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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NIV Integrated Study Bible - A New Chronological Approach

TITLE: NIV Integrated Study Bible: A New Chronological Approach for Exploring Scripture
EDITOR: John R Kohlenberger III
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (1472 pages).

This Bible is called NIVISB for short. Using the NIV 2011 translation, the books of the Bible are arranged in chronological order according to the publisher's best estimate of the time occurrences. This is done through seven major historical sections:
  1. Creation through the Patriarchs (Genesis; Job);
  2. Exodus to Conquest (Exodus-Deuteronomy; Psalm 90);
  3. Conquest through the United Kingdoms (Joshua- 1 Kings 11; 1 Chronicles 10 - 2 Chronicles 9; 129 Psalms; Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Songs);
  4. Divided Kingdoms and Exile (1 Kings 12-2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 10-36; Isaiah-Daniel 9; Hosea; Amos-Zephaniah; Psalm 102, 137)
  5. Return to the Land (1 Chron 1-9; Ezra-Esther; Daniel 10-12; Haggai; Zechariah; Joel; Malachi; 18 Psalms)
  6. The Life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke John)
  7. The Early Church (Acts to Revelation)
There are introductions and timeline charts for each of the sections, except for the first two which share a combined introduction and chart. As far as possible, the NIVISB uses the Bible as its own interpreter with regards to the time approximations. Meant to help readers read with time sensitivity, the NIVISB enables readers to situate themselves as modern readers in the unfolding of the ancient biblical drama.Let me give some of my observations on each of the seven sections.

A) Creation Through the Patriarchs (2500BC - sometime after 1800BC)
Genesis 1 marks the beginning of the biblical creation narrative. If one reads from the beginning, at Page 11, readers will find it surprising to see the inclusion of 1 Chronicles 1:1-4 and Luke 3:36b-38 side by side with Gen 5:3. This is an example of the integrated Bible format that arranges genealogies together. Instead of simply a verse reference as a footnote, the full verses are printed side by side so that readers do not need to flip the pages back and forth. In terms of convenience, this is excellent. The rationale used is genealogies. It is also a brilliant way of letting the Bible explains the text. For example, in Genesis 38:26-30, instead of the team inserting their own explanations, 1 Chronicles 2:4 points out the contexts. Things get a little more complicated at Pages 54-55, where Genesis 46:8b-12a are cross-referenced to passages in Exodus, Numbers, and 1 Chronicles. Though convenient, it makes me wary of taking passages out of their original contexts. It takes a little getting used to. The Book of Job is intact on its own but placed between Genesis and Exodus.

B) Exodus to Conquest (Around 1520BC - 1410BC)
Apart from more genealogy-driven side by side references, I find the way the Ten Commandments placed side by side very useful for study purposes. At a glance, I can see the different emphases given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In trying to understand the differences, readers may still need to go back to the original Bible arrangements and read the contexts. It is important for readers to understand the historical differences between Exodus and Deuteronomy. For example, in the Fourth Commandment, the Israelites are commanded to "remember" while in Deuteronomy, the command is to "observe." Readers need to let the text guide their reading, and not the arrangement to determine their conclusions. In other words, treat the comparison as in invitation toward deeper study of the different biblical contexts.

C) Conquest Through United Kingdom (Around 1410BC - 940BC)

Straight off, I think people unfamiliar with biblical terms may mistake "United Kingdom" as referring to Britain. Of course, we can justify the use on the basis of readers being most likely Christians or people familiar with biblical terms. That said, perhaps, a change of terms may help. Starting with the conquests under Joshua's leadership, the chronology flows with the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon, incorporating are large chunk of the wisdom books, like Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. Parts of the Pentateuch are included (like Deuteronomy 19:11-13) to show how the cities of refuge are put into practice in Joshua 20. The arrangement of Judges is a little peculiar, with sections being rearranged, such as Judges 17 appearing after Judges 3:6 and having Judges 4 continue at the end of Judges 21. Ruth has cross references to 1 Chronicles as well as Matthew and Luke. The journey through 1 Samuel includes Judges 10 -16 as well as Psalms. I find the way the Psalms are arranged very fascinating because of the historical contexts the arrangement provides. For example, the Psalms of David are included during the life of David as described in the books of Samuel and Chronicles. Sometimes, when I read the Psalms, I wanted to go back to the Davidic narratives to check. The NIVISB conveniently arranges it so that readers can stay within the chronological contexts. Proverbs and the Song of Solomon are largely intact.

D) Divided Kingdom and Exile (Around 940BC - 540BC)

Here, we read in the introduction a table of the kings of Israel and Judah from breakup of the kingdoms to eventual exile. Here is where the chronological sequence shines with historical clarity.  I appreciate the way the exilic prophets are included right into the texts which makes it easy to situate our understanding of the different prophets of Israel. We read of the exilic prophets like Amos, Jonah, Hosea,Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Those familiar with the history of the prophets will note that prophets like Jeremiah and Daniel lived through different kings and times. Their prophetic books are arranged according to the best understanding of chronological sequence.

E) Return to the Land (Around 550BC - 430BC)

There is an interesting inclusion of Genesis 5:3-32 as the section begins with Ezra. It is included because of genealogical references in 1 Chronicles, Genesis, and Luke, as well as chronological sequences in Ezra and 2 Chronicles. There is a beautiful arrangement of Ezra's prayer of confession to God, and the subsequent return to the Word of God, represented by Psalm 1, 107-150.Readers find themselves traveling back in time to realizing how a return to God also means a return to faithful obedience to Scriptural teachings. The section concludes with a illustration of the four periods of history (Persian, Hellenistic, Hasmonean, Roman) during the "Great Silence" between the testaments.

F) The Life of Jesus (Around 5AD - 30AD)

Apart from the four gospels, the "conceptual parallels" are included from Acts, 1 Corinthians, Ruth, and 1 Chronicles. Those of us who have been using Burton Throckmorton's "Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels" will appreciate the way the idea has been infused into this section. Instead of just the synoptic gospels, the parallels extend to 1 Chronicles, the Gospel of John, as well as Acts. With the gospel writers frequently reporting the same event with their unique angles, the side by side readings allow one to recognize the nuances of each gospel. The way the parables are compared and contrasted gives new insights into the parables themselves and the big picture. For example, the parable of the Sower are all mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels which not only makes it quick to refer to, but allows the readers to ask questions to clarify the intent of each gospel writer. Another way to use it is importance via emphases. It is commonly understood that the more repeated emphases in biblical passage, the more we need to pay attention to. For example, all four gospels describe in great detail the betrayal, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Is that not pointing to the importance of the Resurrection as foundational to the faith? 

G) The Early Church (Around 30AD - 95AD)

The final section begins with Acts and ends with Revelation. The dates are based on recognizing who the authors are. The moment the author is identified, dating is easier. The question is, what about the disputed authorship for certain letters such as Hebrews, Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, among some others. Setting aside the disputes, the NIVISB presumes Paul's authorship for the chronological purpose.  Acts is the overall framework for ordering the various apostolic letters. Hebrews are left pretty much intact, which partially addresses the authorship dispute. 

So What?

The first question that pops up in my mind is: "What's so special about the NIVISB?"Let me offer five thoughts about this.

First, it is a study Bible. Thus, the targeted audience is at an intermediate to advanced level. Users are those already familiar with the conventional arrangements of the 66 books. Looking at the original book, chapter, and verse numbers format, readers can immediately recognize the convention. There is an index at the end of the NIVISB that lists the entire traditional order so that users can easily refer to. The "conceptual parallels" are also grayed out for the benefit of readers.

Second, the integrated format takes some getting used to. I find myself stumped at times wondering why on earth another passage from another book are inserted into the reference I am reading. There are some theological struggles within me, like wondering if the texts have been unwittingly pulled out of their original arrangements in order to make the chronological order work. Of course, one can make the case against the chronological ordering on the basis of the biblical authors' intent and context. That said, readers ought to have a conventional arrangement to supplement the NIVISB. I strongly recommend this, so that the passage can be read in their original contexts before being applied to the chronological order.

Third, the chronological arrangement according to historical time-driven events requires a lot of judgment calls by the NIVISB team. There are some theological disputes with regards to which is earlier: Job or Genesis? What about the placement of Psalms without any clues on when it was dated? What kind of theological angle is adopted? What if the team was wrong at any one point? Will that not throw off the arrangement altogether? The placements are basically on a best estimate basis, and one cannot be dogmatic about it. In other words, there is no exact science when it comes to dating biblical literature. The way the Psalms are broken apart disturbs me. In genre studies, the wisdom books may not be meant to be studied chronologically. There is poetic beauty that is timeless.

Fourth, the NIVISB excels in a narrative and redemptive historical angle.The key assumption is that there is a central story coherence from start to finish. The strength is that the chronological arrangement strengthens this overall tightness. The weakness is that it lacks the "canonical form and function" kind of biblical theology advocated by Brevard Childs. Such a canonical approach refuses to be pinned down by historical contexts per se, but marries together theological, historical, and canonical perspectives, something that is weakened by the chronological emphases. This is an important consideration simply because the Bible is not a history book. Neither is it some kind of a scientific proof of the world we live in. It is a story and theological revelation of God to creation, especially humans through Israel.

Finally, the chronological order affects the genre interpretation. For example, traditionally, the synoptic gospels are treated together while the Gospel of John is considered unique in itself. For instance, the seven signs of John, the seven I AMs, or the heavy references to light/darkness, are rendered less obvious when reading the NIVISB. The Old Testament narratives being taken apart will dilute the original author's intent to write the narratives per se. For instance, the kings in Chronicles are presented in a better light compared to many of the kings in 1 and 2 Kings. The study Bible also loses out in terms of a book by book introductions.

I will recommend this study Bible with one condition: That a regular study Bible be used side by side.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and BookSneeze without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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