Anytime someone reads and studies God’s Word, it is a good thing. You certainly do not need a seminary degree to study God’s Word. Studying God’s Word prayerfully in dependence on the Spirit yields good fruit. These things are all true. This is why I think Kristy Cambron’s NIV Verse Mapping Bible has lots of good potential and could be very useful.
But as a Bible teacher, I believe that how you study God’s Word also matters. After all, there are many who say they study God’s Word but come up with wrong teaching. I think of the NIV Verse Mapping Bible like a chain saw. In a hand of a skillful user, it could do a lot of good; but in the hand of the inexperienced, it can do much harm. I received the NIV Verse Mapping Bible (for adults), the NIV Verse Mapping Bible for Girls, and the Verse Mapping Bible Study Journal for free in exchange for an honest review as a #BibleGatewayPartner.
What is the NIV Verse Mapping Bible?
Kristy Cambron, a corporate trainer and curriculum designer, uses her gifts of creativity and desire for structure to share her own Bible study method in the NIV Verse Mapping Bible. The NIV Verse Mapping Bible for Girls is almost identical to the adult version except for the color, design, and “Letter from the Editor” page. This Bible is intended for anyone who wants to dig deeper into Scripture. It has five steps, and it requires four tools.
First, the reader has to select a verse or two that she wants to focus on. In the Bible itself, 350 verses have already been pre-selected. In fact, the first three steps have already been done for the reader. But there are also 70 “blank” journal pages in the Bible for the reader to use. If that is not enough, the Verse Mapping Bible Study Journal provides additional blank, but structured journal pages.
The second step is called “design.” In this section, the reader compares how the selected verse is translated in different versions. The NASB and NKJV were selected on the pre-written journals. Cambron encourages readers to underline, circle, or highlight repeated words or common phrases across translations or key words the reader wants to explore further.
In the third step, the reader takes the key words she selected in step 2 and looks them up in a concordance. The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance is used on the pre-selected journals. The Bible Gateway app is another suggested tool that can be used to look up words.
Step four, “actions,” has two parts: Cambron calls it “on stage” and “off stage.” In “on stage,” the reader writes down what she observes in the verse—the topics, people, themes, and dates of events in the verse. In “off stage,” the reader also writes down what takes place before or after the verse. In normal nomenclature, this is simply “observation” (“on stage”) and “literary context” (“off stage”).
The final step is called “outcome.” The instruction is: “Write a 1 or 2 sentence summary of what you’ve learned and how you can apply it to your life. What is the Holy Spirit teaching you? How can the verse change, challenge, and/or comfort you? The outcome should reflect what truth has been revealed in your map and specifically what it means to you.”
First, you will need the NIV Verse Mapping Bible (add the Study Journal if the pages in the Bible are not enough).
Second, you will need pens, pencils, or markers.
Third, you will need a concordance and access to several other Bible translations. The Bible Gateway app provides easy access to a Hebrew/Greek concordance and other Bible translations.
Finally, the most overlooked tool: time. Completing this “mapping” would take time.
In addition to the five-step journal pages, each book of the Bible has a helpful one-page introduction. It includes quick summaries describing the author (or likely author), date, and provenance (place of writing). It also has a one-sentence summary of the Book’s purpose and a brief outline. Lastly, it has a few paragraphs introducing the basic contours of the book.
Perhaps my favorite part of this Bible is its wide margin. Readers have decent space with lines on the end margin of each page to write down any notes.
Unlike the NIV Verse Mapping Bible for Girls (that is obviously designed for girls), the adult version does not indicate that it is intended for women. Certainly, it can be used by men. Yet the Bible seems to be marketed to women based on its overall design, color schemes, and font styles. My wife, a co-reviewer in this blog, finds both Bibles and the journal attractive in design.
Our greatest frustration is in the right-to-left structure of the Verse Mapping Bible Study Journal. As you can see in the photo below, with the spiral-bound journal open, steps 4-5 are on the left page, and steps 1-3 are on the right page. This is the intentional order throughout the entire journal with no clear explanation why.
Study Bible Methodology
The NIV Verse Mapping Bible is a good tool in the hand of a skilled Bible reader. The method used here helps the reader dig down deep in understanding a verse or two in Scripture. This also helps readers understand a verse better. Comparing Bible versions and looking up Greek/Hebrew words are my regular tasks in my own methodology of Bible study.
A great caution, however, must be made for the inexperienced. According to the preface, this study Bible is marketed to anyone, including younger girls, and designed to train them to be like a researcher. This, I believe, can be problematic for a few reasons. Let me mention three.
First, looking up words in a concordance to find a “deeper meaning” may lead to several known word-study fallacies. I’m not saying that Cambron has committed these word fallacies, but there is a potential for doing so due to the lack of instructions after Step 3. For instance, since words have multiple meanings (called “polysemy”) there is a tendency for the reader to pick and choose what definition he or she deems best. In the hand of a skilled reader, he or she may look at context and word usage elsewhere to determine word meanings. This is good. But since there are not enough guidelines, an unexperienced reader may end up reading a wrong meaning into the text. Granted, more instructions are given in the Study Journal, but those who did not purchase the journal would miss out on those additional instructions. Another fallacy is called “illegitimate totality transfer.” This takes place when the reader assumes all the possible definitions and inserts them as the meaning of a word in the passage. For further discussion, see:
- James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (my review here)
- Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning
- D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies
Secondly, I do not see any explanations given for the pre-selected verses. Why are those verses significant? The design of the study Bible is for the reader to make his or her own path. The danger is that anyone can read Scripture and make it say what the reader wants it to say. If step 1 is to select a verse—any verse—it is easy to pull out a verse out of its context.
For example, 1 Samuel 17:49–50 is one of the pre-selected verses to map. The beginning of v. 50 says, “So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone…” The words David and triumphed are underlined, suggesting that they are the key words to develop in step 3. This verse leads the reader to understand the passage as David’s triumph, which is a common way people understand 1 Samuel 17. Yet, the story of 1 Samuel 17 is not about David. And we are not supposed to read ourselves into the passage thinking we are David and how we should triumph over our own “giants.” The key dialogue in the passage is actually vv. 45–46, which makes it clear that the victory belongs to the Lord and the purpose was for his name to be known in the whole world.
Lastly, this method seems somewhat impractical for the average younger girl, simply because it requires so much time and multiple additional print volumes (a concordance, several alternate Bible translations) or access to internet resources in order to complete. It might be appropriate for an older teen who is interested in deeper study, or for a college-age young woman, whereas the title “NIV Verse Mapping Bible for Girls” suggests that it is generally appropriate for a young girl. The website markets this to ages 8 and up!
Conclusion and a Suggest Approach
Despite those negative pushbacks, I believe in the potential of a structure and journaling like this. Afterall, I do word studies and version comparisons a lot, and I strongly desire that God’s people—seminary trained or not—would read and study the Bible.
My suggestion to avoid some of the pitfalls I mentioned above is simply re-ordering Kristy Cambron’s five steps. Before proceeding with the deep study (steps 1–3), how about beginning with step 4 and making “off stage” and “on stage” as two separate steps? Then proceed with steps 1–3 and end with step 5. By starting with the literary context (“off stage”) first, the reader will avoid taking a verse out of its context as he or she develops it and studies it deeper. By proceeding with “observation,” the reader could see the contours of the passage first before selecting a verse to study deeper. It goes like this:
- Step 1—Off Stage: What is the context of the passage I’m reading? What is happening in the chapters before or after?
- Step 2—On stage: What is happening in the passage? What are some repeated words, themes? Who are the people, where is the event taking place, what is the argument?
- Step 3—Verse: What is a verse in the passage I want to understand deeper?
- Step 4—Design: How do other translations render this verse?
- Step 5—Develop: What is the meaning of some of these words?
- Step 6—Outcome: What does this passage reveal about God and his work? How can I apply this to my life?
I believe this study Bible can do a lot of good for someone skilled in the Word. But I would not recommend this to a young or new believer or to one inexperienced in the Word. The danger outweighs the benefits. In other words, I may give my copy of this Bible to my mom, who has been a Christian and a Bible teacher for decades. But I would not give it to my youngest sister.