Study Bibles for Expositors--NIV Zondervan Study Bible--Zondervan Publishing

We have been reviewing several study Bibles that I thought would be helpful to those who are making a concerted effort to become effective expositors.  An expositor is a preacher who has a commitment to preach through the Bible dealing with the context, the doctrinal content, and the application to a New Testament apostolic church.  Expository preaching can be best summed up in this threefold manner:  Read the text, explain the text, and apply the text.  On the other hand don’t let that greatly simplified form lead you to think that this makes for simple preaching for it does not.  I have been working at this angle of preaching for a little over ten years now and it is the most demanding sort of preaching that a minister can give himself to.  It requires great discipline and you have to get control of your personal schedule so that you can effectively work somewhere that is free from interruptions.  However, the soul building that takes place in the preacher and in the life of the church will be astounding!  So all of these study Bibles that I have been reviewing for the last four posts is nothing more than an effort to encourage men to be students of Scripture. 

The next study Bible on the agenda is the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.  I would be more than   The publishers are very much driven by a profit margin for their companies.  But the competition among these publishers has allowed those students of Scripture to also benefit by adding some muscle to their study efforts.  The Lockman Foundation published the initial NIV in 1973 and there have been several updates to that initial text and this particular study Bible has a more modern update from 2011.  It is not my desire to get involved in a debate as to whether or not this was good or bad.  My motive is to show another tool that can be very useful to those who are preaching on a regular basis. 
dishonest if I did not believe that there is some old-fashioned American capitalism involved in the production of many of these study Bibles.

The general editor of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible is D. A. Carson.  If you haven’t read any of his books particularly in the area of apologetics, he has done yeoman’s work that is highly beneficial to respond to atheists, agnostics, moralists, and the academic elite who do not believe in God or the Bible.  While he worked with a wide range of biblical scholars, he noted several characteristics about this particular study Bible.  First, all of the scholars who had a part believed that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and they did not believe there were errors, contradictions, and that God’s Word is the highest authority that man has to answer to.  Second, it is based on the NIV that is the top-selling and most popular English Bible although the King James Version is the most widely read version by a long shot (55% to 19%) among English readers.  So we know that people are buying and think the NIV may be easier to understand but the KJV is still the most read.  I think that we need to remember that as preachers.  There is strength to a church that has one primary translation that it recommends and uses to preach from.  Third, the editors worked to make sure that certain questions would be addressed without overloading the camel with proverbial straw.  The NIV Zondervan Study Bible worked its editing process so that people would not be overwhelmed with the commentary that is presented.  Fourth, the editors have been very motivated to provide correlating pictures, charts, and graphics that are throughout this edition of the study Bible.  Last, Dr. Carson and his colleagues worked to make sure that a pattern of theology was presented accurately and succinctly to assist the reader as they went through the text.

QUICK START GUIDE:  I have to confess that over the years I have never been one who has been overly accustomed to user owner’s manuals.  I would just jump in and go at it.  But time and experience has caused me to somewhat mend my ways and now I do look at the owner’s manual.  This beginning for the NIV Zondervan Study Bible is very helpful because it keys you in to certain matters that can be looked for as you study.  It prompts you to Book Introductions that have become very advantageous when you are considering who wrote the book and what time frame it fit into.  This section will open up your eyes especially in the role of the OT major/minor prophets as well as the other books of the Bible.  There is also an explanation for the cross reference system which is huge for expositors.  The best way to explain Scripture is with Scripture and this is where cross referencing assists.  It informs you about the study notes although be careful about using study notes in that you do not immediately read them and then move on to the next thing.  I believe it adds to our understanding when we wrestle with Scripture so as to grasp it for ourselves. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS:  This is often another neglected area when we get a new Bible.  What Zondervan did with this TOC was list not just the Book Introductions along with the books of the Bible, they included a section that supplies the maps, charts, illustrations, and articles.  There are times when you read the TOC that something will jump out to you that you would want to follow up with or even dig out to add to what you are preaching.  If you are also teaching a Sunday school class or a mid-week Bible study, this section is indispensable for you because it just beefs up your presentation of the message. 

TIMELINES:  There are also a couple of timelines that are directly before the OT and NT.  This is just another tool to help you to get down the chronological flow of Scripture in your mind.  Were these prophets pre, post, or exilic in their writings?  What year was Paul on a certain missionary journey?  What was the year of Saul, David, and Solomon’s reign and who were the prophets associated with their rulership?  All of these questions have answers in the timelines. 

OUTLINES:  I am certain I have mentioned this before in the past but I have come to rely on outlines and see them as important in preaching.  I am not necessarily saying that you have to define your outline per se to those whom you are preaching to.  But an outline serves well as the skeleton of your preaching.  As the years stack up with my own preaching, I am very concerned that I want the congregation to grasp the content of the message so that they will see the power in the Word and not the heroics of the preacher.  Scattergun preaching will soon be forgotten but when we can walk through a passage and point out certain matters that deal with life and flow of a church, it is very helpful.  I am sure that there are some detractors of this idea would say this leads to “dead” preaching to which I would boldly debate with them.  If a man is a dead preacher, it has nothing to do with the message; it has everything to do with his soul.  There have been times we have heard dead preaching that was loud, emotional, and empty and an outline adds so much structure to what you are doing.  You do not have to use them woodenly but I think that outlines helpful you to look at and see Scripture in a unique way and will help you to even adapt that outline for your own use. 

DISLIKES:  There are only a couple of dislikes that I have with this study Bible and both of them are necessary evils that all study Bibles grapple with.  First is the size of the Bible, it is huge and we live in a time when very few ministers are carrying Bibles to the pulpit anymore and this one would be a huge one to take to the pulpit.  On this idea of us moving away from taking our Bibles to the pulpit, perhaps this is a cultural issue with me or even a traditional matter but in my heart of hearts I cannot think this is a good thing.  I still like to hear pages turning when I am preaching.  We need to be not just people of the Name but also people of the Book.  My second dislike with this study Bible is another necessary evil and that is with the font size.  It is probably an 8-9 font, which makes it a bit difficult to read.  Those are matters that we probably just have to deal with to the best of our ability.  

I have a few more study Bible reviews to get to in the coming days before the end of the year and I hope you are find them useful.

God Bless,

Philip Harrelson 


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