Review - 2015 NIV Zondervan Study Bible

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The long awaited NIV Zondervan Study Bible (NIVZ) is finally here! This much anticipated Bible combines the most popular modern translation (NIV) along with a stellar line up of Christian scholars who provide a myriad of helpful contributions to help readers understand the Bible better. This study Bible is all about serving the reader in their understanding of the God that is glorified in the text.

The Editors

The NIVZ Study Bible was overseen by general editor D. A. Carson. Carson can, and has, ably written across a multitude of disciplines. He is rightly considered a scholar’s scholar by many. I pray the Lord raises up more like him and may the Lord give him enough life to bless the church and the academy with more of his writing. His assistant editor is Andy Naselli whose list of published works is growing. Presently, Naselli is teaching at Bethlehem College & Seminary. Naselli has two PhD’s and served as Carson’s research assistant for a number of years. Naselli is a budding scholar with a promising future ahead of him.

Together, Richard Hess and T. D. Alexander serve as the Old Testament editors; additionally Hess focuses on the archaeology and maps and Alexander focuses on the biblical theological aspects. Both men have cut their teeth on the Old Testament and are dependable scholars. The New Testament editor is none other than Douglas Moo who also handles the biblical theology for the New Testament. With previous history with the NIV, Moo is a NT theology and Pauline scholar.

These scholars provide a solid ground from which this biblically sound study Bible has emerged to serve Christians in their pursuit of knowing God for generations to come.

The Translation

The NIV uses a translation philosophy that produces a text with a different feel compared to the ESV, NASB, and other literal translations. As is consistent with the translation philosophy of the NIV, the translators sought “to recreate as far as possible the experience of the original audience – blending transparency to the original text with accessibility for the millions of English speakers around the world” (xxiv). Since we are not the original recipients of the biblical text, in audible or written form, and are far removed from the socio-political/cultural context of the Bible, the translators have done their best to translate the text in such a way that contemporary readers will experience reading the text, as much as possible, in the same way the original audience did.

In attempting to reach their translation goal and minimize the translation “damage” done when working from one language to another, the Committee on Bible Translation adopted three general guidelines: (1) the meaning of words is determined by the social context in which they were originally used, (2) the English words chosen must accurately represent what the text is actually saying, and (3) the grammatical context of the passage in which a word appears, along with the flexibility of a word’s meaning, determines what a word means in a given context.

There is nothing particularly new in the translation philosophy used with the exception of the second principle. Though it is not appropriate to go into the history of the NIV (and TNIV) and the translation of the third-person masculine singular pronoun (TPSMP) but it deserves note here. The original Hebrew and Greek use the TPSMP to refer to both genders without batting an eye. So “man” or “mankind” is used as a singular word to refer to both male and female. It has not only been culturally acceptable to use the English equivalent of TPSMP, but also linguistically understood as to what is meant.

Western culture is changing and wso is its language. Furthermore, these are not just Western English concerns but global ones as well. Where appropriate, and where it will clearly not detract from the intended meaning of the text, the translators have opted, for example, to replace “he” or “him” with “they” or “their”. For instance, take Mark 8:36:

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (ESV)

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (NIV)

In addition to the obvious difference in the words used to translate the sentence, the NIV replaces “man” and “his” with “someone” and “their”. Both Christians who have read the Bible for much of their lives and new readers of the Bible will understand the subject of the pronouns used in the NIV just as they would in a translation like the ESV or NASB. The meaning is retained and the contemporary reader is served in understanding the text as the original readers did. It produces the same net effect (as much as possible considering the gap in time and culture).

The Content

What makes a good study Bible? There are study Bibles for all kinds of purposes. As a single translation study Bible, the NIVZ is the largest to date boasting 2,912 pages (262 more than the NIV Study Bible (2011) hardback and 192 more than the ESV Study Bible hardback). The single characteristic that sets the NIVZ Study Bible apart from any other is its biblical-theological focus. From the book introductions to the study notes themselves, this study Bible is focused on pointing to and weaving together the biblical-theological themes present within the text. Themes like temple, peace, dwelling, redemption, law, etc., are the focus of the notes. The introductory articles to each book provide the biblical-theological overview of each book and then the notes complement and draw out those themes and ideas.

If the notes were not enough to give value to the NIVZ, there are several other aspects that enrich the readers’ experience as they read this study Bible.

Editorial Team – The editorial team responsible for the notes and accompanying articles strikes a diverse balance. There are scholars (seasoned and new), pastors (seasoned and new), pastor theologians, and women. The line-up is truly impressive and trustworthy.

Book Introductions – The introductions to the various sections of the Bible and the individual books themselves imbibe the biblical-theological focus of the study bible. They set the sections and books within the overall redemptive-historical narrative of the Bible. Coupled with the study notes, the reader is able to see both the meaning of the trees (books) without missing the forest itself (whole focus of the Bible).

Study Notes – In addition to a biblical-theological focus, the study notes aid the reader in gaining a better grasp of the text within its biblical, theological, grammatical, cultural, and social context. The word(s) of a verse that is being commented on is highlighted in bold so they are easy to distinguish.

Marginal Notes – The marginal notes contain three parts. First, there is ample room for personal note taking. This is a great advantage over the ESV and NIV study Bibles. Second, there are cross reference verses on the outside of the margins. Third, between the text of Scripture and the study notes are optional readings of parts of verses.

Maps, Charts, and Pictures– These things are all over the place! They have a map for Jacob’s journey in Genesis, a chart for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, a chart showing the distance in miles between OT cities, a picture of King Tut’s golden chariot in 2 Chronicles, a map and diagram of the familial house of Herod in Matthew, an extensive chart harmonizing the Gospels, and even a chart contrasting the Levitical priesthood with Jesus’ priesthood in Hebrews. The pictures are in full color. The more you read the text of Scripture the more you will see the value and helpfulness of the extensive charts. The chats are as helpful to understanding the text as the study notes.

Text of Scripture – Where the text of Scripture stands out in this study Bible is the result of having a single column instead of a double column presentation of the text. Genealogies are presented in list form (with the exception of Gen. 5). The thirty sayings listed in Proverbs 22:17-24:22 are cataloged as such on the left side of the text.

Articles – While articles in a study Bible are not unique, the articles in the NIVZ Study Bible focus on 28 of the most common biblical-theological themes in the Bible. Themes like the gospel, the glory of God, creation, sin, law, covenant, priest, temple, justice, worship, and mission are expounded upon and set within the context of the whole revelation of Scripture.


The NIVZ Study Bible is a remarkable achievement in its content and contributors. There are a lot of good study Bibles competing for people’s money and shelf space, and in my opinion everyone should have more than one. The NIVZ Study Bible is definitely worth having. It will serve generations of Christians to come by helping readers gain a better grasp of the message of Scripture – the gospel of Jesus Christ!

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I appreciate the intent of the NIVZ Study Bible, which based on this review, includes a number of valuable resources that can be of practical help. I appreciate the intent of this good review, However, there are problems with study Bibles in general and with the NIV in particular that should give Christians pause before they read the NIVZ.

I used a well known and excellent study Bible for many years. But a few years ago I noticed that I had become excessively dependent on the study notes and very inattentive to what the text itself said. As a result, I was accumulating a lot of information, but I mostly stopped growing and being changed.

While my experience is not necessarily true of everyone, there is an inherent tendency to become reliant on expert opinion and let others do most of our thinking for us. Since the Bible was written for ordinary people to understand, the church would be better served if our gifted teachers concentrated their efforts on training others to understand Scripture for themselves, showing them how to ask good questions of the text to make them attentive to what the words are actually saying.

Another concern is the translation approach used in the NIV. Frequently, its choices of key Biblical terms amount to interpretation rather than translation. As a result, the reader is often left to interpret someone’s interpretation of the text, not the text itself. That is a costly shift.