Quote the Bible…Carefully

By Steve Laube

In talking with readers it is interesting to ask whether they bother to look up a Bible citation or question whether a Bible verse has been quoted correctly. Very few actually verify quotations or citations. But maybe they should. The Word of God is powerful and should not be taken for granted. There are many readers who admit to skipping over Bible verses when quoted in full. The thought is that they are already familiar with those words and that they want to get into what the author is saying. Ironic isn’t it?

In the editing process one of the jobs of the copy-editor is to verify the accuracy of quotations and citations. And not just Bible verses. I once had a magazine editor ask me to prove that a quotation I cited was verbatim and not paraphrased. It took me a full day at the library to find that book again, make of copy of the quotation, and send it to that editor. (A tip for your research…write down the source, including the page number, otherwise you may never find it again! Some are using their smart phones to take a picture of the page and file the photo in Evernote.)

Verify the Translation

When quoting the Bible make sure you know which translation you are using for which quotations, especially if you go from one to the other. Bible translations are copyrighted material (with the notable exception of The King James Version) and should be properly cited. That is why you see something like this on the copyright page of a book:

Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

You can see above that in this example the ESV (English Standard Version) is the primary version quoted and anything else that has (NIV) after the quotation is from the New International Version.

Permissions vary from translation to translation. Make sure you look up their restrictions before using one in your book. For example the ESV allows for the use of 1,000 verses without permission as long as those verses are not a complete book of the Bible or the entire text of the book you are creating. But the NIV allows for only 500 verses.

Years ago I was editing a manuscript and about half way through the book the tone began to change in the writing. I was unsure why until I looked up a few of the Bible verses quoted. The first half of the book the author was using the New International Version. The second half he was using the Good News Translation. They are very different in style. But the author did not tell the reader about the switch. When asked, the author admitted that he had gone to a cabin to write the last half of the book and the only Bible he had with him was the Good News Translation so that is what he used.

Verify the Citation

Many times a writer will simply cite a particular verse like John 3:16 or group a number of verses in a list. Usually this means that the verses cited are support material for a particular point. It is important that you proof read your citations to make sure they are correct. If you don’t there can be unintended results. In a newsletter from a missionary friend of ours, Tom Blanchard, he told the following story:

After posting one lesson on the Prophets, which I had proof-read several times, I received an email from a confused student, who questioned my assertion that “This is one of the most encouraging and magnificent verses in all of the Old Testament.” I had meant to reference ”Isaiah 25:8” (He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…). But I typed “Isaiah 28:8.” I could understand his confusion when I looked it up (For all tables are full of filthy vomit, with no space left.)

Oh dear. I suppose that’s a remarkable verse, too, but it wasn’t what I had in mind. Quick, quick, post a correction and publicly admit my mistake! It’s so good for the soul.

Very funny! The moral of the story is to be careful otherwise you will become the topic of Psalm 44:13.

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