How to Easily Cite ANF and NPNF with Zotero

The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF) series are now well over a century old.1 But they continue to prove useful resources. And when you need to cite them, Zotero can easily handle SBL style’s special requirements for these works.

Use a Critical Text First

Useful as they are however, the translations in ANF and NPNF aren’t based on critical texts of the fathers. And the manuscripts of the fathers’ works sometimes evidence different readings, just as do manuscripts of biblical literature.

So, before you rely on ANF or NPNF, you should typically ask yourself if there’s a better text available. Often, there will be.

The Fathers of the Church (FC) series published by Catholic University of America Press can often be a good alternative. The introduction to each volume typically tells you what text the translation is based on. So, you can double check before opting to work with that text.

What SBL Style Requires

But let’s say you look around for a better option than ANF or NPNF and, for whatever reason, you don’t find one. In that case, the general citation pattern SBL style requires is as follows

  1. Tertullian, On Baptism 1 (ANF 3:669).

If you’re citing NPNF, however, there’s an additional wrinkle that you need to distinguish between the first or second series. SBL Press’s guidance on this question has changed over the years. But according to the SBL Handbook of Style blog, the example given for citing NPNF in the SBL Handbook of Style’s second edition isn’t the most consistent with what the style does in similar cases elsewhere.2 So,

Contra the example given in SBLHS, the series number is best indicated by a 1 or 2 plus a solidus preceding the volume number (not a superscripted 1 or 2). Thus volume 12 of the second series would be cited as follows:

NPNF 2/12:85–963

Consequently, as SBL Press explains, you’d generally have a fuller have a citation like

44. Augustine, Letters of St. Augustin 28.3.5 (NPNF 1/1:252).4

How to Use Zotero to Cite ANF and NPNF

To cite ANF and NPNF as SBL style requires with Zotero, you’ll first want to have the current style installed.

How to Set up Your Zotero Records

Once you do, you’ll generally want one record for ANF, one for NPNF 1, and one for NPNF 2. You’ll then add to the Extra field for each of these records

  • annote: <i>ANF</i> for ANF and
  • annote: <i>NPNF</i> for both NPNF 1 and NPNF 2.

These entries will tell Zotero to bypass its normal process of composing citations and instead use the abbreviations you’ve specified.5

How to Create a Citation

So, if you wanted to recreate quoted above from the SBL Press blog, you’d

  • create a citation with your NPNF 1 resource,
  • leave the locator field set at “Page,” and if you’re citing NPNF 1 or NPNF 2, enter the corresponding series number and a forward slash (thus: “1/” or “2/”),
  • in the locator field, enter (also) your citation’s volume and page number or range (thus: 1:252 or 1:252–53),6
  • in the prefix field, enter everything you want Zotero to include before the series abbreviation (e.g., “Augustine, <i>Letters of St. Augustin</i> 28.3.5 (“), and
  • in the suffix field, enter the closing parenthesis that should follow the page number (thus: “)”).


If you look carefully enough, you’ll probably often find you’re often able to find better translations of the fathers than what are included in ANF and NPNF. But when you can’t, these series can be incredibly helpful standbys that Zotero can help you manage your citations for, despite SBL style’s special requirements.

  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 13 July 2017; Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), 101. 

  3. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  4. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  5. Normally, you would want to specify separate abbreviations for separate sources. But in most cases an abbreviation-based citation in SBL style requires a space between the abbreviation and the locator. And there’s not currently a good way to tell Zotero to exclude this space if the citation is for NPNF 1 or NPNF 2. Something like this is what would be required to use an abbreviation like <i>NPNF</i> 1, <i>NPNF</i> 1/, <i>NPNF</i> 2, or <i>NPNF</i> 2/ successfully. So, for the time being the user needs to supply the series information in the abbreviated citation. 

  6. Zotero will only automatically convert hyphens to en dashes and truncate page number ranges if page numbers, commas, and hyphens are the only things in the locator field. Having the colon for the volume number disrupts this flow. So, you’ll need to enter in the locator field exactly what you want Zotero to output. In the future, we may be able to adjust the style to provide the volume number directly. In this scenario, you would want to have one record in Zotero for each volume number in ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2. If your piece has a bibliography, you would then also need to condense the references so that you listed a full reference to ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2 just once in your bibliography or in an abbreviations section at the front of your piece. 

How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style

You might think that citing a grammar according to the SBL Handbook of Style would be pretty straightforward.1 And you’d be right, but there are several special cases to account for.

1. Cite section numbers wherever possible.

Instead of citing a grammar by page number, you should cite by section number wherever possible to give the most precise reference. You’ll designate a single section with “§” and a section range with “§§”.

2. Cite grammars by abbreviation where applicable.

For many common Hebrew and Greek grammars, the SBL Handbook specifies an abbreviation by which to cite a given grammar (§8.4). You may find others also when you check IATG3.

For instance, Gesenius-Kautzch-Cowley is cited simply by the abbreviation “GKC”. Blass-Debrunner-Funk is cited simply as “BDF”.2

The full bibliographic information for these sources then goes in an abbreviations list and should not appear in the bibliography.

3. Adjust your reference manager’s output accordingly.

If you use reference manager software, you’ll want to consider how best to get that software to produce the abbreviated references you need for cases like this. If you use Zotero, you have two main options.

a. Enter footnotes manually, or use the prefix and suffix fields.

If you need to cite only one or more grammars only by an abbreviation(s), you can simply add a footnote and type the appropriate text without going through Zotero’s “add citation” process.

If you are citing a grammar(s) and another source(s) in a Zotero footnote, you can simply add the appropriate grammar citation text to the prefix or suffix fields of your existing citation, depending on whether you want the grammar citation to come before or after the other source(s) you are citing.

So, for instance, when adding or editing a citation, you could type “BDF §458;” into the prefix field to add a citation to Blass-Debrunner-Funk §458. Zotero would then build this text into the footnote so that the footnote will look as it should.

The upside of this method is that it is quite straightforward. The downside is that any sources you cite in this way won’t appear in any bibliography Zotero generates for your document.

SBL Press doesn’t want sources cited by abbreviation in a bibliography anyhow, but in some cases, you might find that you want this (e.g., requirements from a professor, journal, or volume editor).

In that event, your best option will be to edit the bibliography that Zotero prepares to add any sources you’ve included in your footnotes simply by adding their abbreviations as text. Since you entered those citations simply as text, Zotero won’t “know” to add these sources to your bibliography unless you make those changes directly.

b. Install the current SBL style in your reference manager.

Other ways of getting this output automatically from Zotero may be on the horizon. But things are really quite easy if you have the current version of the SBL style installed.

Not long ago, you would have needed to install a custom variant of the main SBL style or edit the style yourself. That’s no longer necessary, however. The changes necessary to cite grammars and other sources by abbreviation are now part of the main SBL style.

You can get the style from the Zotero repository directly. Or if you drop your name and email in the form below, I’ll drop you an email about that style. I’ll also include the style for the Catholic Biblical Association, which uses many of the same abbreviations as SBL style.

Once you have the style installed, for any source you need to cite by an abbrevation, just add Annote: [abbreviation] in that Zotero resource’s “Extra” field. So, for instance, for Blass-Debrunner-Funk, you would add Annote: BDF.

The upside of this method is that you can cite grammars by abbreviation while using the Zotero add citation dialog.

The downside is that you might need to edit your bibliography, if you have one, to remove these sources and move them to an abbreviation list (per SBL style’s requirement).

But you will probably know pretty well which few sources are cited by abbreviations. So, you should be able to edit your bibliography as needed pretty quickly to relocate these sources.


In the end, citing grammars according to the SBL Handbook of Style is quite straightforward.

If you want to cite them while using a reference manager, the process may be a bit more detailed to set up since the manager may not have a mechanism for handling largely custom citation patterns like the abbreviations SBL Press specifies for common grammars.

But with some careful thought about how you want to approach citing these kinds of resources, you can certainly streamline them into your existing citation process.

  1. Header image provided by SBL Press

  2. Also important is SBL Press’s discussion of citing Herbert Smyth’s Greek Grammar

Daily Gleanings: New Titles from SBL Press (9 July 2019)

New from SBL Press is Marvin Sweeney, ed., Theology of the Hebrew Bible, Volume 1: Methodological Studies. According to the publisher,

This volume presents a collection of studies on the methodology for conceiving the theological interpretation of the Hebrew Bible among Jews and Christians as well as the treatment of key issues, such as creation, the land of Israel, divine absence, and others.

Also new from SBL Press is Marianne Grohmann and Hyun Chul Paul Kim, eds., Second Wave Intertextuality and the Hebrew Bible. According to the publisher, the

essays from a diverse group of scholars offer new approaches to biblical intertextuality that examine the relationship between the Hebrew Bible, art, literature, sociology, and postcolonialism. Eight essays in part 1 cover inner-biblical intertextuality, including studies of Genesis, Judges, and Qoheleth, among others. The eight postbiblical intertextuality essays in part 2 explore Bakhtinian and dialogical approaches, intertextuality in the Dead Sea Scrolls, canonical critisicm, reception history, and #BlackLivesMatter. These essays on various genres and portions of the Hebrew Bible showcase how, why, and what intertextuality has been and present possible potential directions for future research and application.

Daily Gleanings: New Books (18 June 2019)

"Documents from the Luciferians" cover imageColin Whiting has a new volume out with SBL Press, Documents from the Luciferians: In Defense of the Nicene Creed:

This volume includes English translations of several documents written by the Luciferians, a group of fourth-century Christians whose name derives from the bishop Lucifer of Cagliari, that highlight connections between developments in Christian theology and local Christian communities in the course of the fourth century. The most important document, the Luciferian petition called the Libellus precum, has never been published in English. The theological tract De Trinitate was last published in English in an otherwise unknown anonymous version from 1721. An introduction provides an overview of the development of late antique theology and Christianity, a discussion of Luciferian beliefs, and discussions of the texts.

Forthcoming from Bloomsbury this November is Matthew Crawford and Nick Zola’s The Gospel of Tatian: Exploring the Nature and Text of the Diatessaron.

The volume is currently available for pre-order. Ahead of the volume’s release, Bloomsbury has published an interesting interview with the editors about the volume. They comment, in part,

There are several provocative chapters in this volume. Francis Watson contends that the Diatessaron is much better read as a Gospel in its own right, and not a gospel harmony. James Barker, on the other hand, suggests that however Tatian might have classified his work, he could not have hoped to supplant the Gospels that came before him. Ian Mills argues that what is commonly considered the oldest surviving fragment of the Diatessaron (the Dura Fragment) is actually a piece of some other gospel harmony entirely. Charles Hill overturns a general consensus by demonstrating there is no direct evidence that Tatian employed extra-canonical written Gospels as sources for the Diatessaron. Finally, the opening chapter features the last published essay of a recently passed pioneer of the field, Tjitze Baarda; and the final chapter (by Nicholas Zola, one of the co-editors) calls for a moratorium on citing the Diatessaron in the apparatus of the Greek New Testament, after tracing the general failure of this enterprise.

For the balance of the interview, see the original post.

Authorities for SBL Style: Classes, Miscellanea

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

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, §