Study Bibles for Expositors--English Standard Version (ESV) by Crossway

The next study Bible on the list is the English Standard Version (ESV) published by Crossway, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois.  The ESV was initially published in 2001 however the Study Bible was published in 2011.  If you are a Bible reader and are familiar with other translations, it won’t take you long to realize that the ESV closely resembles the New American Standard Bible.  There are not a lot of changes between to the two to the casual reader.  I am certain that it you made a comparison with charts and diagrams and so forth that there would be some notable differences between the two of them.  Before going further I would like to point out my usual disclaimer that just because I am a reader of this particular translation it does not mean that I can entirely endorse everything about the ESV Study Bible.  I look at it as simply being another tool in the toolbox of one who desires to be serious about the exposition of Scripture in his preaching. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS/VARIOUS LIST DESCRIPTIONS:  The first thing that you have to give a thumbs up to in this Study Bible is the Table of Contents and the Lists of Illustrations, Charts and Diagrams, and Maps.  As I have labored through the book of Acts, the charts, diagrams and maps have been extremely helpful to me.  I think one thing that adds to your work in the pulpit is familiarity with biblical geography.  When I look at these maps, I generally try to make associations to cities near Dothan, Alabama.  For instance, I have said in the past that Bethany was about as far from Jerusalem as Ashford, Alabama is to Dothan.  There have been other times as I have preached through the life of Elijah and David that I would say, the went about 200 miles which would be like us traveling from Dothan to Birmingham and then I add that they traveled on the back of an animal or they walked.  This shores up a point in the mind of those who are hearing you preach.  The maps in the ESV are very well done as far as detail, color, and ability to determine distances.  There are at least 200 maps that you will find in the ESV Study Bible. 

I have also used the charts fairly extensively especially in my Acts series.  Several of these are:  Progress of God’s Word in Acts, Major Events in the Life of the Apostle Paul, Itinerary of Paul’s Second Journey, Major Sermons in Acts, and Itinerary of Paul’s Third Journey.  All of these charts not only enhance what you are preaching but it also has the ability to increase the attempt of the mastery of the Scriptures which will never happen but the Scriptures end up mastering the workman.  That is why I am such a proponent of expository preaching.  If you only solely do topical or textual preaching or variations of that, the preacher generally ends up just recycling what he already knows whereas the expository method in itself forces the workman to dig into parts of Scripture that he otherwise would not. 

One last area that is also very helpful is the Illustrations.  This is another area that will increase the knowledge level of the expositor.  When I was working through the series on the Tabernacle, the ESV Study Bible had an overall picture of the Tabernacle tent but it also had pictures of each individual piece of furniture that was in the Tabernacle.  Sometimes when you read Scripture you can get a picture of it in your mind but when it is drawn out in the form of a picture and you can work in tandem with reading it and seeing a very good illustration it will improve your work.

USER’S GUIDE:  This section is excellent!  I know that in the past I always had a tendency to blow right on by the forward, preface, and so forth but you cannot afford to do so with the ESV Study Bible.  There are many enriching and critical tips that they will bring to your attention.  One area in the User’s Guide that particularly stands out is where they state the purpose of the study notes.  As you read through the purpose of the notes, it causes you to be more inclined to looking for that as you read through the actual biblical text.  If you have college students that you pastor, they most likely in a very hostile environment that is anti-God, anti-Bible, and anti-Christianity and there are responses that are given to some of those challenges that your students are having to endure in the classroom.  Because of my medical background, I ran into a number of physicians who were outright atheists.  Initially they intimidated me but as I grew older and began to really dig into the veracity and authenticity of the Scripture and the existence of God.  My common response to those I would engage with was, “You aren’t smart enough to be an atheist!”  The ESV Study Bible is a very good apologetic tool to help you in this area. 

Another very excellent resource to have available to you that comes with the purchase of this study Bible is the complete access to an on-line version of the ESV.  One particular area that stands out to me at this point is the reading plans that are available to you, the reader.  The area that is called “Praying the Psalms” is a very good resource that will deepen your prayer life.  While I have only recently seen this particular plan, I have routinely worked through the Psalms as a prayer pattern for some time now.  That has been another benefit I gleaned when I purposely began to preach through the Psalms.

ARTICLES:  Another huge resource that I have enjoyed is the multiple articles that are written in the back of the ESV Study Bible.  There is one that has been very helpful to me over the years.  It is by John Piper, “Reading the Bible in Prayer and Communion with God” and it further explores the aspect of mixing Scripture with prayer.  R. Kent Hughes also wrote “Reading the Bible for Preaching and Public Worship” that encourages you to read Scripture well in worship services.  We should be appalled at the lack of Scripture that really goes into our worship services.  It Scripture is “God-breathed” we should make room for the public reading of Scripture as Paul encouraged Timothy to do (1 Tim. 4:13).  We as ministers can do much to cause those we serve to honor and revere the Word and this is one of the ways to do so.   It needs to be noted that the articles are not in the personal size ESV Study Bible. 

BOOK INTRODUCTIONS/OUTLINES:  The book introductions and the outlines of the biblical text are rich goldmines for a preacher.  As you read and contemplate the way another writer has outlined the Scripture it can set your mind on fire with things that need to be preached and must be preached!  This is particularly true as you read the warnings that are noted in the outline from the epistle to the Hebrews.  I have also found the material surrounding the epistles of Peter to be very helpful also. 

DISLIKES:  There were some things that I did not like about the ESV Study Bible.  (PLEASE NOTE:  THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS HAVE TO DO WITH THE STUDY NOTES AND NOT THE ACTUAL ESV TRANSLATION ITSELF.)  One of those matters is that it is claimed of the study notes to have been written from an “evangelical” standpoint but you find all through it the proponents of Calvinism to be very strong and so the ESV has a bent toward theology that will be more Reformed although the Reformed crew might have some debate about it.  While there are other study Bibles that have a stronger reformed bent to them, the ESV Study Notes are not without some of those tones.  It also has a very strong Trinitarian view to it which as a Oneness believer this is an unacceptable matter for me.  However, I have been reading with a filter for a long time and this has been a common obstacle for me for a long time so I cannot say that it had any effect on me at all.  I would be concerned for those who are not as doctrinally well versed that would pick up this study Bible.  Having said that I did read the articles that were written on the Trinity and viewing them from a fair academic standard they were helpful to see where my doctrinal opponents come from.  That is always helpful so that an effective response can be given in return to their objections to our doctrinal beliefs on the nature of God and His work in with man.  The last dislike has to do with the sheer size of this Bible.  It feels as if you are lugging around a bag of sugar.

Thanks for reading!  I will get around to doing some more Study Bible reviews as the week progresses. 

Philip Harrelson


Shaun said…
I own an ESV journaling Bible along w/ my KJV. I had not noticed the Trinity or Reformed bias (yet), thank you for that. I will say as to Acts 2:38, the phrasing of the ESV makes it easier to prove it to evangelicals. Regarding the Oneness doctrine, is the NKJV the best option to the KJV? Love you blog, has been a major help in my life!

The actual review that you read in the dislikes section has to do with the study notes and articles than with the actual translation itself. I hope this helps!

Thanks for reading the Barnabas Blog.

God Bless,
Shaun said…
So sorry I missed that!
Anonymous said…
Bro. Harrelson,

I love your blog and I read it almost daily. I was wondering if you had some good recommendations on books for young ministers starting out that help as Bible study tools. Also what is the best way to go about no taking while reading the Bible?

I am thinking about taking your question and turning it into its own article. Be on the lookout for it in December.

Thanks for reading!

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