Review | The ESV MacArthur Study Bible

The MacArthur Study Bible is one of my go-to Bibles for deep study of the Holy Scriptures. I always find Dr. John F. MacArthur’s pastoral notes and commentary warm, accessible, and theologically-rich. First released in 1997 using the New King James Version text, this study Bible is now available in NASB, NIV, and ESV, and published in different languages.

Late 2019, Thomas Nelson published the second edition of the MacArthur Study Bible in NKJV, and subsequently released in NASB in mid-2020. Early this year, its second edition in the ESV translation was released – the one I have in this review.

The MacArthur Study Bible is the first study Bible published under the Premier Collection line of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. As always and as expected in their premium Bibles, the built and craftsmanship of this one is exceptional. This Bible boasts a thick, brown premium goatskin leather cover. At first glance, it reminded me of the NKJV Single-Column Reference Bible. They have the same cover and construction. Like the NKJV SCR, it also has a fine pebbly texture. I like that it is a bit stiff. It supports the huge text block really well. It is leather-lined and perimeter-stitched with semi-yapp. The spine looks gorgeous with four raised hubs, and it showcases the new MacArthur Study Bible logo. It measures 7.25 x 10 x 2.25 inches and weighs 4 lbs, 12 oz.

This Bible is printed on 39 gsm premium European Bible paper – thicker than the usual 36 gsm Bible paper used in other Thomas Nelson Premiere Collection Bibles. It is white, highly opaque, and does not glare under direct light. The text block is smyth-sewn and edge-lined, and has a red-under-gold art-gilt edges. It produces a concave shape like the NKJV SCR. It has three extra-long double sided-satin ribbon markers in brown, red, and blue. This Bible’s construction and craftsmanship is absolutely impeccable.

What’s new?

Thomas Nelson made a lot of changes in the MacArthur Study Bible. From its layout and typeface, to its study notes and references.

Compared with the first edition-2006 updated release which I have, the second edition MacArthur Study Bible offers a new, refreshing, and more attractive layout. The scripture text is still in a double-column, but this time it is in a verse-by-verse setting from the original paragraph format. The references which are previously found between the scripture text are now printed below. And finally, the study notes are now in three-column format, which are previously set in two columns. This major revamp in the MacArthur Study Bible’s layout is well-done, and it greatly improves the overall reading experience. It made the texts look more clean, neat, and organized.

Aside from the clean, new layout, the MacArthur Study Bible now has a two-color setting – black and blue – from the previously monotonous black color scheme. This new color setting is followed throughout this Bible. The blue accent is found on section headings, chapter numbers, verse numbers, reference verse numbers, maps, and charts. It gives a bright and refreshing vibe as you read along. The scripture text is set in Thomas Nelson’s exclusive 9.5-point Comfort Print typeface, while the study notes are just a little bit smaller at 8-point font. The text in the second edition is noticeably darker and bolder than in the first edition, hence, clearer and more readable.

Content-wise, the MacArthur Study Bible has also been updated and expanded. The first edition boasted more than 20,000 verse-by-verse study notes. Sources indicate that it has now over 25,000 notes in the second edition. Reading through it, I also noticed that some words in the study notes have been updated to a more readable and comprehensible terms. The cross-references also had a major upgrade to 80,000 entries from the original 72,000.

What has been retained?

The MacArthur Study Bible has been thoroughly redesigned and expanded. But in spite of the major changes, many of the awesome features and resources that readers have loved over the years in the first edition have been retained.

It is still packed with the same helpful supplemental articles from the first edition.

  • How We Got the Bible?
  • How to study the Bible?
  • Chronology of the Old and New Testament
  • Introduction and outline of each of the 66 books
  • Overviews of Christ’s Life, Ministry, and Passion Week
  • Harmony of the Gospels
  • Introductions to each major section of Scripture
  • Outline of Systematic Theology
  • Index to Key Bible Doctrines

It also has an exhaustive Bible reading plan for one year, and the full ESV Concordance.

Should you make the upgrade?

The short answer is yes. The new layout and typeface alone would be enough reasons for me to have an upgrade. Compared with the second edition, I find the first edition’s layout and design to be dull, outdated, and not reader-friendly. It has a tendency to be eye-straining when used for long hours. Along with the new design and layout, the expanded and updated study notes, new maps, charts, and articles, make it really worth the switch.

The ESV MacArthur Study Bible premiere edition in brown goatskin leather retails for $259.99, and is also available in hardbound, genuine leather, and leather-like covers. If you can afford it, I highly recommend the premier edition. You will surely get more than what you pay for!


Disclosure: A review copy of the The ESV MacArthur Study Bible (ISBN 9780785235668) was provided for review by Thomas Nelson, from whom you may purchase a copy.

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