Theological Statements
1989, 1997, 2000, 2009 by Laurie J. Braaten, Ph.D.

    This guide contains directions for students who are writing Theological Statements assignments.   A Theological Statement is an exegetical and hermeneutical study of a biblical passage.  The purpose of the assignment is to guide the student through the process that is useful for understanding the theological intent of the passage and for composing biblically sound sermons and Bible studies. An example on Jer 1 is found on this website.  Theological Statements include all of the sections listed below:

A. TRANSLATION of the biblical passage.

This will be based on the NRSV (or the student's translation), printed single space, and according to poetic lines (if applicable).

  1. The student uses the assigned translation (see syllabus), or based on research, the student picks the best translation of the passage.  (Reasons for selecting this translation will be indicated in the NOTES section, see below).
  2. Poetry should be typed as such, with the lines arranged to reflect the parallelism. (Most translations break poetic lines because of the constraints of printing text in columns.  Be sure to correct this and print either full or half poetic lines in your translation where possible.)
  3. When the student's research indicates that the Bible version’s translation is inadequate, changes will be made in the translation with the reason(s) indicated in the NOTES section (see below). 

HELPFUL HINT: Before beginning the research, it is recommended that the student select a working translation from the NRSV, type it double-spaced (or copy and paste from your Bible software) and print it out.  When the research is begun, interlinear and marginal notes can be jotted down on this translation, words and phrases can be corrected, key words can be circled and connected, etc. (Note: for the final assignment single space is required).  There are useful directions and examples of this type of process in Achtemeier.

B. NOTES on the translation.

These notes will appear as a separate section at the end of the translation, linked to the text or word being commented upon with superscript numbers (like this1). Notes are single spaced, and are not printed at the bottom of (the footnote feature of the word processer is not to be used).  They include the following:

1.       Textual problems, where the major ancient versions vary significantly or where there is obvious textual damage, deserve a footnote.  Significant variations in ancient versions warrant a comment, even if one agrees with the textual choice of the adopted translation.  Most modern versions and reputable study Bibles indicate where there are major textual variants.  More detailed information is found in commentaries.

  1. Grammatical and historical notes relevant for interpreting the text.
  2. Major exegetical findings or problems.  These include cases where alternate translations are possible or where the text is rough or difficult to translate.  Any major ambiguity or problem needs to be noted.
  3. Comments on literary devices such as key words, word plays, alliteration word plays or puns.
  4. Reference to the sources where the student obtained the information will be included in every note.  Throughout this assignment in text citations may be used, e.g., (Patrick, p. 45). The source will have a full reference in the Bibliography section.

C. FORM AND STRUCTURE of the passage.


The paper will include most of the following methods, depending on the nature of the passage:

1.       Literary Critical Observations.  A brief discussion of the literary or form critical genre(s) as it bears on the interpretation of the text. A discussion of the texts setting in life is appropriate here.

2.       Rhetorical and/or Redaction Critical Observations.  A brief discussion of the structural or rhetorical devices used in the text, such as use of key words or motifs, etc.

3.       Canonical or Tradition Historical Contexts.  A description of how the passage fits into the larger literary, historical and/or religious biblical context.

4.       An Outline of the passage is required in all assignments.

Students will usually only emphasize the items above which are most significant for the interpretation of the text.  If only one or two of items 1-3 are relevant, then the student must at least provide an outline of the passage.

D. THEOLOGICAL AFFIRMATIONS found in or presupposed by the text.

The student states in clear and concise language what the text meant in its original context(s), reflecting the research presented above.  Each paragraph begins with a concise theological statement which is then developed in the paragraph.  Since this section is the goal of the paper, all previous sections should contribute toward supporting, explicating, and clarifying what is contained in this section.  Anything else is extraneous.

A Theological Affirmation includes:

1.       A description of the nature and activity of God reflected in the text.  Most texts describe the activity of God in terms of one of the great covenant events (with the Ancestors, Moses, or David) which sets forth the election and mission of God's people.  God is also described as the creator of all peoples, and is working through Israel and creation to restore all peoples to God’s purposes.  The student should ask how the text depicts God's revelation by God’s words, historical acts, or sustaining deeds in accordance with God’s covenant or creation purposes.  How is the broader biblical story assumed and built upon here?

2.       A description of the implications of God's revelation for God's people.  Theological Affirmations explain how God's people are benefited by God's acts, and how they are challenged to respond in confession and action.  The confession can be a brief statement of faith or an act of worship which "re-presents" God's acts for others.  The action is usually a response of  worship, faith, or obedience grounded in the redemptive acts of God.  These acts of God are then reflected or "reenacted" in community relationships so that God's redemption is continued in and by the community.

3.       A good guide to follow is to begin every sentence with God as the subject, followed by an verb connoting action toward God’s people.

A Theological Affirmation is NOT :

1.       An abstract philosophical discussion about the nature and being of God  (e.g., God is eternal, unchanging, self-created).  Therefore stative verbs should be avoided. Such statements may be appropriate in the context of Systematic Theology, but are not the purpose or goal of this assignment.

2.       Moralizing about or accusing of "pet peeves" (see Keck, The Bible in the Pulpit).

3.       Antisemitic or Antijudaic, which includes focusing on past sins of Israel and placing them in a negative role in the history of salvation.  See Hyam Maccoby, "Antisemitism." in Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (Trinty Press, 1990):32-34.



1.       Contemporary proclamation (sermon or Bible Study) takes the Theological Affirmations and applies them to the Church's message.  The Theological Affirmations are past tense (God has done...).  Proclamation is past, present and future tense (The God who has now doing ... and will continue to do ....).  A related element is how God's people are expected to respond, both in the past, present and future.

2.       The outline or manuscript should be detailed enough so that the gist of the message is clear.

3.       There should be a genuine analogy between the text and the proclamation.  (Does the message say and do what the original text said and did?)

4.       The outline should be composed by one who stands under the claim of God's word, and who identifies with the people addressed in the text, not by one who is God's helper in setting the church straight. (In other words, generous use of we and sparse use of you and they should be found in the proclamation section.


F. BIBLIOGRAPHY of resources used in the study.


The resources are selected because they are up to date and/or recommended because of their scholarly or theological insight. Qualified sources must be cited in the paper to receive credit. If used, reading assigned for the course must be documented, but does not count toward the number of required sources. The bibliography will be in Turabian (Chicago) or SBL form.  A  stylesheet is available which offers examples of the most frequently used forms. The bibliography will include the following two categories, note the minimum numbers of sources required:

1.       Commentaries: four reputable, scholarly commentaries*.

2.       Background or Word studies from two scholarly resources.  These may include journal articles, Bible Dictionaries or Encyclopedias, and theological dictionaries*.

* All commentaries and articles are to be listed by authors, not by the editors of the dictionary, set, or series. Dictionary articles will also include the title of the article being used.

A detailed description of the process for biblical interpretation similar to the one given above is found in Elizabeth Achtemeier, Preaching from the Old Testament, pp. 11-60.  The remainder of the book gives examples of how to deal with specific biblical materials or genres.

N.B.  Popular and devotional literature and most works written for laypersons are not acceptable for this assignment.  Many popular commentaries are written by nonspecialists who may be articulate speakers or well-known in other fields, but whose exegesis and comments are often technically uninformed.  This applies to the material in the "Exposition" section of the old version of The Interpreter's Bible.  Many reprints of older works are useful, if used carefully, but many of the so-called classics are not worth the paper they are printed on.  A discussion of acceptable older and more recent works are found in the bibliographic resource guides by Childs, Martin, Danker, etc.  The student is responsible for finding and using suitable resources.  If in doubt the student is encouraged to ask the professor, who can be reached at

Required Format: In addition to the directions provided above, the following are required. The font will be Times New Roman 12, 1.5 line spacing (but Bible translation, notes, and outlines are single spaced), with .75-1” margins.

Last updated: 10/12/2009