Myths and Tips for Using Bible Verses in Your Book (Part 1)
Updated: Nov 22
In my relatively short time as a professional editor, I have noticed a few trends emerge with the use of Bible verses within books, especially in nonfiction. These occur frequently enough that they are worth conveying to a wider audience so that ye faithful, talented Christian writers of the world might avoid common mistakes. This first installment of many (I haven’t decided how many) will cover two widely believed myths. Each myth will be followed by the truth and some tips for avoiding errors.
Myth #1: The Bible is Public Domain
The Truth: While God’s Word cannot technically be owned, most translations of the Bible are indeed copyrighted.
For that reason, each translation of the Bible requires that a specific copyright statement be included on the copyright page of a book. If you use more than one version, you will need to include a copyright statement for each one. Here is the required statement for the New King James Version (NKJV), for which Thomas Nelson, Inc. holds the copyright: Scriptures marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version
(NKJV): Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright©
1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. As the statement mentions, verses must be marked with NKJV at the end, like so: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11 NKJV). However, if you only use the NKJV, you would not need to mark the verses each time, and your copyright statement would read: Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982
by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. A copyright holder can decide how their book is used. For Bible translations, each copyright holder has certain guidelines for how their translation is used. These are similar among different versions, but each has its own stipulations. In the case of the NKJV, no more than 500 verses in total may be quoted, and Scripture may not make up more than 25 percent of the total text. For anything that falls outside these and a few other guidelines, a formal request must be submitted. The Word of God is for everyone. But someone always holds the copyright.
Myth #2: The More Verses, the Better The Truth: It is absolutely paramount for a Christian author to substantiate their biblical claims with actual Scripture. However, it is absolutely paramount that they do not use too much Scripture. If you’re like me and you’re a lover of the Word of God, and your Sword of the Spirit is your one defense for much of what you say, then you are likely scratching your head. How can one use too much Scripture? One can. Many have. Here are two reasons why you shouldn’t. The first reason was covered in Myth #1. It is a violation of copyright to use more than the prescribed number of verses without written permission. If you have quoted more than 500 verses, which I have seen on a few occasions, I promise that yours is not a permissions issue. It is a writing issue. However, the fact that it could have legal ramifications should make your list of reasons. Meditate on these verses, then we will get to the second reason why you shouldn’t use so many verses. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; (James 1:19 NKJV) Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:6 NKJV) The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NKJV) For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6-7 NKJV) My beloved is mine, and I am his. He feeds his flock among the lilies. (Song of Songs 2:16 NKJV) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10 NKJV)
Weren’t those some good ones? You don’t even know, do you? Let’s be honest. You didn’t read them. If you faithfully read them, you aren’t really sure how they connect to what I’m saying, and you feel a little lost. And you should. Because all I did was open my ever-present BlueLetterBible.org tab and look up the first few verses that popped into my head. Then I used their customizable copy feature to copy and paste them here for your skipping pleasure. Now you feel cheated and confused. In any case, it is unsettling for you to see that list of verses. If you saw that in a book, you wouldn’t read them. But since you must use the Bible to substantiate biblical claims, what can you do? You pick the best, most impactful verse or two and make them come alive. Don’t expect too much from your reader. Take time to present the Word of God thoughtfully and graciously. Or, if you will, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6 NKJV). Those verses above needed grace and seasoning. Christian writers are teachers and ambassadors of God’s word. Don’t leave verses alone to explain themselves. The Bible has that covered. Provide the seasoning and wrap the verses inside your narrative. If you can’t do that, the problem is obviously not with God’s Word, but with your narrative. I just got you to read and draw meaning from Colossians 4:6 without asking you to meditate on it. To clarify, yes. Study God’s Word daily, if you can. But right now, you’re reading an article written by an editor, and you are likely not in an attitude of solemn quiet with God. The mind cannot live in both spaces in the same sitting, which is why we are unwilling to stop and meditate on verses while reading through a quick article. It is the aim of the Christian writer to help a reader interpret a verse so that they can know what to consider about them. So within copyright guidelines, share Bible verses. But season them with salt.
Editor’s Tip: Say No to Italicized Bible Verses. The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (CWMS) suggests that large doses of italics are not so easy on the eyes.That was part of the distraction when I listed the verses. Put them in quotation marks if they are within the paragraph, and use a block quote format otherwise. No italics.
Can you think of some other myths surrounding the use of the Bible in books? Perhaps I will cover them next time.
1 Robert Hudson, ed., The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 277. 2 Hudson, CWMS, 214.