How To Twitter The Bible

July 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Rick's Rants

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Here’s a piece of trivia that I discovered while writing this post which every Christian Tweep will enjoy. The average Bible verse is 25 words in length and the average number of characters needed to Tweet a Bible verse properly is 140.

There is a huge and growing Christian presence on Twitter and it has become a great place to publish God’s truth. It’s an awesome platform for Christians around the world to speak God’s Word to each other, building each other up and encouraging one other. However, the 140 character limit means that there are many verses in the Bible that cannot be tweeted easily. If we want to leave room for retweeting and a small amount of personal commentary, we are left with even fewer verses that can be tweeted. Therefore, certain shortcuts are being taken to reduce the number of characters needed to tweet a verse.

Which brings me to the primary reason for writing this article. As more and more Christians get on Twitter and join the wonderful and unprecedented global Christian conversation, it would be valuable for us to have some guidelines for tweeting Bible verses. As most of you know, the Bible wasn’t written with chapters and verses, they were added later to help facilitate the reading, studying, referencing and sharing of God’s Word. In other words, they facilitate our conversation over the Bible. Social networking is enhancing that conversation, but with its preference to brevity, it is also changing the conversation’s format and structure. With these changes come the need for new shared guidelines.

For that we need to talk about several things; shortening the text of Bible verses without compromising them, shortening the Bible references (and the importance of tweeting the reference), dealing with Bible versions and their copyright requirements and also how to add helpful commentary while making it clear which words have been added.

1. Using Twitter Shorthand To Tweet The Bible

The acronym-style abbreviations used in texting are obviously not very useful for condensing Bible verses. The words that 143, lol, rofl, btw, etc shorten, do not occur very often in the Bible’s text.

What we can use is the language of Twitter. Twitter language incorporates simple devices that reduce the number of characters needed without compromising readability. Here are the basics:

  • When possible replace words with a single number. (one = 1, to, two and too = 2, four and for = 4 etc.)
  • When possible replace words with a single letter. (be = B, see = c, are and our = r, you = u, why = y)
  • Of course there are combinations of the above. (before = B4 etc.)
  • Hybrid words using the above work as well. (4tune, 4got, 4get, gr8)
  • Don’t forget to use the symbols when you can. (and = &, at = @ etc.
  • As long as it’s still immediately obvious what the word is, feel free to leave out letters. (the = th, that = tht, work = wrk etc.)
  • Spell phonetically when it allows you to save characters. (luv, giv, sry, thx, thru) We need to use this sparingly on only the obvious and secondary words or the reading becomes laborious.

The great thing about Twitter language is that you don’t have to learn or memorize it. Once you understand the concepts, they’re easy to apply; use numbers, symbols and single letters when you can and shorten words by eliminating letters and/or spelling phonetically when possible.

These rules don’t compromise the scriptures integrity or readability and since just the words to, for and be occur in the Bible a total of more than 35,000 times, these shortcuts really help.

2. Twittering Bible Verse References in a Compact Way

Including the reference for the Bible verses that you tweet is important. If a person is encouraged by the verse, they may want to look it up and benefit from the context and a deeper reading. If the person reading it is not familiar with the verse and you’ve left off the reference, then the tweet no longer carries the authority of scripture because the reader doesn’t know where it came from.

Traditionally, if you wanted to quote the first verse from Ecclesiastes 3, you’d need to follow the verse with (Ecclesiastes 3:1) That’s 18 characters. Fortunately you can use the abbreviation (Eccles. 3:1) or the even shorter one (Eccl 3:1). We have these shortened versions because in the past an ever increasing need for brevity has called for their creation. Now a new need calls for even shorter abbreviations.

If we remove the parenthesis, which aren’t necessary, and eliminate the spaces, we save characters without losing clarity. Further, most Bible book abbreviations can be reduced down to two or three letters. That would reduce our example reference to Ec3:1, down from 18 characters to five.

Here’s my table of Twitterized Bible book abbreviations:


Genesis Gn Job Jb Habakkuk Hb Colossians Cl
Exodus Ex Psalms Ps Zephaniah Zp 1 Thessalonians 1Th
Leviticus Lv Proverbs Pr Haggai Hg 2 Thessalonians 2Th
Numbers Nm Ecclesiastes Ec Zachariah Zc 1 Timothy 1Tm
Deuteronomy Dt Song of Songs Sg Malachi Ml 2 Timothy 2Tm
Joshua Jo Isaiah Is (New Testament)   Titus Ti
Judges Jg Jeremiah Jr Matthew Mt Philemon Pm
Ruth Ru Lamentations Lm Mark Mk Hebrews He
1 Samuel 1S Ezekiel Ez Luke Lk James Ja
2 Samuel 2S Daniel Dn John Jn 1 Peter 1P
1 Kings 1K Hosea Hs Acts Ac 2 Peter 2P
2 Kings 2K Joel Jl Romans Ro 1 John 1J
1 Chronicles 1Ch Amos Am 1 Corinthians 1Co 2 John 2J
2 Chronicles 2Ch Obadiah Ob 2 Corinthians 2Co 3 John 3J
Ezra Ez Jonah Jon Galatians Gl Jude Ju
Nehemiah Ne Micah Mi Ephesians Ep Revelation Rv


If you’d like to see a table that shows all of the Bible books and all of their abbreviations (as they’ve got progressively shorter over the years) you can find it here.

Another very obvious way to Twitter Bible verses and keep the character count down is to only tweet part of the verse. Many verses contain more than one sentence and it’s alright to just tweet the one that you’d like to share. (Remember the verse divisions were added later.) Galatians 5:6 has two sentences and the second one is short and can stand alone as an inspirational tweet, “What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” When we chop up a verse some feel it’s necessary to add a letter to the reference to let people know that you are not quoting the whole verse. To do this (if you feel so inclined) identify the first sentence with the letter ‘a’ the second with a ‘b’ etc. So the above verse would be referenced Gl5:6b.

If we chop a verse up in the middle of a sentence we shouldn’t add an arbitrary period. Some use three periods (…) to show that the sentence continues but since that uses 3 characters, I suggest an underscore (_).

3. Bible Versions & Copyrights

The copyright holders of all modern Bible translations allow us to quote from their version without using a full copyright notice as long as we publish their logo acronym with the verse (NIV, NLT etc). However, Tweeps are not including the required copyright notation merely because it uses up an additional 3 or 4 characters. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest a compromise. The key word, the one that makes the version’s name unique is often represented by the middle initial(s). If we use only these one or two letters, it is still clear which version we are quoting from and I’m thinking that the copyright holders would rather have that than nothing.

Here are my suggested new logo abbreviations for some of the most popular Bible versions:


New International Version NIV I
New King James Version NKJV NK
New Living Translation NLT L
The Message MSG M
New American Standard NAS NA
New Century Version NCV NC
Today’s New International Version TNIV TI
Amplified Translation AT A
New Revised Standard Version NRSV NR
(Copyright © 2009 Lightwave Publishing Inc.)  


4. Bible Commentary (Twittertary)

I find that adding personal Bible commentary helps make your Bible tweets more relevant to Twitter. They don’t get scan-read as quickly, they can be made relevant to the current trending topics and they start conversations more readily. For us to ensure that the readers know which words are ours, we should use this order; verse, reference, twittertary. This order clearly separates the Bible’s words from yours. Here are a few examples:

What is important is faith expressing itself in love. Gl5:6bL When R love is showing so is R Faith. : )

As iron sharpens iron as a friend sharpens a friend. Pr27:17L _or as a follower sharpens a follower. : )

If Bible Twittertary is all we are tweeting, we should still include the reference that supports the comment. In this case we can simply use the letter ‘C’ for ‘see.’

When we R not acting in love we R not expressing & living R Faith. : ) C Ga5:6

Just for fun I did an online search of over 25 versions of the Bible and found the word ‘twitter’ twice; once in the NASB and once in The Message. In both verses the authors (David and Hezekiah) were praying and they compared the noises they made while praying to God for help to the twitter of a bird.

Like a swallow, {like} a crane, so I twitter; I moan like a dove; My eyes look wistfully to the heights; O Lord, I am oppressed, be my security. Isa 38:14 NASB

Insomniac, I twitter away, mournful as a sparrow in the gutter. Ps 102:7 The Message

David and Hezekiah twittered before the Lord and now we all benefit from reading about it. Likewise, our tweets should benefit and minister God’s truth to our readers. This new system for brevity can help us all do that well in 140 characters.

Two last tweets:

Let everything U say B good & helpful, so tht your wrds will B an encouragement 2 those who hear them. Ep4:29b Words & tweets. : )

Insomniac, I twitter away, mournful as a sparrow in the gutter. Ps102:7M Apparently twittering kept David up as well. : )