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Exegetical Papers: 4. Offer an Overall Interpretation

An example from Luke:

Angelico by Carulmare is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Write an Interpretation of Your Passage

Now that you have determined the boundaries of your passage, researched its genre, historical, social, and cultural background, and worked through the meaning of each individual verse, it is time to offer an interpretation of the passage, a synthesis of your research.

You are done with the details of your paper. This is not the place to present new information or arguments. It is the place to move from the low-level details of what each verse means to a higher-level statement about what this passage means. For example, part of the interpretation of Luke 1:26-38 might include the following.

"In this passage, Luke introduces important elements in his gospel. He shows the role-reversal that is crucial to his narrative by showing how a young Jewish girl with very low social status is exalted by God to a very important status in God's purposes. The announcement to Mary of the forthcoming conception and birth of Jesus is modeled heavily on a "call" narrative in the Scriptures of Israel. This indicates that Mary is not a passive tool in God's plan but is called by God to an important role in bringing salvation to Israel, similar to Gideon in the book of Judges."

A good commentary series can help you gain a good sense of what an interpretation might look like. (See below) 

If your passage has two or more major interpretations, this is the place to state the interpretation you are choosing, and your main reasons for doing so. That would not apply to our example passage, Luke 1:26-38, but it would apply to a passage such as 1 Cor 11:2-16. That passage has a traditional view (that women are to pray with head coverings on), asserted in most commentaries on 1 Corinthians, and a more recent view that rejects the traditional understanding (Paul is challenging a Corinthian belief that women should wear head coverings for prayer), first put forward by Alan Padgett ("Paul on women in the church : the contradictions of coiffure in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16", JNST 20(1984): 69-86). You can state your position on a controversial passage at this point because you have already covered all the data in detail that is needed for making a decision.

After you have written an interpretation, there is only one step left to do: an application.