How to Organize Bible Biographical Materials.pdf

How to organize Bible Biographical Materials in a Church Library 

by Stephen Gateley 

Bible biographical materials are a useful resource. They share information you likely don’t know about Bible persons.  Their lineage, personal traits, accomplishments and of course stories about their lives. Biographies can be of a single individual or a collection with more than one life in the content of the title. This type of Bible title is known as a "collective biography." 

Collective biographical biblical titles 

With any typical biography we use the letter “B” for biography on the top line of the call number and the first three letters of the biographee on the bottom line. That way biographies are shelved by persons biographed. But because collective biographies contain the lives of many persons, we don’t use the first three letters of a person’s last name who is a biographee, we use instead the first three letters of the author’s last name. And although it was just stated that we use the letter “B” on the top line of the call number. With Bible biographies they are classified in the 200’s (religion) with specific Dewey numbers. The following examples are given: 

            220.92 - When classing collective biographical titles that include the lives of BOTH Old and New Testament persons, use this number.

            221.92 - When collective biographical titles contain ONLY the lives of Old Testament persons, then we use this number.

            225.92 - For New Testament collective biographies, this is your number.

Individual biographical biblical titles 

We just looked at collective biblical biographies, so let’s now look at individual biblical biographies. When classing a title that is entirely on one person like Moses, Samuel, Luke or any other biblical person (Old or New Testament) we use the following rule. If the individual is an Old Testament person, we use 221.92 for Old Testament persons.  An individual New Testament person we use 225.92 for New Testament persons. When completing the call number for these biographical titles, always use the first three of the biblical person's name. For example: 

            221.92 Mos A biographical title about Moses. He’s an Old Testament person so we use 221.92 and the first three letters of his name.

            225.92 Luk A biographical title about Luke. He’s a New Testament person so we use 225.92 and the first three letters of his name. 

PLEASE NOTE: If you happen to turn to 226 in the Dewey class text, you’ll see the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These names and Dewey numbers are NOT the biographical numbers for these persons.  Instead, these are the Dewey numbers for the books of the Bible named after these persons. You’ll find under 221 numerous names in Dewey for Old Testament names. Likewise, these are not biographical numbers for these persons, but rather are books of the Bible named after these persons. 

ALSO NOTE:  The Dewey class numbers … 221.92, and 225.92 are used for both collective and individual biographies of biblical persons.  220.92 will only be used for collective Bible biographies because individual Bible biographies are placed in either the Old or New Testaments Dewey numbers where they belong. 

AND A FINAL NOTE:  As you’ve learned in Bible classes, biblical persons do not have surnames such as Matthew, Mark, etc. So we use the first three letters of the person’s first name.  You may see biblical persons referred to as … Judas Iscariot … Simon Bar-Jonah ... or even, Jesus Christ. Iscariot, Bar-Jonah and Christ are not last names, but are simply names that clarify which Judas, Simon or Jesus you are referring too. So do not use the first three letters of these names. 

Unique individual biographical biblical titles 

In the Dewey Decimal system, there are biblical persons who are unique or special and therefore have their own Dewey number.  In these instances, the previous rules do not apply. The letter “B” and the numbers for the Old (221) or New (225) Testaments are not used. Instead, the Dewey number specifically for that biblical person is used.  Examples are: 

            232.901 - This is the biographical class number for Jesus Christ. This number is to be used for titles outlining His entire life. Should the title only share the crucifixion and death of Jesus, then 232.963 is used. You will find other Dewey numbers in the 232.9s that relate to other time periods of His life.

  • Use this number for a biographical title on Mary, the mother of Jesus.
  • Use this number for a biographical title on John the Baptist.

            232.95 - If the title ONLY includes the ministry or public life of Jesus, use this number. 

NOTE: For each of the four unique names just given, to complete the call number, use the first three letters of the author's last name. This exception is done because the Dewey class number (232.91 for Mary) will make sure that all titles on those persons are shelved together. 

ALSO NOTE:  God is a unique Being. And so titles “about” God are classed under 231, God as a whole Being.  God the Father 231.1 … God the Son 231.2 … God the Holy Spirit 231.3 .  You may ask “What’s the difference between “God the Son” 231.2 and “Jesus Christ” 232.901?” Nothing. They are one in the same. But for Jesus’ spiritual realm use 231.2 and for His earthly realm use 232.901

Other religious folk 

When it comes to other biographical titles found in the 200s, they are dealt with in the following manner: 

                 266.092 - Class here titles on the lives of individual missionaries and groups of missionaries (i.e.: medical missionaries). Be sure, however, the emphasis is on the person's life and not on the place. If the latter is true, then those titles should be classed elsewhere in the 266s. Example: John Doe’s African mission. Class as 266.6 (missions in Africa).

                286.092 - This number can be used for Baptist biographies, such as collective biographies of Baptists (title on the SBC presidents). Under this number, you will class individual Baptist biographies by using the first three letters of the biographee’s last name to complete the call number. For example, Southern Baptist and former President of LifeWay, James Draper, Jr. 286.092 Dra.


Stephen Gateley is librarian at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee.

This article is based on the book A Classification System for Church Libraries, Revised.

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  • Well done!! This post confirmed what we are doing, for the most part. We are not quite as detailed due to volume numbers, BUT, the basics described is our foundation. 

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