Factors Involved in Preparing a Study Bible

by Kenneth L. Barker (General Editor - The NIV Study Bible)
(Bible Editions & Versions – Jan.-Mar. 2005)

Obviously I can only address this subject from the perspective of my experience in producing The NIV Study Bible. I also helped adapt it to other English versions of the Bible. Those efforts resulted in The NASB Study Bible and The KJV Study Bible — and will soon lead to The TNIV Study Bible. So my presentation will be somewhat biased, though I am grateful for all the other good study Bibles available today. I also consult them, particularly The Net Bible with its numerous helpful notes (over 60,000).

When anyone sets out to prepare a study Bible, they need many capable helpers. I was ably assisted by my Associate Editors (Donald W. Burdick [now deceased], John H. Stek, Walter W. Wessel [now deceased], and Ronald Youngblood). Even with their help, it still took approximately seven years to complete The NIV Study Bible. It would have taken considerably longer if more than forty additional contributors had not submitted to us the initial study notes on each book of the Bible (see the Contributors page at the front of the study Bible — there we point out, however, that my Associate Editors and I alone are responsible for the final form and content of the study Bible).

The study Bible had its beginnings in the late 1970s when several of the NIV translators (including this one) voiced the desire to prepare a new, complete study Bible specifically for the NIV text. When I said yes to the invitation to guide this project to a successful conclusion (it was published in the autumn of 1985), I knew I was assuming an awesome and overwhelming task. Humanly speaking, it was beyond me. True, I had capable helpers. Even so, I felt the need to pray regularly for God’s daily supply of wisdom, grace, strength, and guidance. I believe that the Lord answered, and for that answer I give him thanks, praise, and glory

Now let me describe some of the features that we felt should become part of the kind of study Bible we were attempting to produce, namely, one that could be used profitably by all Christians who want to he serious Bible students. At the very front are color charts on Old Testament Chronology and New Testament Chronology. After that, the table of contents tells where the special essays (“The Conquest and the Ethical Question of War,” “Wisdom Literature,” “The Book of the Twelve, or the Minor Prophets,” “The Time between the Testaments,” “The Synoptic Gospels,” “The Pastoral Letters,” and “The General Letters”) can be found and also where to locate maps and charts (including diagrams).

Each book of the Bible has a fairly long, up-to-date introduction dealing with such matters as Author, Date. Historical Background, Literary Analysis (Structure, Forms, and Style), Theological Teaching, and Outline. At the bottom of each page there is an abundance of study notes that explain the meaning of the Biblical text above. The notes also contain practical principles for personal application. Some of the notes provide light from archaeology. A short harmony of the Gospels follows the Gospel of john. There are also cross references. And at the bottom of the right-hand columns there are translators’ notes on the Biblical text.

At the back of the study Bible, there is an index to subjects that leads the reader to key Scripture verses on a variety of topics. This is followed by an index to the study notes, listing verses where one can find notes on various subjects, names, and themes. Next is the index to maps, where the user can find the location of place names on maps throughout the study Bible. This is followed by a concordance, showing where the reader can locate certain words and names in the Bible. Finally, there is an index to the color maps that appear at the end of the study Bible.

Here are five ways we believe that God can use study Bibles such as this one in the lives of people:

1. God can use them to bring the blessing of salvation to lost humanity. Numerous study notes explain the way of salvation according to Scripture (e.g., see the note on James 2:14-26).

2. God can use them to help stamp out Biblical illiteracy among believers by instructing them in Christian belief and behavior (see Neh. 8:7-8,12).

3. God can use them to help pastors and teachers in countries on all the great continents of the world. Many of these servants of Christ labor in lonely, remote areas with no Bible study tools and no access to a library. In works such as The NIV Study Bible they can find a clear translation of Scripture and the equivalent of a compact commentary (the study notes), concordance, dictionary (the subject index to the study notes), topical studies (the topical index to Scripture references), and an atlas (numerous maps) — all bound together as a miniature library in one volume.

4. God can use them to heal some of the divisions in the church and promote a greater spirit of unity among Christians. Are we not united on the issues that matter most? Doctrinally, our study Bible reflects traditional evangelical theology. Where we were aware of significant differences of opinion on key passages or doctrines, we tried to follow an evenhanded approach by indicating those differences (e.g., .see the note on “thousand years” in Rev. 20:2). The result, I believe, is an interdenominational study Bible for all serious students of the Word.

5. God can use them to show how relevant, practical, and applicable his Word is to the lives of people today. This is possible because so many of our study notes are phrased in the form of timeless principles. For instance, most of us are probably familiar with the words of Zech. 4:6: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.’ says the LORD Almighty.” But the next verse goes on to say: “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground.” The study Bible comments: “Faith in the power of God’s Spirit can overcome mountainous obstacles.” That principle is just as valid today as it was in the time of Zerubbabel and Zechariah.

My earnest prayer is that God will be pleased to use this study Bible and all other good study Bibles — to bring edification, spiritual enrichment and blessing to literally millions of people.