Interpreting the Text (Lewis, Fall 2011)

last modified 2013-08-30T14:29:04-04:00

Note: This guide emphasizes the three types of scholarly helps available in the Tarver Library needed to complete your CHR 150 workshop days assignment, "Interpreting the Text." If you're looking for more, look at the additional course-specific resources available on the Christianity Subject Librarian page.

Remember, you need to unpack your passages so that you will be prepared to discuss the assigned text in terms of its content, background (historical and cultural), literary context and form, theological perspective, and contemporary relevancy. What is underneath the words on the page, what was the context, what is significant about this passage during this point in time?

This assignment is to assist you with interpreting biblical texts responsibly.  You will be digging the meaning out of the text rather than reading into the text what you want or expect to find.  A text without a context is a pretext.  The biblical passage must be related to the historical, the literary, and the current context as you ask and answer two questions 1) what did the text mean then? and 2) what does the text mean today?

1. Read the text in several translations

After you have read your text several times and have become comfortable with it, it is time to read the text in several translations to get a "feel" for the passage.  Remember, you want to use a translation (works from the original Hebrew and Greek and converts it into another language) rather than a paraphrase (which takes a translation and renders it into more modern English).

Note:  just because you find them in one of these sources doesn't mean you should use it; be sure to use only the translations listed in the syllabus.

Electronic access to Bible translations available includes:

  • Parallel Bible (Choose two from the over thirty versions to read in parallel)
  • Unbound Bible (Choose up to four from the eleven English versions to read in parallel)
  • Bible Gateway (More than 100 Bibles in more than 50 languages, including audio, that you can search by passage, keyword, or topic)

Print versions available in the Tarver Library include:

The Evangelical Parallel New Testament: New King James, New International, English Standard, Holman Christian Standard, Today's New International, New Living Translation, New Century Version, The Message
REF BS 2095 .K65 2003

The Holy Bible with the Apocrypha : Revised Standard Version
REF BS 191 .A1 2002 .N43

New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha (4th edition)
REF BS 191.5 .A1 2010 O94 2010

Other sources are also available from this Bible Translations page.

2. Look up unfamiliar words or phrases as well as familiar phrases in Bible dictionaries:

Bible dictionaries include more than just words but also broad articles that provide information about history, customs, institutions, and beliefs.  Remember, one question to ask and answer is what the text meant then.  You want to make sure you are using the definition of the term as it was used at that time.

Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD)
REF BS 440.A54 1992

Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (MDB)
REF BS 440.M429 1990
(another copy on Reserve, check at the Circulation Desk)

New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (NIDB)
REF BS 440.N445 2006

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (IBD)
REF BS 440. I63

3. Analyze the text's setting in history and in life -- Commentaries

In order to gain a sense of the context in which passage is set, you need to consult scholarly commentaries and reference resources. Scholarly commentaries can answer questions about what things were like when the book was written, who the audience was (as implied by the text), what social or institutional setting might have been in place, and general background information on the book as well as specific verses.  There are lots of commentaries and other sources that you could eventually find and  use to provide this information.  However, for this assignment concentrate on the sources in your syllabus paying special attention to The New Interpreter's Bible.  In case that hint is too subtle for you, listed for each passage are the page numbers for the introduction, overview, commentary, and reflection sections for your assigned texts from this source.

The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB)
REF BS 491.2 .N484 1994

Mark 8: 31-37. Volume VIII (8)
Note: Your passage is included in two sections in this source:  8:31-33 and 8:34 - 9:1

  • Introduction:  pp. 509-520
  • Commentary:  pp. 624-625 and pp. 626-628
  • Reflections: pp. 625-626 and pp. 628-629

Matthew 7:1-5.  Volume VIII (8)
Note:  Your passage is included as part of a larger section in this text, Matthew 6:19 - 7:12

  • Introduction:  pp. 89-119
  • Commentary:  pp. 209 and pp. 211-212
  • Reflections:  pp. 214-215

Luke 10:38-42.  Volume IX (9)

  • Introduction:  pp. 3-31
  • Commentary:  pp. 231-232
  • Reflections:  p. 232

John 8:1-11.  Volume IX (9)
Note:  Your passes is included as part of a larger section in this text, John 7:35 - 8:11)

  • Introduction:  493-510
  • Commentary:  pp. 627-629
  • Reflections:  pp. 629-630

1 John 2:15-17.  Volume XII (12)

  • Introduction:  pp. 365-378
  • Commentary:  pp. 400-401
  • Reflections:  pp. 401-402

Mercer Dictionary of the Bible
REF BS 440.M429 1990
(another copy on Reserve, check at the Circulation Desk)

  • Why here, you wonder--isn't this a dictionary?
  • Yes, but check out the entry for the book (Mark, Matthew, John, etc., ) that contains your passage and also the entry for New Testament.


  • This isn't rocket science, but it might mean moving out of your comfort zone.
  • This is going to take time, so don't put it off until the last minute.
  • This is not what you want or expect in the text, but digging the meaning out of the text.
  • Remember to use the sources above to bring a "scholarly" rather than a personal read to the text.
  • Read the text, read the text, read the text ... familiarity can bring understanding.
  • Look up familiar words or phrases to make sure you are capturing the sense of the term in context.
  • The Parallel Bible tool also allows you to listen to the passage; sometimes you hear something you might  miss when reading.

Need more help?

Theresa Rhodes, Subject Librarian for Christianity, is available to assist you with your assignment. Her contact information is above, including how to request a research consultation.  Remember to ask for help if you need it several days in advance of your assigned presentation day!