Thank you Michele Bennett of Crossway Publishing for sending me a review copy.
In this rather lengthy post, I will speak about what I have found to be the main features of the ESV Study Bible, and then in the second half of this post, I will give my opinion about the ESV translation itself. I know there have already been numerous other bibliobloggers in the blogosphere blogging about the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB). I will finally add mine opinion of the it here today.
1. The features of the ESV Study Bible:
The more I read the ESV Study Bible, the more I like it. If you’re looking for a good study bible, the ESV Study Bible is definitely one of the best available. The study notes and the overall feel of it will make it one of the all-time great study bibles. With over 20,000 study notes and 50 articles, it is a heavy-duty study bible, and it also looks and feels like one too. With 2,750 pages, it is one of the thickest study bibles out there, if not the thickest. The ESV Study Bible is the biggest of them all. It is also the most comprehensive I’ve seen. The quantity and quality of study notes is comparable to its two major rivals, the T/NIV and NLT study bibles. The introductions for each book are excellent. They are scholarly and are based on up-to-date scholarship. The contributing scholars for the ESV Study Bible are top-notch evangelical scholars. The wide variety of scholars from many denominations makes this study bible ecumenical. The scholars who have contributed the study notes, articles, and the ESV translation itself, are from a variety of denominational seminaries, theological schools, and universities. They come from a variety of denominational backgrounds: Baptist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, Pentecostal, and many and various evangelical seminaries (their names can be seen here).
In my opinion, the big name on the editorial oversight committee is J.I. Packer, the Theological Editor. The other names on this committee are C. John Collins, the Old Testament Editor, and Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Editor. The editorial committee is covenantal in theology. It is not surprise me that this committee leans more toward covenantal in theology. Well, the majority of the readership of the ESV translation is covenantal or reformed; so why not? Will dispensationalists find this study bible overly covenantal? I don’t think so. There are some dispensationalists on the list of study note contributors but they are the minority. In recent years, I have found that my own theology moving from an Arminian dispensational outlook to more of a covenantal one. So now, I can appreciate both theological views. I can say that it is not as covenantal or reformed as the ESV Reformation Study Bible. So if you’re a dispensationalist, you’ll still like this study bible and appreciate its value.
In the ESV panel discussion, Dr. J.I. Packer, the theological editor, spoke about the ESV Study Bible being a useful tool for catechesis (or oral instruction). I have wondered what makes it a good tool for catechesis. If someone could enlighten me on this one, I would appreciate it.
One thing that separates the ESV Study Bible from the rest of the other study bibles is the physical quality of the bible itself. It has a very good quality binding because it is Smyth-sewn rather than glued. This makes it much longer-lasting, and it allows the bible to lay flat when you’re at the beginning of Genesis or at the end of Revelation. Most study bibles out there only use the cheap glue binding, including the NTL Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, New Oxford Annotated Bible, and HarperCollins SB. The ESV Study Bible, however, is Smyth-sewn and reinforced with some glue to make it more durable. So kudos to Crossway for providing a good quality binding. I think Crossway has really improved on the quality of some of its bibles. One pet-peeve I have about bibles is that when you open up the bible, and the pages at the seam crinkle-up. The pages near the seam in this bible seem to crinkle, and I don’t know why. Open one up and you’ll see for yourself. Maybe someone can explain to me why this happens?
The layout is very attractive. It is easy on the eyes. Personally, I like the lines that separate the header, the study notes, and the side columns. I find this easier on the eyes and it gives the appearance of a clean-cut layout. Crossway has also provided quality high-opacity French bible paper and a very nice print job. I like the dark arial font for the study notes and the dark serif font for the biblical text. It provides a good contrast and it makes it easier to read. The font size is also a good size. I don’t have to use a magnifying glass to read it. I also like the single column format. I was accustomed to double columns but I have slowly become accustomed to reading wide single columns. Moreover, the abundance of white space around the text makes it easier and quicker to read, especially if you’re a speed reader (which I’m not).
This is one of the only bibles I’ve seen with so many full-color maps and illustrations within the pages of the bible texts. No other bible has come close to what the ESV Study Bible has done in providing relevant maps that are in such magnificent colors and detail. It has certainly set the bar in this area. Not only are these color maps placed in each of the book introductions, but they are also placed within the pages of the main texts to provide the readers with an historical place where the story was situated. The regions, nations and cities are concurrent to the period of time when the characters and stories took place. It’s really well done.
I have to say that I’m a cross reference user and prefer bibles that have cross references. I don’t know about most people, but when I do indepth study into the text, I actually use cross references to find relevant and comparable scripture verses. I have found that the cross references are in the ESVSB is sufficient and comparable to other bibles; plus there is a concordance in the back.
The numerous theological articles in the back of the bible reflect an evangelical perspective. They are quite readable, even for beginner Christians. It’s a nice addition. Perhaps these theological-biblical articles were what J.I. Packer was referring to when he spoke about the ESV Study Bible being a useful tool for catechesis? Also, in the past, I’ve wondered what it was like during the time period in between the OT and NT. Some historical and scholarly articles are appropriately placed in between the Old Testament and the New Testament to explain in a compact fashion: the time between the testaments; the Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman world; Jewish groups at the time of the NT.
2. The ESV translation:
As far as the translation itself goes, I see the ESV translation becoming ever more popular in the future. It is popular in covenantal Baptist and Reformed churches, but it is also becoming more widely used in Lutheran congregations. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has switched their new hymnal from the NIV to the ESV translation. For some Lutherans, the previous switch from the RSV to the NIV, and now to the ESV, is sort of a return to the Tyndale RSV-style language. For those who are used to the old RSV, they will find the ESV an easy transition. I don’t think Crossway wants to market the ESV as an ‘updated RSV’ but it really is kind of like an ‘updated RSV’ since much of the text is identical to the old RSV. In fact, maybe Crossway could have renamed it the RSV2? The difference between the two is in its updated and conservative biblical scholarship, and easier to read punctuations and some modernized grammar. Overall, it still reads very much like the RSV. When I was reading from the ESV aloud, many thought I was reading from the RSV. In certain passages, the difference between the ESV and RSV is only slight. There is even less of a difference between the KJV and NKJV.
Even though some have debated the accuracy of between the ESV and the TNIV, there is really not much to debate about because the ESV is still a very accurate and scholarly translation. If we want to debate the accuracy of the ESV, we will also have to debate the accuracy of the RSV. Some may accuse the ESV being a step back from the RSV, but I don’t think so. I acknowledge that the RSV is one of the best translations ever translated into the English language and in many ways, the ESV has improved over its predecessor. Personally, I really like the NRSV, TNIV and NLT translations because they are gender-inclusive and highly accurate. The ESV is also gender-inclusive, but to only to an extent. That’s the criticism. The level of gender-inclusivity in the ESV is somewhere in-between the TNIV/NRSV (which fully use gender-inclusive language) and NIV/RSV (which mainly use masculine language). We can come to two possible conclusions concerning this issue of moderate use of gender-inclusive language:
1/ It is inconsistent; or
2/ It is ‘playing it safe’ and not ‘going over-board’.
Personally, I think both points of view are legitimate. Personally, I do prefer gender-inclusive language because it fits the context of the audience to whom the writers were originally writing to. However, technically speaking, the gender of the pronouns (i.e., he, him, his) are mostly masculine because that’s how gender was used in Greek writing.
The ESV translation is already a very successful translation but I believe it will become even more popular. In the near future, it will become head-to-head rivals with the NIV and NLT. I predict that the ESV will become one of the great modern translations of all time. I am not just saying that but I really believe it. Crossway has put together great study bible with a great translation to go along with it. Good job Crossway!