Statement on the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible


Help or Hindrance?

Study Bibles can both help and hinder Bible students. To be sure, the editors of CMC pray that Crossway’s newest Study Bible, the Gospel Transformation Bible, will be of tremendous help and encouragement to those who use it. However, we have serious concerns.
Notwithstanding the fact there are contributors with whom we hold much in common, we are compelled to offer our critique. We do so for no other reason than to point out what we believe are major theological issues. As the contributors themselves are fully aware, we all bring our preunderstandings to the text of Scripture. And it is more than obvious the assumptions of Covenant Theology with its law vs. grace framework are much in play here.
The publishers produced a superb introductory video. In it, Ray Ortlund, Jr. explains that while other Study Bibles focus on what believers are to do and where they must do it, the Gospel Transformation Bible deals with the “how” and proper motivation of obedience. If the Introduction to the volume is any indication of what the study notes peppered throughout the subsequent pages are like in terms of theological flavor, then we cannot, nor will we, endorse The Gospel Transformation Bible.
Motivation of Grace
Let us explain. On page nine of the Introduction, under the heading “Motivation of Grace,” we find the following statement:

“The Bible recognizes no definition of grace that encourages moral license. Instead, feasting on grace fuels love for God that enables us to fulfill the commandment that is foundational to all others: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). When we love him rightly, we delight to walk with him in every dimension of our lives. Only the grace of God ultimately displayed in the provision of Christ for sinners can stimulate such loving obedience.”

Indeed, we affirm wholeheartedly and without any reservation that Biblical grace does not encourage moral license. Nothing could be plainer. However, we take issue with the heart of what follows in the paragraph. Does Mark 12:30 record “the commandment that is foundational to all others?” Or, is this the commandment upon which all others hang? Matthew 21:40 gives the answer: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  The ESV renders “krematai” as “depends.” It literally means “to hang.” To love God with all that we are is indeed the greatest commandment. It is not a basement or platform (on which something rests) but the highest affection, the attainment of which ipso facto fulfills the lesser commands which hang from it below. In other words, love fulfills the Law. Law does not fulfill love! This is a huge, life and death difference. The Gospel Transformation Bible has it upside down.
Furthermore, is it true that God “enables us to fulfill” this commandment? What does the text say? Paul writes:

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).

We don’t fulfill it. Instead, God Himself fulfills it in us, “who walk…according to the Spirit.” There is a world of difference here. That God enables us to fulfill is not the same as saying, with Paul, that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…” The former elevates us; the latter frees us. While believers are indeed active in sanctification, we insist that God’s activity in men’s souls, even by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, stimulates, and even causes, obedience.
Next paragraph:

“Warnings and rewards are also clearly given in Scripture to motivate believers through identification of the consequences of disobedience and the blessings of obedience. But in themselves, these motivations do not create an obedience that is a product of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In fact, if we only or primarily obey God to avoid consequences and/or to gain rewards, then self-love motivates us more than love for God. For the believer, biblical warnings must be understood as expressions of care from a loving Father, and blessings must be received as benevolent responses to inadequate performance. Without this perspective the warnings and blessings accomplish the opposite of their biblical purpose–creating fear and pride rather than love and thanksgiving.”

Is it true that obedience primarily to gain reward and/or avoid consequences is motivated more by self-love? If that is true, then the Bible becomes a very perilous book. Case in point: Did Jesus Himself not endure the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews12:2)? According to this latest Study Bible, if it be consistent, Jesus was motivated more by self-love than the love of His Father! But we know this is not the case. Obedience for reward is not at odds with Biblical Christianity. To follow Christ is to be obedient to the point of death for there are pleasures forevermore at His right hand! It is good to be motivated by the eternal reward of heavenly joy. John Piper has written extensively on this. With reference to Luke 14:13-14, Piper writes:

“Is this true–that we are selfish and not loving if we are motivated by the promised reward? If so, why did Jesus entice us by mentioning the reward, even giving it as the basis (“for”) of our action” (Desiring God, 194)?

He continues, asserting that “…it is simply wrong to say that Jesus does not want us to pursue the reward He promises” (Desiring God, 195). Instead, Piper rightfully argues that the pursuit of heavenly reward is faithfulness to Jesus! Loving God and pursuing His promised joy are not at odds.
Final Words
Evidently, the Gospel Transformation Bible is largely produced by a group of theologians that, for one reason or another, does not give Biblical weight to the work of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. This is a major oversight since the covenant Christ purchased is defined by Him (2 Cor. 3, et al). Furthermore, there is good reason to think the notes will largely reflect the theological framework of the respective contributor and not the actual texts themselves. Therefore, CMC does not recommend the work. Should you decide to purchase, we urge your caution and discernment.