ESV Study Bible: a Reformed study bible?

This Sunday, I plan to preach on the text of Ephesians 1:3-14. I noticed that, in particular, vv. 3, 4 and 11 are verses about predestination. I compared this passage in the ESV translation with other translations and did not find that the ESV had any bent toward predestination. Then I looked further and could not find any passage where the ESV was biased toward Reformed teaching of predestination. If the ESV bible could be accused of having a bent toward Reformed theology, it would have to be some of the notes in the ESV Study Bible.

I looked up some of the verses most commonly used by Arminians to challenge the doctrine of predestination. In it, the study notes in the ESV Study Bible, to a large extent, does defend the doctrine of predestination. But the study notes do not only defend Reformed theology since its contributors come from various denominations including some from non-Reformed backgrounds (e.g., pentecostal, evangelical, Southern Baptist, Lutherans). No, I’m not saying that the ESV Study Bible is a Reformed study bible. It is clearly not. But if the ESV Study Bible were to be labelled as a Reformed study bible, I don’t think many in the Reformed camp would object this label? But if it were labelled as such, it definitely wouldn’t be able to sell as well as it has.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 “who desires all people to be saved”
“This statement figures prominently in theological disagreements over the extent of the atonement. It cannot be read as suggesting that everyone will be saved (universalism) because the rest of the letter makes it clear that some will not be saved”

2 Peter 3:9not wishing that any should perish
“see note in 1 Tim 2:4”

Romans 14:15 “do not destroy the one for whom Christ died”
“beware lest they destroy the faith of a brother or sister”

1 Corinthians 8:11 “by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died”
“Others see this as a reference to the moral harm done to the weaker brother (his conscience “is defiled,””

Hebrews 10:26-27 “a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries”
“…if there is no evidence of fruit in one’s life, to challenge such people to give fearful consideration as to whether they are in fact genuine believers.”

2 Peter 2:1 “even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction”
“they claimed to be “redeemed” and “saved” because they were part of the church, but their apostasy showed that they were not truly believers.”

John 4:42 “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men
“the first “all men” refers to all who are in Adam (every human being), while the second “all men” refers to all believers, to all who are “in Christ.””

Romans 5:18
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
1 John 2:2

10 thoughts on “ESV Study Bible: a Reformed study bible?

  1. Rich, I was definitely thinking of getting the Lutheran ESV Study Bible. I got a brochure on it and from the sampler, it looks like the study notes on it are immense and more comprehensive than other study bibles out there including the ESV and NLT study bibles.


  2. Kevin, are you planning on getting the Lutheran ESV Study Bible due out in October from CPH? Definitely not Reformed/Calvinist/Arminian.



  3. Peter, yes, not every Calvinist(4-point Calvinists) would hold that "whoever" refers only to the elect in John 3:16. But I think any true Reformed would take that position.

    I do like ESV's footnote in Jn 3:16: "For this is how God loved the world". I think it should be in actual text.


  4. Kevin, thanks for quoting the ESV SB note on John 3:16, which I hadn't seen as I don't have this volume. But it doesn't appear to agree with Reformed theology, at least as I have seen it presented by "Reformed" bloggers who have claimed that "the world" means only "the elect" and that "whoever" is limited to this group. But then I suspect that the position that these "Reformed" bloggers have taken on board is not so much "Reformed" as hyper-Calvinist.


  5. TC, I agree that the ESVSB is known for its Reformed theology. I’ve found that the bulk of it is Reformed but not exclusively Reformed. I haven’t come close to reading all the notes and I have come across in places where it provides, as an alternative, a non-Reformed perspective.

    As theological editor, I wonder if JI Packer edited out any notes that were exclusively non-Reformed?


  6. Peter, are you saying that its interpretation of “the world” is interpreted as “the elect” only? If so, I’m curious how you came to this conclusion? Are you refering to the footnote: "For this is how God loved the world"?

    The ESVSB study notes says:
    "God so loved the world was an astounding statement in that context because the OT and other Jewish writings had spoken only of God's love for his people Israel. God's love for “the world” made it possible for “whoever” (v. 15) believes in Christ, not Jews alone, to have eternal life."


  7. It's a known fact that the ESV SB is a Reformed Study Bible.

    That promotional interview by JI Packer says it all.

    Calvinists are crazy about the ESV, esp. the complementarians.

    I have serious issues with the ESV. No matter how I try, I can't get over them.


  8. What does it say about "the world" in John 3:16? Does it insist on a "Reformed" interpretation as "the elect" which is entirely contradictory to the how the word is used elsewhere in the NT?


  9. It certainly is Stan. I find myself referring to it a lot (speaking not as an ESV-onlyist).

    I see the ESV made the 5th position in CBA rankings for August and it seems pretty steady.


  10. Good post.

    The ESV Study Bible is very impressive as is the translation. The more I read it the more I like it.


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