Yesterday afternoon I was looking at the ESV Study Bible website, and found a number of pdf files, most of which show book introductions. But one was for the complete book of Jonah in the ESV Study Bible. So, being a pdf file, I naturally printed it out, since the workday was drawing to a close, and I brought it home to look over. It then hit me that I could use my time that evening to actually compare the book of Jonah in the ESV SB with my other study Bibles treatment of that book. At first I was mainly interested in how it compared with the NASB MacArthur, but then decided to check out the NIV SB and NLT SB as well.
The ESV SB is of course a tour de force. It is clearly one of the very finest scholarly study Bibles available. So it was interesting to see how they treated the book of Jonah.
The introduction was, of course, excellent. It was about as detailed an introduction as I’ve ever seen, dealing not only with the author and date of the book, story overview and such, but it also went into the particular literature genre of the book, and talked about that at some length. The introductions to Jonah in the other three SBs were almost as good, but didn’t quite get into as much detail.
As most of us are aware, the ESV has basically been adopted by the Reformed churches, and I’ve often been struck by the “intellectual” approach of most Reformed theologians to the scriptures. In this the ESV SB doesn’t disappoint. Not only is there a massive amount of information, so much of it is so detailed! In reading the study notes in Jonah, I noticed that it has notes saying things like, “This word in the Hebrew occurs 9 times in Jonah.” and “This is the 4th occurrence of this word in Jonah.” That kind of stuff is fine for some folks, but I like a study Bible to be a little more spiritual, or pastoral (for lack of a better term.) Such detail certainly has its place, but maybe not for me. But of course it would be foolish to judge the ESV SB simply on the way it treats Jonah.
Of course the maps and charts are excellent, and I like the subdues manner in which the ESV people use color.
The ESV text, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired, in my opinion. And those of you who know me know that I’m not particularly fond of the ESV. It’s so full of archaic words and phrases, and so full of awkward word order; and the vocabulary is so archaic. You really have to do your mental calisthenics and jump through a lot of hoops. Reading the ESV can be a tiring experience, even exhausting. I don’t find it pleasant at all.
To be honest, I think most of us realize that there is only just so much that can fit in a study Bible; just so much that a study Bible can do. The ESV SB is so packed full of information that I can’t help but wonder if maybe they’ve crossed a line, that maybe it’s a bit too much.
I certainly can’t fault Crossway in their marketing of the ESV (apart from the unjustified attacks on the TNIV). They really have done a bang-up job with this study Bible. I’m sure they still are selling them as fast as they can print them. And one good thing they have done is make all of the ESV SBs with a Smyth-sewn binding, which should help them last many years of hard use.
The ESV Study Bible is just the right thing for a lot of folks. But I don’t think it will be for me. Even so, I will be recommending it.