The New International Version of the Bible, the world’s most read and most trusted modern-English Bible translation, is now complemented by extensive study notes and resources designed and edited by general editor and The Gospel Coalition co-founder, D.A. Carson. The new NIV Zondervan Study Bible (website) presents the best of evangelical biblical scholarship, appealing to a broad spectrum of Bible readers. Five years in the making and built from the ground up to reflect the most current 21st century scholarship, Dr. Carson—along with a team of over 60 contributors—crafted all-new study notes, book and section introductions, a library of articles, and other study tools that specifically focus on biblical theology—or the progressive unfolding of theological concepts through the Bible.
[See our blogpost: Accolades for the New NIV Zondervan Study Bible.]
An added bonus when you purchase the NIV Zondervan Study Bible print edition: you’ll get a code to gain free digital access (a $19.99 value) to its comprehensive study notes, maps, charts, articles and more from your computer or mobile device through Bible Gateway and Olive Tree.
What’s a Study Bible and why is it important for a person to have one?
Dr. Carson: “Study Bible” is the expression used for Bibles that include significant explanatory notes, usually at the bottom of the page, sometimes in the margins. Often a Study Bible will also include some brief articles, photographs of geographical and archaeological sites, fairly extensive maps, and charts that summarize a lot of information. Ordinary Bibles often include cross-references and brief concordances; Study Bibles include much more, all bound up in one fat volume, so that readers can find a lot of useful explanation on each page without having to hunt through Bible dictionaries and commentaries and the like.
What characterizes the NIV Zondervan Study Bible?
Dr. Carson: Most good evangelical Study Bibles have more in common than people sometimes realize. All of them are committed to explaining the Bible to lay readers. The NIVZSB is based on the NIV, has drawn together an extraordinary range of excellent evangelical scholars, and is deeply committed to biblical theology.
Explain what biblical theology is, and how and why the NIVZSB emphasizes it.
Dr. Carson: “Biblical theology” refers to something more precise than theology that is faithful to the Bible. It might be helpful to draw a contrast: at the risk of oversimplification, systematic theology tends to organize theology topically and with an eye cast on its contemporary relevance, while biblical theology tends to organize the same biblical material so that it is easier to see the distinctive contribution of each biblical book and human author, and to trace the trajectories of themes across the Bible so we see how the books of the Bible hold together.
Systematic theology will ask questions like “What are the attributes of God? What is sin? What does the cross achieve?” Biblical theology tends to ask questions such as “What is the theology of the prophecy of Isaiah? What do we learn from John’s Gospel? How does the theme of the temple work itself out across the entire Bible?” Both approaches are legitimate; both are important. They are mutually complementary.
We choose to emphasize biblical theology, partly because there are fine Study Bibles already available that lean into systematic theology, and partly because biblical theology is particularly strong at helping readers see how the Bible hangs together in its own categories: that is, God in his infinite wisdom chose to give us his Word in the 66 canonical books, with all of their variations in theme, emphasis, vocabulary, literary form, and distinctive contributions across time. In addition to keeping such themes and distinctions before us as the contributors of this Study Bible wrote their notes, the editors agreed to write 28 brief essays at the end of this Study Bible to bring together some of the biblical-theological themes that can be traced through Scripture.
Why is it of special interest that you, a co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, agreed to be the general editor of the NIVZSB?
Dr. Carson: All of us on the Council of The Gospel Coalition are passionate about increasing the knowledge that men and women have of the Word of God, and this is one way of doing it. Study Bibles tend to circulate widely, so they play a disproportionate role in helping Christians and others understand holy Scripture. Further, many of our members have long used one or two other Study Bibles, and it is important that Christians not be tied too tightly to only one option, however good it may be.
Dr. D.A. Carson unpacked the biblical theology of the resurrection on Desiring God’s Ask Pastor John podcast.
There are so many English translations of the Bible now available. Explain the advantages of the NIV translation for the average reader.
Dr. Carson: In my view, the NIV is the most readable of the faithful contemporary translations of the Bible. Further, statistically it far outsells its nearest competitors, which means its reach and influence are potentially greater. And in my experience, for the countless millions of people for whom English is the second or third language, the NIV seems to be the version of choice. So that means a Study Bible based on the NIV will share a similar reach.
The NIVZSB is a weighty tome, chock-full of ancillary reference material to the Bible text. It must have been complex to organize, create, and assemble all the content that was produced by the many scholars. Help us understand that whole process from beginning to end.
Dr. Carson: It would be easy to write a short book on the subject! Zondervan asked me to serve as general editor for the project. I chose the three associate editors and the one assistant editor (with Zondervan’s approval), and worked with Zondervan on the contracts. The executive editorial team—the four I had chosen and I—chose all the writers (just over 60), decided on the biblical-theological topics at the end of the Bible, stipulated the length of each contribution, and so forth.
The writers were assigned deadlines, of course, and when their work came in, it was commented upon by all five editors. I put those comments in a form that took each contribution back to the writer for revisions and corrections, which again came to us—at least two of the editors, sometimes more. Along the line, suggestions were being made as to charts, maps, photographs, and the like. All of this material went through the hands of copyeditors at Zondervan—very careful and competent people. The writers saw all of their work one more time. The Zondervan folk worked hard to make sure dates and other details were consistent.
The whole work then went through another senior review committee, and its more important suggestions came back to me, and, sometimes alone and sometimes in conversation with others, I adjudicated them. Of course, pages must be made up, paper chosen, printing overseen, different bindings chosen—but those sorts of challenges are handled within Zondervan.
It’s worth mentioning that all of the editorial work was done digitally: the editing, the controls, flow-charts, letters, etc., were all done without a scrap of paper anywhere. But you are right: a project of this size is pretty complex. I am hugely thankful to God for the executive team that worked very hard and cheerfully, with complementary spheres of expertise. All of us sense what an incalculable privilege it is to spend so much time working on the Bible, thinking God’s thoughts after him, and trying to produce a Study Bible that will prove a blessing for the people of God for generations.
Is there an outstanding event in the course of producing this study Bible, or a particular feature or passage discussion among scholars, that you could relate that might be humorous or poignant or merely interesting?
Dr. Carson: Not so much one event, as certain patterns that became quite funny. One of our editors consistently frowned on clauses written in the passive voice, and consequently re-wrote many sentences in the active voice. Another editor frequently felt that the first editor had gone much too far, and pretty soon there was a steady banter between them, neatly preserved in the Comments section of each digital page. (All of the editors shared all their work on GoogleDocs, so we could all see what the others were saying.) Some of the comments on the comments became laugh-out-loud humorous. Of course, resolving differences was my job—but the good humor made the task less onerous.
The Bible is already considered by many people to be a daunting book to read. What do you say to people who may be so intimidated by simply the sheer size of the NIVZSB that they don’t even open it?
Dr. Carson: If people are daunted by the sheer size and weight of this Study Bible, there’s not much we can do about it—except invite them to actually try it. The reason for the size and weight is all those explanatory notes, brief essays, introductions, maps, charts, and the like. Editorially, we pitched the level at the reading capacity of an intelligent 14- or 15-year old. In other words, our hope and prayer is that the “bulk” of this Study Bible is precisely what will help many readers find it a little easier to understand the Bible, not more difficult. And in any case we still want people to seek the illuminating help of the Spirit of God, not only to understand but to respond appropriately—with repentance, faith, trust, obedience, and God-centered gratitude.
What’s the reaction among your scholarly peers and pastors to the NIVZSB?
Dr. Carson: It’s still early days, but so far it has been gratifyingly positive. We’re thankful to God for the encouragement.
What do you hope will be the lasting achievement of this Study Bible?
Dr. Carson: We hope and pray that it will be the most widely circulated and most widely read Study Bible in the history of the church, for the glory of God and the good of his blood-bought people.
Bio: D.A. Carson (PhD, University of Cambridge) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He’s the author or coauthor of over 50 books, including the Gold Medallion Award-winning book The Gagging of God and An Introduction to the New Testament. He’s general editor of Telling the Truth and Worship by the Book. He has served as a pastor and is an active guest lecturer in church and academic settings around the world.
“…a magnificent achievement. The illustrations are stunning and the maps are expertly done. Most important, the content in both the articles and the commentary is superb. Every Bible reader and person in ministry should turn to it often for help.”
Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Associate Dean, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Don Carson and the whole team deserve our congratulations. The notes and articles of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible are helpful, thorough, and readable, and the maps and artwork are beautiful. I am particularly grateful for the writers’ emphasis on Biblical Theology and the unity of the Bible.”
Paul R. House, Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School of Samford University