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Review: NIV Application Commentary (New Testament) for Accordance

Click for a larger view.
Earlier this month, OakTree Software released the complete NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) on the New Testament for Accordance. The NIVAC Old Testament Prophets will soon be available (see details about the entire series here). The NIVAC has long been a favorite of preachers and anyone else who regularly teaches others from the Bible. The series is known for having a stellar list of evangelical contributors (see list at the end of the review), many of whom have written on the same texts in other, more technical commentaries. To borrow a phrase from one of the key components of every passage treated in the NIVAC, this series attempts to "bridge the gap" between the ancient text and the modern audience.

From OakTree's product description:

Most Bible commentaries take us on a one-way trip from our world to the world of the Bible. But they leave us there, assuming that we can somehow make the return journey on our own. They focus on the original meaning of the passage but don’t discuss its contemporary application. The information they offer is valuable—but the job is only half done! The NIV Application Commentary Series helps bring both halves of the interpretive task together. This unique, award-winning series shows readers how to bring an ancient message into our present-day context. It explains not only what the Bible meant but also how it speaks powerfully today.

As one would expect, the Accordance module brings everything included in the print editions of the NIVAC, but, of course, with the advantages of an electronic text (more about that latter aspect in a minute). Each introduction to individual books of the New Testament includes background information on issues such as title, author, date and context of writing. Each introduction also includes explanations of features unique to that NT book, a section explaining the contemporary significance of the book, an outline and an extensive bibliography of other commentaries and articles about  each NT book.

The commentary portion on the text itself is divided into sections that could easily be handled in the time allotted for the average sermon or serious Bible study or lesson. The NIV text is included in the commentary followed by three major sections: (1) Original Meaning, (2) Bridging Contexts, and (3) Contemporary Significance.

The section, "Original Meaning," examines the passage in its original context, attempting to determine how its original hearers would have understood it. As stated in the series introduction: "All of the elements of traditional exegesis—in concise form—are discussed here. These include the historical, literary, and cultural context of the passage. The authors discuss matters related to grammar and syntax and the meaning of biblical words." Note that a knowledge of biblical languages is not necessary for using the NIVAC.

Since certain aspects of the human experience are common regardless of the age in which one lives, the "Bridging Contexts" section looks for the timeless themes from a passage that are mostly universal in nature.

Often many contemporary readers treat the Bible as if it were written in a vacuum, or worse written in their times. Therefore, these first two sections are crucial before addressing the purpose of the third section, "Contemporary Significance." Proper understanding of the Bible (or any ancient text for that matter) must include the proper historical setting and significance of a text before making contemporary application. It's been said that the majority of heresy in the church comes in our application of the Scriptures. No doubt, there is some truth to this idea which makes attention to the first two sections of the NIVAC's chapters so very important. When discussing "Contemporary Significance," the NIVAC writers attempt to

  1. [I]dentify contemporary situations, problems, or questions that are truly comparable to those faced by the original audience. Because contemporary situations are seldom identical to those faced by the original audience, you must seek situations that are analogous if your applications are to be relevant.

  2. [Explore] a variety of contexts in which the passage might be applied today. You will look at personal applications, but you will also be encouraged to think beyond private concerns to the society and culture at large.

  3. [A]lert you to any problems or difficulties you might encounter in seeking to apply the passage. And if there are several legitimate ways to apply a passage (areas in which Christians disagree), the author will bring these to your attention and help you think through the issues involved.

The NIVAC can be searched in Accordance according to a number of very specific categories.

The advantage of any electronic text over a physical one comes with the ability to perform both simple and complex searches. Any reader with a physical book that has an index in the back is at the mercy of what the indexer thought was important. An electronic text can be searched for any word or any combination of words.

Accordance has long been unparalleled in regard to text searches and the same remains true for the NIVAC. Every part of the NIVAC has been tagged in the underlying code so that the user can search for very specific information. For instance, perhaps you want to find discussions of the word grace, but not everywhere it appears in the text itself (1978 hits) as this would be too broad, but rather every time grace appears in subject headings (9 hits). This is done by specifically searching through Titles rather than English Content.

Even searches for Scripture content have been specifically separated between "Reference" and "Scripture." If you want to search to find overall treatments of a passage, you can run a Reference search and your search is limited to those places where the Scripture reference is part of a heading. If you want to see every place a particular passage is referenced within the content of the commentary, run a Scripture search.

When I ran a generic search simply for "Matthew," I found 468 separate headings that treat a passage from Matthew's gospel. But when I run a Scripture search to find any place that a text from Matthew is referenced anywhere in the entire series, Accordance responded with 5867 hits—in the literal blink of an eye! Accordance is easily the fastest software available for these kinds of searches, able to scan through the nearly 10,000 pages of the entire NIVAC NT and produce such results instantly.

Searches can also be made for any specific Greek or Hebrew content in the NIVAC. As with any module in Accordance, when searching for a Greek or Hebrew word, the user does not have to change keyboard layouts or specify in any way that a biblical language is being used. Accordance is smart enough to figure out what kind of text is being searched based on the category the user selects (or in the case of an original language text, the type of text being searched).

As already stated, the NIVAC does not require a knowledge of biblical languages. In my examination of this kind of content, what I found was that nearly all of the Greek and Hebrew content appeared in titles of articles listed in the series' many bibliographies. When original languages are referenced in the commentary itself, it is transliterated, and Accordance allows the user to search for specific transliterations of Greek and Hebrew words as well.

The NIVAC includes the entire text of the NIV Bible, and although the NIV can be accessed separately in Accordance, the text is still included in the NIVAC module. Thus the user, who might be looking for a specific passage but at the same time might be unable to remember the passage, can search for a phrase specifically in the NIV text of the NIVAC to find the passage in question.

It's a short list, but you can even run searches for specific NT manuscripts referenced in the NIVAC.

As the NIVAC is not a technical commentary, there is not a lot of emphasis placed on textual criticism and attention to specific manuscripts. But nevertheless, if the user wants to see exactly how the NIVAC treats manuscripts, these can be searched as well.

Searches may also be made of content found in the bibliographies. So if you're looking for a particular article title or author, you can easily find that reference. Page numbers can even be searched, too.

And of course using the "More Options" feature that is available in any Accordance tool, including the NIVAC, allows you to combine any of these very specific category searches with another category search to make your query even more precise.

The fact that the NIVAC in Accordance includes page numbers (set in brackets in green text) is especially helpful in citations. These brackets interrupt the text when necessary so that you know exactly where a page ended and a new one began in the physical book.

This can be very important for citing your source. Although technically, electronic sources don't require page numbers in a citation, the connection to the original printed book is often vitally important or even required.

I copied a random sentence from the 1 Corinthians commentary and pasted it into Microsoft Word. Here is the resulting footnote placed at the bottom of the page in Turabian format:

Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, ed. Terry C. Muck, The NIV Application Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 25.

The user could even remove the reference to Accordance and his or her readers wouldn't even know an electronic source had been used.

Note also that the text is correctly cited by the individual commentary writer's name (Craig Blomberg). This is a bit amazing when you realize that Accordance does not create a separate module for each volume of the NIVAC, but treats it as a whole in one single data file. This may be something of a philosophical difference of practice, but some Bible software platforms create a separate  electronic file for each component part of the series, requiring the user to create a grouped collection of the titles (20 separate files!) to run a search through the entire series. But the entire series is in one file in Accordance. What's the advantage of this? Well, first, every one of the different and specific kinds of searches described above can be performed in the same window in which the text itself resides. Secondly, there are often occasions in which I might be studying a passage, for instance, in one of the gospels, but at the same time need to see if or how that passage is referenced in other parts of the commentary. Thus, the value of the earlier mentioned search in which I can look for a particular scripture reference from one book of the New Testament in all the other commentary volumes is easily recognized. Or as mentioned with the search for a subject like grace, I might want to see how it is treated throughout the NIVAC. It's not that it's impossible to do that kind of search in software that treats each volume as a separate file, but its simpler, requires fewer steps and is decidedly faster (blink of an eye!) in Accordance.

Hyperlinks are another advantage to electronic texts over printed books. In the NIVAC for Accordance, moving a mouse over any Scripture reference immediately makes that text appear in the Instant Details window. Clicking on the text opens a tab or window (based on the user's settings) with that text in context. In fact, there are over 4700 hyperlinks to other resources in Accordance, including not just biblical texts, but extra-biblical texts, other commentaries, lexicons, and dictionaries, too—assuming that the user has these resources in his or her library.

The same functionality applies for footnotes. Hovering over a hyperlinked footnote with the mouse makes the footnote's content display in the Instant Details window while clicking on the hyperlink moves the reader to the entire list of footnotes for that particular section of the commentary. Clicking on the "Move to Prior Location" button takes the user back to the original part of the text where the footnote was first cited.

Accordance allows a wide flexibility of options for how one uses a commentary like the NIVAC. One can easily use the NIVAC by itself in a window as seen in the first image at the top of this post. This is especially helpful if specific searches need to be applied to the commentary text. But the NIVAC may also be integrated with other texts:

NIVAC with the HCSB, Greek NT, and personal notes. Click for a larger view.
So, although the NIVAC uses the NIV text as a base, Accordance allows the user to easily place other texts, such as the HCSB and the Greek NT seen above, next to the commentary. Notice also my personal notes in the window. All four of these panes are synced automatically (i.e. they do not have to be manually linked) and as one pane progresses through a passages, the other panes automatically stay at the same point in the passage.

The NIVAC New Testament is regularly priced at $532 for all 20 volumes. However, until September 30 it can be obtained for the sale price of $317. It is available for immediate download, so the purchaser can start using it within minutes after payment. The eight-volume NIVAC Old Testament Prophets will be released in a few days (regular price: $218/sale price through Sept. 30: $130).

List of NIVAC NT contributors:

General Editor: Terry C. Muck
Consulting Editors: Eugene Peterson, Scot McKnight, Marianne Meye Thompson, Klyne Snodgrass

Matthew: Michael J. Wilkins
Mark: David E. Garland
Luke: Darrell L. Bock
John: Gary M. Burge
Acts: Ajith Fernando
Romans: Douglas Moo
1 Corinthians: Craig L. Blomberg
2 Corinthians: Scott J. Hafemann
Galatians: Scot McKnight
Ephesians: Klyne Snodgrass
Philippians: Frank Thielman
Colossians and Philemon: David E. Garland
1 & 2 Thessalonians: Michael W. Holmes
1 & 2 Timothy, Titus: Walter L. Liefield
Hebrews: George H. Guthrie
James: David P. Nystrom
1 Peter: Scot McKnight
2 Peter & Jude: Douglas J. Moo
Letters of John: Gary M. Burge
Revelation: Craig S. Keener

Disclosure: Oak Tree software provided me with a review copy of the NIVAC NT.

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Reader Comments (5)

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by thislamp and David Lang, rick bennett. rick bennett said: "Review: NIV Application Commentary (New Testament) for @AccordanceBible" /via @thislamp // excellent review [...]

Thanks for the thorough, well written, review.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRubén Gómez

Good review, Rick. Clearly the Accordance team is doing an excellent job with the technical details of indexing and file management - details that are little appreciated but very important and make an enormous difference to the user experience.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSean Harrison

Thanks for noticing, Sean. Sometimes implementing those details is so mind-numbing that we wonder if anyone notices. :-)

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick Bennett

[...] Bible Background Commentaries; Tyndale Bible Commentaries (article); NIV Application Commentaries (review); The Bible Speaks Today series. These sets make the scriptures more meaningful and are easily [...]

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