Summary: The ESV Study Bible (and accompanying web site) is a great tool for personal study and family worship; it leads the way in breadth, depth, and innovation for a new generation of study Bibles.
ISBN: 9781433502415 (Worldcat; Google Books)
Publisher: Crossway (2008)
Genre: Biblical studies
Reading Level: middle–high school
Worthy read? Yes
Price: $28.49 @ WTS Books (43% off list price: $49.99)
Why this study Bible?
Study Bibles are tools designed to help readers understand the text. Since there are so many Bible study tools to choose from nowadays, what features distinguish the ESV Study Bible among other options for the Bible reader’s tool belt?
1. Achieves balance and expertise with multiple scholars
The advantage of having multiple experts rather than one main voice (i.e. the “John MacArthur” Study Bible, et. al.) is twofold. First, balance; second, expertise.
On balance, the biases and limitations of a single author approach are unavoidable. What if that man has peculiar views which skew his interpretation of particular passages–who will provide a balancing voice? How could one man be an expert on all 66 books of the Bible? These hindrances are significantly mitigated by the ESV Study Bible’s collective approach. Thus, instead of getting just one man’s reflections the ESV Study Bible employs 95 Bible scholars and teachers all of whom share a firm commitment to the truthfulness of Holy Scripture.
On expertise, reading through the list of contributors is like walking down a hall of “who’s who” in Evangelical scholarship. Now, the eminence of the scholars is not the important bit; however, what is important is that multiple experts in their respective fields are contributing notes according to their areas of expertise. Thus, the scholar who has spent his or her career studying a particular book (or books) gets to contribute his or her deep, wide, and mature study of the text.
2. Explains redemption history and literary features
Two large difficulties constantly confront the reader of the Bible: (1) How does a particular book fit together? What is the storyline of, say, the book of Genesis? (2) How does the Bible as a whole fit together? Is there an overarching narrative connecting the individual books?
The ESV Study Bible presents aids on both scores: (1) On the individual book level the introduction to each book includes sections on salvation history and literary features of that book. Also, the study notes within each book contain specially-shaded notes to indicate the literary structure for the book’s large sections and individual scenes. (2) On the overall level the articles include an “overview of the Bible” and significant introductory materials to both the Old and New Testaments, including articles on topics such as: the date of the Exodus, introduction to the Pentateuch, the time between the testaments, the Roman empire and Greco-Roman world, Jewish groups in New Testament times. Furthermore, the ESV Study Bible presents surveys on the theology of the Old Testament and the New Testament.
3. Presents all new notes
Some study Bibles have notes which strikingly resemble one another. For example, the introductions to the individual books of the Bible in R. C. Sproul’s 2005 study Bible bear a very similar resemblance to those of the 2003 Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. Not so with the ESV study Bible. All the notes are fresh, up-to-date, and reflect current scholarship.
4. Avoids topical agendas; Lets God speak
While topical-based study Bibles (i.e. the “manly man” study Bible, the “teen” study Bible, the “spiritual renewal” study Bible, the “women’s” study Bible, et. al.) may have a useful purpose in some contexts, such topical approaches tend to favor one theme or topic to the exclusion of many others. Thus, due to nearsightedness the reader misses the richer interrelations of the wide variety of themes throughout the Bible.
The ESV Study Bible, on the other hand, does not so limit itself to a particular theme or to a specific sociological interest group; rather, it seeks to let God be heard in all that He has spoken and to all generations, young and old. Therefore, this study Bible is particularly well suited for family worship.
5. Includes useful web site
When you purchase an ESV Study Bible you are actually purchasing two products–Each Bible comes with an access code to the ESV Study Bible Website. In addition to providing all the charts, maps, articles, and study notes of the print edition, two features add value for study purposes: First, the search feature allows you to perform keyword and string searches on the biblical text; Second, the notes feature allows you to add your own notes to an individual verse or to an entire chapter. For more features try the free preview.
6. Presents beautiful, full-color charts and maps
View more examples at the ESV Study Bible web site.
All in all I think this study Bible is a wonderful study tool. The following comments are suggestions for further improvement on a few “little things”:
- The paper thickness for individual pages of the hardback edition is slightly too thin for my liking. (The full color maps in the back, however, are printed on heavier stock.) Nonetheless, there is no significant bleeding between pages, and the text is highly readable.
- Due to its girth (Amazon lists the ESV study Bible at a 4.7 lbs shipping weight; compare the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, which weighs in at 3.2 lbs shipping weight), the hardcover edition is slightly heavy to hold and a tad awkward to carry around. Nevertheless, I have seen at least one person carrying the hardcover edition to church. I find myself using the hardcover either in my lap or on the kitchen table.
- The search feature on the accompanying web site needs the following improvements: (a) the ability to search the study notes and (b) a larger input text box on the search form itself.
For more information be sure to visit the official web site for the ESV Study Bible. Also, comparing a few more reviews may be helpful:
- Evangelical author and blogger Tim Challies offers a useful review.
- Nathan Stitt offers a thoughtful layman’s review, especially noting the balanced stance of the editors (i.e. it is not just a Calvinist or just an Arminian study Bible…).
- Andy Naselli links to the review he published in JETS (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society).
- The “Scripture Zealot” blog has posted links to about 20 or so reviews of the ESV Study Bible.
For a great price, fast shipping, and great service purchase your ESV Study Bible at WTS Books.