Full Video Review Here
I don’t typically review a book until I have read every word, but reading every word of the 20,000 study notes and the more than 50 articles (some miniature dissertations) would be an arduous task. The ESV Study Bibles 2,752 pages boast 2 million words. This makes it 700 pages longer than most other study Bibles available today.
Why Use a Study Bible
Since we have been given the Holy Spirit, there seems to be a disregard for studying and study Bibles, because “all you need is the Holy Ghost”. I disagree and feel that study Bibles can be immensely helpful to any Christian, particularly so to Christians without extensive theological training. In the Introduction to the ESV Study Bible, it says the following, “The best way to use a study Bible, is always to begin and end with the words of the Bible. We should always begin by reading the Bible’s actual words, seeking with our hearts and our minds to understand these words and apply them to our lives. Then, after starting with the words of the Bible itself, we can turn to the study notes and many other study Bible resources for information about the background to the text, for the meaning of puzzling words or phrases, and for connections to other parts of the Bible. Finally, we should return again to the Bible itself, reading it with a new and deeper understanding, asking God to speak through his Word to the situation of our life and to draw us near to himself.”
The English Standard Version translation of the Bible, is considered by many biblical scholars to be a superior translation of the Bible and it is fast becoming the de facto translation amongst conservative and Reformed Christians. While I am not demanding as some when it comes to Bible translations, I do feel that the ESV is the best translation available today. As I understand the issues, it represents the best combination of readability and faithful translation. It is a joy to read and I find it as simple as any translation to memorize. While there are several other excellent English translations available, the ESV is top of the class. I have also found that through my Associates Degree and now in my Bachelors, professors who have studied more than I, are fond of the ESV.
Look & Feel
The ESV Study Bible is available in eight editions: Hardcover, TruTone Nat Brown, TruTone Classic Black, Black Bonded Leather, Burgundy Bonded Leather, Black Genuine Leather, Burgundy Genuine Leather and Premium Calfskin Leather.
The Bible is made to be durable. It’s binding is smyth sewn, which allows the Bible to lie flat even on page one and on page 2,752 (at least in the Premium Cowhide). The fonts are very dark and easy to read with a heavy black serif font for the biblical text and a thin black sans-serif for the notes and cross-references. The page headings are in a bold gray with page numbers in a thin gray. Chapter numbers are a large gray serif font while headings are italicized black sans-serif. Most of us are accustomed to this bleed-through in our Bibles. Where it is a bit more apparent and distracting is where it shows through on the maps and illustrations.
Most study Bibles offer maps and illustrations only in grayscale. The ESV Study Bible, though, offers full-color illustrations and maps. This is quite a nice feature. Though the standard glossy maps in the back of the Bible are superior in quality to the ones scattered throughout, even the smaller maps are nicely done and provide important geographical context without having to slip to the Bible’s final pages. The illustrations, commissioned specifically for this project, are very well done and nicely supplement the notes.
Each book of the Bible begins with an extensive introduction. This may include sections dealing with Time, Date and Title; Author; Theme; Key Themes; Purpose, Occasion and Background; Literary Features; Outline; and so on. Particularly important is the History of Salvation Summary which sets each of the books within the context of the wider body of Scripture and hence within the history of salvation. Introductions may also include timelines, maps, and notes on literary features specific to that book. In every case, the reader will receive a thorough explanation as to the book’s authorship, purpose and context in God’s plan of salvation.
The text notes vary in density but typically comprise about half of each page in the New Testament and perhaps a third in the Old Testament. They focus primarily on explanation and rarely on application. In one handy feature, highlighted notes correspond to primary points in the outline while highlighted verses and headings within the notes correspond to secondary points in the outline. (I show this in my video review).
The ESV Study Bible has been produced by a solid group of scholars. The General Editor is Wayne Grudem, the Theological Editor is J.I. Packer, the Old Testament Editor is C. John Collins and the New Testament Editor is Thomas Schreiner. The study note contributors represent a broad cross-section of reputable Evangelical scholars. The articles included within the Bible have been contributed by some well-known pastors and scholars, including John Piper, David Powlison, Darrell Bock, Leland Ryken, R. Kent Hughes, Daniel Wallace, and many more. (I show the list of contributors in my video review)
When purchasing a study bible, questions arise. “Does this particular study Bible take a Reformed or Arminian position on salvation?” “A complementarian or egalitarian perspective on gender roles?” “An amillennial or premillennial position on the end times?” I found this an interesting comparison with the Reformation Study Bible. It seems to me that the Reformation Study Bible came from a much more narrowly-defined theological position; it was Reformed, it was cessationist, it was amillennial. The ESV Study Bible, on the other hand, offers a less-defined perspective. Where the doctrine is clear and undisputed among Evangelicals, so too are the notes. But where doctrines are controversial and within the area of Christian freedom or disputable matters, the notes tend not to take a ultra firm position.
So while it is clear that the ESV Study Bible is not %100 Reformed in its position, neither is it Arminian. It is not cessationist or continuationist and is neither amillennial nor premillennial. In many cases a person from one perspective wrote the notes while a person from the other perspective screened them. This ensures the notes maintain both charity and some degree of objectivity in those areas of dispute.
Having looked at the areas of dispute, I would not hesitate to recommend the ESV Study Bible to either new or mature Christians. The matters at the heart of the faith are described and defended while the matters of lesser importance are presented charitably and non-dogmatically.
I suspect that many of the people reading this review will already be owners of at least one study Bible. If you are currently using the Reformation Study Bible and are happy with it, I cannot offer you a distinct reason to rush out and purchase the ESV Study Bible. However, as I have stated, the ESV Study Bible contains notes and maps and articles that are not found in the Reformation Study Bible. If you are a student of the scriptures, you will want that information in your domain. This is a powerful resource and one that can aid any reader of Scripture. It is one I recommend wholeheartedly.