I've been using the NIV bible for about 25 years now. I started, like many, with a KJV, and when I found out I wasn't able to smoothly read King James-era English, looked for a more modern translation. The NASB was OK, but not great; the NEB and similar paraphrases weren't good enough; but the NIV was good enough and was certainly easier to read (the NIV is on a 6th grade reading level, compared to a 16th grade level for the KJV).
So why would I suddenly switch to the ESV after using the NIV for so long? Well, first, it wasn't all that sudden a switch. I've been aware of some issues with the NIV for several years. None of them are fatal issues, and assuming I stay away from the terrible tNIV, I really don't have a big problem with the NIV. But it isn't quite good enough any more.
Watch this short video clip from John Piper for an example of why.
It's pretty simple. Like John Piper, I want a version with all the words, but I still want one that is readable and has some flow to it, and in a modern version of the English language. The ESV excels at all these things.
I have two strong recommendations for anyone looking for a new study bible, and willing to try the ESV, or looking for a better version than the NIV, NASB, or other recent translation.
First, I'd recommend the Reformation Study Bible. It is edited by R. C. Sproul, and the study notes are fantastic and very much conservative and gospel-focused in their character. The bible is relatively compact, as the notes are not copious, but sufficient. There are other study aids included, and especially good are the half-page essays on biblical concepts important in the reformation and important to our understanding of the doctrines of grace today.
Second, I'd recommend the MacArthur ESV Study Bible. This one is brand new. I've used the MSB in the NKJV for a number of years. You won't find a more balanced but conservative approach to study bible notes than this one. Dr. MacArthur especially holds firm on the doctrine of creation in his notes. Now that the ESV is out, I'll be retiring my NKJV for a new copy in the new translation.
Thirdly, I will recommend the ESV Study Bible, though not as strongly as the first two. It is much larger, has many more notes, and has outstanding graphics (maps, charts, etc.). The downside is, it is heavier and bulkier, so isn't as easy to carry around. And the notes are not quite as conservative as either Dr. Sproul's or Dr. MacArthur's notes. Nothing bad that I've found, but not quite as firm on some issues of importance to me. Don't get me wrong...I have a copy of the ESV Study Bible on my desk at work. But I don't carry it to church on a weekly basis like the RSB or MSB bibles.
If you are looking for a better study bible, get either the RSB or MSB...you won't regret either.
[FCC notice, as required by a stupid, big-brotherish, overbearing federal law: I have received nothing from any of the publishers of the above bibles for this review.]