Exegesis and biblical theology
Biblical Studies papers at Westminster are of several types. At one end of the spectrum is the exegetical paper, which simply requires an understanding and unpacking of the meaning of a particular passage of Scripture. At the other end of the spectrum is the biblical-theological paper, which starts from the foundation of exegesis but devotes itself to the exploration of certain themes as they develop throughout the entire Bible. While there is a certain amount of overlap between the exegetical and biblical-theological paper, there are also significant differences.
In between the exegetical paper and the biblical theological paper are others that are largely devoted to exegesis but also involve significant exploration of how a particular passage is fulfilled in Christ. Your professor will make clear what exactly he expects.
What is Exegesis?
Exegesis is the close, careful reading of a text that attempts to uncover its meaning. While there are various tools for exegesis, all of them are intended to aid in understanding what the text is saying. Central to exegesis is the exercise of asking probing questions of your text. In an exegetical paper, the student argues that the text means what he has found it to mean through his own careful study.
What is biblical theology?
Westminster understands biblical theology in the tradition pioneered by Geerhardus Vos, that is, as the study of the historical unfolding of God’s self-revelation. God has chosen throughout history to speak to different individuals at various times and places and in diverse ways (Heb 1:1). This speech has been accompanied by and coordinated with God’s action to redeem fallen humanity from sin.
This redemptive activity of God and the self-revelation of God that attends it have a historical dimension that is everywhere present and inescapable. This means that any particular section of Scripture should be understood against the background of the progressive outworking of the plan of God in history. The major concern of biblical theology, therefore, is to understand how a particular text is related to the historical unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes.
Accordingly, Westminster emphasizes the centrality of Christ in God’s self-revelation throughout history. Because all of Scripture is centered on and culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44), biblical theology seeks to understand how the various epochs of God’s speech both anticipate and announce Christ and his Kingdom.
What is a biblical theological paper?
A biblical-theological paper explores the thematic connections between one biblical passage and the entire canon of which it is a part.
- It first examines the passage on its own terms, identifying its major structural and thematic elements.
- Then it moves to consider how the specific elements, images, themes, and concepts of the passage are developed in both Testaments and have their fulfillment in the person and work of Christ.
Particularly important is the progressive nature of that development. By locating the passage within the development of biblical revelation, the biblical-theological paper highlights the contributions made by that particular passage to the entire story of God’s redemption in Christ Jesus.
What Are the Differences between Exegetical and Biblical-theological Papers?
An exegetical paper differs from a biblical-theological paper in scope. An exegetical paper limits its focus to a particular passage, probing deeply and carefully into the details of grammatical-historical analysis.
By contrast, a biblical-theological paper explores the connections between a passage and the rest of Scripture, specifically highlighting how the elements found in that passage develop as God’s redemptive plan progresses. Because a biblical-theological paper is broader, there is less space available for discussing exegetical minutiae – an abbreviated exegetical overview is usually sufficient. Most of the paper will be devoted to tracing thematic connections between your passage and the rest of Scripture.
Note, however, that both papers usually require a thesis statement. This provides unity and focus for the paper.