Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

ISBN 978-0-310-43836-6

Retail price is $149.99 (CBD $74.99)

I recently received a copy of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible for review purposes. The gift of this Bible did not influence the outcome of this review. It is important to note that this is not an update to the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. This is a completely new work, edited by D. A. Carson. A tear off card is included (the stub is bound into the Bible, unfortunately) giving a code for online access to the Study Bible. When redeeming the code, one can pick either Olive Tree or Bible Gateway software.

The Bible text is the 2011 New International Version. I am not a fan; I prefer the 1984 text. However, the level of scholarship that went into this work caught my attention.  I was prepared to deal with the translation in order to examine the study materials.

This is a huge Bible with 2,880 pages. It has a healthy footprint at 6.5 inches wide by 9.75 inches tall. Some Bibles I've reviewed recently are bigger. But this is a little over 2.5 inches thick!  This edition is bound in ebony premium leather with perimeter stitching, five raised ribs on the spine and a paste-down liner. It is a smyth-sewn binding. The page edges are red under gold. It has two red ribbons. The paper is good with limited ghosting (show through). Line matching keeps the ghosting from distracting the reader. The text is single column, black letter, 8 point font (6.5 points for the notes). This all comes in a classy black and grey clam shell box.

I asked HarperCollins by e-mail and on the NIV Bible Facebook page about the cover, binder and paper.  One told me the that leather is genuine cowhide and that the paper information is proprietary.  Another said that the leather is cow, sheep or goat and mentioned a paper weight.  I'll honor their request to keep paper information private.  I don't know enough about leather to be sure but will assume it is cowhide.  It is very flexible and soft in my hands.  It almost feels like calfskin.

Others have commented on the font. It is somewhat condensed making it rather more difficult to read than other Bibles. Since I intend to use this as a reference this isn't a problem. I wouldn't choose this font for reading straight through the Bible text.

This is one of the nicer looking study Bibles that I've handled.  It has an old style simple, classic appearance.  It is the sort of Bible that will have people at church asking, "what is that?"  It won't dress up the shelf with upright books, though; this Bible stores best laying on the side.

It does lay fairly flat though text certainly curves in toward the gutter. It is very flexible which aids greatly in thumbing through to find a passage. I found that holding it both hands I could thumb through with either hand till I found the correct page.  It isn't designed to be a hold-in-one-hand  preaching Bible. The cover is too flexible.  If you try to pick it up in one hand it drops away on both sides.

However, this flexible cover may be intended to help it to lay flatter on a table or lap.   But for comparison, the Cambridge NIV Study Bible has a stiffer cover.  It still lays flat on the table.  It is easier to pick up in one hand. But given the size of this new Bible that may not be comfortable for most people anyway.

The huge thickness will present a bit of a problem in the long term. As one uses the Bible it starts fanning which in extreme cases gives the Bible a wedge-like appearance. Pressing down on the Bible, pushing out the air flattens it out again temporarily. Over time I expect it will probably fan out permanently.

This is also certainly a full color Bible. The notes at the bottom of the page are set off with beige background. There are color pictures throughout, often showing archaeological sites relating to the Bible text. For instance, near the passage about Jonathan shooting arrows to warn David of Saul's temperament there is a picture showing bronze arrowheads from that time period. Another picture shows En Gedi where David hid from Saul. In the New Testament a small, clear picture shows two "Lepta," the coins put into the temple treasury by the poor widow (Mark 12:41-44). Some pictures are informative such as pictures of excavations or ruins. Others are inspirational such as a picture of a shepherd with the subtitle "Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4)."  The pictures shown here are the site of Antioch and the harbor near Perga.

 Bible maps are a must for any study Bible. I have never liked the thick, glossy pages in the front and back. I was delighted to find that the maps in the back are printed on regular Bible paper. There are also many maps throughout the Bible showing locations mentioned in the text. The introduction to Matthew has a map titled "Highlights of Jesus' Ministry."  Genesis has "Abraham's Travels" and "Jacob's Journeys."  There are more than 90 maps in addition to those in the back.

Green titles announce sections such as "The Widow's Offering."   In the Gospels this is followed by an inline harmony. These lines give the passage in the current book followed by the passage in the other Gospel. This is in addition to the usual cross references which are in the outside margin. Some are followed by "pp" (e.g. "14:1-11pp - Mt 26:2-6") while others are followed by "ref" (e.g. "14:3-8Ref - Jn 12:1-8"). Apparently this stands for "parallel passage" and "reference."  A list of conventions used was missing from this Bible. There is a list of abbreviations, but these conventions were not included.

In Habakkuk green colored titles separate Habakkuk's complaints and God's answers. This helps identify the speaker in different sections. Inline cross referencing is used in the Old Testament as well. In Isaiah it is used to show parallels with passages such as those relating to 1st and 2nd Kings.

The layout makes for a very readable page. The amount of information presented here could make for an overwhelming, busy page. But one's eye moves easily from point to point without running a finger along to keep one's place. Older eyes like mine will need glasses to read it but will not get lost in a maze. Poetic passages are formatted as poetry. This leaves a lot of blank space on some pages but is worth the excess to render the Psalms, Proverbs and some prophets appropriately.

Adding even more information are about eighty charts. Some are large, such as a very good, full harmony of the Gospels  after the book of John. Small charts in introductions and individual books give contextual information. Some of my favorites were "Noah's Time in the Ark," "Census Results" (comparing the two censuses in the book of Numbers) and "Sevens in Revelation."  Before the Old and New Testaments are chronologies helping establish the historical context of Biblical events.

In between the testaments there is something to read!  It starts with a helpful chart "From Malachi to Christ."  This chart shows four periods (Persian, Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and Roman). Different rulers and events are keyed to a timeline stretching from 410 BC to AD 30. Next comes a 12 page article by Douglas Moo titled "The Time Between the Testaments."  This article helps clarify the background of the New Testament world. It is followed by an introduction to the New Testament, an introduction to the Gospels and finally an introduction to Matthew. The New Testament is followed by 28 articles on topics ranging from "The Glory of God" to "The City of God" to "The Consummation."  A 150+ page NIV concordance by John R. Kohlenberger III follows. The 14 maps on Bible paper close out the reference material.

A friend remarked about this Bible that it is more like a commentary than a study Bible. He has a point - this Bible contains a remarkable amount of information. I find myself liking the style of the notes. When there are differing opinions both are presented. In Mark 13:19 the NIV text has the term "distress unequaled."  The notes present two opinions of what this means. I appreciate being given the ideas to consider for myself.  Like most study Bibles the notes take up quite a bit of room.  Some pages are half and half.  The first page of Genesis manages just 5 verses with the notes and header taking up the rest of the room.

To get a look at what this Bible contains, visit the preview on Scribd (179 pages, 6.2% of the Bible).  Also, the CBD page has both a preview and a downloadable PDF sample that is much easier to access and download.  An early, 50 page sampler is still available from  I haven't included many pictures because the excellent sampler shows contributors, notes, in-line cross references, marginal cross references, charts, pictures, maps and an article.

As I wrote, the NIV (2011) isn't my favorite. I wouldn't say I am against the text; it just isn't my favorite to read. But this study Bible edition of it has me reading more of the new NIV.  But I spend more time with charts, timelines and notes than the text anyway.  This is a very welcome addition to my study library.

If I waited to digest all the information in this Bible before posting my review it would be into a second edition before I was ready. However, just referring to this Bible during my daily reading has convinced me it is a scholarly, useful work. I look forward to digging deeper into the notes.

One need not spend a great amount of money to get this Bible. CBD has the hardback edition for just $25, a personal sized (7 point text) for $22 or a large print (9 points/7 points for notes) for $39. The e-book is available for just $15. I recommend one of these as a good addition to your study resources.


  1. The NIV and KJV
    Side-by-Side Study Bible combines three powerful study resources into one.

  2. The Commentary built into this Bible is worth the money...even if you do not like the 2011 NIV Translation

    (due to a problem this comment (left by another person) was accidentally deleted, I am reposting.)