Reflecting on 30 Days With the Literary ESV

observations along the way.

Reading this large of a block of scripture every day created a problem for me. I note that I became focused on conquering the territory rather than surveying it as I went. I had to continually struggle against that bent.

I suffer the same shortcoming when I drive on vacation. I could drive past the most beautiful vista’s and never notice because my eyes were pinned to the road and my heart was already at my destination. So it was in some measure as I read through the Bible this month. I found myself so focused on conquering the territory that I undoubtedly missed a number of blessings.

On the other hand I gained a panoramic overview of the Bible which can’t be had otherwise. So I don’t feel any guilt at reading past the details instead I feel blessed for having experienced the grandeur of God’s word at a distance. So I didn’t miss all the blessings I just received a different set. In fact most slower readers are virtually guaranteed to miss the forest because they’re so focused on the trees, or in most cases the bark.

The ESV as a Reader’s Bible

The ESV is incredibly readable. The speed with which I read didn’t permit me to compare it either to the original languages or to the NASB which has been my main bible translation for a number of years now. However I can say that the ESV rarely felt difficult to read in large chunks. To that effect at minimum it is a good translation for reading. This is an important point for me.

Many of you are perhaps familiar with the continuum of bible translation theories. Word for word literalism (formal equivalence) to one side and more flexible thought for thought translation (dynamic equivalence) in the middle with raw paraphrase (not really a “translation”) at the far end. To the far edge of word for word literalism lies the Lockman Foundation’s NASB closer to the center lies Zondervan’s NIV not quite centered between these two translations lies Crossway’s ESV, a bit closer in word for word to the NASB in the marketing literature; but probably a bit closer to the NIV in more places than they’d like to confess. I really don’t see the ESV as a competitor to the NASB but I certainly see it as such to the NIV. From that standpoint the ESV is a hands down winner. Even so I will surely be spending the grand majority of my time with the NASB.

The ESV Literary Bible as a Commentary

The ESV Literary Bible doesn’t bill itself as a commentary but all study bibles of any variety are essentially that. The ESVLSB is no different. While the chapter and interspersed notations do a stellar job of highlighting the various literary motifs in the Biblical text – it also includes numerous outright commentary statements. This isn’t a complaint, or even a criticism merely an observation.

The notations also give rise to a complaint though and by far not one limited in scope to the ESVLSB. Any notations in the text no matter how they are set apart will impact plain old fashioned reading. It’s natural to read from chapter 1 to chapter 2. What’s not natural is to read the preface and integrated notes along they way. So I found myself often getting frustrated not because the notes were bad or irrelevant, they weren’t but because I just wanted to read.

Beyond that, I suppose it’s because I’m not a genre nut, but it just seemed that some of the notes went out of their way to make something up that sounded like an authentic literary title. By way of example in the midst of the book of Isaiah we read this little snippet:

Whereas Hezekiah had earlier been a model of faith to be emulated, he ends in the ignominious camp known by literary scholars as “negative example”—showing us how not to live after having been rescued by God.

“Known by literary scholars as “negative example”. Come on. That just sounds like arrogant pomp being pumped through the pages. Just say that Hezekiah serves as a negative example, but to call on the supposed weight of “literary scholars” as a way to justify a perfectly normal appellative just smacks of pretension.

This isn’t the norm however for throughout the introductory notes are many useful descriptions which help to isolate the literature types in such a way as to enrich your study by knowing what to expect.

The aftermath

Reading the Bible as literature in a thirty day period has not been easy. Adding to the 1189 chapters of the Bible with an equal number of prefatory notes only compounded the difficulty but it was a worthy endeavor. I can honestly say that it has changed my life.
First because the word of God never comes back empty I have been molded by it. Notably as I read through the Monarchy literature of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles I was repeatedly pummeled by the theme of leaders who started well and ended poorly. I was also encouraged though by a few who started poorly and ended well. But second, as I’ve already mentioned, I gained because it opened my eyes in a new way to the glorious panorama of scripture. We spend too much time trying to read the Bible through a peephole – a verse here or a verse there. But the Bible was written to, for and by a storied people.

In the centuries preceding the printing press the Bible’s stories were laid down not on paper but on the ear. Even though the majority of my speed reading was done silently the inaudible imprint of hearing the stories flow rapid fire through my mind was powerful.