The Grammarphobia Blog

The Bible in chapter and verse

Q: Regarding the books of the Bible, which is correct: “1 Kings” or “I Kings” or “First Kings” or “first Kings”? Also, is it, “the Book of Genesis” or “the book of Genesis”? PS: I just found my report card from 1956, in which my teacher began  a note to my mother, “Words Fail Me!” Would you like a copy?

A: Thanks for the offer of a copy of your report card, but that won’t be necessary – we believe you! It does, however, give us a chance to plug Pat’s book on writing: Words Fail Me.

As for your questions about the Bible, we’ll cite what many people consider the (lowercase) bible of style, The Chicago Manual of Style.

Let’s first discuss how to refer to the books themselves. We’ll get to chapter and verse later.

Here are the guidelines in sections 8.111-113 of The Chicago Manual (15th ed.):

“The names of books of the Bible are not italicized. The word book is usually lowercased, and the words gospel and epistle are usually capitalized.”

Examples given include “Genesis; the book of Genesis” and “Job; the book of Job.”

However, the style manual adds that in a work in which all three terms are used with some frequency, they may all be treated alike, either lowercased or capitalized.”

Examples of correct usage, according to the manual, include these:

“2 Chronicles; Second Chronicles; the second book of the Chronicles”;

“John; the Gospel according to John”;

“Acts; the Acts of the Apostles”;

“1 Corinthians; the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”

As you can see, the number may be spelled out or not. So you may write either “1 Kings” or “First Kings” or “the first book of Kings.”

Again, those are the guidelines for referring to books of the Bible. Now, let’s consider how to refer to the chapters and verses in the books.

When you cite specific passages of the Bible, according to section 9.30 of the Chicago Manual, numbers are given in figures only, and “chapter and verse are separated by a colon with no space following it.”

Examples include “Acts 27:1” and “2 Corinthians 11:29-30.”

We hope this helps.

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