NIV Essentials: a Bible review

I have an ambivalence toward Study Bibles. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the scholarship and hard work that goes into producing them. I read commentaries and use several study resources in my personal devotional reading. My ambivalence is rooted in my love for inductive Bible study. I have led one too many Bible discussion groups where I have asked a question designed to get people to engage the passage and the only response I get back is, “My notes say. . .”  The conversation is short circuited  and people disengage from actively reading. There is a  tendency to use a Study Bible notes as a divine oracle (and of course, notes are not always right).

This is hardly the fault of Study Bibles. It is what people do with them. So I took a chance and decided to review the NIV Essentials Study BibleThis new edition from the good folks at Zondervan, combines the features of several of their  best-selling Study Bibles and resources. They offer six lenses for ‘grasping the fundamentals of scripture’:

  • Book Introductions from The Essential Bible Companion and maps, photos and timelines from the NIV Quest Study Bible.
  • Study Notes from the NIV Study Bible. 
  • Articles from the NIV  Archaeological Study Bible designed to help you ‘dig deep’ and understand the historical significance/reliability of the Bible.
  • A ‘Q & A’ lens which presents ‘easy-to-grasp answers to difficult Bible questions (adopted from the NIV Quest Study Bible).
  • A’People in Focus Lens’ which profiles various characters from the Bible  (taken from the NIV Student Bible). 
  • An ‘Insight lens’ which presents a magazine style article relating the passage to life situations (NIV Student Bible).
  • Guided Tours from the NIV Study Bible.
  • Reflections from the Great Rescue Bible ( a narrative devotional Bible).

There is some great content here. I appreciate that it is paired with the 2011 edition of the NIV which I am using increasingly in my own personal reading. The NIV study notes are generally quite good and the various resources are integrated well. I like the look of the Bible and the sidebars. Each article is followed by an abbreviation (SB, ASB, QSB) to alert readers from which resource they came from; however the authors of articles and notes are not included in this volume. On the whole, I would say that this is well put together.

However, I am not sure if the sum of its parts is worth more than any of the Bibles it uses as source material. The introductions, pictures and graphs from the NIV Study Bible are quite good but not included here, so that material is not duplicated. In addition NIV Study Bible are somewhat abbreviated. Types of notes are left out which would duplicate what this Bible does in sidebars and in-text articles.. Some great content is left out in order to showcase more of Zondervan’s flagship resources.  There is no cross-reference system which is easily my favorite feature of a Study Bible. This seems odd to me, because it would easily be integrated and providea ‘canonical lens’ for understanding scripture.

This Study Bible seems to be designed as a sampler to get you to buy more NIV Bibles. The dust jacket profiles the six resources used in editing the NIV Essentials Bible. If you can get past that, there are some great notes and reflections which will guide readers through the text, help them understand the message of the Bible and appropriate its truths to their lives. This Bible can be used fruitfully for personal study. Just remember the Bible is inspired, but the notes are not. And if you are in Bible Study, quote the Bible not the notes! That is the essential part.  I give this Bible 3.5 stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher via the Book Sneeze Blog Review program in exchange for my honest review.

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