Saturday, January 08, 2011

ESV Study Bible, the Cadillac of Study Bibles

It has been said, and is assumed by many, that every serious Christian (at least in the literate western/eastern worlds) should own a good study Bible. With this sentiment I must agree. At NPU we require students in our Intro to the Bible classes to purchase the NLT Study Bible. I've used this Bible extensively and find it to be a very useful tool. Moreover the NLT translation is perfect for our audience of undergrads many of whom have never cracked the spine of a Bible.

Recently I picked up the The ESV Study Bibleand I think it is the best study Bible now available. It has set the standard for all subsequent Bibles of its kind. Whatever one may think of the ESV as a translation, it is difficult to argue with the quality and quantity of background material that surround the translation in this Study Bible. There is more packed into this nearly 3000 page Bible than any other. There are elements in the Bible parallel with what one might find elsewhere [an example of this are the articles at the back of the Bible in a format similar to the Jewish Study Bible published by Oxford Press], but one will not find anything else quite like this available.

What sets this Study Bible apart from say the NLT Study Bible are a number of things. Among them are:

1. The topics covered by the articles in the ESV Study Bible are more wide ranging than what one will find in the NLT.
2. There are color graphics throughout the Bible - It boasts of over 200 full-color maps and 40 illustrations
3. There are more diagrams that useful present dense information - 200-plus charts


Virtual Methodist said...

given the quality of cadillac's recent European forays, your title isn't much of a recommendation... the underpinnings from plodding european gas-guzzlers (usually Saabs) given an American twist and rebadged for an audience more interested in image than substance... That couldn't possibly be the ESV... Could it? To be fair, I haven't seen the ESV study bible, though the ESV itself left me underwhelmed...

Steve Walton said...

Have you looked at the very one-sided comments on 1 Tim 2? Compare the NIV study bible, which is much more even-handed. (And this from one who thinks study bibles are an abomination because they tell people what to think rather than getting them to read the bible.)

Joel Willitts said...

The Prius of Study Bibles?
I realize that at points there will be issues with which to disagree, 2 Tim being a case in point. On the whole however I stand by my assessment.

Esteban Vázquez said...

I vote for the "Prius of Study Bibles" title! And as I do so, I have in mind a specific South Park episode relevant to matter... ;-)

Anyway, the ESV-SB is indeed a gorgeous book. But if that's the "Cadillac" of study Bibles, then the New Interpreter's Study Bible is the Mercedes Benz. What might the Rolls Royce be is still up for grabs!

Michael F. Bird said...

Joel, it is indeed the Cadillac and weighs about the same too!

mshedden said...

My concern is the appendix at the end that tells Christians want to think about war (it's not that bad), abortion (really bad), homosexuality (maybe worse), and other such things. Compound that with the complete lack of women translators and I don't see what the hype is about. It's that I don't think Christian's can disagree about these things (although non-violence seems difficult to get around) but why do we need to supplement revelation for what looks like just standard religious right opinions. In this place it stand more as opinion piece then as a Bible. But it is marketed well and looks cool so why not call it a Cadillac?

John Thomson said...


Although I agree with the strengths you cite and may add to these the length of verse comments, I am not as enamoured with the ESV as I had hoped.

The commentary I find at times to lack nuance and shaded a little too much by reformed leanings that skew th exegesis.

For example, often when commenting on justification and righteousness we are gratuitously told that this involves the active obedience of Christ even when there is not the barest suggestion in the text that this is so.

Commitment to reformed categories makes the commentary a bit wooden at times.

By contrast, the NIV comments I find to be more evangelically eclectic and often more insightful.

ESV wins out by sheer volume of comment and articles, but only just. Cadillac and M Benz (even if older model) seem appropriate here too.

Joel Willitts said...

These comments about the perspective of the notes (and the translation) in the ESV Study Bible are indeed fair. I would say that this may be more of an issue on the NT side as most comments reveal. In looking over the list of contributors there are many who don't have an ax to grind. Furthermore, on the NT side there are some top notch folks that can be even handed (eg Gathercole [Gal], Thielman [1 Cor], Nicholl [1,2 Thes], Hafemann [2 Cor], Arnold [Col], Yarbourgh [1,2,3,Jn] to name some)

Matt Viney said...

I agree with John.
In addition to his comments, I also have a concern with the readability of the ESV. While it might in some ways lean towards formal equivalence, the cost has been it's ready accessibility to everyday Christians. I have heard parts of the OT read from the ESV in a church service and found myself going "what's that all about?".
The ESV is great but in our post-Christian, rampantly secular context here in Australia, we need a translation to be read out that balances readability with textual faithfulness. For all its issues, the NIV works best for me.

There's no denying that the ESV is very popular, especially in some reformed circles in the States, and in the Anglican/evangelical scene in eastern Australia. In light of its popularity, here's a prediction for you: in another 100 years I reckon we'll be finding pockets of ESV-onlyists around the place.