Recently my church has been teaching a series of adult Sunday School lessons on the gospels. Our three pastors and I have each had two sessions to introduce and teach Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as separate gospels. When I was preparing my class notes for teaching Mark, it quickly became clear to me that an ideal class of people would already be very familiar with the details, not only of Mark, but of the general storyline of the entire Bible. Otherwise teaching a brief introductory class on a whole book of the Bible could not possibly yield fruitful results. Simply put, as long as Christians are largely ignorance of the content of the Scriptures, it is very difficult to serve theological meat instead of milk. While my observation is not an indictment of my congregation in general (on the contrary I think our folks are by and large pretty grounded doctrinally), I am certain that all Christians would profit from a fuller knowledge of the Bible. Who could disagree with that?
So what is the solution? The absolute best way to learn what the Bible as a whole teaches is to…READ it! No, that is not a grand revelation or profound statement, but it really is quite simple. A faithful and regular reading dose of the Scriptures is far better than any shortcut method to discovering what God says to men in the Bible.
Two years ago I read through the ESV Bible using the M’Cheyne reading schedule. I found it wonderfully enriching to my spiritual life and growth as a Christian. I also discovered bridges between the OT and NT that I had never noticed before, and was sometimes able to see an author’s broader purpose in writing when reading larger chucks of Scripture than just a paragraph or two. But while I was able (with the Spirit’s help) to learn more of the Bible’s message, I still had many questions. The ESV Bible I used contained the text of Scripture and cross-references, with no study notes, articles, or lengthy book introductions. The year 2007 was just the Bible and me.
This past year (2008) I decided to enrich my daily Bible reading by using the ESV Literary Study Bible (ESV LSB). This edition has proven to be an extremely helpful reading aid to my devotional reading of the Scriptures. What makes this edition so special is that it was consciously designed to be a “reader’s Bible.” There are scores (hundreds?) of Study Bibles on the market that inundate the reader with historical details, devotional insights, theological and textual commentary, articles, maps, etc. While I am a big fan of Study Bibles, I have discovered that they can distract from the actual words of Scripture. I don’t think I’m alone in this either. Many Study Bibles cram so much extraneous information onto the page that the word of God is squeezed, even suffocated! In other words, many Study Bibles are best for Bible study, not reading. This is why the ESV LSB is such a jewel for devotional reading. This Bible does not contain study notes at the bottom of the page, cross-references, maps, or in-text articles that tempt you to jump from what is primary (the biblical text) to what is secondary (anything else). But what sets the ESV LSB apart is what it does contain. Each complete textual unit is preceded by a paragraph introducing the reader to what they will find in the following passage. The information in these springboard paragraphs encourage the you to read the Bible wholistically and strategically. Structural and thematic information is provided, along with profitable reading tips for interpretation and application. Moreover, these mini-introductions serve as a sort of self-guided tour of the Scriptures, connecting the text with what came previous and what comes afterward. Furthermore, each book of the Bible is introduced with literary notes that prepare the reader for what to expect when actually encountering the biblical text. Reading the ESV LSB is akin to having a godly and knowledgeable English Literature professor preparing you to read the Bible, not as a higher form critic, nor as a evangelical without a reading strategy, but as a lover of literature.
It has been said that the Bible may profitably be read and studied from a biblical-theological (redemptive historical) perspective, a dogmatic-theological (systematic theology) perspective, and a literary perspective. While it is commonly recognized that the biblical-theological perspective must be prior to the sytematic theology perspective, the literary perspective is often ignored when it comes to reading and studying the Bible. This is a shame, because this way of reading and studying probably should come first.
I’ve read every word between the covers of the ESV LSB. Therefore I can unreservedly recommend it to you as a reader’s Bible. If you are curious about what it means to read the Bible as literature, or if you are a little hesitant about this method of Bible reading, please read the ESV LSB preface which provides further explanation and dispells a few misconceptions. It is available online (some features are only available with registration) and in print format. There is also an ESV LSB brochure that includes several chapters to give you the look and feel of this Bible’s format.
Read today’s text in the ESV LSB.