John Dickson has hailed the brand new NIV Zondervan Study Bible, with digital access and new notes and articles by a team headed by Don Carson, as possibly “the most important single volume in a generation of Christian publishing” (in English).
“God bless Carson and his mighty team of experts!” said the co-founder of the Centre for Public Christianity.
Dr Rosner believes the new Bible is a great resource for personal Bible study because it helps the reader appreciate the Bible in three dimensions – historical, literary and theological.
“The first thing that strikes you is its beautiful appearance,” he said.
“The Bible has always been a great message but we’re used to plain presentation, and the presentation of this is aesthetically beautiful. It’s a pleasure to look at and find your way around and the excellent presentation matches the excellent message.”
“What this does very nicely is help ‘mind the gap’ to understand historical information about terms and social conditions and the storyline of the Bible,” he said.
“The second dimension that’s very important and sometimes neglected is its literary side. This Bible does very well on that score as well, so it’s sensitive to reading the Bible as poetry, as prophecy and as narrative; all genres of the Bible are treated very well.”
Dr Rosner believes this new Study Bible provides the basic knowledge to enable the prophecies of the Bible to engage readers who are not used to reading such genres.
“Sometimes I tell students to ‘mind the gap’ but I also tell them to ‘smell the roses’. Slow down and appreciate the figures of speech, the metaphors, the irony and all those literary features that make the Bible such an engaging read when done well.”
The third dimension of reading the Bible as biblical theology is done exceptionally well, he believes.
“So there are three dimensions – history, literary and theology – and this helps you to mind the gap and read it responsibly as a historian would, read it sensitively as a literary scholar would, and it also helps you to join the dots as it shows connections across the Bible and to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Other leading Christian academics had a more mixed view of the extra material in the new Bible, which takes the volume to 2880 pages.
Dr Andrew Cameron, director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra, said the Bible was so heavy that it could only be used on a lectern or table. He felt the downside of cramming so much in was “very thin pages” and “smallish print”.
Dr Cameron loved the “nice maps” and the “amazing, accessible info on every page that you would normally have to trawl for in Bible commentaries.”
He found the 28 two- or three-page articles on biblical and theological themes excellent.
However, he found the introductions and footnotes a mixed bag. Some struck him as a bit shallow while others were gems of insight.
Exploring the new Bible from the back, Dr Cameron was impressed with the section from Revelation to John.
“Every page is covered in tables, photographs, and/or extensive footnotes. This is Bible by immersion, every skerrick of the text explained or compared to the Old Testament or given a cultural background. It will scaffold anyone’s reading of this fascinating part of the Bible.
“A study Bible is a good servant, but a bad master,” he concludes. “Sometimes it can only skate over things, tantalising you without quite answering your questions. So, if you expect it to replace a serious reading of Scripture and close consultation with the labours of scholars, it falls short. But it can be a help to orient you to unfamiliar parts of Scripture, and start you on the long road to deeper knowledge.”
Dr Tim Patrick, principal of Bible College of South Australia, finds much to praise in the new Zondervan NIV Study Bible.
However, having done a lot of work on early English study Bibles, he cautions that the danger of having so much extra material under the same covers as the Scriptures is it can sideline the biblical text and give unwarranted authority to the paratextual material.
“What this means is that there’s a lot that’s not Bible in this Bible. The question is, ‘Is all this extra bulk worth having in the same covers as the text of the Scriptures?’ To the first part of the question – is the material worth having? – I answer with a resounding yes,” says Dr Patrick.
“The contributors of the study materials are among the foremost evangelicals scholars of our day and they have furnished us not only with valuable running exegetical notes, but also with solid introductions to each book and section of the canon, topical articles and even a great spread of maps, diagrams, tables and photographs. This is a mini-library of high-quality resources that are well worth having.
“But to the rest of the question – is this material worth having in the same covers as the text of the Scriptures? – I’m not so sure. Partly this is just for practical reasons. The ZSB is really too big to be easily portable and actually quite cumbersome to handle. Its thickness means that it doesn’t lie nicely flat and the vast quantity of additional materials mean that the text of Scripture is not the most prominent feature of every page. To me, all this makes just reading the Bible part of the ZSB awkward.
“Beyond practicalities, I also think that a fundamental issue for all study Bibles is that they co-bind non-inspired paratexts with the word of God, which can send the message that Scripture is impenetrable without scholarship. There is a degree of truth in this as we have always needed guidance to help us understand God’s word (eg. Acts 8:30-31), but it is another step to say we need the guidance actually printed into our Bibles.
“Following on from this, another risk with study Bibles is that their added commentary can be received as the ‘authorised interpretations’ of Scripture, thereby potentially limiting broader or independent consideration of God’s word.
“For all these reasons, I think I would have preferred all of the truly excellent study materials of the ZSB to have been published as a companion volume to the Bible, rather than as a part of it. Of cours
e, owners of the ZSB do get online access to the paratexts and nowadays this is probably the most useful place for them to be.”
We have one new NIV Zondervan Study Bible to give away. To WIN, comment below and tell us your favourite parable of Jesus, and why you love it. Competition closes 5pm on Friday 18 September.