. How to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Sermons and Papers

How to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Sermons and Papers

I was absolutely shocked.

At the top of my NT Introduction paper on Jewish Institutions of New Testament Times was a “B+”—but that wasn’t the shocker. I was only just starting seminary, and I didn’t have the hang of things yet. What shocked me was that the B+ was scribbled out and a big red “F” was written next to it, along with a message: “Come see me.”

I got that sinking, I’m-in-trouble feeling associated with principals’ offices. What had I done?


Only I hadn’t, at least not as I understood plagiarism. I had written the following, with no footnote attached:

“Without fail, the Gospel references to the Sadducees are negative.”

My teacher, having taught this class for decades, knew I had gotten that idea from a book he had put on the reading list.

In fact, I had gotten the idea there, but I had also checked out that assertion for myself, looking at all 14 references in the New Testament (nine in the Gospels and five in Acts). I was able to show my teacher the search history in my Bible software, and I was able to demonstrate, therefore, that I had personally substantiated my claim. I believed that it therefore counted as general knowledge and did not need to be footnoted.

I got my B+ back, along with my dignity.

But I was still too close to the plagiarism line. Ever after, I have always erred on the side of citation. Even in my personal notes, and even in hastily compiled thoughts for a little devotional, I give attribution without fail. At the very least, I preface a quotation with the author’s name, and usually also a title or the abbreviation of the commentary series from which the quotation was drawn. Here’s an actual example from the notes to the most recent sermon I preached:


I do not include “France (NICNT)” in my sermon notes because I plan to mention his name and the commentary series to the congregation. Unless I think the name of the author is one the people would benefit from knowing (because his or her writings are some I recommend, for example), I usually just say, “One theologian said . . .” I include attribution because I know I may come along in a few years and reuse this material for a blog post, article, or book, and I don’t want to forget that I didn’t write this part. This kind of thing has happened to good people who I believe meant no harm. But such a mistake inevitably makes you look, to some viewers, like a bad person who did mean harm. Western society has drastically shortened the list of sins for which you can get fired, but one sin that is still clearly there is blatant plagiarism.

Using Logos to Avoid Plagiarism

Logos Bible Software can help you keep your job. Just make sure you’ve got your settings tweaked correctly. They’re all right at the top of the Program Settings dialogue (⌘-comma on the Mac; Tools > Program Settings on the PC).


For Citation Style, I use Turabian because it’s what I’m used to from seminary and it’s still required of me when I put on my academic biblical studies hat. There are numerous other citation styles to choose from, however, whether MLA, APA, SBL (1 or 2)—or maybe just Harvard if it makes you feel elite.

I tell Logos to Copy Citations, and even to Copy Footnotes—which means that if there are footnotes within the text I’m copying, they’ll be brought along too. I don’t want to take any chances.

The next time you see a quotation in a Logos book that you want in your sermon or even devotional notes, select it, copy it (with ⌘C or Ctrl+C), and paste it into your notes. You’ll get something like this:

Many have tried to assign the love of God, and derivatively Christian love, to one particular word-group. The classic treatment is that of Anders Nygren.2 The noun ἔρως (not found in the New Testament) refers to sexual erotic love; the φιλέω word-group refers to emotional love, the love of friendship and feeling. By contrast, the ἀγαπάω word-group refers to willed love, an act of willed self-sacrifice for the good of another. It has no essential emotional component, however generous it may be. Moreover, it was argued, the reason the ἀγαπάω word-group became extremely popular in the Septuagint and subsequently in the New Testament, is that writers in the biblical tradition realized they needed some word other than those currently available to convey the glorious substance of the love of the God of Judeo-Christian revelation, so they deployed this extremely rare word-group and filled it with the content just described, until it triumphed in frequency as well as in substance.

Whether this is a fair description of divine love will be discussed later. What is now clear to almost everyone who works in the field of linguistics and semantics is that for several reasons such an understanding of love cannot be tied in any univocal way to the ἀγαπάω word-group.

2 Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).

D. A. Carson, “God Is Love,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (1999): 131–132.

The first footnote at the bottom comes with a superscript “2” attached because it’s a footnote from within the text I copied. The second footnote shows where I got all this: a (fantastic) piece by D.A. Carson in Bibliotheca Sacra.

Personally, I like to put Carson’s name and a colon up at the top and then encase the entire quotation in quotation marks, just to make absolutely sure I know in the future that it’s all quoted text. Doing so is muscle memory for me now.

You might be saying, “I don’t want to go to extra trouble saving citations. I don’t write blog posts or articles. I just lead a Bible study/pastor a small church/dig ditches.”

And here’s my suggestion to you: you never know what you’ll be called upon to do, and it takes no extra effort at all to get the citations. In fact, it takes extra effort to remove them. Just copy them automatically into your notes and leave them there.

If you end up plagiarizing, I will give you a little mercy because of my own brush with this particular sin; and I understand the pressure that deadlines (11 am Sunday, for example) place on busy Bible teachers. But Logos makes it so easy to cite sources that it will be completely your fault if you plagiarize and Western society gives you a big red F.

mark ward
Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.

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Written by
Mark Ward

Christian, husband, father, writer, ultimate frisbee player when possible.

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  • Many thanks to Logos/Faithlife for providing this wonderful functionality, including several different “Citation Styles” [note the "quotation marks"!], as well as for placing Mark in this role. Finally, thanks to Mark for this, and for many prior pieces..

  • I would disagree that plagiarism is a sin, but would agree that in writing essays for accreditation it is right and proper to cite where quotations, debating points, criticisms etc.. come from.
    In sermons I believe it’s slightly different. We must be careful that we want our quotes etc…identifying for reasons of pride.
    The reason I identify a quote is often because I want to claim the agreement or disagreement with the person who made it.
    If one does it to claim the credit and bolster their own reputation then that again is wrong because of pride.
    I speak of this in view of Christian ministry and not of any secular conditions.

  • “Without fail, the Gospel references to the Sadducees are negative.”
    I appreciate that instructors get defensive about plagiarism, BUT ANYONE who has read the Gospels a couple of times knows that Jesus had nothing good to say about the Pharisees and Sadducees.

    Is a sentence like that really “intellectual property” that has to be referenced or you are a plagiarist? Come on….

    • In defense of my prof, and now that you say that, it may be that I reflected the wording of the original book too closely. That was 15 years ago, however, and I simply don’t recall. (And that’s one reason to be clear when you’re taking notes whether you are quoting, paraphrasing, or what!)

      • I have Dyslexia and I attend Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary Pursuing a M-Div. Reading your Article gives me comfort pertaining to the painstaking task of writing a scholarly worthy work for seminary professors.

        I am new to Logos and I am excited that citing as such will help me with my papers.. Thank you…

  • I understand the social requirement to ‘give credit where credit is due’ but from a Christian perspective I wonder if our insistence on it in our domain doesn’t give credence to a worldly perspective of self-honor and glorification (i.e. those of us who are mature know that all wisdom, knowledge, and understanding comes to us from God, how then can any of us take / receive credit for it as if we discovered it?) From a counter-cultural perspective, shouldn’t we be giving God the glory? Why do we let the world dictate their standards to us in the Christian academic community? Just speaking-my-mind.

    • I agree with you Don, but I don’t want to cast doubt on the accreditation system of study at ministerial Bible colleges – Universities, seminaries etc…where it is right and proper to show what and whom you’ve studied and who you agree or disagree with and why. But I don’t believe it absolutely necessary when preaching sermon, although I often say whom I have quoted, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t consider it a sin.

  • Academics are different than preaching. When I preach, if I say something that has never been said before or share a thought that has never been shared before, I am blaspheming. Expository, exegetical preaching is to say the same thing about a passage that Spurgeon said. No, If I read an illustration or an instruction or a poem or something, I give credit. As for my regular preaching, I have published a list of the commentaries I consult every week. I publish a list of the authors I regularly read, so if I give a particularly wise point, the chances are it is a mix of Boice, Spurgeon, Sproul and a few others. Just my thoughts.

    • I agree with you Michael, but I don’t want to cast doubt on the accreditation system of study at ministerial Bible colleges – Universities, seminaries etc…where it is right and proper to show what and whom you’ve studied and who you agree or disagree with and why. But I don’t believe it absolutely necessary when preaching sermon, although I often say whom I have quoted, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t consider it a sin.

  • Huge deal. Because you don’t want Logos to get banned from use with papers. Too much at stake. Always err on the side of caution, unless you can verbatim and absolutely explain and acknowledge to a Dean or Professor in person!

    • Agreed. And caution is so easy with Logos. Again, it takes extra effort to be incautious. Just set the settings and you’re set!

  • Is there a way to put the citation right next to the quote? I mix reading with extemporary speaking and would benefit from giving credit right from the quote. I do agree that if expository preaching is explaining the text, then the focus should be on the word explained rather than the one explaining, especially in a message. I have people who are distracted by the quotes from Dr So-and So, who would rather keep the focus on Scripture.

    • I’m not completely sure I follow your question… When you copy something from Logos with your citation settings the way I recommended, and then when you paste that quotation into a word processing document, you get a citation right after whatever you pasted.

      You make a good point about expository preaching and distractions. Here are my principles: 1) When I feel that I need the weight of a respected voice to help me persuade my hearers, I name that voice. 2) When I feel that a certain voice needs to be more known and respected by my hearers, I (sometimes) name that voice. 3) When I must disagree with someone and feel that this disagreement is important for my hearers to know about, I weigh carefully whether naming that someone will actually help my hearers.

      About two thirds of the time, I’d guess, I just say, “As one theologian/book I was reading/church father/what-have-you said…”

      • Mine show up at the bottom of the page rather than immediately after the quote.

        • Ah, gotcha. I’m guessing you’re in Word? You have two options:

          1) Tell Logos in program settings to “Copy Footnotes as Text” rather than as “Footnotes” or “Auto” (the other two options in the dropdown).

          2) Paste as plain text within Word. (When I was a Windows user I used a little app that did this automatically for me when I pressed a certain keyboard shortcut; on my Mac I use Alfred to do the same thing.)

          Let me know if you need any help with either of these solutions.

  • Is there an option to copy citations when using the Logos iOS app?

    I do find this feature extremely helpful and it helps a bunch with my research papers.

    • I am not aware that citations are a feature of the iOS app. But you can use Visual Copy or, more likely if what you’re doing is research papers, the clipping feature. That might be what you want. Or are you doing word processing on your iPad or something?

      • On my iPad, I am just using the Logos app. I have a note document and wanted to know if footnote citations could be included/added into my note document when I copy and paste. To get around it, I will use the clipping feature more on my iOS device and hope this feature is added someday. Thanks.


  • Is there any way Logos could add the Copy Citations function for mobile devices or iPad? I use the function with my laptop routinely, and I love it. Thank you.

  • Is there any chance of adding another ‘citation style’ which would produce the text you describe above? If I’m taking notes in a logos notes file, I really don’t need a full citation at all, I just need

    Carson: “quote”

    And for the ‘Carson’ text to be a hyperlink to the relevant page of the Logos resource. I’m sure this would be technically straightforward, and would make for much neater notes files.

Written by Mark Ward