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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NIV First-Century Study Bible

TITLE: NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context
AUTHOR: Zondervan Team, with notes by Kent Dobson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (1888 pages).

Any form of Bible study would require an understanding of contexts. If you have been attending Bible studies, you would be familiar with this phrase: "What's the context of the Bible passage?" For twenty-first century readers trying to make sense of ancient texts, it would be a big challenge if we try to use only the Bible to determine the backgrounds of every book in the Bible. This Bible contains notes that shed light on the contexts, the cultures, the chronological sequence of events, and the unique perspectives from the Jewish and Christian lens form the first century. Rather than trying to understand the ancient Scriptures from our Internet Age, or trying to reach too far to the ancient times, perhaps, we can look at how first century people understand the Bible. That would shave off about 2000 years to bring us closer to the original meaning of the contexts. For four years, the Teaching Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan wrote historical notes, word studies, articles, and together with the Zondervan publishing team, have put together a study Bible that tries to do just that. Questions that occupy their minds were:
  • What were the rabbis thinking?
  • How did the disciples understand the Old Testament?
  • What are the cultural nuances in both Jewish minds and the Early Church?
  • How do they make sense of the Bible?

Dobson combines various cultural background information, some knowledge of the original languages, modern Bible resources, as well as his three years living in Israel to compile the notes to accompany all sixty-six books of the Bible. Rather than simply providing answers, Dobson wants readers to use the material to raise questions to clarify unfamiliar terms, to consolidate their understanding of biblical times, and to promote curiosity about the original meaning of the texts. He aims to narrow two gulfs. The first is the gulf between an average Bible reader and the biblical scholars. The second is the gulf between modern twenty-first century person and the ancient interpreters. Seven key supplements are adopted to accompany the NIV Bible texts.

The first is a book introduction that describes the approximate time of writing, the authors and audiences, the brief layout of the book, and theological themes mentioned. Second, the "Day in the Life" articles dramatizes what the author feels best summarizes a typical day for the ancient people. For instance, in Genesis, readers will learn about desert shepherds and how Abraham lived as a nomadic herdsman; or in Philippians, how Pharisees were perceived at that time; or the place of widows during the time of Ruth and Boaz. Third, the study notes offer up interpretations from a first century perspective. This is the main commentary that illuminates the issues surrounding the verses. Seen as hyperlinks or footnotes of the main Bible texts, unlike many study Bibles with commentaries, the annotations are located at the end of each Bible book. Dobson helps to raise interesting questions that make the study of the Bible very interesting. Like the question of the use of allegories in Galatians 4, and how the ancient Jewish interpreters generally shunned allegories while the Church Fathers use a lot of allegories. Four, the textual articles provide in-depth treatment of interesting topics like the commandments, the topic of war, life of the diaspora, background of life between the testaments, how Revelation is like the second Exodus, and many more. Fifth, the word studies are helpful additions to expand the understanding of the contexts. Do not underestimate the power of one word. They reveal a lot of information and insights. The challenge for the publisher is not the power of the word but the limitation of space and which words to choose from the many presented. Sixth, the maps, charts, tables, photographs, illustrations all demonstrate how pictures and diagrams can present other unique perspectives on what the texts mean. Finally, the Word of God is carefully presented as the main text, the star attraction of the whole Bible. This is important. For users of study Bibles, it is tempting to see the supplementary helps as the main thing. The unfortunate thing about publishing of study bibles is that in trying to differentiate one study Bible from another, a lot of marketing efforts are used to highlight the differences via these study helps. Unwittingly, laypeople may become distracted from the main text instead. I suppose the best way we can do is to minimize such distractions.

Let me suggest three ways to use this study Bible.

1) Read the Introduction carefully to prepare our minds about the genre, the chronological time period, and the themes within the Bible. This will help us to situate ourselves in the original contexts as much as possible. This avoids any unhelpful lifting of texts and to help us be grounded on the whole biblical story rather than disconnected verses.

2) Read the texts slowly and prayerfully. The Word of God needs the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and our understanding. We may seek to understand the texts on our own strengths and our intellectual prowess. However, spiritual insights are always the domain of the Holy Spirit. God's Word after all needs to be understood God's way.

3) Read the supplemental notes. Let them suggest possible applications for our times. According to Dobson, he seeks to use this study helps in raising questions rather than providing answers. This is exactly what good learning is about. Let the Word of God question our hearts. Let the Spirit help us question the texts in reverent ways. Let the questions keep the living Word in our minds, that each question will linger in us to be open to answers that transcend time.

This is a well designed study Bible and should whet the appetite of any Bible readers for more.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers http://booklookbloggers.com book review bloggers program. 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.”

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