I recently posted a question including quotations from the bible. I didn't give it much thought at the time but later remembered that many versions of the bible, including the ESV I used, are copyright and subject to certain rules.

Do we have a specific policy/guidelines for quotations on the site, and if not, should we have? Would it perhaps be useful to list whatever the rules are by translation here on meta?

For example, the ESV copyright notice on Bible Gateway says

When quotations from the ESV text are used in non-saleable media, such as church bulletins, orders of service, posters, transparencies, or similar media, a complete copyright notice is not required, but the initials (ESV) must appear at the end of the quotation.

While quotes online aren't specifically mentioned this leads me to believe that is what we should be doing here and my quote should perhaps look like this instead:

But earnestly desire the higher gifts.   ESV


As mentioned by @dancek, there is a userscript for getting ready-made markdown from Bible Geteway - I've forked the script and changed the formatting to suit my preferences. Here it is in case you'd like to make use of it: view/download, producing output like:

2Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.  ESV

Finally, if we should always be citing the translation, how should we deal with questions that don't - edit them or leave a comment?


5 Answers 5


Whenever quoting a Bible translation, it's common sense to identify the translation*. This should be always required; edit if necessary. I wouldn't think it's very important whether the translation is specified before or after the passage, as long as it's understandable.

The legal aspects might need further review, but that's really SE's problem -- not ours. We shouldn't willfully breach copyright, but Bible translations are basically meant to be used and quoted, so our use shouldn't be a problem. Image copyrights might be a bigger issue.

*An easy way to get nicely formatted Bible passages with little work is to use an userscript. @Caleb has one in the works, and I made one that has already seen some use on Christianity.SE: https://christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/449/userscript-for-generating-markdown-from-biblegateway-com

  • Thanks for the userscript link - I've forked it to get is looking the way I prefer. I had no idea you could do this sort of thing until today! Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 14:05
  • @JackDouglas nice to see the string template thing is useful! If you want to, you could answer to that meta discussion with a link to your fork and an example of what the formatting is like! Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 17:53
  • I'm not a member there, but I've added a sample to my post - thanks for the suggestion Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 18:12

Stack Exchange content itself is licensed with specific attribution requirements and thus it would be discourteous (aside from any actual legal technicalities) not to attribute a biblical translation as requested. (Or at least in a visible and unambiguous fashion.)

The practice of a visible attribution that is then linked to a site like Bible Gateway as suggested by others appears to be the socially accepted procedure. It also seems like a reasonable accommodation for a site where users may use any translation they choose which makes it very difficult to provide all the exact requested copyright statements for any given contribution.

In short, I have no idea whether a linked attribution as illustrated in other posts is enough to prevent a legal dispute, but it does seem like a reasonable and respectful approach from my perspective.


I just looked into this for another question, this is a useful reference for copyright questions - http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html#howmuch :

Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See FL 102, Fair Use, and Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.

I agree with @Jack's suggestion of including the version - I think that should do the trick for our purposes.


Add a link on the template to link to Bible Gateway or some other online resource with multiple versions, with a statement making it the official site for attribution.

Then add five new functionalities to the site:

  1. The standard wiki footnote tag <ref> with <references>.

  2. a modified reference which imports the quote from the chosen Bible resource site. <bref>

  3. an inline import <ibref> which puts the quote inline rather than as a footnote.

  4. A user preference for default version imports.

  5. Then if there a way to write an article or comment and save it privately, I would use the tool for composing articles over time, and publish it when I was ready. This would give me the time to thoughtfully review my own writing before pushing the button. Word Press has this function.

  • I see enough of you are programmers and web designers, this should be a no-brainer ;-) Oh, go ahead and delete my taunt.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 14:31
  • Interesting ideas - I'll try and address some of them. I don't think we want an "official site for attribution", but some of your suggested shortcuts might be possible with a userscript (as long as you are using Chrome or possibly Firefox), because we have no power to change the basic functionality of the site except with a feature-request Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 14:42
  • for "save it privately" - I find as long as I don't press 'save' or 'cancel, whatever I've written just hangs around and reappears next time I'm on the page - I'm not sure I'd rely on this though :) Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 14:43
  • @Jack "official" as in officially adopted for convenience rather than mandatory. It notifies the user that the website is used for the shortcuts. So it is an attribution of the site, not just the version.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 15:14
  • I personally wouldn't even want that - I think there is nothing special about biblegateway (though it has become a de facto standard on christianity.stackexchenge.com I'm told) Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 15:27
  • Yeah, but if you pull bandwidth from a site using a script, it probably should be acknowledged. I just used it as an example. There are others.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 15:34

If possible, I'd like to avoid identifying the translation in the text of an answer or question. Unless a post is about a translation issue, the little letters before or after a quote are simply distractions to whatever point I'm trying to make. I don't want people to wonder why I used the ESV rather than the NASB when the real reason is that I just happened to have a tab open to ESV somewhere.

My usual technique for quoting Bible passages (or for that matter anything else on the web) is to include a link to the copy I borrowed in the verse citation. So John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

I feel this is reasonably clear to the reader who wants to know which version I've used. Looking over various copyright notices, I don't think this practice complies with them, however. The publisher of the NASB actually requires a link in addition to the notification:

When quotations are primarily from the NASB text on an Internet Web page (scripture quotations not from the NASB must be identified), instead of the full copyright notice on the title page, this notice must be placed somewhere on the Web page containing the quotations:

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB." 
(This notice must be a click enabled Web link to www.lockman.org.)

When quotations from the NASB® text are used in not-for-sale media, such as church bulletins, orders of service, posters, transparencies or similar media, the abbreviation (NASB®) may be used after the quotation. On a Web page, the abbreviation must be a click enabled Web link to www.lockman.org.

Another solution, suggested by the NASB notice, is to pick a default version and stick the copyright notice in the FAQ or somesuch. As long as the quotation is taken from that particular version, there's no need to identify the translation. Quotations from other translations would require the version identifier. The tricky bit is finding a version that we can agree upon and also has a relatively liberal licence.

  • 1
    There is never going to be a "default version" for quotations site wide. Many users tend to use the same translations in their answers, but the site itself does not and will not have a policy to enforce this. If you want to just make a note at the bottom of your post after quoting several verses I think that's fine, but it's up to you, not the site to properly attribute the content you quote. The same goes for Wikipedia or any other source.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 8, 2011 at 11:32
  • @Caleb: The point of having a default isn't to force everyone to use the same translation, but to make quoting slightly easier. (I purposely avoided calling it an official translation for just that reason. It clearly would never work. (Except I bet there will be a clear preference within a few months.)) Pretending I never mentioned the idea of a default, would you agree a link is a proper way to source content quoted on the internet? Commented Oct 9, 2011 at 5:24
  • Good question. While technically one can see what translation was used if you hover on a link, I would really prefer to see the acronym of the translation used in all cases were a verse is quoted. As you note, it makes a difference to how I as a reader interpret the answer. If an OP does not provide it, I will almost always do a search to figure it out. If the difference doesn't matter (as in the case of you quoting whatever is handy) then it probably won't matter to a me as a reader either and you could have saved me the trouble by sourcing it.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 9:32
  • However in many cases it will be important. I will understand an answer differently if quoting the NLT vs the NASB. Also, I often want to read the context in the same translation the answer used to avoid introducing needless misunderstanding, and may prefer to do that with books or my own favorite sites rather than the ones usually linked to for individual verses.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 9:33
  • 1
    "and also has a relatively liberal license." The real advantage to the KJV is it's liberal license. I was under the mistaken conception that the copyright would surely be out of date, only to find out that the king claimed a perpetual copyright. I knew there was a reason I didn't vote for him. However, it is ignored and not enforced outside of Britain. I cannot find it at the moment, I am sure that one of the intro pages to it said that we were authorized to use it in a list of activities. such as worship, teaching etc, and I don't think the wording of the phrase included attribution.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 14:01
  • @Bob he he - us Brits didn't vote for him either :) Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 15:28

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