If you haven’t thought about it before, you may think buying a Bible for your child is just going to a bookstore and picking out the cover you think your kid will like. Sadly, picking the “wrong” Bible can discourage your children from ever developing the habit of independent Bible reading – for the rest of their lives.
Thankfully, asking yourself and your child these questions as you purchase a Bible for each of your children (this is one of the most important purchases you absolutely must make for each child – or ask your local church to help) will help you choose the “right” Bible for your kids.
- What is your child’s reading level? Most Bibles are written on a 7th-12th grade reading level. Which means if your children’s comfortable reading level is below that, they will view the Bible as a frustration text. A frustration text means the words in the Bible are too difficult for them to read and understand. When forced to continually read a frustration text, a child eventually learns to hate that book – even if it is the Bible. Although we don’t realize it, that’s also why many adults don’t like to read their Bibles. They learned when they were young that every time they tried to read the Bible, they were frustrated. Even though they may now be able to read it fluently, that feeling remains. We suggest even kids who are strong readers start with the NIrV Bible. It’s a translation, but on a 3rd grade reading level. For a child or teen who hasn’t been reading the Bible independently, it’s a non-threatening way to start.
- Is the Bible a translation or a paraphrase? I am very particular about this. I have found paraphrase versions lose a lot of important messages from God as they attempt to paraphrase passages. It is also much, much easier for the editors of paraphrase versions to insert their manmade doctrines. This chart will help you know which is which. Although not perfect, I am personally comfortable with what they call dynamic translations for children – mainly because of the lower reading levels. If you have a teen who is academically strong, I would suggest switching to either the ESV or American Standard for better accuracy. I have found most students prefer the ESV for some reason. Contrary to what this chart states, I have read many critiques citing the KJV as one of the more inaccurate translations. (Evidently, King James had quite the ego and had translators switch out a few things to suit his purposes.)
- What study “extras” are included? Young children don’t need a lot of extras. I like it if the Bible has some maps and even a limited dictionary and concordance. They may not use them immediately, but it’s nice for them to have those things easily available when they have a question. Older students may like some of the extras found in study type Bibles. There are archaeology and cultural Bibles for kids who have a strong interest in history and archaeology. Some Bibles for kids and teens have little areas every several pages explaining something more thoroughly. As with anything, take a look at them or find a review and factor in your child’s spiritual maturity. There are a few Bibles for instance, that promote an unscriptural way of becoming a Christian as an “extra” or promote other manmade doctrine in the study portions. Done well though, these extras can help keep kids and teens more engaged and deepen their knowledge of Bible culture, geography and more.
- What photos and drawings are included? I hadn’t given this much thought originally, because our daughter skipped over most kids’ Bibles. A parent at one of our workshops recently pointed out something really important though. Many Bibles for children contain drawings that are culturally ignorant at best. The people of the Middle East areas in the time of Jesus had certain skin tones, hair textures, facial features, etc. Often these are lost in drawings and people are pictured without any reflection of what those people may have actually looked like. Not to mention, Jesus is always pictured as extremely handsome when the Bible clearly tells us his appearance was not “handsome” enough to draw people to him. (Isaiah 53:2). Personally, I prefer photographs of places and things in the Bible without attempts to accurately picture people of whom we have no actual contemporary likenesses. (King Jehu being one of the few exceptions.)
- What is the cover and does it appeal to your child? Yes, this is shallow, but I believe it’s important anyway. You want to have a Bible your child will be comfortable and even enjoy taking places with them or having their friends see in their room. Giving an older elementary child or a teen a Bible with a cover they view as “babyish” may mean that Bible gets hidden and not used. Yes, it may mean buying an extra Bible or two over the years, but you can put limits on purchases. To me, the little extra money spent is worth it if it means my child is reading the Bible more often.
- What about online Bibles or Bible apps? If your child has a phone, I would definitely encourage them to put a Bible app on it. Most are free and you can choose any version or continually switch versions. (Some require internet access.) Even with the app though, I would strongly encourage having a paper version of the Bible. Studies are beginning to show that with secular literature the paper version works better for students. I would imagine the same holds true for the Bible.
- What about cartoon, children’s story or theme Bibles? I am usually not a fan of this type of Bible. I think they tend to water down the Bible or make it seem like the Bible was written only for our entertainment purposes. Having said that though, if you have a child who struggles with reading or just hates to read, I would get any Bible out there he or she would actually read. Just make sure you have checked the stories they include for accuracy and your child understands this is not the entire Bible, but parts of the Bible someone has pulled out to make it easier for them to read and understand.
Taking a little extra time and effort to select the “right” Bible for each of your children (and there may indeed be an entirely different type of Bible you purchase for each child), may greatly improve the odds it is regularly read. That is most definitely worth the time and effort.