Last time, we discussed how to quote the Scriptures and compared modern vs. archaic language when writing on Christian topics.
In this blog, we’ll dig deeper into matters of formatting in Christian publishing, paying particular attention to the complicated issue of capitalization.
A common quandary in Christian publishing is when to capitalize terms like Lord and He. Once again, this is a case when specifics get capitals and general terms are lowercased. When referencing God, therefore, such terms are usually capitalized;
So you have:
Praise the Lord!
and He said unto Adam. . .
This is called reverential capitalization. It shows that the author considers the concept being discussed worthy of special treatment or attention.
Note, however, that reverential capitalization isn’t universal. Many older biblical texts and more traditional writers prefer this style, but many modern style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press style, state that he, him, his, and so on shouldn’t be capitalized even when referring to God.
Let’s look at the differences between the old-school reverential capitalization and modern preferences:
Reverential: For our heart rejoices in Him because we have trusted in His Holy Name. (Psalms 33:21)
Modern: For our heart rejoices in him because we have trusted in his holy name. (Psalms 33:21)
Formatting Religious Terms
In general, religious terminology falls into one of a few categories: God, the Bible, and denominations. Let’s look at the standard conventions for each.
When referring to God or associated powers in Christian publishing, it’s often best to err on the side of capitalization. A good rule of thumb is that when you’re using a term that can only refer to God or Jesus Christ, it should be capitalized; if it could refer to someone or something else as well, it can stay lowercase.
Here are some examples:
the Holy Spirit
the Lamb of God
the bread of life
the true light
Here again, when you’re referring to something specific, you’re usually safe to capitalize it. If you’re not sure, leave it lowercase.
A tricky one is “gospel.” If you’re referring to the books of the apostles, then capitalize the term. If you’re referring to the Christian message in general, lowercase. So that means you might spread the gospel by reciting the Gospel of Luke.
This rule of thumb applies fairly broadly in Christian publishing. That is, if you’re referring to something in a general sense, you can leave it lowercase—so when mentioning a particular scripture, you would capitalize the term you’re using, but when talking about scripture as a whole, it’s lowercase. Let’s look at that in action:
Of the many gospels, the Gospel of Mark has always been my favorite.
The scriptures contain many wonderful lessons for modern life.
The Book of Psalms is a great read. The psalms cover many different topics, but Psalm 23 is beloved by most people.
This extends to referring to general topics
The Bible refers to biblical happenings
I speak about Scripture by making scriptural references.
Another tricky case involves the apostles. As a group, the term is lowercase. When referring to a text, it’s capitalized, as in Acts of the Apostles or Apostle to the Gentiles. When referencing a specific individual and preceding a name, it’s also capitalized, because it’s a formal title: the Apostle Paul.
Here’s some more examples of when to capitalize:
Bible, the Bible, the Holy Bible
King James Version, New International Version (and so on)
the Word of God
Denominations and the Church
Discussing various denominations in Christian publishing can be a bit tricky. In general, it’s best to use the capitalization preferred by the group itself. You can find this online or by checking their literature.
For the most part, religious denominations’ and orders’ names should be formatted in title case, with the major words capitalized. For instance:
• American Baptist Churches USA
• Seventh Day Adventist
• Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland
For a less formal approach, you can use the group’s preferred shortened name, capitalized, such as the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, and the Anglicans.
All those previous rules about capitalizing specific uses and lowercasing generalities apply here too. For instance:
• I go to church at the First Baptist Church down on Lake St.
That general rule about capitalizing the specific and lowercasing the general applies across most of Christian publishing; learn that, and you’ll be off to a great start!
This rule can be applied to many different instances in many different denominations. For example:
Holyrood Evangelical Church / evangelicalism / I’m an evangelical Christian
the Enemy (Satan) / the enemy (opponent)
the Tempter (Satan) / the tempter (a mortal who tempts)
the Cross (Holy Cross of the Crucifixion) / my cross to bear
When in doubt, refer to the guidelines of the publisher, and if you’re really in doubt, use lowercase. If you plan to write frequently on Christian topics, you might want to pick up a copy of The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.
Go forth, be fruitful, and let your words multiply!
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