There is nothing like having a kid to make you evaluate what’s most important. So when I discovered that my two-year-old daughter’s Beginner’s Bible for Toddlers didn’t have the death and resurrection of Jesus, I had to ask, What are the essential elements of the Bible?
Writing a children’s Bible must be a monumental task. How do you take a book thousands of pages long, with hundreds of characters and scores of plotlines, and boil it down to make it understandable, instructive, and entertaining to kids?
This guy counted all the stories from children’s Bibles going back 200 years, and points out that the focus seems to change over time; children’s Bibles in the 1800s had more emphasis on moral development, whereas newer editions might have more of a theological underscoring.
My ideal Children’s Bible would:
1. Be faithful to the original message.
I want my daughter to learn from the stories the lessons they were meant to teach.
I’m not talking about using a “literal” translation, or some such nonsense. Every Bible passage requires interpretation; that’s unavoidable. But I had to unlearn a lot of what I “knew” about the Bible as an adult, because I was so used to asking the phrase, “What does this passage mean to you?”
But you can’t answer this question, without first knowing, “What did this story mean to them?” The Bible was written in a different time and culture, when people thought differently; understanding this is the first step to good exegesis. No tot is going to learn the word “exegesis,” but teaching the right lesson to start with can go a long way to right understanding when she is older.
2. Have historically accurate illustrations.
Even if my daughter’s Bible leaves out a detail or a moral that I think is important, I can (and will) talk with her about it; but the pictures it has will be probably be linked in her mind for the rest of her life.
It’s pretty much impossible to find a historically accurate nativity set; believe me, I’ve tried. It should not be so hard to find a kid’s Bible that shows, hey, these were real people (and they didn’t look like me).
3. Teach grace.
The overarching plot of the Bible is “Weakness, Grace, Restoration.” Most children’s Bibles emphasize God’s loving nature, but this is only half the picture; I’m not talking about graphic descriptions of Old Testament judgment and eternal damnation, but I do want my daughter to read her Bible and understand, “People are broken, and God fixes them. I need Jesus.”
Stories should be selected to highlight that theme — both as points in the meta-story, and which demonstrate those trait independently.
4. Emphasize the Greatest Commandments.
Finally, if we are to boil down the Bible to essentials, we have to start where Jesus did:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’… And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Mt 22:37,39
God gives us our worth, and for that, he is worthy to be loved and worshipped. And each of us is created in the image of God — meaning that we all have inherent value, and we are meant to reflect God’s image to each other. That’s something we would all do well to remember.