Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book Review - The Literary Study Bible

(I considered reviewing this resource, but why re-invent the wheel when someone else has already said well what you would have said? Jason Button recently reviewed the Literary Study Bible at SharperIron and on his blog and he gave me permission to post his review here. I heartily agree with his assessment and highly recommend this resource for all students of God's Word. - DS)


The Literary Study Bible. Edited by Leland Ryken & Philip Graham Ryken. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2007. Jacketed Hardcover, 1,913 pages. $49.99.

reviewed by Jason Button

(Review copy courtesy of Crossway Books.)

Purchase: Crossway Books | CBD | WTS | Amazon

ISBNs: 1581348088 / 9781581348088

Download a 16-page brochure (1.3MB PDF) with sample pages and a longer explanation of features. Browse the notes and learn more at the official website.

The English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible is being adopted by much of Evangelicalism, and some fundamentalists are beginning to use it, too. I have used this text for about five years now and have come to prefer it for a number of reasons. I realize that the issue of translations is important, and I must admit that the ESV is not a perfect translation. As all translations have their own peculiar strengths and weaknesses, even so the ESV has its strengths and weaknesses. All in all, the ESV is a very readable translation. In my opinion, it is an improvement over the NASB when it comes to memorization. However, it is beyond the scope of this review to present a thorough evaluation of the translation philosophy of the ESV. Rather, I would like to focus on the structure and content of the ESV Literary Study Bible edition.

Personally, I’m not much of a fan of study Bibles. I have hundreds of commentaries in my study to help me with interpretational issues, and I’d rather they be separate from my Bible. My preferred Bible is one that has plenty of margin space and cross-references. However, I realize that most people are not like me and that study Bibles are very useful to the general populace of Christians.

As useful as study Bibles are, there are a few things that concern me. First, they tend to be bulky and heavy. Second, many are extremely cluttered—some being “overcooked” with graphics and pictures. Third, the notes, as good as they may be, tend to distract the reader from the text.

The publishers of the Literary Study Bible have had to address these issues and others, and it is worth discussing the direction they have decided to take.


The text of this study Bible is a combination of the English Standard Version (Crossway Bibles, 2001, ESV Text Edition: 2007) of the Bible and selected content from Ryken’s Bible Handbook (Tyndale House Publishers, 2005). These two have been edited together by the father-and-son team of Leland and Philip Graham Ryken.

Notable Features

At the outset, the reader will notice that the text block is not the “standard” double columns, but a single column. This was a challenge to get used to, at first, but I was more than willing to work with it for the simple fact that this is ideal when you come to poetical passages. I’ve been studying the book of Psalms and have been overjoyed to have a full view of each Psalm in poetic structure with room enough for full lines.

One feature I missed, at first, was the lack of cross-references. To me, I expected this to be a staple feature for a study Bible. However, without the cross-references, the reader eyes are kept on the text block which is a major goal of this study Bible.

The back of the Bible lacks a concordance, index, and maps. Rather, there is an extensive glossary of literary terms and genres, a list of weights and measures, and daily reading plan charts.

To these features (or lack thereof), one will notice a lengthy introduction to each book of the Bible. Each introduction begins with “The book at a glance.” This is an overview, which gives a number of chapters and verses, summarizes the genre, purpose, and theme(s) of the book. Following this initial paragraph are a handful of sections that deal with topics such as “Genres,” a chart indicating the major divisions in the book, “Inferred Literary Intentions,” and “Theological Themes.” The introduction always concludes with a discussion of the book’s position in “the master story of the Bible.”

As you begin to read, you’ll find a shaded box of notes to introduce the section to follow. The notes include a simple title to the section, simple explanation of the storyline and/or the progression of the argument. Subsections are identified, and varying genres and literary devices are noted so that the reader is made ready to read with alertness and anticipation. It must be noted that these notes, at times, will advance a particular interpretation. This cannot be avoided, even when trying to identify genres and explain figures of speech. However, the notes are minimal and, just as you should consider the notes in a typical study Bible, these should be taken for what they are in contrast to the authoritative Word of God. They are merely men’s thoughts. Most of the notes are very helpful; few may have to be excused or amended.


So, why these features and not others? What’s the purpose of yet another study Bible? I’m tempted to say that the plan for this edition is ingenious. It is, and then again it isn’t. Either way the purpose is RIGHT ON! The major purpose of this study Bible is to encourage people to read the Bible. Yes, TO READ THE BIBLE. Now you see why I think this purpose is ingenious or clever. Who would have thought of producing a study Bible that emphasizes the text rather than the notes? Well, that’s what I’ve found this study Bible to be.

From the introductory notes to the sectional notes; to the single column text; to the color of the paper; to the font size; to the lack of cross-references, concordance, indices, and maps; to the inclusion of a Bible reading plan—the reader is encouraged and helped in the task of reading the Bible. Really, this is what many of us struggle with and what many of us need help doing.

A new year has come, and this is the time when many Christians make a new resolution to do more Bible reading. One-year Bibles are nice, but limited in their usefulness. Here’s a better solution! Begin the New Year with The Literary Study Bible. It has rejuvenated my interest in reading the Bible like I had not imagined. The ESV text alone rejuvenated my interest years ago. Now I have a copy that is attractive, well-planned, and well-laid out. It also includes plenty of space to jot notes and cross-references.

The literary notes are extremely helpful in breaking open difficult passages. The more you read and the more you pick up on the literary elements of each passage, the better a reader you will become and the more you will enjoy what you are reading. What better Masterpiece of literature to enjoy than the eternal Word of God!

1 comment:

Ray said...

I agree - the ESV Literary Study Bible is an outstanding resource. This year (2008) my family is reading a chronological reading plan using the ESV. Each evening, our readings are preceded by the Ryken's study notes from the Literary Study Bible. This has added a fresh dimension to our daily reading. (We are currently developing a fresh appreciation for the Book of Numbers.) Last year we read through the NLT (M'Cheyne plan) without any study notes. In just a few short weeks, The Literary Study Bible has already proven to be a serious enhancement to our family Bible study.