Review of NIV Zondervan Study Bible

The last time I purchased a Study Bible was my ragged NIV Study Bible from 1985. How the times have changed since the days of digital printing.

At 2880 pages, NIV Zondervan Study Bible is easily the most comprehensive Study Bible on the market today. They’ve made the pages thin, the typeface small, and the typeface of the study notes even smaller but still it weighs in at almost 5 pounds. Here are some of the things I love about it:

1) New typeface. After years of publishing Bibles in standard Times New Roman, the new typeface appears to be in the Garamond family, which I find much more friendly and readable.

2) Full color. Unlike Study Bibles of yore which relegated the color printing to the maps at the end, every page of this Bible uses 4-color printing, meaning you’ll have things like green-colored chapter numbers and headlines, light green background for the Study Notes section on the bottom of each page, full-color illustrations and tables. They don’t use color for the sake of color but only as it augments the reading experience. And yes, the maps that we all took imaginary journeys on during those slower-moving sermons are still there

3) Illustrations. Speaking of illustrations, they too are phenomenal. There are full color photographs of relics and artifacts that really make the Bible text come to life (Isaiah 47 which talks about the fall of Babylon shows an artifact from the British Museum from Assyria depicting the event; next to 1 Thessalonians 4:5 shows the remains a first-century bath that was next door to a brothel, and so on).

4) Each book of the Bible has an extensive introduction that speaks to the books’ authorship, date, audience, historical setting and purpose, literary features, theological significance, and a concise outline of the book. The commentary to introduce each book for the most part seems balanced and fair.

5) The back of the Bible includes a number of articles on various spiritual topics from various authors. Again, for the most part these articles appeared comprehensive and well-researched in discussing not only the topic but also approaches to studying the topic.

6) The book is solidly constructed, not a small engineering feat for such a large volume. It’s not the type of Bible you’ll be lugging around to church every week, but that’s not what it was designed for; for me, it’s a great reference to have for when I need it. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that every copy has an individualized card at the end that lets you enter a code to download the digital version, which does solve the portability challenge.

7) With goes without saying that the maps, concordances, charts, timelines, illustrations, and photographs are excellent, on par with what youd’ find in most standalone volumes.

If there is one gripe I have about this book it’s in the commentary. Where the commentary sticks to historical facts and background I love it. But flipping to a couple of the verses that different Christian denominations typically disagree on, I find that in most cases only one perspective and interpretation is espoused. Given that this is a Bible, a casual reader might conflate the commentary with the Word itself.

While I don’t blame the editors for taking this approach–by definition the entire notion of commentary in a Study Bible is for it to be one person or one group’s interpretation (i.e. opinion) and including every opinion would have doubled the size of the volume–I would have much preferred a much more balanced approach, especially for some of the verses that have to do with doctrines with which different denominations may differ. One example of this is Acts 2:38. The commentary unequivocally states that this verse does not mean that the actual act of baptism saves and implies that it is merely an outward act. It also seemed to imply that the apostles baptizing “in the name of Jesus” was merely shorthand for the more proper Trinitarian formula. Again, while good people can differ on precise interpretation, I would have liked to see a more balanced and measured approach, something I’d seen in earlier versions of the NIV Study Bible but which unfortunately I see less and less of recently.

Still, if you’re a serious student of the Bible, this is a volume I highly recommend having in your library provided that you use it as a reference and starting point for your own studies and not a replacement for them.