ESV Study Bible Review
I would like to thank Crossway for sending me a review copy of their new ESV Study Bible. There have already been many reviews online by others about this resource, so I will try to add to their thoughts, instead of only repeating what is already widely known. For starters, there is a lot of information in this Bible (over 2750 pages!) making it one of the largest Bibles I’ve ever held. It is available in eight different editions including hardback, Tru-Tone, Bonded Leather, Genuine Leather, and Premium Calfskin. I have several Tru-Tone ESV Bibles and highly recommend picking up one of those editions if you don’t want a hardback. If you want leather, pass over the bonded and genuine leathers and go for the premium calfskin edition. I received the hardback edition and they’ve styled the exterior in a bold orange, black, and white scheme:
Construction, Design, and Page Layout
The first thing I generally do with any Bible is to open it up and check the binding. Fortunately, all of the ESV Study Bibles have a sewn binding, so they should last for decades. I have an original NIV Study Bible from the eighties and my brother-in-law is still using it, over twenty years later and without a single page missing. I have several Study Bibles that I only use for reference because they have a glued binding and I don’t want the pages to fall out after a few years use. There are so many pages in this book that it would have been irresponsible to have simply glued that many pages together; kudos to Crossway for sewing the pages together in all of the editions.
Next, Crossway has been putting out a steady stream of various editions in a single column format, and they continue to do so with the ESV Study Bible. Now this takes up more space than two columns, but I find the result much easier to read. I prefer the single column layout and it works very well in this Bible, which brings me to another point about the text and that is the color. Thankfully, the words of Christ are not in red! I simply despise red letter text in a Bible because it is difficult for me to read and is needlessly distracting. See what I mean? Black text on a white or light background is the easiest color scheme to read for extended periods, and that is why I prefer it in my blog and my Bibles. This is a pet peeve of mine, but I won’t elaborate any further. If you are wondering, the font is a 9-point type which I have not had any trouble reading. Even the study notes are legible in their much smaller font size.
The rest of the page layout is also excellent, with cross references in the gutter, and the study notes beneath the text. There is also moderate usage of a beige highlighting in the notes which I find tasteful, as well as full color maps throughout the Bible. I simply cannot stress enough how nice it is to have these high quality images instead of the black line drawings that I am accustomed to seeing in a study Bible. Simply put, the layout and design of the ESV Study Bible is top-notch and should be imitated by other study Bibles in the future. Here’s an example of the page layout from Jonah:
I think the pages above are a good representation of the layout throughout this Bible. After several months of using it, I find the clean design very easy to use. In the past, Crossway has released many Bibles that used a thin and lower quality Bible paper that had excessive ghosting or bleed through of the text. In the ESV Study Bible they have used a paper that is quite an improvement. There is still some ghosting of course, but it is not nearly as pronounced as the old Crossway Bibles. I think they’ve reached a good balance between readability and quality for the thinness of the pages required to keep this book from being any larger.
High Quality Maps
I would like to give an example of the maps in the ESV Study Bible. As I was looking through the index, I noticed that there were maps of Jerusalem throughout five stages of it’s existence. It was helpful for me to understand the history of the city, as well as conceptualize it’s various dimensions. So, below are images of Jerusalem from this Bible that show how Jerusalem changed over time. Note that these images were taken directly from the online edition of the ESV Study Bible, but more on that in a moment.
Here is the original City of David, and it’s expansion during Solomon’s reign:
Next we have the time of Hezekiah, and then post-exile Jerusalem:
Finally, Jerusalem during the Roman Empire, including detail of the Temple Mount:
ESV Study Bible Online
I think the pictures speak for themselves, so I will move on to some of the other features. As I mentioned above, those images were taken from the online version of the ESV Study Bible. With the purchase of an ESV Study Bible you get a code to use the online version for free. Here you have access to the full text of the ESV, all of the notes, charts, maps, and articles. As you can see, it is pretty easy to copy and insert the digital images directly into your blog, a power point presentation, or to incorporate into other uses. All you need is the knowledge of how to do this and some decent programs. Here is a quick image of the passage from Jonah above, taken from the online version:
As you can see, there is a space on the left for taking your own notes online. This is a feature that I’m sure many people will use. I find it hard to do any significant reading or study of the Bible from my computer, so I’m not sure how much I will use this feature. Everything is hyper-linked and it is a breeze to navigate the online version. As a side note, I’ve been really impressed with how well supported the ESV translation has been from a technological standpoint. It seems like there has been a strong and considerable effort made to ensure that the ESV is widely available in digital formats, whether for PDAs, websites, the Kindle, or other formats. It is nice to see that Crossway is trying to meet the needs of modern society and is supporting more than just a paper version of their translation.
UPDATE: The ESV Study Bible Online has a new URL and an updated look.
Content, Articles, and Doctrinal Perspective
I’m going to switch gears a bit and briefly touch on the actual content of the ESV Study Bible. I say briefly because I plan to make comparisons of specific portions of the ESV Study Bible to the NLT and other study Bibles throughout the rest of the year. So for this review I will briefly cover the features, and also address some concerns that I and others have had about this Bible. Finally, I will include some observations that my family has made about the ESV Study Bible and which features they found useful.
One of the main features in the ESV Study Bible that is not present in other popular Bibles is the presence of many articles. They are mostly historical and theological in perspective and even cover other religions and various ethical topics. I wish more Bibles had articles in them, though these seem to be reserved mainly for more academic bibles like the New Oxford Annotated Bible and the HarperCollins Study Bible. Others in my family also really enjoyed that the articles are in this ESV.
My brother-in-law said he would mainly use this ESV for the maps, notes, and the articles, but would read another version for his primary reading Bible. He also really liked the articles about the Roman Empire and the diagram of the Herodian Dynasty that precede the New Testament. My wife liked that there were articles on cults and other religions and says she will probably read them soon. By my count there are 86 different articles in the ESV Study Bible, not counting the 66 introductions to each book of the Bible.
Moving on to some concerns that have have been raised about whether this Bible is for everyone; I have read quite a few criticisms that this is a complementarian, Calvinist, or Reformed Study Bible. I have spent some time reading related articles and various study notes where this concern comes into play. On average, it seems that there is definitely some leaning towards those specific doctrinal perspectives, however there is also balance to be found as well. Perhaps I should quote from the introductory material of the ESV Study Bible where it specifically addresses this:
The doctrinal perspective of the ESV Study Bible is that of classic evangelical orthodoxy, in the historic stream of the Reformation… Within that broad tradition of evangelical orthodoxy, the notes have sought to represent fairly the various evangelical positions on disputed topics such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the future of ethnic Israel, and questions concerning the millennium and other events connected with the time of Christ’s return.
After a brief review, my initial impression is that they have met their goal. There is a tendency towards the complementarian view, as well as towards Calvinism, however there is an overall balance in my opinion. I certainly will not hesitate to recommend this study Bible based on doctrinal concerns. In my opinion, anyone who is truly interested in these topics will find some initial information here, and they can go elsewhere for further information. While I was investigating 1 Timothy chapter 2 in order to gauge perspective on the notes, I was surprised to find this interesting comment that specifically addresses the Arminian vs. Calvinism debate without taking a side:
While I am no theologian, it appears that this study Bible is more ecumenical than some prior reviewers believe it to be. This review is getting to be pretty long, so I will try to wrap up with one last thought. In addition to the great notes, articles, and maps there are also very good book introductions. So far, the most useful one has been for Revelation, which is ten pages long. Besides the text, there are eleven diagrams in the introduction that help to explain the different schools of interpretation for Revelation. I have skimmed through them, but I plan on spending quite a bit of time in them later after I finish my current book study. Also, the introduction to Esther was very helpful for me in preparing for two Sunday school lessons back in November.
This leads me to what is probably the my biggest complaint with the ESV Study Bible, and that is the ESV translation itself. When I was teaching from it, I noticed that the comprehension of the teenagers was much lower than when I used the TNIV or NLT to read from. I no longer use the ESV as a primary translation because I find other translations to be more understandable while equally accurate. So if you are planning on using a study Bible as your only Bible, make sure that it is a translation that you can understand. For my personal use, the ESV Study Bible will be my primary resource for the ESV translation because of the excellent notes, etc. however I use other translations for daily reading.
The ESV Study Bible is a fantastic resource and the included bonus of the online edition is the cherry on top. I highly recommend this evangelical Bible to anyone who is looking for a study Bible, regardless of your denomination or doctrinal beliefs, as it has useful information for everyone. This is a quality product with a sturdy sewn binding and a great interior layout and design that facilitates study. I expect to get decades of use out of my copy and will probably give the ESV Study Bible to my friends and family as gifts this year. I recognize that this review was very long, however there is much more that I have to say about this Bible. After I finish my reviews of the NLT and TNIV Study Bibles I will start a series doing comparisons of the three, with the intention of highlighting even more details in the ESV Study Bible that I simply haven’t touched on in this review. I commend Crossway for the high quality and sheer breadth of information that they have put into the ESV Study Bible and I recommend that you look into obtaining a copy of it for yourself.