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Should a self published book on a biblical topic, use MLA or Chicago citation styles? It'll be a persuasive writing on a biblical subject. I want to persuade the reader to my point of view but I know citations will be necessary. I just want to use the correct style. I bought a book called "Cite Rite", and it appears I should use Chicago style.

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According to this Pitts Theology Library Research Guide,

The two styles most commonly used in theology are SBL and Chicago style. It is important to note that SBL style suggests that users check the Chicago Manual if a question is not specifically answered in the SBL Handbook.

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Consider how your reader will use the book.

In an academic work (which this is not), readers:

  • are likely to already be familiar with the cited works (they're also researchers in this field, after all)

  • will rely on the works you cite to evaluate your work (they care about those citations)

  • read lots of such articles and welcome a consistent style (whichever one the publisher or university calls for)

But your goal is different. You are writing a persuasive book, presumably aimed at people who haven't studied the topic as much as you have. Your readers:

  • cannot be assumed to be immediately familiar with the source, beyond a few oft-used verses (which they may misremember or misunderstand or have seen misused)

  • want to see that you've done your research (you're building on a firm foundation), but probably aren't going to check every reference, or may only glance at it

  • are going to check some of them, when your argument veers into territory they feel strongly about (hence the need for citations)

  • cannot be assumed to be familiar with the norms of academic publishing

There's a further consideration with your particular topic. Citations of other publications tend to be more wordy -- "Smith, John, A Study of Ancient Near East Agriculture, 1972, Oxford University Press" or some such. But many of your citations will be of the form "Genesis 12:1" or perhaps "Genesis 12:1 (JPS 1917)" to indicate the translation if you're not using the same one throughout your work.

The main difference between MLA and Chicago is that of inline citations ("[Smith, 1972]") versus notes. Long citations, particularly if used in several places in your book, are invasive and repetitive if done inline; that's why MLA uses a short token that is a pointer into a bibliography at the end. In Chicago style, that citation would a footnote or endnote; each note stands on its own (aside from uses of ibid for repeated uses).

Short citations like biblical verses, on the other hand, are, well, short. They don't get in the way if used inline unless you're really piling them up. They're also easy to present in footnotes; the reader can take a quick glance at the bottom of the page, see the note, and continue on. (I would discourage endnotes in this case; they have all the downsides of making the reader do extra work with none of the upsides of moving long citations out of the way.)

I started this answer by saying to consider your reader; I'll end it by saying, after considering your reader, consider your own set of citations. If you're writing a book where there'll be a few citations of biblical verses per page, I'd recommend just doing them inline. (In your introduction you should say which translation you're using.) If there are going to be a lot of citations, or if more than a very few will be to something other than biblical verses, then I'd recommend Chicago-style footnotes -- that way the information is readily available for the reader who wants it but it doesn't get in the way.

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Most Modern Christian works use footnotes except for scripture which is always cited inline. Early works which predate modern citation styles use the author's name or the common identifier for a work when an author was known for more than one work, as many works had no titles, page numbers or publishers in a narrative citation style (the citation, what there is of it, is part of the text). Modern reprints often add footnotes. The narrative style, with and without footnotes remains popular for major citations.

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