Rel. 122b
S 2014

 Interpretive Essay on a Passage or Theme in the Gospels

A 5-6 page interpretive paper on the gospels is due by 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 6 by 4 p.m. Please save your paper under your name followed by 1 (e.g., JSmith1d.docx) and email your paper as an attachment to

This assignment is not a research paper, but an interpretive essay based on your own analysis of the text/s you have chosen. Your paper should consist primarily of close textual and conceptual analysis of the text. Your analysis should be in the service of a specific interpretive claim you are making about the text. A reader of your essay should be able to discover within the first paragraph exactly what claim you are advancing and defending, and the structure of your essay should illustrate and defend that claim with frequent reference to and quotation from the text (the evidence) in a manner that makes sense and is easy for a reader to follow. Remember to use the textual evidence to support, illustrate, and extend your analysis and interpretation. The paper should be 5-6 pages, double-spaced.

Citations: You should base your interpretation on your own analysis of the text(s), but you should cite any sources from which you have drawn key ideas in footnotes. You do not need to cite the edition of the text (NRSV) in footnotes; you may simply cite passages in parentheses within the body of the text, e.g.: (GMatt 5:1-6).

Some Suggested Topics

 A. Analysis and Interpretation of A Single Passage in One Gospel: Mark, Matthew, Luke, or Thomas.

Select a short passage from one of the gospels (narrative episode or saying/s of Jesus) that reveals some important and interesting dimension of that gospel (e.g., its presentation of Jesus, the kingdom of God, faith, the Holy Spirit, demons, revelation, the disciples, community, conflict, or some other central theme or issue in the text). Analyse the passage carefully, using the insights and tools of New Testament scholarship to uncover the significance of the passage. Offer your own interpretation of its significance.

Among the issues you should consider: the form or genre of the passage and the composition in which it's found; traces of the activities and beliefs of the oral tradition and of the evangelists; the literary context of the passage (how it fits into the gospel, how the surrounding passages shape your sense of its meaning). What is the significance of the passage - in literary, historical, and/or theological terms? What does it tell us about the perspectives of the evangelist and the meaning of the gospel?

B. Analysis and Interpretation of A Single Theme in one Gospel: Mark, Matthew, Luke, Thomas, or John.

 Select a theme that is central to a particular gospel. Analyse closely the way in which the gospel as a whole presents and develops this theme, especially in relation to other important themes of the gospel. Focus your analysis on a few passages from the text, even as you relate those passages to the larger literary structure and theological perspectives of the whole text. Put forward your own interpretation of the significance of the material.

Among the themes you might choose: some aspect of the identity of Jesus (the significance of a particular title, action, event, saying); the character of the disciples; the nature of discipleship; the tension between secrecy and openness; righteousness; the interpretation of scripture; roles of women; Rome; power and weakness; the Kingdom of God; tensions between Jesus and his opponents; eschatology; etc.

C. Comparative Analysis and Interpretation of a Story or Saying Appearing in 2 Gospels.

Select 2 versions of a particular story of saying from Gospel Parallels &/or the Gospel of Thomas. Compare the versions closely, considering carefully: their relation to one another (source and redaction criticism); their placement (context) within each gospel; their structure and wording, and their relation to other themes in the gospel. Before you start composing your essay, pose some of the following questions to the text:

1) What is the relationship of the texts? Did one (e.g., Mark) serve as a source for the others, or do they come from a common source (e.g., Q)?

2) Which elements of each version can be attributed to the editing activity of the evangelist? How does this version fit in with the literary structure and themes of the gospel in which it is found?

3) What do the versions share; and how are they different in context, structure, wording? How do these differences reflect the literary work and/or theological perspectives of the evangelist?

4) How do these differences affect the significance of the passage in each gospel? What is the significance of each version?

As you write, be careful to structure your paper carefully, being sure to organize your interpretive analysis in an orderly fashion that the reader can follow. It's usually more effective to offer an analysis of each version as a whole, paying particularly close attention to the second text's revision of an earlier version or source. In some cases, however, it might be useful to go through a verse by verse comparison of the versions.Choose one method of organization and stick to it.

 Some Suggested Passages for Comparison:
  • Individual Sayings and Parables - e.g. the Saying about What is Hidden and Manifest (Mk 4, Mt 10, Lk 12, and GThomas 5 and 6); The Parable of the Mustard Seed; The Lord’s Prayer; The Parable of the Wicked Tenants; The Parable of the Good and Wicked Servants; The Parable of the Lost Sheep; Sayings on Marriage and Divorce; The Question of Paying Taxes to Caesar, etc. 

    Comparison of Two or More Versions of a Narrative Episode - e.g., The Temptation Narrative; Plucking Grain on the Sabbath; Healing the Withered Hand; Stilling the Storm; Peter’s Confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi; The Transfiguration; The Woman with Ointment; Jesus in Gethsemane; The Trial before Pilate; Jesus’ death; The Empty Tomb; the Resurrection Narratives of Mt. and Lk.