How To Cite From The Bible

Basics of Bible Citation

Clichés and trends often dominate everyday conversations, but the discussion of the Bible remains integral to modern conversations. Bible citations and references are essential components of these conversations, as they provide means to validly assert and back up claims without falling victim to overused quotes or inaccurate references. With correct referencing, an audience is provided with the context and origin of any cited material.
The prevailing standard for citing and referencing Biblical texts is set out by The SBL Handbook of Style. The SBL Handbook of Style is a scholarly guide on the formatting and citation of material from ancient Near Eastern and Biblical sources. It has become the major style guide for references to Biblical literature, supplanting the earlier ‘Chicago Manual’ for most contemporary writers.

Verse Numbers & Chapter Formatting

When referencing material from the Bible, it is important to note the respective book, chapter, and verse number of the quotation. The books of the Bible are commonly set out in abbreviated notation, with the various parts of a book, chapter, or verse referenced with appropriate breaks. For example, Jeremiah 29:11 would conventionally be written as “Jer. 29:11”.
The style guide also sets out a procedural style for citing verses within a single chapter. After citing a chapter the first time, subsequent references to the same chapter can be numbered simply. For example, “Jer. 29” can be used in lieu of “Jeremiah 29” when referencing the same chapter again.
The chapter number can also be followed directly by a verse number. For example, to reference Jeremiah 29:11 again, it can be cited as “Jer. 29:11”.

Citing Multiple Verses

When citing a range of verses, the preceding chapter and verse range must be maintained through to its conclusion. For example, “Jer. 29:10–14”, as opposed to “Jer. 29:10-14”. Additionally, where more than a single range of verses requires citation, individual verse ranges must be separated with a comma.
For example, to reference Jeremiah 21:11 to 23:17, it must be written as “Jer. 21:11–14, 22:1–17, 23:1–17”.
It is important to note that the Bible should always be referenced using the New Revised Standard Version. For the purpose of writing an academic paper, the Old Testament should follow the Septuagint numbering, whilst the New Testament should follow the Textus Receptus numbering.

Bible Citation In Different Mediums

Bible citation varies slightly when referencing the Bible in different mediums. When citing the Bible in a scholarly paper or publication, the abovementioned style guidelines must be followed to ensure accurate referencing of all cited passages.
When citing or referencing the Bible in a sermon or personal journal, full text citations should be used. Unlike the abbreviated titles used in academic references, full text citations should be used in religious sermons and journal entries. The full title of the book and all appropriate chapter and verse numbers should always be referenced.
Finally, when referencing the Bible in a blog, the above two citations should be reversed. Abbreviated titles should be used unless full form citations are desired for a religious or academic purpose.

Mindful Adaptations

An added complication with any form of Bible citation is the various adaptations and versions of the Bible. As a result, it is imperative to pay attention to which edition and version of the Bible you are referencing. When citing different versions of the Bible, the parenthetical notation of the edition should be included.
For example, when referencing the King James Version of Jeremiah 29:11, it should be written as (KJV, Jer. 29:11). Different editions of the Bible often have varying translations of the same passages, so accurate citing is dependent on citing the correct edition of the Bible.

Validity & Authenticity

Accurate Bible citation is integral to asserting the validity and authenticity of the source referenced. By specifying the passage and book, any reader can access the original source for a more detailed exploration. This enables readers to access the context, tone, and flavor of the original passage and thereby helps with understanding and accuracy.
Because the Bible remains an influential source of cultural discussion, referencing it accurately allows readers to draw reliable conclusions that remain firmly rooted in real scholarly examinations and facilitate in-depth analyses.

Citing Difficult Passages

Sometimes, particularly in long texts where multiple authors and editors have contributed, it can be hard to identify the source of a particular passage. In these cases, it is important to first identify the book, author, and editor and then cite the large source.
From there, the original source can be further explored to identify the chapter and verse from which the quoted material was taken. Where this is not possible, two citations should be provided. The first should directly reference the source text, and the second should cite the page number from the source text.

SBL Citations

The SBL Handbook of Style embeds further features for Biblic citation that may be useful for academic researchers and writers. For example, citations of authors such as Friedrich Delitzsch and Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading, and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity should use the SBL citation style, instead of the traditional Chicago format.
The SBL Handbook of Style also offers specialized references for cited texts which are not produced in the traditional journal format. Citations of archaeological inscriptions, essays and books which are collected in an anthology, and letters must all be cited using the SBL style to ensure accurate and standardized referencing.

Roman Numerals

For citations that span multiple books of the Bible, especially where the cited passages form a continuous narrative, roman numerals can be used as a shorthand representation.
For example, when citing materials from Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the roman numerals “I–III” can be used. Similarly, where multiple books of the New Testament are referenced, the books can be categorized as Gospels (G), Epistles (E), or Apocalypse (A).
For example, to reference the first three books of the New Testament, it can be cited as “G. I–III”. Additionally, additional books and elements can be identified using the iconographic shorthand. For example, the Apocrypha can be cited as “Apo.”

Specialized Citations

The SBL Handbook of Style also provides instruction for citations of specialized and ancient material. In the cases of non-Biblical material, the citation must be provided in its original script. This is particularly relevant when citing and referencing the Dead Sea Scrolls, wherein the Hebrew text of the Dead Sea Scrolls must be used.
Additionally, when citing non-Biblical material from outside of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish authors, the vernacular of the source text must be used. Hebrew authors must be cited in Hebrew, and ancient Greek authors must be cited in Greek.

Primary Citations

Primary citations of Biblical texts are preferred for scholarly papers so as to abide by scholarly citation format. That said, secondary citations, wherein an author references an already-published source which itself cited a Biblical passage, are still useful for providing reference points to the original source.
However, primary citation should always be used whenever possible to remain consistent with scholarly conventions. Primary citation also minimizes the risk of misinterpreting the source or, worse, or referring to a faulty passage by reference.

Eschew Appamments

When citing material from the Bible, it is important not to include additional commentary or interpretation. Such additions should be left to the writing and commentary of the paper.
Additionally, citation phrases such as “the Bible says” or “the Bible states” should be avoided in favor of providing the actual citation. These phrases often make references to material referenced difficult, as they may be unfamiliar to readers who are not themselves Bible scholars.

Contextual Considerations

When citing material from the Bible, any associated context should remain firmly attached to the text. Citations should always be provided in such a way that readers can easily access the original source, whilst any hints of interpretation should remain in the writing.
Good referencing and citation of the Bible often requires a modicum of education on the part of the reader. For some readers, the interpretation of even simple passages will require further consultation of source material beyond the paper’s scope. Such considerations are essential for providing adequate reference for cited biblical passages.

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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