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NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Walton & Keener)

Craig S. Keener and John H. Walton, ed. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2016. 2400 pp. $49.99.

CBSBProlific OT scholar Dr. John Walton and NT scholar Dr. Craig Keener have teamed up to bring us a new study Bible that illuminates the cultural, historical, and literary context of the Scriptures. Not only are Walton and Keener experts in OT and NT studies, respectively, but they are especially known for their research in backgrounds (as can be seen, for example, in the two-volume IVP Bible Background Commentary they edited). With the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, the kind of information that could previously only be found in massive dictionaries/encyclopedias or specialized monographs has been made accessible to the person in the pew in a stunning study Bible that uses the most popular and trusted modern translation.

While this study Bible contains many of the elements shared by most study Bibles (e.g. book introductions, maps, charts, photographs, study notes, etc.), here everything is distinctly focused on context and background (social, political, cultural, historical, literary). For example, at the beginning there is a chart that provides explanation and select key verses of key Hebrew words that have no exact equivalent in English and an article explicating major background issues from the ancient Near East. Before the New Testament text there’s a section on “Key New Testament Terms” that clarifies cultural concepts behind key terms. In this section not only terms in the NT itself are defined (e.g. Christ, law, Satan, etc.) but also terms from the Jewish (e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran community, Maccabees, etc.) and Greco-Roman backgrounds of the NT (e.g. client, Cynic, etc.).

For the purpose of this review I read all the notes in the Gospel of Luke and will highlight the features and a few notable insights. First of all, a brief two-page introduction briefly addresses genre, authorship, provenance, and date. There are charts that detail Mary’s allusions to Hannah’s Song, compare Caesar and Christ, present the parables of Jesus across the Synoptic Gospels, and display the resurrection appearances across the four Gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians. There’s also an image and description of the Capernaum Synagogue, a brief description of disease and medicine in the ancient world, and a two-page spread on “Qumran and the New Testament.”

Some interesting background insights include the note for 6:29c-d (“If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them”), where we are told that the coat is “[t]he one possession that a creditor could not legally seize from a debtor” (1755), and the note for 9:60 (where Jesus responded to a man who asked to bury his father before following Jesus, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God”) tells us that “burying one’s father was one of society’s greatest obligations” (1766). Both of these background notes give us deeper insight into what Jesus is saying about discipleship. The note at 18:25 debunks the commonly preached erroneous insight that there was a gate in first century Jerusalem called “Needle’s Eye” (saying this drastically lessens the force of the point Jesus was making). Regarding the tearing of the temple in 23:45, in addition to the commonly preached insight about the tearing of the curtain perhaps signifying new access to the Holy Place we are told that it “probably implies the departure of God’s presence from the temple, prefiguring its destruction” (1797-98).

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible will help the serious Bible student who does not have advanced knowledge of the worlds of the biblical text enter those worlds. Key background and contextual insights will open up new riches of spiritual and theological understanding that will also have practical implications for the Christian life. This study Bible is a great one-stop-shop on cultural, historical, and literary backgrounds to the Bible. Find out more about the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible here!

Thanks to Zondervan Academic and AcademicPS for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bible Review: UBS5/NIV11 Diglot

ubs 5Last fall when I was just starting my formal biblical/theological education Zondervan sent me a copy of their new The Greek-English New Testament: UBS Fifth Revised Edition and New International Version, and it quickly became the Bible I carried around with me every day (as an aside, TEDS seems to be an NA campus, so my red UBS did draw a fair bit of attention amidst seas of blue at the library and in the classrooms!).

The first reason why I was excited about this diglot stems simply from the fact that I didn’t own a UBS, and the only NIV I possessed was in the form of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible, an excellent resource but too massive of a tome (I believe slightly bigger and heavier than even the ESV study Bible) to lug around every day. So I was rather excited to have the UBS5 and NIV 2011 together in one sleek, pretty package (see pictures below for a size comparison and infographic of UBS5 features) since I made heavy use of both the Greek and English NT virtually daily for classes. In addition to translation and exegetical work, I try to read a slightly larger portion of the GNT every day; I like to read the portion in English after reading the Greek since I’m still a newbie, so having them in parallel is very convenient. Some discourage new language students from using diglots because of how easy it is to “cheat” and short circuit the process, but it’s easy to not do that (just cover the English side and don’t look at it), and there are far easier/worse ways to cheat nowadays with Bible software).

diglot size comparisonubs5-infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the differing critical apparatus, one unique feature of the UBS that I was not aware of until it was mentioned by my exegesis professor is the appendices of OT quotes and allusions. There’s an index of quotes in OT order, an index of quotes in NT order, and an index of allusions and verbal parallels. One downside of the effort to making the English parallel the Greek is that often the English page will have just a few sentences and/or cut off mid-sentence (see picture below for an example).While this sometimes looks and feels slightly awkward, I think this is an inevitable feature of a diglot and a small price to pay for the conveniences of the format. Overall, I love the new Zondervan Greek-English New Testament: UBS Fifth Revised Edition and New International Version. It’s my go-to New Testament for class, research, and devotional reading.

diglot

Thanks to Zondervan and Academic PS for the review copy!