The NIV Zondervan Study Bible (A Review)

There are too many study Bibles.  If I’m not mistaken, there are at least fifteen conservative evangelical study Bibles on the market, maybe even twenty plus.  While this fact does make me somewhat cynical, I do think there is a place for a good study Bible on the shelf.  Since I have quite a few commentaries, I usually don’t buy study Bibles; I never did get the ESV study Bible.  However, when a review copy of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible came in the mail, I was glad to have it after looking through it for just a few minutes.

The general editor of this study Bible is D. A. Carson; associate editors include Richard Hess, T. D. Alexander, Douglas Moo, and Andrew Naselli.  In the preface, Carson noted several things about this study Bible: 1) the contributors acknowledge Scripture to be God’s authoritative Word, 2) it is based on the best-selling and most widely circulated translation, the NIV, a “smooth and faithful translation,” 3) it aims to provide answers to questions about Scripture, 4) it provides a wealth of charts, maps, photos, illustrations, and essays, and 5) it emphasizes biblical theology – it highlights the “way various themes develop within the Bible across time.”

Various evangelical Baptist and Reformed scholars contributed the study notes: Bruce Waltke, Tremper Longman, Iain Duguid, Craig Blomberg, V. Philips Long, John Currid, (and others) along with Carson and the above named associate editors.  There are also 28 articles at the end of the book that cover biblical-theological themes like law, temple, wisdom, holiness, mission, justice, etc.  Contributors to these articles, along with the editors and others, include Andreas Kostenberger, Moises Silva, Henri Blocher, and James Hamilton Jr.

Including the maps, articles, concordance, and charts, it is 2,880 pages long(!).  The study notes at the bottom of each page cover (on average) about 35-40% of the page (you can see page previews online).  Like most other study Bibles, there are helpful tables and charts at various places.  I especially liked the historical/archaeological pictures and also the charts on the OT festivals, the accusations leveled against Jesus, and Jesus’ trials (etc.).  The study Bible also comes with a code for free online access and free access on the Olive Tree app (iOS and Android).  These digital versions of this study Bible are nice; I did get the chance to download and explore them.

One downside to this Bible is that it is massive: it weighs around 3.5 pounds and is nearly 3 inches thick.  It’s almost too big to carry around and use with ease!  I would rather have the extra essays and such in a separate companion volume than all packed into one.  The font is also a bit small in my opinion; though I realize larger font would mean an even bigger Bible.

Another comment I have is that the biblical-theological emphasis of this study Bible is found mostly in the articles/essays at the end of the Bible.  Yes, the comments/notes do point to Jesus when applicable, but that aspect didn’t stick out for me as I read through many notes.

Finally, there is the fact that this is an NIV study Bible.  The translation history of the NIV is somewhat cloudy in the last ten years or so; there’s been some controversy over the way the NIV has leaned recently.  This NIV is, as far as I can tell, the 2011 version.  I’m not an NIV expert, but it seems to me like this version has made a step back towards the 1984 NIV.  I compared quite a few verses, and it is quite similar to the 1984 edition.  The ESV is fine, but it’s not perfect, so I try to use several translations in my studies, including the NIV, NASB, NLT, and the HCSB.  Actually, this NIV Zondervan Study Bible should give the ESV study Bible a run for its money!

In a word, this is a good study Bible that I’m glad to own.  It’s probably very similar to the ESV study Bible and other ones like it, but it does deserve to be put on the list of solid evangelical study Bibles.

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible; D. A Carson, general editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).

NOTE: I received this Bible from the BookLook blogging program, and was not compelled to write a positive review.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

8 Replies to “The NIV Zondervan Study Bible (A Review)”

  1. You comment that “this is a good study Bible that I’m glad to own.” As you received it without cost to review), my question is would you go buy it?


    1. Good question, Christopher – hard to answer! Since I do have quite a few commentaries, I don’t really need a study Bible. However, after using this one quite a bit, I have to admit I like it.

      I’ll put it this way: if the time would’ve come in the future when I needed a study Bible, I would have bought this one.

      Hope that helps!


      1. Yes it does. I rarely use a study Bible (I too have enough other study books) and prefer to buy a Bible with no notes but larger print and wide margins. I have not bought the ESV Study Bible (how many copies of the ESV does a guy need anyway?). Now I am tempted to consider the NIV.


        1. True – no need to have multiple ESVs – and they sure do make a TON of different ESVs!

          I think you can preview the NIVZSB on or elsewhere. That may be helpful.



  2. RE: Massive. My son-in-law (who works for Zondervan) has provided me with a large-print version. You should see how huge that is. It dwarfs a Reformation Study Bible. Even so, the text is rather small, all things considered. The RSB has a larger type size than the NIVSB large-print. Reasonably impressed so far, though, for what it’s trying to accomplish.


    1. Jeff: you probably need a cart to carry around that large-print version. (Don’t throw out your back!) The regular print in the NIVZSB is quite small I thought, but yes, it is nice!


  3. I own the NIV Study Bible (2001 edition), ESV Study Bible, and also the NLT Chronological Study Bible which actually complement one another in aspects of content. The ESV Study Bible itself has given me more than enough resources to understand the details of each book (the insight given was very comprehensive), while the NLT Chronological Application Study Bible puts the story of each book in a timeline whereby events happened according to its order of chronology time flow (which to me is something very interesting and new since the books in both OT and NT are not arranged as how our Bibles did) with the guidelines in how to apply the Word in our daily lives. The NIV Study Bible would be my reference for clarity whenever there’s the need to identify certain parts of the passages that requires further explanation. I think that all of these Study Bibles are helpful tools to understand God’s word and if you feel like wanting something simpler and not too detailed in terms of content and your personal preference, you may opt to get the NIV Zondervan Study Bible (which I might just pass since I already have 3 Study Bibles at hand ;) )


    1. Elijah – thanks for the helpful comments. I appreciate your perspective! If you don’t have every-day access to many Bible study materials, it’s a good idea to have a plan/method down like you’ve got. Blessings!


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