Notes to the Max
Contemporary study Bibles have an amazing amount of information in the notes at the bottom of each page. They usually contain maps, diagrams and charts at various locations.
Since translations with greater fidelity to the original text (ESV, KJV or NASB) do not put as much interpretation directly into the translation, the notes are a great help in bridging the historical and cultural gap between us and biblical times. For example, John 18:28a (ESV) says, “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters.” The ESV Study Bible has a long note to tell you all about the Roman governor’s quarters at Herod’s old palace or a possible alternate location.
By contrast, the NIV says, “Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor” (John 18:28a, NIV, emphasis added). Note the words in italics. The word “Roman” is not in the Greek New Testament here, but it appears in the NIV translation as a clarification. Similarly, “they” (ESV) has been changed to “the Jews” (NIV) to make certain you know who took Jesus there, but the word “Jews” does not occur here in the Greek text. The NIV Study Bible also has a long note to tell you what is going on in this scene.
Differences between ESV and NIV
In relation to resource materials provided along with the translation, the ESV and NIV study Bibles differ in two significant ways. First, the NIV Study Bible has a concordance about double the size of the one in the ESV Study Bible. On the other hand, the NIV needs a much bigger concordance since it uses a much greater variety of words to translate individual Greek or Hebrew words, and that makes concordance research more complicated. [Note: A concordance is an alphabetic list of words used in a specific translation matched to a list of the Bible verses where that word occurs. A concordance is essential for doing word studies.]
The second significant difference is that the ESV Study Bible contains a large number of articles (e.g. “The Character of God” and “Marriage and Sexual Morality”) dealing with many subjects at greater length than notes allow. These materials are not replicated in the NIV Study Bible.
Notes from the Translator
For those intrepid few who cannot get enough about the linguistic matters that underlie our English translations, the NET Bible First Edition is a must-have. This Bible has a unique set of Translators’ Notes that justify the translation. These Notes can be technical in relation to original languages, but they are a great help to understanding the original meaning and options for translation. The NET Bible has fine maps but few charts and diagrams and no concordance. Still, it is unique. The NET Bible and all its Notes may be downloaded free at Bible.org, and we recommend you do that.