I still remember getting my first study Bible. It was many years ago, probably in the late 80’s, that my parents gave me the gift of a brand new NIV Study Bible. I used that Bible daily for many years though it was eventually replaced by a New Geneva Study Bible in the NKJV translation and after that by a Reformation Study Bible in the ESV. Today, if you drop by my home in the early morning, you are likely to see me reading from the Literary Study Bible, also in the ESV. On the bookcase in my office I have a copy of the Archaeological Study Bible (NIV), the MacArthur Study Bible (NASB) and The Apologetics Study Bible (HCSB). A visit to a local Christian bookstore will turn up many more and a search of publishers’ “Coming Soon” lists will show more still. Truly there is no lack of study Bibles available to us. And into this crowded field steps a newcomer, the ESV Study Bible.
Though I typically will not review a book until I have read every word, I have had to make an obvious exception for this title. Reading every word of the 20,000 study notes and the more than 50 articles would be a time-consuming task. This Bible’s 2,752 pages boast almost 2 million words. This makes it around 700 pages longer than most of the other study Bibles available today. However, I have had access to the complete text for several weeks now and have taken many opportunities to read through parts of the Bible.
The ESV team has done an excellent job of generating excitement for the ESV Study Bible and particularly so among the type of person who tends to read my book reviews. So in this review I will try to cut through the hype and, to the best of my ability, judge this new Bible on its own merits. After all, at $35 or $40 for the hardcover edition (and upwards of $200 for the premium calfskin edition) this Bible is not an insignificant investment.
It goes without saying that the heart of the ESV Study Bible is the English Standard Version. This is considered by many biblical scholars to be a superior translation of the Bible and it is fast becoming the de facto translation amongst conservative and Reformed Christians. For the purposes of this review I will not defend or criticize the ESV as a translation. However, it bears mention that, while I am not as dogmatic as some when it comes to Bible translations, I do feel that the ESV is the best translation available today. As I understand the issues, it represents the best combination of readability and faithful translation. It is a joy to read and I find it as simple as any translation to memorize. While there are several other excellent English translations available, the ESV is top of the class.