Ask the Director: How do I quote poetic Scripture?

Dear Director:

I'm writing an article that includes extensive short quotations of Bible verses. When quoting the NKJV or the NIV or another version that prints poetic passages in broken lines, must we follow the same line-by-line presentation when quoting them, or is it permissible to string them out in straight paragraph text? And if the latter is permissible, do we have to indicate line breaks with a slash / and can omit the capital letter that begins each line in the NKJV? I've searched both Christian Writers Manual of Style and Chicago Manual of Style and did not see an answer to this question.


Dear Slash:

From a theological or hermeneutical perspective, you’re probably on solid ground taking some liberties with line breaks and capital letters. As far as we know, line breaks did not exist in the original Hebrew manuscripts, and there are no capital letters in Hebrew.

But your question is about writing style, and that gets a bit trickier, since the specific question you ask isn’t explicitly addressed by most style guides. However, there are general principles. Most academic style guides call for a slash to indicate a line break, and for retention of capital letters. The Associated Press style guide is not a big fan of slashes, but does call  for their use between lines of quoted poetry. The Chicago Manual is kinder to slashes, and also calls for their use with quoted poetry.

It may ultimately be a question for the editor, who is always the final word on style and on application of an exceptions to a publication’s designated style manual. But absent guidance to the contrary, you’re probably on safe ground doing just as you’ve suggested: use slashes to indicate line breaks when you’re stringing lines together in a paragraph, and retain the capital letters when quoting the NKJV.

--Former Director, Doug Trouten