Interpreting the Text (Lewis, Fall 2016)

last modified 2018-03-13T11:53:33-04:00

Note: This guide emphasizes the three types of scholarly help available in the Tarver Library needed to complete your REL 150 workshop day's assignment, "Interpreting the Text."  Additional course-specific resources are available on the Religion 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?

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).  You must read the text in at least two other translations besides the NRSV.

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:

Print versions available in the Tarver Library include:

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

Contemporary Comparative Side-by-Side Bible (includes New King James Version, acceptable for this assignment)
REF BS 125 .B5 2011

The Layman's Parallel Bible (includes New International Version and New Revised Standard Versions, acceptable for this assignment ignore King James and Living Bible--they are not acceptable for this assignment!)
REF BS 125 .B5 1991 c.2

Good News Bible (same as The Good News Translation)
REF BS 195 .T63 1986

Analyze text's setting - Bible Dictionaries

A.  Bible dictionaries: include more than just words but also broad articles that provide information about history, customs, institutions, and beliefs.  They also often include entries for the books (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Romans) that contain your passages.  They also contain articles that might be relevant to your topic, such as hospitality, wealth/riches, law, miracles, etc.

When you do look up specific words or terms, make sure that you are using the definition of the term as it was used at that time, not how we mean it today.  Remember, language changes.

Now that you have read your text in several translations, use the introduction, notes, and articles in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (JANT) (Course Reserve) and one of the following Bible dictionaries to expand your knowledge. 

  • Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD)
    REF BS 440 .A54 1992
  • Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (IDB)
    REF BS 440 .I63
  • New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (NIDB)
    REF BS 440 .N445 2006
  • Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (MDB)
    REF BS 440.M429 1990 (two more copies on Reserve, check at the Circulation Desk)
Analyze text's setting - Bible Commentaries

B.  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 we are directing you to three specific sources.

  • The Mercer Commentary on the Bible (MCB)
    REF BS 491.2 .M47 1995
  • The Mercer Commentary on the New Testament (MCNT)
    REF BS 1151.2 .M47 2003
  • The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB)
    REF BS 491.2 .N484 1994

Entries in the two Mercer commentaries will be shorter than those in the New Interpreter's Bible.  To help you find your passages in The New Interpreter's Bible, the volume and page numbers for your selected passages are included below:

Mark 10:17-21. Volume VIII (8)
Note: Your passage is included as part of a larger section in this text, Mark 10:17-22

  • Introduction:  pp. 509-523
  • Commentary:  pp. 648-649
  • Reflections:     pp. 649

Matthew 5:38-42Volume VIII (8)
Note:  Your passage is included as part of a larger section in this text, Matthew 5:17-48

  • Introduction:  pp. 89-124
  • Commentary:  pp. 183-185; specific passage 193-194
  • Reflections:     p. 196-198

Luke 16:9-13Volume IX (9)
Note:  Your passage is included as a larger section in this text, Luke 16:1-13

  • Introduction:  pp. 3-37
  • Overview:  p. 306
  • Commentary:  pp. 307-309
  • Reflections:     pp. 310-311

John 10:7-10Volume IX (9)
Note:  Your passage is included as a larger section in this text, John 10:1-21

  • Introduction:  pp. 493-514
  • Overview:  p. 651
  • Commentary:  pp. 668-669
  • Reflections:     pp. 671-673

Romans 8:19-23.  Volume X (10)
Note:  Your passage is included as a larger section in this text, Romans 8:18-30

  • Introduction:  pp. 395-412
  • Commentary:  pp. 594-604
  • Reflections:  pp. 605-608
  • Make sure you include the title and abbreviation of your source as you take your notes.  You have to include citations to the sources consulted in your precis.
    • taking a picture with your phone is a good way to make sure you have the information when you need it
  • Use the right sources, in the right amount.
    • In order to complete this assignment, you must use the following sources: two translations in addition to the NRSV, the scholarly introductions and notes found in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, one commentary, and one dictionary.
  • Spend some time writing and brainstorming on synonyms
    • not every word you think of is going to be in a dictionary, but the more you think of the better your chances of identifying key concepts to look up
  • This work is "cyclical" which means that one thing often leads to another.  For example,
    • reading a translation leads you to words you either don't know or aren't sure of their context and these words taken you to a dictionary, where you might find more words
    • reading the commentary leads you back to the translation to see if the same phrase is used in more than one translation
    • reading the commentary may take you back to the dictionary and vice versa
  • Commentaries and dictionaries may not always agree on some issues like when a text was written.  Consider how you should negotiate these differences.  At the very least, you should note the differences and state that scholars disagree.  An even better approach is to take a side and explain your reasoning.
  • This is going to take time, so don't put it off until the last minute.
  • 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 Bible Gateway site allows you to listen to the passage; sometimes you hear something you might miss when reading.
  • Be sure to use only the translations listed in the syllabus--you may be tempted to use other sources (we have lots of them!), but for this assignment stick to the approved list in your syllabus.
  • Please don't re-shelve (or hide!) the sources.
  • Pages from the NIB (New Interpreter's Bible - scholarly commentary) are available on reserve in both hard copy and electronically.
    • search from the reserve tab located above the Discovery search box on the University Library website
    • search for professor (Lewis, Paul)

    • look for REL 150 
    • Each link connects to an electronic reserve (PDF) that can be accessed from anywhere using the following password: REL 150
    • A single paper copy of each item is also available. Paper copies can be borrowed for 3 hours from the Circulation Desk on Tarver's main floor

Need Help?

Jack Tarver Library also offers assistance, including:

  • Ask Jack/Research Services available in person, by phone, or via IM.
  • Individual consultation are available with Tarver Library librarians.
    • It is best to ask for help if you need it several days in advance of your assigned presentation.