As comprehensive as it is, the SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS) doesn’t include everything.1 Instead, you’ll often need other sources to determine what SBL style requires. Knowing where and when to refer to these other sources can be tricky. In this series, we dispel this mystery and discuss seven common authorities for SBL style in priority order.

One of the self-professed goals of the second edition of the SBLHS was to provide “more complete information and require[] less consultation of [especially] The Chicago Manual of Style” (xii).

Anyone who has used both the first and second editions of the SBLHS will notice that the second edition makes substantial headway in achieving this goal. Many more details are handled directly in SBLHS. And it’s now comparatively rarer to need to consult another authority like the Chicago Manual.2

On the other hand, over the course of an essay of any length or—even more—over the course of a book-length project, you’ll regularly need to consult other authorities about many minor details that the SBLHS doesn’t take the space to spell out.

Sometimes though, different authorities have different advice on the same issue. So you need both to consult the proper style authorities and to consult them in the proper order.

You go as far down the list as needed to answer your question, then you stop and do as described in that highest-level authority.

According to SBL Press, there are seven major kinds of style authorities you need follow in order (§3).3

1. A House Style

According to SBLHS §3, the highest-level authority for your writing is what we might call a “house style.” Most commonly, this is the set of requirements specific to the organization where you’ll send your writing.

Practically though, it’s helpful to divide this first level of authority into two types. The first of these we’ll discuss here. The second we’ll pick up next week.

1.1 From Your Publisher

If you’re working with a specific journal or book publisher, their style requirements trump everything else. Often, their house style may resemble or defer to SBL style at multiple points but have some customizations too.

For instance, the SBLHS doesn’t specify whether to include a comma after the abbreviations “i.e.” or “e.g.” Consequently, SBL style follows the rule in the Chicago Manual (§6.51) and includes this comma.4

On the other hand, if you’re formatting your essay to submit to the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), you’ll want to be sure you don’t use a comma after either “i.e.” or “e.g.” According to JETS’s contributor instructions,

the guidance of the most recent edition of The SBL Handbook of Style should be followed. (§1.7)

But one of the specific exceptions taken by JETS’s style to the SBLHS’s conventions is that normally

no comma should be placed after “e.g.” (“e.g. the book of Romans”), or “i.e.” (“i.e. the apostle John”). (§2.8)

Such minor style variations can take quite a bit of work to accommodate. But it’s important to recognize that it’s your responsibility as an author to make life easy for the editor to whom you’re handing off your manuscript.

After all, between you and the editor, you have the most vested interest in getting your manuscript into print.

Conclusion

SBLHS has enjoyed wide adoption as a formatting standard since the first edition’s release. Even so, individual publishers have specific conventions they want you to follow for various reasons, even though these conventions depart from the SBLHS.

In this environment, each of we need to be familiar with the SBLHS and often follow it carefully. But more than this, we often need to follow the SBLHS as it’s qualified by the specific formatting requirements of the particular publisher we’re working with.

Doing so will ultimately remove one more possible speed bump from the sometimes already potted road from submission to publication.


  1. Header image provided by SBL Press. 

  2. Unless otherwise noted, citations of the Chicago Manual refer to the 17th edition, published in 2017. 

  3. SBLHS actually specifies more than seven kinds of other authorities. But here we concentrate on discussing the most common. 

  4. For additional information at the moment though, see “The Chicago and SBL Manuals.” 

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