Common Problems with Writing Biblical Studies Papers
Know Your Passage Well
It is difficult to discern the relationship between your passage and the rest of Scripture until you have spent ample time studying the passage on its own. While a detailed discussion of exegesis will probably not find its way into the final draft of your paper, you should nevertheless devote yourself to careful exegesis and, if possible, translation from the original languages. Do not rush this step.
Meditate on the passage and pray for insight. This step often provides a fresh understanding of familiar texts, opening new avenues for exploration.
Identify Major Themes, Motifs, and Theological Concepts
No passage says everything, so pay attention to the particular emphases of your passage. What imagery is used? How does your passage present God? What is the relationship of God to His people, and to those who are not His people? What theological points does the author emphasize? These and other questions will help you to identify particular themes, motifs, images, or concepts for further exploration.
Being as specific as possible in identifying these elements will provide a clear direction for your investigation of how these elements function within the rest of the canon. (For example, identifying “the church” as a major theme of Eph 2:11-22 would be less helpful than “the church as God’s building” or “the community of peace.”)
Keep Christ Central
As you consider how the themes and concepts of your particular passage are developed progressively in Scripture, remember that all of the promises of God, in both Old and New Testaments, find their “yes” of fulfillment in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). The central subject matter of all Scripture is Christ and the redemption he brings (Luke 24:44). Therefore, your paper should indicate how your passage points to Christ – how the themes of your passage find their climactic fulfillment in Him. This does not mean that every passage of Scripture is a direct “messianic prophecy” but that every part of Scripture is centered on Christ and contributes to the story of which Christ’s coming is the grand fulfillment.
Balance Depth and Breadth
Because of the marvelous complexity and interconnectedness of biblical truth, there is virtually no end to the exploration of any particular theme. Exploration of one theme will lead to insights on other themes. The unity of truth means that biblical themes are organically related to each other and to the whole scope of revealed truth. Therefore study of any individual theme can provide a view of Scripture as a whole.
While it is necessary to consider each theme carefully and thoroughly, you should not give so much attention to the depth of a single theme that you fail to identify and explore the breadth of other themes involved in your passage. Because you have limited space, be succinct and direct in your writing, so that you can cover as much of the biblical landscape as possible without sacrificing depth of analysis.
As you familiarize yourself with scholarly discussions of your text, you will be surprised to discover ideas, interpretations, and questions that you had not previously considered. You will want to become conversant with the major interpretations of your passage, allowing the questions generated by your research to focus your ongoing study.