I agreed to provide an unbiased review of Zondervan's new NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (2016) in exchange for for a free copy. When I receive books for blog review now, I am going to try to present my review through the lens of someone who teaches high school students. I know that doesn't make my audience all that large in academic circles—most high schools don't offer classes on religion—but my thoughts may still benefit those teaching undergraduates. I imagine those who will benefit most from my perspective are those few high school teachers of religion out there, as well as some parents, pastors, youth pastors, and depending on the services offered, people who work for non-profits. Also, most obviously, anyone looking for a study Bible.
I'm no collector of study Bibles, but "cultural backgrounds" grabbed my attention. I respect the two scholars tasked with a testament each: John H. Walton of Wheaton College and Craig S. Keener of Asbury Theological Seminary. I no longer use the label E/evangelical to describe myself, so I know I will differ from these two gentlemen on some basic presuppositions regarding bibliology. Nevertheless, I know these two do their homework and at least I know their presuppositions upfront (including commitments to ideas like "inerrancy" or "infallibility" that will guide their commentary).
I have agreed to say something about how the Book of Psalms is presented. I will do that in a second post. Here I want to say that the volume is aesthetically very pleasing. The color pictures, the formatting, the font, etc., are all pleasing to the eye. As one can see in the pictures linked below, the the "biblical" text itself can cover somewhere between 20-80% of a page. Each testament has a basic, contextual introduction as does each book. There are little commentary blocks throughout on topics such as "Creation and Existence", "Acrostic Psalms", "The 'Jews' and 'Jewish Leaders' in John's Gospel", and many more. There are pictures of artifacts. There are maps. There are informative charts. All the sorts of things you'd expect in a study Bible, though with an emphasis on the context of the ancient world.
As a "mainliner" I guess I am more of a NRSV person myself, but the NIV is good. Obviously, it has become for evangelicals what the NRSV is for mainliners. I teach in a school affiliated with the Episcopalian Church, but I am sure I will have evangelical students. Since I don't feel like it is my job to persuade my students to embrace this or that form of Christianity (or, even Christianity at all), I'd be happy to recommend this volume to my evangelical students, but also to other students who want to know more about the Bible's formative era and culture.
Of course, some matters will be influenced by popular evangelicalism in a way with which I will disagree. For example, you might guess what sort of commentary accompanies the latter half of Romans 1. Also, on matters of authorship, Keener's notes definitely lean toward the views held by conservative scholars. That will shape things a bit, but not in such a way that I think it disqualifies the volume from being useful. It remains extremely useful, in my eyes, for my target age demographic, especially those who identify as evangelical.
In my second post I will live up to my side of this arrangement by saying something specific about how the Book of Psalms is presented. In summary though my initial thoughts are these:
- This is a very useful volume
- It is aesthetically pleasing
- It has information that I know my students can use
- I recommend it as long as people are aware of the theological underpinnings (i.e., conservative evangelical views) that shape the commentary
Learn more about the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible here: