Guidelines for an Undergraduate Level Term Paper

Exegetical Papers

The purpose of an exegetical paper is to provide an explanation of a biblical text (pericope). This involves situating the pericope in its literary context (how does the text belong to the gospel or letter in which it is found?) and in its historical context (how does the text and its beliefs, assertions, and arguments fit in the context of first century Judaism, paganism, and the early Jesus movement).

Expository Papers The purpose of an expository paper is to discuss critically an issue (Paul and the Law; Evolution in Paul’s eschatology; Jesus as an apocalypticist; Jesus as a Cynic). Critical discussion involves an analysis of the primary data relevant to the issue, and the construction of a coherent and convincing interpretation of the data.

A good paper should have the following elements:

1.      It should begin with a clear and succinct statement of the problem to be addressed, and a brief outline of the text or texts relevant to the problem.

2.      It should provide a succinct account of the scholarly positions that have, up to now, been taken on the problem. This might be organized historically or chronologically (i.e., by tracing the history of the debate on the problem) or analytically, by indicating the interpretive options that are logically possible and then by aligning scholarly opinion in accordance with this template. For an undergraduate paper, 2-3 significantly contrasting positions are sufficient.

3.      A discussion of relevant background issues (e.g., definitions of prophecy or wisdom; the role of cities in the ancient world; evidence of compliance with taxations and tithing in Galilee; evidence of immersion pools; the character of ancient Cynicism; etc.),

4.      An analysis of the texts identified in #1 in light of the history of scholarship (#2) and the relevant background issues (#3).

5.      A conclusion indicating which of the available interpretive options seems to be the most cogent (and why).


A good paper is not merely an assemblage of facts or statement. It must contain an argument. All of the contents should function either to set the stage for the discussion of the problem, or to provide background information directly relevant to the issue, or to advance certain interpretive options, or to refute contrary positions. Material that is interesting but not directly relevant to the issue should be discarded or relegated to footnotes. The paper should be constructed so that the reader may follow the train of the argument and understand (a) why the issue is an important one, (b) what the interpretive options are, (c) how and why the background issues are in fact relevant, and (d) why the author is justified in drawing the conclusion she does.

Assembling a Bibliography

The simplest way to locate bibliography expressing a representative range of critical opinion on a pericope is to find a recent periodical article on the pericope or issue or to consult a good recent commentary or monograph on the topic.

The most convenient tool for locating recent periodical literature is New Testament Abstracts, published three times yearly, which indexes and abstracts articles from several hundred scholarly journals. NTAbs is arranged by biblical book (Matthew, Mark, Luke… Revelation) and more general topics (Jesus, Text Criticism, Archaeology, Jewish background, Graeco-Roman World, Early Church, etc.). There is a yearly index, including a biblical index and thus it is an easy matter to find, e.g., several articles written on 1 Cor 11:2-16 simply by consulting the biblical index in each volume.

In order to locate bibliography on a particular pericope, consult a recent commentary. Most good commentaries will discuss a range of opinions ventured on a particular pericope and will give a short bibliography of books and articles specifically related to the pericope. Reliable commentary series are: The Anchor Bible (Doubleday); Black’s New Testament Commentary (A. & C. Black); Hermeneia (Fortress Press); The International Critical Commentary (T. & T. Clark); New International Greek New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans); Word Biblical Commentary (Word Books).

To locate bibliography on a topic, consult New Testament Abstracts or a recent monograph or article, and look at the literature cited there.

Locating Bibliographical Items in the Library

Bibliographical references are normally provided in a format that tells you whether the item in question is a monograph, article in a journal, or an essay in an anthology.


Dunn, J.D.G. Romans 9-16. Word Biblical Commentary 38B. Waco: Word Books, 1988.

Lookup under ‘Author’: Dunn, J.D.G. or ‘Title’: Romans 9-16 or ‘Series title’: Word Biblical Commentary

Article in a Journal

Mullins, T.Y. “Greeting as a New Testament Form.” Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968):418-23. [Note that the article title is always in quotation marks and the journal title is in italics.]

            Lookup under ‘Serial Title’: Journal of Biblical Literature

Essay in an Anthology

Schreck, C.J. “The Nazareth Pericope: Luke 4,16-30 in Recent Study” in L’Evangile selon Luc¾The Gospel of Luke, 399-471. Ed. Frans Neirynck. BETL 35. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1989. [Note that the article title is in quotation marks, and the anthology title is in italics]

Lookup under ‘Author’: Neirynck, Frans, or ‘Title’: L’Evangile selon Luc.

The State of the Question

A good paper should summarize succinctly and accurately several different interpretations of the pericope. This discussion should indicate both the agreements and the points of disagreements and it should try to identify the source of disagreement (does it arise from differing interpretation of certain words or phrases, or from positing different historical backgrounds or historical situations, or from reading the pericope in question in the light of other texts, etc.).


Refereeing the Disagreements

A good paper must assess the various positions discussed above and decide which of them (if any) makes the best sense of the pericope. The decision to support one interpretation over another is not a matter of preference, but must be based on a close and careful reading of the pericope and on sound arguments and good evidence.


All ideas and phrases, sentences, etc. borrowed from another author must be footnoted. Any direct quotations (of more than 4 words) must be enclosed in quotation marks and footnoted. Even if you paraphrase another author, you must provide a footnote.


Footnotes must be complete: e.g.,

2 J.D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Word Biblical Commentary 38B; Waco: Word Books, 1988), 709-10.

3 T.Y. Mullins, “Greeting as a New Testament Form,” Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968), 418-19.


When you cite biblical texts, you should not use footnotes. Instead, use in-text citations, e.g., “Matthew depicts Jesus as rejecting antinomianism: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to destroy the Law; I have not come to destroy but to fulfil it’ (Matt 5:17).”

Do not cite biblical texts by the page number in a modern version. This is a meaningless method of citation; instead, cite by chapter and verse (e.g., 1 Cor 1:26).