NIV, First-Century Study Bible, Hardcover: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context
by Kent Dobson
1888 pages
Zondervan (2014)

This Bible is beautifully presented. The images are attractive; the tables are easy to understand and clear. This is, as it says, a study Bible that focuses explaining the original cultural context of what you are reading, introducing the world which was vastly different from our own. In doing so, we can learn valuable life lessons.

Those who have been with this site for some time know my interest in reading scripture in this manner. I had a weekly introduction to the lectionary readings, placing them in their historical context (yes, I know, I must get back to that and complete the three year cycle). So you will understand why I bought this Bible when I found out about it.

I am a bit wary that there appears to be only one author. Kent Dobson is called the “General Editor”, but I cannot find a list of contributors. Did he really produce all the diagrams himself? His dad writes the Foreword.

The intention appears to be to present all perspectives – from conservative to liberal/radical scholarship. But that doesn’t always seem to happen. A random flicking of the pages does have

In the judgment of many scholars Joshua was not written until the end of the period of the kings, some 800 years after the actual events. But other scholars question this conclusion and place the time of composition much earlier. The earliest Jewish traditions (Talmud) claim that Joshua wrote his own book except for the final section about his funeral, which is attributed to Eleazar, son of Aaron… (page 276)

So much, so presenting a width of scholarly positions. But a few pages on (page 285) has “Conquest of Canaan”:

When the Israelite tribes approached Canaan after four decades of wilderness existence, they had to overcome two Amorite kingdom on teh Medeba plateau and in Bashan. Under Moses’ leadership, they also subdued the Midianites in order to consolidate their control over the Transjordanian region. The conquest of Canaan followed a course that in retrospect appears as though it had been planned by a brilliant military strategist. Taking Jericho gave Israel control of its strategic plains, fords and roads as a base of operations…

Other than mentioning that “Archaeological evidence for the conquest is mixed”, this article gives no indication that scholars would be divided about the historicity of what my quote presents.

Kent Dobson was Rob Bell’s successor at Mars Hill, so you sort of know what his approach will be – within the American evangelical mega-church tradition with an openness to contemporary scholarship and the contemporary world. Kent, like Rob, has now left Mars Hill to pursue that more cutting-edge approach.

Surely I do not have to say I am no fan of the NIV version(s), but it functions as the “authorised version” of American evangelicalism. The approach, hence, seems to be – don’t scare the target audience of purchasers by using, say, NRSV. And the same logic may have been behind a full “historical Canaan Conquest” approach.

If you are buying only one study Bible – this is not the one. If you are going to have several, and you are interested in the historical context, and you want a beautifully-presented one, add this one to your collection.

One final point which concerns me – not about this study Bible, but about the touchstones which American evangelicals (and others) check. I have mentioned their devotion to NIV, and their checking whether certain events are presented as historical. A central concern to evangelicals, their test of orthodoxy, is what you think about homosexuality. The top Amazon customer review has:

First of all, I would describe this as a “moderate evangelical” study Bible. By “moderate,” I mean somewhere between conservative and liberal, not fitting comfortably with either. On occasion, however, Dobson definitely tilts in a progressive direction. While he does not explicitly affirm homosexual unions, he indicates (in Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, for example) that the homosexual practices are probably abusive or involving cultic prostitution. Obviously, that leaves open the door for those who want to affirm gay marriage in the church.

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