In one of her TGC talks, Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin once commented that nothing can replace our study of the Word. No books about the Bible, no books about applying the Bible, no books about the Christian life can supplant the richness and value of reading the Bible itself. When we read Scripture deeply and often, God’s truths harbor in our heart, and the Holy Spirit calls upon them to encourage and spur us on in hard moments.
This wise advice applies to our kids as well. Our kids need to know Scripture, not in a watered down, once-every-Sunday sort of way, but in a way that equips them with the whole armor of God (Eph. 6).
And yet, Bible storybooks can help as we shepherd our kids in the Gospel. They can’t substitute for Scripture, but when books present gospel truths in an approachable, thorough, and theologically-sound way, they can provide our kids with scaffolding to tackle the real thing. They provide a foundation, a familiarity, and a fluency in the Bible’s awe-inspiring narrative of salvation that paves the way for deeper study.
The trick, I’ve found, is to find which storybook Bibles lay this foundation faithfully. Too often, children’s books offer dumbed-down versions of stories wrenched from their key meaning. Such books presume kids can’t handle the weightier concepts of sin and redemption, and so stick to “safe,” “cuddly” illustrations and text. While they seem approachable, the problem with such books is that they strip Scripture of its precious truths. In a decade, kids grow up, they encounter hard questions among their peers, and suddenly the cute stories: Noah and snuggly animals (with no talk of God’s provision), and a giant whale swallowing up Jonah (with no talk of God’s mercy), don’t offer any consolation.
In this season of Advent, as we all wrack our brains for what to place under our Christmas trees that offers our kids more than a transient thrill, I thought I’d share the storybook Bibles that we’ve cherished over the years. We’ve read these over and over again, and they’ve provided a familiarity with the Bible that has laid the groundwork for us to delve into daily Scripture readings. What I like about each of these, as well, is that they don’t present amusing stories divorced from the narrative arc of the Gospel. In some way, they point forward to Christ, teach kids that the Bible is one story of God’s astounding grace and love for us, and provide a foundation for Christian discipleship.
Without further adieu, here are four storybook Bibles we’ve appreciated over the years:
1. The Jesus Storybook Bible
Is this one really a surprise?
You can see by the package tape patching the spine together on our copy, that this is a favorite. In engaging text, The Jesus Storybook Bible does a fantastic job of teaching kids an important point that often eludes even adults: the Bible is one. Story. One narrative. Not an Old Testament vs. New Testament God; not a God of wrath, vs. a God of love; one God, one story. From the first pages, it establishes for kids that everything in the Old Testament points forward to Christ, who fulfilled the law and the prophecies of old. The entries are short and sometimes even (appropriately) humorous, and will capture the attention of kids as young as preschoolers.
2. The Gospel Story Bible
This is currently my favorite storybook Bible, even more than Jesus Storybook. Marty Machowski is also the author of The Ology, a solid kids’ introduction to theology, and in The Gospel Story Bible his deep understanding of Scripture melds with an accessible format that explains Bible stories without short-changing meaning. The text of each entry is long, so it’s probably best for middle-grade elementary and up, or at least kids who have ready Jesus Storybook numerous times and have some familiarity with the gospel narrative. What I especially love about this book, is that it digs into topics that so many other kids’ Bibles omit: God rescuing Lot, Isaac and Ishmael, the tabernacle, Nehemiah, etc. Each Old Testament entry concludes with a pointed discussion of how the reading points forward to Jesus. Highly recommend!
3. The Promises of God Storybook Bible
The Promises of God Storybook Bible guides kids through 50 key Bible stories, with an emphasis in each on how God keeps His promises. It ties Old Testament to New, points to Christ, and takes kids a step beyond “knowing” the Bible, to understanding what the Bible teaches us about God’s character — and therefore, why we have hope in Him. The entries in this book are longer, and so it might not hold the attention of the youngest kids, although if your kids are used to listening to books read aloud they should be fine.
4. God’s Love for You Bible Storybook
God’s Love for You Bible Storybook is accessible for the youngest kids, with short entries and vivid illustrations. It offers a line or two at the end of each reading to drive the main point of the lesson home. While it isn’t as theologically rich as numbers 1 & 2 on this list, I recommend it, especially for young kids, because it provides real-life examples of saints living out their faith. The book was published by World Vision, and in keeping with their mission, after every few lessons they highlight a believer — some missionaries, some ordinary kids — seeking to love others as Christ as loved us. It’s a great way to spark discussions as a family about how gratitude for what Christ has done for us, flows out into love for other people.