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The MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV, was the Bible the Spirit used to bring the scriptures alive for me. I almost completely wore out that old hardcover, and then I taped it up and still have it handy for reference even today.

I also have a NRSV New Oxford Annotated Bible, which has a pretty good translation, but the notes and articles in many cases are written from such a skeptical point of view that it’s not a whole lot of good to me.

But a number of years ago my wife and I were at Sam’s Club, and I noticed there was a NIV Study Bible (2002 version) on sale, black bonded leather for about $30. I couldn’t pass it up, even though I had reservations at that time concerning Zondervan’s scholarship and the NIV translation itself.

Well, the NIV Study Bible has gradually grown on me. I have always been very fond of how easy the NIV translation was to read; in fact, the NIV was the first translation I found that I could really understand. But for a long time the fact that it wasn’t a “word-for-word” translation bothered me. Yet, I still liked it. As I grew more self-educated about translations I became more and more impressed with how literally accurate the NIV was, while at the same time being easy to read and comprehend.

While I continued to use the MacArthur, I still frequently referred to my NIV SB. Then, I started using the NIV in teaching my Bible study class, because the majority of the people who attended were using the NIV themselves. It continued to impress. I found myself recommending it to lots of people.

But there was something that I didn’t like about the NIV SB. It seemed that it was always referring you to some other place in the Bible. I was used to the MacArthur, in which everything is explained. True, it does refer you to other places; how could a study Bible not do that? But Dr. MacArthur is basically telling you what to believe about the text. And that’s fine as long as he tells you the truth. And he does, except we all know there are many parts of the scripture that are quite open to different interpretations. I found myself disagreeing with Dr. MacArthur in some areas, and had to go elsewhere to find those other interpretations I was referring to.

I found that while the NIV referred you to other parts of the scripture and commentary, it was more open to different interpretations. In fact, I am now realizing that it is one of the great strengths of Zondervan’s study Bibles. They don’t tell you what to think, they give you the tools to find out those things for yourself. What the Zondervan study Bibles are then is a reference Bible with lots of study notes. Kind of like the NET Bible but not nearly so many. I believe they advertise 20,000 as opposed to the NET’s 64,000.

And there is a place for the NET, of course. But I don’t believe most people who are in the market for a good study Bible are that interested in how most Greek and Hebrew words are translated, and so on. Zondervan’s study Bibles are an excellent compromise. They will open the eyes of the new believer, and still be enough to satisfy most Bible scholars as well. If you really need more than what Zondervan gives you, you should really be reading commentaries and interlinears as well. And personally, I’d rather not carry all that stuff around with me. My NIV Study Bible is quite sufficient, thank you.

Which brings me to one final point. I have been talking about the NIV Study Bible, and Zondervan’s study Bibles. The point is, the NIV SB is one of the Zondervan study Bibles. It is the best selling of Zondervan’s study Bibles. Zondervan also makes the TNIV Study Bible and the NASB Study Bible. I believe they also made one called the KJV Study Bible for a while, but I’m unsure whether they’re still making that one or not.

What these different study Bibles are, is the same basic study Bible notes adapted to the different translations. Whether you are using the NIV, the TNIV, or even the NASB, the notes are all the same, for the most part. Of course, they have been updated a couple times now since Zondervan first published the NIV Study Bible, but it’s still basically the same, fine, award-winning study Bible we can confidently recommend to anyone and everyone.

And what I find exciting now is the upcoming 2011 NIV, because that will result in a brand new NIV Study Bible in very short order after the new NIV Bible comes out. And I hope to get my hands on one and review it ASAP.