All I want for Christmas is… the ESV Study Bible?


If you’ll permit me, I’ll give you a little window into my insanity: my most exciting present this Christmas (admittedly, I’m only getting three) is by far and away my brand spanking new ESV Study Bible. Ok, so my other two presents were shoes and a pillow, but it still is quite exciting.
However, there are some things already, despite having not yet taken possession of my seasonal gift, that annoy me about the ESV Study Bible. Without wanting to get all bar-humbug, here they are in no particular order:

1. It’s the size of a small child. Literally.


If you don’t believe me, the evidence opposite is surely enough. I’d therefore consider it to be more of a reference book than anything I would seriously consider taking along with me to church or homegroup… unless I happened to be taking along a fork-lift truck or seriously needed a workout.

2. It’s a man’s Bible, developed by men, for men.

2,752 pages, 2 million words, 20,000 notes, 80,000 cross-references, 200+ full-color maps, 40 all-new illustrations, over 50 articles, more than 200 charts… It’s an awesome set of stats. But as Nick Page points out in his hilarious (but semi-serious) rant on the issue, there is one less sparkling one: “… looking down the list of the 95 contributors, one thought struck me: they’re all blokes.” Let’s be clear, just because all the contributors have testicles, it doesn’t render their work completely useful. It does, however, indicate that their work will have a certain slant, or err, smell.

3. There is a ridiculous level of hyperbole around the ESV Study Bible.

Take Mark Driscoll’s ringing endorsement or that of CJ Mahaney :

I can’t imagine a greater gift to the body of Christ than the ESV Study Bible.

Really? Nothing? There is a conspicuous lack of balance in many of the endorsements of this translation, and it all feels a little too much like the kind of regard many people still have for the King Jimmy. I have great respect for many of those who are endorsing the ESV Study Bible, but I can’t help wishing people would just calm down a bit and eat a few less blue Smarties.

4. It should have been called the Reformed Standard Version

The translation is genuinely very good, and an excellent word-for-word style translation. I’m sure its Conservative bias (hey, all these things will have subjectivity) will really annoy me after 5 minutes but it definitely deserves a place on my bookshelf. I think that Kenny Pearce provides a really useful way forward in seeing a way to both understand where the ESV is coming from, and accept it:

it is the very best translation if you are consulting a Bible while reading or otherwise learning Reformed theology.

Whilst I’m not even close to considering myself either ‘Conservative’ or ‘Reformed’, I do appreciate much of the informed scholarship that many who consider themselves to be those things bring to the table. Despite these frustrations, I’ll therefore be reading and digesting the maps and commentary happily for a fair while yet I’m sure.

This post hasn’t attempted to be a complete review of the Study Bible, so you may find these websites on the subject useful (I’ve certainly found them to be informative):

… Read Part 2 of this article.