Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Jesus Storybook Bible

I've never written a children's book and I certainly have never tried to write one about God's word.  It is with humility that I write this post; I'm not trying to bash the author or question her motives but instead, point out some places where this story book Bible took liberties that other children's Bibles have not.  I'm not mad at anyone who reads or loves this Bible.  I just want to raise a warning flag about some certain problems I see with this book.

Problem Number One: Quotation Marks

I'll admit right off the bat that I'm a recently converted grammar lover.  I hated grammar in grade school, but after reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves several years ago I have loved investigating and learning the grammar rules that govern the English language.  Some might think that this is a nit-picky thing to mention, but if you follow my logic you will see that it can have more serious implications than you might think.

If you remember from English class quotation marks can be used when directly quoting what someone has said or, in a story, they can indicate when a character is speaking.  They are useful in narratives to set the dialog apart from the rest of the story.  The problem comes in this book when the author chooses to put God's words in quotes but does not directly quote Him.  Page 18 is the first place this appears, but just for comparison sake here is a quote from page 19 of the text:
God said, "Hello light!" and light shone into the darkness.  God called the light, "Day" and the darkness, "Night."  "You're good," God said.  And they were.
We know what God said at the creation of the universe. What God really said is written down for us in the first chapter of the book of Genesis:
3 And God said, "Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
This difference might be a small one.  Does it really matter if God said, "Hello light!" or "Let there be light"?  Maybe it doesn't but this is not the only time this literary technique is used.  In almost every chapter in this book, God is quoted but His actual words are not used.

To try and quote God but not include the actual words that He used seems to imply that God is merely a character in the author's story.   We know what God said and it seems best to me that we should only use quotes when we are directly quoting Him.
Problem Number Two:  Speaking where the Bible does not speak

In addition to adding words to the things that God has said, this book also seems to go beyond what is necessary when adding details to a story.  It almost seems like a Hollywood version of Scripture.  This next quote is from the story of Abraham and Isaac:
Abraham felt his heart leap with joy.  He unbound Isaac and folded him in his arms.  Great sobs shook the old man's whole body.  Scalding tears filled his eyes.  And for a long time, they stayed there like that, in each other's arms, the boy and his dad.
Was Abraham relieved when the angel of the Lord called down to him and told him not to kill his son?  I'm sure he was!  The Bible however, does not mention any of the details that this story book does.  I don't necessarily think there is any harm in this embellishment of the Scripture, but why do it?  What is the purpose of writing about something that we don't know happened?  I think in this case (and others) these embellishments are unnecessary and can hurt the validity of this book with older readers.  The other points that the author makes about this story (that one day another son will climb a hill and again God will provide the lamb) are great, but with these added embellishments the truth of God's word seems to be drowned out.

Problem Number Three: Inaccuracies

Going a step further than the first two problems, inaccuracies in the text are the biggest area of concern for me.  After the world wide flood on page 46 God is quoted as saying,
"I won't ever destroy the world again."
This is not what God promised after Noah left the ark; instead what God said was:
"I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  Gen 9:11
Is there a big difference or am I splitting hairs?  The problem with the first quote is that it implies that the earth will never again be destroyed.  My five year old pointed out during the reading of this particular story: "Except at the end, right Daddy?"  He is right.  God will destroy the earth again.  John saw it and recorded (Revelation 21:1) what it will be like when this earth is destroyed and God makes a new heaven and earth.  Also, 2 Peter 3 tells us that

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Problem Number Four: Using language the Bible does not use

...which can lead to doctrinal errors.  An example of this occurs in the story of King David.
No, David made a big mess of his life.  But God can take even the biggest mess and make it work in his plan.
Is that what happens?  Do we mess things up and then God makes it work in his plan?  Some people would say there is nothing wrong with this phrase, but I think you might be hard pressed to find this language used in the Bible.  Instead the Bible says in Genesis 50
20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Maybe I just would have chosen different words for this passage.  There was an opportunity here to highlight God's sovereignty in all circumstances, even those we seemed to have made on our own.

Another example is in the story of Ezra:
"God wants us to be happy!"  Ezra said.
This is a very popular half truth in our culture today: "God is love and He wants you to be happy."    What Ezra really said was:
 "...And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b
God is love (1 John 4:8), but God is also just to punish those who do not repent and believe (John 5:19-29).  Ezra wasn't telling the people God wanted them to be happy for happiness sake, he was telling them that God wanted them to find their joy in the Lord. 

Finally, on page 329 the author is describing Pentecost and saying:
...-- and Jesus himself was coming to live inside them.
Jesus lives in our hearts?  The Bible says (in Acts 2:4):
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
When we study the trinity we see that the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Spirit is God, but Jesus is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Son.  Jesus does not come to live in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts at the point of our salvation.  In John 14 Jesus explains that God will come to dwell with us, and that will be through the Holy Spirit:
23 Jesus answered him,“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. 25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Matt. 26:64, Mark 14:62, Luke 22:69, Eph. 1:20, Col. 3:1, Heb. 8:1 and 12:2).  To use Jesus's name interchangeably with the Holy Spirit does not follow what Scripture tells us.

Problem number Five:  Wrong emphasis

Several times during the New Testament stories (page 220, 235, 278) there is an emphasis on how Jesus came to heal the sick and show people that God was pleased with them.  When Jesus healed the sick or lame, even raising people from the dead, he performed those miracles to show his deity.  The point of these miracles was to show that He had power over creation, not that He was going to fix everything for everyone who is alive or even everyone who believes in Him.

Another stark omission is the mention of sin or repentance.  The only time I believe sin is mentioned is in Ezra, right before Ezra tells the people God wants them to be happy.  When we talk about Christ and what he did for us, how can we leave out the fact that our need to follow Him is really our need to repent of our sins and turn away from the life we have led before?  On page 258 the author goes as far as to say that God's love is:
...a gift and, as anyone can tell you, the whole thing about a gift is, it's free.  All you have to do is reach out your hands and take it.

While salvation is a free gift, it is obtained by a God given repentance of our sin and faith in Jesus’s work on the cross alone, and this concept is not explained well.  She does go on to say later in the Bible that salvation is not truly free, since Jesus paid the cost.  Still, no mention of salvation being tied to repentance.

What is right?

This book does a great job at a couple of things:
  • Every Old Testament story points back to the overall story, the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. 
  • Bible references are listed in every story.  I love it when children's Bibles do this because it makes it easy to find the story in the original text.  This is very helpful for parents and for older children who can look up the original text and read all of God's truth.
  • Artistically this book is beautiful.  The illustrations are great and changing the orientation of the text and image so that very tall images could be portrayed fully is neat and unique.
  • The book points out to the literal meaning of baptism: "he plunged them in and out of the water"

Your conscience:

I wrote this blog post not to discourage anyone from reading or purchasing this story book, but instead to offer a warning to my fellow believers about it's content.  There are plenty of other good children's Bibles out there that try to stay as true to the Word as possible.  One of my favorites is The Big Picture Story Bible.  We've had the The Jesus Storybook Bible for quite a while and I don't have any plans to get rid of it.  Instead we will probably only read certain stories from it and (as with all books) use discernment and wisdom when explaining these stories to our children.

How about you?  Do you love this storybook?  Are there things I (and the author) missed?


Betsy said...

I agree, my friend! I like the look of your blog, too--it's been a while since I actually visited it (ack--Google Reader's demise has made me go back and actually LOOK at blogs :-) )

Heather Davis said...

All good points, Bridgette! My kids are past the age of storybook Bibles, but I read this anyway just out of sheer curiosity. I would agree with you that sometimes small "mistakes" can lead to major lies later on. Thanks for posting!

Melissa Deming said...

thank you for your insight. I think you're the first one to explain these points! I found you through my friend Emily of Redeemed Reaader!We, too, love the Big Picture Storybook Bible. Blessings!

Kristina Johnson said...

Thank you for analyzing the content of this book, comparing it with Scripture itself. It was very helpful. I certainly agree with your overall points. However, the whole notion of treating this storybook as a "Bible" had never occurred to me... it was simply extra spiritual reading for us, and the different language actually provides an avenue for discussing meanings of passages and whole stories.

I would also like to point out that viewing Jesus miracles solely as proving His deity is not the full picture. Many gospel passages emphasize Jesus coming to make things right for people. His earthly ministry was the coming of the kingdom, the beginning of that bringing of justice. Matthew 12 especially shows that purpose of His miracles, alongside the strong emphasis on proving His deity. I expect you understand this since it was in your section on "Wrong Emphasis," but the wording made it unclear.

It is always good to hear from others, like you, who strive to conform their thinking to the Word. I look forward to perusing the rest of your blog's content!

AG said...

This is a great review! Thanks for your thoughts!

One thought that I had about the book was that it is written in a modern style of talking. Part of why I read good books is to increase my vocabulary and remind myself of proper grammar. This is much more important in children's books as we are teaching kids how to speak and how to communicate when we read to them. If we teach them in such a casual manner they will never learn how to properly communicate.

You have all probably read Beatrix Potter whose books are for kids, but they occasionally use larger words so kids can increase their knowledge of how words are used, and how to put sentences and thoughts together. I prefer reading this style to my kids especially as they are in such a formative time.

Still overall it is a good book.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin