Evaluate the structure of the text. How an author chooses to organize a text can have a large bearing on what she tries to highlight or convey. Is the text prose or poetry, for instance? When writing an exegetical paper, you should evaluate the text's structure and determine why or why not the structure of the text is useful, informative, enigmatic, or indicative of the author's overall goals. Remember, too, that you must not simply explain the structure of the text, but you also must explain what is or is not advantageous about the author's use of that particular structure.

Analyze the themes of the text. When you write your exegetical paper, you should include some analysis of the overarching themes present in the text. Also, evaluate the techniques the author uses to present those themes. Are the thematic constructions clear or enigmatic? Are the themes related to each other in some way, or do they point toward an even bigger theme? You should answer some of these questions in your exegetical paper.

Analyze the setting of the text. In your exegetical paper, you should mention where and when the text was written, as well as any important external factors that may have significant impact on why and how the author wrote the text, such as the political and religious environment at the time or the text's role in a larger composition. Evaluating a particular book of the Bible, for instance, may require that you mention its contextual relation to other books in the Bible.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images