Title portion of the SBL Handbook of Style cover, 2nd edition

Authorities for SBL Style: Abbreviations, Spelling

We’ve mentioned three levels of authorities for SBL style that apply across your whole project.1 These include house styles (from a publisher or a school), the SBLHS blog, and of course, the SBLHS itself.

The next four authorities apply in specific cases. Here, we’ll cover the first two—those for abbreviations and spelling.

4. Specific-case Authorities

4.1 For Abbreviations: IATG3

As we already alluded, the SBLHS recommends that “abbreviations for works not listed [in §8.4.1–8.4.2] should follow Siegfried M. Schwertner, Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete, 3rd ed. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014 …)” (here IATG3; affiliate disclosure).2

IATG3 clocks in at a stout 700+ pages (not including introductory matter). The volume can be intimidating to new users. On closer inspection, however, it is pretty transparently structured. Let’s go from back to front:

Part two contains “titles with bibliographical notes and abbreviations” for “periodicals, series, encyclopaedias, [and other] sources.”3 This section provides the full title of each source in alphabetical order. So this part will likely be most useful to readers who come to IATG3 from the SBLHS.

Part one contains “explanations of the abbreviations” for “periodicals, series, encyclopaedias, [and other] sources.”4 This section contains the same title-abbreviation pairings as in the second section. The first section simply sorts these pairings in alphabetical order by abbreviation.

Also valuable is the front matter (xxvi–xliii). It contains several other helpful abbreviation references (e.g., for common German abbreviations, the writings of Philo, Nag Hammadi texts).

To use IATG3 properly with the SBLHS, you need to go through a few different steps. These weren’t all immediately apparent to me when I started using IATG3. But the workflow is natural enough once you go through it a few times.

For this full workflow, see “4 Steps to Using IATG with the SBL Handbook of Style.”

4.2 For Spelling: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

According to SBLHS §,

For words other than proper nouns, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is the preferred authority; where multiple spellings are listed, use the first.

This comment doesn’t specify which edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary to use. This classic reference looks to be in its 11th edition (affiliate disclosure). And indeed, in §, the SBLHS explicitly references Merriam-Webster’s “11th ed.”

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is a key reference for non-English words printed in Roman letters.5 And Merriam-Webster’s conventions apply also to “those authors who are accustomed to using British spellings.”6

Thus, for instance, you would speak about “honor and shame,” not “honour and shame.” You would go “toward” something and not “towards” it.

Of course, it’s important to remember also that this guidance is subject to modification by any particular “house style.” A house style may reverse this convention and ask you to prefer British spellings.


The advice I’ve found in IATG and Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has sometimes surprised me. For example, the “Pillar New Testament Commentary” abbreviation isn’t “PNTC” but “PilNTC.” And although it grates on me a bit for some reason, “interpretative” is a valid adjective form alongside “interpretive.”

But in the end, both are helpful references for bringing standardization to our abbreviations and spelling. Getting to this standardization does require some work. Yet, it can also meaningfully help clarify to others what we’re discussing. And to that end, the effort is well worth it.

  1. Header image provided by SBL Press. 

  2. SBLHS, §8.4. 

  3. IATG3, 193; see 195–726. 

  4. IATG3, 1; see 3–191. 

  5. SBLHS, § 

  6. SBLHS, § 

Some of the links above may be “affiliate links.” If you make a purchase or sign up for a service through one of these links, I may receive a small commission from the seller. This process involves no additional cost to you and helps defray the costs of making content like this available. For more information, please see these affiliate disclosures.

One response to “Authorities for SBL Style: Abbreviations, Spelling”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.