A photo of the spine of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Readers often ask what kind of books or reference works I consult whenever I am writing a new book. With the forthcoming release of Less Than Perfect: Broken Men and Women of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Them (available August 7), I thought it might be helpful in the next few weeks to share a few of the resources that have been most helpful as I seek to understand the Bible better.

My current favorite is the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, edited by Craig Keener and John Walton. If you’re looking for a way to reinvigorate your daily Bible reading, you couldn’t do better than to read through a chapter of this Bible followed by the notes and articles that accompany it.

Right now I am reading through the New Testament portion and finding it very enlightening. While the Old Testament notes focus primarily on the Ancient Near East, highlighting the beliefs, history, and traditions of the surrounding peoples, the New Testament excels at offering insight into the Jewish context as well.

As I read through the New Testament, I am always struck by some new insight. For instance, the notes to this morning’s reading indicated that the typical letter at the time Paul was writing his own letters averaged about 87 words. That may have had something to do with the cost of writing materials as well as the cost of hiring a scribe. By contrast, Paul’s letter to the Romans is more than 7,000 words long, which would have cost about $2,000 in today’s currency! That’s a small insight but there are many large ones as well that help bring the Bible to life for modern readers.

Make no mistake, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is no pocket Bible! Weighing in at nearly 4 pounds, my copy has a total of 2,358 pages. It includes every kind of map or timeline you could want plus color photos and illustrations as well as many fascinating articles.

One caveat about the notes—they are printed in very thin type font, which can make for challenging reading for some. For those who want a more readable edition, I would highly recommend the large print edition, even though it weighs in at slightly over 5 pounds!

Pound for pound, if you are looking for a fascinating, well-researched study Bible that will enhance your reading and study of the Bible, I would recommend this highly, particularly for the New Testament notes.

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If you want to get a peek at what I've done with this cultural research, please check out the page for Less Than Perfect. If you pre-order before August 7, and you let me know, I will send you the first 10 chapters plus 7 bonus stories. Here’s how it works: Locate and record your receipt or order number. Go to the redemption page and enter your first name, email address, and receipt or order number. I will email you your bonus goodies.





Originally published July 26, 2018.