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Seven Bible style tips

by Katie Hynd

Learning about Bible grammar threw me for a loop. Even though I am a trained writing tutor, I had no idea how many tricks of the trade there were for religion classes until I served as a writing tutor for an Old Testament class. The more questions students asked, the deeper I delved into the SBL* Handbook of Style.

Here are a few key tips that will help you toward a good grade in your Bible class.

  1. The word “Bible” is always capitalized.
  2. The word “biblical” is not capitalized (except when it begins a sentence…).
  3. Capitalization is a bit more complicated when it comes to eras and events. Ask your professor if you are unsure whether something you will reference frequently needs to be capitalized, such as Babylonian Exile. (Note: you may find each professor has a different preference.)
  4. Abbreviations are important!
    1. Books of the Bible should be abbreviated, but don’t guess how to abbreviate the book title! On the last page of the Biblical Studies Citation Guide, Barry Huff, one of the Principia religion professors, has listed how each book should be abbreviated.
    2. WARNING: Exceptions to the rule! If the book of the Bible is the first word in the sentence, or if you don’t include a chapter number, write out the whole book title.
  5. The words “chapter” and “verse” should not appear in your paper unless one of these rules applies.
    1. If you are referencing a chapter, first write the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter number (use the Arabic numeral system). Examples: Exod 4:5, Luke 3.
    2. If you are referencing a verse, include the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter you are referencing. Examples: Gen 1:1, Matt 4:2.
  6. The word “God” is capitalized if you are discussing the Hebrew deity. If you want to use the Hebrew word for God, it is also capitalized and can be spelled as either Yahweh or YHWH.
  7. Use quotation marks to emphasize words you are researching, such as “angel” or “temple.” Quotation marks will bring attention to the word and explain to your reader why you are repeating one word in your paper. Conversely, use italics when you are analyzing a word in a foreign language, such as mal’ak (Hebrew for angel) or heykal (Hebrew for temple). This helps the flow of your paper and your reader.

And if you have further questions, please ask a writing tutor (or your professor) for help!

*SBL stands for Society of Biblical Literature

Katie Hynd is the post-graduate intern in writing for the Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning. Last year she interned for the Religion Department.

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