New Testament Interpretation Paper

last modified 2018-01-30T17:57:31-04:00

Note: This guide emphasizes the scholarly helps available in the Tarver Library to assist you with your New Testament interpretation paper.  

Your one-page précis requires you to use three translations, at least one Bible dictionary/encyclopedia, and at least one Bible commentary.  You need to unpack your passages so that you will be prepared to discuss your passage in terms of its content, background (historical and cultural), literary context and form, and theological perspective.  This exercise is to assist you with interpreting biblical texts responsibly.  This is a scholarly activity.  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 for a prooftext.

Compare text in three translations

Your précis includes one paragraph on your observations on any striking differences in translation between the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and two other translations.   Remember, you must explain why you think the difference matters.  You will 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). 

NoteBe sure to use only the translations listed in the instructions for your paper.  Four of the translations are available in print in Reference, and many are also in the online sources.  The Holman Christian Standard  (HCS) and New American Standard (NAS) versions are available in the online sources.

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 (NIV) and New King James Version (NKJV) acceptable for this assignment; ignore New Living Translation and The Message--versions are not acceptable for this assignment)
REF BS 125 .B5 2011

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

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

Online access to Bible translations available includes:

Consult Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias

These are not your ordinary dictionaries.  These are more like an encyclopedia than a traditional dictionary.  For example, in addition to definitions you will also find longer entries that provide information about history, customs, institutions, and beliefs.  They also often include entries for your book (Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and James) that contain your passages.  Reading these articles will help you compile information for your paragraphs on literary issues of your text and historical context of your passage.

You must use at least one of the following dictionaries/encyclopedias for your précis:

Read Bible commentaries

Mercer Commentary on the Bible (MCB)
REF BS 491.2 .M47 1995

  • Do not skip the first page of the introduction.  If you do, you will miss the name of the author.
  • Do not skip the introduction and go straight to the commentary.  If you do, you will miss information about historical issues relating to the author, date, and historical context. 
  • Read the introduction all the way to the end, including the outline.  The outline will assist with the literary context, since it shows what comes before and after your text.  
  • If available, the reflections section may help with some of the bigger "so what" questions or the point of the text in the context question.
Romans 4:1-15

Interpretation Series

NIB (Note:  your passage is part of two sections in this commentary)
Introduction:  volume X (10) pages 393-412
Commentary:  volume X (10) pages 488-493 for Romans 4:1-8
                        volume X (10) pages 493-496 for Romans 4:9-15
Reflections:     volume X (10) pages 505-507 for Romans 4

Galatians 3:1-14

Interpretation Series

Smyth & Helwys volume
Reading Galatians, Philippians, and I Thessalonians

NIB (Note:  your passage is part of three sections in this commentary)
Introduction:  volume XI (11) pages 181-199
Commentary:  volume XI (11) pages 250-253 for Galatians 3:1-5
                        volume XI (11) pages 255-256 for Galatians 3:6-9
                        volume XI (11) pages 256-262 for Galatians 3:10-14
Reflections:     volume XI (11) pages 253-254 for Galatians 3:1-5

Hebrews 11:8-19

Interpretation Series

NIB (Note:  your passage is part of three sections of this commentary)
Introduction:  volume XII (12) pages 1-20
Commentary:  volume XII (12) pages 130-131 for Hebrews 11:1-2
                        volume XII (12) pages 132-134 for Hebrews 11:3-7
                        volume XII (12) pages 134-139 for Hebrews 11:8-22
Reflections:    volume XII (12) pages 145-147 for Hebrews 11

James 2:14-26

Interpretation Series
First and Second Peter, James, and Jude

Introduction:   volume XII (12) pages 175-184
Commentary:  volume XII (12) pages 196-199
Reflections:    volume XII (12) pages 199-201

Capture source information
  • Remember to include the source you are using when you make notes.  
    • For example, Anchor Bible dictionary states; or, according to The Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, scholars state
    • Taking the time to do this when you write will save time later trying to match up information with a source.
  • Make sure you get all the information you will need for your footnotes and bibliography.
    • You will need author (usually an editor for multi-volume works) title, volume number (if a multi-volume work), and publication information (publisher, place of publication, and date) for the source as well as any author, title, and page numbers for the article included in the source.
    • Tip:  links in the guide above will take you to the library catalog where you can retrieve information about the main source.  However, the "insides" of the sources are not searchable.  Make sure you capture that information when you start rather than trying to scramble later when you compile your footnotes and bibliography.
    • Tip:  take a picture of the source with your phone, you can then consult it when typing your paper to make sure you have the right source
  • Your footnotes will use abbreviations of many of the dictionaries and commentaries but include the full citations in the bibliography.
    • Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD vol:pg)
    • The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (IDB vol:pg)
    • The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (NIDB vol:pg)
    • Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (MDB pg)
    • The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible (OEBB vol:pg)
    • The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB vol:pg)
    • Mercer Commentary on the Bible (MCB pg)
    • Mercer Commentary on the New Testament (MCNT pg)
    • Interpretation Series commentaries (those on reserve)
      • do not have standard abbreviations
      • use the full footnote form for them
Recall tips; ask for help, if needed
  • Except for the translations, all of this work has to be done at the library--plan accordingly.
  • Spend some time writing and brainstorming on synonyms
    • not every word you think of is going to be in a dictionary, but the more words you think of the better your chances of identifying key concepts to look for in the dictionaries
  • 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
  • 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 sources listed in the instructions for the paper--you may be tempted to use other sources (we have lots of them!), but for this writing assignment stick to the approved list in your instructions.
  • 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.
  • Remember that some of your commentaries have been pulled and placed on reserve:
    • ask for your course number (CHR 170) or professor (Flaming)
    • know your passage to ask for the right book (Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, or James)

     Jack Tarver Library also offers assistance, including:
    • Ask Jack/Research Services available in person, by phone, via IM or texting
    • Individual consultation with Theresa Rhodes, Christianity Subject Librarian.
      • It is better to ask for help sooner rather than later.