Bibles, Books, Reviews

Bible Review—NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible


The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
Zondervan | CBD | Amazon

I would like to thank the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

Yes, another study bible has been published. One could easily (and perhaps in some cases should) bemoan the many editions of the bible that appear to be nothing more than a marketing grab. However, when it comes to study bibles, plentiful though they are, each one boasts its own strengths and unique features, thereby making each useful in its own way. Enter the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (hereafter CBSB).

Personally, I own several study bibles and I have used them with great benefit, so I certainly don’t mind adding an additional volume to the mix. What is appealing about this study bible is its focus on biblical backgrounds—one of the most interesting and important areas to study when it concerns understanding the world of the biblical writers. Plus, most of my own doctoral research involves Greek and Roman culture, so I was anxious to see the various elements of these cultures that were discussed.

First, as with other bibles I’ve reviewed, I’ll begin with the aesthetics and physical properties. This bible, like other study bibles, is certainly big—2,358 pages—but is slightly less so than Zondervan’s recent NIV study bible. This edition is the hardcover, so there isn’t much to say about that except hopefully it will hold together over time as I intend to refer to it regularly. Visually, the layout and overall design of the bible is quite nice. Unlike the NIV Zondervan Study Bible (read my review here), the pages are slightly tinted with a sepia-like hue, a design choice I rather enjoy as I find it’s often a little easier on my eyes than the starker black-type-on-white-paper format that is more typical.

As I’ve come to expect with most products from Zondervan, the CBSB includes numerous full-color photos throughout. Though the paper used is obviously not the heavier stock capable of displaying the detail of hi-res images, the photos appear very sharp and crisp on the page—a nice addition that adds to the overall usefulness and visual appeal of this volume. At the risk of sounding somewhat juvenile, pictures can have a great impact when studying the scriptures, so I appreciate the attention to this detail. I flipped through my HCSB study bible and found there were virtually no photos included in that volume, so this is a plus for the CBSB. In addition to the numerous photos, the CBSB contains a copious amount of various information-laden inserts—full-color maps, graphs, timelines, essays (320+), introductory articles, glossaries, cross references, and footnotes, all of which serve the obvious purpose of illuminating the backgrounds relevant to the particular biblical book you might be reading.

For this review, I was asked to pore over and comment on a particular book of the NT, so I chose 2 Corinthians. The introductory article tackles the most frequently discussed issue concerning 2 Corinthians—its literary integrity (or lack thereof, depending on your view). The issues of authorship and date are only provided as data in a side bar while the article/essay is essentially an argument for the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians. Just to point out the aim of this bible, if that hasn’t been clear, the first page of text (1:1–12a) is undergirded with the same amount of page space dedicated to footnotes, most of which concerns information about letter writing and speeches in the ancient world. Most of the notes key in on a particular phrase from the text and provide a brief glimpse into the culture to help explain that particular concept, thought, etc. Since one could go on for quite a while talking about specific instances, since I was asked to focus on 2 Corinthians, I thought I’d look at a couple of passages in which cultural backgrounds could really illuminate the text and help the reader understand it, so I chose 2 Cor 5:1–10 and 12:2–4.

2 Cor 5:1–10 is a notoriously difficult passage to deal with because of several issues, one of which concerns the imagery Paul uses, e.g., the “earthly tent”, the “building from God”, being clothed with our “heavenly dwelling”, etc. Most see Paul here harkening back to the imagery of the wilderness wanderings, but the author of this section (of the CBSB, not 2 Corinthians!) makes mention of what Diaspora Jews and Greeks thought about the body, not necessarily if Paul is alluding to the OT imagery of the tabernacle. In the notes on vv. 2–4, the writer comments on what Jews, Greeks, and Romans thought about the unclothed body and how that factors in to the point Paul was trying to make. There are also notes about kingdom restoration (v. 5), different views of the resurrection (v. 8), and judgment (v. 10). In general, the notes here are helpful, so long as the reader remembers these are simply notes that will (hopefully!) spur them on to research particular issues more deeply outside of this bible.

The second passage, 2 Cor 12:2–4, concerns the account of the man caught up to the third heaven. Most of the notes for this section concern then-contemporary views of boasting, since it’s mentioned several times throughout this chapter (this issue also receives an article insert on the previous page). But here, unlike the previous passage, the editors have included an insert on the opposing page that gives a bit more background on the experience of the third heaven. Basically the article interprets the passage as Paul describing his own experience in the third person, a practice they state was employed by apocalyptic writers (does this assume, then, the writer of this insert sees Paul as an apocalyptic writer?) and offers a few thoughts on Jewish and Greek views of the heavens and how one experienced them according to ancient texts. So, much like the previous passage, the notes here are somewhat brief (as they must be), but remain helpful.

In sum, I think many will find this bible immensely helpful, so long as they don’t use it as a final authority on particular matters. The worlds of the biblical writers were as intricate and complicated as our own it seems and we can’t distill entire cultures and their practices down to a few footnotes, regardless of how many there are. Also, reading through the list of editors involved in this bible, many are from more conservative points of view, so this will obviously skew some things a certain way (I mention this not as a criticism, but merely an observation). You can read Pete Enns’ recent post about the CBSB where he points out some of these tendencies. However, let me reiterate that this is a wonderfully helpful study bible and will be of great benefit to all who use it. From the excellent overall design to its most important features—the information behind the accounts in the text—this bible is a grand achievement and will serve well those who wish to enhance their knowledge of the culture the biblical writers reflect.

For more information on this bible and some helpful info-graphics, head over to

Αυτω η δοξα



Bibles, Books, Reviews

Bible Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Review---NIV-Z-Study-BibleNIV Zondervan Study Bible

Zondervan | Amazon | CBD

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

Read a sample here or take a look online.


Bible Versions

When I became a Christian in 1994, my primary Bible for reading and study was the NIV. It was popular at the time so naturally that’s what I received from those who bought me bibles (both of which I still have). I knew of the KJV as a kid and later as a teenager, but I could never read it for long because its stilted old-world English was simply too much effort to enjoy. I preferred  something more modern.

As I got older, I branched out and read other translations–the NRSV, NASB95, NKJV, ESV, etc. In the 2000s, I was introduced to the HCSB and soon thereafter found myself referring to/reading it more than others. During my tenure as pastor I preached from the HCSB most of the time and to this day it’s one of my preferred Bibles for reading.

While my preference was for the NIV and/or HCSB, I also enjoy/ed a number of other translations: NLT, NET, NJB, CEB, and others. In more recent years I have come to really enjoy and read the REB, a translation I was unaware of until reading something about it on Jim West’s blog. I picked up a copy not long thereafter and have enjoyed it ever since. It has become one of my favorite translations.

So, what about you–what are you favorite translations?

Αυτω η δοξα


On Translation…

Timothy Ward offers an interesting note on translations. In his book Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God, he states

“To give an example what largely distinguishes the recent English Standard Version from the New International Version, and against which many have pitted it, is only the greater willingness of the ESV translators to sacrifice naturalness of expression in English, in order to follow as closely as possible the Greek sentence structure. It is certainly not a virtue in translation to be content only to translate the overall ‘thought,’ without striving to reflect as much as possible of the structure and vocabulary usage of the original. Yet neither ought a translation to be praised too highly  if it regularly turns Greek sentences, which would have sounded quite natural to a Greek-speaking audience, into stilted bits of English no native speaker of the language would ever utter, simply in order to reflect details in the original that may well not be meaning bearing in any sense, but are simply features of Greek linguistic style. There is, in other words, more than one kind of accuracy in translation, and every translation constantly has to make a choice about where to make sacrifices.” – p. 91, n. 50

A little long, but insightful.

Αυτω η δοξα,



The Evil NIV

Most (if not all) of you have probably come across one Steven L. Anderson, whom Scott Bailey has featured on his blog as a contestant in the Worst Preacher Ever contest. Another Anderson gem has surfaced at Sons of the Fathers, this time featuring the pastor’s skills in math. His reasoning and conclusions are so incredibly off-base it defies words. Sheer and unadulterated lunacy. Check it out and have a good laugh!

Αυτω η δοξα,