Like perhaps the majority of Christians of my generation, my first Bible was an NIV. It was given to me when I became a Christian 10 years ago, but I very quickly abandoned it for an NASB. And not too long after that, I abandoned the NASB for the ESV and for the last seven years it has been my translation of choice. It’s the translation I’ve used for devotions and Bible study; it’s the translation in which I’ve memorized scores of paragraphs and chapters, and even several books. I’ve so exclusively used the ESV that when I translate Greek (including non-biblical passages), it sounds like an ESV rendering. And I had never had a desire to go back to the NIV until recently.
So what could make someone extremely partial to literal translations and biased against the NIV give it another chance?* A new study Bible. Typically I don’t notice study Bibles because they’re a dime a dozen, but the one that caught my attention is a game-changer. It’s the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible edited by D. A. Carson. Anything written or edited by Carson is worth considering, but what truly sets this study Bible apart is that the introductions, study notes, and articles are all written from the perspective of biblical theology. There is no other study Bible centered on biblical theology; neither is there a one-volume Bible commentary with the notes written from a biblical-theological perspective. This makes the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible an utterly unique and valuable resource.
The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is to biblical theology what the ESV Study Bible is to systematic theology. It’s just as massive (and might be just a hair bigger!) with comparably robust and comprehensive introductions, study notes, and articles. Whereas many of the articles in the ESV Study Bible address topics in systematic theology, the articles in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible succinctly and accessibly trace how various key biblical-theological themes progressively unfold throughout Scripture. There are 25 such articles (after three that orient the reader to the storyline of the Bible and the task of biblical theology) tracing themes such as creation, covenant, temple, sacrifice, sonship, holiness, wrath, Gospel, and consummation, by eminent biblical scholars and theologians such as D. A. Carson, Henri Blocher, T. D. Alexander, Brian Rosner, Graham Cole, and Douglas Moo.
For me the timing of the arrival of this study Bible was perfect. This fall I’m taking D. A. Carson’s Biblical Theology and Interpretation course in which each lecture is spent tracing a biblical-theological theme. Most of the themes covered in this course have an article dedicated to it in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, so before each class session I read the relevant article after careful readings of the biblical passages, as well as the study notes for those Scriptures.
Our next class session will unfold the theme of sonship, and the article on sonship in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible is written by my professor. Dr. Carson begins by providing the socio-cultural context of sonship in the ancient world and then traces sonship in the Bible from Adam to the people Israel to the Davidic king and ultimately to the vision in Revelation 21: “he who is victorious will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” Dr. Carson draws the article to its expected conclusion by focusing on Christ as the unique son of God, the true Israel, and the true Davidic king.
I can see lovers of the ESV Study Bible also appreciating the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. It is of a similar scholarly caliber but entirely complementary, both in Bible translation as well as in the perspective and approach of the supplementary materials. But the audience of this new NIV study Bible will be much wider, not only because the NIV is the most widely read English translation, but also because the notes and articles are a bit more accessible than those of the ESV Study Bible. Whereas those not inclined to theology sometimes find the ESV Study Bible a bit difficult and “heady”, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible’s notes and articles can be easily understood and appreciated by any serious student of the Bible. And this is a study Bible that any serious student of the Bible should own because it’s biblical-theological focus will help us be better readers of Scripture, able to see how the parts fit into a coherent whole and able to trace the grand themes that run from Genesis to Revelation.
*For an excellent reflection on Bible translation and the NIV, check out CBT chair Douglas Moo’s paper from the NIV 50th Anniversary celebration dinner at last year’s ETS Annual Meeting: “We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr” (video | pdf).