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How to Write an Essay With Scripture References


When using scripture or biblical resources in an essay, there are several points to keep in mind. The three main methods of reference citation, Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association and Chicago Style, all dictate specific rules governing the use of scripture in an essay. It is important to know which style your instructor wants you to follow and be consistent throughout your essay.

MLA Style Rules

The seventh edition of the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers" dictates that standard versions of the bible and general terms, like "Bible," "Old Testament," etc. as well as books of the bible should not be italicized, underlined or set in quotation marks. However, specific published editions should be italicized, for example "The King James Bible" would not be italicized, but "The NIV Study Bible" would be.

In parenthetical citations, those that occur immediately following a direct quote from the work, the titles of the books in the bible are often abbreviated. A period should separate the chapter and the verse. If it is the first time you are referencing a particular version, include that in the parenthetical reference, for example: (New International Version, 1 Cor. 1.14). Otherwise the reference would be formatted as: (1 Cor. 1.14).

Always include a works cited list at the end of your essay that includes all the resources used in the writing of your piece. For each entry the first line is justified far left, the second line should be indented. A biblical resource may look like this (the title of the published version should be italicized):

New International Version. Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011. Print.

APA Style Rules

According to the sixth edition of the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association," APA style is similar in many ways to MLA style. The important differences are that a colon should separate the chapter and the verse, rather than a period. Common abbreviations are utilized in APA as well. If stating the version in a parenthetical citation, on first use only, the name of the version will come after rather than precede the book, chapter and verse, for example: (James, 2:13, New International Version). Another notable difference occurs on the reference page. According to APA style, the Bible should not be included in the list of references.

Chicago Style Rules

The 16th edition of the "Chicago Manual of Style" also uses a list of common abbreviations for biblical references. A Chicago Style parenthetical citation looks much like an APA citation, for example, (Gen. 3:1-4 Revised Standard Version). The difference is that there is no internal punctuation between the verse and the version. Denote the version only on the first use unless you change versions. Like APA, Chicago Style does not reference biblical resources in the bibliography.

Common Abbreviations

Although many of the books of the bible are abbreviated the same regardless of citation style, it is important to check to be sure. Some examples of common abbreviations that are the same throughout each style are Gen. for Genesis and Gal. for Galatians. Some that differ are Est. for Esther in the "Chicago Manual of Style" versus Esth. for Esther in MLA. Chicago Style also has a separate list of even shorter abbreviations that are acceptable. Whichever list you choose, consistency is important.

About the Author

Alicia Anthony is a seasoned educator with more than 10 years classroom experience in the K-12 setting. She holds a Master of Education in literacy curriculum and instruction and a Bachelor of Arts in communications. She is completing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing: fiction, and working on a novel.

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