ESV Study Bible (Review)

Growing up, I had the NIV Study Bible for church.  I never knew there were any other study Bibles and mine served me well for many years.  Now I am in a position where I will be teaching an introduction to the Bible and, because good whole-Bible textbooks are difficult to come by, I have leaning towards working from a good study Bible.

The new ESV Study Bible from Crossway shows great promise.  It is very large (almost 3000 pages) and has received a lot of praise since its release.  Here are some factors I consider and how the ESVSB ranks: scholars, book introductions, book notes, book charts/excurses, back matter, and maps.

SCHOLARS

There are a good number of recognized scholars involved in this Bible’s book material including Desmond Alexander (Genesis) John Currid (with N. Kiuchi and Jay Sklar, Leviticus), Gordon Wenham (Numbers), Iain Provan (1-2 Samuel), Gordon McConville (Ezra, Nehemiah), C. John Collins (Psalms), David Reimer (Ezekiel), David W. Baker (Zepheniah), Gordon Hugenberger (Malachi), Michael Wilkins (Matthew), Frank Thielman (1 Corinthians), Scott Hafemann (2 Corinthians), Simon Gathercole (Galatians), Sean McDonough (Philippians), Clinton Arnold (Colossians), Colin Nicholl (1-2 Thessalonians), Grant Osborne (James), and more.

There is a decent amount of diversity represented here (within Evangelicalism), but I noticed virtually no Methodist scholars and mostly Reformed and Baptist folk.

BOOK INTRODUCTIONS

The book introductions (to each Biblical book) are very important, as this orients the book to the reader who may know very little or nothing about the content and how to make sense of it.  What would you say in a few pages to aid the reader in understanding?  Here, the ESVSB doesn’t skimp and I appreciate that.  For example, with Genesis, Alexander gives a one-page discussion on author and date (quite conservative on these issues).  Another two pages address Genesis in the Pentateuch and also the arrangement of the book (two charts are given, one on the ‘generations’ motif and another on the genealogies).  A short paragraph covers the themes of the book and more attention is given to ‘key themes’.

A full page treats ‘History of Salvation Summary’, while the next page works through ‘Genesis and History’.  The remainder of the intro deals with ‘Genesis and Science’, ‘Reading Genesis in the 21st Century’, and there is a map and book outline on the last couple of pages.  This is certainly the most extensive intro I have seen in a study Bible!

Not all of the intros are as detailed.  Genesis’s is 10 pages; Numbers (8pp.);  1 Samuel (6pp.); Matthew (5pp.); Acts (7pp.); 2 Corinthians (4pp.); Revelation (10pp.).  Though there is some variation, as you can see, overall we see 6-8 pp. with charts and maps.

BOOK NOTES

The actual bottom-of-page study notes are nothing spectacular, but trustworthy (from an evangelical theology) and useful for lay-readers.  They deal with all the main issues and often there are charts that explain things further and supplement the notes.  The notes are overall more conservative than I would want, but I am probably not the ideal reader of the study Bible.

BOOK CHARTS/EXCURSES

As I just mentioned, this book is littered with helpful charts and excurses.  The charts sometimes deal with structural issues, parallels between books, timelines, etc… I think that it is this sort of teaching material that sets the ESVSB apart from its competitors.

BACK MATTER

In the back, you will find a host of helpful essays: overviews of Biblical doctrine and ethics, hermeneutical advice, how to read ‘theologically’, the canon, reliability-of-Bible issues, NT use of OT, reception of the Bible, History-of-Salvation info, etc…

There is also a selective concordance and a Bible reading plan.

These book supplements are very useful for classroom use and will make the ESVSB more attractive for church Bible studies and sunday school material.

MAPS

I like visuals in any book, and for Bible study maps are so crucial – especially readable, colorful maps.  There are a number of explanatory maps scattered throughout the study notes (from the ‘Boundaries of the Promised Land’ to ‘Solomon’s Administrative Districts’ to ‘The Empires of Daniel’s Visions’ to the path of ‘Jesus’ Arrest, Trial, and Crucifixion’).

OVERALL

I rate the scholarship a “B,” recognizing some real A+ scholarship, but a lot of B and C scholarship as well.  I get a bit frustrated when study notes tend to focus on apologetic issues (defending historicity and such) rather than on the meaning, theology, and/or application of the text.  What we teach Christians by this is that we read the Bible to defend it.  That leads to historicity and ‘authenticity’ obsessions and, while such issues are important, they can become idols that distract us from really engaging with God.  What I want is a theological study Bible (for my students).  For apologetics, I will send my students to Tremper Longman and Craig Blomberg’s books.  I want the study Bibles to sparkle with theological gems.  Alas, I know that a study Bible should do both because people want an all-in-one resource.  Well, as far as it goes, the ESVSB does alright.

When it comes to Teaching and Learning materials I give it an “A.”  They have worked hard to offer stunning visuals and plenty of contextualizing information.

In the end, I probably won’t require this as my classroom study Bible, in part because I prefer the NRSV translation.  However, I am sure I will turn to the tables and charts in the study Bible for teaching material.