A little while ago, I took the opportunity to post about some of the popular Study Bibles available today. In that post I noted that my current go-to Study Bible is the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. However, with the recent release of the ESV Archaeology Study Bible, I believe there are some out there who are trying to determine which one would be best for their needs, or questioning whether or not there’s a place for both in their library. As such, I wanted to do a offer thorough comparison of the two. (This is not necessarily a review of each Study Bible, but merely a comparison between the kinds of study notes within each one.)
Who is the target audience for these Study Bibles?
I believe the target audience for each of these Study Bibles would be either a college student who is currently studying ancient history and/or archaeology or a college graduate who has a personal interest in ancient history.
What’s the focus of each Study Bible?
Personal Thoughts on the Features: There’s no use getting caught up in the number of images, graphics, charts, maps, or even the number of study notes provided. Both are excellent. If you’re at all interested in promotional videos, the video below was released by Zondervan and offers some additional insight into the features, purpose, and goals of the CBSB. (The ESV Archaeology Study Bible doesn’t have any videos released by the publisher.)
OK, enough with the basics! I want to see some differences within the Study Notes!
As noted above, I’ve been reading exclusively from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible for about 4 months, and throughout that time I’ve highlighted a few passages and commentary notes that stuck out to me. With the recent release of the ESV Archaeology Study Bible, I’ve taken the opportunity to compare/contrast these two Study Bibles on some of these passages.
TRANSLATION COMPARISON: JUDGES 8:22-23
This is an interesting passage, as it highlights a situation that occurred prior to the nation of Israel becoming a monarchy. The commentary notes from the CBSB add some context to this passage that really helps the reader to see this passage differently.
STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: JUDGES 8:22-23
Personal Thoughts: Obviously, the passage in question has little to do with archaeology. As such, the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers much more insight into the context of this passage. While the Biblical text notes that Gideon decided to not rule over the people, the commentary notes that he still took advantage of the situation, accepting the bulk of the plunder and even naming his son in such a way that displays his ‘royalty’.
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TRANSLATION COMPARISON: JOSHUA 10:12-13
STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: JOSHUA 10:12-13
Personal Thoughts: Once again, the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers tremendous detail on the passage, weighing various options for how the passage could have been read or understood by the people in Ancient Israel. The ESV Archaeology Study Bible focuses only on the mention of the Book of Jahar. The CBSB, however, also mentions the book of Jahar in 2 Samuel 1:18.
CBSB Study Note: 2 Samuel 1:18 — Book of Jashar. Appears to have been a book of early Israelite poetry, now lost. In addition to the present passage, it is mentioned in Jos 10:12 – 13 in the account of Joshua’s exceptional day in defense of the Gibeonites. The name is generally assumed to derive from the Hebrew word meaning “upright, just, righteous,” and the like, suggesting that the Book of Jashar may have celebrated the exploits of heroic individuals in Israel or of the Israelites as a whole, as the Lord’s “upright” people. Alternatively, the name may reflect the Hebrew word for “song,” yielding simply the “Book of Song.”
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TRANSLATION COMPARISON: 1 SAMUEL 18:3-4
STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: 1 SAMUEL 18:3-4
Personal Thoughts: Both Study Bibles offer excellent insight into this passage.
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STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: THE JAMES OSSUARY
This is not a study note on a particular passage, but is instead an article highlighting the (likely) discovery of the James Ossuary.
Personal Thoughts: I was a bit surprised that the CBSB didn’t have any mention of the James ossuary. (An ossuary is basically an ancient coffin, sometimes referred to as a ‘bone box.’) Not only is the James ossuary a remarkable archeological discovery, but it aids scholars in better understanding the culture of the time period of Jesus and his family. Anyway, the Archaeology Study Bible article is well written, providing many of the details about this fascinating discovery.
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TRANSLATION COMPARISON: PSALM 112:5
STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: PSALM 112:5
Personal Thoughts: I included this note as both quote from the same source, showing some similarities between the two bibles.
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TRANSLATION COMPARISON: PSALM 120:5
STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: PSALM 120:5
Personal Thoughts: I provided this passage because it’s one that most readers will quickly read through the Psalm and move on. However, both Study Bibles offer detailed historical references about Mesheck and Kedar. It’s a good example as to what kind of notes you’re going to discover in either Study Bible. If you find this kind of information fascinating, then these are both excellent resources.
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TRANSLATION COMPARISON: NUMBERS 1:46
STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: NUMBERS 1:46
Personal Thoughts: Clearly, the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers more detail into this passage. However, both study bibles note that scholars question the reliability and/or translation of the number provided here.
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STUDY NOTE COMPARISON: JESUS’ BAPTISM (JOHN 1:28 & MATTHEW 3:13-16)
Personal Thoughts: Each Study Bible takes a different approach on these passages, with the CBSB focusing on the different people groups and events at the time of Jesus’ baptism, while the ASB focuses on the possible location.
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ADDITIONAL RANDOM COMMENTARY NOTES: CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS STUDY BIBLE
Personal Thoughts: Commentary notes such as these are unnecessary. They clutter the page and offer little value to the text. While I’ve only been in the CBSB for about 4 months, I have found commentary notes such as these more often in the New Testament than the Old Testament. I’m just puzzled as to why some of them are included at all.
ADDITIONAL RANDOM COMMENTARY NOTES: ARCHAEOLOGY STUDY BIBLE
Personal Thoughts: From my limited reading, I’ve found that the more simplistic notes within the New Testament of the Archaeology Study Bible offer more insight/value into the text.
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Conclusion: As you can tell, both of these Study Bibles are excellent in helping the reader understand the background of text, each providing cultural and archaeological insight into the passages.
If I was forced to choose just one of these two resources, I would likely choose the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible because I prefer the more modern reading NIV text compared to the ESV. Additionally, from my limited reading of the two and comparing and contrasting some of the commentary notes, the historical information provided in the NIV CBSB sometimes outweighs that which is available in the ESV ASB.
Is there a reason to own both? If you’re really into ancient history, then sure. I own a hard copy of the CBSB and digital copies (through Olive Tree) of both. The great thing about the digital copy is you can read whatever translation you most prefer with the commentary notes side by side. I was able to get both for about $20 each through different sales that Olive Tree offered.
If you would like to see even more of what these Study Bibles has to offer, here are some PDF documents provided by the publishers.
NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Sampler: Zondervan has provided a PDF Sampler with the entire books of Genesis and Matthew.
ESV Archaeology Study Bible Sampler: Crossway has provided a PDF Sampler of the book of Philippians.
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Have a question about either of these resources? Feel free to ask in the comments below.
3 Replies to “NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible & ESV Archaeology Study Bible: A Detailed Comparison”
Thanks for the comparison! Archaeology has always fascinated me, so I may invest in that one, but the different context they both provide is very helpful.
Thank you; I am in Seminary and needed an NIV Study Bible. I really only wanted to purchase one and needed to know which would be better or if I did truly need both. I chose the Cultural Background Study Bible after reading this.
Again, thank you!
I’m glad you found it helpful! I’m currently about a month away from finishing the entire CBSB (including the commentary). My initial note about my preference for the quality of the OT commentary compared with the NT commentary remains, but it has been an enjoyable read for me.
With that said, I’ve enjoyed this particular study Bible due to a personal interest in ancient history and culture. Having been in full time ministry for 13+ years, I most regularly recommend the Life Application Study Bible to members of our church. There are so many excellent resources today it’s hard to know *exactly* which Bible to recommend to somebody.
Anyway, I hope you find it to be a valuable resource as you continue with your studies! Be blessed!