Zondervan’s NIV Archaeological Study Bible – Review

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First published in 2005, the NIV Archaeological Study Bible is one of the Bibles that help set the standard for modern Study Bible design. It’s also unique among study Bibles in that rather than being heavy in theological information its primary focus is Biblical archaeology.

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I prefer study Bibles that are not heavy in theology. It’s better to give you the tools to do your own study. I prefer commentary that gives insights on culture, history, etc. That’s what the Archaeological Study Bible is. It uses the 1984 edition of the NIV. I’ve used the NIV (in both hard cover and Kindle) and KJV (hard cover) editions for several years. In this review I take a look at the NIV hard cover edition. Although the KJV edition has the same archaeological content, all of the Biblical features (references, footnotes, section headings, concordance, layout, etc.) are different. I’ll review the KJV edition separately.

Binding

My review copy is hard cover with a dust jacket. The dust jacket includes a photo of Ephesus and the content found in this Bible. The hard cover itself includes the same photo and logo, but does not include the information about the content. It’s sewn and will lay open at every page.

At 9.75″ x 6.75″ x 2.25″ this is an extra-large and heavy Bible. I love using it for study at home. For me it’s too large to be my primary carry Bible, but I don’t really need to carry this information with me anyway.

Paper

This is some of the most interesting paper in a study Bible. It’s thin but very opaque. Toward the outside margin it’s colored like an old manuscript. I’m a very visual person and I love old manuscripts, so this appeals to me a lot. I like reading it just because of the paper.

Typography

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The text is set in a single column paragraph format. Poetry is in one of the prettiest poetic settings that I’ve seen in a Bible. The sales material says the font is an 8-point. To my eye it looks closer to a 7-point. It does have a generous leading which helps improve readability. It’s not a heavy typeface, so it might be difficult to read (there is a larger print version available, but it’s a very large Bible). This is a red-letter edition. The red is in the medium range. Both red and black text is extremely sharp and consistent throughout. The notes (articles, Ancient Voices, etc.) have dark red highlights that make them stand out without taking over the page.

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References are placed in the inner column. Footnotes are under the text just above the commentary. The header contains the page number in the outermost portion of the page, then the book name, and chapter and verse number of the first or last verse on the page. I would rather see the page number in the middle and have the book name/chapter/verse info in the outermost portion of the page. The page number is placed within a white box, which places a white stripe down the side of the page edges.

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The single column of text is 4.5” wide and contains about 100 characters across. It has around 18-20 words per line. The font has to be extremely small because of the shear amount of archaeological content in this Bible. It’s great for a desk reference. It’s also a good argument for using this Bible in software (I have it on Kindle and it’s available in several Bible apps). Even with the wide column-width I didn’t have trouble finding the next line. There is enough space between the lines to improve readability. Personally I would want to read this small text all day.

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This column width and small print size gives the poetic settings all the room they need to make the prettiest poetic setting that I’ve seen. Lines don’t have to break in awkward places and lines don’t contain just a single word (unless it’s done on purpose). If you want to see beautiful poetry this is it. This actually makes a good argument for having smaller print for poetic settings.

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The text does include reference and footnote keys. They’re not too distracting. The verse numbers are small and can be difficult to find. There are plenty of section headings to break up the text into smaller chunks.

References

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References are placed in the inner margins. They’re placed across from the verses they correspond to. They’re keyed to the text with letters and the chapter and verses are given for each reference.

Here are a few example references for comparison:

  • Genesis 1:1 – Jn 1:1-2; Job 38:4; Ps 90:2; Isa 42:5; 44:24; 45:12, 18; Ac 17:24; Heb 11:3; Rev 4:11
  • Matthew 17:20 – Mt 21:21; Mt 13:31; Mk 11:23; Lk 17:6; 1 Co 13:2
  • Mark 11:23 – Mt 21:21
  • John 1:1 – Rev 19:13; Jn 17:5; 1 Jn 1:2; Php 2:6
  • 1 John 1:1 – Jn 1:2; Jn 1:14; 2 Pe 1:16; Jn 20:27

The number of references is extensive enough for some serious study. They are great for sermon prep or person study.

Footnotes

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The footnotes are the standard footnotes that go with the 1984 NIV translation. They contain alternate renderings, information about the text, definitions, manuscript variants, references to quotes, information about the original languages, names, etc.

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Most of the footnotes are very helpful. There are a very few that I think are incorrect. For example, for Acts 7:36 for the portion of Scripture that says “at the Red Sea”, the footnote says “That is, Sea of Reeds”. This is a 1984 NIV footnote – not a commentary note from the Archaeological Study Bible. This footnote was removed from the 2011 edition of the NIV. When dealing with the topic of the Red Sea, in a series of articles called The Reliability of the Bible, the article titled The Location of the Red Sea discusses the different possible locations and gives arguments for each.

Book Introductions

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Book introductions take about two pages. They include:

  • Author, Place, and Date of Writing
  • Audience
  • Cultural Facts and Highlights
  • Timeline
  • As You Read
  • Did You Know?
  • Themes
  • Outline

The comments are historically and culturally based rather than theologically based. They provide lots of good insights into the setting and time of writing.

Notes and Articles

The notes and articles is where this Bible really shines. It’s basically a course in Biblical archaeology. The notes are provided by the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The notes use archaeology as a hermeneutical tool to help place the Biblical text into its proper cultural context. The notes look at the history, culture, daily life, writings, of people and places within the Biblical context.

Commentary

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There are 8000 study notes on Biblical archaeology and culture. These are mostly non-theological notes. There are a few that discuss theological concepts, but overall it’s not heavy into theology. They appear at the bottom of the page in a double-column format and include the chapter and verse numbers that they refer to. They cover the cultural setting, places, people, etc. Some of them point to articles that discuss point in greater detail.

Ancient Voices

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These are quotes from ancient writers. They give historical facts written by kings, cultural settings written by historical poets and philosophers, and lots more. They are quotes from monuments, carvings, tablets, scrolls, etc. They are placed within the text as a call-out with a tan background and a quill.

Articles

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There are 520 articles throughout the text that cover five categories:

  • Ancient Texts and Artifacts
  • Ancient Peoples, Lands and Rulers
  • The Reliability of the Bible
  • Cultural and Historical Notes
  • Archaeological Sites

They include lots of color photos. The articles are my favorite feature of this Bible. They are very detailed. When it comes to theology, the articles discuss the various beliefs that different groups held instead of telling the reader what to believe. For example, the article about baptism shows a photo of an ancient baptismal and discusses the fact that they baptized rather than their own theological views about baptism.

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I especially like the articles about manuscripts and writings found on tablets that prove the accuracy of Scripture. From time to time the Bible has been ridiculed for talking about an event that archaeologists say didn’t happen, and then an artifact will be found that proves that the Bible was correct. There are lots of those proofs in these articles.

Photos and Charts

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There are 500 full color photos placed within the articles throughout the text. They include color photos of places, objects, and artifacts. Charts include timelines and lots more.

Study Helps

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The helps in the back include:

  • Table of Weights and Measures
  • Glossary – 10 pages and includes manuscripts, places, objects, jobs, kings, false deities, etc.
  • Subject Index to Articles
  • List of Articles in Alphabetical Order
  • List of Articles by Scripture Reference

Concordance

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The concordance is 167 pages with 3 columns per page. It has 35,000 references. 1239 of these entries are exhaustive (these are marked with*). It also shows other forms of the word (other forms are given in parenthesis). It shows the entries for the other forms separate.

Here are a few examples of entries with the counts of references given:

  • Faith* (faithful, faithfully, faithfulness, faithless) – 258
  • Faithful* – 71
  • Faithfully* – 18
  • Faithfulness* – 69
  • Faithless* – 13
  • God (God’s, Godliness, Godly, Gods) – over 700
  • God-breathed – 1
  • God-fearing* – 8
  • God-haters* – 1
  • God’s – 30
  • Godless – 2
  • Godliness – 6
  • Godly – 5
  • Gods – 6

This is a very detailed concordance. If it’s not in here than I probably don’t need it. It’s very helpful for the majority of any study or sermon prep.

Index to Color Maps

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There’s a 4-page index to maps that has the names of places in alphabetical order followed by the map number and grid location on the map.

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There are 14 maps in full-color and printed on thick paper. The paper is of the glossy type, but it’s not completely glossy. The maps are annotated and include topography, routes, and divisions. They are easy to follow and read and include lots of detail.

Conclusion

I see the Archaeological Study Bible is one of the most important study Bibles available. Its single focus on archaeology has the advantage of being able to handle the subject in great detail. The articles deal with manuscript evidence, artifacts, and places and show how they prove the accuracy of Scripture. This is an important topic today as the Bible is attacked from all angles. These articles show that the Bible is accurate scientifically and historically. In my opinion, the Bible is the ultimate proof of God. If the Bible is true then God exists. I believe everyone should own one (in either NIV or KJV).

There is so much content that the overall size is very large and the print size is very small. I don’t think it’s the kind of Bible that most people would want to carry around. The majority won’t need to have this information with them. The material is better suited for study than carry. I can see the advantage of having the information with you, but I prefer having it with me digitally. I’d like to see this content available is a stand-alone book.

As for the content, it’s an amazing introduction to Biblical archaeology. It is hard to find this amount of information in one volume and at this price. I find the information in this Bible very fascinating and I greatly enjoy reading it. If I was stuck on a deserted island I would want this Bible with me. I highly recommend the NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Pastors, students, and teachers will get the most from it, but I think laymen would benefit from it too. This is one of the study Bibles that I recommend the most.

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Zondervan provided this Bible free for review. I was not required to give a positive review – only an honest review. My opinions are my own.

About The Author

Randy A Brown

WordPress writer by day, Bible reviewer by night, pastor all the time. And there's also that author thing.

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