I would like to thank the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!
One of the things that struck me about this bible is the name—the NIV Zondervan Study Bible hereafter NIVZSB. The insertion of the publisher into the actual title is a bit strange to me. My guess is they did this to distinguish it from Zondervan’s previous study bible, the NIV Study Bible. While I’ve never used an older NIV study bible, I feel certain this current volume will supersede those quite easily.
Like other study bibles, this iteration from Zondervan is hefty—a whopping 2,912 pages—and in those pages readers will find a wealth of information, all of which is obviously designed to help them understand the text and the world it reflects. The overall design of the NIVZSB is very appealing and draws the eye in. The abundance of full-color graphics is a very nice touch and the text itself is very readable. The sections of biblical text are a serif font, whereas the study notes below are a sans serif font, which makes for a needed contrast. The study notes are also set against a light green background, thus enhancing its readability.
A number of elements I appreciate in this bible. The first is found in the front matter; in fact, it’s the first of many illustrations. This one concerns OT chronology, which is a notoriously difficult matter to sort out. This chronological timeline spans five pages and includes the Israelite peoples, as well as southern and northern Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, Crete, Persia, Greece, and Italy. Of course not all of these civilizations have bearing through all of Israel’s history, but at various times each one plays some role in the formation and development of the people of Israel. This more detailed outline begins with 2500 bce and the timeline for Israel begins with the patriarchs, roughly 2250 bce. What I like about this timeline, as I mentioned, is how they handle the primeval history of Genesis 1–11. What time frame do they assign to the creation accounts, the fall, flood, and Babel? They don’t—they indicate this with a “?”. I like this for a number of reasons: we can’t be sure when these events happened, it’s the position I happen to hold, and it doesn’t embroil itself in the ever-contentious debates between science and faith. Whatever your belief about the first humans and Genesis and the ancillary matters that naturally spawn from that discussion, I appreciate that this was left as an unknown.
Another appreciable element (found in any good study bible) is the introductory articles. The NIVZSB not only introduces each book, but each section, so the reader can be briefly oriented to the OT and NT as a whole, as well as each section’s subsections. For example, after reading the “Introduction to the Old Testament”, the reader then may reader intros to the Pentateuch, the historical books, wisdom and “lyrical” books, and prophets. The book intros discuss much of what you should expect—dates of composition, provenance, themes, etc.—and give the reader a bird’s-eye view of the book. At the conclusion of the OT portion, there is a nice article on the intertestamental period that informs the reader of the importance of what happened historically between the testaments. Venturing into the NT portion of the NIVZSB, there is a two-page chronological timeline beginning with Herod the Great and concluding with the close of the first century. The NT section is handled slightly differently in that rather than having separate articles that discuss the various types of writings in the NT, these are subsumed in the intro to the NT article itself, presumably because the editors felt that three types of literature could be more easily handled this way (gospels, letters, apocalypse). After the NT, the reader is treated to a number of customary elements—tables of weights and measures, index, concordance, and maps. However, in addition to these there are additional articles that cover various topics that figure centrally throughout the bible, e.g., creation, sin, covenant, exile, temple, holiness, justice, grace, etc.
This bible is chock full of helps for the reader—there is no shortage of information available in this volume! Besides the elements already mentioned, the NIVZSB has numerous cross references (in the Gospels this includes parallel accounts found in the other Gospel accounts), an abundance of illustrations (nearly every other page it seems is beset with some sort of graphic illustration, chart, or other visual aid), and copious notes beneath the text that provide definitions for important terms and/or phrases, relevant background information, and brief discussions of difficult passages, e.g., Rom 9–11, 1 Tim 2:8–15, Heb 6:4–6, James 2:18–26, and others.
One of the most unique features of this study bible is that it essentially follows a biblical-theological scheme and seeks to tell the whole story of Scripture, which obviously assumes a unified text with a common trajectory or end. This, of course, will also affect how certain texts are translated. D. A. Carson notes this in the Editor’s Preface: “Finally, this study Bible emphasizes biblical theology” and “we have tried to highlight the way various themes develop within the Bible across time” (xxiii). I find this a helpful approach and I think this feature will distinguish the NIVZSB from others.
If I may quibble, there is one (very) minor annoyance with this Bible—the inconsistent use of dashes. I know, I know—that’s rather petty, especially considering how magnificent this volume is otherwise. However, years of slavish adherence to Turabian and SBL styles of formatting have hardened me and I can’t help but notice these things. The issue is found primarily in the outlines for each book. When indicating a range of verses, some sections are demarked by an em dash instead of an en dash, so that ranges look like “1:2—18” instead of “1:2–18”. Again, I acknowledge this is comparatively minor, but sometimes it’s the little things that annoy and this is no exception.
In sum, the NIVZSB is superbly designed and imminently helpful study bible—this could be the new standard for such works. If you’re looking for a study bible, look no further—the NIV Zondervan Study Bible has everything you need to better understand the Bible.
Αυτω η δοξα