The Literary Study Bible

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 12/04/2007 by Tim Challies.

Recommended. a highly readable edition of the bible which helps us grasp the 'plotlines' of its 66 books.

To be honest, I rarely get excited about new editions of the bible. Though the bible itself is endlessly stimulating, the proliferation of translations (and editions thereof) can be nauseating.

Occasionally, however, a particular edition of the Scriptures gets our pulses racing and offers itself as a genuinely worthwhile addition to our bulging bookshelf of bibles. The ESV Literary Study Bible, edited by father and son Dr. Leland and Dr. Philip Ryken, certainly falls within this category.

So what does Crossway's latest offering have going for it (apart, of course, from its much-lauded ESV translation?). I shall limit myself to three main features.

First, while titled 'The ESV Literary Study Bible', this edition is actually a departure from all-popular 'study bible' category. The LSB is less of a reference work and more of a readers work. Many new bible editions sell themselves on having more reference materials than their alternatives - more footnotes, crossreferences, maps and other useful appendices.

Such additional references can be the friend of the biblical student, of course. Yet for many curious students who revel on following rabbit trails they can actually be the enemy of reading (Moreover, who wants to read a book with three sentences of text, and three quarters of a page of footnotes?!).  The LSB therefore seeks to promote straightforward, consecutive reading of the bible by limited cluttering material, removing the traditional columns format (the text covers the whole page from left to right), whilst providing a few reading-prompts along the way.

Second, unlike many bible editions, The ESV Literary Study Bible majors on the importance of genre. Evangelicals are picking up on this important area more and more and it is good to see the Ryken's focus on the different modes of writing throughout the bible (eg. prophecy, wisdom, narrative, apocalyptic). In the past, evangelicals have perhaps been less sure about emphasising the bible's literary features for fear that Scripture will be construed as analogous with all other types of literature - and thereby not be conceived as God's Word. The Ryken's helpfully combat such a view and show, to the contrary, that carefully examining the terrain of Scripture actually affirms the fact of God's shaping it.  

Thus, at the beginning of each literary unit, there is a grey box in which the main literary features of the text are mentioned. These explanations do not tell you what the subsequent text means but rather show how to read the literature properly in order to better intepret the meaning.

Third, The ESV Literary Study Bible encourages us to read the bible bearing in mind its overall plotline and to see the theme-threads as they wind their way through individual books. Again this is something that can be overlooked whilst following the 'microscope approach' to study which other editions encourage. Though carefully studying every inspired word can be profitible, many bible-readers fail to grapple with the 'melodic line' (as Dick Lucas dubs it) in each bible book, a melody that runs through the book and that should influence our interpretation of smaller sections. To aid such an understanding, the excellent introductions to each biblical book includes the 'story lines' and 'theological themes' which weave their way throughout the book. In addition, there is an invaluable paragraph on how each book fits within 'the master story' of the bible.

In conclusion, I really have very little to say in critique of The ESV Literary Study Bible. Though it won't be all that one requires for in-depth study of biblical books, it is ideal for ordinary daily readings. One minor gripe I have is that the pages (at least in my edition) are a little on the flimsy side and I do fear they may not withstand the rough handling my Bibles sometimes endure. I also find the print a little on the small side, though the font style is very readable.These nickpicking points aside, its hard to find fault with this volume. The strongest contribution of this edition is how it encourages us to read the bible as a whole, each book as a part of that whole, and each paragraph, sentence and word as part of the book and bible within which it falls. Not a bad contribution, considering that the bible is a piece of literature with a single Divine Author.