Authorities for SBL Style: SBL

Recently, 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: Publisher House Style

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.” 

Generation Designations (Jr., III, etc.) in Zotero for the SBL Handbook of Style

Per the SBL Handbook of Style (§, generation designations in names should be handled as follows:

First note: Tremper Longman III, “Form Criticism, Recent Developments in Genre Theory, and the Evangelical,” WTJ 47.1 (1985): 46–67.

Subsequent note: Longman, “Form Criticism,” 58.

Bibliography: Longman, Tremper, III. “Form Criticism, Recent Developments in Genre Theory, and the Evangelical.” WTJ 47.1 (1985): 46–67.

But, how do you get this output when using Zotero to insert and update your references in Microsoft Word or one of the open office suites?


For the longest time, the best thing I could come up with was to include the generation (e.g., “III”) in the surname field after a space following the surname. But, then this will repeat in subsequent notes after the surname. So, even in short-format notes, this would get you “Longman III” rather than just “Longman”.

Similarly, in the bibliography, this method will list the generation immediately after the surname rather than, as it should be, after the given name. Thus, you’d get “Longman III, Tremper” rather than “Longman, Tremper, III”.

This is all workable, of course. And it’s a far cry easier from the way things worked in the days of typing out footnotes and bibliographies with a typewriter.

But, there’s still a good bit of manual editing required to bring things fully into line at the end of the process. And, where there’s one-off manual editing, there’s the potential for missing something.

Is there a better way? Indeed, there is.

Instead of inserting the generation after the surname, the generation needs to be included in the format “, [generation]” after the given name in its field.1 Thus, for Zotero, the proper entry isn’t “Longman III” and “Tremper” but “Longman” and “Tremper, III”.

This small adjustment allows Zotero to identify the generation suffix (e.g., “, III”) and manipulate it appropriately according to what SBL style requires for a given kind of footnote or for the bibliography.

  1. For this insight, I’m grateful to Adam Smith and Brenton Wiernik in the Zotero forums

Change Word Styles to Direct Formatting in 10 Steps

One of the best ways to ensure consistent formatting in a Word document is to use styles.1 But, you might also need to be able to turn these styles into “direct” formatting.

If you apply a style to text, the text will be formatted as the style specifies (e.g., a first-level heading, a block quotation). This helps keep things consistent and avoid forgetting something like applying italics or bold here or there as you’ve done elsewhere.

If you need to change the formatting, just modify the style, and the formatting for all text with that style will update accordingly. There’s no need to update every place the style occurs individually.

So far so good, but making a single document out of many with different style definitions can be a real headache. And styles may not always transfer completely from one computer to another.

Consequently, SBL Press prescribes,

Do not use your word processor’s style option to mark different elements of the text (body text, headings, subheads). (SBL Handbook of Style, §2.1.3)

Other publishers have similar requirements.

If we’re writing for SBL Press or a publisher with similar requirements, does this mean we can’t use styles? Or, if we do use styles, do we consign ourselves to hours more editing work in order to remove them when we’re preparing to send off a typescript?

Fortunately, no. Word styles can be converted to the direct formatting that SBL Press and others want. Here are 10 steps to do just that.21

1. Add two macros to Word.

If your document doesn’t have footnotes (e.g., parenthetical citations), you can skip down below and just do steps 4–6.

If your document has footnotes, you’ll want to start by creating two macros in Word. A “macro” is a small program that runs inside an Office application like Word.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to know anything about writing a macro. Assuming you use Office 365, just open Word, and go to View > Macros > Create to get started.3

Scroll to the bottom of any macro list that comes up. Press Enter or click on a blank line after anything else in the window.

Copy and paste there the following:

Sub UnLinkNotes()
Application.ScreenUpdating = False
Dim nRng As Range, fNote As Footnote, nRef As String
With ActiveDocument
  For Each fNote In .Footnotes
    With fNote
      With .Reference.Characters.First
        .InsertAfter "]"
        .Characters.Last.Font.Superscript = True
        .Collapse wdCollapseStart
        .InsertCrossReference wdRefTypeFootnote, wdFootnoteNumberFormatted, fNote.Index
        nRef = .Characters.First.Fields(1).Result
        .InsertBefore "["
        .Characters.First.Font.Superscript = True
      End With
    End With
    Set nRng = .Range
    With nRng
      .Collapse wdCollapseEnd
      .End = .End - 1
      If .Characters.Last <> Chr(12) Then .InsertAfter vbCr
      .InsertAfter nRef & " "
      With .Paragraphs.Last.Range
        .Style = "Footnote Text"
        .Words.First.Style = "Footnote Reference"
      End With
      .Collapse wdCollapseEnd
      If .Characters.Last = Chr(12) Then .InsertAfter vbCr
    End With
  For Each fNote In .Footnotes
End With
Set nRng = Nothing
Application.ScreenUpdating = True
End Sub

After this, press Enter to go to a new line again. Then, copy and paste the following:

Sub ReLinkNotes()
Dim i As Integer, j As Integer, k As Integer, l As Integer, FtRng As Range
Application.ScreenUpdating = False
With ActiveDocument
  Set FtRng = Selection.Range
  With FtRng
    .Style = "Footnote Text"
    With .Find
      .Text = "\[([0-9]{1,})\]"
      .Replacement.Text = "\1"
      .Forward = True
      .Wrap = wdFindStop
      .Format = False
      .MatchCase = False
      .MatchWholeWord = False
      .MatchAllWordForms = False
      .MatchSoundsLike = False
      .MatchWildcards = True
      .Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    End With
    k = .Paragraphs(1).Range.Words(1) - 1
    j = k
    l = ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count - k
    For i = 1 To .Paragraphs.Count
      If .Paragraphs(i).Range.Words(1) = j + 1 Then
        j = j + 1
      End If
    Next i
  End With
  For i = k + 1 To j
    StatusBar = "Finding Footnote Location: " & i + l
    With .Content.Find
      .Text = "[" & i & "]"
      .Font.Superscript = True
      .MatchWholeWord = True
      .MatchWildcards = False
      If .Found = True Then
        With Selection
          .Footnotes.Add Range:=Selection.Range, Text:=""
        End With
      End If
    End With
  Next i
  With FtRng
    For i = k + 1 To j
      StatusBar = "Transferring Footnote: " & i + l
      With .Paragraphs(1).Range
        With ActiveDocument.Footnotes(i + l).Range
        End With
      End With
    Next i
  On Error Resume Next
  End With
  Set FtRng = Nothing
End With
Application.ScreenUpdating = True
End Sub

Click the save button, and you can close the Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications window.

Congratulations! You just added two macros to Word. One is tilted UnLinkNotes. The other is titled ReLinkNotes.

You only have to do this step once.4 Now when you go to View > Macros, you should see both UnLinkNotes and ReLinkNotes in the macro list.5

2. Save a backup copy of your file.

Just in case something goes wrong, make a backup copy of your document before you run the first macro. That way, you don’t risk losing anything in the unlikely event that something goes awry.

3. Unlink your footnotes.

In order to move Word styles to direct formatting, you’ll need to open the file in WordPad. Unfortunately, WordPad doesn’t support footnotes. So, in order not to lose your footnotes, you need to “unlink” them so that they’re saved as body text that appears in the main page area at the end of your document.6

To do this, open your document, and go to View > Macros. Click the UnLinkNotes macro, and click Run.

Be patient. Depending on how long your document is, how many footnotes you have, and how fast your computer is, unlinking the notes may take some time.

When the screen refreshes and you see “[1]” where the anchor was for your first footnote, the macro should be done.

4. Save your file in RTF.

If it isn’t already, save your file in RTF (“Rich Text Format”). RTF is much like the default DOC(X) format for Word but more basic.

You can do this in Word for Office 365 by going to the File tab > Save a Copy.7 Input your desired file name, and choose where you want to save the file.

From the file type dropdown box, choose to save the file in “Rich Text Format (*.rtf).” Then, click Save.

5. Open and resave your RTF file in WordPad.

Open your RTF file in WordPad, or a similar program. Make some minor change to the file (e.g., adding a space somewhere). Save the file. Delete your change, and save the file again.

This process will get WordPad to overwrite the existing RTF file with all Word’s styles in it. When WordPad overwrites the file, it will change all the formatting to “direct” formatting and reset the style for the whole document to “Normal.”

So, for instance, you won’t have a “Heading 1” style in use any more. But, the formatting for the Heading 1 style will still show up where you had applied that style.

Once you’ve completed this step, you can close WordPad.

6. Open your RTF in Word, and resave it in whatever format you need.

If you need to submit the file in DOC or DOCX format, go ahead and resave it in that format now. To do so, open it in Word, and use the same process as in step 4 above.

When you choose the file format, just choose whatever format besides RTF that you actually need.

7. Check for a stray period, and edit accordingly.

When you ran the UnLinkNotes macro, the final punctuation mark (probably a period) in your conclusion may have gotten moved to after your last footnote. If so, you may see no punctuation at the end of your conclusion and two at the end of your last footnote.

If this has happened, add a period after your conclusion, and delete one of the two after your last footnote.

8. Select your footnotes.

Scroll to the end of the document, and find the “1” that indicates the start of the text of your first footnote.

Use the mouse or keyboard to select the “1” and all the following text in all of your footnotes. That is, at the end of this step, you should have all your footnotes selected at the same time.

9. Relink your footnotes.

Relink your footnotes by going to View > Macros. Click the ReLinkNotes macro, and click Run.

Be patient. Depending on how long your document is, how many footnotes you have, and how fast your computer is, relinking the notes may take some time.

10. Add any needed paragraph formatting to your footnotes.

After the ReLinkNotes macro finishes, your footnotes will all be back in their places and all flush with the left-hand margin.

If you need to add a first-line indentation, add spacing between footnotes, or adjust the line spacing within the notes, you can do that now by selecting all your footnotes and applying the appropriate formatting.


After these steps, you’ll have a document with the only “Normal” style and direct formatting in use throughout. If you need to shift styles to direct formatting in another document, just repeat steps 2–10 above for that document.

By doing so, you’ll get the benefit of formatting consistency by using styles and save yourself a good amount of work if you need to remove those styles as you prepare to submit your typescript. Happy editing!

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 NordWood Themes

  2. For pointing me in the right direction when I was initially mulling over this question, I’m very grateful to the MS Office Forums

  3. If you use an earlier version of Word, the way you get to the macros tool may be a bit different. If you have difficulty finding it, try Googling for “how to create a macro in Microsoft Word [your Word year or version].” 

  4. You will need to perform this step once per computer. So, if you start using a new machine, just come back to this post to follow the instructions and find the macro text to copy and paste into Word on your new machine. 

  5. Greg Maxey has worked out a different macro that will also relink footnotes, but this macro may require a bit more preparatory work than the one recommended here. 

  6. If you use Zotero or a similar citation manager, you may want to unlink your citations before going through this process. 

  7. If you use an earlier version of Word and have difficulty saving your file in RTF, try Googling for “how to save a file in RTF in Microsoft Word [your Word year or version].” 

4 Steps to Using IATG with the SBL Handbook of Style

In the second edition of the SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS2), chapter 8 is entirely dedicated to abbreviations. According to the Handbook, “abbreviations for works not listed below should follow Siegfried M. Schwertner, Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete, 3rd ed. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014 [=IATG3]).” Here are four steps to make this process as seamless as possible.

1. Get IATG3 in Paperback

As of this writing, the hardcover printing of IATG3 currently sells for just over $280 on Amazon, although you can find it a bit cheaper by shopping around.

But, thankfully, de Gruyter has also released IATG3 in paperback. As of this writing, you can find this paperback printing on Amazon for under $60 and just over $50 elsewhere.

IATG3 isn’t an inexpensive text in either case. But, there is definitely enough in it that’s not also in SBLHS2 to make it something useful to have on hand. And the pricing for the paperback copy makes it much more feasible to have your own copy on hand if your library doesn’t have it, or if you just want to keep from having to jockey with others over who’s using the library copy.

2. Consult SBLHS2

Next, check SBLHS2 §8.4 for a corresponding abbreviation. This section has two abbreviation lists. The first is sorted by the name of the source (§8.4.1). According to this list, “Journal of Biblical Literature” becomes simply “JBL” (194).

The second abbreviation list sorts the same works and periodicals as in the first, except that the sort is done by alphabetical order of the abbreviation (§8.4.2). Generally, the order of this section follows closely the order of the first. But, there are exceptions.

So, for instance, in the first list “Journal of Biblical Literature” appears between “Journal of Bible and Religion” and “Journal of Christian Theological Research” (194). But, in the second list “Journal of Biblical Literature” appears between “Jerome Bible Commentary” and “Jewish Biblical Quarterly” since all three abbreviations begin with “JB” (238).

You will probably find the first list more useful when composing a citation or a bibliography entry and the second more useful if you come across a citation with an abbreviation and need to try to expand that abbreviation into the source it represents. But, the second list is also incredibly helpful in connection with step 4 below, and it’s practically necessary if you’re working with a print version of SBLHS2.

In any case, the main point to remember in this step is not to confuse the two lists. You don’t want to accidentally look at the second list (sorted by abbreviation) and miss something because that list isn’t alphabetized by source.

3. Consult IATG3

Like SBLHS2, IATG3 has two main abbreviation lists. The first is sorted alphabetically by abbreviation (3–191). The second is sorted alphabetically by the name of the source (195–726).

So, for instance, if you needed to cite an article from Scriptura, you would find that SBLHS2 doesn’t have a corresponding abbreviation (step 2).

On finding this, you’d then consult the second list in IATG3 (sorted by source name) and find four different sources with this name (632). If you were looking for the Scriptura produced in South Africa, you’d then find the corresponding abbreviation to be Scr.(S).

4. Double check SBLHS2 doesn’t already assign the abbreviation you found in IATG3 to some different source

For example, if you’re citing something from the “Herders biblische Studien” series, you’ll see that SBLHS2 doesn’t include an abbreviation for this source (step 2). You’d then consult IATG3 and find the abbreviation “HBS” (step 3; 424).

If you go back to SBLHS2 and look up this abbreviation, however, you find that it’s assigned to “History of Biblical Studies” (235).

What do you do in this case? If you’re writing strictly according to SBLHS2, then its abbreviations take precedence over those in IATG3 (SBLHS2 §8.4). So, “HBS” would mean “History of Biblical Studies” and not “Herders biblische Studien.”

In this case, you have basically two options. First, if you’re writing a longer-format piece (e.g., a thesis or dissertation) and can create your own abbreviation list, you can adopt your own custom abbreviations for each of these two sources. Or, if you only use one of the sources, you could define “HBS” explicitly as the source you use.

Failing this, second, your best option is not to abbreviate “Herders biblische Studien” and simply write it out in full in order to avoid ambiguity and confusion.


At first blush, the hundreds of pages of abbreviations in IATG3 can be a bit intimidating. But, by following these steps, it doesn’t take much to become accustomed to using IATG3 alongside SBLHS2 as you’re doing research and composing citations.

What other tips do you have for using IATG3 with SBLHS2?

Header image provided by Anastasia Zhenina

Citing Electronic Journals with Individually Paginated Articles

There are several good online journals that publish articles that are paginated separately from each other, rather than running the pagination continuously through a given issue (or volume). Just a couple are HTS Teologiese Studies and Scriptura (at least in recent volumes).


I’ve tended to treat these as though they all appeared at the beginning of a given issue (all starting with page “1”). But, SBL Press has clarified that this isn’t their most preferred way to treat this situation.

For articles in online journals that aren’t paginated in series, the preferred note form for the first reference to this type of article is:

[Author name], “[Title],” [Journal] [Journal volume] ([Journal volume year]): art. [Article number in the journal volume], [“p.” or “pp.” according to whether one or multiple pages is cited] [Page number], [Full DOI URL as a live link].

Thus, one example would be:

Ntozakhe Simon Cezula, “Waiting for the Lord: The Fulfilment of the Promise of Land in the Old Testament as a Source of Hope,” Scr.(S) 116 (2017): art. 3, pp. 1–15,

Subsequent references are constructed in the same way as they would be for any continuously paginated journal article.

To get the initial citation above from this bibliographic record, I had to adjust the default Zotero output for the SBL style by: (a) making “.3” into “art. 3,”—although this article isn’t in an “issue,” this seemed the best way to store it in the database—(b) adding “pp.” before the page references, and (c) adding “,” after the page reference.

The corresponding bibliography format would be:

Cezula, Ntozakhe Simon. “Waiting for the Lord: The Fulfilment of the Promise of Land in the Old Testament as a Source of Hope.” Scr.(S) 116 (2017): art. 3, pp. 1–15.

For additional information, see both Electronic Journals with Individually Paginated Articles and HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies on the SBL Handbook of Style blog.

I wonder if there may need to be a new item or data type created in Zotero to support constructing this type of citation without this additional massaging.

Or, do you other Zotero users have other insights about ways of getting closer to output above with the software and the SBL style as they stand?

Update: Brenton Wiernik suggested the following excellent workaround via Twitter.

In the Twitter discussion above, the URL I mention should be the DOI URL. But, Twitter has presented a shortened version automatically.

Discussion of this citation situation is also now pending in the Zotero forums.