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SBL Style Guide

About SBL Style

The SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS) is a style manual (like APA or MLA) for biblical studies and related disciplines. Style manuals regulate the format of research papers by standardizing their structural, grammatical, and bibliographic aspects for consistency so that readers may understand and locate the information they contain. Make no mistake, the readers (usually your professors) really appreciate that you use a style accurately and consistently, whether it be APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, SBL, or some other style. Professors may require a certain style or allow you to use whatever style you prefer. Many professors at Northwestern in biblical and theological studies prefer the use of SBL style.


The SBL style, like Turabian, is a substantial supplement to The Chicago Manual of Style (now in its 17th edition). Chicago style has a "footnote" style as well as an "in-text" style like APA or MLA. Chicago's in-text style is called "author-date" citation. However, in disciplines like history, theology, and biblical studies, Chicago's footnote style is preferred for research papers. SBL style follows Chicago almost exactly. Using a footnote style has many advantages when writing academic papers; notably, it won't clutter up the main text of your paper with many parenthetical citations thus making for smoother reading. Footnotes also allow for explanatory comments or tangents which would otherwise be unacceptable within the main text of the paper.


The SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS), now in its 2nd edition, provides specialized terminology and examples for biblical studies and ancillary disciplines that go beyond the rules found in The Chicago Manual of Style. In particular, SBLHS provides standard titles and abbreviations for modern and ancient sources, as well as citation examples of specialized literature like commentaries, lexicons, journals, and other complex reference works.

This guide is meant to help you conform your paper to SBLHS by summarizing important concepts and offering examples of common format and citation questions.