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NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message Hardcover – August 25, 2015
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From the Publisher
NIV Zondervan Study Bible
Built from the ground up to reflect the most current 21st century scholarship, general editor D. A. Carson, along with a team of over 60 contributors, crafted all-new study notes, book and section introductions, a library of articles, and other study tools that specifically focus on biblical theology, or the progressive unfolding of theological concepts through the Bible.
Available in standard size, large print, personal size, and a variety of colors and bindings that include the following and many more.
Tan/Brown Imitation Leather
Pink/Brown Imitation Leather
- Dr. T. Desmond Alexander
- Dr. Richard S. Hess
- Dr. Douglas J. Moo
- Dr. Andrew David Naselli
D. A. Carson
D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the president and a founding member of The Gospel Coalition, an influential network of evangelical pastors and churches.
Carson has served as assistant pastor and pastor and has done itinerant ministry around the world. He is a sought-after preacher, author, and an active guest lecturer in academic and church settings worldwide.
Carson received a Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. He has written or edited nearly 60 books, many of which have been translated into other languages.
“I heartily recommend this special edition of God’s Word – it serves as a trustworthy and reliable companion to any serious student of the Bible!” - Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni and Friends International Disability Center
“This NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a tremendous tool for informed Bible reading and study. The notes are written by the best assembly I’ve seen of faithful, international scholars. I highly recommend this publication.” - Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City
“The contributors to this volume have done the church a remarkable service. Let the NIV Zondervan Study Bible equip you for more faithful theological thinking and doctrinal integrity.” - R. Albert Mohler, Jr. President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Over 60 scholarly contributors.
- Library of articles on the major themes in Scripture (see picture for details).
- Nearly 20,000 all-new, comprehensive verse-by-verse study notes.
- Hundreds of color photographs, maps, and charts.
- Comprehensive book introductions including purpose, theme, outline, and photos.
- Over 35,000 verse concordance.
- Section introductions to the Bible's literary genres.
- Free digital access
About the Author
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he has taught since 1978. He is co-founder (with Tim Keller) of the Gospel Coalition, and has written or edited nearly 60 books. He has served as a pastor and is an active guest lecturer in church and academic settings around the world.
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In this review I will note similarities between the two, describe some differences, and survey their approach to 10 controversial topics/texts. (For a much fuller version of this review, covering more topics/texts, visit my website by searching for "Dwight Gingrich" and "NIV Zondervan Study Bible.")
Both are massive works, first (NIVZSB) and second (ESVSB) in length among major evangelical study Bibles.Both stand firmly within the conservative evangelical tradition. Both are scholarly works with general editors bearing PhDs from the University of Cambridge—Wayne Grudem for the ESVSB and D. A. Carson for the NIVZSB. My incomplete manual comparison of the contributors to the two study Bibles revealed at least 9 people who contributed to both.
Both affirm traditional authorship for contested books such as the Pentateuch (Moses with minor editorial shaping), Isaiah (Isaiah), Matthew (the apostle Matthew), the Pastoral Epistles (Paul), and 2 Peter (the apostle Peter).
There are even typographical similarities: both volumes print the sacred text in a single column on each page, with cross references along the outside margins, and with commentary in double columns beneath.
Indeed, these two study Bibles are similar enough that the main factor that should influence your choice between the two is your preference in translations.
It appears to me that the ESVSB is somewhat stronger than the NIVZSB in these areas: Charts, maps, illustrations, historical information, and general apologetic or bibliological articles. The ESVSB, for example, has separate articles devoted to archeological topics, biblical languages, biblical doctrine, biblical ethics, and the perspectives that various denominations, religions, and cults bring to Scripture.
A comparison of the introductions to Exodus shows that the one in the ESVSB is slightly longer (six pages to the NIVZSB’s five), with more attention given to the historical reliability of the book and to its literary features. Similarly, the NIVZSB introduction for Galatians is three pages long, while the ESVSB’s covers four pages, providing a little more historical data, a superior map, and more space devoted to charts rather than photographs.
The differences, I stress, are differences of degree. The similarities here outweigh the differences, but I give the ESVSB the blue ribbon for visual helps and breadth of topics addressed in articles.
The NIVZSB is stronger in at least one way: its emphasis on biblical theology. This makes sense, given the editors of the two volumes: Wayne Grudem’s most significant authorial effort is his massive and massively popular Systematic Theology, while D. A. Carson is better known for both his commentaries and his editorial work in books such as the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament and the series New Studies in Biblical Theology.
The NIVZSB’s focus on biblical theology is most evident in the twenty-eight articles found before the concordance. Most articles are two or three pages long; together they cover sixty-six pages. Since these articles are the most unique part of this study Bible, I will list them here, with their authors:
The Story of the Bible: How the Good News About Jesus Is Central – Timothy Keller
The Bible and Theology – D. A. Carson
A Biblical-Theological Overview of the Bible – D. A. Carson
The Glory of God – James M. Hamilton Jr.
Creation – Henri A. G. Blocher
Sin – Kevin DeYoung
Covenant – Paul R. Williamson
Law – T. D. Alexander
Temple – T. D. Alexander
Priest – Dana M. Harris
Sacrifice – Jay A. Sklar
Exile and Exodus – Thomas Richard Wood
The Kingdom of God – T. D. Alexander
Sonship – D. A. Carson
The City of God – T. D. Alexander
Prophets and Prophecy – Sam Storms
Death and Resurrection – Philip S. Johnston
People of God – Moisés Silva
Wisdom – Daniel J. Estes
Holiness – Andrew David Naselli
Justice – Brian S. Rosner
Wrath – Christopher W. Morgan
Love and Grace – Graham A. Cole
The Gospel – Greg D. Gilbert
Worship – David G. Peterson
Mission – Andreas J. Köstenberger
Shalom – Timothy Keller
The Consummation – Douglas J. Moo
While I disagree with minor points in some of these articles, I find myself agreeing with a much higher percentage of what is said here than with what is said in most systematic theologies. That is the benefit of staying closer to the language of Scripture itself. Most of these articles are very useful and some (such as Keller’s opening one) are even moving. I have a niggling question about the place of such essays in a study Bible (how many readers will really find and benefit from this content in their specific moments of exegetical need?), but reading them can certainly make one a better reader of Scripture.
The subtitle of the NIVZSB is Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message. I think it lives up to this title. On the central matters of the gospel, this study Bible is solid. The NIVZSB promotes the core gospel message well, along with the necessary human response to God’s grace. And, though it is generally Calvinistic throughout, it does not emphasize this interpretive lens in a way that overshadows the biblical message itself. Well done.
But how does the NIVZSB handle more controversial passages—texts which theologically conservative Christians sometimes disagree about? And how does it compare to the ESVSB in its handling of these texts?
Creation: These study Bibles hold similar positions here: (1) On "days": The ESVSB presents five readings that “faithful interpreters” offer regarding the days of creation but refrains from assessing them. The NIVZSB says the mention of “days” “emphasizes the logical development of God’s creation more than it pinpoints the chronological development” (p. 20). (2) On "kinds": Both suggest this is a general term that (so they imply) leaves the door open for theistic evolution. (3) Both affirm that Adam and Eve were historical persons.
Divorce and Remarriage: Both study Bibles underscore at Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-12 that “Jesus is reaffirming God’s original intention that marriage be permanent and lifelong” (NIVZSB, p. 1970). They teach that both divorce and remarriage are “possible but never ideal” (NIVZSB, p. 1969) in cases where one marriage partner engages in “sexual immorality” (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). It seems that the NIVZSB may interpret “sexual immorality” slightly more broadly, saying that the Greek term “porneia [is] the broadest term for sexual sin. It refers to sexual relations with any other person besides one’s monogamous heterosexual spouse” (p. 1939). The ESVSB, rather than speaking of “sexual relations,” specifies “sexual intercourse,” possibly a narrower term. On the other hand, the NIVZSB takes a more rigid stance than the ESVSB on 1 Corinthians 7:10-16: “There are only two options for a divorced woman: (1) remain unmarried or (2) reconcile with her husband.” It acknowledges regarding verse 15 ("the brother or sister is not bound in such circumstances”) that “it is often suggested that this allows a deserted Christian spouse to remarry” but states that “this interpretation is not plausible.”
Homosexuality: Both study Bibles state clearly that homosexual relations are sinful. An NIVZSB comment on Romans 1:26-27 succinctly states that “in making humans [sic!] beings male and female…, God manifests his intention for human sexual relations” (p. 2293).
Gender Roles: It will surprise some readers to learn that the NIVZSB takes nearly the same stance on gender roles as the ESVSB does. In all the gender texts I survey, the NIVZSB and ESVSB adopt nearly the same position—gender role difference in marriage and church are timeless principles, men are called to authoritative and loving leadership in home and church while women are called to submit, and women may not be overseers but may perhaps be (non-teaching) deacons. The NIVZSB does apparently leave the door open for women to teach men in non-authoritative positions in the church, but otherwise the differences between the study Bibles are differences of tone more than position, with the ESVSB giving a more rigorous defense of the position shared by both.
Nonresistance and Relationship to Government: On Matthew 5:38-48 the NIVZSB says that “Jesus is prohibiting retaliation for wrongs experienced.” It explains that a slap on the cheek is “a common Jewish insult by a superior to a subordinate, not an aggressor’s blow.” (p. 1939). This brief interpretation leaves the door open for Christians to use deadly force in other circumstances, though the NIVZSB does not explicitly state this. The ESVSB presents this position much more clearly: “Jesus is not prohibiting the use of force by governments, police, or soldiers when combating evil… One should not return an insulting slap, which would lead to escalating violence. In the case of a more serious assault, Jesus’ words should not be taken to prohibit self-defense…, for often a failure to resist a violent attack leads to even more serious abuse.” This difference is also evident in places like Romans 12-13, where the NIVZSB gently questions whether governments have the right to administer capital punishment, while the ESVSB suggests one way believers can "overcome evil with good" is through military or police force.
Spiritual Gifts: I haven’t found any clear statement where the NIVZSB strongly affirms whether or not the “miraculous” spiritual gifts continue to this day. This is remarkable, given that Sam Storms, a strong continuationist, was chosen to author an essay on “Prophets and Prophecy.” In this article he only vaguely hints at his own position by some present-tense references to prophecy. The ESVSB adopts a similar stance: “Bible-believing Christians disagree as to whether the gift of tongues ceased after the apostolic age of the early church, or whether tongues is a spiritual gift that should continue to be practiced today.” Clearly, both Bibles are aiming to avoid a fight over this volatile topic.
Foreknowledge, Predestination, Election: At Romans 8:29-30 the NIVZSB gives two possible explanations for God’s foreknowledge: “Perhaps ‘knew ahead of time’…: God ‘foreknew’ who would believe in him and so predestined them. But ‘know’ probably has the biblical sense of ‘enter into relationship with’…: God chose to initiate a relationship with people ‘before the creation of the world’… and on that basis ‘predestined’ them” (p. 2307). The ESVSB only presents the second option, and emphasizes that “predestined” means “predetermined” and that God’s calling is “effective,” not merely an invitation. At Romans 9 comments are similar. At Ephesians 1 both are strongly Calvinistic. At 1 Timothy 2:4, the ESVSB has a lengthy note that describes both Arminian and Calvinist interpretations without taking sides (surprise!), ending thus: “However one understands the extent of the atonement, this passage clearly teaches the free and universal offer of salvation to every single human being; ‘desires’ shows that this offer is a bona fide expression of God’s good will.” On this Timothy verse the NIVZSB suggests that “what God ‘wants’ may be hindered by lack of human faith.” This last statement opens the door to non-Calvinistic interpretations (but does not demand them). The NIVZSB and the ESVSB are both similarly Calvinistic regarding God’s choice and offer of salvation, but with occasional surprising flexibility.
Eternal Security: At Hebrews 6:4-6 the NIVZSB notes the “great difficulties for interpretation,” describes several common interpretations, and finally concludes that “those who do not hold on to faith in Christ show that their experience was superficial rather than genuine” (p. 2503). The ESVSB directs us to a note at Hebrews 3:14, which says “Scripture is clear… that true believers cannot lose their salvation.” At Hebrews 7:25 the NIVZSB argues that the fact that Jesus “always lives to intercede for” believers “precludes their turning back” (p. 2507). But such statements are relatively rare in the NIVZSB. At 1 John 2:19 the NIVZSB makes no clear theological deductions, while the ESVSB states that “this implies that those who are truly saved will never abandon Christ.” The ESVSB makes similar statements at John 6:40, John 10:28, 2 Peter 1:10, and Jude 1:2—all places where the NIVZSB makes no clear assertions about whether believers can ever lose their salvation.
Sabbath and Lord’s Day: These study Bibles take a similar stance on this topic. At Exodus 20:8-11 the ESVSB makes no Christian application, while the NIVZSB mentions that the Sabbath “anticipates the experience of rest through faith in Christ” (p. 155). At Colossians 2:16-17 the ESVSB says “it is debated whether the Sabbaths in question included the regular seventh-day rest of the fourth commandment, or were only the special Sabbaths of the Jewish festal calendar.” At Galatians 4:10 the ESVSB notes that some “believe that the weekly Sabbath command is not temporary but goes back to God’s pattern in creation.” The NIVZSB whispers (with dramatically different tone than Paul!) that “treating certain times as more sacred than others… is not an essential feature of Christian faith” (p. 2390). Thus, unlike the ESVSB, the NIVZSB apparently never suggests the Sabbath command may still apply. However, it seems a little more open to seeing Sunday worship as being normative (see description of the practice of the early church at 1 Cor. 16:2 and Rev. 1:10).
Israel and the Church: Both are inconsistent on this topic. The NIVZSB's “Exile and Exodus” article presents one perspective strongly: “As the only perfectly obedient Israelite...—a faithful remnant of one—Jesus (not the unbelieving nation) is the sole heir of all of the covenantal promises made to Abraham, Israel, and David... Life everlasting, a land flowing with milk and honey, a posterity as numerous as the stars, a perpetual reign over all creation, and uninhibited access to the Father’s presence all belong exclusively to him” (p. 2661). Both agree that at 1 Peter 1:1 Peter “implicitly claims that the church of Jesus Christ is the new Israel, made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ” (NIVZSB, p. 2539; ESVSB says "explicitly"). However, both Bibles (perhaps especially the ESVSB) also suggest multiple times that seeing a future role for an ethnic Israel is a legitimate interpretative approach.
My general sense is that the NIVZSB is slightly more careful than the ESVSB to avoid offending its readers—or, to state things more positively, that it is aiming to please a slightly larger readership.
On the one hand it is equally careful to adhere to the basic evangelical commitments (things such as traditional authorship and the historical reliability of Scripture), while also feeling equally free to adopt recent approaches to synthesizing the Bible and science (no firm stance on the days of Genesis or the question of evolution).
On the other hand, it seems slower to affirm some of the more fundamentalist ideas of evangelicalism (things such as capital punishment or a special plan for the future of ethnic Israel), it feels slightly more cautious as it affirms some points of evangelical doctrinal dispute (inability of true believers to fall from the faith, distinct gender roles in the church), and it is sometimes slower to pick sides at all regarding what the text means for today (the Christian and the military).
But such differences are comparatively minor when set within the widely diverse translations and study Bibles currently on the market. Both the NIVZSB and the ESVSB are solidly conservative evangelical and among the very best in their class. I am very happy to recommend both for your judicious use.
The NIVZSB is about as good as a study Bible gets. I give it 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.
I received a free hardcover copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not affect my opinion.
The NIV Zondervan Study Bible has a consistent, purposeful focus on biblical theology. What is “biblical theology”, you ask? Good question. For the present let us just say that biblical theology is the discovery of inherent theological themes in the Bible – rather than the imposition of a foreign theological framework on the Bible – and the analysis of the way the Bible develops those themes from start to finish. This focus can be clearly seen in the introductions to the sections and individual books of the Bible. Every introduction includes a significant section dealing with “themes” or “theology and themes”, and this is where you really get the “biblical theology” content. Though these themes derive from the text of the book or section under consideration, what you see as you read through the introductions is that these themes are not unique to a single section but recur over and over.
Another important feature of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible that helps tie these theological themes together à la biblical theology is the collection of 28 articles found at the end of the Bible. These articles, with titles such as “Sin”, “Law”, and “Exile and Exodus”, each attempt to tie together the grander biblical vision of a theme that has occurred throughout the Bible. They are written not only by many of the scholars who contributed to the Bible’s verse-by-verse annotations but also by some prominent Christian ministers, including Timothy Keller and Kevin DeYoung. This shift in authorship reveals the more marked pastoral intent for these articles as well as the editorial conviction that biblical theology is not something of relevance purely or even primarily for the academy. Rather, biblical theology in general – and this study Bible in particular – is really all about how the tremendous variety of theological voices within the Bible remain coherent and dynamically relevant for every age. These articles are an important distinctive feature of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.
Overall, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible’s graphic design is simple, clean, even minimalist. Yet it is not really modernist. Rather, it strikes me as classic, calm, and conservative. I do have one complaint, however, that seems very minor at first but which has far reaching effects for this Bible’s usefulness to elderly people, a demographic that makes up a very large proportion of customers in a Christian retail store. The choice of single-column format for the biblical text has a kind of domino effect. Single-column format, while trendy and useful in allowing especially poetic sections to have meaningful line breaks, takes up a great deal more space than the more traditional two-column format, especially in those poetic sections. What this does is inflate the size of the Bible. Having worked for years in Christian retail, I can tell you that without exception a single-column Bible uses more pages than a two-column Bible. This results in bigger, bulkier Bibles that are more expensive to produce and harder for people to carry around, especially elderly women. To accommodate this to a degree, the size of the type in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible has been reduced to what feels like an unusually small size. The smaller type makes this Bible a lot less appealing to elderly people (again) who more and more are opting for large print Bibles when there is an option. There is a large print version of this Bible, but to be honest its large print is not large enough to really consider it a large print Bible. Instead, all it does it create an absolute monster of a book that nobody, even the big 6’5” construction worker, wants to carry.
Despite some questionable type-setting decisions that limit the usefulness of this Bible for an aging Christian population, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible is one of the best and most comprehensive study Bibles currently on the market. Its focus on biblical theology pays off in a big way. I highly recommend it.
You can read a more in-depth review of this product at Bite-Sized Exgesis [...].