Course of Study 521 (Fall 2014)

Rom 1 mss.jpg

Interpreting the Epistles and Revelation

Candler School of Theology, Emory University

** The above image contains the first verses of Paul's Epistle to the Romans and has been accessed from the Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts collection. The image comes from an illustrated Byzantine manuscript of the Acts and the Epistles. To view more images from the collection, visit their flickr site here.


Welcome to the Course of Study 521 interactive syllabus. Please take time to familiarize yourself with the information on this page, and keep checking back for additional resources that may be added in the future.

Though there are multiple objectives to this course and the preceding New Testament course, the overall objective is that students would become more confident, careful, and creative readers and interpreters of scripture. The course aims to equip students with practices, tools, and theological reflection that open up the New Testament for effective preaching and teaching.

About the Instructor

Christopher T. Holmes
PhD Candidate, Emory University, Graduate Division of Religion

Chris is a PhD candidate in the New Testament course of study in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University. Informed by the larger religious and cultural world out of which early Christianity emerged, Chris approaches the study and interpretation of the New Testament with attention to the literary and theological particularities of the New Testament compositions and their use in contemporary faith communities. His research interests include the varieties of Judaism in antiquity, religious experience in the ancient Mediterranean world, ancient literary and rhetorical theory, and the history of interpretation of the New Testament. Chris teaches both of the New Testament classes for Course of Study. He is an aspiring reader of fiction and poetry, a confounded (and tired) parent of two great kids, a recovering collegiate athlete, an experimenting cook, and an inconsistent viewer of college football and basketball. Since moving to Atlanta, he and his wife have come to love the seasonal festivals and local eateries. Chris is also a candidate for Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Send Chris an Email

Course Description

The Course of Study (COS hereafter) sequence in New Testament provides a panoramic view of the literary content and theological perspectives of the compositions in the New Testament. The two courses place these compositions and their respective messages and meanings in the social and historical context of the ancient Mediterranean world. In addition, the two courses help students develop and practice skills of exegesis and interpretation.

There are two overlapping questions driving the NT COS sequence:

  1.  “How do the compositions of the NT function as literary expressions of early Christianity’s faith and history?”
  2. “How can the compositions of the NT be interpreted and applied in preaching, teaching, and pastoral care in a way that is informed by their literary and historical nature AND applicable, challenging, and inspiring for contemporary faith communities?”

The second class in the sequence (COS 521) focuses on the content and context of the epistles and Revelation. Special attention will be given to Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, James, 1 John, and Revelation. This course also functions as a workshop for exegetical method and provides an avenue for reflection on the students’ theology of scripture.

Course Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  1. Distinguish these genres of biblical literature
  2. Understand the major theological themes in these writings
  3. Faithfully apply exegetical methods to these forms of literature
  4. Apply exegesis to preaching, other pastoral responsibilities, and issues of the present day
  5. Articulate the unity and authority of Scripture as a whole.

In addition, students will:

  1. Discover and utilize exegetical tools
  2. Explore the historical and social background from which the NT derives
  3. Cultivate and participate in informed and respectful class discussions


Photo courtesy of Mark Brannan

Requirements for Course

  • Class attendance, participation, and completion of assigned readings (15% of total grade)
  • Precourse Writing Assignment: 16 pages double-spaced (25% of total grade).     Due by email to the Course of Study Office by September 1, 2014
  • Writing Assignment #2: 12–14 pages double-spaced (30% of total grade).     Due before 8am on September 27, 2014
  • Writing Assignment #3: 8 pages double-spaced (30% of total grade).     Due before 8am on October 11, 2014

*** See overview and components of writing assignments below


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Reyes

Course Grading

  • Grading of papers follows the Candler Course of Study Grading Policy (see grid here). Particular attention is paid to the established Grade Grid for papers and class participation
  • For the multiple choice tests a basic point system is followed. Keep in mind that most conferences require a letter grade of C or better to pass the course.
  • 94–100% is an A
  • 91–93% is an A-
  • 87–90% is a B+
  • 84–86 is a B
  • 81–83 is a B-
  • 77–80 is a C+
  • 74–76 is a C
  • 71–73 is a C-
  • 67–70 is a D
  • 0–66 is an F

Required Textbooks

Images below contain links to additional information (including price) on

Basic Tools

NT Introduction

The introduction by Powell is the approved textbook by the GBHEM. Students should already own either Holladay or Johnson from COS 311/321. Boring's textbook is also very good.

  • Powell, Mark Allan. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. [required by the GBHEM]
  • Boring, M. Eugene. An Introduction to the New Testament: History, Literature, and Theology. Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 2012.
  • Holladay, Carl R. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Interpreting the Message and Meaning of Jesus Christ. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.
  • Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. 3d. ed. Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 2010.

** Students should own at least one [1] of the above titles.

A Study Bible

Select one [1] of the following:

  • Harrelson, Walter J, ed. The New Interpreter's Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2003.
  • Attridge, Harold, Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler, eds. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books with Concordance. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.
  • Coogan, Michael David, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

A Concordance

Whitaker, Richard E. and John R. Kohlenberger, eds. The Analytical Concordance to the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.; New York: Eerdmans; Oxford University Press, 2000.

  • The listing above is the REQUIRED concordance. However, this concordance is typically only available online through independent booksellers on,,,
  • A functional digital concordance of the NRSV translation of the bible can be utilized at Unlike the Whitaker/Kohlenberger Concordance, however, this resource does not identify the various Greek words that may be listed under a single English word.

Course-Specific Textbooks

Bassler, Jouette M. Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological Concepts. Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 2007.

Carter, William and Amy-Jill Levine. The New Testament: Methods and Meanings. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2013.

Gorman, Michael J. Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers. Rev. and expanded ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009.

Recommended Texts

Furnish, Victor Paul. The Moral Teaching of Paul: Selected Issues. 3d ed. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2009.

Wright, N.T. Revelation for Everyone. Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 2011.

Green, Joel B. Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2007.

Writing Assignments

Precourse Work Writing Assignment

Instructions for submitting precourse work writing assignment:

  • Answers should be emailed to the COS office by the stated deadline of September 1, 2014.
  • Answers should be altogether in one email.
  • Be sure to make a copy of your work before you send it
  • Please review and follow the guidelines for emailing assignments that are listed at the end of the pre-course assignments.

Formatting Requirements:

  • Your answers to each question should be typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman font, 12 point, 1-inch margins, and in Word Doc format.
  • Please include in the header your email address, name, and page numbers


- 6 pages single-spaced + 4 pages double-spaced

- Due September 1, 2014

Part 1: Exegetical Briefs (6 x 1 page single-spaced = 12 pages double-spaced)

  • Before consulting/reviewing the secondary literature, read each of the focus texts (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, James, 1 John, and Revelation) in one sitting.
  • Then, complete an exegetical brief for each of the focus texts

Part 2: Carter and Levine, The New Testament (4 pages double-spaced)

1.) Read introduction and the chapters related to the focus texts:

  • Introduction: pp. 1–16
  • Romans: pp. 112–28
  • 1 Corinthians: pp. 129–45
  • Hebrews: pp. 266–82
  • James: pp. 283–97
  • 1 (2, 3) John: pp. 327–340
  • Revelation: pp. 341–58

2.) Select three [3] of the chapters dealing with the focus texts. For each chapter that you select:

  • Summarize the major historical, literary, and theological aspects of the focus text highlighted by the authors
  • Summarize the critical methodology used by the authors in each chapter and what significance it adds to their interpretation

3.) Select one [1] of the three chapters/focus texts from above and comment on the similarities and differences between the interpretations of Carter/Levine and those found in another introductory textbook (Powell, Boring, Holladay, or Johnson)

Writing an Exegetical Brief

  • Exegetical briefs should be 1-page single spaced
  • The format is optional, but an exegetical brief should at least give consideration to the composition’s (1) literary structure; (2) exegetical and literary features; (3) religious or theological perspective.

Agenda: Day 1 (September 13, 2014)

9:00–9:45: Worship (in room 252)

9:50–12:00: Class Session #1 (in room 421)

12:00–1:00: Lunch Break

1:00–3:00: Class Session #2

  • Mini-Lecture: Faith in Jesus vs. Faith of Jesus (10 mins)

3:00–3:15: Snack Break

3:15–5:00: Class Session #3

  • Hebrews (40 mins); Outline of Hebrews; Discussion on Hebrews Notes
  • Questions and Discussion (20 mins)
  • What is Exegesis? (30 mins)
  • Looking forward (15 mins)

Writing Assignment #2


- 12–14 pages double-spaced

- Due September 27, 2014

Part I: Comparing Focus Texts (6 pages double-spaced)

In addition to your own analysis of the focus texts, consult Bassler, Carter/Levine, and the introductory textbooks to formulate your answers

Spend approximately one page (double-spaced) answering each of the following questions:

*** As discussed in class today, please select three [3] of the six prompts below. This part of the assignment is three pages double-spaced. ***

  1. Compare and contrast the manner in which Romans and Revelation fit within the Roman Imperial context. What perspective does each take toward the Roman Empire?
  2. “But faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Explain how this phrase fits within the larger argument of James and how it relates to Paul’s perspective on faith and works found in Romans.
  3. Both Hebrews and 1 John have been considered letters, but neither contains all of the standard elements in a letter. Identify the common structure of ancient letters and why Hebrews and 1 John should or should not be viewed as letters.
  4. Discuss the nature of the community addressed in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Hebrews. What are the central problems facing each community? What behaviors or dispositions are the community members encouraged to practice?
  5. “…to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Summarize the place of the Jews or Judaism in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Compare and contrast this with the view of Jews and Judaism in Revelation.
  6. Martin Luther famously described James as the “epistle of straw,” as one of your parishioners recently read on Wikipedia. Explain to your parishioner why James should continue to be read and applied by contemporary Christians.

Part II: Practicing Exegetical Method (6–8 pages doubled spaced)

Read Gorman, pp. 1–179 and familiarize yourself with the contents of pp. 181–281.

Select one of the passages from the focus texts:

  • Romans 2:17–29
  • Hebrews 10:19–31
  • James 2:1–10

Conduct an Initial Exegetical Analysis of the passage

  • This exercise is intended to foster and hone students’ careful, creative, and effective reading and interpretation of a NT passage
  • This exercise requires that students slow down, read closely, and “live with” the text for an extended amount of time
  • This exercise opens up the distinctive features of the passage, which are then focused into a 4 page (double-spaced) exegesis paper and 1 page (single-spaced) sermon outline that will be turned in on the final day of the course (October 11)

Resources for completing Initial Exegetical Analysis

As Gorman points out in his text, exegesis is an investigation that requires elements similar to both art and a science (Elements of Biblical Exegesis, 11–12). Consequently, there is no "ideal" form of exegesis; exegesis requires practice, self-reflection, and creative imagination. The resources to the right are meant provide students guidelines, practices, and a sample of the initial steps in an exegetical analysis.

Agenda: Day 2 (September 27, 2014)

9:00–9:50: Class Session #1

  • Welcome; Agenda for Day
  • Small Groups: Discuss Initial Exegetical Analysis Assignment: (1) What’d you see? (2) What questions do you have (about the passage; about the process)?

9:50–10:00: Stretch Break

10:00–12:00: Class Session #2

  • Revelation (40 mins)
  • Activity: Revelation and Worship (45 mins)
  • Stretch Break (5 min)
  • 1 John (30 mins)

12:00–1:00: Lunch

1:00–2:30: Class Session #3

  • 1 Corinthians (25 Mins)
  • Activity (45 mins)
  • Stretch Break (5 mins)
  • Exegetical Resource: Translation Comparison

2:30–3:00: Snack Break

3:00–5:00: Class Session #4 (Meet in Pitts #368)

  • Exegetical Resource: Using Commentaries and Dictionaries Effectively (10 mins)
  • Commentary/Dictionary Work (105 mins)
  • Looking Forward (5 mins)

Writing Assignment #3


- 6 pages double-spaced + 1 page single-spaced

- Due October 11, 2014

Part I: Final Exegesis Paper (4 pages double-spaced)

Part II: Sermon Outline (1 page single = 2 page double-spaced)

Part III: Unity and Authority of Scripture (2 pages double-spaced)

Write a response to one [1] of the prompts below concerning the unity and authority of scripture

  • Summarize the major components of the UMC’s expressed beliefs pertaining to scripture (see “Scripture” under “Beliefs” in the Book of Discipline). Provide scriptural warrant for at least three [3] of these components. Explain how you understand the relationship between the “original context and intention of the text” and the contemporary meaning it has for “our own lives and the life of the world.”
  • Write a critical book review of Joel B. Green, Seized by Truth with particular attention to his final chapter on authority.

Resources for Writing Assignment #3

Please see the above guidelines for writing the exegesis paper (also available for download here).

For advice on how to write a critical book review, see the following:

Agenda: Day 3 (October 11, 2014)

9:00–10:30: Class Session #1

  • Welcome; Overview of the Day
  • Theology of Scripture

10:30–10:45: Stretch Break

10:45–12:30: Class Session #2

  • Small Group: Reflecting on Exegesis Paper
  • Sharing Insights: Leon, Pat, Stan

12:30–1:00: Lunch

1:00–1:45: Worship (in Cannon Chapel)

1:50–3:00: Class Session #3

  • Sharing Insights: David, Steve, Mary
  • Reading for Transformation

3:00–3:15: Snack Break

3:10–4:30: Class Session #4

  • Sharing Insights: Bill, Chris, Deanne
  • Theological Interpretation
  • Evaluations

Resources from Class:

Theology of Scripture Group Work

Resources on Theological Interpretation:

Joel Green, "Cultivating the Practice of Reading Scripture"

Joel Green, "Reading the Bible as Wesleyans"

Michael Gorman, "Principles for Theological Interpretation" (Blog post)

"Theological Interpretation of Scripture" Info Guide from Fuller Seminary

Richard Hays, "Reading the Bible with the Eyes of Faith"

- See also my notes on this article

Presentation on Theological Interpretation

theology of scripture pic.JPG

An image of our discussion of what "theology of scripture" means.

Theology of Scripture

The Wordle below was created using your reflections on the UMC's explanation of the theology of scripture. Does anything about this stand out to you? Can you see the Quadrilateral in your responses?

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 6.31.22 AM.png

Exegetical Resource:Using an (Analytical) Concordance

Basics to Using the NRSV Analytical Concordance:

  • Keyed to NRSV translation and up-to-date critical edition of the Greek NT (UBS 4)
  • Words are listed in alphabetical order; all verb forms (-ed, -ing, -s) are listed under a simple form ("fill")
  • English words are coded to underlying Greek words (the numbers to the right of the reference); these differentiate words as well as forms of words (verb vs. noun)
  • Exegetical considerations: (1) how frequently compared to other books in NT?; (2) other concepts/words that relate to the word?
  • Be sure to look at related words

Please see the brief (~10 mins) video tutorial of why and how to use this particular concordance.

The Google Presentation for the tutorial is here; a .pdf version of slides can be found here.

Exegetical Resource: Comparing Translations

One helpful way to delver deeper into a passage is to conduct a translation comparison. Scholars have long recognized that all translation is interpretation: even those translations that claim to offer "literal" or "word-for-word" translations are not free from bias or interpretative decisions. Interpretation in translation is unavoidable for a number of reasons, including strange or ambiguous of the words and phrases in the original language, differences in the cultural contexts of the source text (e.g. the New Testament) and the translation, and the history of interpretation. Michael Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis, provides a nice overview of translation theory and the different translations of the bible (pp. 39–42). Take note: sometimes translations that are more dynamic ("free") in their rendering of the original language may actually capture the significance of the passage more effectively than more "literal" translations.

To aid in the comparison of translation, the following process is suggested:

Step One: Select three to four [3–4] translations of your passage

  • A great online resource for accessing different translations is Bible Gateway
  • See Gorman's chart in Elements of Biblical Exegesis (p.52) for an example of the functional value of various translations
  • Select a mix of versions that have "formal equivalence" (i.e. "literal" translations), like the NASB, the NRSV, and the ESV & "dynamic equivalence" (i.e. "free" translations like the NIV, the NLT, and the Message)

Step Two: Arrange the Translations in Columns

  • It will be best if you are able to see all three or four translation on the same page
  • Copying the translations from a digital source, like Bible Gateway, allows you to paste them into a word document with colums; this will allow you to manipulate the text and highlight/note differences
  • Here is a template for comparing four translations of a passage.

Step Three: Quickly survey/skim the four different translations. What stands out to you after this initial survey? Things to consider:

  • The length of each translation
  • The “sound” of each translation
  • Striking or irregular word usage

Step Four: Focus on one or two verses that have significant or interesting differences

  • Ask yourself, "Why have you chosen this verse or verses?"
  • Feel free to use color, underline, bold, and other type faces to highlight the differences in the translations
  • Think about the distinctiveness of each translation. What might the explanation for the differences be?

Step Five: Reflect on the possible exegetical significance of the differences

  • Reflect and describe the most significant differences in the verses you have studied.
  • Explore exegetical insights that arise from the translation comparison exercise. These can be expressed both as observations or questions that emerge from the exercise.

Exegetical Resource: Using Commentaries and Dictionaries

Commentaries and dictionaries can be very helpful resources to aid in the practice of exegesis. Unfortunately, though, they are often over-satuarated with information that may or may not be of assistance to your own interpretation of a passage. Commentaries emerge from the commentator's own close reading of the text, but also represents an attempt to deal with the insights and arguments of other interpreters. Some commentators are more clear about their "take" on a passage than others. Regardless, they're all addressing questions that relate to their (or that of other's) reading of the text. But, these questions may not be the same as your questions. So, the key to effective use of commentaries and dictionaries is being clear about what you want to get from the commentary. Reading a commentary with specific questions or observations in mind helps to ensure that your time spent with secondary resources is as efficient as possible.

Below are some suggested steps for effectively using secondary resources in exegesis. A fuller description of the process is available here.

Using a Commentary:

  • Restate and revisit your central questions and observations
  • Get oriented to the commentary
  • Pay attention to section titles and the length of each section
  • Zero in and test your observations

Using a Dictionary:

  • Restate/remind yourself of your central question(s)
  • Skim the article as a whole, paying attention to headings and subheadings
  • Make a guess of those sections that will be most helpful to you
  • Read article
  • Record reflections on how (if) the article helps address your question

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias:

One-volume, very readable:

  • Achtemeier, Paul J. , et al., eds. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Rev. ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997.
  • Freedman, David N., et. al., eds. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Multiple-volumes, more in-depth articles:

  • Freedman, David N., ed. Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
  • Sakenfeld, Katherine D., et al., eds. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville: Abingdon, 2006

Other Valuable Resources:

  • Aune, David E. The New Testament in Its Literary Environment. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1989.
  • Klauck, Hans-Joel. The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Greco-Roman Religions. Minneapolis: Fortress; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2003.
  • Malina, Bruce J. The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. 3rd rev and exp. ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001 (1981).

Exegetical Resource: Notes on Gorman

I have compiled brief notes on Gorman's Elements of Biblical Exegesis. I hope that this will be of assistance to you in your future exegetical work. Here is a link to the .pdf document, which is posted to the right.

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