Uncertain about Integrating History and Theology?

It can be a challenge to read Scripture as a both a historical text and one that continues to address communities of faith.

Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading contains 10 essays to help you address this challenge.

Among these essays is mine on “Rewriting Torah Obedience in Romans for the Church.”

A Simple Guide to When You Need to Capitalize “Gospel(s)”

As SBL Press has explicitly recognized, “One of the more confusing issues that writers in New Testament studies face is when to write Gospel and when to use gospel instead.”1

The key principles are “relatively straightforward until one begins actually writing; then questions inevitably arise.”2

The SBL Handbook of Style directly addresses the capitalization of “gospel(s)” in two sections.3 And SBL Press has provided a supplementary blog post of nearly 1000 words.4

But even with all of this explanation, the issue might still be cloudy. So below, I’ve tried to digest the essential tests for when you need to capitalize “gospel(s).”

I’ve also ordered the tests in a sequence to help you avoid nonstandard capitalization (especially with tests 2 and 4). So as you work through the list from top to bottom, you can stop when you find the right category, lowercase or capitalize accordingly, and move on.

1. If “gospel” is part of a title, capitalize it.

If you’re using “gospel” as part of the name for a title of a work, you need to capitalize it.

SBL Press considers forms like the following to be titles:

  • First Gospel
  • Matthew’s Gospel
  • Gospel of Matthew
  • Thomas’s Gospel
  • Gospel of Thomas

The same convention would apply to other forms of titles for literary works (e.g., “Gospel according to Matthew”).

If you’re not using “gospel” in the context of a title, keep working through the other tests below to see whether you need to capitalize or lowercase it.

2. If “gospel” is a “generic reference,” lowercase it.

SBL Press prefers “down style, that is, the use of fewer initial capital letters.”5

One of the ways SBL style expresses this preference is that “gospel” is lowercased when used as a “generic reference.”6

But what qualifies as a “generic reference”?

SBL Press doesn’t seem to explicitly define this category. But it appears to describe a way of referencing a work in a way that also identifies the genre of that work.

(Thus, “generic” includes the notion of “genre” rather than generality alone.)

If you’re unsure whether “gospel” is a generic reference, there are two tests you can use to decide:

  1. Try replacing “gospel” with “work” to see if the sentence makes sense (e.g., “In his gospel, Matthew …”).
  2. Check whether “gospel” is functioning as an adjective to modify another noun (e.g., “gospel narrative,” “gospel writers”).

If your use of “gospel” passes one of these two tests, you probably have a generic reference. So, you should lowercase “gospel.”

If neither of these tests works, move to the next test.

3. If “gospel” refers to a proclamation, lowercase it.

Often, “gospel” doesn’t refer to literature at all. Instead, it means the good news about Jesus, the kerygma.

An example would be a sentence like “At the beginning of 1 Cor 15, Paul summarizes the gospel he preached.”

Because “gospel” here refers to a proclamation, a message, or a body of good news, it needs to appear in lowercase.

If “gospel” doesn’t refer to a proclamation, keep working through the next test.

4. If “gospel” is a stand-in for a title, capitalize it.

If you’re using “gospel” alone as a stand-in for a title, you need to capitalize it.

It can be trickier to know when an instance of “gospel” counts as a stand-in for a title. But there is still a test that can help.

If you’re unsure whether “gospel” is a stand-in for a title, replace that word or the phrase that includes it “gospel” with the full title of the gospel.

If the replacement works, “gospel” is a stand-in for a title, and you need to capitalize it.—This assumes you’ve already determined above in step 2 that your use of “gospel” doesn’t qualify as a generic reference.

A great many uses of “gospel” by itself to reference a literary work actually fall into how SBL Press defines the generic reference category. By contrast, capitalizing “gospel” by itself as a stand-in for a title is pretty rare.

So you especially ensure your use of “gospel” isn’t a generic reference before you classify it as a stand-in for a title.

5. Always lowercase “gospels” except in the phrase “Synoptic Gospels.”

The SBL Handbook of Style recommends capitalizing “gospels” when it refers to a canonical division.7 But SBL Press now prefers lowercase in this instance.8

This change means that the only time you should capitalize the plural “gospels” is in the phrase “Synoptic Gospels.” (Similarly, the shorter “Synoptics” also gets capitalized.)9

6. Where needed, revise.

In some cases, you might not be satisfied with a sentence after you apply the capitalization that results from these tests.

In that event, consider revising the sentence until you’re satisfied with the capitalization it involves.10

Conclusion

Deciding whether to capitalize “gospel” language can be tricky. But you can cut through confusion with the following five principles:

  1. If “gospel” is part of a title, capitalize it.
  2. If “gospel” is a “generic reference,” lowercase it.
  3. If “gospel” refers to a proclamation, lowercase it.
  4. If “gospel” is a stand-in for a title, capitalize it.
  5. Always lowercase “gospels” except in the phrase “Synoptic Gospels.”

And of course, if you aren’t satisfied with a sentence based on these principles, you can always revise it until you get it into the shape you want it.


  1. Gospel versus Gospel,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 15 November 2016, §1 (italics original). 
  2. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §1 (italics added). 
  3. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §§4.3.4.1, 4.3.6. 
  4. “Gospel versus Gospel.” 
  5. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §2.2. 
  6. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §3.3. 
  7. SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §4.3.6. 
  8. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §§1, 3.4. 
  9. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §§1, 3.1. 
  10. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §§2.4–2.5, 3.5. 

Header image provided by Josh Applegate

The Odd Thing about Font and Line Sizes

When you select a font in Word, you select its size in a unit called “points.”

But just like the font size, the font face also affects the visual size of lines and type on the page.

So if you need to space content precisely on a page, you need to recognize that font points aren’t type points.

Font Points Aren’t Type Points

In theory, one point is equal to 1/72 of an inch. (For clarity from here, I’ll call this a “type point.”)

But, by comparison with 12-point Times New Roman text,

  • Twelve-point Arial text occupies noticeably more horizontal space.
  • Twelve-point SBL BibLit text occupies noticeably more vertical space.

So not all fonts are created equal in terms of what a “point” means for a single-spaced line in that particular font.1 (I’ll call this a “font point” since it’s tied to the font size you actually set in Word.)

Font Points and Type Points on a Title Page

A Title Page as an Example

If you use the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style or something similar, Word can handle title pages quite well.2

So, you can (and should) hand off your title pages to Word so that it can take the formatting and layout minutiae off your plate.

You’ll get a better end product, and you’ll be able to spend time on the content of your research that you would otherwise have devoted to manipulating the layout of your document.

That said, I want to use a title page to illustrate how font and type points do (and don’t) work. And in particular, I’ll assume the title page framework given in the Student Supplement.

Points and Line Spacing

In this framework, if you allow a 2-inch top and bottom margin on 11-inch high paper, that allows you 7 vertical inches on the page in which to distribute content (= 11 inches total – 2 inches for the top margin – 2 inches for the bottom margin).

Line Spacing = “Exactly 12 Points”

If your text is “12-point,” Times New Roman, and spaced at exactly 12 points, you can fit 42 lines of text vertically down these 7 inches, or 504 type points because

  • 504 type points = 7 inches × 72 type points per inch and
  • 42 lines = 504 type points ÷ 12 type points per line.

Line Spacing = “Single Spaced”

But if your text is “12-point,” Times New Roman, and single spaced, you’ll be able to fit vertically down these same 7 inches only about 36.5 lines of text.

This means that, if you use “12-point” Times New Roman font, one “single spaced” line will actually occupy about 13.81 type points of vertical space on your page(= [72 type points per inch × 7 inches] ÷ 36.5 lines).3

Arial appears to take up the same amount. SBL BibLit, by contrast, occupies closer to 18.67 type points vertically on the page when you select a “12-point” font size in Word.

That means one single spaced line of SBL BibLit font occupies slightly more than ⅓ more vertical space on the page than one single-spaced line of Times New Roman or Arial.

Line Spacing down a Full Page

Down a full title page, there will be at least 8 lines of type:

  • Institution block: 1 line
  • Title block: 1 or more lines
  • Class block: 3 lines
  • Author block: 3 lines

So, if you use “12-point” Times New Roman font, you might think these 8 lines would occupy 96 type points vertically on the page (= 8 lines × 12 font-type points per line).

But they won’t. They’ll actually occupy 110.48 type points (= 8 lines × 13.81 type points per line).

Over the page as a whole, the total difference of 14.48 type points (= 110.48 type points – 96 type points) equates to about two tenths of an inch (= 14.48 type points difference ÷ 72 type points per inch). That assumes you’re using Times New Roman or Arial.

If you use SBL BibLit, the difference is greater. Eight lines of single-spaced type will be about 149.36 type points (= 8 lines × 18.67 type points per line).

That’s just shy of three quarters of an inch longer on the page than if the lines were spaced at exactly 12 type points (= [149.36 type points – 96 type points] ÷ 72 type points per inch).

Conclusion

Whenever you need a precise page layout, first see whether Word will handle the details automatically. It probably will.

But if not, understanding the difference between font and type points should help you achieve that layout much more easily.

Besides title pages, where else do you need to have content laid out precisely down a page?


  1. For some introductions to why this is, see “Leading,” weblog, The Four-Eyed Raven, n.d.; Matt Samberg, “Line Spacing, Explained,” weblog, Medium, 15 September 2015. 
  2. Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015). 
  3. Leading.” Based on my own measurements, this seems to be slightly more accurate than the round 14 points reported by Samberg, “Line Spacing, Explained.” But Samberg’s essay still has a great deal of valuable information. 

Header image provided by Etienne Girardet

How to Justify Your Title Page Text Blocks in No Time

When you’re working on a title page, it’s best to delegate its formatting to Word as much as possible.

Doing so will save you time spent formatting. It can also give you a title page that’s more precisely formatted.

Before you distribute the text blocks vertically on your title page, you should be sure to segment your title page’s text blocks appropriately.1

You may also want to go ahead and format your title page text. That way, once you distribute the text on your title page, it’ll be ready to go.

Vertically Justify Your Title Page Text

Once you’ve got your title page text ready, highlight the contents of your title page—but not the section break that separates your title page from the next section of your document.

(Just for context, if you lay out your document like I recommend, that section break will go to your table of contents for long essays and your essay body for short essays.)

Then, from the “Layout” tab, choose “Margins” and “Custom Margins….”

On the “Margins” tab, set both the top and the bottom margins to 2 inches.

Then, click on the “Layout” tab. Under the “Page” section on this tab, change “Vertical alignment:” to “Justified,” and click “OK.”

When you complete this last step after you’ve properly formatted and segmented your title page text, you should then see your title page content

  • In all capital letters,
  • Centered on the page left-to-right, and
  • Distributed vertically on the page so that you have (a) 2-inch top and bottom margins and (b) even spaces between each text block on the title page that are as close as possible to 2 inches.

Double Space Your Title If It’s Multiple Lines

If your title happens to be more than one line long, the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style wants your title to be double spaced.2

So, before you move on from your title page, it’s a good time to double check whether you need to adjust the line spacing for your title.

If you do, you can change the line spacing directly from the “Home” tab. Simply highlight your title block (block 2), and change the line spacing to “2.0.”

Conclusion

With these simple steps, you can largely delegate your title page formatting to Word.

By letting Word handle the minutiae of your title page’s text and layout, you can avoid time and effort spent manipulating this formatting yourself.

And that’s time you’ve regained to invest into the content of your research and writing.

What methods have you used before to distribute text vertically on your title page? How much time do you think you’ll save by letting Word do it for you?


  1. In these comments, I’m assuming you’re trying to format your title page as specified in Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015), §§2.8, 3.1. For an overview of the four title page blocks that the Student Supplement requires, see “The Fundamentals of How to Format a Title Page.” In the steps illustrated here, I’m assuming you’re using the most current version of Word available via an Office 365 subscription. As of this writing, that’s 16.0.12624.20278. Any reasonably recent version of Word should work similarly. But increasingly older versions may have increasingly larger differences in how they match the steps I describe here. 
  2. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.1. 

Header image provided by Etienne Girardet

How to Prepare Your Title Page Text Blocks

If you delegate your title page formatting to Word, you can save yourself time spent formatting. You can also end up with a title page that’s more precisely formatted.

One key step to delegate this formatting work is to properly format your title page’s text. Another important, related step is to properly segment this text.

That is, each title page block needs to be its own single paragraph. That means the multi-line class block (block 3) and author block (block 4) each needs to be one paragraph with multiple lines.1

Use Paragraph Breaks and Line Breaks

When typing your title page, you should use a new paragraph (i.e., press Enter) only at the end of your

  • Institution block (block 1),
  • Title block (block 2),
  • Class block (block 3), and
  • Author block (block 4).

The class block (block 3) and author block (block 4) require three lines each. But within these blocks, you should use line breaks and not new paragraphs.

To insert a line break after the first two lines in each block, press Shift+Enter rather than simply Enter.

Visually on the page, a line break might not look much different to you than a paragraph break.

But from Word’s perspective, there’s an important difference that you can use to vastly simplify the vertical distribution of these blocks on your title page.

Using line breaks will keep the class block and author block together as single paragraphs from Word’s perspective.

And because they’re single paragraphs, Word can then distribute them evenly along with the other one-line paragraph blocks on the page (blocks 1 and 2).

Replace Paragraph Breaks with Line Breaks If Needed

If you haven’t already used line breaks within your class block (block 3) and author block (block 4), that’s okay.

You can simply delete the extra paragraph breaks you inserted and replace them with line breaks.

To check or replace the breaks on your title page, it might be easiest if you show hidden characters either from the keyboard (Ctrl+*) or from the “Home” tab.

After you show the hidden characters, you should see the line break symbol (↩) after

  • Your instructor’s name,
  • “IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF”,
  • “BY”, and
  • Your name.

If you see a new paragraph symbol (¶) instead of a line break symbol in any of these places, simply delete that paragraph, and enter a line break instead (Shift+Enter). You should then see the line break symbol instead of the new paragraph symbol.

Then, in future title pages, you can use line breaks in these places from the start. That will keep you from having to correct the breaks later like you might have needed to do this time around.

Once you’ve traded out any new paragraphs for line breaks, you should still see the new paragraph symbol after

  • The institution block (block 1),
  • The title block (block 2),
  • Your course number and title (the last line of block 3)

After your submission date (the last line of block 4), you should not see either the line break or the new paragraph symbol.

Instead, you should simply see the section break that ends your title page if you’ve set up your document’s sections like I recommend.

Conclusion

Once you have your title page text formatted and your title page blocks prepared, all that’s left is evenly distributing these blocks on your title page.

Are line breaks new to you? If not, what’s an example of where you have used line breaks, rather than paragraph breaks, before?


  1. In these comments, I’m assuming you’re trying to format your title page as specified in Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015), §§2.8, 3.1. For an overview of the four title page blocks that the Student Supplement requires, see “The Fundamentals of How to Format a Title Page.” In the steps illustrated here, I’m assuming you’re using the most current version of Word available via an Office 365 subscription. As of this writing, that’s 16.0.12624.20278. Any reasonably recent version of Word should work similarly. But increasingly older versions may have increasingly larger differences in how they match the steps I describe here. 

Header image provided by Etienne Girardet

How to Actually Format Your Title Page Text

If you delegate your title page formatting to Word, you can save yourself time spent formatting. You can also end up with a title page that’s more precisely formatted.

To start delegating your title pages to Word, there are four basic steps. The first of these is to capitalize and center your title page text.

To illustrate how to format your title page text, I’m going to assume you’ve set up your essay’s title page in Word like I recommend.

If you’ve already done that, it will be that much easier to follow along. But even if not, you can still apply the process described below to your own document as you’ve structured it.

1. Ways to Format Your Title Page Text

According to the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, all title page text needs to be presented in capital letters and centered on the page.1

You can get your text capitalized in a few ways. First, you can turn on your caps lock and type the text.

Second, you can type the text and then format it as “UPPERCASE” from the “Font” section of the “Home” tab as shown below.

Or you can do the same thing through the “All Caps” option in the “Font” dialog box.

Third, you can adjust the “Title” style or create your own style to apply the uppercase font formatting.

With either of the first two methods, you’ll still need to separately center the text. But if you modify the “Title” style, you can specify center alignment for this style, as well as uppercase font.

Using the “Title” style also means that you can save your modifications of this style to reuse later in other documents. When you do so, you then get the bonus of bypassing the formatting work you’d otherwise need to redo.

2. How to Modify Your “Title” Style

To modify your “Title” style, follow the steps below. In these steps, I’m assuming that your “Title” style is exactly like it’s initially defined in the default Word template.

So , just keep in mind that you might need to tweak the exact steps shown below depending on exactly how your “Title” style is currently formatted.

2.1. Start Modifying the “Title” Style

First, come to the Home tab, and open the styles panel.

Second, find the “Title” style. Click the drop down arrow to the right of this style name, and choose “Modify….”

2.2. Modify the “Title” Style’s Font Face and Alignment

Third, on the right side of the “Modify Style” dialog box under “Formatting,” change “Latin” to “(all scripts)” if you might possibly use this “Title” style with Hebrew or other right-to-left text.

Then set the font face and size to be the same as you’re using in the main text of the rest of your document (e.g., Times New Roman, 12-point).

Choose to center-align the text by clicking the second button from the left under the font face name drop-down box.

In case you’re wondering, you’ll want to leave the line spacing at single spacing. This way, your class block (block 3) and author block (block 4) can be single spaced.2

If your title runs longer than one line, you can later format that block directly so that it’s double spaced.

2.3. Set the “Title” Style to Use All Capitals

Next, click the “Format” button in the bottom left-hand corner, and choose “Font…” from the menu that opens.

In the “Font” dialog box on the “Font” tab, find the “Effects” section toward the bottom. Then, check the option for “All caps” in the right-hand column.

2.4. Correct the “Title” Style’s Character Spacing

Next, switch to the “Advanced” tab. Here you’ll need to remove a default Word title style option that isn’t consistent with the Student Supplement.

To do so, under “Character Spacing,” change the spacing to “Normal,” and click “OK.”

This will bring you back to the “Modify Style” dialog box.

2.5. Save Your Changes to the “Title” Style for Later Reuse

Decide whether you want to use this same style formatting in other documents based on the same Word template.

If so, choose the “New documents based on this template” option at the bottom of the “Modify Style” dialog box. Otherwise, leave the default “Only in this document” selected.

Press “OK” at the bottom of the “Modify Style” dialog box.

Conclusion

If you haven’t done so yet, you can apply the “Title” style to text on a sample title page.

There are still a couple updates you need to make so that you can evenly distribute this text vertically on your title page.

But you can already start to see how your title page formatting is beginning to take shape in a way you can largely delegate to Word in the future.

What method have you typically used to capitalize text on your title pages?


  1. Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015), §3.1. In the steps illustrated here, I’m assuming you’re using the most current version of Word available via an Office 365 subscription. As of this writing, that’s 16.0.12624.20278. Any reasonably recent version of Word should work similarly. But increasingly older versions may have increasingly larger differences in how they match the steps I describe here. 
  2. To review the title page text blocks that the Student Supplement specifies, see “The Fundamentals of How to Format a Title Page.” 

Header image provided by Etienne Girardet