Most of us just take it for granted that Kid’s Bibles are what they suggest in the name – the Bible. They just leave some stuff out don’t they? But how important is what they leave out? What makes the Bible, well the Bible? We really need to think about this. Because if it turns out that Kid’s Bibles are just some cool books that happen to tell some stories we have in the Bible, and don’t actually contain the Word of God, then we have a massive problem! Now there is an answer to this question, but it involves some thinking. You ready? (If you can’t be bothered to read a longer article – by this blog’s standards – skip to the last 2 paragraphs for the short answer. But if you can, I think it’ll be worth reading the whole thing).
There are 3 big questions for us to tackle in order to get the solution we are looking for. They are:
What is the Word of God?
What is the Bible?
What are Kid’s Bibles?
Once we knock off those 3 questions, we will be in a position to answer the question Are kid’s Bibles the Word of God?
What is the Word of God?
Ok, this seems like a good starting question when considering if Kid’s Bibles are the Word of God. But you might be thinking that the answer is super simple. Isn’t it just the Bible? That’s the Word of God right? Right. And not quite. The Bible is 100% the Word of God – yes! However, there is more to the Word of God than just the Bible. For example, in John 1:1 Jesus is referred to as the Word. Or what about when God told Noah to build the ark? That was before the Bible. Was what God said to Noah his Word? It has to be. So how should we define the Word of God?
People way smarter than me have spent years and years thinking into this question. And there’s lots of debate around it. But from all my research, I’m convinced that we can call something God’s Word, when God communicates something, and this communication does something. What do I mean? Well, God says ‘Let there be light’ (that’s the communication) and there was light (this is his Word doing something – namely creating light). There is a message and an action. The action might be creating something like in Genesis 1, it might be revealing himself, convicting people of the truth, condemning people when they don’t believe the message etc. There are lots of things God’s Word does.
God’s Word is more powerful than my word. I can make people feel good or bad by things I say. I can convince people of things or give them the motivation to do something extraordinary. But there are some things my word can’t do. I can’t create by my word. I can’t bring something to life by my word. I can’t ensure that my word is kept perfectly. God can do all these things. And they are all really important for us as we think about kids Bibles. Because as the Bible tells us, there are, among other things, 3 major needs our kids have.
Need to be made new (2 Cor 5:17)
Need to be made alive (Eph 2:1-5)
Need God to keep his promises (2 Cor 1:20, Heb 10:23)
God’s Word has the power to recreate our kids, bring them to life and make promises to them that will by no means ever be broken. This is why it matters whether Kid’s Bibles are the Word of God. Because we definitely want those things for our kids, and if the resources we have don’t have the power to achieve those goals… well let’s just say a fire will be nice and warm over winter. But let’s move to think about what the Bible is.
What is the Bible?
So what is the Bible in relation to the Word of God? Well the most simple answer (if there is such a thing) is that it is the written Word of God. That is, every single stroke of every letter of every word in every book of the Bible is part of the Word of God. But, we need to be careful here. The words in the Bible aren’t magical. They aren’t special sounds that are the Word of God. Remember before how we said the Word of God always communicates something? Now this is super important. Because what this all means, is it is the message of the Bible that is the Word of God. It is not the sounds. You quote the Hebrew Bible to a person who only speaks Mandarin, and it helps no-one. They can’t understand it. But when they understand the message (in Mandarin), when they get the meaning, then it communicates God’s truth and it does something.
What I am saying is that the Bible always perfectly communicates God’s message to us. He has worked through the dudes who wrote it down, so that it captures what God wants to say (and do) perfectly! Now does this mean that the actual words don’t matter? Definitely not! Jesus actually makes an argument that hinges on the tense of 1 single word in the Old Testament (Matt 22:23-32). The words matter, because they are the words that God has chosen to perfectly capture his message.
But if it is the message that is central to the Bible being the Word of God, then it opens the door for the Bible – which was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words – to be translated into other languages. Languages such as English. And we have some excellent translations in English:
(I go for them in that order generally).
However, whenever you transfer a message across languages, something is always lost in translation. Always. Which is why we need people who know Greek and Hebrew. Because there are some things that the English translations just can’t do perfectly. BUT – those translations I mentioned above do sooooo much right – so trust them. But what about Kid’s Bibles?
What are Kid’s Bibles?
So what are these bad boys? Because I can tell you now, they are definitely not translations of the Bible from the original languages. No Kid’s Bible is doing that. So what are they doing? Well there is actually quite a variety of approaches that Kid’s Bibles take. Most of them tend to grab as many or as few narratives from the English Bible as they can and kidify them. What I mean is, they make them accessible for kids. Some turn a whole narrative into 1-page (normally for preschoolers). Some will give it more treatment. Some Kid’s Bibles throw in a whole lot of comments about the meaning of story, or how it fits into the overall story – comments that are not found in those stories themselves.
One thing that they all do is have colourful pictures (of varying weirdness). And these are actually incredibly important. Because for a kid that can’t read, these pictures are his only direct access to the content. Even if mum or dad is reading to him, that is indirect access. But the pictures are going straight in. And this is a translation from the English words to pictures. And as they say ‘a picture paints a thousand words’.
But essentially, this all means that Kid’s Bibles are trying to make English translations of the Bible accessible to kids. If you wanted to get real fancy, you might say they are contextualising the English translation. They are changing elements of the text to make it easier for kids to understand.
So… are Kid’s Bibles the Word of God?
Ok, so we’re finally at a place to answer our question. We know that God’s Word is particularly in the message of the Bible, which can be translated from the original languages; even if some of the richness of the meaning is lost. We know that Kid’s Bibles aren’t a translation of the Bible from the original languages, but they do aim to capture the message. Some do this well, some incredibly poorly. And so, Kid’s Bibles are the Word of God when they accurately portray the message of God that is found in the Bible.
This means that some Kid’s Bibles are more closely and fully the Word of God than others, but they all lack significant richness of meaning found in the English translations. Narrative can only go so far. We miss poetry, letters, lots of irony in Jesus’ teaching and so on. There are some really significant things lost here. But Kid’s Bibles do have the power to draw connections and point to Jesus with a clarity that the individual biblical passages themselves don’t do. The Bible as a whole makes these connections, but only when you study it carefully. So Kid’s Bibles lack some significant things, and add some significant pieces when it comes to understanding God’s message in the Bible.
What does this mean for us?
It means that we need to choose our Kid’s Bibles wisely. We can’t just cruise around willy nilly reading Bible’s that door a poor job of communicating God’s message to our kids. It also means that we want to work at reading our own Bibles so that we can be helping to fill in some of the cracks left by Kid’s Bibles over time. It means that we will want to transition our kids from Kid’s Bibles to English translations sooner than later – as soon as they are able to read and comprehend the main message (for lots of kids, this would be reading the NIrV with you around yr2, and reading the NIV by themselves around yr4 or 5 – but there is lots of variation here). And it means that we can and should teach our kids from our Kid’s Bibles with vigour and with the expectation that God will communicate through his Word and do something in our kid’s lives!
If you would like a slightly more academic paper on this topic, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org