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Exegetical Tools

Richard Ascough

of New
and Greek

School of Religion

229 Theological Hall
Kingston, ON
Canada, K7L 3N6

(613) 533-6000

fax: (613) 533-6879




"Exegesis" comes from the Greek and can literally mean "to lead out." A systematic process by which a person arrives at a reasonable and coherent sense of the meaning and message of a text, in this case, a biblical text. The primary goals of exegesis are to to explain what the text meant to its original audience and in its original historical setting and to explain what the text means for today.


Translations provide an essential service in rendering the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts of the biblical books into modern languages. Translations evidence a variety of methods and theological slants and it is best to always consult at least three different translations of any given passage under investigation. See my guide to English Versions of the Bible for help in choosing a translation.
A concordance lists every occurrence of every word in the Bible. It is laid out alphabetically. Each occurrence is listed with a short portion of the context. This tool allows you to find where a word is used in the Bible, trace themes throughout the Bible, see the various contexts in which the word is used, or find the reference for a verse which you have heard. Concordances are available for a variety of translations of the Bible. Some concordances differentiate among different Hebrew or Greek words which are translated with the same English word. Recently electronic versions have become available, both on CD-ROM and on the internet.
Word Books
Word books of the Bible give the various meanings of words and the various contexts in which they are used in the Bible and in other ancient literature. Word books can be used to determine the range of meanings for a word and provide essential background for the use of that word. Often a word book can have a particular theological slant and one is wise to consult more than one particular word book. Often a word book will be called a `dictionary.'
Bible Dictionaries
A dictionary of the Bible is more broadly construed than a word book. While it retains a similar format in having entries under individual words, it lists not only the words used in the biblical texts but also includes entries treating a variety of related subjects, including archaeology, manners and customs, other ancient literature, etc.
A Bible encyclopedia is similar in format and function to a Bible dictionary.
Handbooks to the Bible are usually one volume references to various aspects of the biblical texts such as important places or a "who's who." Sometimes they give some general comments on the texts themselves.
A good atlas is essential for visualizing where a particular site is located or where a particular event took place. Many atlases provide detailed portrayals of the movements of individuals or groups of people. Often a good overview of the biblical world at a particular point in time can be gained by consulting the maps found at the back of the Bible itself.
Archaeological Summaries
Archaeological summaries can allow you to see what a biblical site might have looked like at a particular period in time, or highlight important physical features of a site that may be pertinent for understanding a biblical text. Often, important archaeological data can be found in dictionaries and encyclopedias.
Commentaries can be either one volume commentaries on the entire Bible or individual commentaries on a particular book or books of the Bible. Commentaries always reflect the methodological and theological biases of the commentator and should always be used with caution. One should consult more than one commentary, and only after thoroughly investigating the text for oneself. Good one volume commentaries include The New Jerome Biblical Commentary and HarperCollins Bible Commentary.


Queen's University has helpful descriptions of some good resouces on their Religious Studies and Theology page, including links to online resources.

For internet resources see my Biblical Resources web page (post.queensu.ca/~rsa/bibres.htm). This includes links to ancient texts, archaeological sites, and electronic journals.

Also helpful, but often with very specialized studies, is the section on Archaeology, Bible, and Classics on the Internet Guide to Religion maintained by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion.


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Revised Dec 19, 2011