Annotating Scripture References in Blog Posts: a Modest Proposal

Lots of people write blog posts that contain references to the Hebrew or Christian Bible (henceforth I’ll simply say “Bible”). I’d like to propose that blog authors adopt a few very simple conventions that, in the spirit of microformats, would add semantic richness and extended value to these posts without requiring fancy new languages or a lot of author overhead. This seems like an ideal opportunity to add value, since

  • there are already longstanding and widespread conventions for representing these references textually (the principle of “adapt to current behaviors”)
  • the format requirements are quite simple (maybe this is more like a “nanoformat” than a microformat) (the principle of “as simple as possible”)


  • You could more readily find other blog posts that are talking about passages you’re interested in
  • Software agents could automatically insert hyperlinks to any of several publicly-available web sites with Bible texts like Bible Gateway, the ESV bible, the NET Bible, etc.
  • We’d have a source of data to tell us which passages are talked about most (or least)
  • Unlike blog prose, such an approach could be language-independent (though this might require cross-language agreement on book names, or at least language indicators)


  • Bible references have a simple structure, in the simplest case the three elements of book name, chapter, and (optionally) verse. Book names can either be spelled out, or use an abbreviated form like “Rev” for Revelation. There’s at least one existing standard for book names, embedded in the (300 page!) SBL Manual of Style.
  • Simple references specify a given single text (at some level of granularity). Range references identify a contiguous span like John 3:1-20. Compound references combine one or both of these, e.g. Eph 1, 2:8-9. These are in order of decreasing importance: just starting with simple references would be a big step forward.
  • An optional identifier for a specific version or translation (e.g. KJV for King James Version, ESV for English Standard Version, etc.) would be valuable, though it’s not essential.
  • Perhaps the authors of plug-ins for popular blogging platforms (like Scripturizer for Typepad, or the ESV plugin for WordPress) could be persuaded to include the microformat in their output: then users of those plug-ins wouldn’t even have to take any special steps.

Candidate Format

Use the abbr element from XHTML, with “bibleref” as the class attribute, and a normalized notation as the title attribute.

This follows the spirit of the abbr-design-pattern, with human-friendly text and a machine-readable title attribute (so it doesn’t matter how the textual content is formatted, as long as the title is machine-parseable, or reasonably so). This could be extended with something like class=”biblerefrange” for range references like Eph 2:8-9. While we could try to forge agreement on how to format the title attribute, in practice it won’t matter except for very obscure cases. Simply indicating that it’s a bible reference will be enough to render 99% of the cases fully parseable (assuming the book and chapter are indicated: a reference to “3:16”, in the context of a discussion of John’s Gospel, wouldn’t work).

See Also

11 thoughts on “Annotating Scripture References in Blog Posts: a Modest Proposal”

  1. It’s a goog idea! I am working on a bible project and run over a problem that book, chapter, vers is not a unique Identifier. For Example Psalms have different vers counting in different translations and languages. Do you have a unique identifier?

  2. Axel:
    No, i’m not proposing a unique identification system. I think Logos may have an existing (internal) scheme for mapping across different verse reference systems, but frankly i think that’s too ambitious for bibleref at this point. I’d be happy with just two results at this point:
    a) users unambiguously identifying when they’re referencing the Bible
    b) capturing what verses they’re referencing (in whatever reference scheme they themselves are using)
    I’ll bet just these two things would still accurately capture 99% of the references that being used daily.

  3. That is such a good idea! It would also take away the problem of people misquoting the Bible. It would be nice though to have the optional different translations of the Bible. People often are very attached to a specific translation of their favorite passage.

  4. What about using OSIS references? The OSIS spec sets forth very comprehensive notation for specifying references and ranges.

    Seems like every year I re-discover your site, and I am always pleased by what I find. Time to subscribe to your blog I guess :o)

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