Wednesday, March 18, 2020

10 Tips for Quoting Scripture in Your Writing

by Katy Kauffman @KatyKauffman28

There’s study mode, and then there’s writing mode. When we’re jotting down Bible verses in our spiritual journals, we normally don’t think about writing down the Bible translation. Or where the quotation marks go. Or if a period should be before the reference or after it. We’re in study mode, fixated on a verse’s beauty or power, and rightfully so. But when we quote Scripture in our writing, it’s not just about getting the words right, but remembering the correct formatting. Not because we’re legalistic or the punctuation police will come after us, but so we can help our readers. And our editors.

When we format our Bible citations correctly, we help our readers to appreciate Scripture more. They will be able to look up a verse on their own in the translation we’ve used and enjoy it longer. It’s in many of these moments that I hear something special from God as I meditate on a verse an author has shared. 

Also, when we remember the rules for citing Scripture, we make our writing less cluttered. Our punctuation won’t cause any distractions for our readers, some of whom may be our future editors. Some editors may want to use our work, but they don’t have the time (or manpower) to edit everything that is submitted. The more we can do on our own to prepare our writing for publication, the better chance we will have to be published and bless people’s hearts.

So when you quote Scripture, keep these formatting and citation tips in mind.1 They will make things easier on your editors and smoother for your readers.

10 Tips for Quoting Scripture
  1. Always, always, always give the Bible translation for the verses you quote. (Even on memes!)
  2. In running text (i.e., paragraph form), cite a Bible reference in the following way: “God is love” (1 John 4:8 NKJV). Notice there’s no comma within the parentheses, and the period goes after the ending parenthesis.
  3. If your Bible verse is longer than three or four lines, make it a block quote (all lines are indented on the left), and put the period at the end of the verse, so that it looks like this—“have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)
  4. If you’re writing a book and using one translation most of the time, you can put a note on the copyright page and not mention the translation every time you use it. Look inside the Bible to see what language to use for the copyright information. For instance, our publishing company used the following note in one of our books: “Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” 
  5. Some editors (like me) may allow you to mention the Bible translation once in an article or a devotion. When a translation is used often in an article, I put an asterisk after the first reference, like the following: “God is love” (1 John 4:8 NKJV*). Then at the end of the article, I make this note—“*All Scripture verses are taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.” If only one version is used, then I omit the “unless” phrase.
  6. On your book’s copyright page, remember to provide the correct copyright information for every Bible translation you have used. Look on the copyright page of your Bible translation to see how much of that version can be quoted without permission.
  7. In your writing, use quotation marks or italics to quote Scripture, but please don’t use both (unless someone is talking in part of the verse). Your publisher may suggest which to use, but whichever you pick, remember to be consistent.  
  8. Please be sure to double-check the wording of Bible verses you quote (sometimes we remember them differently than a translation states them), and double-check the punctuation.
  9. If you start quoting in the middle of a verse, you don’t have to put an ellipsis at the beginning of the quote. 
  10. If you leave off the end of a verse, you don’t have to use an ellipsis to show that. But do use it to show something has been left out of the middle of a verse, and remember to put a space on either side of the ellipsis. 

At this point, you may think, Nope, I just wanted to quote Scripture. I’m with you. It can be a lot to remember. Or these may be things you’ve been practicing for years. Once I understood the rules, these tips became second nature, and it was easier to honor the wonderful, sacred text that Scripture is.

What Bible translation do you use the most, and were any of these tips new to you? I’d like to read your comments below, so be sure to join the conversation!

Note: These tips are taken from The Chicago Manual of Style.


Katy Kauffman is an award-winning author, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. She loves connecting with writers and working alongside them in compilations, such as Feed Your Soul with the Word of God, Collection 1 which is a 2020 Selah Awards finalist. Lighthouse’s newest compilation, The Power to Make a Difference, released January 2020. 

In addition to online magazines, Katy’s writing can be found at,, the Arise Daily blog, and two blogs on writing. She loves spending time with family and friends, making jewelry, and hunting for the best donuts. Connect with her at her blog, The Scrapbooked Bible Study, and on Facebook and Twitter


  1. Great tips Ms. Katy. Keeping this as a handy reference ma'am.

  2. I've never seen these rules so completely expressed outside of style manuals--so great you have posted them here--and explained them so clearly. Great job!! Scripture references are one of the consistent things I have to edit. I spend a lot of time looking up what translation someone is using (when it would take seconds for the writer to note the version!) Thanks for these, Katy. I am bookmarking this for my writers to reference!

    1. Thank you for that kind comment, Julie! I appreciate your sharing it too. I know what you mean. Checking Bible verses can take a lot of time. They're definitely worth it, but it's helpful when we all cite them as best as we can. God bless your editing work and writing ministry!

  3. Terrific specific guidance and much appreciated. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome, Cathy! Nice to see you here. Happy writing.

  4. Thank you for explaining this so well! You just made my writing life easier!

    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Crystal! Thank you.

  5. Thank you, Katy, for this informative post. I didn’t realize I need to put the reference in parentheses if I used a block quote. It’s helpful to have this technical information in one place.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jeannie! I am glad it was helpful. :)

  6. Printing these for reference. Thanks, Katy

  7. These are great tips. Thank you , Katy!

  8. How does one treat Bible verse citations in dialogue? Does one use numerals or are numbers writted as words? For example:
    a) “It doesn’t matter what you think because if this is what Genesis chapter two, verse seventeen tells us, then it must be true,” John said.
    b) “It doesn’t matter what you think because if this is what Genesis 2:17 tells us, then it must be true,” John said.

    I have been taught that numbers are (almost) always written as words in dialogue, becaue we speak words, not numbers.

  9. Am working on manuscript and had trouble how I would write scripture verses in my work and googled if there would be any. Thank God that I came across what you have posted here. Katy, this is a great help. May God bless you more.

  10. Thank you so much. This is excellent. I am editing a manuscript for a study a man is doing on Revelation-not my usual subject matter-and I was wondering about the ellipsis, among other things. You answered all my questions. Thank you so much.

  11. I'm editing a devotional and am unsure how to handle punctuation for the verse which precedes my writer's explication. When referencing a verse that ends in punctuation other than an end stop, should I end the verse with the exact punctuation from the translation, or replace it with a period, or use ellipses to indicate this verse is part of a longer sentence? i.e. Matt. 5:44 "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"--This verse is part of a sentence that continues for more than one verse.

  12. I have the same question. I've been searching for the answer all over the internet. I even signed up for a thirty day free trial of the I couldn't find the answer there either.

    It seems that every example is discussed, or question about the comma answered, except for this one that Kathy asked. Allow me to reword the question just a little:

    When referencing a verse that ends in punctuation other than an end stop (i.e. "?", "!", "."), should I end the verse with the exact punctuation (specifically, when it is a comma) from the translation, followed by an ellipses, and finally closing with the quotation marks, to indicate this verse is part of a longer sentence, and when the quote is at the end of the final sentence in said paragraph?

    Whew! That's a mouth full! (Side note/question: how do you use punctuation when discussing punctuation? Doh! Never mind the side note/question. Let's stick with the main question at hand).


    Entire verse (KJV):
    "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."  Matthew 5:11 (KJV)

    Partial verse:
    "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,"  Matthew 5:11 (KJV)

    Which is correct?

    persecute you," (Matthew 5:11).

    persecute you" (Matthew 5:11).

    persecute you..." (Matthew 5:11).

    persecute you,..." (Matthew 5:11).

    persecute you ... " (Matthew 5:11).

    persecute you, ..." (Matthew 5:11).


    persecute you, ... " (Matthew 5:11).

    I have not yet found a standard or even an opinion on this. So, I will offer mine. I think it should be:

    persecute you..." (Matthew 5:11).


    persecute you" (Matthew 5:11).

    Any insight and wisdom on this will be appreciated and received. :)