July 1, 2017

What you need to know before quoting Bible verses


God’s Word belongs to everyone! However, copyrights of English translations of the Bible belong to the translators or Bible publishers unless the text is in the public domain. This means we cannot quote more than X number of Bible verses from most of the contemporary translations without requesting permission from the publisher.

Most translations of the Bible will let you know in the front pages exactly how many verses you’re allowed to use in one manuscript. To give you an idea, I opened my New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and saw we can quote up to 500 verses – IF that constitutes LESS than half of what we’re writing. The New Living Translation (NLT) and New International Version (NIV) also allow up to 500 verse, but those quotes must comprise less than one-fourth or 25 percent of the manuscript.

Regardless of the translation used, each must be acknowledged at the end of a quotation.


For example, here’s a quotation taken from The Jerusalem Bible.

“Yes, God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned,” John 3:16-18a, The Jerusalem Bible.

If you need to use more verses than the publisher allows, contact the company, describe your project, and request permission to quote your expected number of verses.

Another option is to find a translation in the public domain. With rare exception, this usually means an English translation published before or by the beginning of the 20th century since, by now, the copyright has most likely expired and not been renewed.

A quick search on the Bible Gateway website provided the following list of Bible translations in the public domain, which you can find in their online library – a real plus if you want to copy/paste large portions of scripture instead of retyping.

Some English Translations of the Bible in the Public Domain:


American Standard Version (ASV)
Darby Translation (DARBY)
Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
King James Version (KJV)
World English Bible (WEB - a contemporary translation)
Young's Literal Translation (YLT)
Reina-Valera Antigua (RVA)
Biblia Sacra Vulgata (VULGATE)

If you’re concerned about quoting scripture in your project, another option is to paraphrase, which is what I often do. Since quotation marks wouldn't be appropriate in such instances, I usually set the text apart with linebreaks and/or italics.

In my search on Bible Gateway for texts to paraphrase, I seldom seek translations in the public domain but am more apt to read at least a half-dozen or more contemporary versions of the many choices they have available on their website. Then I mix, mingle, and paraphrase those scriptures into a text I call “prayer-a-phrased” since I’m prayerfully counting on the Lord to give me discernment and whatever else is needed to be true to the meaning of the verses.

Why do I do this? I love it! I love the Bible in all of its English renditions. And I love translating passages of scripture into a poem, prayer, paragraph, or conversation that seems immediate, placing God’s Word in the now.

This process also helps me (and, hopefully, you as reader and/or writer) to internalize Holy Scripture, making it more “real” as though we’re there in person, experiencing the Bible as it unfolds. If, however, you’re unsure how scripture unfolds from Genesis to Revelation, I urge you to first read, read, read the Bible from cover to cover in several translations to prepare you for a lifetime of Bible-based writings in Jesus’ Name.


Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, with praise for God’s Word and many thanks to Bible Gateway

For examples of the prayer-a-phrases mentioned, see Bible Prayers and What the Bible Says About Love.



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