Thoughts on the ESV Study Bible (now that I’ve read it)

esvsb-featureIn October of 2008, I posted that my goal was to read through the ESV Study Bible and notes (excluding the articles at the end) by the end of 2009. It took a little extra time this past week, but I finished Revelation 22 today.

In my post last year, I gave ten reasons why I appreciate the ESV Study Bible. I mentioned the pastorally sensitive, gospel-centered notes, the excellent charts and illustrations, the additional articles, and the translation itself. Reading it through this past year (15 months, actually), has only confirmed all I said previously.

There are certainly other ways to read the Bible than “in one year.” But let me tell you why I’ve chosen to do it for the past 6 years, and why using the ESVSB was so helpful this time.

1. If God made sure his words were recorded for us, why wouldn’t I want to read all of them numerous times?
2. Reading large portions of Scripture regularly slows me down so I can think about life from an eternal perspective. I was in tears today as I finished Revelation, realizing the purpose for which I was created and the sure future that lies ahead.
3. In my daily life, I am constantly bombarded with images, philosophies, thoughts, reasonings, and attractions from the world, my flesh, and the devil. I need large quantities of God’s thoughts, empowered by his Spirit, to resist them.
4. I trust my own thoughts too much.
5. Each time I read through the Bible, I’m humbled as I realize how little I actually know and understand God’s Word.
6. Reading a lot of the Bible helps me more easily see how it all fits together.
7. As a leader of congregational worship, I want people’s faith to rest on God’s Word, not my music or opinions. Therefore, I want Scripture to be the overflow of my heart, not something I occasionally use for a desired emotional effect.
8.The ESVSB was very even-handed in providing alternate interpretations of difficult passages, while continually directing my attention to other Scriptures for greater clarity.
9. The ESVSB notes never seek to say more than the Scriptures themselves say.
10. The large number of maps, charts, and illustrations were extremely helpful for understanding the geographical settings, details, and overall flow of different books.
11. I repeatedly felt pastored through the comments, as my heart was directed towards the living Word, the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

So what about you? How are you going to make sure that God’s Word becomes a bigger part of your life in the coming year? There are plenty of reading plans available. You can find a wide variety of plans at the ESV site or YouVersion.

For those of your who have tried to read through the Bible in a year and failed, you’re not alone. Let me suggest a simple practice that has helped me immensely. Each time you sit down to read, read two days of your plan instead of one. You’ll always be ahead of your schedule, even when you miss a day or two; you’ll be relieved of the pressure of having to “catch up” or stay up to date; you’ll have time to look up other passages; and you’ll just enjoy the process a lot more!

On a side note, when it comes to explaining why words, especially God’s Words, are so important to our worship, I can’t do a better job than Kevin DeYoung has already done in his post “Why So Many Words in Worship?

May God make each of us better students of his Word and more passionate lovers of the Savior in 2010.

29 Responses to Thoughts on the ESV Study Bible (now that I’ve read it)

  1. Thomas Griffin December 31, 2009 at 3:19 PM #

    I am ever realizing and will continue to learn the importance of the Word in my daily life and in the life of the church. True worship does not happen without the Word of truth. As I grow deeper in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty and my depravity, I cannot help but delve into His Word. That is not to say books written by strong brothers in the faith are bad, but I fall victim too often to seek them for guidance instead of the perfect word of truth. My prayer is that I would desire to read His Word more than other published books and to continually seek my guidance from Jesus first. My prayer for the congregation I lead is that they would be rooted and grounded in Scripture throughout the whole service, not just during the preaching of the Word. Your blog is an encouraging resource to a new worship pastor – keep the faith, brother!


  2. Jon Elliff December 31, 2009 at 3:22 PM #

    Thanks for the post – great reminder of our need to ingest as much of the Word as possible – even if I read slowly!

  3. Jon Jordan December 31, 2009 at 3:38 PM #

    Thanks so much for your words – I’ve never actually read through the Bible in a year, and am attempting it this year. I’m looking through the plans you linked to, which one worked well for you as you went through the ESVSB?

    • Bob Kauflin December 31, 2009 at 4:03 PM #


      Glad to hear you’re going to try to read through the Bible in 2010! When I’m not using a commentary, like Carson’s For the Love of God, I just read from cover to cover. I’ll divide the total number of pages in my Bible by 200. That way I’m covered if I miss days along the way, and don’t have to worry about always trying to catch up. This year, I may try a chronological or historical plan, where you read the books somewhat in the order they were written or took place.

  4. Dani December 31, 2009 at 4:07 PM #

    I loved reading this and am thankful for your insights! Reading ahead is a great idea in addition to using a plan that includes a few “free” days! It seems like a good way to relax a bit knowing I can either catch up or spend a little more time on something God is showing me.

    Thank you Bob!

  5. Rick Owen December 31, 2009 at 4:14 PM #

    The online ESV has been terrific for me this year, since purchasing it several months ago. I enjoy listening to the recordings of the Bible readings while following along. Being able to save and retrieve my own notes online has been a helpful feature too. I look forward to using it more in 2010, Lord willing.

  6. Jeremy Chambers December 31, 2009 at 4:46 PM #

    One feature that has been a huge aid to me both in personal devotion and in preaching is the “history of salvation in the old testament” article in the back. As I read through books of the OT it helps me constantly connect the story with Christ crucified.

  7. Natasha December 31, 2009 at 5:08 PM #

    Mr. Kauflin, I am wondering, what type of reading plan did you use? I don’t think I have ever read the Bible through, though I have tried to several times; I am thinking of trying again this next year.

    • Bob Kauflin December 31, 2009 at 5:38 PM #

      Natasha, thanks for asking. I explained how I typically read through the bible in my response to Jon. But I’ll say it again here. When I’m not using a commentary, like Carson’s For the Love of God, I just read from cover to cover. I’ll divide the total number of pages in my Bible by 200. That way I’m covered if I miss days along the way, and don’t have to worry about always trying to catch up.

      May God give you grace as you seek him in his Word this year!

  8. buddy December 31, 2009 at 5:35 PM #

    thanks for the insight ideas of how to read ahead to buffer for those times we miss. great idea! ESV online as an rss feed is good reminder to read each day as well.

  9. Mike Ruel December 31, 2009 at 9:40 PM #

    Love this! I did it in 2009 and highly recommend reading thru the Word each year. PS I nearly posted the same thing earlier today!

  10. David McKay January 1, 2010 at 12:20 AM #

    G’day Bob.
    You did well to read through the entire ESV Study Bible in 15 months. I’ve read 57% in 12 months, though I’m not sure if I have read 57% of the supplementary articles yet.

    Over the past 5 years I’ve read through four Bibles and three study Bibles, and this has taken about three to six months each time.

    In addition to reading the TNIV, “The Books of the Bible: a presentation of Today’s New International Version” [which removes headings, chapters and verses and re-orders the books partly chronologically and partly thematically], The Good News Bible and The New Living Translation, 2nd edition, I also read The ESV Reformation Study Bible, The NIV Archaeological Study Bible and The New Jerusalem Study Bible.

    But I abandoned reading all of the study notes in the NJSB, because they were not helpful and so often cast doubt on the Bible as God’s Word written.

    I’m finding it much more of a hard ask to read the ESV Study Bible, though it has gotten easier as I’ve become more familiar with it.

    I agree with you that it is an outstanding production, well worth everyone’s time, though I would advise people to firstly read the Bible itself, without notes in a version in contemporary English, such as the ones I’ve referenced above.

    • Bob Kauflin January 1, 2010 at 8:56 AM #

      David, thanks for commenting and for your commitment to God’s Word. Totally agree that our goal is to get into Scripture itself, not the comments about Scripture. Thanks for making a great point.

  11. Carlos January 1, 2010 at 12:46 PM #

    I’ve used a couple of different plans that take you through the Bible in a year and sometimes take you through different books more than once. You can get a list of plans from here:

    This year, however, I am embarking on a 2 1/2 year journey through the NT. My wife & I will read the same 7 chapters a day starting with Matthew for 30 days until we get through the entire NT. This was a suggestion by John MacArthur on his radio program. This is an effort to really absorb the words of Scripture.

  12. David McKay January 1, 2010 at 6:49 PM #

    I think we need to read Scripture rapidly, to get an overview, as well as slowly and thoughtfully.

    I found there was something I gained from reading through rapidly that I missed in reading at a slower pace and using a study Bible.

    But I’ve also gained a lot from reading through using a study Bible. One of the many treasures in the ESV Study Bible is John Collins terrific introduction and notes on Psalms, which have lots and lots of interesting insights. But one that sticks in my mind is how many times the psalmists refer back to Exodus 34:6,7

    The LORD, the LORD
    the compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger,
    abounding in love and faithfulness,
    maintaining love to thousands,
    and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
    Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;
    he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

  13. West Breedlove January 1, 2010 at 7:25 PM #

    Thanks for the follow-up on your previous post. The ESV-SB is a wonderful gift to the Church. I am thankful for the men and women who God used to make it possible. I’d like to say, though, that for me, after years and years of failing at daily devotionals, there is a resource that I have found very beneficial – the Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer.

    I know your post is more about the ESV-SB specifically, but for anyone desiring a more structured approach to reading through the Scriptures, as well as a guide for praying Biblically, I commend this to them.

    Morning & Evening prayers cover family, world, and Church concerns
    Readings follow Church season (Christmas, Advent, Easter, etc.)
    2-yr reading cycle: NT 2x, OT 1x, and Psalms monthly

    No personal confession of sin in daily prayers


    My $.02!

  14. Dave Wilson January 2, 2010 at 3:19 PM #

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your excellent post on reading through the Bible in a year. The plans you mention look to be excellent resources.

    I just completed a quest of my own. I read through the entire Bible in the month of December. I did some estimating, and determined that it would take about two hours a day for 30 days. It was quite a stretch, but I managed to read through, from start to finish, during the month.

    While there are lots of reasons this wouldn’t be a great approach in general, but I feel that I really benefited from this little experiment. Reading large portions each day, seven days a week, gave me a perspective on God’s Word that was lacking in my life.

    I hope that a lasting fruit of this challenge will be an increased Bible intake over the rest of my life. Time will tell…

    Thanks again,

    • Bob Kauflin January 2, 2010 at 3:22 PM #


      So appreciate your faithfulness and your example. Fast or slow, a lot or a little at a time, the most important thing is that our thoughts, words, and actions are being informed by God’s word rather than our own opinions.

  15. Leslie January 6, 2010 at 1:18 PM #

    I’ve tried many times to read the Bible through in a year. The closest I got was a year & a half ago, when I only had a few chapters of Ezekiel left, but sadly never finished.
    I have a hard time reading big portions because I feel like I don’t retain it. Perhaps, with prayer and God’s help, I can retain more from reading several chapters a day.
    Thanks for the post.

  16. Andy January 6, 2010 at 1:21 PM #

    I also read through the ESV Study Bible last year, including all the notes, introductions, etc. (But not including the articles at the end, which I’ve been going through this week and next.)

    I’ll tell you what, some of those days were a LOT of reading, where the notes were 5 – 6 times longer than the Biblical text being commented on.

    This year, I’m going slower, reading two chapters per day, just the text, no notes. (Going through the NT 1.5 times, and through Psalms & Proverbs twice.)

  17. Adam Crosby January 30, 2010 at 2:30 PM #

    I’d be interested to see if anyone has a blog following the ESV Study Bible Reading Plan. In the meanwhile, I’ve started one called ESV Study Bible Daily Reading Plan Blog


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