Exegesis Guide

Select passage and identify the literary context (immediate, local, global)

  1. Delimit the passage

What separates the passage from its immediate context and what holds the passage together?

Stylistic devices (inclusion, repetition, transitional words, aporia, abrupt transitions, inconsistencies, and anomalies (e.g., now, therefore, etc.)

Changes of theme, subject, characters, time, etc.

[Note that literary units are not fixed, but dynamic; they vary in length, depending upon which questions are being asked of the text by the reader.]

2. Establish the text (textual criticism)

Are there any significant textual variants?

What effect, if any, do they have on the meaning of the text?

  1. Consider the relationship/ connections of the passage to its biblical surroundings.

Is the passage essentially dependent or independent of the rest of the book?

The placement of the passage within the document helps determine its significance.

Immediate Context—what precedes and follows in the text itself.

Local Context—within the whole book and/or in relation to one or more of the other books, letters, etc…

Global Context—within the OT, NT and/or the Bible as a whole: compare with other biblical texts which contain related images/ themes etc.

 Determine the Sitz im Leben (situation, setting in life), authorship, situation of the writer and the readers

Can the text and any sources identified (the unit as a whole or subunits within it) be placed within an historical or sociological time-frame or situation?

How does the text reflect its culture? Is it liturgical, social, legal, or kerygmatic (sermonic)?

Who is being addressed? What was the meaning and possible significance of what is being said in its historical context?

What is the author’s theological outlook?

In brief: who, what, where, when, to whom, why, how?

If determinable, how does the author select and interpret historical events theologically?

Examine line by line

 1. Identify literary forms (form criticism): parable, genealogy, narrative, doxology, prophetic oracle etc…

What recognizable literary forms or types are present in the passage under study?

What is the function of the particular form utilized by the author?

Does the text at hand show any divergence from the usual form? What effect do the divergences have on conveying the author’s message?

What issues are being addressed? How does the form contribute to the author’s response to the issues?

2. Identify themes

3. Identify sources and parallels (Source Criticism) :e.g. OT: D, P; NT: Mk, Q, M, L: etc…

Does the document under study have a source?

What did the source say?

How has the author used the source?

What elements do the two texts have in common, and at what points do they differ or contradict one another?

What is the historical or theological significance of the changes made by the author?

4. Determine the meaning of each sentence.

Discern the relationship between parts of a sentence, the importance of different word order, the effect of certain clauses, and how the sentences are joined together into larger units of meaning.

How does the author employ connecting words (and, but, or, for, because, so, etc.) to express opposition, contrast, continuity, result, consequence, or purpose.

5. Examine significant words (repeated, theologically important)

Where else does the word appear, and what does it mean there (In Hebrew, in Greek, elsewhere in the author’s work[s]; denotation and connotation)?

What meaning does it have in this context?

Where does this instance stand in the term’s history or pattern of appearance?

Identify any semantic fields: word groups linked to a common notion or idea (eg. seeing=see, watch, look, appear, eye etc.)

6. Identify literary characteristics

Literary techniques: chiasm, parallelism, inclusio, ellipsis, merism, etc…

Characters: who are the various persons involved in the passage and how do they interact with each other?

Point of view: whose perspective does the reader share?

Action: What is the succession of events? How are the actions of the passage related to each other: cause and effect? Is there an active movement, a change of mood or a development of thought within the passage? What is the situation at the beginning and at the end? What causes or brings about any change?


Determine the major focus of the text

What unique views or unusual emphases does the author place on the sources? How does the author’s unique theology add to the tradition? (redaction criticism)

What is the literal sense of the text?

Determine the theological dimension of the text

Is there a spiritual sense which flows from the literal sense?

What have scholars (and theologians) said about this text in the past? What is its history of interpretation? Compare different eras (Patristic, Medieval, Critical, Modern) to see how opinions may have developed and/or remained constant over time.

What do we bring to the text?

In the light of what the text meant, what does it mean today? What does it address? What is its connection to systematic, moral, and pastoral theology?

How can people be helped to enter into the text and hear Christ speak to them?