February 14, 2012

Review of NIV Life Application Bible

With the release this year of the updated translation of the NIV, Zondervan has released an updated version of their well-known Life Application Bible. I would like to review it briefly, with a review in three parts. First, some brief thoughts on the updated NIV text itself, on which the Bible is based; second, a note about the application and study features; and third, look at the aesthetics of the Bible and its production.

First, the translation. There has been much controversy surrounding the release of this latest revision of the much loved NIV text, much like the controversy surrounding the release of what became the TNIV in 2005. This most recent NIV does preserve many of the changes that were made in the TNIV, though there are a small percentage of changes where the language has reverted back to the familiar text, along with some places where further revisions were made. I don't want to go into all of the details here. But in short, this latest NIV preserves the tradition of an outstanding translation that is readable and comprehensible. The translation committee is top notch, and contrary to much press to the contrary, not out to foist an egalitarian position on the Biblical text (most of the committee members are of the complementarian position, including the chair, Doug Moo). From what I have seen of the translation, it will be an outstanding text for reading and for study, and I am happy to have this latest version in my hands. 

Second, the application features. The Life-Application Bible has a nice mix of study and application features to aid in Bible reading. Each book is introduced with a two-page overview that helpfully positions the book in its historical context, looks at its main messages (referred to as "megathemes"), gives an outline of the text, and, not surprisingly, focuses throughout on the importance of these things for application, while also including the important components like author, date, and setting that prove helpful in reading. Throughout the text of the Bible itself, there are explanatory and application notes at the bottom of the pages, giving useful background or explanation where necessary, but focusing on how different events, exhortations, or teachings can be applied (for example, in Joshua 9, dealing with the opposition Israel experienced, the notes on 9:1-6 say, "We can expect similar opposition as we obey God's commands. . . . We must rely on God and communicate daily with him." These notes show a deep and sustained reflection on the relevance of the text for the lives of Christians today, and are an exercise in reading the Bible as Christian scripture, having relevance for life today. There are also brief outline markers and short descriptions interspersed within the text to mark major divisions in the various books to show the proposed outline structure as you are reading (usually not more than a head or short descriptor every few chapters). There are also other helpful study and application features, such as character studies, maps, and helpful discussions of major themes that pull in details from various passages throughout scripture.

Last, the aesthetics and layout. The Bible is nicely laid out in a one-column format which makes for easy reading. The study and application notes run across the bottom of the page in an easy-to-read sans-serif font, and there are cross-references at the center (gutter) of each page, pointing to other texts that would prove helpful in study. I am reviewing the full-size bonded-leather version, which borders on being too large to carry, but is still manageable; the cover seems relatively durable, though I know from past Bibles that bonded leather does wear out and can begin to flake after years of wear, but how this Bible will fare won't be know for a few years.

In all, I am quite impressed with the quality and usefulness of this Bible. It has lots of helpful study features to help orient the reader to the original meaning and context of the Bible, but it also has abundant resources for thinking through not only what a text means but how the reader can apply it and be challenged and changed by it. I expect to get much good use of of this Bible both in my own personal reading and also as a resource to prepare for teaching the meaning and application of the text. I can see it being of great use to a broad spectrum of Christians for both study and devotional use.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher, Zondervan, for the review copy. Also in the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of a competitor of Zondervan.

On context and influence

Matthew Malcolm points to some of his own comments on Ciampa and Rosner's new 1 Corinthians commentary in the Pillar series, along with a response by Roy Ciampa. In reading the exchange, part of Ciampa's comment jumped out a me:

When a group understands itself in contrast to another group (whether a real group or a [sub-]cultural construction such as “paganism”) it has been deeply influenced by that context, beyond their own level of awareness.
It seems to present some sound wisdom for thinking about biblical writers and their contexts, but also some outstanding food for thought for our own day. I wonder how much our own formulations of doctrine or our positions on matters we hold dear are unwittingly influenced by the very people we oppose. The inerrancy debates, for one, often seem decisively shaped by the very categories "liberal" thinkers proposed for reading the Bible, even as conservative defenders seek to oppose the liberal positions. I can't help but wonder how my own thinking is shaped by my context (an interesting line of thought on its own), and particularly by contrasts I seek to hold. Hmmm.