ESV Literary Study Bible links

ESV Literary Study Bible

For those taking note at home, we have a chronology of links for readers interested in the new ESV Literary Study Bible edited by Leland and Philip Graham Ryken.

1. TSS reviewed the ESV LSB and you can read it here.

2. TSS traveled to Wheaton to interview editor Leland Ryken (listen to audio here).

3. The ESV released their official ESV LSB website here.

4. Now on the official ESV LSB website readers can browse the full text for free! Click here.

5. Finally, our friends over at Crossway transcribed the Ryken interview. Be watching for the text later this week at the official ESV LSB website.

PS – I’m told further production delays are slowing the release of the ESV LSB. They should ship in another week (first week in October).

Interview: Leland Ryken on the ESV LSB

IMG_7009.ed.jpgInterview with Dr. Leland Ryken

WHEATON, IL — Last Thursday afternoon I walked across the campus of Wheaton College and up the stairs of Blanchard Hall for a rare opportunity to sit down with a favorite contemporary author, Dr. Leland Ryken.

Ryken serves as the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College. He has written many excellent books, but especially The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (Crossway: 2002), which carefully critiques contemporary translation philosophies and builds a strong case for literal translations like the ESV. It’s an excellent, pointed book that remains on a short list of my personal favorites. Ryken also served as Literary Stylist on the ESV translation committee (more on this later).

Ryken’s son, Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, is a prolific author, pastor, and preacher. Together with his son, Dr. Ryken edited the soon-to-be-released ESV Literary Study Bible (read our full review here). The LSB was the focus of our interview.

1. Thank you for your time, Dr. Ryken! … Where did the idea for The Literary Study Bible originate? Has this been a long-awaited project?

2. Explain for us the essential features that distinguish a literary study Bible?

3. There are a number of contemporary translations seeking to paraphrase the Bible and make it easier to read. You have confronted the dangers of this methodology in The Word of God in English. Is the LSB, in any way, a response to these contemporary translations in showing that a literal translation can be effectively used by general readers without a paraphrased text?

4. How will the LSB benefit the preacher, especially in expositional preparations?

5. You state in the LSB, “The goal of literature is to prompt a reader to share or relive an experience. The truth that literature imparts is not simply ideas that are true but truthfulness to human experience.” Explain further how the literature of Scripture invites us to experience Scripture.

6. Can you give us some specific, concrete examples of this?

7. What differentiates the LSB from other available study Bibles? And how will general readers benefit?

8. Quite obviously, the Psalmists, prophets, and other authors of Scripture did not write using a literary guide to genres. Much of the literary discussion in the LSB draws from a host of modern literary terms to interpret the ancient literature of Scripture. How do you defend this approach?

9. In the past, Bibles have been effectively used in home schooling education. Can the LSB be used as a textbook of sorts to learn literary genres, styles, and forms?

10. Some readers, I’m sure, are unaware of your role in the translation of the English Standard Version itself. Explain this role for us.

11. Now the ESV LSB is complete, and serves as a culmination of your translation efforts and literary commentary efforts. It must be quite fulfilling to see this Bible together and completed.

Thank you, Dr. Ryken, for your time. Congratulations to you and your son on the completion of such an incredible project. The ESV Literary Study Bible will greatly bless the Church by helping us read Scripture more competently for ourselves. Is there a more precious gift from the career of a literary scholar?

Blessings to you and your future ministry!


Related: Read our full review of the ESV Literary Study Bible here. Also, from our day-long trip to Wheaton, Illinois (Sept. 13, 2007) we photographed our way through Crossway Books and Justin Taylor’s office (see here) and visited two local museums (see here).

ESV Literary Study Bible

tsslogo.jpgBook review
ESV The Literary Study Bible
edited by Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken

Some of the best Christian scholarship aims to unfold the beauty of Scripture for general readers. The new ESV Literary Study Bible is one excellent example.

Editor Dr. Leland Ryken is a top-notch literary scholar, noted for his many books (like a personal favorite The Word of God in English) and his work as literary stylist for the ESV. His son, Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, is a noted author and preacher known for excellent books like The Doctrines of Grace.

Together, their work has produced a masterful study Bible.

Size, price, purpose

tssesvlsb.jpgThe printed ESV LSB will be available on Sept. 14th 23rd in a hardcover format, 6×9 inches in size (slightly smaller than the reverse interlinear and slightly larger than the classic reference edition) and nearly 2,000 pages in length (700 pages longer than the reverse interlinear and classic reference edition). The LSB will retail for about $50.00.

The twofold goal of the ESV Literary Study Bible is clearly stated, “(1) to make the Bible reader friendly and (2) to show how application of literary tools of analysis helps in reading and understanding the Bible” (xvii).

We’ll look at each goal individually.

Scripture as Literature

The premiere benefit of the LSB is viewing Scripture as literature, without reducing Scripture to the level of mere literature. In Leland Ryken fashion, rebuttals are given to show that viewing Scripture as literature (1) does not show a liberal bias, (2) reinforces Scripture’s view of itself as literature, (3) does not reduce Scripture to fiction, (4) does not reduce Scripture to another mere piece of literature, (5) nor deny the inspiration of Scripture. In fact, the editors argue that an accurate interpretation of Scripture first requires an understanding of the many literary features of Scripture.

“To approach the Bible as literature as this literary Bible does is not like dessert — something pleasurable to add to more important aspects of the Bible. The literary approach is the first item on the agenda — the starting point for other approaches to the Bible. This has been a point of neglect among Bible readers and Bible scholars that this literary Bible aims to correct” (ix).

Because, the editors make clear, “meaning is conveyed through form, starting with language itself but moving beyond that to a whole range of literary forms and genres” and “There is no meaning without the form in which a piece of writing is expressed” (vii). Forms directly impact interpretation.

The number of identifiable biblical genres in Scripture “readily exceeds one hundred” and that does not include archetypes, motifs, styles, rhetoric, and artistry (x). Scripture is a wonderfully diverse collection of literature with great variety. None are better qualified to bring these to the surface than Leland Ryken.

But this study Bible does not require an advanced degree in literature. Every term from “antithetic parallelism” to “dramatic monologue” to “theophany” is defined in the 17-page glossary of genres and literary terms.

Perhaps, like the Self-Interpreting Bible by John Brown of Haddington in the 18th century, this ESV LSB will become a primary literature text in homeschool education? Something to consider.


The goal is not to weigh the reader down in definitions and genres, but to provide helpful guidance for the reader to comprehend large swoops of biblical text. Many features make this an excellent reader’s Bible.

1. Format. The ESV text is single-column, black text set in 8.5-point Veritas font. Very clean and easy to read.

2. Introductions and overviews. Each book of Scripture receives a detailed introduction and content overviews. The overall literary genres and styles are summarized at the beginning. Ryken and Ryken bring great balance between the literary context and the content/outline of Scripture. We’ll see this later.

3. Subsection prenotes. Before each subsection of Scripture (normally one chapter in OT and every half chapter in NT), the editors provide important literary notes and an overall snapshot of the upcoming content. These are like prenotes, compared to the footnotes common in study Bibles. These prenotes peak interest and drive the reader into the text. “This literary Bible is a guide to the Bible that pushes the reader into the text instead of providing mere summaries of the content that readily become substitutes for reading the Bible” (xvii). These chapter notes reinforce the literary styles mentioned in the book introductions, provide overviews of upcoming Scripture content, and function well in helping the reader chomp through large sections of Scripture in single settings.

4. New reading plan. The annual reading plan of the LSB is quite innovative. The daily readings include one section from each of the four categories: Psalms and Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch and the History of Israel; Chronicles and Prophets; and Gospels and Epistles. But four important books – the Psalms, Isaiah, Luke and Romans – are read twice annually! The readings through the OT are arranged chronologically, and the NT readings by author. For example, readers progress from the Gospel of John to 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and conclude with Revelation.

5. Designed for group study. The LSB was designed purposefully for group studies. As stated in the introduction, the editors intend to help discussion leaders formulate application questions. The reading schedule, literary notes, and outlines are very thoughtful and will foster fruitful group study.


The value of this LSB can be illustrated with one chapter prenote from the Psalms. First, take up a favorite Bible and read Psalm 38. Now read the prenote and see how the literary backdrop changes your interpretation of Psalm 38:

“I confess my iniquity [Psalm 38]. This is the third of the church’s traditional penitential psalms. Penitential psalms are a variation on the conventional lament psalm. In them, the poet defines a dire crisis and asks for God’s deliverance. But the twists on the lament form are these: the speaker’s antagonist is not an external enemy but himself; the threat is not physical threat or slander but spiritual guilt; the petition is to be delivered not from a threat to life or political oppression but from peril of soul. The outline is as follows: introductory cry to God (v. 1); definition of the crisis, a highly metaphoric portrayal of the effects of guilt, including physical symptoms (vv. 2–10); as an extension of the crisis, a picture of the isolation of the speaker from others, in a manner reminiscent of the more customary lament psalms (vv. 11–14); statement of confidence in God (vv. 15–16); confession of sin (vv. 17–18); a return to the portrait of the speaker’s enemies (vv. 19–20); prayer to God for deliverance (vv. 21–22)” (p. 787).

You can see that both the genre and general outline of the contents are mixed together well (as you would expect from a literary scholar/pastor team). Phrases like “My wounds stink and fester, because of my foolishness” (v. 5) take on new spiritual meaning in light of the genre. The reader is now well equipped to read the Psalm for herself and glean valuable wisdom. Without any open application questions, the LSB note has brought the reader to the brink of rich application.

If you’re like me, you want more than one excerpt and a review before investing in a new Bible. Here’s a suggestion: In a few weeks, find a local bookstore that carries the Bible and set aside 1-2 hours some weekend to read the book of Job, notes and all (pp. 684-743). Start at the beginning and read it through. Don’t stop to understand every detail in the text, just keep reading to catch the overall flow and direction. Here in Job, the features and strengths of the LSB are on full display.

Literature as Experience

Which brings me to a final point. I am aware of my personal tendency to reduce passages Scripture to nice, indexed, systematic categories (no wonder I personally struggle through Job!). Systematizing ideas is easier for me, compared to reading narrative literature and poetry. By viewing Scripture first as literature (and secondarily as theological content to fill a systematic outline), something important surfaces. Scripture is experienced.

“The goal of literature is to prompt a reader to share or relive an experience. The truth that literature imparts is not simply ideas that are true but truthfulness to human experience. The implication for interpretation is that Bible readers, teachers, and expositors need to be active in re-creating experiences in their imagination, identifying the recognizable human experiences in a text (thereby building bridges to life in the modern world), and resisting the impulse immediately to reduce a biblical passage to a set of theological ideas” (xi).

It occurs to me that once we experience literature, literature becomes integrated into our experience. For example, Augustine’s Confessions are saturated with the Psalms because the Psalms saturated Augustine’s experience. The LSB encourages me to further experience Scripture by using the literary composition as a door into experiencing the text for myself. If you read Job, you’ll likely experience this firsthand (as I did).


If the boom in abridged Bibles and contemporary dynamic equivalence translations tell us anything, it’s this: Our church culture is noticeably uncomfortable with the literal text of Scripture. With the ESV LSB, Ryken and Ryken highlight the beautiful intricacies of Scripture and preview content to help readers navigate through the literal, unabridged text of the ESV. The product of their scholarship is both a study Bible and reading Bible, centering around a literal translation that accents the literary beauty of the Bible and invites readers to experience Scripture firsthand.

In a word, the ESV Literary Study Bible is masterful and will serve those who seek daily nourishment from the pure milk of God’s Word.

ESV Journaling Bible

ESV Journaling Bible

The last time we announced a new ESV Bible it was a joke meant to be a late April fools trick (and it worked). But today’s post is no joke.

Because so many readers of the Blank Bible series simply don’t have the equipment or time to make their own, I’ve received a lot of emails about my thoughts on the ESV Journaling Bible. So I finally decided to get a copy and try it out myself (this one came safely to my home in cardboard through FedEx).

After opening the box I had three immediate thoughts: “It’s a lot smaller than I expected” … “It’s more portable than I expected” … and finally, “It’s much more durable than I expected.”

Here are more notes after further reflection (and some field-testing).

1. Size. The font size is small but (as you can see in the picture) slightly larger than the ESV Compact TruTone edition. The marginal note areas are lined for a note taker with small handwriting. The top margin can also be used for notes.

2. Paper color. Also in this comparison you can see that the Journaling Bible features an off-white paper color compared to other ESV Bibles. This may not be a big deal but it does seem to make the already small font a bit tougher to read (by decreasing the contrast of the paper/text).

3. Pen bleed. The biggest factor in determining which Bibles can or cannot be written in comes down to how likely the pages are to bleed (pencils are not my thing). We put our safety goggles on, unlocked the door to our underground TSS testing laboratory and — with my poor handwriting skills and five different pens — we put this new ESV Bible to the test.

From top-to-bottom we used the following pens: a black Pilot Vball extra fine roller, a black Pigma Micron 005, an everyday black ballpoint, a red uni-ball micro roller and one big black uni-ball Deluxe roller (an ink pouring pen I wouldn’t consider for a Bible).

The results were fairly surprising because none (not even the uni-ball Delux roller) bled through the paper. No surprise, the best pen for this Bible was the Pigma Micron 005 available at scrapbook and craft stores. The regular ballpoint pen comes in second. But the bigger point is that these pages successfully absorbed all five inks without bleeding.

Join us tomorrow when we run the Journaling Bible through several more tests: The “Flame Retardant?” test, the “Ran Over By Car” test and (my personal favorite) the “Will It Float?” test. Actually, if I were serious this sturdy Bible would probably fare better than expected.

Unlike the blank Bibles I’ve created in the past, the Journaling Bible is compact and portable. It’s a good substitute if making a Blank Bible is out of the question. If you don’t mind the small font and the paper color, it is a very durable ESV with excellent margins and paper for note taking. You can get the black Journaling Bible for about $18 and the fancy calfskin version for about $41. A small price considering it enables you to carry your Bible and your reflections in one compact volume.


[NOTE: For our review we used the Terra Cotta/Sage edition of the Journaling Bible – ISBN: 1581348959]

New ESV bible seeks to reach the lost

Our friends at Crossway and Good News have been pumping out a ton of different editions of the ESV (literally). So many, in fact, that I no longer notice when another new edition is released. That was until today. I just can’t seem to figure out this latest version. It features the complete New Testament and Psalm 23. It comes prepackaged in a large crate to protect it in cargo parachute drops. And what an odd logo on the front?!? Even the ISBN appears strange (4815162342). But maybe the strangest of all is that I found it in my backyard with a small parachute resting gently on top of it and a strobe light pulsing away. Anyway, I suppose this new edition serves some purpose in spreading the gospel to a lost people group.

HT: Mr. Eko


And the winners are…

“Blank Interlinear” contest

Winner: Joshua G. (Indian River, MI)
Runner-Up: Dallas P. (Las Vegas, NV)

Joshua, your testimony is very powerful. You were the clear winner of the “Blank Interlinear.” This bible is the very one we built and photographed on this site (and to my knowledge it is the only completed copy of its kind). Thank you for loving the souls of your people enough to endure the difficulties! I really appreciate that you had such a clearly defined need for the bible. This blank interlinear will be useful and a great encouragement towards your future faithfulness to God’s Word and His people. (Collectively, the four-volume set also doubles as a shield to protect you from drunk women). Dallas, your commitment to making this bible for your pastor is a noble gesture. I’m certain it will encourage him. I am sending you a copy of the interlinear with the binding removed and sized blank pages ready to be inserted and bound. Congratulations!

“Blank Valley of Vision” contest

Winner: Philip N. (Cumming, GA)
Runner-Up: Bill W. (Laguna Niguel, CA)

What can I say, Philip? Jonathan Edwards spoke, the Spirit of God moved, and you did what many pastors could never do – act upon conviction, not comfort. By leaving a church of 7,000 members because of conviction, you modeled for us the depth of carefulness and prayerfulness we should bring to the direction of our lives. Someday I want to read the notes you take in this “Blank Valley of Vision” because I know they will be thoughtful and profound and will cause you to consider your ways carefully. Thank you for your testimony! Bill, how God used the words of David Brainerd on the sovereignty of God to shift the center of your life off of yourself and onto God was truly amazing. Understanding deep theology – especially the sovereignty of God – saves marriages. Amazing! Thank you for your testimony. As runner-up you win a 7-disc audio version of the Valley of Vision narrated by Max McLean. Thanks to the Banner of Truth has donated free copies of the Valley of Vision to the three other finalists (Scott N., Midland Park, NJ; Allen M., Amherstburg, Ontario; Jeff C., Sumas, WA).

Thank you to everyone who submitted essays. Each finalist carried an important message that we can all learn. I would encourage everyone to read all of the essays for the “Blank Interlinear” and the “Blank Valley of Vision.”