The ESV Literary Study Bible

The Literary Study Bible (LSB) was most recently published and released by Crossway on September 14, 2007. It is based on the English Standard Version (ESV). As far as I know, the LSB seems to be in a class of its own and should get high marks for originality because it is aimed for those who appreciate literature for its own sake. The ESV-LSB may be the type of study bible that readers of literature have been looking for. Its commentary takes a literary perspective from a divinely-inspired literary approach, and will feel like a breath of fresh air for those who may not have a deeper bible-reading background. This way of reading scripture makes the bible not only a useful book for instruction but also allows us to enjoy it as aesthetic literature. As far as I know, it has never been seen in a study bible before. Finally, someone from an evangelical background recognizes that it is okay to appreciate the bible as a literary work. It is really neat to see a study bible speak of scripture using terms like genre, literary subject matter, archetypes, motifs, style, rhetoric, imagery, metaphor, simile, symbolism, allusion, irony, wordplay, hyperbole, personification, paradox, pun, artistic form, design, contrast, coherence, and symmetry.

From an evangelical perspective, I recognize the value of this study bible as something a post-modern reader of modern literature would appreciate. As a conservative evangelical, I was taught at a young age that the bible is primarily useful for moral and religious instruction, this study bible will come as a breath of fresh air for me personally. I believe that the ESV Literary Study Bible will be one that literature fans will enjoy reading in future decades. Although I am not a regular ESV reader, it may actually help pique more interest in me to start reading from the ESV translation as part of my staple diet. What makes the LSB unique, in my opinion, is that it recognizes the bible as divinely-inspired while also recognizing the bible as literature. Certainly the literary approach to reading the bible is only one way, but it is not the only way. Traditionally, theology has been using the critical-historical approach, which has been limited to scholars sitting in the ivory towers of theological schools and seminaries. Most Christians have recognized the bible as a religious instructional book but not many Christians also recognize it as literature. In the preface, the editors try to debunk some of the fallacies associated with this approach by explaining that to read the bible as literature does not mean that the bible should be seen as written by common or unholy inspiration. This should not be so, according to the editors of the LSB. The editors also apologetically defend that the literary approach to bible reading should not be associated primarily with liberal theology. The editors are Dr. Leland Ryken, who is a professor of English at Wheaton College, and Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, who is a pastor and author. Their theology is evangelical through-and-through.

What is this literary approach? The preface (available online at tries to explain to the reader what this literary approach. A person who has studied literature or English would more likely have an appreciation for the Literary Study Bible. The literary approach to reading literature has actually been in use in some academic disciplines for a while now. It has only recently been used by contemporary theology in the last decade or so. From an academic perspective, the literary approach is a new approach to studying theology and so it seems fitting for today’s post-modern bible readers who want to read and understand the scriptures from a literary perspective. In seminary, I took a class that approached the bible as literature but it was done from a liberal humanistic approach that did not recognize its divine inspiration. This study bible, however, does recognize the bible as being written from divine inspiration. The market for a literary study bible might be limited, and this might be a determining factor in its future sales. There are already so many study bibles out there already but the LSB is quite unique. It is different from regular study bibles, e.g., T/NIV Study Bible, NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Thompson-Chain Reference. Good job Drs. Ryken and Crossway for producing a ground-breaking work. My post is intended only as a commentary on the ESV-LSB. For an excellent and detailed review of the LSB, see The Shepherd’s Scrapbook, and also see Adrian Warnock’s comment.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s