Illuminating Scriptures: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical Exegesis

One of the first assignments a biblical scholar undertakes is the Exegesis Project. Exegesis is a term that describes analyzing a passage from scripture in such a way that it focuses on drawing out meaning from the text to understand and read scripture better. This is opposed to Eisegesis, which describes a common practice of reading meaning into a biblical passage to make the passage convey a particular message (even when it goes against what could have possibly been intended in the text). To become better readers of scripture, it is crucial to recognize the difference between these two methods and become intentional in exegeting meaning, especially with a text as important as the Bible.

As a University Professor with over twelve years of experience teaching introductory classes on biblical literature, I have developed a detailed guide to help students approach this task. I am sharing an abbreviated version of this guide in this blog series so you can practice exegesis in your Bible study. In this first post, I describe how to annotate a biblical passage. When students choose a passage for their first Exegesis paper, I encourage them to limit their study to a few verses. Of course, you will have the flexibility to study as little or as much as you like without the pressure of deadlines and student schedules. I would encourage a small section to start. As you become more familiar with the process through practice, you may expand your study as you are comfortable.

Step-by-Step Guide to Annotating Your Biblical Passage

Annotating a biblical passage is much like embarking on a treasure hunt. Each verse, each word even, can unfold layers of meaning that might not be immediately apparent. This step in your biblical exegesis project is foundational, preparing you for a deeper analysis and understanding of your chosen text. Let’s dive into how you can engage with your passage to uncover its rich layers of meaning.


The main aim of annotating your biblical passage is to interact with the text closely, marking observations, questions, and insights that arise as you read. This meticulous engagement lays the groundwork for all subsequent analyses in your exegesis project.

The Importance of Annotation:

Why annotate? Because the Bible is not just any book. Its texts are dense, multifaceted, and alive with history, theology, and human experience. Annotation slows your reading process, forcing you to consider each text element. A systematic approach is crucial for developing a nuanced understanding of the passage.

Choosing Your Passage:

Select a passage that intrigues you, preferably a coherent unit that stands on its own within a larger narrative. The passage should be no more than 12 verses to allow for in-depth analysis without being overwhelmed.

Annotation Process:

Making notes about the text is a personal journey. For many who have grown up in a religious context, this may be the first time they examine a biblical text without the guidance of a pastor, mentor, or devotional guide. It can be intimidating to think about interpreting scripture on your own. For others who have had little to no religious input, examining and reflecting on a biblical text is also intimidating. Students are often overwhelmed at the start of this project, which prompted the development of detailed instruction. As students move through this process, they find the courage and confidence to reflect on the Bible as a spiritual text and think about how it applies to their lives. Freedom can be found in the discipline of study. For those comfortable with prayer as a reflective approach to scripture, the practice of Lectio Divina may be beneficial during this phase. Read more about Embracing Lectio Divina: Reading the Divine in Scripture. Here is an outline for an approach to annotation:

  1. Reading the Passage:
    • Begin by reading your passage multiple times. Start silently, then aloud, and consider having someone else read it. Each mode of reading can reveal different aspects of the text.
  2. Writing Out the Text:
    • Writing the passage by hand fosters a personal connection with the text and can reveal nuances that typing on a computer might not.
  3. Marking the Text:
    • Use colors, symbols, underlining, and marginal notes to highlight key features such as repetitions, themes, character actions, and theological concepts. Your annotated page should visually represent the complexity and depth of the passage.
  4. Question and Reflect:
    • As you annotate, jot down any questions that arise or insights that come to you. These can be about word choices, character motivations, or how the passage connects to broader biblical themes.


Consider the passage from Exodus 4:24-27. Annotating this passage might involve highlighting the different names used for God, noting the sequence of actions, and marking thematic repetitions. Your page might be filled with colorful notes and questions exploring the characters’ motivations and the passage’s implications for understanding God’s covenant with Israel.

Challenges and Solutions:

  • Challenge: Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of detail.
    • Solution: Start broad, focusing on significant themes or repeated words, and gradually delve into finer details.
  • Challenge: Deciding how to mark the text.
    • Solution: There’s no one-size-fits-all method. Experiment with different colors and symbols until you find an intuitive system.


Annotation is more than a preliminary step; it’s a way to begin a dialogue with the biblical text. By marking and questioning the passage, you’re not just preparing for a more profound analysis; you’re starting to engage with the living word. Take your time with this step, and allow your annotations to reflect your curiosity and reverence for the text.

Next Steps:

In the next post, we’ll explore how to move from annotation to understanding the “World in Front of the Text“—how your context and questions can illuminate your reading of the Bible.

Want to Go Deeper?

Share your annotated passages or questions in the comments or on social media using #BiblicalExegesisProject. Let’s start a conversation about the insights we’re uncovering together.

Annotation is the lens through which we see words on a page and a vibrant, complex world inviting us to explore. Happy annotating!


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