More than any other generation in church history, our era has been blessed with a wealth of tools for understanding and applying the Bible. One of these tools is the NIV Life Application Study Bible (NIV LASB). I received a review copy of the NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition free of charge as a member of BG2 and a #BibleGatewayPartner.
This study Bible includes maps, timelines, profiles, book overviews, and 10,000 notes (see here). I’ll highlight three key features that I find to be valuable for understanding and applying the Bible better, while also offering a few suggestions that I think will strengthen these features even more. I will end by answering the question of what audience this Bible is best suited for.
1. Book overviews
While not unique to the NIV LASB, the book overviews or “Vital Statistics” is one of the most helpful features of the NIV LASB. For someone unfamiliar with a Bible book, the opening overview lays out the necessary background that may not be apparent upon the reading of the text. It gives the reader an idea of the book’s purpose, author, original audience, date, and setting. It has a helpful synopsis, a blueprint or outline, and a list of the book’s main themes. This section serves as a map for the reader as he dives into the biblical text.
Included in this “Vital Statistics” section are a list of key verses, key people, key places, and special features. While these details are helpful, I’m not sure they are necessary. Sometimes it is clear that a certain verse is the key verse of the entire book or a summary of what the book is about (e.g., John 20:30-31). But for some books, it is difficult to discern if the biblical writer really had in mind a “key verse” (or section, since they didn’t have verse numbers back then). For example, in the overview of Romans, the key verse listed is Romans 5:1. I agree that that is a significant verse, but is it the “key verse” of Romans? Why not Romans 1:16-17?
Regarding key people, key places, and special features, I think this information will be apparent to the reader and does not provide any additional insight vital to the understanding and application of the text, which is the goal of the study Bible.
2. Comprehensive explanatory notes
The notes below the text are comprehensive. For sure, not all verses or sections are given an interpretation or application, but the passages covered are widespread. I also appreciate the procedure for getting into the application of the text. One of the appendices at the back (pp. 2262–65), titled “Taking the Step to Application,” discusses the application procedure followed in the NIV LASB. The first three steps have to do with observing the text: people, place, and plot. The fourth step is determining the point, which is the meaning to the original audience. Fifth is transferring the principles embedded in the passage. The last four steps seek to apply the passage to the present by looking for personal parallels, priorities, and plans.
Ron Beers, the general editor of Life Application Study Bible, explains the procedure of every note found in the NIV LASB this way:
Every study note has three key parts: the explanation, the bridge, and the application. The explanation is usually the first part of the note, and it always points the reader back to the Bible verse or verses being addressed. The point of any Study Bible is to point the spotlight on the Bible text, not the notes. The bridge is the core of the note, explaining how this Bible verse is relevant to our lives today. It answers the question, “So what?” The final part of the note is the application, which answers the question “Now what?” It provides practical suggestions and insights into how we can live out this timeless principle addressed in the Bible text.From an interview with Jonathan Petersen (see full interview here)
I appreciate the movement from text to original audience first before moving to contemporary applications. I think that is crucial to avoid any misapplication of the text. My only concern is that it missed another vital step – how does the passage point to Jesus? Or how does the passage teach the Gospel? Granted, this question is based on a theological assumption that all biblical texts point to Jesus, yet this is a question that every Bible reader must reckon with. I think including this step in the process will improve the overall applications suggested in the already-helpful explanatory notes.
3. Maps, Charts, and Diagrams
Another interesting feature is the list of maps, charts, and diagrams found throughout. I could see how this feature would incite interest in readers, especially children and teenagers. They give helpful information, summary points, and mini articles that make the understanding of the biblical text clearer.
Some examples that I find very insightful include the following:
- “Psalms from David’s Life” located near Psalm 3—parallels each Psalm with the events of 1 & 2 Samuel.
- “Where to Get Help in the Book of Psalms” located after Psalm 150—a good resource for using the psalms in counseling.
- “Psalms in the New Testament” located after Psalm 51—a chart that lists where in the NT certain passages in the Psalms are quoted. I have not checked if this list is exhaustive, but it looks like a really good list to begin.
Having the maps and timeline right on the page helps the reader have a visual understanding of the events he is reading. Sometimes, it is easy to get lost in the details or to simply read past the details—yet those details may be vital to understanding the point of the passage.
Best audience for this study Bible
Sitting on my shelf are several other study Bibles (one that I purchased, one that my wife owns, and three that were given to me). This is to say that I am not against study Bibles. The more tools there are for people to read God’s Word, the better! But not all tools are for everyone. For example, right next to my study Bibles is my Reader’s Greek and Hebrew Bible. Not everyone can benefit from this type of Bible, but they are very helpful to those who know the languages. The NIV LASB is designed to help readers get to the meaning and application of the text. This is good. But there is also a certain point in one’s growth in Christ that a believer should be given the tools to reach application and meaning on his own.
For example, I really like the NIV LASB feature in the Psalms, where it provides the theme and author for each psalm. I like this feature a lot because I started a similar thing in my own Bible reading (have not finished yet), where I tried to understand each psalm and summarize its main point. Although I really like this feature, I don’t think it is helpful in the long run. If the theme is already provided for me, then I would be tempted not to try to come up with a theme statement on my own. The process of discovery, learning, and understanding the biblical text is short-circuited.
This does not mean, however, that it is entirely unhelpful. It depends who this study Bible is for. As I look at the wonderful features of the NIV LASB, I could think of several people that would greatly benefit from this study Bible. Children and teenagers will find it fascinating and exciting. Those who have fallen behind in their Bible reading may be extra motivated with LASB’s insightful notes that make Scripture relevant. Maybe this time, they can pass Leviticus or Numbers. New converts unfamiliar with Scripture will find the timelines, charts, and mini biographies helpful to fill the gaps in their understanding of Scripture.
Anytime anyone is reading and studying the Bible, it’s a win.
While not without its short-comings, I highly recommend the NIV Life Application Study Bible for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the Bible. Anytime anyone is reading and studying the Bible, it’s a win. But I especially recommend it for elementary-age children, teenagers, and new believers. The NIV LASB will renew one’s excitement in studying God’s Word. You can order a copy here.