Both the NLT Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible contain a lengthy article introducing the prophetic books. So I wanted to make a comparison concerning the information contained in each. My thanks to Justin Taylor at Crossway for giving me a copy of the ESVSB article.
ESV Study Bible:
The article introducing the prophets is four pages in length. The ESVSB begins with a discussion of the different Hebrew words used to describe a prophet. After introducing the nature of a prophet, the article goes into discussing the role of the prophets during Israel’s history. In this section there is also a summary of the messages that each of God’s prophets gave to Israel along with the dating of their messages. One interesting point worth noting is that the author places the writing of Joel at the same time as the writing of Malachi, in the fifth century. This is contrary to the traditional dating of Joel, though there has been a growing movement among scholars to place Joel in the fifth century rather than the ninth century.
The next section in this article is devoted to how the prophets’ writings were composed and preserved. A quick blurb is given about the kinds of materials used to record the prophets’ words. The next section describes the theological harmony of the prophetic books. There are five key points of unity, according to the ESVSB: (1) the prophets assert that God has spoken through them, (2) the prophets affirm that God chose Israel for covenant relationship, (3) the prophets most often report that the majority of Israel has sinned against their God and his standards for their relationship, (4) the prophets warn that judgment will eradicate sin, and (5) the prophets promise that renewal lies beyond the day of punishment that has occurred already in history and beyond the coming day that will bring history as we know it to a close.
The next section gives an overview concerning textual criticism concerning the prophetic books. The final section is a discussion concerning the pronouns used by the prophets. Discussion centers upon some of the difficulties in determining who is speaking: God himself or the prophet as the voice of God. This section shows how the pronouns are used in different ways to help the reader determine the speaker when reading the prophets. Finally, the article includes a timeline showing the relationship between when the prophetic books were written and which king was reigning over Israel and Judah at the time of the prophet’s utterance.
NLT Study Bible:
The article is nearly three pages in length. The NLTSB begins with a paragraph about the setting of the prophets and the circumstances in which they spoke. The article goes on to describe the various tasks of the prophets, acting as emissaries, messengers, and intercessors. Scriptures are used to show these various tasks. At the bottom of the first page is a small timeline showing the chronology of the prophets. Joel is not on the timeline, perhaps reflecting the uncertainty of dating his prophecy. It seems to me they could pick one date and place it on the timeline with a question mark, or mark the two main possibilities.
The next section describes the characteristics of a true prophet. This leads into a discussion about how to interpret the prophets. The author makes the important point that “the messages of the prophets must be understood first of all on their own terms.” The emphasis is on the necessity of understanding the prophet’s message to his original audience. We are also reminded to read the prophets with the expectation of the coming Christ.
Next, the article describes the common message of the prophets. The key theme, according to the NLTSB, is that the people were warned that “their constant breaches of God’s covenant would result in disaster.” Another theme common to the prophets is their messages of hope for the future because of God’s mercy. The article concludes with a discussion of the ultimate prophet that Moses prophesied about, Jesus.
In My Opinion:
Both articles are excellent and are useful in their own way. It is fascinating to see that there really is not much overlap between the two articles though they are discussing the same topic. This, again, probably points to the different intentions behind the writing of each study Bible. The points made by the NLTSB are very important when it emphasizes the way to interpret the prophets. Too often religious leaders misuse the prophets by forgetting that these messages had a meaning to that original audience. We must determine what these prophecies meant to Israel in the ninth through fifth centuries. The ESVSB’s timeline is very useful and very user-friendly. The discussion about the pronouns, though sounds boring, is actually very good and will be helpful for students. It is hard to declare a clear cut winner between the two because both are very useful and do not duplicate information. But, forced to decide, I think I would lean toward the ESVSB as slightly better in its content. (As we continue to compare these study Bibles, we may find that we just need to have both).