Interview with Justin Taylor (Part 1): The ESV Study Bible
Today and tomorrow, I am interviewing my friend, Justin Taylor - editorial director and associate publisher at Crossway Books. Justin has co-authored several books and maintains a popular blog called “Between Two Worlds.” He lives with his wife and three children in Chicagoland. Knowing that Justin has recently served as managing editor for the ESV Study Bible, I thought that someone should interview him about the Study Bible and his role in helping get this massive project off the ground.
Trevin Wax: Tell me a little about the origin of the ESV Study Bible. How long has this Bible been in the works?
Justin Taylor: After the ESV was published in 2001, people began asking when an ESV Study Bible would be published. Crossway wanted to create a new Study Bible, but also wanted to make sure it was done well and in the right way.
In the spring of 2005 the ball began to role, and by fall of 2005 the main editorial team was in place. The main editorial team consisted of Lane Dennis (executive editor), J. I. Packer (theological editor), Wayne Grudem (general editor), Jack Collins (OT editor), Tom Schreiner (NT editor), and me (project director, managing editor).
Trevin Wax: The ESV Study Bible features contributions from world-renowned evangelical scholars. How did you go about gathering these scholars together for work on this Bible? How were assignments given? Based on field of specialty? The scholars’ interest?
Justin Taylor: The editorial team met together and worked through each book of the Bible, asking who would be the best scholar for each book—and did the same for the dozens of articles that would go in the back of the Bible. We wanted evangelical scholars who had studied, taught, and written on the book in question. We also wanted to make sure that they not only were excellent exegetes, but that they had the ability to communicate clearly to people in the pew.
After we had all of our contributors on board, I remember looking through the list and was pleasantly surprised to see the number of countries represented. Here’s a breakdown of where our contributors are currently ministering (apart from the US):
- Australia (2)
- Canada (4)
- England (6)
- Japan (2)
- Northern Ireland (2)
- South Africa
Trevin Wax: Is this a study Bible primarily for laypeople or pastors? Or both? How have you kept the study notes from becoming too technical at times?
Justin Taylor: It’s for both. In any writing project you have to have a target audience in mind, and this was no different. Our design was to produce a Bible for serious adult Christians. That doesn’t mean that new believers or younger believers or un-believers won’t benefit from it. But we were writing for thoughtful Christians.
When you’re dealing with scholars writing the notes, there’s always the possibility that it can become too technical. But we were always working with the layperson in view. Can something be said simpler and clearer? Can we avoid technical language that’s easy to use but unnecessary?
At the same time, there are some notes that go into greater depth than some might need. In this way we think it can also be a helpful tool for pastors and seminarians.
Let me give one example, 1 Pet. 3:19 is one of the harder passages in the NT to interpret. Because of that, the ESVSB note is longer than usual. Instead of just telling readers the “right answer,” it helps them think through the arguments for both sides of the issue:
3:19 spirits in prison. There is much debate about the identity of these spirits. The Greek term pneuma (“spirit”), in either singular or plural, can mean either human spirits or angels, depending on the context (cf. Num. 16:22; 27:16; Acts 7:59; Heb. 12:23; etc.). Among the three most common interpretations, the first two fit best with the rest of Scripture and with historic orthodox Christian doctrine. These are:
- The first interpretation understands “spirits” (Gk. pneumasin, plural) as referring to the unsaved (human spirits) of Noah’s day. Christ, “in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18), proclaimed the gospel “in the days of Noah” (v. 20) through Noah. The unbelievers who heard Christ’s preaching “did not obey . . . in the days of Noah” (v. 20) and are now suffering judgment (they are “spirits in prison,” v. 19). Several reasons support this view:
(a) Peter calls Noah a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5), where “herald” represents Greek kēryx, “preacher,” which corresponds to the noun kēryssō, “proclaim,” in 1 Pet. 3:19.
(b) Peter says the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the OT prophets (1:11); thus Christ could have been speaking through Noah as an OT prophet.
(c) The context indicates that Christ was preaching through Noah, who was in a persecuted minority, and God saved Noah, which is similar to the situation in Peter’s time: Christ is now preaching the gospel through Peter and his readers (v. 15) to a persecuted minority, and God will save them.
- (2) In the second interpretation, the spirits are the fallen angels who were cast into hell to await the final judgment. Reasons supporting this view include:
(a) Some interpreters say that the “sons of God” in Gen. 6:2-4 are angels (see note on Gen. 6:1-2) who sinned by cohabiting with human women “when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Pet. 3:20).
(b) Almost without exception in the NT, “spirits” (plural) refers to supernatural beings rather than people (e.g., Matt. 8:16; 10:1; Mark 1:27; 5:13; 6:7; Luke 4:36; 6:18; 7:21; 8:2; 10:20; 11:26; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 19:12, 13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 16:13-14; cf. Heb. 1:7).
(c) The word “prison” is not used elsewhere in Scripture as a place of punishment after death for human beings, while it is used for Satan (Rev. 20:7) and other fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). In this case the message that Christ proclaimed is almost certainly one of triumph, after having been “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).
- (3) In a third view, some have advocated the idea that Christ offered a second chance of salvation to those in hell. This interpretation, however, is in direct contradiction with other Scripture (cf. Luke 16:26; Heb. 9:27) and with the rest of 1 Peter and therefore must be rejected on biblical and theological grounds, leaving either of the first two views as the most likely interpretation.
Trevin Wax: In the United States, we enjoy access to a wide variety of study Bibles. What is the most unique contribution of the ESV Study Bible?
Justin Taylor: That’s a tough one to answer. I really think it’s the combination of resources in one volume. The 200+ full-color maps and the 40 full-color illustrations and plans really set it apart—and are perhaps the first thing people will notice and comment on.
But there’s also an aspect of the ESVSB that we haven’t talked about yet: the 64 articles. From ethics to theology to world religion to cults to archaeology to canon to textual criticism to Greek and Hebrew, etc., the ESVB virtually functions like a library in one volume.
I’d also point to the online ESVSB (available free to everyone who purchases a printed version), which will allow complete access to every feature, as well as an ability to create your own online notes.
Trevin Wax: Tomorrow, I’ll be asking some questions about the proofing process for the Bible. Justin will also show us some of the maps and illustrations and tell us about the accuracy of these drawings.