Sunday, August 10, 2008

ESV Literary Study Bible

ESV Literary Study BibleI'm chuffed. As a graduation/leaving gift, my brother was kind enough to play genie and grant me my wish of an ESV Literary Study Bible. You know, kind of like a golden handshake to get rid of the dross. Hey, wait a minute...

I've only personally owned 3 Bibles in my life, all of them NIV, although there are a few other Bibles lying around at home in Malaysia. The first Bible I've ever owned was a gift from my aunt when I was about 10. It was called the Adventure Study Bible or something like that - basically an NIV packaged for children. Do some of you (EYMers) remember it? It only occurred to me when I was 15 and part of the youth group for 3 years that maybe I should be embarrassed at carrying a children's Bible around. My sister then gave me a nice NIV pocket red-letter Bible, which I still have, looking a little worse for wear! When I went up to university, I thought it might be a good idea to invest in a study Bible, if only because I needed a sturdier Bible with bigger font, and so I bought the NIV Study Bible based on the strength of its reputation.

I've only been using the ESV more regularly in the last 2 1/2 years, not least because my church preaches using that translation. It's on the "essentially literal" side of the translation spectrum. If we were to put the NIV in the middle of this continuum, than the ESV is my favourite translation on the literal side, while I quite like the NLT on the more dynamic side. I use it a lot in preparing for Bible studies. This past couple of months, when I was co-leading on Colossians, I pretty much did all my text work in the ESV, although the studies themselves were done using the NIV, and I really enjoyed using the ESV then. Although I guess there's not much difference between the two in that particular book. It can still be a little clunky in places. I remember a phrasing in 1 John - I don't remember what it was - which was quite awkward; I couldn't figure it out until the NIV translation clarified it for me.

I've been depending on Bible Gateway whenever I use the ESV. One of the best things to do in prepping for a Bible study, I find, first modelled to me by the IFES worker at university, was to print out the Bible passage in question sans section headings and then scribble over it. It allows you to think through the text in question for yourself with minimal distraction. I believe it was sometimes more formally called "Encounter the Manuscript" or something along those lines.

Which brings me back to the ESV Literary Study Bible. Much like the manuscript method, ts appeal to me lies in the fact that it is designed to be a "reader's Bible". I like that it's single-column, for a start, which if nothing else, would certainly be refreshing on eyes more used to the traditional 2-column format! It also eliminates section headings. And as the Amazon.co.uk reviewer noted, to his disappointment, it isn't a traditional study Bible (maybe he missed the literary in the title). Rather, its unique focus is on the literary features of the biblical text and how that might aid in our understanding. So the introduction to each biblical book focuses on things like its dominant motifs, literary concepts, and the place of each book in the master story of the Bible. Also, unlike most study Bibles, which tend to have study notes at the bottom of each page which could unwittingly distract you from reading the Bible for yourself (especially if they concentrate on things behind the text such as, for eg., archaelogy), they instead offer a short commentary before each pericope with some suggestions of what to look out for, but this is neither comprehensive nor does it have the totalizing (to borrow postmodern terminology!) feel of some study notes; instead, they simply suggest a way into the text without foreclosing other angles. Another feature I really like. Have a look at the sample page to see what I'm talking about.

So yes, I am quite enthusiastic about it. I did initially wonder if I should wait till the ESV Study Bible comes out later this year, but in the end, I decided what I simply wanted was an ESV to read rather than another study Bible, despite the latter's overwhelming number of notes, maps, articles and whatnot. I am a bit ambivalent about the lack of a cross-referencing system in the ESV Literary Study Bible, which means it's good at keeping you focused on the text at hand, but could potentially be frustrating since other parts of Scripture can sometimes illuminate the portion you're reading, but then, hey, that's what my NIV Study Bible is there for. The other thing I'm a bit disappointed by is the paper quality, which is subpar. I can understand wanting to keep production costs down, but it's of a sufficiently low standard to warrant some comment.

I'm looking fwd to using this Bible more, as many have already done to their profit. The Internet Monk gives 10 reasons why he loves it. On a final note, we in the English-speaking world have been hugely blessed by the many translations we have at our disposal, and I rather more resources be allocated to worthy organisations like Wycliffe Bible Translators. The last thing we need is yet another English translation!


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