Christians of the 21st century have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Bible study tools. One valuable resource for God’s people is a study Bible. While there are many kinds of study Bibles, they are not all created equal. The best study Bibles are those that help the reader understand the Bible better. That is the goal of the NIV Study Bible, which is now in its 35th year. I received a free copy of NIV Study Bible as a #BibleGatewayPartner in exchange for an honest review.
The editors of this study Bible present their goal clearly:
A study Bible contains the full text of the Bible, along with a library of study features to help the reader more completely grasp, understand, and apply what the text is saying. These notes introduce and explain a wide variety of background information to the biblical text, providing deeper insights for individuals who are ready to devote themselves to serious study of the text.p. iii
Having owned several study Bibles (ESV Study Bible, MacArthur, CSB Study Bible, etc.) and having reviewed other study Bibles here and here, I have seen the same helpful features that are found in many study Bibles. This includes charts, maps, and comments on the text. These features seem to be a given for study Bibles. In this review, however, I want to point out five unique features that I find to be the strengths of the NIV Study Bible.
1. Book Introductions
Each book of the Bible begins with a few pages of introductory material that is well-written, interesting, concise, conservative, and includes attractive photographs and charts. The introduction article includes a summary of the author, audience, date, and theme of each book. In addition to a detailed outline, articles on archeological finds are also included.
2. Articles on Theological Themes, Literary Features, and Difficult Texts
Study Bibles are known for their short commentaries on the biblical text found in the bottom margin of the page. The NIV Study Bible, however, goes further by including short articles on theological themes, literary features, and difficult texts. These articles are not merely giving a comment on a particular passage; they are providing a broader perspective on what is happening in the text. These articles are short enough to read (1–4 paragraphs), but not too short to be valuable.
Here are some of the short articles I find to be helpful from Matthew and Mark: Typology and Jesus (Matt 2:15); Could Jesus Have Sinned? (Matt 4:1–11); The Unforgiveable Sin (Mark 3:29); Mark’s “Sandwich” Structure (Intercalation) (Mark 11:12–25); and The Resurrection Account in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1–20).
3. Archeological Insights
Archeology serves Bible scholars in two ways: 1) apologetics, and 2) historical-cultural backgrounds. Not only does archeology affirm faith in Scripture, it also provides historical and cultural details that today’s readers may have missed due to the time gap since the Bible was written. I am pleased to see archeology as one of the main features of the NIV Study Bible. A drawing of a spade in the bottom margin comments indicates an insight from archeology.
Here are some of the archeological insights in John: citation of parallels from the Dead Sea Scrolls (see comments on John 1:23; 3:25); insight on a well in the same area where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John 4:11); and pool of Siloam (John 9:7).
4. Discussion on the Intertestamental Period
Reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is not the only way to read the Bible—but it is the best way to read Scripture. Unlike reading a dictionary or other reference work, we typically read a book by starting in page 1 and continuing until the end. Reading the Bible as presented in the canon is the best way to grasp the storyline of Scripture. One difficulty in this reading, however, happens when one finishes Malachi and starts reading Matthew. All of a sudden, the entire setting of the story has changed.
Thus, I find the brief discussion and charts on the Intertestamental Period to be beneficial. The chart and article contain summaries and dates of the Persian Period, Hellenistic Period, Hasmonean Period, and the Roman Period. This section includes snippets on the social developments that took place during this time which were absent in Post-exilic Israel, but which set the environment of the New Testament (e.g., synagogue, Sadducees, Pharisees, etc.).
5. Roster of Conservative Scholars
Bible scholars or teachers are one of God’s gifts to the church (Eph. 4:11). I am pleased to find reputable and conservative scholars who contributed to this study Bible. Their lifetime study of the Bible is presented in a concise and easy-to-understood format for the benefit of the church. Reading this study Bible is almost like reading commentaries from Walter Kaiser (Exodus), Edwin Yamauchi (Ezra), Derek Kidner (Ecclesiastes), Gleason Archer (Daniel), Thomas McComiskey (Micah), William Lane (Mark), Robert Mounce (Galatians, Revelation), Leon Morris (1, 2 Thessalonians), and Edmond Hiebert (Titus), to name a few. Kenneth Barker has been the general editor for 35 years. Craig Blomberg, Jeannine Brown, Mark Strauss, and Michael J. Williams are the associate editors.
With this roster, it should not be surprising to find a certain level of scholarship in the content of the comments and articles, which is presented in a way that is easy to understand for a popular audience. For example, I was surprised to find a chart explaining the two-source theory and Matthean priority as part of a discussion on the Synoptic Gospels. As mentioned above, an article on the intercalation in the literary structure of Mark was also a pleasant surprise.
The NIV Study Bible is a keeper. This would be a perfect gift for both the teenager and the senior citizen. The rich insights do not distract from the text; rather, they illumine the text. Reading through this study Bible will help any believer increase his or her Bible knowledge exponentially. I highly recommend this study Bible!