Interpreting a New Testament Text (Setzer, Fall 2008)

last modified 2013-08-30T14:28:32-04:00

The steps and resources that follow are designed to help students fulfill the “Interpreting the Text” assignment in Dr. Setzer’s introductory New Testament class.

The material is organized first by (1) steps to be followed in engaging the text and then by (2) Tarver Library and online resources needed in the exercise.

Interpreting a New Testament Text

1. Place the Text in its Wider Canonical Setting

What is the primary audience and purpose of the New Testament book in which the text is found?

What are the major themes and concerns of this book?

Use Harris' chapter on this New Testament book, as well as the book introduction in the Access Study Bible, to answer these questions.

2. Place the Text in its Immediate Context

Where does the larger discussion in which this text is found begin and end?
Read "back" and "forward," reading the verses before and after your text to see what is going on.
What is the matter under consideration, the larger point the author is trying to make?

3. Read Your Assigned Text Several Times in the New Revised Standard Translation

Make initial notes as to what interests, puzzles, inspires, or annoys you.

4. Read the Text Aloud, Slowly, Meditatively

How does "hearing" the text illumine its meaning or the emphases within it, if at all?

5. Read the Text in Several Modern Translations

Choose a literal translation (word for word), a contemporary equivalent translation (thought for thought), and a free rendering or paraphrase.

Some good choices are:

New Revised Standard
New American Standard

Contemporary Equivalent
New International Version
Good News Bible Version

The Message
The New Living Bible

What new themes or emphases occur to you as you read the various translations?

6. Compare and Contrast the Translations

Are there any significant differences in meaning?

If so, "tag" those differences for more research and clarification.

What other questions or concerns emerge in this text you need help in addressing?

7. Look up Any Unfamiliar Words or Concepts in a Bible Dictionary And/or Concordance and Research the Topic

Bible Dictionary articles that probe a given topic not just in one text, but throughout the Bible, are most helpful.

Concordances that reveal the Greek and Hebrew roots of words in the text can also be most illuminating.

8. Work to Identify the Place and Time in Which the Text Was Written

What was the author trying to say to his first readers?

What appeal to thought and action did he or she make?

Here scholarly commentaries are your primary resource.

Consult one or two one volume commentaries to see what scholars have learned and can reveal about the original setting and meaning of this text.

NOTE: Of all the resources for Bible Study on the web, the commentaries typically available for review are the least helpful. Most commentaries available online are older, devotional works that do not reflect the gains of modern scholarship. Here you really need to go to Tarver Library and consult the bound, printed volumes referenced below.

If questions remain or the hunger to know more presents itself consult a commentary dedicated solely to the book under study.

Bible Atlases and Bible Handbooks can also identify helpful background information.

9. Try to Rephrase or State in Your Own Words, What the Biblical Writer Is Trying to Say to the Original Audience of this Text

Be sure to answer this question: "What did the text mean then?"

10. Ask Yourself, "What Might the Text Mean for Me Today?"

What ongoing issue or concern does this text address?

How might my life or the life of the church or culture be different if this text were believed and acted upon?

Cite one contemporary news event or other issue this text might bear upon.

11. If You Want or Need to Know More about What the Bible at Large, Teaches about the Major Theme or Subject of Your Text, Consult a Bible Dictionary or Concordance

Trace the different teachings and emphases in the Bible on the subject at hand.

What do you consider the "consensus view" (most common) view of the Bible on this matter?

Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

12. State in Two or Three Sentences, the Result of Your Engagement with this Text

What is the "bottom line" of what you have learned?

In what way(s) might this new learning matter to you?

Online and Tarver Library Bible Study Resources

Bible Translations

Parallel Bible (Choose two Bible translations to read in parallel)
Unbound Bible (Choose up to four Bible translations to read in parallel)
Bible Gateway (Numerous translations that you can search by passage, keyword, or topic)

In addition, a free downloadable Bible study program for Windows computers is available at There is a $10.00 charge for the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible but most translations are free. With this software, one can compare Bible translations, search a Bible concordance, see the Greek and Hebrew roots (and definitions) of Bible words, consult Bible cross references, see Bible maps, and much more. However, the commentaries that can be downloaded with this software are quite dated and devotional in nature; they do not reflect the gains of modern scholarship and are not the best resources for completing your assignment.

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

Bible Atlases, Concordances, Dictionaries, and Handbooks

Oxford Bible atlas / edited by Herbert G. May
REF BS630 .O96 1984

The Macmillan Bible atlas / by Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah
REF G2230 .A2 1977

The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
REF BS 425 .S84 1996
See this Guide on how to use Strong's Concordance.

Blue Letter Bible online concordance

Anchor Bible Dictionary
REF BS 440.A54 1992

Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible
REF BS 440 .E44 2000

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible
REF BS 440.I63

Mounce's complete expository dictionary of Old & New Testament words
check out the scripture index in the back of this source
REF BS 440 .M63 2006

Mercer Dictionary of the Bible
REF BS 440.M429 1991
(on Reserve)

Vine's expository dictionary of Old & New Testament words
REF BS 440 .V7476 1997

The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament
REF BS 2312 .I89 2004

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology
REF BS 2397 .N48 1975

Zondervan handbook to the Bible / [edited by David and Pat Alexander]
BS417 .Z66 1999


One-Volume Commentaries of the Entire Bible
The Interpreter's Bible: the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised standard versions with general articles and introduction, exegesis, exposition for each book of the Bible
REF BS 491.2 .I55

Mercer Commentary on the Bible
REF BS 491.2 .M47 1995

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

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
REF BS 491.2 N485 1990

Mercer Commentary on the New Testament
REF BS 2341.2 .M47 2003
(another copy on the 3rd floor)

Single Volume Commentaries on Specific Bible Books

The Gospel of Matthew / William Barclay
BS 2575 .B54 1958 vols. 1 & 2

Reading Matthew / David Garland
BS 2575.3 G376 1993

Matthew / Douglas Hare
BS 2575.3 .H34 1993

Matthew / Thomas G. Long
BS 2575.3 .L66 1997

Matthew / Stanley Hauerwas
BS 2575.53 .H38 2006

Matthew / Ben Witherington
BS 2575.53 .W58 2006 book and accompanying CD

The Gospel according to John / introduction, translation, and notes by Raymond E. Brown
BS 192.2. A1 1964 .G3 v.29 pt. 1 & 2

The Gospel of John / William Barclay
BS 2615 .B34 1956

John's story of Jesus / Robert Kysar
BS2615.2 .K933 1984

The Gospel according to John; the English text with introduction, exposition and notes / Leon Morris (1984)
BS 2615.3 .M67

Interpretation: John / Gerard Sloyan
BS 2615.3 .S56 1988

Introduction to John and the Acts of the apostles / William Barclay
BS 2615.2 .B33

The apostles / Donald Guthrie
BS 2618 .G87

Acts / Paul W. Walaskay
BS 2625.3 .W36 1998

Acts / William Willimon
BS 2625.3 .W56 1988

Reading Acts : a literary and theological commentary on the Acts of the Apostles / Charles H. Talbert
BS 2625.53 .T35 2005

Ephesians. Introd., translation, and commentary by Markus Barth
BS 192.2.A1 1964 .G3 v.34

The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians / William Barclay
BS 2685.3 .B3 1958

Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon / Ralph P. Martin
BS 2695.3 .M36 1992

Colossians, Ephesians, First and Second Timothy, and Titus / Lewis R. Donelson
BS 2715.3 .D66 1996

Reading Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians / Bonnie Thurston
BS 2715.3 .T48 1995

Additional Online Resources

The Text This Week
This site includes a given biblical passage in several translations, general resources on the biblical book being cited, historical references, and commentary. Use the Index by Scripture link on the left side of the page to look up your passage.

The New Testament Gateway
A “gateway” to good academic resources for studying the New Testament.
A wealth of Bible study resources that reflect an Evangelical perspective.