by Katie Hynd
How is an exegesis paper different from a research paper? Why do we write these “extra Jesus” papers in Bible classes, anyway? These are two questions I asked last year as I began my post-graduate teaching internship with the Religion Department. I was determined to find answers.
Essentially, an exegesis paper is a research paper. The Religion Department uses the word “exegesis” instead of “research” because there are specific requirements for papers in Bible classes that a typical research paper doesn’t include (or that a research paper requires that an exegesis paper foregoes).
An exegesis paper does not argue a thesis statement or answer a research question. It is guided by a Bible passage.
In Bible classes the word “passage” is used frequently. A passage is a short selection of Bible verses. This short selection can be as short as one line from the Bible, or it can be up to five or six Bible verses. The length is up to you and your professor.
You will become very familiar with the Bible passage you select. After selecting your passage and reading the surrounding text, your exegesis assignment sheet will ask you to answer questions about the literary, social, historical, and theological context of this passage.
The word “context” can seem complicated, and it threw me off when I was writing my exegesis. Don’t let it derail you! Context simply means the surroundings or setting. So, when you are given the prompt to research the literary context, you are being asked to analyze the text that comes before and after the passage you’ve selected—the surroundings. Similarly, the questions about your passage’s social and historical context are asking you to share the setting of your passage. And finally, the questions about your passage’s theological context are asking you to analyze how God is referenced in the surrounding text and how He is portrayed in your passage.
While there are lots of differences between an exegesis paper and a research paper, in both you are expected to write an introduction and a conclusion. The intro and conclusion give you the space to tell your professor what you thought about your passage before you started researching and what you think about it now that you have written a complete paper.
Recently I was surprised when chatting with a few of my friends about their experiences writing an exegesis paper. They told me they enjoyed the space to research a Bible passage. They liked learning more about how to use Bible resources and what to do when they have questions about Bible lesson selections.
So if you choose a passage that deeply interests you or bothers you or you simply want to learn more about, researching and writing an “extra Jesus” paper can be fruitful. Wishing you all the best!
If you want to learn about the root of the word “exegesis” or why religion papers use Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) style or what to do if you are lost and confused in the research process, please see Exegesis Paper FAQs.
Katie Hynd is the post-graduate intern in writing for the Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning. Last year she interned for the Religion Department.