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Exegetical Papers: 1. Choose a Passage & Create a Thesis Statement

What is your favorite passage in Luke's Gospel?

Jeremiah by Holly Hayes is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

 

Luke 4:16-21

16
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read
17
and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
18
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
19
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
20
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
21
He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

Online Concordance

WWW Button by Stuart Miles is licensed under a Standard License.

Concordances

A Bible concordance is a verbal index to the Bible. A simple form lists Biblical words alphabetically, with indications to enable the inquirer to find the passages of the Bible where the words occur.

Bible Concordances

Books

Commentaries

In-depth commentaries that treat a Book of the Bible chapter by chapter, are ideal for research. The only problem: there are so many commentaries! Here are some excellent ones.

More Good Commentaries

These commentaries are in the RWWL library circulating collections.

  • Abingdon New Testament Commentaries
  • Calvin's Commentary
  • Feminist Companion to the Bible
  • Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
  • New Testament Commentary 
  • The New International Commentary on the New Testament
  • The New International Commentary on the Old Testament

Choose a Passage for Your Exegesis Paper

If your professor has assigned you a specific passage for your paper, you can skip the rest of this page. Otherwise, you need to choose a passage:

  • From an appropriate place in an acceptable version of the Bible
  • Of reasonable size
  • With identifiable boundaries

Your passage would naturally come from the section of the Bible that your class covers. This guide will assume that your class includes the Gospel of Luke and you have decided to choose a passage from there. You can choose a passage you like, or that features a concept in which you are interested.

Suppose you are interested in studying the story of Jesus' Transfiguration. That is in Luke 9:28-36. So you could write your paper on that passage. Alternatively, you could write on a passage that contains a theme you want to study. Suppose you want to learn about Jesus' attitudes towards money, but you do not know where in Luke's Gospel to look for a passage about money. You can solve this by using a concordance.

A concordance is a tool that lets you look up a word, and see that word in its context in every place it occurs in the Bible. Since English versions of the Bible differ sometimes in how they translate words, you need to pick a concordance that matches your Bible version. (This assumes you are not working directly from Hebrew or Greek, which have their own concordances.) So, if you use the New Revised Standard Version, you could use Concise Concordance to the New Revised Standard Version (Call Number BS425 C655 1993).

Next, you need to determine if the passage is of reasonable size. Suppose you have to write a paper that is ten to twelve pages long. That would be about the right size for a passage that is around eight to fifteen verses long, depending upon the genre of the passage. An argument from Romans would probably take more space to interpret than a story in 1 Samuel, though this may not always be true. If you choose a passage that is too short, your paper will probably be too short, e.g., writing on John 3:16 would be a fairly short paper. On the other hand, Luke 1:1-80 is far too long. You could spend thirty pages on that and not be done. It depends in part upon the complexity of the passage. For this LibGuide, let's choose a simple narrative passage: Luke 1:26-38, the announcement to Mary of the coming birth to her of Jesus while she is a virgin.

In order to decide the number of verses to choose, you need to validate that you are doing a complete passage, not starting or stopping in the middle of a narrative or argument. In the case of Luke 1:26-38, you can tell that v. 26 is an appropriate beginning for this short narrative (called a pericope in biblical studies) because v. 26 provides a statement that indicates a new event is happening at a point later in time than 1:5-25. In Luke 1:26 it is stated that the angel Gabriel, six months after promising Zechariah that John would be born, was sent to Nazareth in Galilee by God. At the beginning of Luke 1:39, we again read about a transition to a new location, as Mary leaves to go visit her cousin Elizabeth. That makes Luke 1:38 the end of the announcement to Mary by Gabriel. This is fifteen verses, which is about the most you should consider doing for a typical exegesis paper. Shifts in time ("and it came to pass"), shifts in location ("went up to Jerusalem"), and shifts in topic ("There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in the Messiah Jesus") all indicate the beginning of a new narrative pericope or a new topic. Look for those as you seek the beginning and end of your passage.

You could verify the boundaries of your passage by finding a Bible that divides the text into paragraphs and seeing how it divides this passage. You should plan, however, to describe why you have chosen a particular set of verses and not more or less. The paragraphs are only the view of one modern editorial team, not part of the Bible itself. The chapters and verses in modern Bibles were put in many centuries after all the books of the Bible were written.

Go to the next tab above to learn how to examine the Historical, Cultural, and Literary Background of your passage.

 

Create a Thesis Statement

"Defining the Thesis Statement

What is a thesis statement?

Every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message. The argument(s) you make in your paper should reflect this main idea. The sentence that captures your position on this main idea is what we call a thesis statement.

How long does it need to be?

A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.

Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis

Where is your thesis statement?

You should provide a thesis early in your essay -- in the introduction, or in longer essays in the second paragraph -- in order to establish your position and give your reader a sense of direction.

Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:

  • Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.
  • Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words.
  • Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”

Is your thesis statement specific?

Your thesis statement should be as clear and specific as possible. Normally you will continue to refine your thesis as you revise your argument(s), so your thesis will evolve and gain definition as you obtain a better sense of where your argument is taking you.

Tip: Check your thesis:

  • Are there two large statements connected loosely by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. "and," "but," "or," "for," "nor," "so," "yet")?
  • Would a subordinating conjunction help (i.e. "through," "although," "because," "since") to signal a relationship between the two sentences?
  • Or do the two statements imply a fuzzy unfocused thesis?
  • If so, settle on one single focus and then proceed with further development.

Is your thesis statement too general?

Your thesis should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of pages. Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the "meat" of it. Being specific in your paper will be much more successful than writing about general things that do not say much. Don't settle for three pages of just skimming the surface.

The opposite of a focused, narrow, crisp thesis is a broad, sprawling, superficial thesis. Compare this original thesis (too general) with three possible revisions (more focused, each presenting a different approach to the same topic):

  • Original thesis:
    • There are serious objections to today's horror movies.
  • Revised theses:
    • Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
    • The pornographic violence in "bloodbath" slasher movies degrades both men and women.
    • Today's slasher movies fail to deliver the emotional catharsis that 1930s horror films did.

Is your thesis statement clear?

Your thesis statement is no exception to your writing: it needs to be as clear as possible. By being as clear as possible in your thesis statement, you will make sure that your reader understands exactly what you mean.

Tip: In order to be as clear as possible in your writing:

  • Unless you're writing a technical report, avoid technical language. Always avoid jargon, unless you are confident your audience will be familiar with it.
  • Avoid vague words such as "interesting,” "negative," "exciting,” "unusual," and "difficult."
  • Avoid abstract words such as "society," “values,” or “culture.”

These words tell the reader next to nothing if you do not carefully explain what you mean by them. Never assume that the meaning of a sentence is obvious. Check to see if you need to define your terms (”socialism," "conventional," "commercialism," "society"), and then decide on the most appropriate place to do so. Do not assume, for example, that you have the same understanding of what “society” means as your reader. To avoid misunderstandings, be as specific as possible.

Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):

  • Original thesis: Although the timber wolf is a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated. [if it's so timid and gentle -- why is it being exterminated?]
  • Revised thesis: Although the timber wolf is actually a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated because people wrongfully believe it to be a fierce and cold-blooded killer.

Does your thesis include a comment about your position on the issue at hand?

The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.

Tips:

  • Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific "angle" should be clear. In this way you will tell your reader why your take on the issue matters.
    • Original thesis: In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
    • Revised thesis: Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
  • Avoid making universal or pro/con judgments that oversimplify complex issues.
    • Original thesis: We must save the whales.
    • Revised thesis: Because our planet's health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales.
  • When you make a (subjective) judgment call, specify and justify your reasoning. “Just because” is not a good reason for an argument.
    • Original thesis: Socialism is the best form of government for Kenya.
    • Revised thesis: If the government takes over industry in Kenya, the industry will become more efficient.
  • Avoid merely reporting a fact. Say more than what is already proven fact. Go further with your ideas. Otherwise… why would your point matter?
    • Original thesis: Hoover's administration was rocked by scandal.
    • Revised thesis: The many scandals of Hoover's administration revealed basic problems with the Republican Party's nominating process.

Do not expect to come up with a fully formulated thesis statement before you have finished writing the paper. The thesis will inevitably change as you revise and develop your ideas—and that is ok! Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your paper develops.

Is your thesis statement original?

Avoid, avoid, avoid generic arguments and formula statements. They work well to get a rough draft started, but will easily bore a reader. Keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.

Tip: The point you make in the paper should matter:

  • Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis statement.
  • Be prepared to explain why the point you are making is worthy of a paper. Why should the reader read it?

Compare the following:

  • Original thesis:
    • There are advantages and disadvantages to using statistics. (a fill-in-the-blank formula)
  • Revised theses:
    • Careful manipulation of data allows a researcher to use statistics to support any claim she desires.
    • In order to ensure accurate reporting, journalists must understand the real significance of the statistics they report.
    • Because advertisers consciously and unconsciously manipulate data, every consumer should learn how to evaluate statistical claims.

Avoid formula and generic words. Search for concrete subjects and active verbs, revising as many "to be" verbs as possible. A few suggestions below show how specific word choice sharpens and clarifies your meaning.

  • Original: “Society is...” [who is this "society" and what exactly is it doing?]
  • Revised: "Men and women will learn how to...," "writers can generate...," "television addicts may chip away at...," "American educators must decide...," "taxpayers and legislators alike can help fix..."
  • Original: "the media"
  • Revised: "the new breed of television reporters," "advertisers," "hard-hitting print journalists," "horror flicks," "TV movies of the week," "sitcoms," "national public radio," "Top 40 bop-til-you-drop..."
  • Original: "is, are, was, to be" or "to do, to make"
  • Revised: any great action verb you can concoct: "to generate," "to demolish," "to batter," "to revolt," "to discover," "to flip," "to signify," "to endure..."

Use your own words in thesis statements; avoid quoting. Crafting an original, insightful, and memorable thesis makes a distinct impression on a reader. You will lose credibility as a writer if you become only a mouthpiece or a copyist; you will gain credibility by grabbing the reader with your own ideas and words.

A well-crafted thesis statement reflects well-crafted ideas. It signals a writer who has intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm."

From the Center For Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


One Volume Commentaries

There are large numbers of "free standing" commentaries not part of a series. 

  • Check the catalog (search for commentaries and the name of the Book)
  • Browse the shelves (BS call numbers)