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.
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.