The Church History Study Bible: Good, But Not Great

Of the printing of study Bibles there is no end! It’s hard to guess, but there probably are around 100 study Bibles on the market. In addition, there are journaling Bibles, devotional Bibles, readers’ Bibles, photography edition Bibles, personal Bibles, note-taking Bibles, and so on. Although some of these types of Bibles are helpful, there are almost too many to choose from. And if you already have a journaling Bible, do you also need a photography edition Bible and two different study Bibles? And what do you do if you already have a study Bible that you like, but a “better” one comes out? First world problems I guess!

Anyway, I digress a bit, but when I got this Church History Study Bible for review purposes, it did get me thinking. Speaking of this new study Bible, it is an ESV-based study Bible. Although the ESV is a bit wooden and the word order and language don’t always flow like modern English, it’s a good translation. Here are my thoughts on the ESV Church History Study Bible.

First, it’s a “church history” study Bible because it’s study notes contain commentary and quotes from various preachers and theologians from the past. For example, in the notes on Psalm 44 there are notes from John Gill, Thomas a Kempis, John Calvin, Konrad Pelikan, Augustine, George Whitefield, Chyrostom, and Albert Barnes. In an appendix you can find all the authors/theologians from the past that are included in these study notes. Almost all of them are pre-1950 or so.

Second, the notes for this study Bible were selected by theologians/pastors from today, such as Lee Gatiss, Gerald Bray, and Keith Mathison (etc.). These modern theologians/pastors were selected to gather quotes from commentaries in the past and put them in this study Bible. For example, Jonathan Gibson selected the notes for Isaiah and Ezekiel. There are also some articles in the back of the Bible on topics like the patristic era, the Bible and the Global church, and reading the Bible in a critical age. I’m not sure how they selected some of these article topics, but they’re not all specifically related to church history. (As a side, I wonder how many people read articles like this in the back of Bibles. For some unknown reason, I rarely do.)

Third, it’s not an exegetical study Bible – and it’s not supposed to be. There aren’t notes about the meaning of words, interpretive issues, or the historical background of the text. The notes in The Church History Study Bible are more devotional or for application and reflection. Some of the notes are doctrinal as well.

What are my thoughts? On the one hand this is a good resource if you want short quotes on Bible verses from significant Christian voices from the past. I do appreciate reading quotes from Thomas Manton and Ambrose (for example) when looking at the story in 2 Kings 23. And of all the quotes/notes I’ve read in this Bible, most of them have been edifying and encouraging.

However, there are some weaknesses to The Church History Study Bible. For one thing, it seems like around 50% of the notes are from either Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, or Matthew Henry. Those are good resources, but I have them in separate volumes so I don’t need them in a study Bible. To put it bluntly, if you have those three resources like I do, you might want to pass on this study Bible. (As a side, I did notice that in some places such as Nehemiah and Ezekiel the notes get pretty sparse.)

Another weakness of this study Bible is that the pages are incredibly thin. In some places you can see the words on the page behind the one you’re reading. The pages are so thin that they curl up at the edges. Also, in my opinion the spine is supposed to look like an old book, but to me it looks sort of fake, kind of like those old Reader’s Digest volumes.

In summary, this is a pretty good study Bible that could be better. If you don’t have a study Bible, and if you don’t have the commentaries of Calvin, Spurgeon, and Henry, you might want to check this one out: The ESV Church History Study Bible. However, if you already have a study Bible, I’m not sure I’d spend more money on this one since some of these commentaries and resources in the notes are available online.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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