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Bethel University Library

Exegesis: Home


Historical & Cultural Context

Background information about the people, places, cultures, and historical events related to a passage.

Recommended Reference Books Featuring short, overview-level articles. Your best starting place.

Bible dictionaries will have short articles like "Revelation, book of," with overview-level information about the cultural and historical situation of the book and its audience.  Start there, and then as you come across important people, places, etc. in your reading, look up other articles on those people/places/subjects (e.g., "Nero," or "Rome, early Christian attitudes to", etc.).

Commentaries also usually have some good background information. Look at the very beginning of the book in the introduction or background sections.

Recommended Books For more in-depth coverage of historical & cultural context.

Once you've identified things you need to know more about (e.g., Nero's persecution of Christians, Israel's Babylonian exile, etc.), in addition to consulting the books below you can do a library search for books specifically about those subjects.

Literary Context

Sources to help you understand genre and structure, as well as see your passage in the context of its biblical book and the Bible as a whole.

Recommended Reference Books

Start by looking in a bible dictionary for articles similar to "Matthew, Gospel of" or "Job, Book of" for info on the genre, structure, etc. of a specific book.  Then, look up articles like "Poetry, Hebrew," "Narrative Literature," or "Letters (epistles)" to get a broader introduction to a biblical genre.

Recommended Books Discussions of biblical genres, structures, literary conventions, etc.

Word Study

Sources to help you look closely at words that are key to interpreting your passage.

Recommended Reference Books

Online Tools For simple, preliminary word study tasks

Web sources like the ones below are good for quickly comparing translations to see which words are translated differently across English versions of the Bible. They can also be good for finding a Strong's number, or looking up a reference to a print source (e.g., TDNT, TWOT, etc.).

Websites like there are not useful for finding commentaries or Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias--commentaries included in these websites are usually between 100 and 500 years old!

Analysis & Interpretation

Sources to help you with the overall anaylsis, interpretation and application of your passage.


Not all commentaries are the same. Some are meant to help pastors prepare sermons. Some are meant to help laypeople with devotional study. For exegesis, you'll want to use scholarly or exegetical commentaries. Some of the best series are listed below. These can be found in the university library's Bible Ready Reference Collection.

Find Articles

Use the ATLA Religion Databases Scriptures Tool to quickly search for all of the articles in the database that have to do with your passage. Learn How

Tips, Tricks & Additional Searching

For helping you in finding additional resources.

A List of More Exegesis Sources

Searching for Additional Sources

Finding articles using the ATLA Religion Database's Scripture Search tool

  • Open the ATLA Religion Database and look for the Scriptures tool at the top of the page.ATLA screenshot 1Click to enlarge
  • Biblical books are listed in their OT/NT order. You will usually want to click on "Expand" to drill down to the chapter or verse level.ATLA screenshot 2Click to enlarge
  • If you are working with a larger passage (i.e., 5+ verses), click on the chapter to see all of the articles in the database on that chapter.ATLA screenshot 3Click to enlarge
  • If you are working with just one or two verses, click "Expand" again to be able to search for articles on individual verses.ATLA screenshot 4Click to enlarge
  • Your results will contain all of the articles that deal with the chapter (or verse) you selected. You can adjust your results by adding keywords to the search, or by using the limiters in the left-hand column of the page.ATLA screenshot 5Click to enlarge

Search for books

Get Help

Contact the reference librarian for biblical studies

Scott Kaihoi picScott Kaihoi

Office: HC316


Email Scott

Contact the BUL Reference Desk

Phone: 651-638-6588

Text: 651-728-5305

Email the Reference Desk