REL 150 Interpreting the Text (Lewis, Fall 2016)

last modified 2016-09-06T09:30:58-04:00

Note: This guide emphasizes the three types of scholarly helps available in the Tarver Library needed to complete your CHR 150 workshop day's assignment, "Interpreting the Text." If you need more in-depth help, check out the additional course-specific resources 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?

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:

Print versions available in the Tarver Library include:

Contemporary Comparative Side-by-Side Bible (includes New International Version and New King James Version, acceptable for this assignment; ignore New Living Translation and The Message--they are not 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

2. Analyze the text's setting in history and in life -- Bible Dictionaries and Commentaries

ABible 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 (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and James) that contain your passages.

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.

You may use the following dictionaries for your assignment:

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 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.

Note:  three copies of the information from the commentary (NIB) are available for two hour check-out at the Circulation Desk.

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

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. 209-212
  • Reflections:     pp. 214-215

Mark 9:33-37.  Volume VIII (8)

  • Introduction:  pp. 509-520
  • Commentary:  pp. 636-637
  • Reflections:     p. 637-638

Luke 10:28-32.  Volume IX (9)
Note:  Your passage is included in two sections in this text, Luke 10:25-28 and Luke 10:38-42

  • Introduction:  pp. 3-31
  • Commentary:  p. 227-228, and pp.229-230
  • Reflections:     p. 232
John 9:1-5.  Volume IX (9)

Note:  Your passage is included as part of a larger section in this text, John 9:1-12

  • Introduction:  pp. 493-511
  • Commentary:  pp. 652-654
  • Reflections:     pp. 661-665

James 4:1-4.  Volume XII (12) (On reserve for CHR 150 for Dr. Whitfield as of 3/4/13)

Note:  Your passage is included as part of a larger section in this text, James 3:13 - 4:10

  • Introduction: pp. 177-184
  • Commentary:  pp. 209-212
  • Reflections:  pp. 212-213



  • Literary context includes:
    • type of literature or sub-literature (genre), parable, wisdom, gospel, etc.
    • reading backward and forward at least one chapter before and after your text to see where it "fits" in the flow of the book
    • tip: look for an outline of the entire book to see where scholars place your passage
  • Historical context includes:
    • date when the book was written (remember, not all sources might agree)
    • what social customs, institutions, or practices of that time are important for understanding your passage?
    • tip: look for a heading for history or date to see where scholars place your book including your passage
  • The goal is to use several of the sources and then state what you have read/learned in your own words
  • 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
  • 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 Parallel Bible tool also 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.

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.