NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible


A basic tool for any Christian is a good study Bible. We are privileged to live at a time when there are so many good study Bibles out there: the ESV Study Bible, NIV Zondervan Study Bible, and NLT Illustrated Study Bible for instance. It may seem like we don’t need any more, but I’m still grateful for the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible that was released last month.

The idea behind this Bible is simple. When we interpret and apply Scripture, it helps to understand the cultural background behind the text. When the authors wrote Scripture to the first audiences, they didn’t have to explain ancient events and customs. Modern English readers lack the understanding of the original readers, and can benefit from resources like this Bible. We sometimes even impose our modern culture on the text without realizing it.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides over 10,000 study notes and 375 photos, illustrations, and maps. It also contains book introductions, a glossary, and index to articles. As you’d expect, it’s not intended to be a general purpose study Bible. In this sense, it’s a good compliment to some of the other study Bibles I mentioned.

To prepare for this review, I paid special attention to 2 Corinthians. The introduction deals with the occasion behind the letter, including the date, unity of the letter, and the theme. Information on Corinth is provided in the introduction to 1 Corinthians, and in an article within the text. It includes an artist’s recreation of the city. Surprisingly, it didn’t include a map of Corinth itself.

The notes on the text are helpful. They help the reader understand things like triumphal processions, digressions, patronage, the nature of oratory, the ancient view of boasting, and more. The notes are brief, accurate, and helpful. As an example, 1 Corinthians 5:10 says:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

The note on this passage says:

In Corinth, the place of judgment was massive. Governors issued decrees and decisions from this raised platform, and Corinthian believers would know of Paul’s experience there (Ac 18:12). Nevertheless, Paul particularly recalls the Biblical day of judgment, depicted in early Jewish sources as God judging from his throne (Paul thus depicts Jesus as divine here; cf. Ro 14:10).

The information is less than you’d find in a good commentary, of course, but it puts just the right amount of cultural background at your fingertips.

I also appreciated tools like the glossary of key New Testament terms. The photos, illustrations, charts, and notes make this a fun and informative Bible to browse.

The real test of a Bible like this is whether I’ll make room for it in my regular study. I believe the answer is yes. It’s a great resource for pastors, as well as anyone who wants to understand the cultural background of the Bible.

George Guthrie, professor of Bible at Union University, says:

When I talk to laypeople about the most basic tools they need to own for engaging the Bible well, a great study Bible and backgrounds commentaries are near the top of the list. In the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible John Walton and Craig Keener have brought the two together in one impressive reference tool that will help people ‘hear’ the text of Scripture in accordance with how, when, and where God spoke biblical truth into the world. I am excited about this tool!

For more information, visit You can also watch the video below, and read a sample of this Bible.

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NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada