Book Review: ESV Study Bible

Posted: September 22, 2013 in Book Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

ESV Study BibleEvery couple of years on average since I attended college in the 1970s I have read some version or edition of the Bible I have not previously read. If it’s just the straight text of some version without a lot of study notes, then more often than not I complete it in about a year. The more substantive editions, however, require more time to work through and digest. Such is the case with the ESV Study Bible I just completed after an unusually long time of about three years reading it. The 2,752 pages are an absolute wealth of information, not to mention an excellent Bible translation.

The English Standard Version (ESV) was first published in 2001 by Crossway Bibles, with the extensive Study Bible published in 2008. You can access a free online version of the ESV (not the Study Bible) at www.esvbible.org. Purchasing a hard copy of the Study Bible entitles the purchaser to have access to the full Study Bible online, along with the ability to invite up to five others to share online access.

The ESV Study Bible was the result of the combined efforts of 95 evangelical Christian scholars and teachers. As you would expect from a study Bible, additions to the biblical text itself with the relevant footnotes and cross-references include thorough introductions to each book of the Bible, numerous additional articles, maps, illustrations, charts, timelines, and a concordance. After completing the biblical text with the accompanying notes, it was a mini education in itself to read the sections related to biblical doctrine, biblical ethics, interpreting the Bible, reading the Bible, the canon of Scripture, the reliability of Bible manuscripts, archaeology and the Bible, the original languages of the Bible, the Bible in Christianity, the Bible and world religions, and the Bible and religious cults.

For those that don’t know, I graduated from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982 and did further Doctor of Education study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary a few years later. I have to confess that I could confidently advise young men and women today to invest themselves in a relatively small set of resources including the ESV Study Bible and several other books and they would be soundly equipped doctrinally for their ministry. Of course, there is more to ministry than knowing doctrine, so there is still much value in formal ministry education, especially for the practical side of ministry functions. For myself, though, if I got a do-over, I would trade all the theology and biblical studies courses I took for a few good study Bibles and other resources and spend the time learning their contents inside and out.

Most of us, though, don’t read the Bible because we’re in a full-time ministry vocation. If we read it (and that’s a big “if” with most Americans today), we do so as individuals committed to or seeking to know God better and to serve him more faithfully. That is why having such an excellent study Bible in hand is a great help to any Christian at any stage of spiritual maturity. The meat within its pages will satisfy the spiritually hungry who has known and served the Lord for decades as well as the new or not-yet believer who is eager to learn.

A few years ago I completed the MacArthur Study Bible by John MacArthur. It was also excellent – a treasure trove of information and insight. There is something to be said, though, for a study Bible like the ESV Study Bible being the cumulative effort of 95 scholars and teachers as opposed to one man, no matter how excellent and sound that one man may be in his doctrine, research and writing. For that reason, plus for the additional sections in the ESV Study Bible, I have to give the nod to the ESV as my preferred study Bible between the two of them, although I usually read the notes from each when preparing to teach or preach. They are complementary, not in competition with one another.

Next on the Bible reading list for me is The Apologetics Study Bible for two reasons: (1) I have not yet read through the version called the Holman Christian Standard Bible that this study Bible uses, and (2) the focus of the additional helps in this study Bible are geared toward Christian apologetics which is the practice of understanding and giving reasons for ones faith as well as responding to objections from others regarding the faith. We can always use a little improvement in that regard, so I look forward to spending now through 2014 working my way through the 2000+ pages of The Apologetics Study Bible. The few parts I’ve read to date show great promise for continuing to learn and grow in the faith.

I’ll end with a confession… You might think that someone with a seminary education and several years of ministry behind him who has read the Bible cover to cover 20+ times would have a good grasp of it all by now, but that’s the humbling thing about each effort to read another version or edition of the Bible. There are so many stories and lessons each time I read that jump out as though I’m reading them for the very first time. Maybe I’m a little dense. Maybe God uses different stories and passages to speak to us where we are at the moment, and with each reading I’m in a different place in my spiritual journey that responds to different stories and teachings.

Growing in Christian faith isn’t something anyone masters this side of heaven. There is always more to learn and far more to growing in Christlikeness than any of us have yet experienced. While God is perfectly capable of speaking to us through any good translation with or without study notes written by others, it seems reasonable to me that we use the minds God gave us and the incredible resources available to do our part in seeking to know Him and His Word more fully. Spending time – however long it takes us – to slowly study and ponder a comprehensive study Bible like the ESV Study Bible is time well spent, honoring God with our mind and seeking Him with our heart.

Comments
  1. Michael Snow says:

    Thank you for a very helpful review. Yes, let us spend time ” honoring God with our mind and seeking Him with our heart.” http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/the-great-commandment-heart-and-mind/

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