Properly understanding the context of a historical document such as the Bible is necessary to unlock a meaning that leads to application. Context changes everything in the arena of biblical interpretation and it is near impossible to do serious study of the Bible without a sufficient understanding of the context. As is frequently repeated, the golden rule of biblical interpretation is “context, context, context.” It is here that the recently released NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible edited by John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener provides a much needed resource for pastors, students, and laity.
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is both beautifully illustrated and rich with content. The full-color layout immerses the reader into the Bible like never before. There are plenty of high-quality photographs and illustrations throughout, as well as numerous maps, charts, and diagrams. Still, one of the most fascinating aspects of this Study Bible is the extent to which the publisher has sought to bring the reader into the cultural background beyond mere written content. The reader will encounter extensive high-resolution photographs of various artifacts, written documents, biblical manuscripts, and more. The experience of the Study Bible alone is well worth the cover price. It is truly as close to a total immersion into the biblical world as many readers will get in this lifetime.
As the title suggests, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is based on the updated 2011 NIV translation. The content of the study notes are above expectation. First, and probably foremost, the sheer amount of notes packed into this Study Bible is amazing—much, much more than a typical niche Study Bible. In fact, I would say the amount of notes is similar in number to that of any of the major Study Bibles released in recent years. Moreover, throughout the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible there are various sidebar topical discussions on cultural themes that arise with each book of the Old Testament and the New. These discussions vary in length—from a paragraph to a couple pages—and cover a ton of important subjects. For example, in Genesis the reader will discover conversation surrounding the historical setting of Genesis, ziggurats, cosmic history and mythology, patriarchal religion, covenant, and much more. Almost every other page has a significant entry relevant to the culture and background of a given book of the Bible.
There is much to be celebrated about the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. As stated above, I think that one of the most impressive aspects of this volume is the intentionality to bring the reader into the biblical world. The combination of visual and written content is paired with a unified mission like no other Study Bible I’ve ever seen or used. The closest comparison is the HCSB Study Bible, which succeeds in part visually, but lacks the depth of cultural interaction and content seen here. I also found the layout and organization of the Bible to be incredibly useful and well-executed. There is a ton of content on every page, but reading through it doesn’t feel as cumbersome as one might think. It is visually pleasing and the print quality is excellent. The font may be difficult for aged-eyes, especially in the study notes, but the print quality itself is akin to all previous Zondervan full-color Study Bible publications. It is currently available in hardcover, Italian duo-tone imitation leather, and black bonded leather. Premium ebony leather would be preferred (specifically the same build and quality of the Zondervan NIV Study Bible), but the options available at this time are more than sufficient.
The newly released and highly anticipated NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible edited by John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener is a phenomenal resource and deserves a spot on the shelf of all serious students of the Bible. This is a resource that will be consulted often and be used for many years to come. It is a resource that will drag the reader into the biblical world and illuminate the text like never before. If you are looking for a Study Bible that will uniquely compliment others in your library, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is one that could not be recommended more. It’s an instant classic that will quickly make its way to the top of your most used resources list. It comes highly recommended!
I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.