Is the ESV-Study Bible a modern day Geneva Bible for a New Reformation?

Erik Raymond —  April 1, 2009

OK this might be a bit extreme but I am thinking about it nonetheless.  I have been reading about some of the history involved with our various bible translations and was struck by the way God seemed to use the Geneva Bible specifically during the Reformation era (published in 1560).

Leland Ryken notes, “…[the Geneva Bible] produced in Switzerland by Puritan refugees who had fled the persecution of the Catholic Queen Mary.  This Bible quickly became the household Bible of English-speaking Protestants, and it was the Bible used by Shakespeare and carried to America on the Mayflower. This translation contained copious notes (many of them anti-Catholic) that provided running commentary on the biblical text.” (The Word of God in English), p. 49

I admit it is a bit premature, but I am truly excited about the way in which the ESV Study Bible is flying off the shelves and into the hands of hungry Christians.  Furthermore, the web resource is absolutely outstanding.  I use this feature almost daily.

You have to admit that the possibility is that this resource will have substantial staying power and influence in the current and upcoming generations.  We have the increased excitement over Reformed theology.  We have many ‘leaders’ promoting the movement, if you will (see Gospel Coalition, T4G, etc).  We have a Bible and study Bible that most people in the movement use.  If I were Arminian I would say that I don’t want to jinx anything.

Overall I am truly thankful for this resource and for what the living God is doing in his church, universal and local.

If you are looking to pick up a copy of the study Bible, Westminster has them at nearly 45% off and Monergism is close to that as well.

(Photo Credit: Tony Reinke)

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

14 responses to Is the ESV-Study Bible a modern day Geneva Bible for a New Reformation?

  1. i can’t wait to get mine.

  2. This may be a totally ignorant question…but what is so special about the ESV to warrant the comparison with Geneva? I mean, I read ESV occasionally, and I like it–but not necessarily more than the NAS. What’s special?

  3. Hannah – I’m obviously not Eric, but I’ve heard a few different men who know far more about translation than I do try to answer that question.

    Basically, when you translate a text you’re wrestling with the problem of preserving original meaning while also preserving readability. Some translations emphasize the former (NASB) while others emphasize the latter (NIV). The ESV is, according to many scholars, the best effort at synthesizing the two, maintaining the faithfulness of the NASB while also keeping the readability of the NIV.

    Hope that helps :).

  4. Buy the ESV Study Bible and you will see why its so special and the top shelf study bible ever published.

  5. Erik,
    i have a calf skin leather ESV. It is pretty good for leading devotionals and informal Bible studies. However, the NAS is still the better translation to study because of it is wooden. I think there are times that the ESV takes the ambiguity out of a translation when it shouldn’t. I don’t mean to poo poo on your ESV parade but I still feel that the NAS is the best translation to think through the text in exegetical fashion. It just isn’t real trendy right now with younger calvinistic believers.
    steve

  6. Steve, First of all this is just a question informed by history and current events. I think it is a legitimate question and possibility.

    The post is not getting into which translation is best or how the ESV stacks up against the NAS or whatever. A few quick notes though regarding your comment: 1) I would take issue with relegating the ESV as a translation merely for ‘informal Bible studies’ whatever that is. Many people see this as a valid Bible for the pulpit ministry of the church. 2) The NAS is a great literal translation. The ‘ambiguity’, lack of flow, and difficult sentence structure on occasion is what the ESV tried to ‘fix’ without compromising an essentially literal translation. 3) I would hope that you would know me well enough not to think that I would sacrifice Bible reading on the altar of trendiness.

  7. Thanks, Jake. Appreciate your feedback. That makes sense.

  8. Erik,
    Let me pour some water on the flames over there. I didn’t say that the ESV is merely for “informal Bible studies”, I just said that is when I use my ESV Bible study. An informal Bible study is when I am getting together on short notice with some guys (or couples) to walk through some issues by looking at Scripture. The point about ambiguity of the NAS is that I am forced to see how to handle what is happening with the difficult portion of Scripture. I think that is why I appreciate that translation in my study. I would rather have to think through the sense of the word or phrase, rather than just have the translation smoothing it out for me. (i.e. letting me sweat out what is being said by having to dig a little deeper)

    In regards to #3, come on now. Do you really think I would ask you to fill the pulpit a second time if I thought you were about trends over the Bible? Of course not. I was just trying to yank your chain a little bit about the ESV. It would be my number 2 choice in reading.

    See you Saturday,
    Steve

  9. I understand Steve. You are a preacher you should want to work through this stuff. But you know that the NAS doesn’t necessarily answer those questions but cause you to go and look at the original. Perhaps that is what you are saying. Hopefully most expositors are not preaching and preparing from solely from their English anyway.

    But the point remains that the ESV-SB is a great resource that causes me to optimistically and prayerfully hope that it has a similar shaped splash as the Geneva Bible.

    Glad you are coming up on Saturday.

  10. A qeustion for everyone. I went from using a study Bible to using a NAS that had no notes beyond what NAS puts in. It is great for teaching and Bible studies and for personal study. In fact, my study Bibles now sit on the shelf for studying only.

    So how many of us use a study Bible as our “regular” Bible and how many of us use a Bible with just the text as our “regular” Bible? I suppose there might be a third group that grabs a different Bible every time they go out.

    Toby

  11. Toby,

    Daily bible reading for me is in an ESV hardback pew bible with limited references. When I am starting a new book in my devotions I read the introduction and outline to the ESV study bible for that section. I also find the SB very helpful for family devotions. But for the most part, everyday reading is just a ‘regular’ Bible (as you put it) J.

    Also, way to facilitate conversation Toby. Very impressive.

  12. Jake, Thanks for your clarifying comment. I just want to add one little thing to what you wrote; I would argue that even the readability of the ESV is better than the NIV.

  13. Another point that should be made is that the ESV has tried to recovery some of the literary beauty of the KJV. Many people prefer the KJV simply for that reason. Even English literature courses still use the KJV for that reason. Reading the word of God should not just be a form an intellectual stimulation, but also as a way to stimulate our aesthetic sensibilities leading us to a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of God’s word.

  14. I switched to the ESV about 8 years ago after a long period of research into accuracy in Bible versions. The ESV was pretty new back then, but was already getting some high praise. I’ve been teaching and preaching from it for a while. There was one version I was asked to use that remains quite popular, but I found that I had to “correct” the text during my sermons in order for the exegetical meaning to come across, and that was a waste of time and created confusion in the congregation.

    Once I started studying Greek, I realized how difficult it is to pin down the concept of “accuracy” – one Greek word can have several meanings that affect how the passage is translated. I decided then that there was much wisdom in the advice I’d been given concerning consulting a few reliable translations to get the gist, and I even check French versions now, as well, on some of the more expressive passages.

    That said, I’ve been using the Reformation Study Bible (ESV) since 2003 or 2004 (or something like that, I don’t remember exactly) – I remember being so moved by it that I sat in the middle of my bed and thanked God for the people who labored on it. I’ve also been using the ESV Study Bible for about a year, and I love it, as well.

    So I see my task as a preacher as being to accurately, but effectively, communicate the Gospel to my congregation. For me that requires an accurate version in the pulpit that also can be followed by the congregation without them stumbling over the words. The ESV filled that for me. There are more accurate versions out there, and there are easier to understand versions out there, but the ESV fills my need as a preacher and teacher perfectly, without compromising integrity on one side and understandability on the other.

    So, I’m a fan. :o)