A Guide to Writing and Publishing NT Articles

In the field of NT academia, books, essays, and articles are our currency. The desire to build academic credit, though, is just one of a whole constellation of reasons why we publish articles. Others reasons would include that you are responding to issues in another article or book, you are working on it for a particular funded project, you have material unused from a book, you made a new discovery of some sort, or you just like to research and write.

Unfortunately, there are no guidebooks for how to enter this world. So many questions come to mind when beginning this adventure: who do I submit an article to? What about formatting? How long does it take to hear back? How long should it be? Who reviews it? How do they decide? And so on…

I hope, here, to offer some basic answers and fill some knowledge gaps for others who are new to the process.

THE BASICS

There are scores of biblical studies journals and many of these have their own rules and guidelines for submission. But, a few things are given or are extremely common. Here are some basics you should know:

1. Length – an article for a NT journal is usually between 3,000-10,000 words. I tend to aim for about 5,000-7,000 words which seems about average. Most journals are reluctant to take more than 8,000 words unless the article really needs it and is really ground-breaking.

2. How to submit – Look the journal up on the web and the host site should have a document or page ‘instructions for authors/contributors’ or something like that. In there you will find details about who to send it to and formatting instructions. Traditionally, you would have to print out a couple of hard copies and post them to the editor (who is named on the journal itself and/or the webpage). Nowadays, more and more journals are accepting electronic (emailed) copies. The website should tell you, but I am in the habit of emailing the editor and asking if they take electronic (email) even if they say on the web they do not.

3. Time-line – This varies quite a bit, but most journals take between 3-6 months to assess. The more prestigious the journal, the longer you should expect. The time considerations is based on the availability of reviewers and the number of submissions. For a journal like NTS or JBL, 6 months is pretty good – it might be longer. Some journals, like Biblica, can assess very quickly and get back to you in a few weeks!

4. Reviewer(s) – How an article is assessed is also pretty standard. Each journal has a panel of reviewers from various sub-fields in the discipline. Normally your article is sent to two (or sometimes three) reviewers who make independent judgments. Most journals have a ‘blind peer review’ system meaning that your article will be anonymous so they will not be biased for or against you personally. I have a feeling, though, the senior editor (whom you have been in named contact with) also weighs in sometimes on the final decision. The results go back to the editor who then contacts you.

5. Results – You will either receive a letter in the post or an email with an assessment. If they choose not to publish the article, you should be informed why – this is a courtesy to you and if a journal does not give you any feedback, you have the right to ask for it. I once sent an article to a journal and they rejected it without offering any other information. This is poor practice and I will never submit to them again. If they accept your article, you will be given the reviewers’ notes on what they would want to improve in the argument. Journals vary in terms of whether or how much they require you to make the corrections. Some journals offer it more as ‘suggestions’, others seem to be more insistent that you incorporate the feedback of the reviewers. A third response may be that the journal chooses not the accept the piece, but gives feedback for improving it and suggests you re-submit to them when you fix it up. Time-wise, there is no rule for how long you have to correct the article, but it seems like they will tell you if it needs to be fast (to meet an issue deadline). I have taken up to two months to correct an article. If your article has been accepted and you correct the article in line with the assessment, it goes back to the editor who then prepares ‘proofs’. These proofs (usually pdfs, but sometimes not) are almost in their final form (as you would see it in the journal). Here you have one more chance to catch typos and to make sure the Greek/Hebrew came out correctly. Then you send a list of any fixes back to the editor. They will inform you, then, when you article will appear.

6. Freebies – typically you will be given a free issue of the journal you appear in, and also you get so many ‘off-prints’. These are copies of just your article and you may be sent between 10-25 free ones. If the journal is really basic, they may just send you a pdf to save money…or nothing at all. Off-prints are pretty standard. These you can save, frame, give to family or friends, or send as ‘writing samples’ when applying for a new job or grant or whatever.

PREPARATION

As a general practice, I try to decide in advance where I am going to send an article before I write it. Why? First of all, from a formatting standpoint, it is easier to write it in the style the particular journal wants. Since journals vary in how paragraphs are indented, how block quotes are done, how to title sections, spacing, Greek font, footnote style, bibliography style, biblical references preference (‘Gen. 1:1 versus Gen 1.1 versus Gn 1,1), you are best off starting with one journal’s style. But, how do you decide? I would say there are three main factors: (1) the level of the article, (2) the subject matter and (3) the theological assumptions/positions. LEVEL – how technical is it going to be? Will you be researching extensively in German and French as well? Lots of Greek text? Some journals (like Biblical Theology Bulletin) transliterate Greek so this journal might not be best for an article that is Greek intensive. Obviously highly technical pieces should go in technical journals. SUBJECT – some articles may be especially suited for a sub-discipline journal such as Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus or Journal of Theological Interpretation. THEOLOGICAL POSITIONS: Will you be presuming Pauline authorship of Ephesians – this won’t bode well being sent to JBL or NTS. But, JETS would be more open to that. Now, NTS might not be against a well-constructed argument for the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, but when you just hold certain theologically-based assumptions, that is more crucial. That does not mean I think it is bad to make such assumptions. It is just that some journals may be more suitable depending on what things you are trying to say and where you are coming from.

TIPS

1. Be original – this should go without saying, but I see a lot of articles with really nothing new to say.  Reviewers are looking for innovation and fresh insight.  This often comes from a new approach or methodology.

2. Be simple and clear – don’t try to do too much.  State your thesis in the introduction, follow it closely throughout and restate it in the conclusion.

3. Be directly critical without being antagonistic – In order to make a strong argument, you need to be clear that you find the scholarship on a particular issue lacking.  So, you can highlight where others have gone wrong and why.  But, when arguments become ad hominem, people stop appreciating the Spirit of your argument.

4.  Keep the argument manageable – if you are making a world-shattering thesis, you may want to use a test-case as the basis for your argument rather than doing a NT sweep in 6,000 words and risk appearing too superficial.

5. Engage with international scholarship – I have been busted before for not enough German and/or French research.  And, it has to be more than just a couple of German commentaries.  But, don’t try to show off your knowledge with excessive German quotes.

6. Beware of research overkill – sometimes people feel the need to overcompensate for their scholastic intimidation by excessively footnoting and commenting on everything, and citing endless numbers of supporting texts.  My supervisor called this ‘crushing an egg with a sledgehammer’ and it is to be avoided.  When footnote citations get over the top, it makes you seem actually less confident about your own ideas.

FINAL THOUGHTS

1. Failure is inevitable – The first few articles I put out there got swiftly crushed and rejected.  [If you are a reviewer or editor for a journal, take note – there is no reason to make rude and terse comments in your review assessment.  Many of us are new at this!]  Expect to be shot down, even if you feel like it was your best work.  A friend once told me (who has a good publishing record), ‘its a crapshoot’.  That means, you just can’t try to understand why an article got rejected sometimes.  Sometimes the reviewer was just not having a good day.  Other times, they were on the line and went for ‘no’.  Getting published is as much about having longsuffering as it is about ‘intelligence’.  Keep trying!  My general rule is that for every article I have two journals in mind – a high-class journal (like JSNT or JBL) and a medium-journal (I have a previous post on the levels somewhere in the past).  If the article is rejected by the high-class one, I send it off again to the medium-class one.  If it is rejected again, I usually bench it.  Once in a while I sent it off again to an even lower-rated journal.

You should know that most journals do not allow you to submit the article to multiple journals at once.  You have to wait for the final assessment before sending it somewhere else.

OK- good luck and don’t give up!