A close-up shot of a worn Bible, pages opened to a highlighted verse, with a pen resting nearby, symbolizing the process of referencing and quoting scripture.

How To Properly Quote The Bible

Whether you are religious or not, you have probably come across Bible passages at some point. The Bible is a sacred text for Christians and Jews, but it is also an important historical document, and its many famous quotes have shaped our literature and culture.

So you may find yourself needing to cite the Bible at some point for an essay, article, or even casual writing.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer to citing the Bible: Enclose the book, chapter, and verse in parentheses after the quote, like (John 3:16). Use abbreviations for books, like Gen. for Genesis.

Formatting Bible Quotations

Book Name Abbreviations

When quoting from the Bible, it is important to properly abbreviate the book name. Here are some common examples:

  • Genesis – Gen.
  • Exodus – Exod.
  • Leviticus – Lev.
  • Numbers – Num.
  • Deuteronomy – Deut.
  • Joshua – Josh.
  • Judges – Judg.
  • Ruth – Ruth
  • 1 Samuel – 1 Sam.
  • 2 Samuel – 2 Sam.

The first time you reference a book, spell out its full name. For example: “In the Gospel of Matthew 5:3, it says…” Afterward, use the abbreviation. For example: “Jesus also referenced this in Matt. 6:24.” This helps the reader follow along.

Chapter and Verse References

When directly quoting a Bible passage, the reference should include the book name abbreviation, chapter number, colon, and verse number(s). For example:

  • John 3:16 – Abbreviation, chapter, colon, verse
  • Rom. 12:1-2 – Abbreviation, chapter, colon, range of verses

Chapter and verse numbers should be separated by a colon. Multiple verses should be separated by a dash. Commas and spaces are not used. The chapter and verse reference comes after the quotation. For example:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

If the quote spans multiple paragraphs, place the reference after the last paragraph. The reference should also be placed outside quotation marks and parentheses.

Following these formatting rules clearly communicates to readers where the passage is found in the Bible.

Quoting from Different Versions of the Bible

King James Version

The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is an English translation originally published in 1611. For centuries, it was the most widely used Bible translation in the English-speaking world and had tremendous influence on literature and culture.

Here are some tips for properly quoting the KJV:

  • Use the archaic pronouns and verb endings found in the KJV, like “thee,” “thou,” and “-eth.” This helps convey the historical style of the translation.
  • When directly quoting a verse, cite the book, chapter, and verse like this: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 KJV).
  • If quoting multiple verses, use an ellipsis (…) or separate references for each verse quoted.
  • Use brackets when a pronoun reference needs clarification, like changing “he” to “Jesus.”
  • Retain any italicized words, archaic spellings, and punctuation found in the original.

The beauty of the King James Version’s language deserves to be carefully quoted to reflect both its historical elegance and scriptural authority.

New International Version

The New International Version (NIV) is a popular modern English Bible translation first published in 1978 and revised in 2011. Here are some tips for properly quoting the NIV:

  • Use contemporary pronouns and verb endings, like “you” and “-s” endings for third person.
  • When directly quoting a verse, cite book, chapter, and verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).
  • Use an ellipsis (…) when omitting words from within a quoted verse.
  • Retain any emphases like italics from the original.
  • Clarify pronoun references by using brackets, like “Christ” instead of just “he.”

The NIV’s clear, accessible language makes quoting it straightforward. Just be sure to cite references and retain original formatting.

Other Popular Versions

Many other Bible translations are commonly quoted today, like the English Standard Version (ESV), New Living Translation (NLT), and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Here are some tips that apply when quoting most modern versions:

  • Use contemporary grammar and pronouns, but don’t modernize archaic words or names.
  • Cite the full name of the version quoted, like “New Living Translation” rather than just the abbreviation.
  • When comparing versions, use a table to contrast similar verses side by side.
  • Clarify references to “the Lord,” “Christ,” etc. when the meaning is unclear.
  • Use quotation marks or block quote formatting for extended passages.

Modern translations aim to make the Bible accessible to contemporary readers. Quoting them well involves retaining their readability while cites references fully. With care, we can insightfully quote God’s word from the wealth of English Bible versions available today.

When to Quote vs Paraphrase

Deciding when to directly quote versus paraphrase the Bible is an important consideration when writing about scripture. Here are some tips on when each approach is most appropriate:

Direct Quotes

Use direct Bible quotes when:

  • You want to point to the exact wording of a specific passage
  • The phrasing is especially powerful, moving, or memorable
  • You are analyzing the meaning of specific words or phrases
  • You need to reference a passage that prophesies the coming of Christ or other important events
  • The passage is a well-known or oft-quoted section that the reader will recognize

For example, you would want to directly quote John 3:16 instead of paraphrasing:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”


Paraphrase Bible passages when:

  • You want to simplify complex phrasing or archaic language for clarity
  • You need to condense a long or detailed passage to summarize the main point
  • You are comparing events across different books or sections
  • You want to explain passages to non-Christians unfamiliar with the Bible

For example, you could paraphrase part of Paul’s letter to the Romans 3:23-24:

Paul explains that everyone sins and falls short of God’s glorious standard, yet are justified freely through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.

Finding the right balance of direct Bible quotes and paraphrased explanations requires wisdom and discernment. Study each passage carefully when deciding whether to quote verbatim or rephrase the meaning using your own words.

Both approaches have their place in writing that brings scriptural truths to light.

A close-up photo of a vintage bookshelf showcasing neatly lined up old books, each one displaying a different book of the Bible, emphasizing the importance of organized knowledge.

Using Long Quotes

When quoting long passages from the Bible in an essay or article, it is important to format the quote properly to make it clear that you are citing a direct quote. Here are some tips for formatting long Bible quotes:

For Bible passages that are more than 4 lines long, format them as a block quotation. Start the quote on a new line and indent the entire quote 0.5 inches from the left margin. Do not use quotation marks around the passage. Here is an example:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

(John 3:16-18, NIV)

Citing the Translation

When quoting Scripture, be sure to cite which Bible translation you are using. Abbreviate the title and include it in parentheses after the quote. Common abbreviations include:

  • NIV – New International Version
  • ESV – English Standard Version
  • KJV – King James Version
  • NRSV – New Revised Standard Version

Formatting Line Spacing

Add extra spacing above and below long block quotes to separate them from the rest of the text. This improves readability. Many style guides recommend spacing block quotes 0.5 inches from the surrounding text.

For Bible passages less than 4 lines long, format them as a short in-line quotation. Enclose the quote in double quotation marks and cite the translation.

Make sure to properly introduce the quote in the lead up text. Here’s an example:

Jesus clearly explains that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NIV). This demonstrates that spiritual nourishment is important.

Merging Quotes

You can also merge a short quote into the text without using quotation marks. Make sure it fits grammatically into your sentence. For example:

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that no eye has seen what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Using these formatting tips will help ensure your Bible quotes are properly cited and easy for readers to understand within the context of your writing.

Examples of Common Bible Quotes

The Bible contains many memorable and influential quotes that have become an integral part of our culture. Here are some examples of commonly quoted Bible verses and passages:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” – Psalm 23:1

This beloved verse from Psalm 23 has brought comfort and hope to millions of people over the centuries. It poetically expresses the close relationship between God and those who follow him.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” – Matthew 22:39

This command from Jesus simply yet powerfully encapsulates the Christian ethic of selfless love and care for others. It has become a widely known moral principle even among non-Christians.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – Genesis 1:1

The majestic opening words of the Bible have been memorized by countless Christians. They affirm God’s sovereignty as the divine Creator who brought the universe into being.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16

This concise yet profound verse summarizes the gospel – that God sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and give us salvation. It is often called the “gospel in a nutshell.”

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” – Philippians 4:13

Paul’s uplifting words of encouragement have motivated generations of Christians to press on with fortitude and hope in their faith. The verse emphasizes our dependence on God’s strength.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” – Proverbs 3:5

From the book of wisdom, this call to trust God fully resonates with believers seeking guidance. It speaks to forsaking self-reliance and submitting to God’s good plans.

The Bible’s most significant verses have become touchstones of truth and wisdom for billions of people. Even for those unfamiliar with Scripture, quotes like these often carry profound meaning and influence.

They reflect Christianity’s immense cultural impact over thousands of years.


Quoting scripture can enrich your writing while lending credibility and weight to your ideas. With the right citation format and context, Bible passages blend seamlessly into essays, articles, and other texts.

While different versions and translations exist, the strategies outlined here will help you quote the Bible accurately in your own work.

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