Interpreting the Text - WRT (Long, Spring 2016)

last modified 2016-04-28T16:30:28-04:00

This guide will assist you with the written summary on your New Testament passage.  Your final product is a 3-5 page paper containing 1,000 to 1,500 words, including complete bibliography information for sources used. 

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. 

Getting ready

These will be new sources to you, so taking time to think about what you want to find before you start looking is a good idea.  The following questions may help you with your panel presentation and also direct your research for your written summary:

  • what is the historical context of the passage
  • what is the biblical context of the passage
  • what moral/ethical teachings are included in the passage
  • how do commentaries differ on the interpretation of the passage
  • what are the implications of this passage on current Christian understanding
  • what moral/ethical implications arise from this passage
  • what are alternative ways of interpreting this text

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 and to look for any striking differences.  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 beside the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Print versions available in the Tarver Library include:

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

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

Good News Bible (same as Today's English Version)
REF BS 195 .T63 1986

Electronic access to Bible translations available includes:


  • just because you find your passage in one of these sources doesn't mean you should use it; use only the translations your professor has identified
  • links to the catalog record will assist you with the bibliographic citation for your paper, but do not provide electronic access
  • Reference sources may only be used in the library
Bible Dictionaries


  • When looking up specific words or terms, make sure that you are using the definition as it was used at that time, not how we mean it today.  Remember, language changes.
  • Many of the dictionaries include the usage of the term in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Make sure that you focus on interpretations/definitions for the New Testament.
  • With the exception of the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, these are multi-volume works, so keep track of the volume and page numbers when you take your notes.
Scholarly Commentaries

Commentaries are a specific type of reference source that often includes your scripture passage.  These sources can help you discover 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.

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.  Remember, the Reflections section will help with the question relating to the implications of this passage on current Christian understanding:

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. 87-124
  • Commentary:  pp. 183-185; specific passage 193-194
  • Reflections:  pp. 196-198
Acts 10:1-16.  Volume X (10)

Note:  Your passage is included as part of a larger section in this text, Acts 9:32-11:18

  • Introduction:  pp. 1-36
  • Commentary:  pp. 156-160; specific passage 162-164
  • Reflections:  pp. 170-172
1 Timothy 2:8-15.  Volume XI (11)
  • Introduction:  pp. 773-787 (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus)
  • Commentary:  pp. 800-802
  • Reflections:  pp. 802-803
Philemon.  Volume XI (11)
  • Introduction:  pp. 881-889
  • Commentary:  pp. 891-904
  • Reflections:  pp. 895-896, pp. 900-901, and pp. 904-905
Expand your search

You may choose to explore your passage beyond the reference sources included in this guide.  The most effective way to search for books is to use the library catalog search.  While you can do a search using Discovery, the search requires more clicks and takes longer to retrieve a precise set of search results.  The most efficient search is to limit your search to the catalog searching for the subject of your passage and commentary.  Limiting your results to items available here in Macon may also be advisable.



  • pay close attention to the STATUS  line to make sure an item is available before attempting to locate it in the library
  • clicking on the map link will give you the shelf number where you can find the item in the library

  • You may request items that are available at the Swilley Library in Atlanta or one of the Regional Academic Centers in Douglas or Henry simply by clicking the Request this title link and completing the short form

  • Remember to document your sources, including volume numbers for the Anchor Bible Dictionary, New Interpreters Bible, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, and New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible.
    • include the title, page number, and volume of the source with your notes
    • consider taking a picture of the front of the source along with your notes to make sure you get the right source for your documentation
    • if you make copies of any sources, remember to include the title of the source along with page number and volume
  • This work is "cyclical" which means that one thing often leads to another.  For example,
    • differences in translations may lead you to ideas or terms to look up in a dictionary or a commentary for insight
    • 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.  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.
  • The Bible Gateway site allows you to listen to the passage; sometimes you hear something you might miss when reading.
  • Please don't re-shelve (or hide!) the sources.  Theresa will monitor the area and try to keep the items in order on the reference shelves.
  • Don't spin your wheels.  Stop and ask a librarian if you get stuck!