Forward versus Foreword

Two commonly confused words are forward and foreword. Forward is a directional term meaning “near, being at” or “moving, tending, or leading toward a position” (Merriam Webster Online). Foreword is a section of a book for “prefatory comments … especially when written by someone other than the author” (Merriam Webster Online). For example:

As we move forward in this project …

As the author mentioned in the foreword to her volume ….

A useful device for remembering how to spell foreword is to think of its constituent parts: fore (near the front) + word (something written).

For additional commonly confused terms and guidelines for proper word usage, see CMS §5.220.

x Times: Indicating Multiple Occurrences

At times an author may wish to indicate that a term or concept appears multiple times in a pericope. When such a notation occurs in the main text, spell out the word times or use an equivalent phrase (e.g., twice). When the notation occurs in parentheses or a note, use an arabic numeral + “x” (no space between the number and the x).

The reinforcing use of the infinitive absolute הרע is found in the Hebrew Bible only twice, at 1 Sam 12:25a and 1 Chr 21:17.

16. The question השלום is asked more persistently in 2 Kgs 9 (5x).

“Altar” is mentioned three times in relation to Jerusalem and Judah (2 Kgs 23:9, 12 [2x]) and five times in connection with Josiah’s reforms in Bethel and the north (23:15 [2x], 16, 17, 20).

38. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible התהלך לפני is found only in Gen 17:1; 24:40; 48:15; 1 Sam 12:2 (2x); Esth 2:11; Pss 56:14; 116:9.

As the last two examples above illustrate, when a term or concept appears multiple times in a single verse, include the notation in parentheses or brackets immediately following the verse citation.

When appropriate, include the specific references in parentheses or a note.

Example 1: The title verse of the book of Amos dates his visionary work to the days of Uzziah and of Jeroboam II, and the book mentions Bethel critically several times and Dan once.

Better: The title verse of the book of Amos dates his visionary work to the days of Uzziah and of Jeroboam II, and the book mentions Bethel critically several times (3:14; 4:4; 5:5–6) and Dan once (8:14).

Example 2: משסה (v. 14) is a term for “booty” five times in the Latter Prophets.

Better: משסה (v. 14) is a term for “booty” five times in the Latter Prophets.15

15. Isa 42:22, 24; Jer 30:16; Hab 2:7; Zeph 1:13. In Isa 42:22, as here, combined with the more common בז.

The phrase “when appropriate” requires a certain degree of authorial judgment. It is common for authors, especially those still operating in “dissertation mode,” to show their work by listing all the references relevant to a specific point. We discourage this dumping of concordance lists into parentheses and notes for several reasons. First, including long lists of references tends to clutter the text and thus detract from the main point being communicated. Second, such reference lists are rarely used by readers and thus serve no meaningful purpose. Third, readers who wish to explore a given point generally know how to use a print concordance or electronic search program; an author need only point such readers in the right direction, not do their work for them. Fourth and last, if the material is to be published in a book, each of those hundreds (or thousands) of references will need to be collected into an index; multiplying references unnecessarily turns a miserable task into a monstrous one.

We recommend that authors provide selective evidence to support their arguments. One, two, or three examples generally suffice to illustrate a point being made and do not run the risk of overshadowing that point in the process.

The examples here have been modified from:

Auld, A. Graeme. 2017. Life in Kings: Reshaping the Royal Story in the Hebrew Bible. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Diodorus Siculus

Diodorus Siculus was a first-century BCE Greek historian. He is best known for his work Bibliotheca historica (Library of History). It is common to encounter references with only Diodorus Siculus’s name but not his work. However, to maintain consistency with other ancient references with an identifiable author, we recommend that authors list Diodorus Siculus’s name and work, using the following abbreviation:

Bib. hist. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica

Thus references to the work should include Diodorus Siculus’s name, an abbreviation for the work, and the specific part of the text being referenced:

(Diodorus Siculus, Bib. hist. 9.1)

Bibliotheca historica comprises forty books, although only books 1–5 and 11–20 and scattered fragments survive intact. Each book is further subdivided into chapters and sections. The example above cites chapter 1 of book 9; to cite section 3 of chapter 1, one would write: Diodorus Siculus, Bib. hist. 9.1.3.

When an English translation of the work is quoted, the translator’s name should be included in brackets (see SBLHS 2 §6.4.2):

(Diodorus Siculus, Bib. hist. 9.1 [Oldfather])

The Greek text and English translations of Bibliotheca historica are available online at the Perseus Collection (books 1–5 [Greek], books 9–17 [Greek, English], books 18–20 [Greek]) and in hardcopy through the Loeb Classical Library (Greek and English). Further information about the author and work can be found here.

Conceptual Metaphor Theory

In 1980 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson published Metaphors We Live By, a short book that examined metaphors as fundamental units of human thought. The basic argument was that certain attributes associated with one conceptual domain “map” (or, in later theories, “blend”) with those of another, creating a “conceptual metaphor.” For instance, ideas associated with journeying (e.g., walking on a path, starting, stopping) map onto the concept of living, creating the idea that life is a journey. For more information on conceptual metaphor theory, see here.

Since the publication of Metaphors We Live By, numerous publications have expanded the work of Lakoff and Johnson, and this theory, or variations of it, is quickly becoming a major method by which scholars study biblical metaphors. It is therefore helpful to establish some basic style guidelines for our readers:

1. Image Schemas, Conceptual Domains, Input Spaces, Frames: Use small caps to indicate abstract conceptual domains and input spaces for maps and blends. For example,




2. Conceptual Metaphors: Use small caps without capital letters to denote conceptual metaphors in the abstract. For example,

life is a journey

love is magic

time is money

3. Metaphorical Expressions: Use regular sentence formatting to denote concrete examples of conceptual metaphors, with the metaphorical expression italicized as needed. For example,

“I’m at a crossroads in my life.”

“He’s under her spell.”

“You are wasting my time.”

These style guidelines are designed, of course, for the main text and notes. Authors (and publishers) should consider carefully how the use of small caps for image schemas or conceptual metaphors will appear in titles of books, essays, or articles and in headings. For example, a conceptual metaphor in an essay title will be set lowercase in most online listings, thus perhaps altering the meaning the author intends. As always, authors should strive for clarity of expression in the various contexts in which their works will be consulted or accessed.

Work Cited

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Le Monde de la Bible

The SBLHS 2 §§8.4.1 and 8.4.2 contains the following abbreviation:

MdB Le Monde de la Bible

Readers familiar with the Labor et Fides series will think the italics an error. There are, however, multiple publications with the title “Le Monde de la Bible,” including a journal and at least two independent volumes. We propose expanding our abbreviations list to distinguish between the different publications.

 1. In 1971, Labor et Fides established a series by the name Le Monde de la Bible. Citations of works in this series should include the following abbreviation in roman type:

MdB Le Monde de la Bible


 Lance, Darrell H. Archéologie et Ancien Testament. MdB 21. Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1990.

 2. In 1977, the Bayard group established a French journal, Le Monde de la Bible, taking over from another academic journal, Bible et terre sainte (BTS, see SBLHS 2 §§8.4.1, 8.4.2). The Bayard journal should include the following abbreviation in italics:

MdB Le Monde de la Bible


Magness, Jodi. “Dernieres nouvelles de Qumrân.” MdB 151 (2003): 14–17.

Although the journal is produced quarterly, each issue is numbered separately, and there is no volume number.

For interested readers, the journal is also published online in English and has two companion sites in German and Italian. Because the content varies between these sites, we recommend different abbreviations for each site:

WoB The World of the Bible
MdelB Il Mondo della Bibbia
WUB Welt und Umwelt der Bibel


Cannuyer, Christian. “Vivere l’eternità di Rê e Osiride.” MdelB 132 (2016): 2–9.

Zimmerling, Peter. “Was ist Mystik? Hintergründe und Zugänge.” WUB 3 (2016): 8–13.

The Bayard group also produces a number of e-books associated with the journal. These should be treated as books, with the journal listed as the author.


Le Monde de la Bible. Des chrétiens vers Pékin: Sur la route de la soie. Montrouge cedex: Bayard, 2016.

The World of the Bible. The Bible and the Koran. Montrouge cedex: Bayard, 2015.

3. There are also a number of independent volumes by the name La monde de la Bible. These should be treated as books, without abbreviation:

Alexander, Pat, John William Drane, David Field, Alan Millard, and Etienne Huser. Le monde de la Bible. Bale: Brunnen; Turnhout: Brepols, 1996.

Lemaire, André. Le monde de la Bible. Paris: Gallimard, 1998.

In keeping with the SBLHS §, one should not capitalize the “monde” in the French book titles, as they would not be capitalized in a normal French sentence.

Epistle versus epistle

1. The Problem

An earlier post addressed the question of when to write Gospel and when gospel; this post deals with a similar issue: when one should write Epistle and when epistle. The same principles discussed here will apply to the synonyms Letter and letter.

SBLHS §4.3.6 offers seven examples of when Epistle or Epistles is to be capitalized; no examples of the lowercase form of the word are provided.

Catholic Epistles (or Letters)

Epistle to the Romans (etc.)

Epistles, the (as canonical division distinct from Gospels, Acts, and Apocalypse)

Epistles, Paul’s (as canonical division)

General Epistles (or General Letters)

Pastoral Epistles

Pauline Epistles (or Letters)

Prison Epistles

2. Operative Principles

This post will confirm some of the examples given above but correct several others, all according to the principles set forth in the earlier post on Gospel/gospel.

2.1. In keeping with standard English-language practices, we capitalize proper nouns (e.g., Catholic Epistles).

2.2. In general, we prefer a down style, that is, the use of fewer initial capital letters (§ We do not capitalize terms out of reverence or because of tradition.

2.3. To the extent possible, a preference for consistency leads us to format similar types of terms in analogous ways.

2.4. In some cases, a desire for clarity may incline a writer to choose one formatting style (e.g., initial capitalization) over another.

2.5. If a writer or copyeditor cannot decide on the proper formatting, it may be best simply to revise the problematic phrasing.

3. Illustrative Examples

The following examples illustrate how these principles can be applied individually and in tandem.

3.1. Commonly used titles of books are always capitalized. However, one should ask if the use of a full title is essential for clarity or is unnecessarily formal (see §4 below).

the Epistle to the Romans/Galatians/Ephesians …

the Letter to the Romans/Galatians/Ephesians …

3.2. SBL Press regards certain terms as proper nouns in all instances. The examples listed below are not canonical divisions but terms of convenience with a single definite referent. Just as we would capitalize Bill of Rights within a US constitutional context, we capitalize Catholic Epistles within a New Testament context.

Catholic Epistles (or Letters)

General Epistles (or General Letters)

Pastoral Epistles

Prison Epistles

3.3. Contra SBLHS §4.3.6, we do not capitalize the following terms, since they do not designate a canonical division per se.

Paul’s epistles/letters

Pauline epistles (or letters)

the New Testament epistles

3.4. In keeping with §2.2 above, these and similar general phrases are set lowercase.

Toward the end of the letter Paul writes …

This letter is the earliest of Paul’s known writings.

Jude’s letter apparently draws upon prior tradition, including 1 Enoch.

4. A Final Word

SBLHS § states: “It is usually preferable to avoid designations like book, letter, and epistle when referring to the titles of biblical writings (e.g., Psalms is better than book of Psalms, and James than Epistle of James).” Writers who wish to communicate clearly and concisely will avoid wordiness, stilted language, and the unnecessary clutter sometimes created by overcapitalization.

Gospel versus gospel

1. The Problem

One of the more confusing issues that writers in New Testament studies face is when to write Gospel and when to use gospel instead. SBLHS explains the matter simply: “SBL Press capitalizes Gospel when it is part of the title of a work and lowercases the term when it refers generically to the genre or to good news, message, or authoritative tradition” (§ Later (§4.3.6) SBLHS offers fourteen examples of the proper formatting of the term in specific situations:

First Gospel (= Matthew)

Fourth Gospel (= John)

gospel (the good news, the kerygma; the genre)

Gospel (as part of or substitute for a title of a work: Mark’s Gospel)

Gospels, the (division of the canon)

infancy gospels

John’s Gospel (= Gospel of John)

Luke’s Gospel (= Gospel of Luke)

Mark’s Gospel (= Gospel of Mark)

Matthew’s Gospel (= Gospel of Matthew)

Second Gospel (= Mark)

Synoptic Gospels, the

Third Gospel (= Luke)

Thomas’s Gospel (= Gospel of Thomas)

In addition to the basic principle stated in §, SBLHS capitalizes the term Gospel when it is a substitute for a title of a work that is capitalized. So, for example, because “Gospel of Mark” is capitalized, the title substitute “Mark’s Gospel” is likewise capitalized. Further, SBLHS capitalizes the word Gospels in two instances: in the title “Synoptic Gospels” (here we diverge from CMS §8.105); and when it refers to the “division of the canon” (this is revised below at §3.4). The word gospels is lowercased, however, when it is a generic reference that includes noncanonical gospels (e.g., infancy gospels).

All this seems relatively straightforward until one begins actually writing; then questions inevitably arise: What qualifies as a substitute for a title? If I write “Mark’s Gospel” in one place, should I use “this gospel” or “this Gospel” later on? Further, in what sense can the four New Testament g/Gospels form a canonical division, when one of them is part of a two-book work? (More generally, is it helpful to think of the classifications of New Testament books as canonical divisions?)

2. Operative Principles

In thinking about these and other similar questions, it is helpful to keep in mind several guiding principles:

2.1. In keeping with standard English-language practices, we capitalize proper nouns (e.g., Synoptic Gospels).

2.2. In general, we prefer a down style, that is, the use of fewer initial capital letters (§ We do not capitalize terms out of reverence or because of tradition.

2.3. To the extent possible, a preference for consistency leads us to format similar types of terms in analogous ways.

2.4. In some cases, a desire for clarity may incline a writer to choose one formatting style (e.g., initial capitalization) over another.

2.5. If a writer or copyeditor cannot decide on the proper formatting, it may be best simply to revise the problematic phrasing.

3. Illustrative Examples

The following examples, which include stock phrases and selections from manuscripts, attempt to illustrate how these principles can be applied individually and in tandem.

3.1. SBL Press regards certain terms as proper nouns or titles in all instances.

Synoptic Gospels or Synoptics

Gospel of Matthew/Mark/Luke/John/Thomas …

Matthew’s/Mark’s/Luke’s/John’s/Thomas’s … Gospel

First/Second/Third/Fourth Gospel

The Fourth Gospel has enjoyed a special place in the discussion of the gospels because it is significantly different from the Synoptics.

The recording and the opening of books is not mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel. One sees, however, the motif of accountability in the gospel [see 3.2 below].

3.2. Certain stock or common phrases are generally lowercased.

gospel narratives

gospel tradition

gospel writers

a text in the gospels

his gospel

this gospel

the gospel (see §3.3 below)

genres such as gospels

presentation of Jesus in the gospels

a gospel as a whole

the rest of the gospel

the canonical gospels

the evangelist wrote the gospel account

Because the infancy narrative sets the stage for the rest of the gospel, I provide examples.…

The scene of the temptation in both gospels serves as a test case of Jesus.

While it may be debated how those listening to Jesus understood this statement, readers of this gospel are surely to perceive …

When Jesus is presented in the gospels as enjoying more or less exclusive relationships with wisdom …

These traditions are sufficiently different and highlight aspects of the gospels’ theologies that help account for the variances.

3.3. The phrase “the gospel” (and parallel phrases) usually is not a substitute for the full title of the work but rather a generic reference to it; as such, it is lowercased.

The Adamic tradition of veneration of humanity might also be perceived in other parts of Matthew, including the magi story narrated earlier in the gospel.

3.4. In our view, references to the four New Testament gospels do not bear any canonical import (the classifications or groupings of New Testament books are significantly different from the canonical divisions of the Hebrew Bible), so gospels in this context should be lowercased. If there is any danger of misunderstanding, clarify the term with an appropriate adjective (e.g., New Testament, canonical).

canonical gospels and noncanonical gospels

New Testament gospels

The canonical gospels present a plethora of demonic activity that is highlighted in numerous pericopes about the ministry of Jesus and his disciples.

The expression “son of man” is used in the gospels and Acts as a title, with the implication that it refers to the messianic figure of Jesus.

Paul’s letters and the gospels differ not only in terms of basic genre but also with respect to the Christology that they espouse.

From this perspective, the Pauline letters correspond to the charismatic stage of authority, whereas the gospels reflect a traditional type of authority.

3.5. If seeing gospel lowercased feels somehow wrong, one can always revise the bothersome sentence.

Gospel of Mark … the gospel narrative > Gospel of Mark … the Markan narrative

The same sorts of questions and considerations arise with the formatting of Law/law, Epistle(s)/epistle(s), and Torah/torah, all of which will be discussed in future posts. For now, feel free to use the comments to ask how we would treat other specific examples.