Should we capitalize "Biblical" when it refers to Holy Scripture...

Capitalizing "Biblical" when it's used as an adjective pointing to God's Word is acceptable, stylistically; but more, it's a confession of faith. So why is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) agin it?

In few areas is an author more tempted to overcapitalize or an editor more loath to urge a lowercase style than in religion. That this is probably due to unanalyzed acceptance of the pious customs of an earlier age, to an unconscious feeling about words as in themselves numinous, or to fear of offending religious persons is suggested by the fact that overcapitalization is seldom seen in texts on the religions of antiquity or more recent localized, relatively unsophisticated religions. Is is in the contexts of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism that we go too far. The editors of the University of Chicago Press urge a spare, down style in this field as in others: capitalize what are clearly proper nouns and adjectives, and lowercase everything else except to avoid ambiguity. (CMOS, 14th ed.)

The above is a good summary statement of the significance of orthodox and pious Christians continuing to capitalize "Biblical" when it refers to Holy Scripture... In their online forum, CMOS is asked why, concerning "biblical," they depart from their general rule concerning the capitalization of proper adjectives (as opposed to common adjectives)? After stating their preference once again, they cede the legitimacy of "Biblical" with this final sentence:

If you must capitalize “biblical,” however, you have our blessing (as long as you do so in a consistent and logical manner).

We must, and we're grateful for your blessing.

For a couple helpful discussions of this question, see

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.



 Excellent point. The Chicago manual contradicts itself.  If we write "In the Victorian era..."  and "In American history..." shouldn't we write "In the Biblical era..." and "In Biblical history?"  Consistency  would require that we capitalize "Biblical".   Yet it also demands that we capitalize "Equatorial", and I don't think anybody does--- though people usually capitalize "Equator" I think (except, looking it up in the 16th edition Chicago Manual of Style, they don't capitalize "equator" either).  Moreover, the 16th edition makes a special exception for *not* capitalizing "biblical".  See: 


Names of scriptures and other highly revered works are capitalized but not usually italicized (except when used in the title of a published work).

the Bhagavad Gita (or Bhagavad Gītā)the Bible (but biblical)the Book of Common Prayerthe Dead Sea Scrollsthe Hebrew BibleKoran; Koranic (or, less commonly, Qur’an; Qur’anic)the Mahabharata (or Mahābhārata)Mishnah; MishnaicSunnaTalmud; TalmudicTripitakathe Upanishadsthe Vedas; Vedic



Consistent?? Bible, but biblical is consistent with Koran, Koranic???

Yup! That's how the world does consistency! Consistently committed to diminishing the truth.

You're welcome, of course, to adhere to your own style guidelines on this point, but I hope that "orthodox and pious Christians continuing to capitalize 'Biblical' when it refers to Holy Scripture" doesn't imply that you're using it as a litmus test for orthodoxy and piety.

Dear Valerie,

This post was simply to point out CMOS's inconsistency with regard to the capitalization of proper nouns and the capitalization of the proper noun "Biblical" when it points to God's Word. My mention of "orthodox and pious Christians" was in response to CMOS dissing this usage as the "unanalyzed acceptance of the pious customs of an earlier age."

I was defending the piety of our brothers in Christ of past generations and suggesting it might be meritorious to keep the practice alive.


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