ESV Gospel Transformation Bible – A Review

gospel transformation bibleIntroduction

About a month ago I received a copy of the Gospel Transformation Bible from Crossway. This new study Bible, edited by Bryan Chappell (General Editor) and Dane Ortlund (Managing Editor), contains hundreds of notes appended to the biblical text, each seeking to help readers see the central message of Scripture: the grace of God manifested in Jesus Christ. As I used this Bible everyday for a month, I asked myself two questions:

  • What purpose would this Bible serve in the church?
  • How helpful are the notes to the reader?

In the rest of the review I hope to provide my perspective on the Gospel Transformation Bible through the lens of these two questions.


The Gospel Transformation Bible is unlike any other study Bible I have used before. Others—like the ESV Study Bible and the Ryrie Study Bible—provide notes to explain each verse in-depth. These type of study Bibles can almost become commentary-like, helping explain the cultural or biblical background for the reader.

The Gospel Transformation Bible, on the other hand, does not try to explain each and every verse. Instead, the purpose of this study Bible is to show readers how God’s redemption plan—culminating in the cross of Jesus Christ—can be found in every passage. This purpose is best expressed in the tagline for this Bible, found printed on the hardcover versions:

Christ in all the Bible. Grace for all of life.

Each of the 12,000 notes (written by over 50 different pastors & scholars) seeks to show how a passage fits in God’s redemption plan. This is immensely helpful for new believers—especially those without a church background—as it shows the reason for reading the Old Testament and some of the hard-to-read, harder-to-understand passages. In other words, the notes in this study Bible are trying to explain what each passage means for followers of Christ today.


The layout of this Bible is one of the underrated features of this Bible. The ESV text is in two columns, with the notes and cross-references appearing below the text. This is a big advantage for me; while I love cross-references, I can get easily distracted by them when they are situated between the columns of biblical text. These cross-references, however, are situated out of the way enough so as not to clutter the biblical text, but close enough to not be inaccessible. This format can be seen better in this sampler PDF.

A remarkable feature of this Bible is the Topical Index. Found in the back of the book (in front of the Concordance), the Topical Index is a list of relevant topics covered in the notes. At 30 pages long, this is a sweeping list covering all the major—and minor—characters, themes, and images in the Bible. I could see this index being a great introduction to biblical theology, helping readers see the unity of the Bible along certain subjects.

I received the black hardcover edition to review. This cover is perfect for studying while at the desk or at a table. However, I am not used to a hardcover Bible, so it felt awkward using it in the sanctuary during the worship service. Again, this is my personal preference, but if you are like me, there are several Tru-Tone and leather options available.

Example Notes

Perhaps the best way to see the benefit of the notes is to give a few examples. Here are a few OT & NT passages, with relevant notes quoted below.

  • On 1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath)

    The main takeaway for believers today involves seeing parallels between what David did and what jesus does for us today. David, by his confidence in and relationship with God, functions as a representative champion of his cowering people. Christ, similarly, is the representative champion of his cowering people. Both David and Christ win a victory the results of which are imputed to their people. Christians today are not meant to read the story of David and Goliath and mainly identify with David, but with the people who need saving.

  • On Psalm 1 (the lens through which to read the entire Psalter)

    The “righteous” man is blessed when he consciously lives in the presence of the Word, which we, on this side of the cross, know would become flesh and would cause his “law” to be written on our hearts for our instruction. Thus the believer’s life is blessed by the presence and care of Christ, bearing eternally significant fruit by being grafted into the “tree of life.”

  • On Ezekiel 15–16 (Judgments against Israel)

    Like the Israelites, we are often tempted to think that our own sin is not that bad, or that it does not deserve punishment, or that God will not take it seriously. These chapters of Ezekiel, however, show us that God always takes sin seriously. When God judges our lives, there will be no doubt about the righteousness of his judgment. Like Israel, we are hopelessly and inarguably guilty before him, and therefore deserving of his punishment.
    Yet at just the right time in human history, a new Vine appeared on the scene. This Vine represented Israel as she was meant to be. Those who trust in this One are united to the life-giving provision of the Vine. Indeed, those united to Christ are not living by their own strength or withering from a life of separation form him but are enabled to experience the vibrant flourishing of true life in Christ.

  • On John 21 (The end of John’s Gospel)

    After writing what appears to be the perfect ending for his Gospel, John adds an epilogue which demonstrates that we never really come to the end of the gospel. We will never outgrow our need for the grace of Jesus.


After spending one month with the Gospel Transformation Bible, I am impressed by it. All the notes—focusing on God, his redemption plan, and the Gospel—are helpful in devotional reading. At times the notes read more like sermonettes, making me say to myself “That will preach!”

The folks at Crossway have produced a very nice study Bible, perfect for new believers or those looking to supplement their devotional reading. I will likely use this Bible in that manner: as the first thing I grab to read in the morning. This will also become the go-to study Bible I give away to those students and adults I am discipling. I would encourage pastors and church leaders who are already using the ESV Bible to purchase a case of these Bibles for giving out to new believers.

Book Info

Thanks to Crossway for a complementary review copy of this Bible.

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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