I received an email awhile ago that had information that Zondervan was coming out with a new Cultural Background Study Bible. Well, that piqued my interest as cultural background was something that was looked at quite a bit in our Inductive Bible Study training course we did at our church. Then I read who was involved in the project and one of the authors involved, I have a commentary by him that is fantastic! Craig S. Keener does an excellent job with New Testament cultural background and if the other author (John H. Walton) does similar work in the Old Testament as Dr. Keener does for the New Testament, this new Study Bible has the potential to be extremely helpful for people wanting to understand their Bibles better than ever before. Needless to say, I immediately contacted Zondervan to request an evaluation copy of the NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible so I could review it. In this review, I will be evaluating the physical makeup of this devotional Bible, the study tools and features as well as comparing it to the statement they make at the front as to the purpose of this Study Bible. This purpose is stated as: “This study Bible has been purpose-built to do one thing: to increase your understanding of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s Word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realities behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded”.
In full disclosure, I was not required or requested by Zondervan to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
**See all sections below for full detailed review**
This is not exactly what I would call the typical Study Bible. Yes, it has study notes, but most Study Bibles on the market today have study notes that are a person’s (or group of people) interpretation and/or their application to our lives. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is different. Rather than providing you with their interpretations, rather, the authors give us a lot of background that relates to the culture of the time when the particular book of the Bible was written. This allows you to gain a better understanding as to what the author and/or the original audience of the book had going on in their lives and culture. This helps us to interpret and apply Scripture to our lives much more accurately. We covered this concept in our church in our Inductive Bible Study training classes that we did.
The driving purpose that the authors had for this Bible was “This study Bible has been purpose-built to do one thing: to increase your understanding of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s Word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realities behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded”. So I now have to answer the question of whether or not I feel like Zondervan accomplished that claim.
With that said, I can honestly say that I feel they really did accomplish their purpose. They really did do a nice job of laying out so much of the cultural background that is so helpful in more accurate interpretation of the Word of God.
So, if you are looking for a Study Bible that someone will tell you what Scripture means and how you should apply it to your life, then you may not want to get this Study Bible. You may be more interested in some other Study Bibles – maybe like the NLT Illustrated Study Bible by Tyndale. However, if you are the type of person that likes to study God’s Word for yourself and gain a better understanding so you can interpret and apply His Word more accurately to your life, then the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is something that will be extremely helpful for you.
With that said, I am familiar with Dr. Craig S. Keener’s work in IVP’s Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (ISBN: 978-0830824786). I can’t speak to John H. Walton’s other O.T. Commentary work personally yet, but the N.T. comments in this Study Bible are more of a condensed version of the IVP Bible Background Commentary that Dr. Keener created, which is a fantastic commentary in my opinion and I reference it quite often during my studies. If you aren’t looking for a full commentary, then this Study Bible will be an amazing resource for you.
Here is a video that Zondervan put together where the authors of the Cultural Notes discuss how context is so important for us to understand the Bible
DESCRIPTION OF THIS BIBLE:
Type of Bible: Study Bible
Publish Date: August 23, 2016
ISBN-13 of Bible Reviewed: 978-0310431589
Bible Version: New International Version
Price: At the time of writing this review, the cheapest place to get the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible from is Christianbook.com. They have it for $31.99 – suggested retail from the publisher is $49.99. See below for a breakout and links to the different prices from some major re-sellers and also the publisher. Please note that these prices do not include any potential shipping charges.
- Full color dust jacket
- Smyth sewn
- No ribbon markers in this hardcover version
- Double Column format
- Words of Christ in red text
- Center column cross references
- 2,400 pages
- Type size: looks like about a 9 point for Scripture text and approximately 8 point for the cultural background notes
- Dimensions: 6.7 inches wide x 9.6 inches high x 2.2 inches thick
- Approximate weight: 4.3 lbs
SPECIAL CONTENT OF THIS BIBLE:
Pre-Scripture Text Pages
- 2 pages of Quick Start Guide to the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
- gives a quick synopsis of the different features and tools used within this Study Bible
- 2 pages of Table of Contents
- also includes a list of the different charts and maps used in this Study Bible
- 4 pages of the Authors’ Introduction to the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
- a must read about the reasons a reader really needs to understand the cultural backgrounds
- 1 page of Acknowledgments
- 2 pages of About the Authors
- 1 page of Abbreviations (that are used in this Study Bible)
- 3 pages of Preface which is the typical letter from the translators for the New International Version
- 9 pages of Hebrew to English Translation Chart
- An excellent chart that goes into depth on 50 Hebrew words used that really don’t have an exact equivalent in English. Very insightful.
- 3 pages of Ancient Texts Relating to the Old Testament
- gives some insight to the different ancient Near Eastern non-Biblical documents that give parallels to or shed light on different O.T. Scriptures.
- 5 pages of Old Testament Chronology
- gives a full color timeline that the Old Testament covers
- 3 pages of Old Testament – Major Background Issues from the Ancient Near East
- gives 12 excellent background issues as to the cultural “river” that was predominant in the Ancient Near East.
- 7 pages of The Time Between the Testaments
- this covers quite nicely the time between when the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament were written. It covers the history, the dynasties during that time, literature of the time, as well as social developments.
- 8 pages of Key New Testament Terms
- gives many important points to understand from a cultural perspective really making your understanding of words and phrases used in the New Testament much more clear
- 2 pages of New Testament Chronology
- gives a full color timeline that the New Testament covers
Scripture Text Pages
Introduction to Book Types
This section gives an excellent overview of the major divisions of book types within this Study Bible. Some are as brief as a single page while some are as much as seven pages. These are very well written and The book type introductions cover the following book types:
- The Torah – God Establishes His Covenant
- Narrative Literature – God Working Through Events and Outcomes
- Wisdom and Hymnic Literature – God’s Wisdom and Kingship
- Oracles of the Prophets – God’s Plan Announced Through the Prophets
- The Gospels & Acts – Accounts of Jesus and the Early Church
- The Letters & Revelation – Messages for the Growing Global Church
Individual Book Introductions
The Book Introductions are written very well to give you the background as to who the author of a book is (or is thought to be), to whom the author wrote the book as well as when it was written. This is very similar to most typical Study Bibles, however, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible goes a step further. It provides the larger cultural and political context in which the book was written. Old Testament book introductions include “Key Concepts” that are covered in the book, while New Testament book introductions include “Quick Glance” info which helps the readers orient themselves with the themes contained in the book. Overall, these book introductions are brief, but such an excellent tool to help you study this Bible more effectively.
Cultural Background Notes
As I mentioned in my summary section above, this is not exactly what I would call the typical Study Bible. The notes give us a lot of background that relates to the culture of the time when the particular book of the Bible was written. With that said, and as mentioned previously, I am familiar with Dr. Craig S. Keener’s work in IVP’s Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (ISBN: 978-0830824786). I can’t speak to John H. Walton’s work personally yet, but the comments in this Study Bible are more of a condensed version of the IVP Bible Background Commentary that Dr. Keener created, which is a fantastic commentary in my opinion and I reference it quite often during my studies. If you aren’t looking for a full commentary, then this Study Bible will be an amazing resource for you. In fact it was Pastor Ron Jones from Faith Baptist at Sellersville that initially got me interested in the IVP Bible Background Commentary by Dr. Keener.
Center Column Cross References
Fairly typical cross references set in the middle between the two columns of Scripture text. The design of this feature is laid out very nicely with a shaded background making it actually very easy to read the references. Very nice.
Full Color In-Text Maps
Throughout this Study Bible are maps that are done within the Scripture text. There are over 60 of them and they all are designed very well, in full color and easy to read. Although on some of them, the font size might be just a touch smaller than what some readers may like.
There are over 70 charts and graphics that are done throughout this Study Bible. Design of these charts is excellent and so informative.
Around 300 different articles that cover many different topics, ideas and cultural background that sheds light on the Scriptures. Most have full color photos and are designed very well. They really are an amazing resource!
This Bible has the typical NIV footnotes from the translators that you would find in other NIV Bibles.
Post Scripture Pages
- Table of Weights and Measures
1 page which is a fairly standard table in most Study Bibles.
- Index of Articles in Canonical Order
- Index of Articles in Alphabetical Order
- NIV Concordance
55 pages of the NIV Concordance that is really pretty good for a Study Bible. Also, there are references that link some of the concordance words to the Hebrew to English Translation Chart and Key New Testament Terms that was previously covered in this review.
- Index of Maps at End of Study Bible
3 pages of an index that covers the different map points shown in the 14 full color maps at the end of the Study Bible
- Full Color Maps
16 pages of full color maps that provide very nice details about many different areas and times covered in the Scriptures. There are a total of 14 maps across these 16 pages.
Typeface and Print:
- Smyth Sewn which really helps to have a more durable Study Bible.
- Scriptures appear to be about 9 point font, which tends to be fairly standard size and font used in many bibles.
- The font on the Cultural Notes and Articles are approximately an 8 point font pretty easy to read as well.
- There is not very much room to write in the outside margins to write in if you desire as it really only has about a 1/2 – 3/4″ margin.
- The line-matching (printed lines on the front of the page vs. the back side of the page aren’t lined up very good. However, with that said, the paper is nicely opaque, so I wouldn’t knock down my rating like I have in some other Bibles that I have reviewed in the some of my previous reviews.
MY CHRISTIAN REVIEWER RATINGS:
Below, we have the overall ratings that I would give to this particular bible with a 1 to 10 range. Keep in mind that when I am doing these ratings, it is based on the physical makeup, format, extra-biblical content and value of the bible, not rating the Word of God itself as that would be off the chart 🙂
Quality: 9.2– I never rate a hardcover book higher than a nicely sewn and bound leather book simply due to long-term durability. Basically, this means without proper care, any hardcover bible type will not last as long as the leather bound sewn version of that same Bible. With that said, for a hardcover book, the quality is fine and pretty durable as it is Smyth sewn.
Appearance: 9.4 – The appearance of this Bible is clean – design and layout is done very nicely making it a very pleasant experience reading it.
Value: 9.3 – Basing this rating as a hardcover bible – the value of this Study Bible is good – especially considering the reasonable price for what you get. Some publishers are starting to move away from the more expensive Smyth sewing that helps the durability of the Bible, but I was happy to see Zondervan stuck with the tried and true method. The content alone makes the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible well worth the investment of purchasing a copy for yourself.
Innovation: 9.4 – I have not seen many other cultural background Study Bibles, let alone any that could compare with what is contained in this one. I am rating the innovation higher on this simply because of the value of the content with the cultural background information . It really helps immensely with understanding the Word of God better which helps you interpret more accurately and apply the Word more effectively to your life.
Other/Wildcard: n/a – No real wildcards to speak of to adjust the rating points for this Bible.
Overall Rating: 9.3 out of 10
Bible Formats and Options:
Here are some of the different formats that this Bible comes in per the publisher. You can simply Google the ISBN number to find where you can get your desired version.
ISBN: 9780310431589 (Jacketed Hardcover – This review)
ISBN: 978-0310444442 (Imitation Leather, Tan, Indexed)
ISBN: 9780310431602 (Imitation Leather, Tan)
ISBN: 978-0310444435 (Bonded Leather, Black, Indexed)
ISBN: 978-0310431596 (Bonded Leather, Black)
ISBN: 978-0310081043 (Imitation Leather, Green, Indexed)
ISBN: 978-0310080954 (Imitation Leather, Green)
Zondervan, part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, is a world leading Bible publisher and provider of Christian communications. For more than 80 years, Zondervan has delivered transformational Christian experiences through its bestselling Bibles, books, curriculum, academic resources and digital products. The company’s products are sold in multiple formats, worldwide in more than 60 countries, translated into nearly 200 languages. Zondervan is the North American publisher and licensee of the NIV Bible translation. Zondervan offices are located in Grand Rapids, MI.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. is a world leading Christian content provider. Our parent company, HarperCollins Publishers, is the second-largest consumer book publisher in the world and is a subsidiary of News Corp. Though the Company formed in 2012, its heritage dates back to the late eighteenth century. Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, two highly sought-after Christian inspirational brands, are the keystone publishing programs.
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