“Hey Dad…Can I have a Bible?” I remember this question quite distinctly.  My middle son had seen his big brother stay up at night and read his Bible and he wanted one that he could read himself!  As a minister, I was quite pleased.  As a liberal and a parent, however, I was more than a little stressed.  The Bible, after all, is quite violent in parts.  Also, many (if not all) of the children’s translations are published by traditions much more conservative than mine, so issues of gender inclusiveness are not even considered or acknowledged.

“Ah well…ask and ye shall receive, my son.”  So, with, a certain amount of stress and resignation I joined that dedicated group of liberal Christian faithful, seeking the perfect text in our text-based faith for my children.  As it turns out, I am not alone.  This is a question I recieve fairly regularly in my business and, perhaps surprisingly, not always from church-going folks!  At some point you (dear reader) may consider buying or otherwise obtaining a Bible for your child.  The question of which one to purchase can be a stressful one.  Also, your children and your specific requirements may be different from mine.  Still, here are a few tips and suggestions.  First, the preschoolers, then the “I Can Read” set…

Briefly, there are many, many picture-books out there relating stories from the Bible.  Not all are created equal!  Here the decision is probably the most subjective.  Who is your child?  What sort of thing does he/she like?  If all else fails and you cannot find the one you would rather have than the one I recommend, then take a look at the “Children’s Illustrated Bible” published by Doris Kindersley (DK).  It has nice pictures, treats kids like they are capable of independent and creative thought, and after you read it to them, they may just want to read it themselves, which brings us to the next group…

Now we are looking for something that they can read themselves and that has some stories and lessons past the obvious ones.  Now, parents, you might find a few that you do not remember yourselves! I suggest making sure that the book has plenty of big bright pictures, not too many complicated words, and not too many doctrinal additions.  That is, make sure that the writers stay reasonably close to the original so the kids can make their own interpretations.  Now, this is not to say that you are looking for a picture book!  These kids are learning to read.  What better wayto encourage them in the ways of text criticism and grammar?

This last point is slightly in jest but also important.  Children will start to make connections and ask questions.  My middle son—now in first grade—still goes back to his Bible frequently (yes, on his own) and often makes fruitful leaps and comparisons between characters and stories.  The Bible we got him?  That would be “The Beginner’s Bible” published by Zonderkidz.  The reading level may feel a bit simplistic to some.  All I can say is that the point is to find one that they can read on their own and understand.  Hopefully these are stories that will stay with them forever.  They will have time for the more complicated grammar and sentence structure later.   Again, look around there are other good ones.  This, however, was the one that worked for us.

2nd Grade and Up
At Eliot Church, where I am the pastor, we give every graduating 2nd grader a Bible.  This is the one we expect them to use for the duration of their Sunday School time. There are a lot of different Bibles and some folks go for fairly elaborate ones that are formatted like teen magazines or try to adopt a fairly “dishy” tone.  I personally have tried to stay away from these. Instead, we have aimed for fairly “traditional” Bibles.
When I first came to Eliot Church, the kids received the “International Children’s Bible” published by Thomas (or “Tommy”) Nelson.  After a year or so, however, we changed our minds.   One reason was that it struck us a too traditional for our tastes.  Also, the language and tone didn’t seem to meet our children’s needs.  Still, it might meet yours and may be worth a look.

Now every child gets a copy of “The NRSV (or New Revised Standard Version) Bible for Children” published by Abington Press.  It is, in essence, the same Bible I recommend for adults.  The only difference is the pictures and notes, which help to emphasize key verses and underscore key points.  In fact, if it doesn’t make you feel funny, it is a good version for parents to carry around, too! 

Probably you will want to give your son and daughter a gift Bible.  I strongly recommend getting another NRSV!  They will already be comfortable with it and it is the translation most often used in academic settings.  If the gift is meant to be primarily for devotional purposes, obviously a smaller one that looks nice will do the trick.  If your child has shown actual academic interest, then I recommend springing for the “Oxford Annotated Study Bible (with Apochrypha)”.  It is also an NRSV and contains copious (yet clear) notes.

So, that is all for now.  I hope that this helps!  Please keep in mind that if you want your children to read and enjoy the scripture of the Jewish and Christian tradition, you probably should be reading right along with them…

Yours in Faith,
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot