One of the most frequent questions I hear is, “What Bible should I give my kids?”. It’s a great question, because giving your children the wrong Bible can discourage them from wanting to read it independently. Or it can be printed in such a way that perhaps it doesn’t ground your kids as well in scripture as other Bibles might.
There are three factors you need to consider when buying a Bible for a child (or anyone really):
- Is it a translation or paraphrase? Translations tend to be more accurate as they are making a concerted effort to accurately translate from the original languages to English. Paraphrase versions on the other hand try to gather an idea and give you the gist of it rather than attempting to carefully match word for word what was written. Personally, I don’t like paraphrase versions as I have seen author bias change the meaning of scripture if you were to read it side by side with a translation. It’s not every verse, but enough to make me uncomfortable.
- What is the reading level of the translation? This is where we have lost generations of kids and now adults as regular Bible readers. In many places, the King James version was (or still is) the preferred version. Ironically, it is not the most accurate (Many scholars give that title to the American Standard Version.). Even worse for young people, it is written on a 12th grade reading level. This means for someone reading on a 3rd, 7th or even 10th grade reading level, the Bible is what educators call a “frustration text”. This means it is far too difficult for the reader and the reader becomes frustrated even attempting to read it. The young person soon learns to hate reading the Bible, not because of what is in it, but because for years he or she has associated feelings of frustration with reading the Bible. It’s not just the KJV though. The NIV is written on about the 7th or 8th grade level – once again a frustration text for children and teens who struggle with reading. I have found the NIrV version is highly transformative for people. Written on a 3rd grade reading level, it’s a translation even most early readers can easily understand.
- What “extras” does the child or teen need or want in his or her Bible? A few years ago, the NIrV Bible had few options. It was considered a children’s Bible and you couldn’t even find it in more adult covers very often. Now there are adult covers and even a few with study aids in them. The latest version I have seen is for elementary kids – the NIrV Seek and Explore Bible. It’s a NIrV Bible with a twist. While the cover is still for elementary kids, it has some extras inside not always found in children’s Bibles. The opening section about the “Wayees” is a bit cutesy for my taste and probably not the very best idea for concrete thinkers. Each book of the Bible begins with a page covering an overview of the book, important facts to know and a list of some of the main people in the book. Every few pages there are little blurbs helping explain something in that passage a little more thoroughly for young readers. They also have activity challenges, like making a brick with mud and one of mud with straw mixed in to see which is stronger. They use their cutesy characters to introduce these, which I think isn’t necessary, but doesn’t totally ruin it for me. I didn’t read all of them, but a quick survey made me believe, with one or two exceptions, most are written in such a way that any Christian would agree with them. The back of the Bible has some unique maps I think are more appropriate for children than the standard maps often found in Bibles. Older children and teens may want more sophisticated study aids like those found in the archaeology or culture Bibles. As far as I know, the more sophisticated study Bibles are in more difficult versions to read, so your child may want to keep their “old” NIrV to compare when they get confused.
There are a lot of things when raising a kid that are optional. If you can at all afford it though, each of your kids should have their own Bible. If funds are tight, ask your church if they can help. I am sure in most places someone will help make sure your kids have Bibles to read and use to develop strong spiritual foundations in their lives.
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