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Biblical and Theological Resources: Biblical Exegesis Resources

A Guide to Commentaries, Exegesis Resources and BibleWorks 10


This page provides the Union Presbyterian Seminary student library resources needed to work on a seminary-level exegesis paper for Old Testament and/or New Testament.  Each library resource is listed in the area of the exegesis paper where it will be the most helpful in the process of writing the paper.  The library resource is also hotlinked to the book as it is found on the Amazon website.  I have linked the library books to Amazon not so you will be compelled to buy the book; rather, it is a way to give you lots of additional information about the book so you can determine if it is the resource you need.  If you find any books that you want to use further, then you can come into the library and check them out.  

When writing an exegesis paper, Union Presbyterian students use A Basic Guide for Biblical Exegesis and Expository InterpretationThe "document,  revised in April 2016 by the biblical studies faculty of Union Presbyterian Seminary is intended for general use in courses  on our various degree programs."  It is also intended to give the student structure and order to the exegetical process.  After the different exegetical steps given in the basic guide, I inserted library resources to help the student find proper library resources to address the various stages of inquiry that arise as part of the exegetical process.  

The library resources listed to address the various exegetical questions will look overwhelming at first.  There are lots of resources listed.  The discerning student will pick through the many resources and use what is needed.  In doing so--even though the resources are listed in a logical sequence--the student is encouraged to go back and forth with the resources and work with them on your own terms.  Please know that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list for exegetical work but merely a way to point you toward some primary tools that can be found in the library.  Remember that the guide gives the generally accepted steps involved in the exegesis process for Union students.  Make sure you understand the requirements of your professor. 

As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.  There is a place on this page to leave a comment or you may contact me directly using the information below my picture.

Good Luck!

David Mayo

Theological Librarian and Library Director of Charlotte Campus

"A Basic Guide for Biblical Exegesis and Expository Interpretation" (UPSem, rev. April 2016) -- with text

Union Presbyterian Seminary

A Basic Guide for Biblical Exegesis and Expository Interpretation


The following document was drafted and adopted in September 2008, and revised in May 2009, by the members of the biblical studies faculty of Union-PSCE.  It is intended for general use in courses of our various degree programs.


There are two things on which all interpretation of Scripture depends: the process of discovering what we need to learn, and the process of presenting what we have learned.  (Augustine)


Exegesis is listening carefully to a text in order to grasp its intention and experience its impact.  In one sense, an exegetical procedure asks questions of ancient texts so that they might once more speak with clarity and coherence.  Exegesis “slows down” the reader and fosters patient, attentive listening to the text so that its inner movements and intended effects can be observed.  In this way, a sort of dialogue between text and exegete is established.


The purpose of exegesis is to reach a critically informed and theologically sensitive understanding of the text, appropriate in and for the life of the church in its engagement with the world.  The goal is not to establish the once-and-for-all-time meaning of the text, but to discern the message of the text for a particular occasion and context.  As Hayes and Holladay observe: “Exegesis does not allow us to master the text so much as it enables us to enter it” (Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook, 3rd ed. [Louisville; London: Westminster John Knox, 2007], 22). 


We can think of exegesis as an interview process.  For this reason, the steps given below should not be viewed as a prescribed method to be followed woodenly, but as a guide to questions that can be put to the text.


Read the text in your primary language and record your first impressions.


In your INITIAL READING of the text, you begin to encounter the text and its dynamics.  Before turning to the original language of the text, take a few moments to read the text in the NRSV (or a version in your native language).  Compare another translation with it, noting any major discrepancies between them.  Consider the following questions:


  1. What is familiar about this text?  What is unfamiliar?  Are there problems of intelligibility in the text as read in translation?  What are the gaps between the text’s world and ours?


  1. If you heard this text read in worship, what in the text would strike you?  What would be your initial understandings of the text? 


  1. What factors about your background and your current situation in life shape your approach to this text and your understanding of it?

  2. How do you locate yourself as a reader of Scripture in general and of this passage specifically?  (E.g., Do you read as an insider, an outsider, an observer of your own story, an observer of someone else’s story?)  Do you read as an insider, an outsider, an observer of your own story, an observer of someone else’s story? Do you read with the underdog? Do you favor the protagonist? Are you sensitive to the gender, race and ethnicity of “others,” the “least of these” in the text? Do you read between the lines? Do you notice/choose to ignore the political, social, and theological biases of the text in front of you? Do you find yourself reading with or against the grain of this text? Why?


Use the tools of biblical scholarship to deepen your understanding.


A CRITICAL READING clarifies, corrects, and enriches your initial understanding by using the methods of modern biblical scholarship.  It is important to be aware that the term “critical” does not mean “negative”, “skeptical”, or “unappreciative.”  Rather, critical analysis implies that exegetes discipline their work by following accepted interpretive techniques and methods.  Exegesis involves discerning which questions are important to pursue in relation to a particular text—and which are not.[1]   


l.  The language of the text.


Translation.  For students with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, the critical study of a text begins with its original language.  After your initial reading, which was based on a translation of your choosing, the task is now to create your own working translation, using various tools (e.g., a Hebrew or Greek lexicon, concordances).  You will want to revisit this translation at every step in the exegetical process, since it should reflect insights you have gained about the text.


Vocabulary/semantics.  What meanings do important words have in a given context, as well as in other contexts?  Explicate “key terms”; good candidates are unfamiliar words or concepts, repeated terms, and words that carry theological significance.


Grammar and syntax.  How do grammatical features—particular forms, word order of a sentence, stylistic features—convey meaning and nuance?  Are there major problems in how the text reads?


Text criticism.  Using the critical apparatus (at the bottom of the page of your critical edition of the text), identify and evaluate important textual variations.  Would you adopt any of these variant readings to be incorporated in your translation and interpretation?


2.   The structure and form of the text.  


Boundaries.  What are the logical or narrative boundaries of the text under consideration?  Is the text an appropriate and coherent literary unit in relationship to the preceding and following textual segments?  Are several units brought together by the text? Must material beyond the boundaries be included to do justice to the text?


Structure, flow, plot or movement.  Describe the flow of the text.  How does it develop? Are there repeated key words or phrases (leitmotif)?  How is the text structured?  Are there distinct sections or subdivisions?  How are the clauses of the text related to one another? Is there movement from one idea to another (e.g., narrative with suspense, surprise, reversal, contrast; logical steps of an argument; poetic associations of ideas or images)?  Developing an outline of the passage may be useful at this point to take these issues into account.


Form and Genre.  Does the text employ conventional oral forms and/or have the shape of a literary genre?  If so, what conventional pattern of communication does the text reflect (e.g., narrative, poetry, law, oracle, lament, proverb, hymn, parable, pronouncement story, miracle story, parenesis, dialogue, revelation discourse)?  Does the text conform to the expected pattern or does it differ in significant ways?  What cultural or institutional situations in life does the text reflect?  What rhetorical effect is the text designed to accomplish (e.g., to inform, teach, edify, persuade, predict, entertain, exhort, comfort, threaten, debate)?  What does analysis of form and genre contribute to your understanding of this text?


3.  The text in contexts


Literary context.

What comes before this passage that the audience would bring to bear in hearing this text? How does this text set up what comes next? What are the literary juxtapositions in the context? Attend to the immediate context, larger subunits of which the text may be a part, and the book as a whole in which the text appears. Are there connecting threads that inform a reading of the text? Are there disconnects (e.g., changes in literary style or theological viewpoint, breaks in continuity of thought, duplications, repetitions, or inconsistencies) that affect the message of the text in relation to the larger work of which it is a part?

How does this text contribute to its larger context? How does the larger literary context contribute to understanding the text?


Historical, social, and cultural context. The Protestant tradition has long recognized that the Bible was written within history, and that one cannot fully understand Scripture without seeking to ascertain the historical landscape for a particular passage or author.


  • Who wrote the text, and to whom is it directed? If knowledge of either the author or the original audience is available (often it is not), what does it contribute to your reading of this particular text?


  • What occasioned the writing of this text?


  • What social values, customs, or beliefs are assumed or alluded to in this text? What worldview is reflected? What social, political, or economic realities bear on a reading of the text?


Your focus here should be on the key facts and issues that will help you interpret the passage in front of you. Ask “when, where, who, what, and why?” What do these historical, social, and cultural aspects contribute to your understanding and interpretation of the text?  


Compositional contexts (often called “tradition history” and “redaction criticism”). Does the existing form of the text make use of earlier traditions?


  • Has the author or editor used sources or earlier traditions to compose the text? If so, identify them.


  • How has the source or tradition been recycled to address a new situation?


  • How are theological perspectives of the author or editor reflected in the reformulation of earlier traditions?


Canonical context. How does the text function as part of Scripture? What connections does the text establish with other parts of Scripture, both OT and NT, through direct quotations, echoes, imagery, literary allusions, etc.? How does the broader theological scope of the canon contribute to your understanding of the text’s message?


4.  Engaging diverse perspectives


In recent decades biblical interpretation has changed dramatically, and for the better, as a broader array of voices and methodological approaches have expanded our engagement with and understanding of Scripture.


  • What might you learn about the text from contemporaries whose social location has granted them different perspectives for Bible reading?


  • How might new angles of vision provided by innovative methodological approaches (e.g., feminist or womanist criticism, racially or ethnically centered interpretation, disability studies, ecological criticism, postcolonial criticism) inform your reading of the text? How do these perspectives expand your work to this point, or perhaps lead you to rethink your interpretive approach?


[1]Critical exegesis comprises both synchronic and diachronic methods.  Synchronic methods focus on the “plain” text—its language, structure, composition, plot, etc.—without reference to the particular historical and cultural settings that shaped the text.  Diachronic methods, on the other hand, seek to locate a text in its original context and, as such, to explore what it might have meant to its original audience.




Synthesize exegetical insights and articulate your sense of the text’s significance.


1.  Exegetical Focus. Bring into clear focus what you discern to be the message of this text, on this hearing.

To this point, your exegesis has investigated the text in all its complexity—its contexts, language, and literary design. The
Exegetical Focus identifies and integrates exegetical discoveries that are especially significant in your understanding of this text. Drawing upon your exegetical work to this point and guided by the following questions, give a clear, concise summary (about 100 words in length) of the message you discern in this text.

  • What are the primary concerns of this text?
  • What does this text, interpreted in the light of its multiple contexts, say about God, the world, and humankind?
  • What theme or themes will you emphasize in your communication of this pericope?

2.  Connections. Communicate the text’s message(s) to a contemporary audience.

So far, your work has been primarily descriptive. You are now engaged in the task of articulating what the text means for hearers today. By now you will have reached some conclusions about what the text meant for its earliest audiences, and you will be aware of several ways in which the text may be or has been appropriated.


In this step, your task is to discern, frame, and articulate an interpretation of the text that you believe needs to be heard at this time. This message should be grounded in the text, applicable to a particular ministry context, and relevant for Christian faith and practice today. Avoid vague generalities, superficial moralizing, and trite applications. Even as you attend thoughtfully to the ethical implications you discern in the text, use “ought/must/should/need to” language with caution as you strive to convey a life-giving message that incorporates “good news” of God’s initiative, power, and presence in our lives.           


The resources listed give an overview and a diversity of perspectives to the overall exegetical process.  These can be helpful to the student seeking more information than can be found in the basic guide.  Old Testament and New Testament resources are separated in this list because each testament has a unique set of issues.  But I also separate them for ease of use.  To gain more information about a particular resource just click on the title. All of these books are available in the UPSEM libraries.


It is important to establish or orient the language content of the pericope in the Biblical book to the greater whole.  This may require a careful English translation from the original Greek or Hebrew.  It is also important that the Biblical text be read in several different English versions.  There are several versions of the Bible (eg. NRSV, New King James Version, The New Jerusalem Version, The New English Version, New International, New American Bible Standard, etc.) available in the library and online. All of these books are available in the UPSEM libraries.


Critical analysis employs various critical methods which ask important questions of the text.  Some of the resources below give general information on biblical interpretation while others examine the particular varieties of critical methods.  To investigate more information on biblical methods, find Guides to Biblical Scholarship Series which is a series published by Fortress Press.  Biblical Criticism is a field that has evolved over the years and it is important to keep current.  Please note that each of these resources are not equally useful for every text. All of these books are available in the UPSEM libraries.


It is important to have an in-depth understanding of the meaning of various words and terms used in the Bible.  Historical development of the usage of a particular word and all the possible meanings of the word should be investigated.  The proper understanding of a particular word can make a huge difference in interpreting the text.  It also important to do an analysis of the text.  Here are some ideas of what to look for:  1) Literary analysis: What type of literature is it?; 2) Textual analysis: Reconstruct the precise words of the original writer; 3) Grammatical analysis: Classify words by their part of speech; 4) Lexical analysis: Determine meaning of the words.  The following resources will help answer these questions and more. All of these books are available in the UPSEM libraries.


Examine the historical context of the pericope by getting a general overview from Bible dictionaries.  Then it is good to investigate the particularlities of the land and how that may help one understand the text better and then go to the various commentaries to gain general and specific information about the text.  Please understand that no one commentary can do it all.  Commentaries reflect a different methodological and theological perspective which can confirm and hopefully stretch our own understanding.  Commentaries are written with difference audiences in mind.  For instance, some are written for lay people and some are written for scholars.  Bible commentaries tend to have areas of strength, usually in certain books of the Bible.  Therefore, be sure to look at several different commentaries.    If unsure, check "An Annotated Guide to Biblical Resources for Ministry" by David R. Bauer and "Commentary and Reference Survey" by John Glynn for assistance.  The commentary list is only meant to be suggestive not comprehensive. All of these books are available in the UPSEM libraries.


In recent decades biblical interpretation has changed dramatically as a broader array of voices and methodological approaches have expanded our engagement with and understanding of Scripture. As students begin their academic work, it is easy to play it safe and stay with familiar resources that represent traditional viewpoints.  It is important that the student take the additional step to investigate resources that may be outside the standard literature so there is a wider experience and a deeper engagement with scripture.  Here are a few suggestions. You will want to notice that some resources are commentaries and others highlight how various communities interprete the Bible. All of these books are available in the UPSEM libraries.


Product DetailsTrue to Our Native Land--Brian Blount


Image result for the african bible reading israel's scriptures from africa and the african diasporaAfricana Bible: reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African diaspora


Product DetailsWomen's Bible Commentary--Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe


Product DetailsQueer Bible Commentary--Deryn Guest


  Global Bible Commentary--Daniel Patte, general editor



Product DetailsAsian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism--R. S. Sugirtharajah



Product DetailsVoices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World--R.S. Sugirtharajah


Product DetailsOther Ways of Reading: African Women and the Bible -- Ed.Musa W. Dube


Product DetailsFeminist Biblical Interpretation: A Compendium of Critical Commentary on the Books of the Bible...-- Ed. Schottroff and Wacker


Product DetailsSearching the Scriptures: A Feminist Introduction, Vol. 2:  A Feminist Commentary -- Ed. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza


Product DetailsEncountering God in Tyrannical Texts: A Reflection on Paul, Women, and the Authority of Scripture -- Frances Taylor Gench


        A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament Writings -- Ed. Fernando F. Segovia and R. S. Sugirtharajah


South Asia Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary on the Whole Bible - eBook  -     Edited By: Brian Wintle, Havilah Dharamraj, Jesudason Baskar Jeyaraj        South Asia Bible Commentary: A One Vol. Commentary-- Ed. Brian Wintle



Commentaries will also be helpful in this area and some of the primary examples of commentaries are listed under the Historical Section.  Remember to consult several commentaries to seek different perspectives.  There may be times when a broader theological overview  is needed.  Therefore, there are resources listed below that are dedicated to the general theology of the Old or New Testament.  All of these books are available in the UPSEM libraries.

Subject Guide

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Highly Recommended Databases

ATLA-RDB and ATLAS index & e-journals

ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials combines the premier index to journal articles, book reviews, and collections of essays in all fields of religion with ATLA's online collection of major religion and theology journals.

Academic Search Complete

Academic Search Premier is the world's largest scholarly, multi-disciplinary, full-text database designed specifically for academic institutions. This scholarly collection provides full-text journal coverage for nearly all academic areas of study.

Ministry Matters / iPreach

Ministry Matters™ offers practical and immediate inspiration for preachers, teachers, and worship leaders. But there are tens of thousands of pages of full-text research and reference materials that are available--everything from The New Interpreter's Bible and the Abingdon Old and New Testament Commentaries to devotions, prayers, and sermon starters.

Other Recommended Databases

Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception

This unusual new resource is, first of all, a detailed and scholarly Bible dictionary online. It discusses the usage of each term or name in the Scripture itself. But then the EBR goes on to detail the understanding of a term's connection to broader and wider subjects past and present.

Oxford Biblical Studies Online — on campus​ 

Oxford Biblical Studies Online — off campus

Texts from selected Oxford Bibles can be viewed in side-by-side display with the user’s choice of commentary and annotations from the Study Bibles, the stand-alone Oxford Bible Commentary, and A-Z concordances for the NRSV and NAB translations. In addition to the Bible texts, Oxford Biblical Studies Online offers quick access to over 5,000 A-Z entries from the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Oxford Companion to the Bible, and a wealth of other Oxford references such as The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible, Oxford Bible Atlas, and other works.

Online Dictionaries

The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible  


Cover image for Dictionary of the Old Testament : historical books

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books by Bill T. Arnold


Cover image for Dictionary of the Old Testament : Pentateuch

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch by Alexander, T. Desmond


Cover image for Dictionary of the Old Testament : prophets

Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets by Mark J. Boda


Cover image for Dictionary of the Old Testament : wisdom, poetry & writings

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings by Temper Longman, ed.


Cover image for A dictionary of the Bible

Oxford Guide to Reference Articles from Dictionaries, Handbooks, and Encyclopedias

Online Commentaries

Cover image for Joshua 1-12 : a new translation with introduction and commentary

Anchor Yale Bible Commentary: Joshua 1-12, Proverbs 10-31


Cover image for Ecclesiastes

Baker commentary on the Old Testament - Wisdom and Psalms: Ecclesiastes


Cover image for Deuteronomy

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible: Genesis, 1 & 2 Samuel, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Deuteronomy, Lamentations and the Song of songs


Cover image for Exodus

Brazos Theological Commentaries: Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra & Nehemiah, Esther & Daniel, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ezekiel, and Jonah


Cover image for Job.

Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Most OT Books


Cover image for Daniel a commentary

Old Testament Library Commentaries: Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1 &2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Esther, Job, Daniel, Micah, Jeremiah, Joel & Obadiah


Cover image for The Book of Zechariah

New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Genesis: chapters 1-17, Numbers, Judges,   Hosea,  Psalms, Proverbs: Chapters 1:1-15:29, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs,  Isaiah: Chapters 1-39, Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, and Zechariah


Cover image for 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Psalms 1-72


Cover image for Jeremiah

Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Exodus 1-19, Exodus 20-40, Ruth and Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, Isaiah 1-39, Jeremiah, book of the twelve : Hosea--Jonah, book of the twelve : Micah--Malachi



One Volume Commentaries Online


Cover image for Fortress commentary on the Bible. The Old Testament and Apocrypha

Fortress commentary on the Bible. The Old Testament and Apocrypha by Gail A. Yee, ed.


Cover image for Global Bible commentary

Global Bible Commentary by Daniel Patte, ed.



Cover image for Theological Bible commentary

Theological Bible Commentary by Gail R. O'Day


Cover image for Women's Bible commentary

Women's Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom