Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible
D A Carson, General Editor

 The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a new study Bible which uses the NIV translation and which is structured in the following manner:
 Quick Start Guide
 Table of Contents which is divided into the following sections:
 Each book of the Bible and its location
 List of Articles
 Abbreviations and Transliterations
 Editorial Team
 Editor's Preface
 The Bible
 Weights and Measures

 The Bible proper is introduced with Chronological maps for both testaments and each Bible book is preceded by an Introduction which generally describes the author and place of the book's composition, the date of the book, the genre to which the book belongs, the style, content, and challenges of the book and the purpose for which it was written. Canonicity, Themes, and Theology of the books are also summarized. Some book introductions have more than these topics, some less. At the end of the Introduction, there is an outline of events in the Bible book.

 Each page of the Bible takes up about --on average-- 50% of the page with verse-by verse commentary taking up the bottom half of the page. Verse cross-references are in tiny columns on the upper right edge of the pages.Illustrations are found throughout. Sub-chapter sections have summary headings that are printed in green. Corresponding Bible stories are listed under each topic heading.

 The Articles in the Study Bible begin after the book of Revelations and are very good for the most part. Some writers write more accessibly than others. There are two or three women contributors, but for the most part the writers are men. The writers are also primarily European and from mainstream seminaries, denominations and theologies.

 Unlike many Bible studies where verse-by-verse commentaries focus more on the spiritual application, exegesis, and meaning of a verse, the study portion of the Study Bible seems to have been written for story or reading comprehension. Historical backgrounds, insights into motivations and actions of Biblical characters as well as analyses of ramifications and consequences are shown for verses, individually or collectively. Most of the explanations are historical and spiritual. And again, there is a feeling of someone beside you telling you what is literally going on in each verse. There are moments, however, when certain cultural biases or ignorance creep in, sometimes at the cost of truth. (This is often the reason why Study Bibles can be detrimental. Because human opinion is placed beside God's word, careless readers will incorporate the assumptions and biases of the Study Bible's editors and writers. )

 For instance, a writer states in the commentary on Daniel 1:8-16:
 "...this refusal of the royal diet has NOTHING to do with keeping kosher, avoiding political connections, or refusing food offered to idols; rather, they are giving God room to work. Their healthy appearance at the end of the chapter is the result not of diet but of God's grace." (The capitalization is my own.) But why does the writer use "NOTHING"? "Nothing" is a big word. In assessing anything, it is often best to edge one bets and not generalize too much.
 and Daniel 1: 13-14:
 "A diet of vegetables and water rather than the royal food and wine would naturally make the four men look worse." NATURALLY? Based on what?

 The commentator even states that Daniel not eating the king's choice food was only temporary and cites Daniel 10:3 as proof that Daniel later ate the king's food. But "choice food" is not the same as the king's choice food. And one can eat choice food according to the Torah without it being choice food from the king's table..even if one returns to meat-eating. Seems like a big leap to me.
 Reading such a line makes the reader wonder if this is someone out to defend the meat diet. Is the writer speaking against vegetarianism? Has he had some run-in with a Seventh Day Adventist or some person who took the Daniel Fast to the extreme? Additionally, the writer's parochial American notion of what is healthy also causes him to dismiss the possibility of Daniel being healthy without meat. Not to mention he goes so far as to deny Daniel is actually keeping the diet prescribed by the law. The writer has a good point; God is the ultimate keeper of one's health. But in attempting to show this truth, he goes overboard. "NOTHING to do with keeping kosher?" I think this is a big leap.
I found myself thinking: Did this man in one commentary on a verse totally dismiss Daniel's allegiance to the Kosher diet? What about the verse where Daniel decided he would not defile himself with the king's meat?

 This kind of questionable opining is everywhere in this study Bible.
 For instance, the description of what a spiritual mystery is in the commentary on  1 Corinthians 14:2 reads as follows: "Because nobody understands the language [when someone is speaking in tongues] what is being said is a mystery."

 The writer is saying that Paul says speaking in tongues is a spiritual mystery because no one understands what is being said. The writer is wrong, I think. Certainly the word "mystery" turns up in other Bible books. "Great is the Mystery of our faith" is mentioned in Phillipians for instance. And as used in the Bible, "mystery" doesn't mean simply not understanding anything, much less a language spoken in tongues. And here, the author doesn't use the Bible to define the Bible. He doesn't use mystery as it is not defined in other Biblical Scripture. Why not? For me, and for many other commentators in other Bible commentaries, "someone who is speaking mysteries in an unknown language" would still be speaking mysteries in known language. It is not the lack of comprehension of the language that makes the mystery. It is the deep truth itself, a truth that is so high and unattainable to mere human reasoning. But why did the reviewer write his weak explanation? Is he simply unaware of the general meaning of the verse? Or is he trying to downplay the power of speaking in tongues. One gets the unsettled feeling that some of the writers of this Bible Study don't read the Bible much. Or that they are not writing so much to explain the Bible but are writing to lead the reader to their own denominations.

For the most part, though, it's a good Bible. The analyses are very insightful and helpful OR sometimes just plain obvious to a longtime Bible reader. Or sometimes --on rare occasions-- downright questionable. Although nothing in this Study Bible will cause anyone to stray from theological truth, it's best if the reader of Study Bibles use two or three Study Bibles --from different denominations-- instead of just one. It is not a bad book. It is even a good and helpful book but it could be better.

 The font used for Scripture is thin and perhaps should've been heavier but it is still readable. This book was sent to me free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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