Authorities for SBL Style: Classes, Miscellanea

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

In this series, we’ve discussed several kinds of authorities for SBL style. These include house styles (from a publisher or a school), the SBLHS and its blog, IATG3, and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

There are more authorities we could discuss. But in this final post in the series, we’ll cover just two more. These authorities are commonly used for specific cases in a wide range of writing projects. And they are the SBLHS Student Supplement and the Chicago Manual of Style.

4.3 For Class Essays: The SBLHS Student Supplement

For class essays, students can consult the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition (SS.SBLHS). SBL makes this supplement freely available online.

The SS.SBLHS contains a great deal of helpful, practical guidance. It specifically addresses how SBL style applies to a project like a seminar paper or other class essay. These include such things as recommendations for title pages, tables of contents, and heading styles.

SS.SBLHS is, though, only 19 pages. So it’s scope is much more limited than SBLHS, and therefore, SS.SBLHS can’t really replace consulting the fuller handbook.

In relation to SS.SBLHS also, two cautions are in order:

  1. The supplement is a good tool. But it tends to be slightly more prone to errors or inconsistencies than the SBLHS itself. So you need to use the supplement cautiously and always defer to other higher authorities like the full handbook.
  2. SBLHS doesn’t explicitly (or, I think, even implicitly) rank the student supplement in its list of applicable authorities. As such, it may well be that the supplement should rank lower as an authority than does the Chicago Manual. This may also be preferable given some of the supplement’s errata over the years. So you may want to see if your school’s house style gives you any guidance for locating SS.SBLHS among your list of authorities for SBL style. But I’ve included it here (above the Chicago Manual) on the principles that (a) SS.SBLHS is style guidance directly from SBL Press and (b) any errata will presumably get corrected sooner or later on the more-authoritative SBLHS blog.

4.4 For Everything Else: The Chicago Manual

4.4.1 Using the Chicago Manual in General

Okay, so let’s say you’ve gone through the SS.SBLHS and the other higher authorities we’ve discussed in prior posts. But you’ve still not found the answer to your style question. If that’s the case, then according to SBL Press, follow the advice in the current edition of the Chicago Manual.

In consulting the Chicago Manual, much the same advice applies as we’ve already given in connection with the SBLHS.

4.4.2 The Relationship between the SBLHS and the Chicago Manual

On the preparation of the second edition of the SBLHS, SBL Press comments that

while the first edition tended toward minimal duplication, relying on users referring to The Chicago Manual of Style, feedback from users noted that it would be more efficient to have style guidance in one place. Consequently, the second edition contains more complete information and requires less consultation of The Chicago Manual of Style.

SBLHS, xii.

In my use of the second edition, I’ve certainly found that I need to refer to the Chicago Manual for fewer questions than was the case with the first edition of the SBLHS. That being said, if you are writing a project of any appreciable length—even in a class paper or journal article, but certainly in a thesis or dissertation—there will likely be innumerable minor details for which the Chicago Manual will be your best guide.

That is, with the second edition of SBLHS, you do need to consult the Chicago Manual about fewer things. But there are so many minor details that SBLHS simply doesn’t include that I find myself regularly using the Chicago Manual as well.

Any one of the things I have to look up in the Chicago Manual I might only come across once in a given project. Yet, if you add up all the things that you have to look up once per project in the Chicago Manual, you may well find that you too will want to have your own copy within arm’s reach.


In sum, the SBLHS provides some inestimably helpful guidance geared specifically for challenges and questions that confront biblical scholars.

At the same time, SBLHS is self-confessedly not on an island by itself. Instead, SBLHS draws from and leans on other authorities to help it focus on what it does best—guide biblical scholars about questions that (almost) uniquely pertain to biblical scholars.

But because scholarly writing in biblical studies has such a wide range of possible forms, not even as full a guide as the SBLHS can hope to be truly comprehensive without also becoming quite unwieldy. Just think of what it would look like to add the SBLHS to IATG3 and the Chicago Manual in something resembling a single publication (!).

With this in mind, all of us who write in biblical studies need to be intimately familiar with the SBLHS and the other basic guideposts on which the SBLHS leans. This whole group of guides is there to help us produce the cleanest writing we can so that our readers can concentrate as fully and transparently as possible on what we are trying to argue.

Are any of the additional authorities we’ve discussed beyond the SBLHS new to you? If so, which one(s)? Which authority(ies) do you need to use more fully?

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