Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Craig S. Keener, John H. Walton, editors. Nashville: Zondervan Publishing: 2016. 2,400 pp. Hardback – $49.99; Imitation Leather – $79.95. Purchase at Amazon for much less or on Kindle for an even greater savings.
I have reviewed and even given away a number of various study Bibles (you can read these here) and while I typically do not care for niche Bibles, I am becoming a collector of study Bibles. This particular study Bible is published by Zondervan and uses the New International Version translation.
Check out this video for an introduction from the editor of The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.
While including the entire text of the New International Version (2011), this study Bible is full of many additional features. These include, but are not limited to:
- Targeted book introductions explain the context in which each book of the Bible was written
- Insightful and informative verse-by-verse study notes reveal new dimensions of insight to even the most familiar passages
- Key Old Testament (Hebrew) and New Testament terms are explained and expanded upon in two helpful reference features
- Over 300 in-depth articles on key contextual topics
- 375 full-color photos, illustrations, and images from around the world
- Dozens of charts, maps, and diagrams in vivid color
- Additional study Bible tools: cross references, a concordance, indexes and other helps
The edition I have is also a red-letter edition meaning the words of Jesus Christ are in red.
First, while I prefer the ESV translation personally, I will not comment on the NIV translation in this particular review. This review will look at what separates this study Bible from the others.
First, one of the most striking aspects of this study Bible that is noticeable the moment you open it and flip through its pages are the full-color pictures, timelines, maps, and even the beige coloring of the center-column cross references. Also, each chapter and subject heading is set apart in color and quickly helps the reader to scan for a particular section or passage of Scripture.
Second, the study notes do not offer any theological insight or information because, quite frankly, that is not the nature of this particular study Bible. Rather, it offers the cultural insight of the time and place from when the particular text was written. For example, when Israel first took over the Promised Land to when Christ walked the streets of Jerusalem, there was much change in the culture and that is highlighted throughout this study Bible.
The reader will see how Israel functioned as a theocracy (during the time of Moses and the Judges) became a monarchy ruled by kings and later became a conquered nation ruled by many different nations through the years. What is more, the study notes bring this history to life and offer deeper understanding for the events taking place.
Third, the Hebrew to English and translation chart and Key New Testament Terms dictionary prove invaluable to the reader as not many will ever take a Biblical languages course or seek to read technical commentaries. Having these key resources at your fingertips proves to be a great aid in understanding the original meaning and intention of the authors.
Fourth, this one study Bible replaces two other resources by John Walton and Craig Keener: The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament and The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. It is my understanding that the New Testament volume, originally published in 1994 is no longer in print though it can still be purchased on Kindle or Amazon.
Personally, these two resources are indispensable to my sermon preparation each week and consequently are placed on a shelf immediately behind where I stand at my desk. Even though I will keep both of the aforementioned resources in my library, I will also keep this study Bible readily available as I am sure it will be used as frequently as the other two.
Finally, the tag-line in much of the advertising by Zondervan is “Context changes everything.” While I do not think that a student of Scripture will have any doctrinal beliefs radically changed by understanding the cultural background (I may be wrong on this), I do believe that learning this information will take one’s faith to a much deeper level as they strive to understand how the Bible is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17) even today across time and cultural boundaries.
If you are a student of Scripture and want to learn more about the authorial intent of a passage in order to better understand its intended purpose for your life in the 21st century, then you can not do much better than owning a copy of The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Remember, this is not theological insight (though a case can be made that all Bible study is theological); rather, it is cultural information meant to help the reader better understand what was taking place when the text was written. I highly recommend this resource to every Christian.