Quoting Bible Passages: Some Time- (and Money-) Saving Tips

If you're a Christian nonfiction writer, chances are you quote the Bible frequently.* And that means your editor, or perhaps your proofreader, must check your quotes and verse references for accuracy. Depending on how many passages you quote and how you handle them, you'd be surprised how much time that can take. If you're an independent author, it can translate into an added cost to you. But you can significantly reduce the time involved by following these four simple, commonsense tips:

1. Use one popular Bible version as your go-to for quotes. The NIV, ESV, NASB, NLT, NKJV, and NRSV are all examples of translations commonly chosen for their accuracy and readability. When you use only a single version, you need not state it in your verse references; just make sure the Bible publisher's copyright blurb appears on your book's copyright page.

2. If you do use other translations besides your primary translation, as is often the case, then do so sparingly, and have a good reason when you do. You need not show your primary translation in citations, but when you use a secondary translation, you should say which one. For example, if you use the New Living Translation in quoting Isaiah 35:9, indicate it thus: (Isa. 35:9 NLT). Your editor can't check the accuracy of a quote unless he or she knows which version you've quoted from! Don't make your editor have to hunt. Hunting takes time. And time, as you know, is ----.

3. Avoid using archaic or "novelty" translations as your primary Bible version. These include the King James Version, The Message, and the Amplified Bible. They're fine as secondary translations, but for your default translation, your readers will appreciate one that is easily readable and a true translation, not an interpretation. You may love your venerable KJV, but remember, your first concern is to serve your readers, who will probably find "You meet him with rich blessings" (Ps. 21:3 ESV) more understandable than "Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness."

4. When using the NIV and the Amplified Bible, make sure you know and indicate which edition you are using. Both of these Bibles were updated somewhat recently, the NIV in 2011 and the AMP in 2015, and because their previous editions remain in widespread circulation, the older and newer editions frequently get mixed together. It's therefore not enough to simply say NIV or AMP in your citations. Which NIV? Which AMP?

If you resort both to the online NIV or AMP and to your trusty old leatherbound, hardcopy edition--as a lot of writers do--then it's a cinch that you're mixing the earlier and current editions. You've got to distinguish between them, because the differences are often substantial. Your best bet is to choose one source for your quotations, whether online or print, and stick with that source. In any case, know which version of the NIV and AMP you're quoting from in any given instance, and make sure you indicate it in your citation if it isn't your primary translation. For example, if the NIV 2011 is your primary translation, then treat its predecessor, the 1984 edition, as you would a secondary translation, thus: (John 3:16 NIV 1984).

Keep these four simple pointers in mind and you'll save your editor time and headaches, yourself some silver, and your readers a bit of head scratching.

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* Not to say fiction writers don't also quote the Bible, but their use of Scripture is typically far lighter than in a book on, say, biblical counseling. Novelists can nevertheless profit from this advice as readily as nonfiction writers.