Initial Thoughts on the ESV Literary Study Bible


A week ago, I received the much-anticipated ESV Literary Study Bible (ESVLSB), and I wanted to post some of my initial reactions to this new study Bible. As many of us know, this is not the first edition of the English Standard Version. Rather the ESV was first published in 2001 and, at that time, I received a copy of it. After a few years of dabbling with the ESV, I began to use it more consistently in 2004. While holding a Bible conference in 2005 at a church that used the ESV, I purchased ESV: The Reformation Study Bible. Subsequently, I began to use the ESV as my preferred literal or formal translation, though I use many other versions since all legitimate translations reflect a substantive preservation of the autographs. Since I teach Hebrew, I encourage my students that, after they have done their own complete original translation, they should consult three different types of translations to check their work. They should begin with a Bible that uses a formal equivalence translation philosophy, such as the ESV or NASB. Next, they should check a functional equivalence Bible, such as NLT or CEV, and then a Bible that is somewhere in between these two translation philosophies, such as NIV or NET Bible. These last two types of translation should assist them in refining their own English translation. Since I am committed to the original language texts that undergird all acceptable translation work, my commitment in the Old Testament is to Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and in the New Testament to the Greek New Testament (UBS4) (though my knowledge of Greek is not the same as when I did my doctoral work). However, because my knowledge of Hebrew is more a grammatical understanding, rather than an intuitive knowledge of the language, my own oral translations are more often than not coordinate with a rendering that is similar to the ESV.

When I first read about the ESV Literary Study Bible, I had some favorable expectations because of the two editors, Dr. Leland Ryken, Clyde S. Kilby professor of English at Wheaton College, and his son, Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, senior pastor at the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. For those who have taken any of my classes related to Old Testament poetic literature, Dr. Leland Ryken’s name should bring to mind favorable memories since I require my students in these types of classes to read a few of the books that he has written. One of my favorites is Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible.

Over this past week, I have been reading segments from Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. My initial reactions have been positive. While this is a study Bible, it is not the same as other study Bibles that I have used (for example, NAS Ryrie Study Bible, NIV: Study Bible, The MacArthur Study Bible, and ESV: The Reformation Study Bible). Like other study Bibles, ESVLSB contains a commentary on the biblical text; however, what is different is that ESVLSB places its comments as headnotes rather footnotes. In addition, the headnotes do not focus on the types of comments other study Bibles have, but rather on giving the reader reflective notes about the genre of a given text and its structural unity, as well as developing other significant rhetorical features. Furthermore, ESVLSB provides an introduction to each book that focus on the following kinds of issues: general information about the book, genre, key motifs, stylistic and rhetorical features, issues that relate to human experience, the development of a book’s message as well as how a specific book’s message relates to the overall message of the Bible. Another beneficial feature is the “Glossary of Terms and Genres” at the end of book on pages 1883-1900. One final positive item is that you can currently receive a 40% discount if you order this study Bible from Westminster Books.

Let me make three observations about the books that I have examined. First, the introductory items discussed for the book of Job are good: the book at a glance, genres, keys to enjoying and understanding the book of Job, how to avoid misinterpreting the book, unifying frameworks, inferred literary intentions, theological themes, and the book of Job as a chapter in the master story of the Bible. IMNSHO, ESVLSB has the correct understanding of the Elihu speeches (read each of the five introductory notes that precede Job 32-37 ESV). The introduction for each segment of the God speeches in Job 38-42 ESV is insightful. Further, after a four-page introduction to the Psalms, ESVLSB provides a one-paragraph introduction to each psalm, which identifies a psalm’s subject, genre, key rhetorical features, and structural arrangement. I have wished for years that someone would see the need to develop this type of approach for the Psalms and I am glad to see this has finally arrived in the ESVLSB. Third, ESVLSB‘s notes on Ecclesiastes are insightful. Anyone who sees that Ecclesiastes has some value for normative theology will appreciate this note on page 970: “The book of Ecclesiastes has been aptly called the most contemporary or modern book in the Bible.”

Since my objective is only to give my preliminary impressions of Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes, you’ll want to read what others have said for a more thorough review of ESVLSB. Endorsements for this study Bible may be found at Between Two Worlds and Dispatches from the Post Evangelical Wilderness. You may also want to read a couple of interviews with both Dr. Leland Ryken and Dr. Philip Graham Ryken at and at Westminster Bookstore Blog. Initially, I thank God for tools, like ESVLSB, that divine providence has made available for us to effectively study Scripture. Since I still have 63 other books in ESVLSB to read, these are only my initial thoughts. Since ESVLSB‘s notes for Job, Psalms and Ecclesiastes are a delight to read, I anticipate that my trek through the remainder of this study Bible will be equally profitable.


  1. says

    Yes, your understanding of IMNSHO is right, Allen; and you are right about my understanding of the Elihu speeches. IMNSHO is my theological spinoff on the abbreviation IMHO. Because my opinions are still tainted with my own depravity, my opinions are always laced with my vestiges of remaining corruption, my sin nature.

    You can pick up the ESVLSB for about $19 if you go to and purchase it through Google checkout. This offer is good only if your are using Google Checkout for the first time:

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