When I first heard of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, my first thought was, “I want to own that.” The cultural context of Scripture is one of my favorite things to study, and something that I have chosen to focus on during my education. One may ask, “Is this necessary? Really? Another study Bible?” Particularly, the NIV Archaeological Study Bible might come to mind.
Long story short: Yes, I think a study Bible emphasizing cultural backgrounds is necessary. I also think Dr. John Walton (OT scholar) and Dr. Craig Keener (NT scholar) are two quality editors to get the job done, and indeed they have.
What Makes The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Unique?
First, what are the differences between the Archaeological Study Bible and the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible?
While both study Bibles share a broad common goal (i.e., illuminating the context of Scripture), their titles imply their more nuanced purpose. A couple of examples should suffice to show the different nuances of the two study Bibles:
- Genesis 10. The Archaeological Study Bible takes the opportunity here to discuss the archaeological site of Ebla, and the importance of the literary artifacts found there for biblical studies. It also directs readers to another article in Jeremiah regarding cuneiform tablets in the ancient Near East, which includes photos of artifacts. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, on the other hand, takes the opportunity to discuss the historical background of Genesis, focusing the political backgrounds of Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt.
- Ruth 2-3. Here, the Archaeological Study Bible has a cultural/historical article on food and agriculture, which includes photos of related archaeological artifacts (an olive press and a millstone). The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes Egyptian iconography that shows two young girls gleaning, emphasizing the cultural practice of gleaning.
Specific characteristics of the new Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible:
- A vast amount of notes and articles, as well as helpful section and book introductions, all focused upon the cultural context of the given book/passage/topic
- Color photos, maps, illustrations, etc.
- Indexes to the articles and maps
Before the OT
- A Hebrew/English translation chart, discussing terms that are difficult to fully render in English
- A chart of ancient texts relating to the OT
- OT chronological chart
- A helpful article entitled “Major Background Issues from the Ancient Near East”
Before the NT
- A discussion on the time between the OT and NT
- A glossary of key NT terminology
- NT chronological chart
What is so important about the cultural backgrounds of Scripture?
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible will be an fantastic resource to those wanting to study their Bible with an understanding of the cultural context, which is so vastly different than our own. The articles included within are quality, and they’re certainly not lacking in quantity either.
I am convinced that we can gain an incredible amount of insight into the biblical text via the understanding of the cultures that produced the texts. Just as an understanding of first-century letter-writing assists in a study of Paul’s letters, so an understanding of how ancient Mesopotamians perceived “the gods” assists in a study of the OT.
For an excellent example of this, take a look at this video of Dr. John Walton (OT editor) explaining the cultural background of the Tower of Babel story:
Official Product Description
You’ve heard many Bible stories hundreds of times, but how many behind-the-scenes details are you missing? Sometimes a little context is all you need to discover the rich meaning behind the stories of Scripture.
That’s what the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides. Every page is packed with expert insight into the customs, culture, and literature of Bible times. These fascinating explanations will serve to clarify your study of the Scriptures, reinforcing your confidence and bringing difficult passages of Scripture into sharp focus.
Discover new dimensions of insight to even the most familiar Bible passages as you take a behind-the-scenes tour into the ancient world.
The Bible was originally written to an ancient people removed from us by thousands of years and thousands of miles. The Scriptures include subtle culturally based nuances, undertones, and references to ancient events, literature and customs that were intuitively understood by those who first heard the Scriptures read. For us to hear the Scriptures as they did, we need a window into their world.
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, with notes from Dr. John H. Walton (Wheaton College) in the Old Testament and Dr. Craig S. Keener (Asbury Theological Seminary) in the New Testament, brings to life the ancient world of Scripture for modern readers.