Note: This review is of a book I was received for free because I joined BookLook Bloggers. If I decide to continue, you may see one review like this every month or so.
Introduction: The NIV Proclamation Bible (NIVPB) is aimed at Bible teachers of all kinds. The subtitle clarifies the goal of this Bible: ”Correctly Handling the Word of Truth.” NIVPB consists of the NIV text, about 50 pages of introductory essays about interpreting and applying the Bible, brief introductions to each book, and some standard helps (table of weights and measures, a concordance, and maps). The NIVPB contributors are mostly British Anglicans, but the theological perspective is broadly evangelical.
Since the most unique element of this Bible is the introductory essays, I will list them here:
- What is the Bible? (Mark D. Thompson)
- A Bible Overview (Vaughan Roberts)
- The historical reliability of the Bible (Dirk Jongkind)
- Finding the “melodic line” of the Bible (Tim Ward)
- From text to doctrine: the Bible and theology (Peter Adam)
- From text to life: applying the Old Testament (David Jackman)
- From text to life: applying the New Testament (Charlie Skrine)
- From text to sermon: preaching the Bible (Christopher Ash)
- From text to study: small groups and one-to-ones (Leonie Mason)
- Biblical interpretation: a short history (Gerald Bray)
Observations: Unfortunately, the worst thing about this Bible is the first thing you see on the cover: Tim Keller’s claim that “There are many Study Bibles, but none better.” In fact, this is not a study Bible at all, in my estimation. There are no commentary notes throughout the Bible text, and the book introductions range from only about 1 to 1-1/2 pages short.
[Update: Blah. This morning I received an email from Faithlife (affiliated with Logos Bible Software). The email subject line was “Tim Keller endorses new Bible.” And the image that leaps at you from inside the email prominently displays the Keller quote. This kind of marketing is tiring. Did Keller see the full manuscript before giving his endorsement? Did the marketing team take his statement out of context, cutting some qualifiers off the end of his sentence? Someone somewhere is being less than fully truthful. Moral: Double-check celebrity endorsements, even if they come from celebrities you trust.]
If you want a good study Bible, I suggest either the excellent ESV Study Bible or the very promising forthcoming NIV Zondervan Study Bible. (Update: See my long review of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. It is indeed good!) That said, the NIVPB is useful for what it is: An attractive dual-column, cross-referenced, hardcover NIV Bible with some basic helps for faithful proclamation.
The introductory essays rightly focus on helping readers glimpse the “big picture” of the story and unfolding themes of Scripture–biblical theology. These essays will coach you about how to teach and preach Scripture, not merely your own pet ideas imposed on the text. Given the unified focus, some content is repeated throughout. Given the short lengths, some essays (especially the last) feel like a movie trailer. Thankfully, each essay end with 3 book recommendations for further study. Here are some favorite quotes from the essays, with introductions only as needed:
By itself, “teaching the Bible” does not ensure theology. It is possible to expound a book of the Bible, but avoid its theology. We may give good practical teaching, or encourage greater experiences of God, but not tackle its theology. This produces people who conform to Christian practice without knowing why. The shortcut is not helpful. It produces deadening legalism in believers and teaches legalism to others. It is below the standard of the Bible itself. (Adam, A38)
There is a popular idea that all we need is the Bible. That is the minimum that is required, but not the maximum that God has provided. And it reflects two unhelpful assumptions of our age: our individualism and our reductionism. Individualism assumes that I must function in isolation. Reductionism asks, “What is the minimum needed?” not “What is the maximum God has provided?” We need help, insights, encouragements and challenges from others in our preparation. In this activity, as John Calvin wrote, “Solitude provides too much liberty”… (Adam, A39-40)
Often I think I have understood a passage right up until the point where I have to put something into words. I am going to use a non-Bible example initially so that we can agree on the principle even if you do not like my specific exegesis. Let’s imagine this is the theme of a piece of writing we are wanting to apply: Theme: Brussels sprouts taste disgusting. Once we have worked out the theme, we also need to ask what the author’s aim was. Even with our trivial example you could think of saying the same truth for many different reasons. Perhaps this is a book intending to help young boys make life hard for their older sisters, so the aim would be, “Get Brussels sprouts into as many meals as possible; pulp them and hide them inside donuts and cakes.” Or perhaps this is a book intending to make everyone’s mealtimes full of nice-tasting food, so the aim would be, “Don’t eat Brussels sprouts.” The same truth could be intended to achieve opposite effects by different authors… Let’s say, in our food example, that we are reading the book with this aim… Aim: Don’t eat them. …We have not yet thought about how this theme and aim will apply differently to different specific people… For the Sunday school we might want to spend lots of time passing on useful strategies for sprout avoidance: the plastic bag in your pocket, good use of the family dog, even hiding food under a well-placed knife and fork. For the parents you might spend some time in repentance for leading others into sprout-eating in the past, and some time working on how to fight the peer pressure at Christmas time. If you had in your business breakfast a woman who was a national buyer for a supermarket, or a man who was head of agricultural investment at a pension fund, then you could apply in ways that would make a difference across the whole country. Still at every stage the driving force is, “What has God said to these people?” not “What would I say if I were God?” (Skrine, A50-51)
Two more quotes that suggest the importance and potential dangers of topical sermons:
For most people, ourselves included, life is made up of facing daily topics rather than continually expounding the Bible! Much of our ministry of apologetics, evangelism and encouragement with unbelievers and other believers is discussing daily issues that are always theological issues. We need to teach topics of daily life to help people think biblically and theologically. (Adam, A41)
A common danger for preachers is this: I read a Bible passage, for example about prayer. This makes me think of all the thing I know… about the Bible’s teaching on prayer. This framework helps me understand my particular passage. But I can end up preaching a topical sermon that pretty much unloads on my hearers everything the Bible teaches about prayer. I preach my framework rather than this particular text. I need to remember that this particular passage contributes something unique; without it, the Bible would be a deficient book. So I ask myself, “What distinctively does this passage teach?” Although my preaching will be controlled by my overall framework of understanding, I want my hearers to go away with this particular passage ringing in their ears and resounding in their hearts… What is the tone of the passage? If you set it to music, would it be joyful, plaintive, perplexed, confident, or what? In our preaching, we will want to try to reflect and convey something of this tone. (Ash, A55)
The book introductions are generally good, but too short to offer much help. My inner editor kicked into gear as I surveyed these. Philemon gets just over one page—exactly the same as Genesis, the second-longest book in the Bible. Some one-sentence book summaries describe historical content, while others focus on Christian application (Joshua: “God gave the land he promised and Israel took it [11:23; 21:43-45].” Numbers: “God has saved us and, as we travel through the wilderness of this world, we need to go on exercising faith to enter the inheritance Christ has secured for us.”). Book outlines vary without reason in structure (an unpredictable mix of letters, Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, typefaces, or paragraph descriptions), kind (content or preaching points), and length (the outline for 1 and 2 Chronicles combined–65 chapters–is only 4 lines long, while the outline for 1 John–5 chapters–is over 21 lines long). Despite these quirks, the actual content is, again, generally good. Each book introduction helpfully ends with a list of three suggested commentaries of varying depth. Most suggestions look reasonable, although I did notice that the technical commentary suggested for Galatians is rather old, overlooking strong recent offerings.
Conclusion: Since I’ve recovered from my dashed expectations (see Keller), my impressions of this Bible have improved. I think the NIV is one of the most useful translations for reading and comparison. The special content of this NIVPB is generally sound and insightful. I do wonder, though, how many people will choose this edition over either a smaller Bible for reading or a true study Bible, which would contain much of the special content found here plus much more (the NIVPB is just under 1500 pages; the forthcoming NIV Zondervan Study Bible has over 2900 pages!).
I think the NIVPB achieves most of its goals.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Does this Bible sound like one you would use? Do the essay excerpts above make you hungry for more? Or do you have another favorite Bible to suggest? Do you use study Bibles? (I rarely do!) Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”