Guidelines for Exegeting a Text from the Greek New Testament
Last revised: 4/09/01

Go directly to step number:

         1.  Translate the passage from the Greek New Testament, parsing unfamiliar words.
         2.  Address any text critical issues that may be present in the passage.

1. Determine the genre of the passage at both the broad level and the appropriate sub-form.

Once these have been determined, explore possible implications of this identification for the exegesis of the passage.

2. Determine the literary context of the passage.
For example regarding passages in one of the NT letters: beyond determining whether the passage occurs in the Praescriptio, Proem, Body or Conclusio of the letter, assess what section in the Body of the letter the pericope occurs and how this impacts the exegesis. Such a determination is important. The Body of Paul's letters usually have only two or three main emphases and the individual pericope contributes to the larger division theme. This needs to be explored. How does the passage contribute to the larger theme?

3. Determine the time/place references in the passage.
Read through the passage to locate references to places and to time. This identification is important to correct historical interpretation. All of the identified references should be clearly understood. If not, -- especially for place references -- look them up in Bible dictionaries, e.g., "Thessalonica", "Achaia", "Corinth" etc. When movements are listed, like from one city to another, trace out that movement on a Bible map to make sure it is understood. Also, determine distances when possible. This can prevent some incorrect understandings.

Time references can be tricky. For example, the word w&ra translated as "hour" in no way refers to 60 minutes -- such a concept of minutes and hours did not come into existence until the modern era in the western world. It simply referred to a reasonably short period of time, more precisely, twelve segments between sun-up and sun-down. Make sure you have a clear understanding of these items. Here the Greek and Hebrew lexicons are invaluable sources of insight, along with the more serious, non-devotional commentaries.

4. Analyze the internal literary structure of the passage.
This can be done in one of two ways outlined here.
(1) Complete a block and a semantic diagram of the text. See the Guidelines to Diagramming a Text Click on icon.. This is particularly helpful when working with the Greek text of the New Testament. Click on Click on icon for example. for an example of the 2 Thess. 1:3-12 passage.
(2) Complete an analysis of the primary and secondary ideas in the translated text. This involves saving the text file to the passage (link in the Schedule page) to your hard drive, then cut & paste the text table into your homework document for that passage. Once the text table is transferred to your computer file, then identify the main clauses (independent clauses) of each sentence with a bold red color. Next identify the modifying elements (expansion elements) with an italicized blue for verb modifiers and an italicized green for noun modifiers. Leave connecting elements such as conjunctions unmodified. Also, you will want to put each sentence on a separate line with the return key after each period.  Now, let's see how this works; remember, you can do either the Greek or the English text analysis:
2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 
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1:3 Eujcaristei'n ojfeivlomen tw'/ qew'/ pavntote peri; uJmw'n, ajdelfoiv, kaqw;" a[xiovn ejstin, o&ti uJperauxavnei hJ pivsti" uJmw'n kai; pleonavzei hJ ajgavph eJno;" eJkavstou pavntwn uJmw'n eij" ajllhvlou", 1:4 w[ste aujtou;" hJma'" ejn uJmi'n ejgkauca'sqai ejn tai'" ejkklhsivai" tou' qeou' uJpe;r th'" uJpomonh'" uJmw'n kai; pivstew" ejn pa'sin toi'" diwgmoi'" uJmw'n kai; tai'" qlivyesin ai|" ajnevcesqe, 1:5 e[ndeigma th'" dikaiva" krivsew" tou' qeou' eij" to; kataxiwqh'nai uJma'" th'" basileiva" tou' qeou', uJpe;r h|" kai; pavscete, 1:6 i[per divkaion para; qew'/ ajntapodou'nai toi'" qlivbousin uJma'" qli'yin 1:7 ai; uJmi'n toi'" qlibomevnoi" a[nesin meq j hJmw'n, ejn th'/ ajpokaluvyei tou' kurivou  jIhsou' ajp j oujranou' met j ajggevlwn dunavmew" aujtou' 1:8 ejn puri; flogov", didovnto" ejkdivkhsin toi'" mh; eijdovsin qeo;n kai; toi'" mh; uJpakouvousin tw'/ eujaggelivw/ tou' kurivou hJmw'n  jIhsou', 1:9 oi[tine" divkhn tivsousin o[leqron aijwvnion ajpo; proswvpou tou' kurivou kai; ajpo; th'" dovxh" th'" ijscuvo" aujtou', 1:10 o[tan e[lqh/ ejndoxasqh'nai ejn toi'" aJgivoi" aujtou' kai; qaumasqh'nai ejn pa'sin toi'" pisteuvsasin, o&ti ejpisteuvqh to; martuvrion hJmw'n ejf j uJma'", ejn th'/ hJmevra/ ejkeivnh/. 

1:11 eij" o] kai; proseucovmeqa pavntote peri; uJmw'n, i[na uJma'" ajxiwvsh/ th'" klhvsew" oJ qeo;" hJmw'n kai; plhrwvsh/ pa'san eujdokivan ajgaqwsuvnh" kai; e[rgon pivstew" ejn dunavmei, 1:12 o[pw" ejndoxasqh'/ to; o[noma tou' kurivou hJmw'n  JIhsou' ejn uJmi'n, kai; uJmei'" ejn aujtw'/, kata; th;n cavrin tou' qeou' hJmw'n kai; kurivou  jIhsou' Cristou'.

1:3 We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 

1:4 Therefore we ourselves boast of youin the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.

1:5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering -- 1:6 since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 1:7 and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, 1:8 inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know Godand upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 

1:9 They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,  1:10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 

1:11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power,  1:12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

One thing that becomes very clear when both the Greek text and the English translation text are color coded: Paul used very long sentences that have to be broken down into smaller sentences in the English translation. It took five English sentences to translate the two Greek sentences, and some of these English sentences are extremely long!

Now some exegetical observations:
Since two paragraphs exist in both the Greek and English text, we can conclude that the passage most naturally breaks down into two sub-divisions: (1) vv. 3-10, and (2) vv. 11-12.  Since this passage is a Proem genre-wise, and we have learned that Paul's Proems begin with a set phrase ("we give thanks to God for you...), the first section has the standard expression of thanksgiving in v. 3a and is followed by expansion elements (vv. 3b-10). The development of thought emphasizes the growing spiritual depth (v. 3b) that Paul complements (v. 4) as lived out under trial that is seen positively (vv. 5-7) for the believers but becomes a nightmare for the unbelievers (vv. 9-10).

The second paragraph (vv. 11-12) follows a frequent Proem pattern in Paul: the initial prayer of thanksgiving turns into a prayer of intercession for the readers. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to receive heavenly resources to enable them to live worthily in anticipation of the return of Christ. The "that clause" defines the content of Paul's prayer and the "so that clause" defines the purpose or goal of the prayer -- what Paul hoped the prayer would accomplish.

We have determined now how to outline the passage into a two-fold division outline -- which comes in step 7. One more observation from previous studies of this passage: the Proem of 2 Thessalonians defines the two major divisions of the Body of the letter. The theme of the return of Christ (vv. 3-10) is the emphasis of the first major division in chapter 2 of the letter, and the theme of Christian living in light of the second coming (vv. 11-12) is the emphasis of the second major division in chapter 3 of the letter. This provides an important clue to interpreting the body of the letter.

5. Determine the interpretative issues -- both theologically and exegetically -- present in the passage.
At this phase of the interpretation process, identify issues that may need to be studied in a context broader than just the passage. In the above passage a couple of issues jump out: (1) What does the term "church of God" mean? How did Paul refer typically to congregations in his writing? Is this expression common, or unusual? Here a Bible concordance, especially an electronic one internet based, can quickly show the patterns of references to churches in Paul and in the New Testament. (2) What does the expression "persecutions and sufferings" refer to? How were the Thessalonian believers suffering when Paul wrote these words? The nature and extent of their suffering may provide clues as to the relevancy of this passage to Christians today. (3) A 'biggie' in this text is the meaning of the term "judgment of God" which occupies most of the discussion (vv. 5-10). Careful scrutiny of this concept is necessary before conclusions are drawn. Since these verses anticipate the first division of the letter body in chapter 2, this passage becomes the first place to look for expanded meaning of the term.

6. Determine a central theme of the passage
At this point some impressions about the primary emphasis of the passage should have surfaced. Look for frequently occurring words or synonyms. What occupies most of the discussion in the passage? What headings do different translations, commentaries, and the Greek NTs give to the passage? After looking at everything draw a conclusion and write it out as a short phrase or simple sentence expression. This will serve as the heading for your outline to be developed next.

7. Develop an exegetical outline of the passage.
Detailed instructions on writing an exegetical outline -- past tense, 'what it meant' perspective -- can be found in Guidelines to Diagramming a Text .  Let me provide a quick sample of the passage above.

Praying for God's People

I.   The believers in Thessalonia were a source of thanksgiving to God (vv. 3-10)
II. Paul prayed for the Thessalonian believers to stand worthy before God (vv. 11-12)

8.  Develop a short, one page sermon brief from the passage.
Follow the guidelines in the Sermon Report Form and develop a sermon brief of the passage. The above exegetical outline could serve as a basis for the sermon outline by simply using present tense frames of expression in the outline, as below:
I.   God's people: a source of thanksgiving (vv. 3-10)
II. My prayer: that you stand worthy before God (vv. 11-12)