Any Bible reader looking for a quick orientation to the text without getting bogged down in extraneous scholarly discussions needs a study Bible. Creating a good study Bible is hard: the notes have to be informative, but they must draw attention to the text, not themselves. That is why so many theme-oriented study Bibles fail. They are too self-conscious.
D. A. Carson and a team of more than 60 scholars have created a very good study Bible in the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. This is not an edited version of the popular NIV Study Bible; all the content is new. In addition to the essential verse-by-verse notes, each book has an introduction that introduces the reader to the composition details and theology of the book. This Bible also provides introductions for each section of the canon (such as the Pentateuch or prophetic books); color photos of places and artifacts; color maps of biblical places; charts presenting topics like the major covenants of the Old Testament; artistic renderings of ancient places like Solomon’s temple; and timelines of biblical and extrabiblical events. At the end of the Bible are articles on theological topics, including Timothy Keller on the centrality of Jesus to the Bible’s story, James M. Hamilton on the glory of God, Brian S. Rosner on justice, and Douglas J. Moo on the consummation.
Anyone looking for a study Bible that portrays Scripture as a unified whole will benefit from this one. Its greatest strength is its conscious emphasis on biblical theology and the unity of the Bible. However, one drawback is that, in my opinion, it can be too academically focused at times. Remember when I said in the first paragraph that a good study Bible will give you a quick orientation to the text without getting bogged down in scholarly details? On occasion, I think the NIV Zondervan Study Bible falls into this trap. The editors had so much fantastic content that they didn’t cut as much as they really needed to.
Related to this, another drawback is its size: At 2,880 pages, I can’t imagine actually lugging around the hardcover version anywhere. Thankfully, though, the publisher has also provided a digital version free with the purchase of the paper version. The digital edition is also available in Kindle and Logos (note: I work at Faithlife, the makers of Logos, but I don’t get any financial benefit from linking to the Logos site).
Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.