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A citation from the Bible is usually referenced with the book name, chapter number and verse number. Sometimes, the name of the Bible translation is also included. There are several formats for doing so.
A common format for biblical citations is Book chapter:verses, using a colon to delimit chapter from verse, as in:
- "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
- Book chapter for a chapter (John 3);
- Book chapter1–chapter2 for a range of chapters (John 1–3);
- book chapter:verse for a single verse (John 3:16);
- book chapter:verse1–verse2 for a range of verses (John 3:16–17);
- book chapter:verse1,verse2 for multiple disjoint verses (John 6:14, 44).
This format is the one accepted by the Chicago Manual of Style and is also the format used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to cite scriptural standard works. The MLA style is similar, but replaces the colon with a period.
Citations in the APA style add the translation of the Bible after the verse. For example, (John 3:16, New International Version). Translation names should not be abbreviated (e.g., write out King James Version instead of using KJV). Subsequent citations do not require the translation unless that changes. In APA style, the Bible is not listed in the references at the end of the document.
When citations are used in run-in quotations, they should not, according to The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, contain the punctuation either from the quotation itself (such as a terminating exclamation mark or question mark) or from the surrounding prose. The full-stop at the end of the surrounding sentence belongs outside of the parentheses that surround the citation. For example:
- Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him! (John 19:15).
The Christian Writer's Manual of Style also states that a citation that follows a block quotation of text may either be in parentheses flush against the text, or right-aligned following an em-dash on a new line. For example:
- These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NASB)
- These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33 NASB
Abbreviating book names
The names of the books of the Bible can be abbreviated. Most Bibles give preferred abbreviation guides in their tables of contents, or at the front of the book. Abbreviations may be used when the citation is a reference that follows a block quotation of text.
Abbreviations should not be used, according to The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, when the citation is in running text. Instead, the full name should be spelled out. Hudson observes, however, that for scholarly or reference works that contain a large number of citations in running text, abbreviations may be used simply to reduce the length of the prose, and that a similar exception can be made for cases where a large number of citations are used in parentheses.
There are two commonly accepted styles for abbreviating the book names, one used in general books and one used in scholarly works.
Roman numerals are often used for the numbered books of the Bible. For example, Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians may be written as "I Corinthians", using the Roman numeral "I" rather than the Arabic numeral "1". The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, however, recommends using Arabic numerals for numbered books, as in "2 Corinthians" rather than "II Corinthians".
The Student Supplement to the SBL Handbook of Style published by the Society of Biblical Literature states that for modern editions of the Bible, publishers information is not required in a citation. One should simply use the standard abbreviation of the version of the Bible (e.g. "KJV" for King James Version, "RSV" for Revised Standard Version, "NIV" for New International Version, and so forth).
The Student Supplement to the SBL Handbook of Style recommends that multiple citations be given in the form of a list separated by a semicolon, without a conjunction before the final item in the list. When multiple consecutive citations reference the same book, the name of the book is omitted from the second and subsequent citations. For example:
- John 1–3; 3:16; 6:14, 44
Citing non-biblical text in Bibles
Some Bibles, particularly study bibles, contain additional text that is not the biblical text. This includes footnotes, annotations, and special articles. The Student Supplement to the SBL Handbook of Style recommends that such text be cited in the form of a normal book citation, not as a Bible citation. For example:
- Sophie Laws (1993). "The Letter of James". In Wayne A. Meeks; et al. (eds.). The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 2269–2270.
- Gary W. Fick (2008). "Abbreviations and Citation of Books in the Bible". Food, Farming, and Faith. SUNY Press. p. 175. ISBN 9780791473832.
- David Whitbread (2001). "Typography: Citing the Bible". The Design Manual. UNSW Press. p. 209. ISBN 9780868406589.
- Bob Hudson; Robert Hudson; Shelley Townsend-Hudson (2004). "References, Bible". The Christian Writer's Manual of Style. Zondervan. pp. 358–361. ISBN 9780310487715.
- Five books have a single chapter: Obadiah, Philemon, 2 & 3 John, Jude. In many printed editions, the chapter number is omitted for these books, and references just use the verse numbers.
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th Edition. American Psychological Association. 2001. p. 213. ISBN 1-55798-810-2.
- Melanie Greer Nogalski; James D. Nogalski; Sophia G. Steibel & Danny M. West (September 2004). "Biblical Citations" (PDF). In Joel M. LeMon (ed.). Student Supplement to the SBL Handbook of Style. Society of Biblical Literature. pp. 1–2.