In my first part I looked at the physical features (design, payout, fonts, etc.) of GSB. Overall, very positive. Today I want to explore the content of GSB (again, not the ESV translation itself). As prelude to this, I acknowledge that I am a Christian who confesses the faith as a Lutheran, as expressed in the Book of Concord (Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church 1580). This will influence some of my hesitations and critiques below.
One of the challenges of a study Bible is to identify what doctrinal stance is taken. In the “Doctrinal Perspective” (p. 12) we read:
The doctrinal perspective of the ESV Global Study Bible is that of classic evangelical orthodoxy in the historic stream of the Reformation. … At times the notes also summarize interpretations that are inconsistent with classic evangelical orthodoxy, indicating how and why such views are in conflict with Scripture. 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.
That is an admirable statement, but does not quite seem accurate. “Evangelical orthodoxy” has most often been associated with the Lutheran Confessions of the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras. Throughout the past 460 years the followers of Luther were called “evangelicals” and the church itself was called Evangelische Kirche (Gospel Church). Thus, the section should probably be reworded as “evangelical orthodoxy in the historic stream of the Reformed tradition.”
This shows up in two separate ways.
1 Cor. 11:24 The expression This is my body has been interpreted in various ways through church history. Roman Catholics believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. Lutherans hold that the literal body and blood of Christ are present “in, with, and, under” the bread and wine. Some Anglicans refer to the “real presence” of Christ in the bread and wine. Most other Protestants believe that Christ is present symbolically and spiritually, strengthening believers’ faith and fellowship in him and thereby feeding their souls (see Matt. 18:20; 28:20).
Notice that in the descriptions the authors try to follow their guideline above. But from the last comma to the end, it appears as if that phrase (“strengthening believers’ faith and fellowship in him and thereby feeding their souls”) applies only to the last group. Yet, the RCC, Lutheran, and Anglican confessions teach and support that exact thing. In other words, the note is misleading in how it is constructed. Also, the two Scripture references seem out of place in this context, unless one holds to the “most other Protestants” position. If they were being consistent, then that last sentence should have been broken into two parts:
Most other Protestants believe that Christ is present symbolically and spiritually. In all cases, the church bodies (or better confessions) hold that receiving communion strengthens believers’ faith and fellowship in him and thereby feeds their souls.
Then in one of the Gospel accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper is this note:
Mark 14:23-24 he took the cup See note on Matt. 26:27. The communion wine corresponds to the covenant-establishing, once-and-for-all shed blood as atonement for many.
The wording reflects again the “most other Protestants” position, especially without any further explanation.
Another note reflects this “most other Protestant” view on Baptism:
1 Peter 3:21 Baptism saves you because it represents inward faith.
So rather than reflect the text, now it is changed to “baptism represents inward faith.” While a further comment on this verse notes that “Christians have disagreed about the proper mode.” Yet, there is no such note that Christians disagree about whether Baptism actually saves or it is only a “symbol.” See the next change the authors introduce into the comment
1 Peter 3:21 “Christians have disagreed about the proper mode of water baptism…”
So, it is not only enough to speak or write of baptism but now it has to be clarified as “water baptism.” One wonders what happens according to Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4 (“one baptism”)? Well, as a matter of fact, here is the comment:
Eph. 4:5 One baptism may refer to the baptism of all believers into one body (see 1 Cor. 12:13) or it may refer to water baptism as such.
These examples demonstrate that the study notes do not represent “classic evangelical orthodoxy in the historic stream of the Reformation.” Rather, the study notes reflect one strand within one branch of Reformed theology.
Each body has two introductions:
1) Introduction to _________
The first one is standard for any study Bible, usually presented in two pages. It covers Author/Date/Recipients, Theme, Purpose, Key Themes, and Outline, with a map relative to the world in which it was written. These are short but thorough for an introduction. The pieces are easily identified and work well for a study Bible. Sometimes Bible book introductions are too long and do not function well for referencing quickly later.
2) The Global Message of _________.
The unique factor of this GSB is the inclusion of these introductions. Of the many I have read, I find them useful for thinking through the particular book. And these serve well for discussion points after having read and studied the book. Another strong point of this feature is that each introduction ends with a discussion of “The Global Message of _______ for Today.” In other words, the first deals with the original setting, and this deals with how to apply it in a global context.
The Introductions are the highlights of this study Bible and along with the layout and design features make this an imminently useful tool.
I will not cover many items here, since I already addressed some in the previous section. At the bottom of each page are study notes to guide the student of the Word. Obviously with limited space the notes will be limited as well. The Fact notes are very helpful, well placed, and stand out with the light tan background color.
It appears that some study notes compensate for the lack of cross references. For instance, regarding Matt. 3:15, the study note references 2 Cor. 5:21, but no other links to the passages noted above concerning righteousness. So, even with the added study note, there is no link for the student. Likewise the study note at 1 Cor. 10:16 connects to the three Gospel accounts regarding the Lord’s Supper.
Occasionally notes seem superfluous. Consider these:
Eph. 5:28-30 The body for which Christ sacrificed himself was the church.
Phil. 1:20 The crucial thing for Paul is not life or death, it is maintaining his faithful witness to Christ.
1 Cor. 1:23 Or Christ as a stumbling block see note on Isa. 8:11-15.
Or it can be one-sided in helping the reader:
1 Thessalonians 2:14 this That is, salvation (v. 13).
In this case, v. 13 has three things: “firstfruits to be saved, through the sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Is it “salvation” or all three elements considered as one?
I mentioned in the first review that the font size was too small for me to use. Two consecutive nights of using the Bible when teaching confirmed that limitation. I also showed the Bible to several others, and the immediate response was “That print is way too small!” Even now, with my bifocals, I have to get the light just right, with the distance just right, and it is still a strain to see the references; even then I cannot make out the superscripted letters in the references without a magnifying glass.
I have checked only a few cross references.
For Psalm 110, I was pleased to see the extensive New Testament citations. Rarely do study and reference Bibles give all the references; GSB is commended for this. Again, I couldn’t make out the superscript letters in the footnote, but I could guess based on the separation with the word “Cited.” Otherwise it leaves the student perplexed or needing a magnifying glass to decipher.
Phil. 3:9 The cross references were Rom. 10:5, 9:30, 1 Cor. 1:30. Surprisingly , I would have expected Rom. 1:16-17 and 3:19-26, Matt. 5:20, Matt. 3:15, perhaps 2 Cor. 5:21, and a few other references to the righteousness of faith; but none were listed. Interestingly at Matt. 5:20 there is a reference to Rom. 10:3 and Phil. 3:9; and at Matt. 3:15 there is no cross reference at all. So, from my perspective this instance leaves something to be desired.
1 Cor. 11:23-25 As expected the three Gospel accounts were cited: Matt. 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20. But I expected to find 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. Now, looking at 1 Cor. 10:16, there is a reference to Matt. 26:27-28 and 1 Cor. 11:25. So it works one way but not the other. Perhaps the assumption is that the student is reading straight through 1 Corinthians, and so the reference at 10:16 is sufficient. But if the student forgets about it, then there is no other access to the 1 Cor. 10:16-17 reference. The three Gospel accounts have references to 1 Cor. 11:23-25, but not 10:16-17.
Obviously this is very selective, but it shows some inconsistencies in the extensive use of cross references (Ps. 110) and the total lack of cross references (Matt. 3:15). I will continue to look at this, but until I buy a magnifying glass, it will be slow and painful at best.
The Global Study Bible (GSB) offers a mixed bag for the student of Scripture. The design and layout features are unparalleled in any study Bible I have used or reviewed. Comparing to The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) published by CPH, GSB is far and away better in design and layout (except for cross reference font size).
The global and mission focus of the GSB is to be applauded. Excellent work in challenging the Bible student to look beyond the immediate neighborhood for context and application. The “Book Introductions” are useful for the beginning student and for the one who has the background but quickly wants review that information. “The Global Message Introductions” make GSB unique among study Bibles. This could prove useful for personal study and application, small group studies, or large presentation studies to make people aware of the global nature and mission of the Bible.
Unfortunately the meat of the “study” portion of GSB leaves the reader/student stranded. Cross references are inconsistent, sometimes extensive, and other times leaving the student short without connections to other portions of pertinent Scriptures. The study notes themselves seem almost too little to be a good study Bible, and offer limited help even in passages that are addressed. Compare these notes with those in The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB); TLSB stands head and shoulders above GSB in this regard.
I find GSB to be an interesting Bible with great potential (with appropriate changes). At this point, however, I don’t think I could recommend the GSB to people in the congregation I serve. From the perspective of usefulness, the extremely small cross reference font makes it inaccessible to most, if not all, people. The notes are uneven and sadly reflect basically one strand of Reformed theology.
A possible solution?
I would change the focus just a little, and call it Global Reference Bible. The focus would be on the Book Introductions, the writings at the back of the Bible (which I did not review), and an extended cross reference section with legible font size. I would drop all study notes on specific verses at the bottom of the page but keep all the notes on Profile, Fact, Character inserts, as well as the Tables, Illustrations, and Maps. I would then increase the overall size of the Bible from: 5.375″ x 8.375″ to 7″ x 10″. This would still make it a portable Bible (unlike the “large print” TLSB “weight-lifters” edition at 7.5 lbs!), and would provide a readable Bible, and hence very useful beneficial to the users with the right focus on global and missions.
Given these changes, I would readily recommend the revised Bible.