I won’t pretend this is a rigorous or thorough review. For that kind of thing, I encourage you to keep on eye on John Hobbin’s blog, and read Nick Norelli’s review. That said, here are my thoughts on the ESVSB:
You will not like the ESV Study Bible if:
i) You do not like the Bible
ii) You do not like the ESV
iii) You do not like study bibles
iv) You do not like the theological position of the ESV Study Bible notes.
i) If you don’t like the Bible, then the ESV won’t be much use to you. It’s a bible for people who want to read, study, and spend significant time with their bible. If you’re not a Christian who wants to spend some time reading the bible, by all means read this or any other number of fine bibles, but save yourself some money.
ii) Many people do not like the ESV translation. There are some good reasons for this. Firstly, the ESV was produced somewhat as a reaction to how the NRSV updated the RSV, and so the ESV emerged as an evangelical counter-version. Secondly, when the ESV first came on the scene, it was widely heralded as ‘the translation to end all translations’, which was dumb, untrue, and not very well received. This has led to an on-going current of ESV-first proponents, who while not as loopy as KJV-onlies, do tend to have an unhealthy regard for the ESV. Thirdly, there is a second wave of such endorsements, and ongoing fierce debate about the ESV’s merits, particularly in relation to the NLT.
Personally, I find the ESV to be a very fine translation, though not one I use regularly. I still find the NIV superior in terms of readability. Anyone with knowledge of the original languages should accept that translations involve compromise and choice, and much of the ESV’s rhetoric does a poor job of acknowledging this fact. Nonetheless, I heartily recommend the ESV as one of the best current English translations.
iii) Many people do not like study bibles. The most extreme version of this mentality is the one that says you should just read God’s word, and notes and interpretations are all to be set aside. These are the people who go through their bibles striking-through the little headings that are there to helpfully inform you what the passage is about. I find some of these people a little ludicrous, because they’ll just as readily read commentaries, listen to sermons, and fail to read the original languages, but they are very exultant of the English text. By all means mark up your own bible, but get it in perspective.
Why a study bible then? I view it this way – a study bible is basically a chance to have a bible with a running commentary and useful helps, from fine scholars in the field, all present in one volume for convenient access. Sure, I can do some original language work and consult several commentaries and other works, but there are times when I just want to know what a conservative evangelical thinks about a passage, and the ESV study bible does exactly that.
iv) The ESVSB notes are evangelically conservative, reformed, Calvinist. They do not represent the full breadth of contemporary evangelicalism. Furthermore, they are slanted to be more ‘theological’ notes than ‘biblical’ notes, such as in the NLT Study Bible. If that is what you are after, then the ESV is a good fit. If, however, you’re theologically not in that camp, you’ll find yourself disagreeing regularly with the ESVSB notes. They tend to have a more authoritative tone, and that will also likely irk you.
All this said, I’ve had my ESVSB for a few days now, and several opportunities to use it and reflect on its contents. It’s great for what it is, and more or less what I was hoping for. The ESVSB gets my tick of approval for general consumption. 4.5 stars
The ESV Study Bible