I’ve seen so many special edition Bibles the last ten years that I’ve gotten very cynical about anything new. When I see things like the Maxwell Leadership Bible or a newly released Apologetics Bible that features an endless list of “Big Names” on the front, it’s easy to get cynical. What are publishers thinking about beyond making money from niche markets?
Of course, study Bibles can be very influential. Study Bibles like Scofield, Dake’s, Ryrie and The Oxford Annotated all made particular contributions to the history of evangelicalism. In the process, many of us learned to be suspicious of how all those non-canonical notes and non-canonical information are used. Scofield’s and Ryrie’s notes made dispensationalism the majority report in evangelicalism. The OAB taught thousands of college and seminary students the basics of a critical approach to scripture. Dake’s whack-job notes continue to give heretics justification for the strange and the bizarre in the Charismatic movement.
Conservative evangelicals increasingly demand study Bibles that reflect their own views. We now have two “Reformation” study Bibles, the Macarthur Study Bible, various editions of the Geneva Bible and soon, the ESV Study Bible. I’ll admit to owning a few study Bibles myself, and being very fond of my first edition NIV Study Bible. (In fact, I’m a lot fonder of the notes and intros than I am the translation.)
My cynicism has to take a back seat to my enthusiasm, however, for the New ESV Literary Study Bible from Crossway. (You can take a 30 day free test drive courtesy of Crossway, or pick up a hardback edition for yourself for thirty-something bucks at the better online booksellers.)
Let me organize my enthusiasm a bit: “Ten Reasons I’m Recommending the ESV Literary Study Bible.”
1. The editors are the same people who wrote the best Bible Handbook I’ve ever used: The Ryken Bible Handbook. I reviewed this book here at IM and I continue to use it with my students. The helps are specifically tuned for a literary appreciation of the text and to create Bible students who interpret books, sections and chapters with competence and appreciation of genre.
2. The text eliminates section headings. This is a small thing, but it’s important to those of us who want to teach our students to interpret texts correctly.
3. The Introductions are balanced, readable, helpful and insightful. Good book introductions with sensitivity to literary issues are almost unheard of in most Bibles. These intros don’t waste your time with overly detailed outlines and material not specifically related to the text. Simple outstanding introductions.
4. Each chapter (or two) has a separate introductory section. These precede and summarize the chapters with enough supplemental information to orient you to the text, but avoiding repetition or too much detail.
5. Genre, that most neglected of all elements of the proper interpretation of the scriptures, is front and center in the ESVLSB. As a teacher of English and Bible, this is really a dream come true.
6. Single columns and wide margins, in addition to the rest of the features in the text, make the ESVLSB the ideal textbook Bible for homeschool, high school, college and seminary Bible survey courses. This is absolutely the best possible Bible to develop students who will ask the right questions when reading the Bible and develop the right habits in preparing to interpret it.
7. Throughout the Bible, there is the development of a “Master Story Line,” and the placement of each book into that story line. Again, this is pure gold when it comes to developing the right kind of Bible students. We’ve had enough of putting too much emphasis on individual verses, most of it at the expense of understanding the larger storyline of scripture.
8. Literary elements, such as symbolism, rhetoric, metaphors and themes, are all part of the introductory and summary material. Instead of being a commentary or an “answer” book, the ESVLSB gives the information and guidance that will allow all kinds of Christians of diverse backgrounds and theologies to use and benefit from this Bible.
9. No big names telling anyone what to think or believe. The Rykens have demonstrated a respect for the process of Bible student and an understanding of what Biblical educators are looking for in and out of the classroom.
10. The lack of “cross referencing” tools is an important step in encouraging the study of books and large portions of books rather than using verses to build doctrine from various sources. This is a Bible that won’t be sending students all over the Bible from every verse, but will encourage in-depth understanding of the book at hand. With this Bible, a Bible study might just stay focused on the text in front of them.
I am the chair of the Bible Department at our school, and my next project will be to secure the ESV Literary Study Bible as the required text in my Advanced Bible class, and to secure a classroom set for the use of all my classes. As a Bible teacher, the publication of this book is a real encouragement to me, and I urge all IM readers to support Crossway’s publication of such a needed tool.