Building the Christian library: NIV Study Bible

How to use the NIV Study Bible

Some years ago, mathematics text books had the answers at the back and a number of students (myself never included!) found this rather helpful in speeding up the homework.

All the useful aids in a study Bible provide the same temptation: they can stop you thinking for your yourself. The NIV Study Bible is a very useful tool, but we must be careful to distinguish between the text of Scripture and the commentary.

There are other forms of ‘commentary’ than notes at the bottom of the page. It is easy to forget that the chapter and verse divisions are not part of the original text, and that they are a form of commentary. Does the end of a chapter mean the end of a theme or narrative?

Even more explicit are the headings or titles in the NIV. They tell you what you are about to read and, to some extent, stop the text speaking for itself. We should ignore these titles as much as possible.

Putting the words of Christ into red lettering is a very unhelpful form of commentary on the text. Not only is red lettering a strain on the eyes, it also implies that the rest of Scripture is in some way less important then the words of Jesus. Every part of the Bible is the word of God! The NIV provides either black or red for the words of Jesus. Make the right choice.

With regard to the study notes, we must always bear in mind that they are commentary-neither inspired nor inerrant. We are fortunate that the notes in the NIV Study Bible are good and helpful for drawing out the meaning. Nevertheless, we must always feel free to disagree and to challenge the notes. Like all commentary, they are there to provoke thinking, not to be a substitute for it.

Some suggestions:

1. Read the passage through carefully in the NIV translation (or in the translation you will be using for the talk or Bible study you might be giving).

2. List the topics covered by the passage.

3. Write down any questions about meaning or context or application.

4. Note any other passages dealing with similar themes that come to mind.

5. Go to another translation and compare for meaning. Are any of your questions answered?

6. Now open your Study Bible at the introduction of the book you are studying. Ask: Where does my passage fit into the whole book?

7. Turn back to your passage. Take note of the cross references. Can you think of some they have missed? Have a quick look through them. Are there any that are worth pursuing?

8. Look for answers to your questions in the study notes. Decide for yourself whether the notes are adequate or not. Follow up references of interest.

9. Use the resources at the back of the Bible too. How far is it from Dan to Beersheba (Map 4)? Don’t forget that there is both an index of subjects and an extensive concordance.

10. When you have done your research, put the study Bible back on the reference shelf. If you are giving a talk or Bible study, you should speak or discuss from the word of God, not the study notes.

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