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Exegetical Papers: 5. Provide an Application of the Passage


Write an Application for Your Passage

While it may depend upon your professor, it is common to conclude an exegesis with an application. You have researched the background and meaning of your text. Now you need to answer one final question, "So what?"

This is the place to answer the "so what?" question. Why does it matter what this passage means? Up to this point, your paper has focused on "what this passage meant in its original context for its original audience." Now you need to tell a modern audience in some context (e.g, traditional U.S. undergraduate students in Atlanta, Hispanic urban poor, African American middle class, or cultural elite in Washington, D.C.) what this passage means for your audience, what they are supposed to do about it.

For those committed to the Bible as Scripture, it is not usually enough to be able to say what it meant in its original context; they want to know what to do with it now. You may not be preaching from your passage in the near future but you can still suggest applications you might make of the passage.

There are many ways to derive an application from a passage. Your passage may contain instructions or commands, such as Romans 12. In this case, the application is easy. You would talk about how to live out one or more of Paul's instructions, such as how you want the hypothetical audience to avoid being "conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2). If your passage is a narrative, you might take one verse that contains an instruction and talk about how to live that out now. Or, you might show how a theme of the passage can be carried out today. Our example passage shows Mary responding to Gabriel's announcement in humility, obedience, and faith, in contrast to the announcement to Zachariah earlier in the chapter. Or, since your research likely made it clear that for Mary to be pregnant would be a serious problem for her, you could talk about how to respond to God's call even when that requires self-sacrifice. (Mary probably spent the rest of her life under a cloud of suspicion regarding how she got pregnant.)

The application of a biblical text to modern life is also a place where exegesis, theology, and praxis meet. So it could be appropriate to cite an appropriate quote from someone else who makes the point well that you wish to make; some examples are given in the box on your left.  You do not need to quote anyone but you may if that helps make your point.

Life Application

How to Apply the Bible (note: these are only offered as suggestions - ask your professor how he or she wants you to apply this).

1. Present
This step puts your passage into the context of today’s world, here and now. Ask,

  • What do these principles mean for my society and culture?
  • How is this relevant?
  • What back then is similar to today?
  • How can I make this timeless truth timely?

2. Parallels
This step is similar to Present, except that it is very personal, addressing specific life situations, fears, hopes, and relationships. This is the time to explore all the areas of life your passage might apply to. Ask,

  • What does this message mean for me?
  • Where in my life could this passage possibly apply?

3. Priorities
After surfacing application areas, select one that you consider to be most important. The one you most identify with. In taking this step, you are answering the question, “So what?”; that is, what does this passage say about how I should change? This involves asking these tough questions like "Did this change my values, beliefs, attitudes, or character?"

Adapted from Dave Veerman's, How to Apply the Bible (ISBN: 0972461604)