From time to time I have been asked what Bible I would recommend for kids. I think this is an important (and pretty tough) choice. For those of us with the means, there is a difficult balance between showing a sense of respect and value for a Bible (as opposed to a Little Golden book) and knowing that it will be put through the ringer (like a pair of jeans). Where is the balance? How much should I spend? Shouldn't I try to make it fun? Is a kid-specific translation a good idea? These are all tough questions.
I'll try to help you answer some of them, but let me express a few thoughts first:
- The Word of God is special and powerful—not the paper and the binding. The Word of God is living and effective, wonderful and working regardless of how it is printed.
- The Word of God is to be treasured in our hearts—not on our shelves. The most expensive leather-bound Bible in pristine, never-been-used condition is nothing in comparison to a $1 paperback Bible that is falling apart from honest use.
- The Word of God is to be done—not only read. James urges us to be doers of the word and not hearers only. To do otherwise would be foolish, forgetful and even fatal.
That being said, I have been blessed enough to be able to spend some money on Bibles for my little readers. I decided to get some that were nice and would last. I have chosen and would recommend to you the ESV Kid's Thinline Bible. I feel sure there are other good options out there, but this has been the most ideal Bible for kids that I have seen to date. Why? I'm glad you asked.
Even among conservative translations that want to stay true to the original text, there is a wide range of options. This is not a bad thing; there are many appropriate ways to translate text into a different language. We experience this reality even when relaying information within our own language. Should we give a word-for-word, verbatim recount of what was said? Should we merely sum it up? Should we expound upon what was really meant? Translators must weigh whether to render the text in a way that is more formal (conforming to the form of the sentences even if it is a bit awkward to read) or functional (conveying the function of the sentence even if that means changing the way the sentence is actually formed). It's a tough balance!
I believe that the ESV and the NASB do it best. The ESV does tend to be a little more reader-friendly especially for younger kids. Though I suggest the ESV, I would not have any problem purchasing a NASB for a child. In fact, if your church reads and preaches from the NASB, it might be a good idea to go that route for the sake of reading along. If this is not the case or your concern, I would highly recommend the ESV to you. It is a wonderful, "essentially literal" translation that is easy to read (for both adults and kids).
Once you've decided on a translation (ESV or otherwise) you find that your options have essentially not been limited at all. The ESV alone is put together and sold in over 300 different ways, and over 40 of them are for kids! There are a lot of important factors to consider here, and if you get any five evangelicals in a room to discuss it, you will have at least six different opinions. There are so many options, but they almost all boil down to one question: What (if anything) should we include in addition to the Word of God within a children's Bible?
I'd like to take a step back before tackling that question and look first at our goals. My goal/expectation behind buying Bibles for my grammar aged children is three fold. I want and expect them to:
- Develop the habit of bringing and using the Bible
- Become familiar with the makeup and structure of the Bible
- Feel a sense of ownership of and responsibility for the Bible
I do not expect my grammar aged child to study the Bible without the aid and over-sight of parents and church leaders. I do not expect my grammar aged child to understand the thrill of reading scripture (though I pray that will come with time). I do not expect any additions within a Bible to be substitute for reaching these goals.
With this in mind, I think that a table of contents and footnotes are about the only things that need to be included in addition within the pages of a kid's Bible (though I don't complain about maps or an index in the back). There are a lot of great lessons that could aid one's study; there are a lot of great pictures that could peak one's interest. However, these do not assist in my goal for a children's Bible. At times, they can even hinder! I have often seen kids get very frustrated while racing to find a verse of scripture. They find the appropriate passage first but have to flip past three pictures, a maze and miniature biography on John the Baptist to find the correct verse. One thing that kids' Bibles should do is help them learn what and where things are in the Bible. That can be complicated with too many extras.
This is why I chose the text-only formatting of the scripture. I actually chose this for myself and for my kids.
Once a format is selected your options become substantially narrowed. You have basically three different categories at this point:
- Leather Bound
This seems to be a classic cost/benefit analysts. I have purchased Bibles bound in all three ways, and my experience tells me that the leather is worth the cost. The paperback was less expensive, but it was too flimsy and too bulky to not get torn up—even with respectful use. The hardback, to my surprise, really didn't fair any better. As the old adage goes, "If it does not bend it will break." The hard back covers often rip right off. I have found that the leather bound is more durable than the paperback and more malleable than the hardback. In my opinion, it is the best value.
When it comes to size the principle stays the same though the outcome can differ from child to child. Obviously the podium Bible is too big to handle, and the pocket sized Bible is no more practical for regular use. When purchasing Bibles for kids, you want something that can be easily manipulated by their little hands and then placed in their little laps—too small and they don't have the dexterity to turn and hold the pages—too large and it's going to drop to the ground at the first squirm. I have found that for most grammar aged kids the ideal sizes are as follows:
- Dimensions: About the size of a piece of paper folded in half
- Weight: No more than 1.5 lbs
- Type: No less than 8pt
At this point, design is basically a matter of preference. I mention it because it is easy to think of leather bound books as stuffy. TruTone and others do a fantastic job of etching, scoring and color coordinating their leathers. Whether you are looking for birds, butterflies and flowers or lions, whales and swords or design elements that are simple, complex or non-existent, odds are you can find it. I pick the Bible, but I let my kids pick the design. It makes it a little more personal, and one's relationship with one's Bible should indeed be personal.
If you have purchased Bibles for your children and they are happily bringing them to church, reading them with you and have a sense of ownership, there is no need to go buy new ones just because the ones you have aren't the ideal size or binding or whatever. That would be missing the point entirely. We want our kids to hide God's Word in their hearts so that they know and love Him more. That is the point! If however, you are in the market for a new children's Bible, I do highly recommend the ESV Kid's Thinline Bible. With your involvement and by God's providence, I feel they can get much use out of it for their eternal benefit.
* Daniel Titus is the the Deacon of Children's Ministry at Flint Reformed Baptist Church.
** Daniel Titus is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. No proceeds from any sales of the above Bibles will go toward Flint Reformed Baptist Church.