Authorities for SBL Style: Classes, Miscellanea

Reading time: 5 minutes

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?

Authorities for SBL Style: Abbreviations, Spelling

Reading time: 3 minutes

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).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. 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, § 

Authorities for SBL Style: SBL

Reading time: 4 minutesRecently, we’ve been exploring some of the major authorities for SBL style. Thus far, we’ve discussed the importance of house styles maintained both by publishers and by schools.

House styles need to be learned carefully because they may make important modifications to what SBL style otherwise calls for. But of course, the whole point of making “modifications to what SBL style otherwise calls for” is that a “plain vanilla” application of SBL style covers a vast majority of cases without modification.

After a house style, SBL Press itself provides the next two highest-level authorities for SBL style—namely, the SBLHS blog and the SBLHS itself.

2. The SBLHS Blog

After your house style, you might think the next highest style authority is the SBLHS.

That’s a logical assumption. But one notch higher than the SBLHS is actually the SBLHS blog.

The reason is that, among other things on the SBLHS blog, SBL Press sometimes publishes clarifications of and corrections to the SBLHS’s current edition.

An example of a clarification would be SBL Press’s updated advice about citing J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Latina. An example of a correction would be the Press’s guidance about how to cite the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series.

This practice has the upside of not requiring the release of a new edition or printing of the SBLHS each time one of these minor adjustments needs to be noted. But it does also make the SBLHS blog an important resource to consult when you are applying SBL style.

3. The SBLHS

After the SBLHS blog, we come finally to the SBLHS itself.

Perhaps not much needs to be said under this heading. But in order to apply the guidance of the SBLHS, you do need to know what it has to say. And there’s really not a better way to do that than simply to read it carefully and reread relevant portions repeatedly as needed to refresh your memory.

(And surely the SBLHS is on the top of the list of things we’re all most interested to read anyhow, right? ;-))

One main reason for this is that, overall, the SBLHS is quite helpfully organized. Even so, sometimes it has advice in places you might not naturally think to look for it.

As an example, the SBLHS references Siegfried Schwertner’s Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete (IATG) logically enough under §8.4, dealing with abbreviations. But there’s no mention of IATG under the SBLHS’s §3.4 on “other authorities.” So if you only think to look in §3 because you’re looking for another abbreviation authority in addition to the SBLHS, you’ll miss the guidance the SBLHS gives in §8.

True, the SBLHS might not be the most riveting thing you’ve read. Over time though, the effort you put into “sharpening the saw” by learning the SBLHS will give that time back to you multiple times over.


In sum, if you haven’t yet, subscribe to the SBLHS blog, and stay aware of the posts that the Press releases there. Do not pass “Go.” You may also want to save posts that you find particularly important for later reference.

By the same token, if you haven’t read the SBLHS cover-to-cover, make a plan and schedule some time to do so. Then, as you find yourself unsure of what the SBLHS’s guidance is in a particular case, take a few moments to look it up and reread the relevant material.

If you follow these strategies, you’ll soon find yourself with a much strengthened knowledge of SBL style. And you’ll find it increasingly easier to use that style properly without having to look things back up.

What have you learned about SBL style by reading the SBLHS and the SBLHS blog?

Header image credit: SBL Press

Authorities for SBL Style: School House Style

Reading time: 5 minutesWe’ve previously started exploring authorities for SBL style by discussing publishers’ house styles. A publisher’s house style might be based on SBLHS, but it might also require several things that differ from the SBLHS and other authorities. It isn’t spelled out in the SBLHS, but there’s another application of this principle if you’re a student submitting work for class.

1.2. From Your School

That is, if your institution has particular style guidelines, you should follow these before anything else in the SBLHS. SBL Press won’t be grading your seminar paper, your professor will.

1.2.1. A Case Study: Footnote Numbers

For example, at the Kearley Graduate School of Theology (KGST), we tend to ask for a pretty “plain vanilla” application of SBL style with very minimal changes. We’re also pretty committed to Microsoft’s DOCX standard. So one place where we suggest something different from the SBLHS and other authorities is in formatting footnote numbers. The SBLHS Standard versus the Microsoft Word Default

If you read carefully, the SBLHS asks for full-height footnote numbers. Then you add a period (thus: “1.”), then a space, then the content of your footnote. (In this, the SBLHS follows like the Chicago Manual, which we’ll discuss in a separate post.) But Microsoft Word’s default way of producing footnotes is with a superscripted note number (thus: “1”), followed by a space, followed by the content of your footnote. Getting Full-height Footnote Numbers with Following Periods in Microsoft Word

It is technically possible to get Microsoft Word to produce full-height footnote numbers, followed by a period. But it isn’t nearly as easy as you might hope.

Formatting footnote numbers this way in Microsoft Word requires some special manipulation. You can manually correct the note number formatting, use a macro, or do some other similar operation. Any of these workflows is doable if you need to produce full-height note numbers followed by periods. But each of them does require a good bit of extra effort. KGST’s Solution

Consequently, we simply haven’t seen the point in requiring what is technically most consistent with the SBLHS and other authorities. The effort required to produce this output vastly exceeds the formatting benefits it yields.

So for KGST’s purposes, if you want to use full height footnote numbers, you can. A few students do just that, and that’s certainly not wrong.

But we give you the option of deciding simply to go with Word’s superscripted default. And unless you just enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a full-height footnote number, followed by a period, I usually recommend my students focus on their content rather than this optional formatting extra.

1.2.2. A Suggestion: Learning SBL Style Together

Different institutions have different dynamics. And different faculty (or graders) have different relationships with students. So you’ll need to weigh how this suggestion applies in your context.

But generally, those of us charged with assessing how well SBL style has been applied haven’t ourselves gone to school for copyediting, completely memorized the SBLHS, or taken second jobs with SBL Press to learn the style on the job.

Instead, we’re practitioners who have used the style in order to learn it. And sometimes, you might see something that we miss.

There have been many times when a careful student has asked a question about SBL style that I end up learning something from. Rereading the SBLHS or other authorities in light of that question shows me something that I’d missed or assumed previously.

So if you’re charged with assessing SBL style, be open to learning more about the style from those whose work you assess. You might learn something that will be helpful in your own writing or other assessments down the road.

On the other hand, if you’re a student and are seeing something different after some diligent consideration, think about asking a question if and as that’s appropriate for your context. Don’t try to play the “gotcha” game or the “please do my homework for me” game. But an academic environment can provide a wonderful setting for students and faculty to learn SBL style together.


In the end, whether you’re writing for your school or for a particular publisher, you need to be aware of style guidelines you need to follow that might differ from a “plain vanilla” reading of the SBLHS. Doing so will help your work square with the expectations of your professors or graders who will be evaluating it.

There are also countless ways we can help each other learn SBL style, whatever our status, be that faculty, teaching assistant, or student. And with as much of a formatting standard as the SBLHS has become, learning it well is a key way to “sharpen the saw,” as it is with learning other house styles that we may need to abide by.

What departures from the SBLHS does your school require? What have you learned from your students or classmates about SBL style?

Header image credit: SBL Press

Authorities for SBL Style: Publisher House Style

Reading time: 4 minutes

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.


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.”