A freebie for you: Jonah in the ESV

Here at Matthias Media, we read and recommend the English Standard Version Bible (ESV) as a superior English translation of both Old and New Testaments. So it was with interest and some nervousness that I heard that there is coming, just around the corner now, a new ESV Bible: the ESV Study Bible. It was with interest because, well, it’s interesting; nervousness because Study Bibles, no matter how terrific they are, are the bane of every Bible study leader’s life. When you ask “What does the text say?”, there will always always be one nerdy member of the group who will say, “Well, it says here in the explanatory notes that …”. The faint thumping sound you hear next is me hitting myself upside of the head prior to saying, “Yes, that’s great, and thank you, but WHAT DOES THE TEXT SAY?!?!?”, veins bulging on my neck and eyes popping out of my head. My Bible studies, at least, can be intense affairs.

And I’m afraid that I feel even more irritated when the explanatory notes have got it right—irritated because it robs me of one of the many reasons for telling people to ignore them and READ THE BIBLE PRAYERFULLY FOR THEMSELVES. YES I’M SHOUTING. SORRY ABOUT THAT. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT.

So I haven’t yet had a good look at the full ESV Study Bible—largely because it is not due for release until October 15 this year, but also because I am profoundly bigoted against any scribbles in the margin of my Bible that do not emanate from my pen.

That said, I am disappointed to tell you that, having looked through the free download of the notes on Jonah and enjoyed the interview with author Mark Futato, it’s pretty darn good so far.

Futato acknowledges in the notes that some people think Jonah is a fishy story (sorry) that couldn’t possibly have happened, but essentially dismisses such speculations as irrelevant to the understanding and application of the message itself, which (he points out) has all the hallmarks of prophetic narrative. In a few concise words, he explains why he thinks it unlikely that the story is allegory or fiction.

What I enjoyed about Futato’s notes was his obvious attention to detail and his ability to summarize briefly why Jonah ought to be read as satire. This is a prophet that God has decided to have fun with, largely because Jonah is as bigoted as a red-haired politician from a minor political party in country Queensland. (Which, if you’re not sure, is very.) Jonah ends, as Mark Futato observes in his interview, “with the Lord asking Jonah for permission to have compassion on the Ninevites”. To quote Daffy Duck, it is to laugh. And to quote me, it is a sharp little prod about how compassionate we are towards those who are under God’s judgement—or even to what extent we realize that we ourselves need to receive God’s compassion through his Son. Futato also talks about Jonah’s fulfilment in Jesus, but check the notes for that. (Which, if the linked notes accurately represent what the final product will look like, will be quite difficult to use as cheat sheets during the heat of an intense Bible study, though they will be quite useful for any group member who does their preparation in advance. Yes!)

Anyway, on the principle that reviews ought to be shorter than the thing they are reviewing, I’ll stop there and encourage you to get your own free download of the notes on Jonah. Thanks, ESV people!

Oh, and Justin Taylor of Crossway books tells me that the notes on Esther are done by Moore College lecturer Barry Webb, so I am looking forward to seeing them too, unfortunately.

12 thoughts on “A freebie for you: Jonah in the ESV

  1. I liked this observation in the notes:
    “Jonah’s rescue from death provides an analogy for the resurrection of Christ… The repentance
    of the Ninevites anticipates the wide-scale repentance of Gentiles in the messianic era.”

    But not this one: “Humor, as Jonah’s behavior is not only ignominious but also ridiculous.”

    When the prophets (like Elijah, Elisha and Jonah) were sent to Gentiles, it was to provoke Israel to jealousy because they would not listen to these prophets. Jonah understood his ministry meant condemnation would come upon his own people.

    James B. Jordan said, “I don’t think Jonah was some loyal nationalistic prophet. Jonah was in there every day complaining, criticising, prophesying, and denouncing the kingdom of northern Israel. It won’t do to say that Jonah didn’t want to take the Gospel to another nation. No, Jonah has something more profound in mind. Jonah was thinking about Deuteronomy 32:21. He didn’t want to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, because to do so was to bring about a curse on the Israelites.”

    Paul was a more faithful Jonah, understanding this curse but obeying it nonetheless (Rom. 9:3; Acts 28:28)

    The notes look good though. I’ll be buying one.

  2. <i>Just wanted to let you know that Dr. Futato’s name is misspelled (’Furtato’).</i>

    Thanks Joe, problem fixed now.

    I was going to say that you say Futato and I say Furtato, but having been subject to many mis-spellings myself over the years wink I shall refrain.

  3. Dear Gordon,

    If anyone has ever attempted translation work, it is always apparent that identical translation, word for word, phrase for phrase, concept for concept is just not possible. Imagine two intersecting circles with area of commonality, but not quite reaching total alignment.

    This is hard for many in a mono-language culture to understand, but any one translation inevitably cannot reproduce an exact facsimile of the original.

    My approach is always to use several translations from different approaches to build a sense of the original intent of the writer.  Any one translation is just that – a single translation among many attempts.

    What I am getting at is that a simple “Read it and see what the bible actually says, and steer away from margin notes” is treading in difficult territory.  To read christian scripture, we need all the help we can get, because neither the ESV, NIV, NRSV, KJB etc completely and unbiasedly reproduces the original intent of the writer.

    Question – when translating the NT into say an aboriginal language, what should be the approach?  Go back to the Greek and start from scratch, or do a translation from a ‘reliable’ english version? If you go with the Greek, how do you cross the cultural divide of languages which are totally alien, and similar translatable concepts do not exist?  If you go with the english, then which english translation and its bias do you choose? I hope this example helps to unpack the translation problem, and the need to read Christian scripture with eyes wide open.

    Stephen Jackson

  4. The ESV Reformation Study Bible [which includes notes by some prominent Australian evangelicals, and was organised by R C Sproul] contains helpful theological notes, but also gives some useful background. This new one will have to be pretty good to equal or surpass it.

    The NIV Archaeological Study Bible [emanating from Gordon-Conwell] is also well worth reading through. It has a little theology, but mainly gives background information.

    No matter how good the ESV is [and it is good], it seems to me that the most important thing is to read several different translations, and to include in your arsenal translations of different types.

    Prompted by one of our church’s elders, I have read through both of the above and also the TNIV, Good News Bible [Australian edition] and New Living Translation, 2nd edition, over the past few years.

    Each one of these has been a great blessing. The New Jerusalem Bible is a useful one to read for comparison, partly because the translators did not attempt to stay in the tradition of Tyndale, the KJV, and the RSV as the NIV and ESV translators have chosen to do.

  5. It’s been over a year now that I adopted an ESV pew Bible (Navy Blue) for my personal studies and to preach from precisely beause of the absence of study notes and commentary. It forces me to wrestle with the text. At least this is what I do through my initial sermon prep. It is only after most of the work is done that i consult Bible study tools whether they are commentaries, dictionaries, lexical aids etc. It has really been a blessing. I am going to purchase the ESV study bible though.

  6. Andrew Reid says you should put your study Bible on a high shelf, where you can’t easily reach for it.

    It is good to read an unadorned text, but we do also need to consult the work done by our brothers and sisters over the centuries, so that we don’t think we have just discovered something brilliant completely independently, and/or also completely miss what the text is saying.

    And often, just when we think we are not being influenced by others, our reading is really the product of what we have been previously taught, whether or not we are currently reinforcing this by using helps in our study of God’s Word.

    We recently studied Romans 11 in our Bible study group, and I found that three reputable conservative scholars had three different takes on what Paul means by “And so all Israel shall be saved.”

    I don’t think I could have come to a conclusion on the passage, or even been aware of the possibilities, without their help.

    At the moment I’m dipping into Tom Schreiner’s terrific NT Theology. He says that he firstly read the NT through several times and took notes, then made three drafts before he even consulted others, though he admit that his views have already been shaped by what he had previously studied and heard.

  7. I prefer the ESV Reformation Study Bible (published by Liognier Ministries) – the notes are briefer and more exegetical IMHO. The Reformation Study Bible also avoids chasing after every little theological and historical tangent, which seems to be the bane of most study Bibles.

  8. Gordon, I wasn’t sure where to ask you this, but here seems to be the place since here you expressed your misgivings about study Bibles in general (while being cautiously optimistic about the new ESV Study Bible).

    What do you think of Al Mohler’s comments on how to get the most out of a study bible…

    1. Read the text of the Bible first. Meditate upon the text and read it with care. Apply your own knowledge of the Bible in order to understand the particular text within its context and place in the biblical story-line. Consider and note other texts that come to your mind as directly related to this text. Read the text with full attention and conviction.

    2. Look carefully at the cross-references linked within the study Bible to this text. Do not look only to the citations, but read the actual passages. This assistance is still the main contribution of the study Bible—making related and parallel passages more accessible. A first principle of interpreting the Bible is to interpret the Bible by the Bible. In other words, to allow the Bible to interpret itself text by text.

    3. As a third step, take full advantage of the notes, articles, and other helps printed with the text. In some cases, short articles will help in understanding contested issues or matters that might otherwise require a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia. Where appropriate, maps can be very useful, along with tables of measurement and similar points of reference. The very best of the study Bibles will also offer some level of commentary within the notes.

    Of course, it is the Bible that is inspired, inerrant, and infallible—not the study materials included in study Bibles. Therefore, judge the notes by the biblical text, and never the other way around. Where possible, use more than one study Bible in order to maximize this learning process.

  9. Don’t know if this will bump up this discussion or not.

    I just received a puzzling comment on this thread, but don’t see it here. I could it understand it being removed, as I couldn’t understand what the poster was trying to say. [Wonder if he could?]

    But I would like to say that now I have read through Obadiah, Philemon, Joel, Jude, Ruth, Ephesians, Jonah. Song of Songs, John’s letters, Genesis, Luke, Nahum, the Thessalonian epistles, Lamentations and Job in the ESV Study Bible, this study Bible is wonderful!

    I highly recommend its use, following Al Mohler’s advice cited by Sandy above.

    It was worth reading the Bible itself through first, though, as it makes the study notes much easier to understand!

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