ESV Global Study Bible

Written by J. I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, and Ajith Fernando, eds Reviewed By Eric W. Zeller

The Mission of God Study Bible (MGSB) seeks to bring glory to God by pointing to God's work of redemption and eventual restoration of creation (p. vi). The MGSB supplements the HCSB text with thirteen different kinds of supplemental features.

Many of the articles in the MGSB are well-written and helpful-standout examples include Eric Mason on “The Impact of Sin on the Mission of God,” Adrian Warnock on “Resurrection,” and Christopher Wright on “The Metanarrative of God's Mission.” Articles reminding of opportunities for mission in particular regions and cultures are well-chosen, and the concluding “letters to the church” are strong, clear calls for missional engagement.

Owners of the print version of MGSB are able to enter a code to gain access to all of the notes from the Study Bible on the companion website, Those who do not own a print version can either buy permanent access or “rent” temporary access. The website also offers, apparently free to all visitors, a library of video commentaries in which Stetzer or Nation offers approximately five minutes of teaching on each of the topics raised in the study notes. While the design of the site seems to still be under development, the site is already a valuable resource for learning about mission because of the supplemental video content as well as the ease of access it provides to the articles from the Study Bible.

One concern with the MGSB is its inconsistency regarding the definition of “mission.” In the introduction, the editors offer this definition: “God's mission among us is to glorify Himself through the work of redeeming people and restoring creation” (p. xxvii). Yet this clear definition is not followed throughout the work. Indeed, most of the book introductions and many of the notes supply their own varying definitions as to the nature of mission (e.g., pp. 174, 1131, 1177, 1249, 1256), confusing the project's central theme.

The MGSB's handling of the OT is often disappointing. In a work devoted to one theme, it is surprising how often MGSB's introductions miss the primary ways a given book contributes to that theme. For example, the introduction to Leviticus makes no linkage between mission and holiness; the Psalms introduction obscures the book's connection between worshiping God and declaring him among the nations; the Isaiah introduction minimizes the connection between the universal vision of the book and the mission of God's people; the Ezekiel introduction misses the book's consistent emphasis on God's self-revelation. Additionally, the MGSB introductions often fail to point the reader towards the book's key texts on God's mission, so, for instance, the Genesis introduction doesn't mention Gen 12:1-3, and the Exodus introduction doesn't mention Exod 19:4-6. Apart from their introductions, most OT books have only one or two notes inserted, and often these notes have little relationship to the book in question. For example, the only note in the book of Leviticus is a feature on missionary Martin Burnham (p. 116); other books receive similar treatment, and 2 Samuel receives no notes at all. The troubling implication is that the first two-thirds of the Bible have little to say about God's mission.

The treatment of the NT is better; there is more interaction with texts and more careful introductions. But here too are surprising gaps; for example the Matthew introduction mentions neither the “mission discourse” of Matt 10 nor the key passage on the missional identity of God's people in 5:13-16 nor the closing commission of 28:18-20.

While some of the individual pieces of the MGSB are well-written and helpful in their own right, one does wonder in places why these particular articles have been chosen and inserted where they are throughout Scripture. A curious editorial decision is the inclusion of a number of excerpts of Francis Dubose's 1983 book God Who Sends. The Dubose quotes are not written for, or well-suited for a Study Bible format; perhaps it would have been more effective if the HCSB editors had instead commissioned original notes on these texts.

The ESV Global Study Bible (GSB) is a different kind of project, more along the lines of a traditional Study Bible. It contains both original material and content adapted from the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB) in order “to help people know and understand the Bible” (p. 7) and to serve Christians who are “global” either in their international context or in their vision for ministry.

The GSB seeks to achieve its global vision through international print and online distribution, as well as through content written by and tailored for a global audience. Thus, in addition to a standard introduction (condensed from the ESVSB), each book of the Bible is also introduced with a “global message” feature that locates the book in God's plan of redemption and identifies key applications to a global audience. These global message sections are alone worth the price of the volume, especially as they reflect a careful understanding of the book that keeps in mind both the big picture of Scripture and how the book in question develops the story of how God will bring blessing to all nations in fulfillment of his promise to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. The quality and consistency of the GSB introductions comes into stark relief in contrast to the MGSB introductions reflected on above. While GSB certainly does more than trace the mission of God throughout Scripture, the global message sections do trace God's mission in a way that is clear, helpful, and draws the reader into the text, identifying the key passages and their larger connection to biblical theology. Finally, the volume ends with thirteen short articles that introduce theology, interpretation, ethics, and mission clearly and succinctly.

The differences in the introductions of the two Study Bibles may in part be a reflection of the kinds of contributors chosen. Both projects have impressive lists of contributors with long records of faithful service to the body of Christ. For the MGSB, the contributors seem to be chosen based on past blogging or popular publishing related to the topic they address. This editorial choice often leads to interesting and engaging content, yet perhaps is also related to the lacuna noted above and places where texts are applied in what seems to be a superficial way (e.g., notes near Gen 18; Exod 18; 1 Kgs 19; 2 Kgs 5; Isa 6).The GSB's list of contributors has more of an orientation to biblical scholarship with an international perspective and specialization in the particular book or topic, and this seems to be reflected how the GSB interacts more widely with the content of the books and has fewer noticeable omissions.

Alongside the English Standard Version text, the GSB adapts 12,000 study notes from the ESVSB, condensed to about half their original length and also includes many of the beautiful tables, maps, and diagrams of the ESVSB. Without attempting to interact with all of this content, suffice it to say that the praise that has consistently been applied to the ESVSB applies equally to this valuable resource. Owners of the print version of the GSB can access all of the notes and other content in a helpful format alongside the biblical text via the very well-designed platform.

It is difficult to find fault with the GSB. Perhaps those of differing theological perspectives may in places be uncomfortable with how the GSB, while consistently evangelical and fair, emphasizes such themes as continuity between the OT and NT, Jesus' fulfillment of the OT, the already/not yet nature of the kingdom, and Reformed soteriology. One might also note that the concluding articles, while certainly global in their contributors, could bring a more explicitly global perspective to the content of their articles.

That said, the GSB is an excellent overall Study Bible. Its size, comparable to a standard Pew Bible, is better suited to carrying around than its bulky cousin, the ESVSB. No matter what part of Scripture you are studying, the GSB notes and introductions will consistently help your understanding and point you in a fruitful interpretative direction.

Which of these two Bibles would best help a careful student of Scripture understand God's mission and best equip a person to participate in that mission? The GSB is the clear answer, though it is also helpful in many other ways. I recommend the GSB to any believer as a resource in understanding the individual parts and overall storyline of Scripture and their place in God's mission. The MGSB is best used as a kind of anthology, and perhaps there are many who would find flipping through its various articles thought-provoking in suggesting areas for further missional reflection. Yet one looking for careful interaction with and explanation of texts of Scripture would be better served by other resources. While both volumes have their place, after reading both, one can't help but reflect that perhaps we don't need a dedicated Mission of God Study Bible as much as we need to see the Mission of God developed throughout our regular Study Bible, and this is what the GSB does so well.

Eric W. Zeller

Eric W. Zeller
Grace Bible Church
Grapevine, Texas, USA

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