The ESV Study Bible and other Bible stuff.

In the words of those immortal philosophers (or is it immoral, so close):

Now, Baby we can do it Take the time Do it right We can do it, baby Do it tonight

Yeah, I thought you’d be enlightened. Here’s more:

C’mon baby, let’s do it… if it takes all night. C’mon baby, let’s do it…let’s do it, do it right

They are talking about finding enlightenment of course. Oh you thought they were talking about …, ye of dirty mind. Two honest kids trying to find the truth and you turn it into something, something, DIRTY! Shame on you!

Here’s more

One life is all we have to live, Our love is all we have to give, yeah. There are so many things… For us to do and see.

See, see. I think no more lyrics (like say, the next line) need be posted.

If you’re a young person who always hears about how the music of today is so awful and perverted and how music 30 years ago was so innocent and pure pull out this gem from 1980. You’re welcome.

BTW: You looked up the next line, didn’t you? Didn’t you? I thought so. Well if you didn’t you got all night to find it.

That’s what I (and you the reader) get for listening to the Big 80s countdown. 1980, I couldn’t resist.

I just got this spammer from Yahoo! Messenger, it made a pop in my Grado Headphones. Uncool, marking you as spam. Yes I am. I will not brook spam on a train, I will not brook spam on a plane … (psst Sam can I borrow your name a sec?), Sam I am I will not heed junk mail and spam.

What should I listen to now, hmmm … Random 70s songs, great pick! That’s why I love you. ♥

OK, I’ll stop. What’s the topic, the ESV Study Bible. K.

ESV Study Bible

Disclaimer: lots of Bible geek stuff. If you start getting worried that your Bible isn’t the “right” one, relax. Most likely it is. No translation is perfect as men (excuse me ,men and women – you’ll get it later) do the translating but most of the popular translations are OK. If you are still worried send me a PM, I’ll help you out. Understood? Don’t panic. 🙂 OK, read on.

I’ve been wanting one of these gems for awhile but for some reason I didn’t pick one up for the ridiculous reason that I wasn’t likely to use it. Since when has that stopped me? (You’re welcome TSR & Steve Jackson Games – look it up). When I decided to add a third translation to my Bible diet the opportunity arose and I took it.

A little background (no research, please correct if mistaken): the ESV was conceived about the time the TNIV (a revision of the very popular NIV) was being published. The TNIV caught much flack from conservative Evangelical circles for using gender inclusive language. This was the focus (or one of) the TNIV. An example of gender inclusion is this: say a passage when translated includes the word “brothers” in it. It does not include the word “sisters” but its clear (to whomever is translating it) that it is referring to men and women. Gender inclusion will translate “brothers” to “brothers and sisters”.

Advocates of gender inclusion believe that women have felt excluded from certain Bible passages that apply to all people (or the group of people in question where both genders are eligible) because of the masculine (male) pronoun. Opponents of such argue that the words should be as closely translated as possible. They believe the context clears up whether the passage applies to one gender or both even if the male pronoun is in play. They are also concerned that certain passages that might be gender specific will be mistranslated as gender inclusive. (Did I get that right Mark?).

A group of conservative Evangelicals (Dr. James Dobson is one example) decided they needed a more literal translation. Word for word whenever possible. The scholarly term for this is formal equivalence. This  means that the translators try to translate the words. If they did this fully it would be incomprehensible to modern English readers (or really any English readers) so compromises have to be made but the goal is still to translate what the words say as much as possible. The opposite is dynamic equivalence. This is when the translators try to capture the thought of the passage as opposed to the actual words. Not “What did it say?” but “What did it mean?”. Of course no translation is completely dynamic either. That would be a Bible commentary, not a translation. So all translations balance the two. Examples of translations that fall on the literal side are the KJV, NASB, NKJV and the ESV. The NLT is an example of a translation that falls on the dynamic side (as do most translations that attempt to use up to date English). The 1984 NIV (the one mostly used in America until last year) falls in the middle.

BTW; the same talking points for gender inclusive language are usually used for debating literal vs dynamic translations.

So the ESV was the answer to this call for a literal translation. They used the New Revised Standard Edition as the base for this new translation. In a stunning plot twist the NRSV uses, you guessed it, gender inclusive language. Somehow they got it to work (there is still more gender inclusion than some wanted but not as much as other translations) and the ESV was created and released. The publisher of the ESV, following in the footsteps of the popular and highly regarded NIV Study Bible, released an ESV Study Bible that has gotten rave reviews for its insight, presentation and use of color. This is the product I bought and am discussing.

BTW: on second thought I should have pointed everyone to a web site for all that Bible translation info. Oh well, too late now. If you are really interested go to a more scholarly web site. I think I have a grasp on this but I’m not a scholar. Don’t trust me, find sites where scholars talk about it.

This isn’t a review of the ESV Study Bible. That wouldn’t be fair, I’ve only had it a few days but rather this is a “first impression”. In my study I (now) use three Bibles: a NKJV Study Bible, a NLT Life application Bible and now this ESV Study Bible. I’ve also used and still own an NIV Study Bible. Honestly I prefer literal translations but I use the NLT because I think its helpful for understanding. My NLT LA Bible is pretty good. It isn’t nearly as good as the other two regarding study resources but does have notes that will call you out on your behavior. As far as the translation reading it side by side (figuratively, sometimes literally) with the NKJV I’ve never read something I felt was wrongly translated as to intent but I have read passages where their “meaning” was not crystal clear in the more literal NKJV. I get that it isn’t fair to judge one translation based on another. I’m just giving my impressions.

OK now that we got the NLT out of the way we’ll discuss the ESV Study Bible and part of that will be a comparison to the NKJV Study Bible, which is the one I’m familiar with and is also highly regarded in the Christian market. When discussing study Bibles one question is should the translation and the study aids be judged as one unit or separately. I think separately but if the translation is faulty or not what the reader wants it doesn’t make sense to buy a study Bible in that translation. Please note that some study Bibles like the aforementioned Life Application Bible are available in multiple translations.

So first the translation. Actually I can offer little insight so far for the ESV. I’ve read 2 Timothy and Titus along with other favorite passages so far. The 3 ways to judge a translation is accuracy (does it translate the words or thoughts of the writers well?), comprehension (is it easy to understand?) and poetic quality (do the passages roll off the tongue and sound wonderful when read?). Accuracy is hard for someone like me to judge. I have no training in Greek or Biblical scholarship but most people don’t have an issue with accuracy (beyond preferring a dynamic translation or certain ultraconservative or “King James Only” advocates). The NKJV is thought of about the same (even a bit more literal, even less gender inclusive language but is criticized for only using the manuscripts that were available to the translatiors of the originalKing James Version). I found my ability to understand it was very good,on a par with the NKJV, the NIV is easier to understand as is the NLT. As far as poetic quality it sounded nice but right now I prefer the NKJV in this area. Working more with the ESV might change that. The King James is the champ of poetic quality and likely never to be beaten. The NIV and NLT are OK, not very poetic IMHO.

OK, the study contents. The main features of study Bibles are the introductions to each book (at the beginning of each book), study notes (on the bottom half of the page in smaller font), articles, maps, charts and other aids in the back like concordances (looking up passages by key words) and subject indexes. We’ll look at some of these one by one. Again remember, just initial impressions!
Note: these are referring tothe study Bibles, nothing here is about the translations themselves even though I refer to the ESV Study Bible as the ESV and likewise for the others.

Formatting / Graphics / Looks
The ESV is simply beautiful. Everything looks great. It contains color maps and charts in the body of the book (most Bibles have a few color maps in the back), the study notes are well organized and separated by line breaks unlike the NKJV and NIV’s which are clumped. The timelines are also more graphical though timelines are hard to reproduce in a book that is more long than wide (at least its harder for me to visually grasp). The ESV’s Biblical text is single column more like a book. A big thumbs up on that!

Study Notes
The NKJV seems to have a little more study notes than the ESV. The ESV notes do contain a brief section summary with a darker outline to separate it from the notes for the verses. Looks very nice. The NKJV study notes include word studies (like you would find in a Bible dictionary but on the bottom of the page where the word appears). The NKJV notes are willing to tackle disputable issues (though not as much as the NIV). I can’t comment on the ESV yet. All of my study Bibles adhere to mainstream Christianity’s views when those views are universal. When issues are in dispute among mainstream Christians the notes reflect that (I’m relying partially on reviews for the ESV). I like that, I want tools from a traditional Christian view to decide how I view these issues not someone telling me how to think.

Book Introductions
Both Bibles (and the NIV) contain comprehensive book introductions including authorship, background and message of the book. The ESV intros have more info (like literary features). The ESV also has a “Summary of Salvation” for each book. The NKJV has a “Christ in the Scriptures” section for each book, including the Old Testament books (Christ didn’t come into existence when He was born, He has always been, just like God the Father and the Holy Spirit). Both the salvation summaries and Christ in the Scriptures are very useful.

Articles / Maps / Charts / Concordances
Well some of the ESV maps are in color. As far as I can tell they both have maps & charts when needed. One interesting difference is the NKJV has their articles within the book’s study notes (example: an article on the literary quality of the Psalms will be in the book of Psalms but separate from the Bible text). The ESV’s articles are in the back. This is the great wild card for the ESV and why it stands out amongst study Bibles. After the books of the Bible is a 250 page section with all kinds of great info including important doctrines explained, a Christian view of other religions and cults, background on the Bible (languages, translation, how we know its true), Christian ethics and more. Honestly put this resource in a bookby itself, charge $20 or so and it would be worth it. The ESV also has a 80 page concordance. The NKJV has a huge edge here as it has a subject index and a 150 page concordance.

In conclusion, either or both of these study Bibles are well worth owning. I prefer them both over the seminal (and still quality) NIV Study Bible. At least the one I have. The NIV 2011 Study Bible is a beast aesthetically (I watched a video review, amazing use of color, photos and art). As far as the earlier version I have I wasn’t crazy about how the notes were cross referenced within the Gospels (a study note about a passage in Mark would refer you to a study note for a passage in Matthew that refers to the same event, neither of these study Bibles do that).

OK, time for bed soon. Write Viacom, CP needs his Daily Show! My mom has one of those sucky Bright House DVRs that doesn’t hold much. I hate to ask her to record it. Thanks for reading!

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