How to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Sermons and Papers

word-study

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?

Plagiarism.

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:

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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).

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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.

This works for sermon archives too. I can copy passages from my favorite preachers’ sermons complete with citations, just like any other Logos resource. After I’ve done some word study, tracked down some cross-references, and consulted some commentaries, I do sometimes check the sermons of others to see how they have handled my text. The Logos library has D. A. Carson, John Piper, Tony Evans, Tim Keller, and others. Sometimes a good preacher’s insight into Scripture comes to feel like my own; I forget where I got it. But with those automatic citations, I’ll always be reminded.

The next time you see a quotation in a Logos book or sermon archive 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.








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Written by
Mark Ward

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

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Written by Mark Ward