My days of studying the Bible with piles of commentaries are a distant memory along with the seminary degree tucked away in the closet announcing my Master of Divinity. While I still read and pray with the Bible daily, often using the NRSV version at Bible Gateway for my book projects and personal studies and praying with the scripture readings in the Divine Hours compiled by Phyllis Tickle, I’m in a new season where my kids are growing up and they have lots and lots and lots of questions about God and the Bible.
Many of those questions revolve around whether God can bring dinosaurs back to life, but occasionally they either learn something in Sunday School or, in the case of our preschooler, come to me with some incomplete facts he has cobbled together from the Wednesday chapel service at his preschool. We have discussed the days of creation, how Jesus performed miracles, how Jesus died, and what it means that he rose from the dead.
Also… those resurrected dinosaurs.
The questions are not getting any easier, and so when Bible Gateway offered a chance to review the newly revised NIV Life Application Study Bible Third Edition, I wanted to consider it from the perspective of a parent who is leading kids in a discussion of the Bible. Not every translation or study Bible is the same, with each offering their own advantages, drawbacks, and quirks.
The NIV is fine with me for study and reading, although I tend to lean toward the New Living Translation for reading longer passages with my kids. Nevertheless, they seem to be tracking with it just fine at this point.
I won’t compare this Life Application edition to other Bibles such as the NIV Study Bible. My main concern is whether this particular study Bible stands on its own as useful in adding to an understanding of the scripture, considering interpretive options, and addressing the kinds of foundational questions that are routine in the discipleship of children.
Here a few thoughts to consider:
Evaluating the Bible Itself
I received the imitation leather NIV, Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition, Leathersoft, Brown, Red Letter Edition to review.
The Bible opens up well and generally stays open on its own. It has a nice cover and gold edged pages that immediately caught my kids’ attention. It looks like a special book, which may not be a big deal in the long run, but they were interested in checking it out just based on the design.
The Days of Creation Bible Study Notes
I couldn’t resist starting with the first chapters of Genesis since I’ve been discussing the days of creation with my kids. I am especially concerned that they understand the different perspectives on translating the Hebrew word “yom” as either a day or a period of time. Would the notes address this? How many views would be addressed?
I know former Christians who left the faith over this very issue after growing up in a church that insisted on six 24-hour days. I still remember my seminary professor, a respected Hebrew scholar involved in both the NIV and NLT translations, pounding the podium over this. There is nothing in the text that demands a 24-hour day according to him.
Thankfully, the study notes in Genesis dig right into the two views and doesn’t demand one view over the other, a welcome win right off the bat.
I was also encouraged to see maps, character summaries, such as Cain and Noah, and significant notes explaining unfamiliar and meaning-laden phrases throughout the text. While there is still plenty of life application here, it also digs into the background, word translations, and related scripture verses.
Overall, if someone knew nothing about the Bible’s background, this study Bible has more than enough information to get by while still not getting lost in the weeds with theology or historical information. The theology behind some of the notes would be expected to be on the more conservative end of the spectrum, but most of the notes struck me as helpful rather than dogmatic or restricting.
Reading the Psalms with This Study Bible
The Psalms have been a significant source of spiritual direction and wisdom for me, providing a backbone of sorts for my prayers, supporting me when I have lacked the words I need. The notes throughout the Psalms are extremely practical, adding related scripture references and explaining the meaning of the verses.
While it lacks insight into the poetic form of the Psalms, the life application focus comes through, and certain concepts come through with greater clarity if you consider the notes. For instance, Psalm 14 offers an explanation of how the word “fool” is used in the Psalms, giving readers a better understanding of what the Psalm is about.
I also really liked the additional call out box under Psalm 14, addressing the themes of troubles and complaints that arise throughout the Psalms. Simply knowing that these are common themes can be helpful in both study and application.
The Final Judgment
It would be easy to pick a passage (or ten) where I may quibble with the notes or interpretive options provided, but for what this Bible is and what it offers, I think it gives readers a lot of value with the maps, cross references, application ideas, and background information. If I’m reading the Bible with my kids, this won’t answer their every question, but it will give us enough details to bring them up to speed on the major points of the story.
In addition, if you’re new to Bible study and application, it can help to have some notes guide you through ways to think about scripture. For the more experienced student of the Bible these application notes may come across as spoon feeding and perhaps restating the obvious. However, from the perspective of teaching my kids about the Bible, it can help to use those prompts to get them thinking about what the passage may mean to them. It’s not just a story we learn about, like American history. It’s revealing God’s presence among us.
The list price for this study Bible is a hefty $75, but if you check out the deals on Amazon.com, you’ll find that that price slashed by more than $20. So you can support your local bookstore or you can bargain hunt online, but regardless, someone who is relatively new to the Bible or who is studying with kids will find this a useful Bible to have on the shelf.
I was provided a free Bible to review courtesy of Bible Gateway.