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Biblical Exegesis: 1. Choose a Passage

Biblical exegesis is the process by which one comes to understand a Biblical text. One begins by identifying key passages, terms, and concepts and uses specialized library resources during the research process.

What is your favorite passage in Luke's Gospel?

Luke 4:16-21

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read
and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

Online Concordance


A Bible concordance is a verbal index to the Bible. A simple form lists Biblical words alphabetically, with indications to enable the inquirer to find the passages of the Bible where the words occur.

Biblia Clerus (Online Catholic Commentaries)

Bible Concordances

Choose a Passage for Your Exegesis Paper

If your professor has assigned you a specific passage for your paper, you can skip the rest of this page. Otherwise, you need to choose a passage:

  • From an appropriate place in an acceptable version of the Bible
  • Of reasonable size
  • With identifiable boundaries

Your passage would naturally come from the section of the Bible that your class covers. This guide will assume that your class includes the Gospel of Luke and you have decided to choose a passage from there. You can choose a passage you like, or that features a concept in which you are interested.

Suppose you are interested in studying the story of Jesus' Transfiguration. That is in Luke 9:28-36. So you could write your paper on that passage. Alternatively, you could write on a passage that contains a theme you want to study. Suppose you want to learn about Jesus' attitudes towards money, but you do not know where in Luke's Gospel to look for a passage about money. You can solve this by using a concordance.

A concordance is a tool that lets you look up a word, and see that word in its context in every place it occurs in the Bible. Since English versions of the Bible differ sometimes in how they translate words, you need to pick a concordance that matches your Bible version. (This assumes you are not working directly from Hebrew or Greek, which have their own concordances.) So, if you use the New American Bible, you could use Nelson's complete concordance of the New American Bible (Call Number BS425 .H272).

Next, you need to determine if the passage is of reasonable size. Suppose you have to write a paper that is ten to twelve pages long. That would be about the right size for a passage that is around eight to fifteen verses long, depending upon the genre of the passage. An argument from Romans would probably take more space to interpret than a story in 1 Samuel, though this may not always be true. If you choose a passage that is too short, your paper will probably be too short, e.g., writing on John 3:16 would be a fairly short paper. On the other hand, Luke 1:1-80 is far too long. You could spend thirty pages on that and not be done. It depends in part upon the complexity of the passage. For this Research Guide, let's choose a simple narrative passage: Luke 1:26-38, the announcement to Mary of the coming birth to her of Jesus while she is a virgin.

In order to decide the number of verses to choose, you need to validate that you are doing a complete passage, not starting or stopping in the middle of a narrative or argument. In the case of Luke 1:26-38, you can tell that v. 26 is an appropriate beginning for this short narrative (called a pericope in biblical studies) because v. 26 provides a statement that indicates a new event is happening at a point later in time than 1:5-25. In Luke 1:26 it is stated that the angel Gabriel, six months after promising Zechariah that John would be born, was sent to Nazareth in Galilee by God. At the beginning of Luke 1:39, we again read about a transition to a new location, as Mary leaves to go visit her cousin Elizabeth. That makes Luke 1:38 the end of the announcement to Mary by Gabriel. This is fifteen verses, which is about the most you should consider doing for a typical exegesis paper. Shifts in time ("and it came to pass"), shifts in location ("went up to Jerusalem"), and shifts in topic ("There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in the Messiah Jesus") all indicate the beginning of a new narrative pericope or a new topic. Look for those as you seek the beginning and end of your passage.

You could verify the boundaries of your passage by finding a Bible that divides the text into paragraphs and seeing how it divides this passage. You should plan, however, to describe why you have chosen a particular set of verses and not more or less. The paragraphs are only the view of one modern editorial team, not part of the Bible itself. The chapters and verses in modern Bibles were put in many centuries after all the books of the Bible were written.

Go to the next tab above to learn how to examine the Historical, Cultural, and Literary Background of your passage.


One Volume Commentaries

There are large numbers of "free standing" commentaries not part of a series. 

  • Check the catalog (search for commentaries and the name of the Book)
  • Browse the shelves (BS call numbers)


In-depth commentaries that treat a Book of the Bible chapter by chapter, are ideal for research. The only problem: there are so many commentaries! Here are some excellent ones.

More Good Commentaries

These commentaries are in the UST library circulating collections. Use LibrarySearch to locate them

  • Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
  • Continental Commentaries
  • Feminist Companion to the Bible
  • Historical Commentary on the Old Testament
  • International Critical Commentary
  • JPS Torah Commentary
  • New International Commentary
  • New Testament Library
  • Old Testament Library


BibleWorks 8 is a software package (not available remotely) that helps persons study Scritprue more effectively and efficiently.  It is only available at a PC workstation in Ireland Library. A password is not required.

BibleWorks * is an original languages Bible software program. It includes 90 Bible translations in 28 languages, 9 original language texts with 7 morphology databases, 6 Greek lexicons and dictionaries, 4 Hebrew lexicons and dictionaries, and 11 practical reference works. New modules feature The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 4th edition, and A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition.