How to write an A-Grade Exegesis Essay

Last Updated: 24 August 2023

How to write an exegesis essay or exegetical paper

Theological students often write an exegetical essay as part of their assessment while undertaking theological education. However, we noticed that many are frustrated for not knowing how to write an exegetical essay that gets them a good grade. It is demanding to write an exegetical paper because you have to begin with conducting a proper exegesis and then write the results of your exegesis. Often, this is too much work. In the first instance, you just read the text. However, in the second step, you have to apply what you’ve found out contextually. For example, you can use your findings in a sermon, private study, or write an essay. In simple terms, exegesis means reading a text and extracting meaning. So, when writing an exegetical paper, you go into a text and draw meaning out of it.

This exegetical paper guide covers the important tricks to use when conducting an exegesis and how to write an excellent exegetical essay, including an exegetical paper example. If you are looking for someone to write your exegetical essay or research paper, you can hire an essay writer from our website. We are a custom writing website that will write your exegetical paper from scratch with 100% originality and plagiarism-free.

If all you are looking for is an inspiration to write your paper, here is what you should know.

What is an exegetical paper?

An exegetical paper is an essay, term paper, or research paper that interprets or explains a given biblical text or a passage. It can either be an inductive exegetical paper or an exegetical research paper. The inductive exegetical papers have a research question that involves asking and responding to questions using the information drawn from the bible, such as word studies or references in other biblical texts. On the other hand, exegetical research papers entail carefully reading the Bible as the primary source and then critically reading and referencing secondary scholarly sources such as commentaries, journals, books, or articles about the bible.

Steps of Conducting a proper Exegesis

In his book Elements of Biblical Exegesis, Michael J. Gorman explores the seven elements or steps of successful exegesis. First, remember, in most instances, an exegetical paper entails applying what you’ve learned about hermeneutics to a selected passage. Second, it means interpreting the passage using a certain approach learned from class while comparing your interpretation to scholars. Finally, you use critical thinking to formulate your own thoughts on a specific passage, provide a pragmatic application of your interpretation, and explain it to your audience. Here is a summary of what Gorman considers as a successful exegesis. You can also borrow ideas from these two textbooks New Testament Exegesis:  A handbook for Students and Pastors and Old Testament Exegesis:  A handbook for Students and Pastors.

1. Survey the text or passage

When writing an exegetical essay or research paper, reading is one of the key activities. First, you need to read the text or passage, perhaps from different translations. When you read the section repeatedly, you get to understand it, internalize, and reflect on it. Therefore, if possible, read the entire chapter, book, or letter and not just the passage. Doing so helps you develop ideas for your introduction, which includes the general direction of the section and key points from the passage. As you read, write notes to help you organize ideas, thoughts, and concepts into sentences and paragraphs.

2. Contextual Analysis

The second step is to look for the key facts that help the reader understand the text's background. Therefore, you need to note the terms, people, and places central to the passage as you read. If possible, use a bible dictionary to help you discover more facts. Consider the historical, socio-political, and cultural context and the specific literary when describing the experiences and the Bible times. Finally, consider the rhetorical and literary context. You can contextualize it into the immediate or larger context.

In the larger context, ask yourself:

To get insights on the immediate context, ask yourself:

3. Formal Analysis

The third step is to identify the form, structure, and movement of the text. Here, you determine the genre (prophetic word oracle, parable, sermon, or lament psalm, etc.) that you are reading, the pieces that make up the section of scripture, and the different types of texts put together as your passage. You can also identify the use of keywords and determine if the text has a natural flow. When writing your notes on the formal analysis, you should include the introduction, development, climax, falling action, and resolution/closure. If the text is making arguments, explain the arguments. Besides, you also need to explain why the author tells their story in a given way. Explain and clarify words as well as any concepts that might not be clear.

4. Detailed Analysis

When doing the detailed analysis, which is the toughest, you need to consider various parts of the text. The purpose of this step is to avoid the falling trap of incorrect conclusions courtesy of word studies. Going deeper into the other parts of the text helps you develop and interpret ideas. During the detailed analysis step, you need to relate the parts by summarizing how the text fits together. For example: “After a description of how useless wooden idols are (vv.1-4), Isaiah goes on to describe the power and awesomeness of God (vv.5-10). He concludes the text with a statement about how God will crush all these useless Assyrian gods (vv.11-13).”

5. Synthesis

In this step, you need to consider the text as a whole. What is the text about? Skimming through the text can help you grasp what it is about. When synthesizing the text, you need to develop a focus statement, which is a two-sentence summary of the message of your text for the original audience. You will spend the most time in this step. An example in relation to Isaiah 7:1-25: “Isaiah tells King Ahaz and the people of Judah to trust only Yahweh in the midst of the threat from both Israel and Aram. All other forms of security are worthless.”

6. Reflection

In this stage, you need to find out the text's original meaning to its original readers. Besides, it would help if you also considered what the text means to the faith community today. Be careful when offering interpretation because normative perspectives of people always lead to different conclusions, which can be a source of conflict. Here is where you explain the theology, like what is the text saying about God’s nature, following God, or living in a Godly way? You should develop a series of paragraphs where you explain the theological insights. Demonstrate how these theological insights are presented in the text and how they relate to the rest of the text and the Bible. What is the key theme in the rest of the book, and does the Bible affirm the passage?

7. Expansion and Refinement of the initial Exegesis

Finally, you need to read commentaries to gain a deeper understanding of the text. Note that, when writing a formal exegesis essay, you cannot use commentary. However, when researching, the commentaries can help you develop a perspective. You have your notes, and you have studied. However, as you write the exegesis, you can weave the insights that others have into your work.

Look back at the theological insights and process how the insights can be applied to an individual or the church today. If, for example, you are exploring the theological insight that “Amos argues in this chapter that God is deeply concerned for social justice,” have several paragraphs that evaluate how the contemporary church is committed to social justice. Then, look at actions that demonstrate the commitment.

After reading, re-reading, and making notes, you have already formed ideas. It is now time to write the first draft. First, however, you need to have a complete exegetical paper outline that breaks down each section. Let’s see how that looks.

Outline of an Exegetical Paper or Essay

When writing a formal exegetical essay, there is a certain outline that you need to follow to develop a complete, comprehensive, and A-grade paper.

Title Page

The title page is the first page of your paper. You should format it as per the formatting guidelines. For instance, stick to the conventions of APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago title page formats. Be very careful when choosing a style. Only use the style that is consistent with the rubric and instruction requirements.

Table of Contents

You should develop your table of content using the Microsoft Word inbuilt feature. Ensure the sections and subsections of your paper are well highlighted.


The introduction of any exegetical paper, like essays or academic papers, serves to introduce your readers to your piece. The introduction captures your reader's attention and contextualizes the scope and focus of the topic of your paper. You are allowed to use the purpose statement: “This paper follows the exegetical process to determine the core message of this text for its original audience, identify the theological themes, and suggests its significance in today’s Christian journey/life.”

When writing your thesis, allow room for flexibility as your thesis can change as you revise or expand the paper. Starting out with a tentative thesis adjusted as the paper develops allows you to expand ideas and write a comprehensive exegetical essay.

However, it has some unique features. In addition to typically writing the introduction (background information of the text, hook, and thesis statement), you need to introduce the text when introducing an exegetical paper. While at it, you need to state the literal translation clearly, literary context and flow of thought, a literary genre (of the larger text that the passage comes from and the passage as a standalone), literary forms within the passage, and the structure of the passage

Main Body

The main body of your exegesis paper comprises 80% of the word count. As you have your notes already, this section is where you present the findings. The content of this section answers your problem statement. You can include aspects such as:

Summary and conclusion

The conclusion, as is the introduction, takes 10% of the word count. Here, you need to highlight the main findings of the exegesis, rephrase your refined thesis statement, and provide a summary of the entire body paragraph. Finally, highlight how your exegesis essay answers the problem statement.

Bibliography/References/Works Cited

Depending on the format, list all the books, articles, commentaries, and other resources used in your research. List them in an A-Z format or alphabetical order. Be careful to use the selected referencing style as per your rubric accurately.


Format of an Exegesis essay or Exegetical paper

Unless your institution, professor, or instructor requests other formats, the standard format for an exegetical paper is:

Exegetical Paper Example

Below is a sample exegesis paper on Mathew 9: 18-26 that was graded as an A. The paper should reinforce the ideas we have discussed in this guide and give you insights into what an exegesis essay looks like. In most cases, an exegetical paper will be around 2500-4500 words in length. However, you can also get essays as short as under ten pages. Whatever the case, the introduction and conclusion are each 10% while the body is 80%.

Matthew 9:18-26

18. While he was speaking these things to them, perceive a ruler having come was kneeling down to him, saying, “my daughter has just now died. But you having come lay your hand upon her, and she will live.”
19. And Jesus, having risen, was following him, also his disciples.
20. And perceive, a woman blood flowing twelve years having come behind, touched the fringe of his garment.
21. For she was saying in herself, ‘if only I may touch his garment, I will be made well.”
22. And Jesus having turned and having perceived her, he said, “be of good courage,
daughter, your faith has made you well” And the woman was saved from that time.
23. And Jesus having come to the house of the ruler, and having perceived the flute players and the crowd making a noise,
24. he was saying, “withdraw, for the girl did not die but sleeps.” And they were laughing of him.
25. And when the crowd was put outside, having entered, he took hold of her hand, and the girl arose.
26. And this report went out into all that land.

Matthew’s account of twofold healing sheds light on Christ’s attitude to the suffering
and marginalized females of all ages and ranks. The story revolves around two unnamed main characters whose conditions were somewhat similar despite the apparent differences between them. On the one hand, the pericope mentions a young daughter of a leader of the synagogue who “has just now died” (9:18). On the other hand, Matthew describes Jesus’ encounter with a woman who had been “blood flowing twelve years” haimorroousa dodeka ete (9:20). Thus, the two characters outline the two seemingly opposite (but inherently similar) categories of people who can obtain healing through the encounter with Jesus; faith connects broken and stigmatized people with Jesus, while he ensures positive changes and spiritual transformation to those who believe in him.

The first female is the daughter of a leader of the synagogue. The original text of the
Matthew suggests that the man was a “ruler,” but most modern English translations render this Greek word archon as referring to the synagogue leader to avoid confusion. The reason for that choice is that other evangelists add this information (cf. Luke 8:41). Therefore, the unnamed girl was born to influential and wealthy parents, which implies that she represents the elite members of society. The second woman spent twelve years of her life in physical suffering and social isolation because, according to the Old Testament, individuals suffering from bleeding were regarded as religiously unclean (cf. Leviticus 15:19). As a result of religious prohibitions and Jewish socio-cultural context, the woman could not live a rich and fulfilling life because of her disease. Perhaps, that was the reason why the woman refused to ask Jesus about healing publicly. Instead, she “having come behind, touched the fringe of his garment” (9:20), which can mean that she preferred to remain anonymous to avoid society’s condemnation. Also, the first century Palestine was a patriarchal society where women did not have such rights and privileges as men regardless of their personal traits. Therefore, the unnamed woman represents suffering, marginalized, stigmatized, and intimidated categories of society and especially discriminated against females.

Moreover, the two females belong to different age groups, namely, young and adult, which means that people of all ages can receive help from Jesus, providing they have faith. Notice that faith is viewed as the critical condition for being healed: “your faith has made you well” (9:22; The New Testament Greek, “Sozo: make well,” 25). However, the original text means not only healing but also salvation; the woman’s faith “saved” or “rescued” her (F.W. Danker, 345). Therefore, the encounter with Jesus had more than one application: physical, spiritual, existential, social, and ceremonial, and the act of getting in direct contact with Jesus is the necessary requirement for positive changes. Thus, Jesus is presented as open to the outcasts.

In the first case, he allows that woman to touch him even though he would be ceremonially unclean because of her touch as well. In the second case, he touched a corpse, which was also strictly prohibited by the Mosaic law (cf. Numbers 19:11).
Nevertheless, Jesus “took hold of her hand, and the girl arose” (9:25). Therefore, what
Matthew conveyed through these stories is that any person can be transformed and healed by faith in Christ because faith is a spiritual reality similar to what takes place when one person touches another; Jesus allows all people (including outcasts, broken, disappointed, depressed, stigmatized, and sinners) to have relationships with him. Secondly, Jesus is “the ruler,” not like the ruler of the community, synagogue, or government.
In conclusion, Matthew’s account of healing suggests that Jesus had compassion for the outcasts. While Jewish society rejected sick females who suffered from illnesses, Jesus was ready to help them and restore their lives. The young girl and adult woman represent all age groups. Physical touching represents faith and personal trust in Jesus.

Danker, F. W., & Krug, K. (2009). The concise Greek-English lexicon of the New

Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Aland, B., Aland, K., Karavidopoulos, I. D., Martini, C. M., Metzger, B. M.,
Newman, B. M., & Voss, F. (2017). The Greek New Testament: a reader’s edition. Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

When researching, we found a handy website by Jan A. Sigvartsen, Ph.D., which explores the exegesis essay writing process in-depth.

Related: Read about writing a faith integration paper.

Parting Shot

If asked by your professor to write a scholarly biblical exegesis paper and you do not know how to do it, use our guide to write the best. We have covered what goes into a standard exegetical paper and how to outline it. We have taken you through the seven-step process you need to consider when writing your exegesis paper and give you an exegesis essay example. So go out there and be an exegete that gets A grades.

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