6 Ways to Make Scripture First

How does Scripture read Scripture, and how can the church follow its lead?1

It’s easy, especially in the long shadow of the Reformation, to pit Scripture against tradition. But the Bible itself suggests there is a fundamental unity between Scripture and the tradition it embodies.

Rightly appreciating this unity sets the stage for more faithful and robust engagement with Scripture.

For the past few years, Daniel Oden (Harding University) and I have been curating a volume of essays to address this intersection between Scripture and its tradition.

Scripture First: Biblical Interpretation That Fosters Christian Unity argues for reading Scripture faithfully along with earliest Christian tradition as the church continues seeking to express its unity better.

The Restoration Movement was birthed from a holy desire to unify divided Christian communities under the authority of sacred Scripture.… These essays exhibit the best characteristics of such work. My hope is that Scripture First will be read widely to the edification and gentle provocation of all still committed to sharing in the mysterious work of the Father, reconciling all things in heaven and on earth in the Son through the Holy Spirit.

Joseph K. Gordon, Associate Professor of Theology, Johnson University

Scripture on Scripture

In reality, Scripture and tradition are not entirely separable. Scripture self-confessedly contains and canonizes certain traditions, thereby asking its readers to embrace them as well.

Scripture First’s two biblical essays particularly stress this point. Daniel Oden’s discusses how the Hebrew Bible develops and interprets its central confessions. My essay expands on this point via the early Jesus movement’s proclamation as summarized in 1 Cor 15:3b–5.

Scripture’s Tradition and Interpretation

Following these essays, two explore the history of interpretation.

Keith Stanglin (Austin Graduate School of Theology) analyzes Thomas Campbell’s thought and the enduring value of Christian biblical interpretation guided by a “rule of faith.”

Stephen Lawson (Austin Graduate School of Theology) highlights the tension reform efforts need to maintain in order to avoid short circuiting precisely aims they want to achieve.

These essays spark creative thought regarding how biblical interpretation impacts Christian unity.… A good read for anyone meditating on the concept of a rule of faith and its role in understanding Scripture and building up the body of Christ.

Susan Bubbers, Dean, The Center for Anglican Theology

Corporate Embodiment of Scripture’s Testimony

The volume’s final two essays take a practical turn.

Scott Adair (Harding University) cites baptism as a marker of Christian identity. On this basis, Scott highlights the hermeneutical relevance of the doctrinal and ethical content latent in baptismal practice.

Finally, drawing on thinkers like Martin Luther, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Lauren White (Lipscomb University) argues readers of Scripture cannot read well at a distance. Instead, readers must risk getting themselves caught up in the text’s witness and finding themselves directly addressed and formed by it.

[T]he authors convincingly advocate methods of interpreting Scripture that focus on the core affirmations of Christian faith—especially those proclaimed at and embodied in baptism. The object of godly biblical interpretation is the formation of the church into the image of Christ.

Douglas A. Foster, University Scholar in Residence, Abilene Christian University

Conclusion

6 Ways to Make Scripture First

In the end, I hope each of the essays will help you make Scripture first in your own practice. As the different essays suggest, this entails

  1. Following how the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament rehearses its core confessions,
  2. Reading Scripture through the core apostolic proclamation,
  3. Centering Scripture’s core testimony when interacting with others,
  4. Being constantly open to Scripture’s correction of interpretive missteps,
  5. Reading Scripture baptismally, and
  6. Engaging Scripture and the Christian community to seek formation in the image of the Son.

To Go Deeper …

Scripture First is now available through the publisher, Amazon, and other retailers.

And after you order, you can also claim several exclusive bonuses. These include

  • A video of Daniel and me discussing the volume and the process of producing it from our perspective as editors,
  • A video of Scott Adair walking you through the pedagogical exercise his essay proposes for summarizing the core content encapsulated in baptism, and
  • A copy of the spreadsheet I developed to produce the modern author index.

After you’ve preordered Scripture First, just come to this page. Then, with your order number handy, click the button below, and drop that number in the bonus claim form along with your name and email address. I’ll then be in touch shortly with each of these downloads.


  1. Header image provided by ACU Press

How to Correctly Format Your Bibliography

The Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style has some specific requirements for how your essay’s bibliography appears on the page.1

There are any number of common ways to fulfill these requirements that will also make that process harder than it has to be.

Fortunately, you’ve got some much better options for each step in creating a clean bibliography that has a proper

  1. Top margin,
  2. Heading,
  3. Heading spacing,
  4. First entry formatting,
  5. Subsequent entry formatting,
  6. First page pagination, and
  7. Subsequent page pagination.

Requirements 1, 6–7 (Top Margin, Page Numbering)

You can carefully set up your essay’s pagination. Then, at the end of your essay body, all you need is a new “Section Break (Next Page).” That one insertion will move you to a fresh page to start your bibliography. It will also allow your page numbers to continue in sequence and in the proper places. You can then manipulate the top margin just like for your essay’s first page.

Requirements 2–3 (Heading)

You can specify the bibliography heading alignment, capitalization, and spacing to the first entry within the style for first-level headings.

Requirements 4–5 (Entry Formatting)

You can edit Word’s default “Bibliography” style so that any text you apply it to will have a hanging indentation of 0.5 inches and a blank line following every paragraph formatted with that style.

To do so,2

  1. Go to the “Home” tab, and find the “Styles” section. You should see an arrow in the lower right corner of the section. Click this to expand the section into a panel.
  1. If it’s not currently in use, the “Bibliography” style might be hidden by default. To start editing the style, click the “Manage Styles” button at the bottom of the Styles panel.
  1. Sort the list of styles alphabetically. Find the style named “Bibliography.” Then, click “Modify ….”
  1. Double check that the “Bibliography” style is set to use the same font face and font size as you’re using in the rest of your document. If not, make the necessary adjustments. Then, click “Format” in the bottom-left corner of the “Modify Style” dialog box and choose “Paragraph ….”
  1. Under “Indentation,” find the dropdown box for “Special.” Choose “Hanging.” Word will then add 0.5 inches as the indentation distance, which happens to be what the Student Supplement requires. Under “Spacing,” select the number of points you want to add after each paragraph that will equate to one blank line. For example, if you’re using a 12-point font, you might add 12 points after the paragraph.3 Then press “OK.”
  1. After you’ve gotten the style formatting as you want it, decide whether you’ll want to use this same style formatting in other documents based on the same Word template.4 If so, choose the “New documents based on this template” option at the bottom of the “Modify Style” dialog box.
  2. Click “OK” to save the style formatting you’ve specified in the “Modify Style” dialog box. Click “OK,” “Cancel,” or the close button in the “Manage Styles” dialog box to return to your document.

Conclusion

Once you’ve edited the “Bibliography” style, you can move the formatting of bibliography paragraphs into the category of things you let Word do for you.

Combined with the other ways you can get Word to help you format a bibliography, this step will give you more consistent formatting with less work and fewer headaches.

And because of that, you can invest your time and attention not into bibliography formatting but into the people and projects that matter most.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  1. Header image provided by Freestocks

  2. Here, I’m assuming you have a current version of Microsoft Word for Windows via Office 365. These instructions are based on v16.0.13127.20164. They should work on other recent versions as well. But you’ll notice greater differences in the process if you have an older version of Word. MacOS users may also notice some differences in these steps between the Windows and Mac versions of Word. 

  3. If you’re using a standard font like Arial or Times New Roman, the actual point value for one line is closer to 13.81. For SBL BibLit, it’s closer to 18.67. You can use these values if you’d like to be more precise, but probably no one will fault you for selecting the same number of points spacing as you have for your font size.  

  4. For an overview of some helpful ways to work with templates in Word, see my Microsoft Word: The Emerging Biblical Scholar’s Step-by-Step Guide for Windows and MacOS

How You Should Not Format Your Bibliographies

The Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style has some specific requirements for your essay’s bibliography.1

You can get the words on the page in your bibliography to look like the Student Supplement requires in a few different ways.

Unfortunately, some common approaches to formatting your bibliography have undesirable side effects.

What the Student Supplement Requires

Before I get into that, though, it’s helpful to review what the Student Supplement requires.

In sum, from the beginning of the bibliography, this is,

  1. A new page with a two-inch top margin.
  2. The word “BIBLIOGRAPHY” center-aligned and uppercased.
  3. Two blank lines.
  4. Your first bibliography entry, single-spaced with a hanging indentation of 0.5 inches.2
  5. If you have more than one bibliography entry, you’ll add a blank line. Then, you’ll add your next entry, also single-spaced with a hanging indentation of 0.5 inches. And you’ll continue repeating this format until you’ve included all the bibliography entries you need.
  6. On the bibliography’s first page, you’ll have a page number consecutive with the rest of the essay and centered in the bottom margin.
  7. If you have more than one page to your bibliography, you’ll then have a page number right-justified in the top margin.3

How Not to Format Your Bibliography

For several of these features of the bibliography, there’s a pretty obvious way to get the text on the page to display like you need.

Unfortunately, these sometimes more obvious methods also have significant downsides. In particular, they can lead to a mess at the end of your essay.

So, they’ll end up costing you additional time, effort, and attention to manipulate the formatting of your bibliography.

For example, you might

  • Press “Enter” repeatedly to get from the last line of your essay body to a new page. Then you might press “Enter” about four more times to get what looks like roughly a two-inch top margin. But then, if your essay body lengthens or shortens as you edit, you need to re-manipulate this spacing.
  • Press “Enter” twice to get roughly two blank lines between the title “BIBLIOGRAPHY” and your first entry. But you’ll need then to remember or recheck the Student Supplement to confirm that that spacing is correct.
  • Type out the first line of your first bibliography entry. Then you might press enter and tab over to type a second (or third) line for that same entry that looks like it’s spaced in from the left margin. Or you might format that second (or third) line with a first-line indent like most new paragraphs. In either of these cases, if you have to edit the bibliography entry, you might change where the lines need to wrap. And you’ll have to manually manipulate the formatting to produce the correct indentation. Or if your margin size changes from one project to another (e.g., from an essay with 1-inch margins to a dissertation with a 1.5-inch left-hand margin), copying and pasting the same bibliography entry will also mean that you need to manually adjust where the line breaks fall.
  • Press “Enter” to create a blank line between each bibliography entry. But if you do this, the blank line might actually appear at the top of a page and so look like an enlarged top margin. In that case, you’d need to manually manipulate the spacing to insert or take out a blank line as appropriate.

Conclusion

In all of these scenarios, you have two choices. You can have an essay with a poorly formatted bibliography. Or you can spend unnecessary time and attention proofing and massaging your bibliography’s formatting to ensure you get things just right.

Obviously, neither of these alternatives is that good. You want a clean bibliography. And you want to spend your time and attention actually improving your essay’s content—not just manipulating its jots and tittles.

Fortunately, you’ve got some much better options for each step in creating a clean bibliography.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  1. Header image provided by Freestocks

  2. A “first-line” indentation is the kind of indentation you might be most used to seeing at the beginning of a new paragraph. The first line is indented from the left margin by a certain amount (e.g., 0.5 inches). The remaining lines in that paragraph then start flush with the left margin. A “hanging indentation” is just the opposite. The first line starts flush with the left margin. All subsequent lines are indented from that margin by a certain amount (e.g., 0.5 inches). 

  3. 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), §§2.3, 2.11, 3.5. 

How to Easily Change First Page Margins in Word

If you’re writing the degree program you’re in, SBL style normally requires four 1-inch page margins.1

There are two common kinds of exceptions to this:2

  1. Your title page, which should have 1-inch side margins but 2-inch top and bottom margins.
  2. The first page of a major section (e.g., your essay body, a chapter, an appendix, your bibliography), which should have a 2-inch top margin.

For title pages, using section breaks to achieve the necessary margin sizes is useful. But this usefulness partly depends there being a hard division in content between your title page and what comes next.

Your title page is only ever going to be one page. You’re never going to make edits to your title page and want text to flow over from there onto the next page.

When (Not) to Use Section Breaks to Change Essay Margins

The same isn’t true in the body of the other major logical sections of your document.

For these, you may very well want to make a change on the first page. That change might need to change where the division falls between that page and the one following.

In this context, using section breaks to manipulate the top margin may have undesirable side effects.

Not least among these is potentially having to manipulate the section break or the text around it multiple times in order to get the margins to work like you’re wanting.

There is, though, a much easier way to change the top margin here without creating a new section.

An Easier Way to Change First Page Margins

And that easier way is simply not to change the top margin at all.

That might sound counter intuitive. But you’re really only after the visual representation of a 2-inch top margin at the beginning of a logical section.

Word and similar applications put different things at the top of the page (e.g., margin, header, gutter). But what the software calls what it puts there isn’t something SBL style concerns itself with.

With that in mind, there emerges another much easier way of getting the page layout specified in the Student Supplement. And it doesn’t actually require you to manipulate what Word calls the top “margin” for the first page.

Instead, you’re already familiar with how Word lets you choose your font size in a unit called “points.” And aside from some other complexities that don’t matter for this discussion of margin size, 72 type points are equal to 1 inch.

You already have the other 1 inch down from the top of the page inside what Word calls its “margin” proper.

So, all you need is 1 more inch. And to create the visual effect of this inch, you can simply add 72 points of space before the first element on that page (e.g., paragraph, heading).3

You can add these 72 points via the paragraph formatting dialog box as shown below.

You can add this formatting to individual paragraphs. Or if you distinctively start new logical sections with the same element (e.g., a first-level heading), you can specify this additional spacing via that element’s style.

Conclusion

So when you’re setting the top margin of a main logical section in your document, you do need to change the visual margin.

But that doesn’t mean you need to go through the mess of using the margin function in Word to get the job done.

What you’re essentially looking for is the visual result on the page. And it’s much easier to get that result by simply adding whitespace before the first element on that page.


Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.


  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), §§2.1, 2.8. Header image provided by Etienne Girardet

  2. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §§2.11, 3.3–3.5. The table of contents for a longer document is, however, an exception to this rule and should have a 1-inch top margin. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.2. 

  3. You can come close to creating this additional first-page spacing by entering blank paragraphs at the top of the page. But doing so makes that spacing subject to some of the peculiarities of font and line sizing that you don’t have to worry about otherwise. 

You Need to Budget Your Time to Avoid Guilt and Shame

Different people prioritize different things.1 To a large degree, that’s a good thing.

It means that different people act in different ways. It means that whole swaths of things happen that wouldn’t if everyone only ever prioritized the same things (cf. 1 Cor 12:12–31).

But to put it mildly, the world doesn’t always work as it should. Sometimes, that means other people will have (or you will find reason to think they have) different expectations for what you should prioritize.

These real or suspected differences in expectations about where you should be spending your time can then easily result in social pressure.

And that social pressure is there ready to serve up a healthy portion of guilt and shame if your time budget differs from the norm it decrees.2

1. You will prioritize.

If you don’t create a budget for your finances, someone else will.

That “someone else” might be the group that designed the impulse buy area at a favorite brick-and-mortar retailer. Or it might be the marketing department that put together that advertisement campaign for that slick technology company.

The point is culture constantly suggests mutually exclusive options about where you should spend your money.

The same is true with your time. As Greg McKeown has rightly observed,

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.3

The only trouble is that “someone else’s” values might not be yours.

The “someone else” might think you should spend your time one way. Or you might at least think they think that.

But if you haven’t budgeted your time to decide what you think you need to prioritize, you won’t know whether going with the flow helps or hurts your values.

And if you don’t know what helps or hurts, there’s a good chance you may get pulled along in the wake of the social pressure coming at you from “someone else.”

2. You will give an account.

On the other hand, on the last day, none of us will be able to pass the buck to “someone else.” We’ll each be held accountable for the choices we ourselves have made (cf. Rom 2:16; 2 Cor 5:10).

Those choices will include how we decided to spend our time—whether those decisions have been intentional or by default.4

So the real question is not “How can I avoid running counter to the social pressure headed my way?”

But even assuming that it is headed your way, the question is, in the end, “Who would you rather disappoint?”

If “someone else’s” values are different from what you’re convinced yours should be, let that “someone else” be more disappointed.

Let yourself, instead, be more likely to hear that the judge thinks you’ve done well (cf. Matt 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27).

Conclusion

If you’re at all connected to other people, they’ll make requests, present needs, and show opportunities to you for things you can do with the time you have.

When it’s the right thing to do, saying “yes” to helping (and following through!) is an excellent and commendable way of showing kindness, among other things.

And if you’ve put the work in to budget your time, you’ll have a better sense of when saying “yes” is, in fact, the right thing for you to do.

On the other hand, saying “no” to a commitment might be less comfortable in the moment.

But that “no” might be what’s necessary for you to devote yourself to something more important. And when it is, it’s also a necessary exercise of self-discipline, among other things.

It’s a delicate balancing act. But when last I checked, both kindness and self-discipline were fruits of the same Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22–23).

And if you carefully work through how you need to prioritize your time, you’ll have a much better idea of how you should be exercising both your “yes” and your “no.”


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  3. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 10. 

  4. For related discussion, see McKeown, Essentialism, 33–40, 49–62; Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, expanded ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014). 

You Need to Budget Your Time to Avoid Schedule Crises

Life happens. And when life happens, plans often need to change.1 The same is true for time budgets.

But budgeting your time can help put you in a better position to avoid additional time and energy spent managing schedule crises.2

1. Schedules don’t always go as planned.

When you’re budgeting your time, there’s always the danger of unintentionally falling victim to the “planning fallacy.”

More often than we might care to admit, we tend to underestimate how much time a given commitment will really require.3 When that happens, schedules get pinched.

Fulfilling your commitments becomes more difficult simply because you’re operating under the greater constraints that have followed from that overly optimistic planning.

2. Schedules unplanned don’t always go.

But if you haven’t budgeted your time in the first place, you’re even more vulnerable to scheduling crises.

The tendency to fall into planning fallacy is still at work. But you haven’t taken the initial step toward confronting this tendency that budgeting your time entails. The tendency to exaggerate what can get done by when doesn’t get reined in.

All of this means that, when challenges arise, you’re more likely to find fulfilling your commitments to be even more difficult. You’re also more likely to find that you’re not in a position to fulfill them, either at all or at least as well as they deserve.

If you haven’t budgeted your time, your schedule might actually be over budget. But you have no way of knowing. Your only sense is your current guess at whether it’s balanced or not.

Conclusion

If your time budget is overspent, you might not immediately get hit with the reality of having too little time for too many commitments.

It might take some time. But inevitably it will come to the point where too many commitments cross the line of too few hours.

Still, that doesn’t have to happen, and creating a time budget is a great way to start having fewer crises come up in your schedule.


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  3. For further discussion, see Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 182–83. 

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