Don’t Violate Scripture

Depositphotos_2329505_xsWhile editing, I checked the Scripture passage a writer was quoting. I found that while a few words came from the cited version, a few came from other versions, and a few were his own.

Where do writers get the idea they can quote Scripture any way that they want, making their own words equal to God’s? There are rules about using words from the Holy Bible.

Suppose I am quoting Proverbs 3:5–6 from the English Standard Version:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

That’s what it says. I can’t decide on my own to make it say something else — or write it some other way, unless I tell my reader I am paraphrasing.

Rules for Citations

Using this well-known text, here are some basic rules:

The word LORD in the Old Testament appears in capital letters. But the last three letters are reduced one point size.

Also note that here, and in many versions (the New King James is one exception) pronouns for deity are lowercase, not capitalized. Accurate quoting means we present the pronouns for deity the way they are printed, not the way we want them.

If you refer to Proverbs in your manuscript, write the word Proverbs out in full. If you include it as a reference following the verses quoted, abbreviate it as follows (Prov. 3:5–6, ESV). The period goes after the parenthesis, not after the text. The version quoted goes down one point, so ESV appears in 11-point type. Between the numbers use an en dash, not a hyphen. (To find an en dash, click the tab for insert, then symbol, then special characters.)

Another matter of preferred usage, as outlined in A Christian Writer’s Manual of Style: Most editors want the words Bible and Scripture capitalized, but biblical and scriptural lowercase. Make this distinction, and editors will notice.

Cut and Paste

In years past, writers had to manually type each word of a Scripture quotation. Today, electronic versions and online Scripture sites such as BibleGateway.com allow you not only to find verses quickly, but also to select and paste them into your manuscript. It’s faster, and it reduces the risk of typographic errors.

Roger Palms, a longtime Guild mentor, is the former editor of Decision magazine and the author of 15 books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.

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