A recent Q&A showed a verse shift between the Hebrew and English texts in Deuteronomy, and at least one other conversation has occurred where two individuals were talking about different passages with the same verse reference.

I don't think requiring everyone to use citations according to any specific translation or critical text would be a good idea, but simply quoting the passage or explicitly stating the translation that is cited would be a good thing when it is being discussed in a question or answer so that readers know what specifically is being referenced.

This is designed to serve as a reference to help users (so it can be linked to when edits or comments along these lines are made requesting the OP to specify the translation/text/manuscript/resource they are citing/quoting).

1 Answer 1


Properly citing the Bible

The chapter divisions commonly used in English Hebrew Bible translations reflect the Christian textual tradition. The common chapter divisions and verse numbers have no significance in the Jewish tradition. In addition, the Christian chapter and verse divisions are often not supported by many manuscripts in numerous languages. Good questions concerning these texts should specify the location of the text and manuscript used where pertinent (for instance, when comparing a critical Syriac text to a Hebrew one).

The divisions used in critical texts (such as the BHS) or specific primary manuscripts are preferred over those used in modern English Christian and Hebrew Jewish Bible translations, as those used in critical texts are more precise in scholarly discourse (even Christian Bible references do not line up between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant English Bible translations). But this is not a requirement as many readers do not know Hebrew and other Biblical languages.

Obviously there will be times when a large portion of text is being referenced or numerous citations of various texts, and in these cases it may not be feasible to quote all of them, but a specific translation can still be cited. However, when it is the primary text being discussed or vital to a line of discourse in a question or answer, it should be cited and quoted. Along with this, the specific translation or critical manuscript/resource being cited should also be explicitly stated. If quoting is not feasible, citing the specific translation or critical text will be sufficient for clarifying which numbering system is being used (as a reader can look the reference up in that text and find the relevant quote).


NOTE: There is no prescribed way that you must cite the specific translation/text you are using. The important part is that you somehow make it clear which is being referenced. The below examples are merely given as suggestions.

Bad: Does the word used for prostitute in Deuteronomy 23:18 mean 'cultic prostitute' or 'secular prostitute'?

This is bad because Detueronomy 23:18 in the Hebrew actually does use the word for 'cultic prostitute', but the OP intended the verse which is 23:19 in the Hebrew (but 23:18 in the English translation), which actually uses the word for 'secular prostitute'. In this case, the OP would actually possibly get the wrong answer because a translation was not specified.

Bad: What does it mean to "devour widows' houses" in Matthew 23:14?

Modern English translations do not contain this verse since it does not appear in many manuscripts. Readers not aware of this may not even find the verse in an English translation. This is the case for quite a few verses in the New Testament (Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14; Mark 7:16; 9:44; 9:46; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 17:36; 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29; Romans 16:24 and 1 John 5:7).

Acceptable: Does the word used for prostitute in Deuteronomy 23:18 (ESV) mean 'cultic prostitute' or 'secular prostitute'?

This is acceptable because the translation is cited, but it could be linked to an online copy of the translation of choice to improve this, and actually quoting the passage would be even better. If linked to an online translation, the specific type would not be need to be specified in the question as readers can follow the link to determine what text is being referenced.

Excellent: Does the word used for prostitute in Deuteronomy 23:18 (ESV) mean 'cultic prostitute' or 'secular prostitute'?

You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 23:18, ESV, emphasis mine).

This is excellent. The specific translation is cited in the reference to the verse and the verse is quoted (also with the proper citation).

Expert-Level: Does זוֹנָ֜ה (zonah) in Deuteronomy 23:19 (BHS) refer to a 'cultic prostitute' or 'secular prostitute'?

לֹא־תָבִיא֩ אֶתְנַ֨ן זוֹנָ֜ה וּמְחִ֣יר כֶּ֗לֶב בֵּ֛ית יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְכָל־נֶ֑דֶר כִּ֧י תוֹעֲבַ֛ת יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ גַּם־שְׁנֵיהֶֽם׃

(Deuteronomy 23:19, BHS, emphasis mine).1

1 Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Dt. 23:19.

Note the proper footnote provided. Referring to scholarly editions of the Biblical texts in the original languages is always preferable to citing and quoting translations, especially as this is how expert-level scholarly discourse occurs. At the same time, many users don't know Hebrew and/or other languages used in scholarly critical texts (which is probably why they're asking the question in the first place), so providing a translation (whether an existing source or translating it yourself) would be helpful for readers/users. Even when citing the original languages, you should still cite which text/manuscript you are using.

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    I often cite like this, which doesn't interrupt the flow of reasoning. I'd prefer all citations to indicate the translation somehow, but I don't feel we need to proscribe 'how'. Dec 14, 2013 at 9:01
  • @JackDouglas linking to a specific translation is sufficient here because it allows the reader to look up which specific passage is being referenced. That would still be fine. Also, this is not a requirement, moreso a helpful guide. But to be sure I clarified this point in the subtext under the acceptable example.
    – Dan
    Dec 14, 2013 at 16:48
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    @JackDouglas I also added a disclaimer making it clear that this is not specifying how you must cite resources, merely giving examples of how you could, making it clear that any way of making it explicit is acceptable.
    – Dan
    Dec 14, 2013 at 16:51
  • btw, why doesn't this apply to the other texts? Dec 15, 2013 at 13:00
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    @JackDouglas the New Testament numbering system for English translations virtually unanimously follows the TR/KJV, so there aren't really issues of verse shifts as much as verse omissions. For instance, look up the following in a popular English translation like the NIV: Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14; Mark 7:16; 9:44; 9:46; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 17:36; 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29; Romans 16:24 and 1 John 5:7.
    – Dan
    Dec 15, 2013 at 15:00
  • But I'd be OK with asking the same, especially since the KJV and older translations will have these verses while modern translations won't.
    – Dan
    Dec 15, 2013 at 15:01
  • @JackDouglas see expanded question and answer
    – Dan
    Dec 16, 2013 at 18:21

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