The Study Bible Challenge

20 10 2008

I’ve started into the new ESV Study Bible, which was just released this month. I’m in no position to write any kind of official review: I’ve just skimmed some of the notes, read some of the articles, and I’m working my way slowly through Leviticus. I could say many positive things: they’ve done an exceptional job in many ways. I love the fact that on the very first page of the introduction they take the time to make sure the reader knows the difference between the “divine words” at the top of each page and the “merely human words” (the study notes) at the bottom. That simple clarification exemplifies their deep respect for God’s Word.

But what has grabbed my attention already is the pastoral angst associated with nearly any study Bible. The ESV Study Bible comes from the doctrinal perspective of “classic evangelical orthodox.” They tell you in the introduction that “Within that broad tradition of evangelical orthodoxy, the notes have sought to represent fairly the various evangelical positions on disputed topics such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the future of ethnic Israel, and questions concerning the millennium and other events connected with the time of Christ’s return.” I expect most pastors would hear that and say: “Good. They’re trying to stay off of individual soapboxes, and provide a study Bible for a broad range of conservative evangelicals.”

But when you actually start seeing that commitment fleshed out in the notes, I think most pastors will begin to experience some angst. “Hey, why don’t they agree with me! They shouldn’t just leave that issue open like that!” And the angst is especially poignant when you consider recommending the Bible to your flock: “But people might come to conclusions different from the ones I’ve been teaching them!” If you make it through the “overview of the BIble” and “theology of the Old Testament” articles without any angst, it will almost surely arise when you arrive at the introduction to Genesis and work your way through “Genesis and Science.”

Please understand that I’m not criticizing the ESV Study Bible. It’s too early for me to draw conclusions, and there are a lot of things I really like about it. I’m simply noting that it’s one thing for a pastor to agree to the ESVSB team’s philosophy and commitments; it’s another thing all together to work up the courage to put those open-ended notes into the hands of your people!


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