Every believer needs a Bible. In many parts of the world we have a free press and the Bible is available in so many formats to so many peoples and nations, so there is little excuse for not having a Bible. Unless you don’t want one. Sometimes people need the right version. Other times people need help understanding how it all ties together. And then there is the stray resource that helps you understand the Bible in a unique way.
I was intrigued by the concept of a “First-Century Study Bible.” We often talk about being “people of the New Testament” or striving to have a “New Testament church”. Yet we forget how far we’re removed from that time and culture. Even those statements are made from the perspective of the world that we live in. Would we really be able to go back and live the message of Scripture as they did?
To help us with such an endeavor, Zondervan partnered with New Testament scholar Kent Dobson to bring us the NIV First-Century Study Bible. Dobson is lived and studied in Israel, learning from both Christian and Jewish perspectives. He has been featured on programs for both the History and Discovery Channels. The result is a Bible filled with information you probably haven’t heard before.
One key method of Bible study is to learn what the message meant to its original audience. You have to take into consideration the culture, political and social climates, and the successes and failures of the day. The Bible was written over an enormous span of time, about 1600 years. It was written to a newly freed people, to a conquering people, to a young kingdom, to people straying in sin, to God as heartfelt cries and songs, to people facing judgment, a nation in exile, a newly returned people, to a struggling people receiving the Messiah, and to those who never knew God but found Him in the Gospel. It takes scholars years to put together a picture for each time period, audience and message.
The First-Century Study Bible is different. It examines the messages of Scripture as they were understood by Jews and Christians in the First-Century. Notes are taken from the writings of Jewish Rabbis and tradition. Others are developed from the commentaries written by the Qumran community responsible for preserving what is known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Answers to questions you may not have asked before are found in the traditions and writings of the early church. All of this and more is added to powerful notes that you expect from a Study Bible.
The text is the updated New International Version from 2011. A lot of Study Bibles are printings of the 1984 text, so that alone is a great incentive for this Bible. It’s also stunning to look at. The text isn’t too small, as can happen from time to time. And everything is full color. Maps, articles, pictures, timelines, everything. It comes in hardcover with a dust jacket, but the cover is made to look like a nicely bound cloth hardback. To be honest, though I have a degree in Biblical Studies and have served in ministry for fifteen years, I have learned a lot from this Bible. It really is a great resource.
There are a few things that you might notice are missing, though. Most Study Bibles have a centerline cross-reference system to help you tie in similar passages, and that is missing. Also there are large portions of the poetic books (specifically Psalms and Proverbs) and some of the prophetic books that have little to no notes. These books still have great articles and informative sections to help the reader, but if you are looking for notes on every page you won’t find them.
I highly recommend the NIV First-Century Study Bible. Like I said, it is great for getting into the newer printing of the NIV, but the information is hard to come by any other way. Unless you have the ability to live and study in Israel, or to acquire a very specific library. This Bible takes care of that for you.