Ways to Worship | Exegesis

We’re up to the 4th post in our Ways to Worship series – looking at different ways to read and study the Bible.




The ocean is beautiful. The beauty that we see on the surface, though, is only a tiny portion. I talked to someone once who was learning scuba diving. It’s a skill you have to grow in – practising correct techniques and becoming familiar with the weight of the water. Yet, as you plunge deeper into the ocean, your eyes are opened to a realm of abundant, vibrant life. And for me, staying above the surface, I’d never know. Sometimes we have to go deep.

Our Bible study method this week – exegesis – is about going deep. The word exegesis comes from two Greek words stuck together, and basically means ‘drawing out’. Drawing out all the meaning that’s already there in the passage. If you’ve studied theology you might be familiar with this one. But you don’t have to be a theology scholar to do exegesis – you just have to be willing to dive deep and find all the treasures within.




Exegesis goes way back to the early church fathers – all throughout church history, theologians have devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures in this way. Augustine of Hippo, John Calvin and John Wesley, for example, have all written commentaries explaining Scripture, based on in depth, verse by verse study.


What do I need

  • a Bible (in a few translations)

  • commentaries

  • Bible dictionary




How to do it

There are a lot of steps to this method. While I was researching it, most of the guides were for students learning how to write exegetical papers – there was some pretty serious academic stuff there! If it’s all a bit intimidating, don’t worry. You don’t have to tackle everything first up, but work through your chosen steps, point by point. Approach it with a genuine desire to learn from God’s word – and he’ll meet you where you are.


1. Read the passage

  • Good base translations for exegesis include NIV and ESV. Also read the passage in a few other translations, and (if you can) the original language.


2. Literary context

  • What genre is the passage? Is it narrative, epistle, prophesy or poetry?

  • Who wrote it? Who were they writing to?

  • How does it fit into the chapter or the book as a whole? Where does it fit in the big picture of the Bible?

  • How is the passage structured? Look for joining words like ‘for’, ‘but’ and ‘because’. If you like, draw up a diagram or flow chart to show the connections.


3. Historical context

  • When was the passage written? If it’s a narrative, was it written at the time of or after the events?

  • What was society like at this time? Does this give any deeper understanding to the passage?

  • Commentaries and Bible dictionaries are helpful for pointing out little historical details that we might otherwise miss.


4. Textual analysis

  • This is the heart of exegesis – where you pull the text apart, trying to get as much detail as possible

  • Look for the key words and phrases. Write out a list, so you can then focus on them one by one.

  • What does each word or phrase mean? Does the original Greek or Hebrew give you any deeper meaning?

  • Are there any historical or cultural details that enhance the meaning of a phrase?

  • Does the passage foreshadow or refer to other parts of the Bible?

  • Is there more than one interpretation of a word or concept? Considering what you’ve read in commentaries, which do you think is the most likely one?


5. Themes and theology

  • What are the main themes of the passage?

  • Are there any theological doctrines to find? Does the passage say anything about God? About humanity? About salvation?

  • Are these themes and doctrines found anywhere else in the Bible?


6. Practical application

  • We’ve pulled the text apart – now it’s time to put it back together.

  • How does this passage shape the way we live? Does it change the way you think about God or yourself? Is there a sin to put off? Is there something good to start doing?

  • Start with the practical implications for people in general, and then move to the specifics for your own life.


Lectio Divina


Potential pitfalls

Just like Lectio Divina has the potential to be all heart and no head, this can become just the opposite – all head and no heart. Serious intellectual inquiry is important in this method, but whatever you discover with your mind has to cross over into your heart. It’s not about knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but knowledge that transforms lives.


Why do it

With exegesis, you can get a really solid, in depth understanding of a passage. Not just what you feel it says right now, but what it actually says. Reading commentaries can help you understand tricky passages, instead of trying to work it out all on your own.


Helpful resources

Biblical Interpretation: Interpreting and Applying the Biblical Text, Dr Rebecca Idestrom

Exegetical Bible Study Methods, Dr Richard J. Krejcir

Question-mark Specs: Exegesis for Beginners, Alison Mitchell

An Easy Model for Doing Exegesis, Bob Young




3 thoughts on “Ways to Worship | Exegesis

  1. What a great resource! I think it is so good to dive deeper into the word. I do like to keep these times separate from my quiet times- but they are so important in understanding God’s message to us!


  2. At one stage I was doing this each day – I don’t have anywhere near that much time any more! But as an occasional thing (usually when I’m preparing a Bible study or blog post), it’s so wonderful to dive deep.


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