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What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this story?

They’re from The Beginner’s Bible that I’ve been reading to Elliot. I was unprepared for how much these stories reflect my own western, 21st century culture: the bride in white and a veil, the idea of ‘falling in love’, the omission of multiple wives, etc.

It took me a while to work out why these stories had been so cleaned up. (Admittedly, I was sidetracked by the fact that Dinah gets left out when it talks about Jacob’s children.) But eventually, I realised that just about every character is presented as a hero and exemplar, not failed a human (with a few obvious exceptions like Eve, Saul, Jonah and King Herod).

So not only are Jacob’s wives and concubines edited out, but so are Rahab’s profession, David and Bathsheba, the end of Solomon’s life, and the exile. The offer to ‘ask Jesus to forgive you for your sins’ comes up in the section on Acts 2 but any sense of judgement is still absent.

There are things that are uncomfortable about the Bible. A wrathful God doesn’t sit that well with most people. And neither does polygamy and arranged marriage. But did Jacob’s foolishness deprive him of God’s love? Did Rahab’s past or David’s infidelity prevent God from working through them?

This is a safe story, from the bride we recognise to the ‘family values’ approved characters. So it ends up being exactly what you expect from religion: good people, comfortable stories. There’s nothing of the scandal of a God who chooses to love his enemies.

The solution to our discomfort with the Bible can not be to paper over the embarrassing parts, even with children. Because it’s in these that we truly see God’s character. Of course, The Beginner’s Bible isn’t meant to be a comprehensive theology but why begin without the building blocks of good news?

We need to see sin in all its fullness in order to see the grandness of God’s grace.

We need to see part of that grace as God’s willingness to work in cultures that seem immoral to us.

God doesn’t need our help to clean up the Bible and if we do, we lose the chance to meet a God who is in the process of making new all things, including sinful people!

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

13 replies

  1. I agree with Cameron – Jesus Story Book Bible, all the way. However, we also have The Beginner’s Bible, which is the primary Bible from which we read to Isaac currently just because of his age and stage. He just won’t sit through stories from the Jesus Story Book Bible. I must say that The Beginner’s Bible is still one of the ‘better’ ones out there. We have another one, for example, that just tells you that Noah built the ark…but not WHY! I think I see it as scaffold teaching/learning. We’re up to our fourth time through The Beginner’s Bible and Isaac’s only just starting to remember names of people…and that’s about it. Hopefully, he’ll start to put together the ‘order’ of things as he gets older too. As much as possible, and is present in the stories (or not sometimes), we talk a lot about people “disobeying” God and the “consequences” for that disobedience; terms we also use with Isaac in our daily lives (i.e. we don’t talk about him being “naughty”, but being “disobedient”) because we want him to be familiar with those terms, especially when it comes to understanding his heart towards God. In time the plan is, of course, to move him on from The Beginner’s Bible so something like the Jesus Story Book Bible…and have a few gaps filled in…and then further still to the point where he’ll have a non-kids Bible of his own by the time he’s reading for himself (God-willing)…and so, have even more gaps filled. Scaffold learning, no? :-)

    1. I like the idea of scaffolding Sum. I think that’s why I’ve been willing to continue reading this one to Elliot – albeit with a few editorial comments!

  2. Thanks guys! We’ve got the Jesus Storybook Bible plus a couple of others. We’re trying to equip ourselves before we leave for Tz with a range. We’ve also got the Big Picture Storybook Bible (more of a biblical theological focus) and the Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu (more of a social focus).

    btw. have you seen Rain for Roots – they’ve taken some of the rhymes from other Sally Lloyd-Jones books (author of the Jesus Storybook Bible) and put them to music! I previously reviewed it as ‘Kids music that doesn’t want to make you claw your eyes out’!

  3. I’ve seen a children’s bible from some time ago that didn’t mind the nasty bits. I remember a picture of people drowning in the flood and one with John the Baptist’s head on a plate!

  4. Thanks Tamie. Sum – you echo my thoughts exactly – totally agree. Concrete thinking toddlers need something like the Beginners Bible to help them develop a framework which is contextualised to their world and their developing minds. I personally don’t have a problem with the white veil as this is a symbol of something they are just starting to get their heads around. Ask a toddler/preschooler why someone is getting married and they won’t be able to answer; but they might however be able to tell you about a wedding. I think the authors of the Beginner’s Bible aim to teach age appropriately and in such a way, as to allow those further details to be added later once kids have the maturity to start to grasp the height and the width and depth of God’s love for us, but not to be bombarded by the depravity of sin. In this sense, I for one will be shielding the little people in my care from many of these ‘gory’ details (heads on plates!! but also Rahab’s profession; they can totally still hear the truth that God saves using unlikely characters without knowing she was a prostitute and without nedding to know why and what this was!!!) until they have the emotional maturity as people to assimilate these facts into their lives and not be forever after scared to go to bed and sleep at night!

  5. Karen, I’m so glad to have mum friends like you who’ve already thought about these things! I hadn’t thought about the veil, etc in terms of contextualisation for concrete thinkers. I’ll have to think more about – I think I’m reacting to it because we read so much of the bible through a western lens that we often lose its foreignness.

    What do you reckon about sin in children’s bibles though? Is it something to be left for later or just the really bad bits? What about things like the exile for instance? (the idea of it, I mean, not mothers eating their children!)

  6. Hi Tamie,
    Yep – I can appreciate why you would react to it in that way and for adults, I reakon that is totally valid.
    Re sin in kids bibles – be keen to hear others thoughts too – but I would say that the best way to do this is in the context of that part of the bible you are focussed on so that kids have a one point take home message….pretty much because that’s all they can take on board initially. So we naturally start by teaching the Fall and Cain and Abel (Big picture storybible – revealing the consequences for sin and God’s judgement) then onto the flood. I agree with you that as Christians we shouldn’t just shy away from the tough bits because they might seem uncomfortable but I try to think through what a particular part will be impressing upon my concrete thinker(s) at the time. For example: Does a baby/toddler need to understand (or even hear about) the death of firstborns before the exile, in order to understand that God rescued His people in astonishing ways from their enemies? I would argue absolutely not – they just need to grasp the big picture idea and have that ‘WOW’ moment of – God must be very great to have sent all those plagues and then to have opened up the red sea as He did….we can’t get our bath water to separate itself out like that – God must be very GREAT! You catch my drift?

    Another example that I shy away from at this time is David and Goliath. It seems to send a conflicting message about hitting/throwing at this early/concrete stage of development that I’d need to do alot of explaining as an ‘exception to the rule’ because David is operating in God’s power!!! etc, etc) Ofcourse, we’ll do gap-filling later when they have already understood the reality of God wanting them to be “kind to one-another” etc and are ready to take on board the Biblical setting and God’s purposes achieved through that event. Not sure what others do with this?

    In short, I think that teaching sin to kids is imperative, as is forgiveness, God’s provision of a Saviour etc, etc, but I think working out the most helpful context and narrative to do this in, is the key. – ie, final example: Loving others: roleplay ‘The Good Samaritan’ and then read it in the Beg’s Bible. (Btw – has some helpful Toddler/Preschool guides which accompany the Beg Bible and have opportunities the make the Word even more concrete in terms of application)

    I guess in the same way that we as adults don’t read the Bible indiscriminately from cover to cover but chose to focus on different parts of it depending on the time or circumstance, so too with the kids we’re teaching about Jesus.

  7. Hi All,

    I’m very interested to read your thoughts on this, and agree with most of what is being said. My key concern is, as Tamie helpfully pointed out, that by presenting biblical characters in an unbiblical way (as purely heroic), we subvert the radical aspect of what God has done and make it subservient to the (good) desire to raise our children in a ‘nice’ way.

    I understand and agree with the desire to avoid the difficult questions of sin with children who are simply unaware of what is being spoken about (I will never forget Chris Jolliffe asking me to do a kids talk on Judah and Tamar) but this needs to be done sensitively to the characters involved. Simply Bowdlerizing the text renders it a fantasy, without the pain, violence and heartache that even young children know is in the world.

    Regarding the death of the firstborn. I don’t have a particular problem with teaching this, in the context of the Exodus. Insofar as the Exodus is not only the liberation of Israel but the judgement of Egypt, its rulers and its Gods, I can’t see a way to present the material without discussing how this was achieved. Of course the key message is the picture ‘with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God rescued his people’, but any further discussion needs to be informed by what happened.


    PS. Why, oh why, are they always Blond and white?

  8. So I was thinking overnight about how to explain the exile to kids – most kids Bibles skip it which seems silly because they all include stories like Daniel and Esther which take place in exile. Plus, then they miss the opportunity to include a stack of prophetic voices and stories and Ezra / Nehemiah.

    I was wondering about talking about the exile as like a time-out. What do you think of something like this? ‘God’s people continued to be disobedient. They worshipped other gods and did not live God’s way. So God sent them away. They were captured by the Babylonians and went to live with them. They were very homesick. But God still loved his people. He sent them prophets to tell them that he loved them and that they needed to be sorry for what they had done. The prophets said that God still had wonderful plans for his people.’

  9. I like it, but I’d perhaps modify ‘went to live with them’ as it seems a bit friendly. Also I’d put some mention of the promise of restoration in as well.

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