In 2001 the English Standard Version of the Bible was released. Its parentage goes back to William Tyndale’s 1525 New Testament and the 1611 King James Version. The text of the 1971 Revised Standard Version provides the immediate foundation for this work.
Theologian James Packer headed up the translation project, with a team of over a hundred people, including 50 biblical scholars. The work on this project was originally approved of in 1998. A minor revision of the 2001 edition occurred in 2007.
As to the translation philosophy, there are two main methods, with various translations lining up along a spectrum. On the one side are formal equivalence, or word-for-word, translations. On the other are functional or dynamic equivalence, or thought-for-thought, translations. Further beyond the thought-for-thought translations are paraphrases, such as the Living Bible.
The ESV falls into the formal equivalence camp. As stated in the Preface, the “ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages.”
In future articles I will look more closely at these various translation philosophies or methods. Suffice it to say that there are strengths and weaknesses to both of the major approaches. I tend to prefer formal equivalence translations, which is one of the reasons why I appreciate the ESV.
The ESV Study Bible appeared in 2008. Leading scholars involved in the overall project include Packer and Wayne Grudem. Old Testament experts include Gordon Wenham, Paul House, John Oswalt, T. Desmond Alexander, Iain Proven and Duane Garrett.
New Testament scholars include Thomas Schreiner, Frank Thielman, Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Hafemann, Grant Osborne and Robert Yarbrough. Those even remotely familiar with theology and biblical studies will of course recognise most of these names. Some 95 scholars in total went into the work of this Study Bible.
As to the contents of the Study Bible, there are more than 50 major articles dealing with key theological and biblical topics. There are 20,000 notes which run throughout the Bible, along with 80,000 cross-references. Some 200 maps are included as well.
There are also over 200 charts and timelines. In addition there are 40 illustrations. All up this volume comprises some 2 million words stretched over 2,752 pages. Thus this is an important and detailed theological reference work. And given that those who purchase this work also get free access to the online Study Bible, this really is a complete package.
But why study Bibles? Why are they important? Those who have a solid theological reference library at home – or access to local public theological libraries – may well have less need for such a study tool. Those with a good supply of commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Bible atlases, and various reference works, will be well-supplied in this regard.
But most Christians do not have a large and substantial reference library. Thus a tool like this becomes quite important. In one volume all these various tools are handily combined. One really can stay with this single volume and learn so much about background issues, historical and cultural matters, theological concerns, and so on.
I am not arguing that Christians should rely on just one work, and I am a firm believer in the need for all followers of Christ to build up at least a small personal library of some of the more important biblical reference works. But in a massive work like this, those with limited funds or limited shelf space will really have a very good start to biblical knowledge and understanding with this new Bible.
Consider just one example of how this volume actually works. The introduction to the book of 2 Corinthians runs to four pages. All the key issues are nicely addressed. The author, date, and place of writing are discussed, as are the background, occasion and purpose of the epistle.
A timeline of Paul and his ministry is also provided. A colour map showing the setting of the letter is included, as is a listing of key themes and emphases. Finally a detailed outline of the epistle is provided. While a helpful critical commentary may spend 50 pages or more on such background issues, these four pages give the reader a very good introduction and feel for the letter.
There have of course been many good study Bibles produced over the years, such as the Harper Study Bible or the NIV Study Bible. Some study Bibles come from a rather narrow or limited theological perspective, such as the Reformation Study Bible. This one offers more room to move, while remaining firmly in the conservative, evangelical camp.
The ESV Study Bible is certainly among the newest, most comprehensive, and most helpful. Those looking for a recent word-for-word translation, coupled with a great set of theological reference helps and tools will find this volume to be an excellent choice. I am happy to recommend it.