Evaluating Bible Story Books/Videos for Devotions

We have 10 children. And so we have collected lots (way lots) of Bible story books. Most were given to us or the various kids. We also strive to have morning and evening devotions with the whole family.

What we have learned is that most Bible story books are junk tainted with the poison of false doctrine.

What we have also learned is that we should not underestimate our children’s ability to enjoy and understand the Bible. Bible story books are a substitute. Some few are well done.

I hope to give the reader some ways to evaluate the value of Bible story books before purchase. It is nice to have the littlest children looking at good artwork from such books while the corresponding Bible account is read. Sometimes it is desirable to have a Bible story book with the readings broken up into simple time limited accounts.

And there are always family and friends who have children that might not otherwise ever read or hear the Bible read to them.

In each of these situations picking an Bible story book that is faithful to the Scripture is important.

Bible story books can be thematic: the Christmas story, Alphabet (The Bible ABC Book), Miracles, the Exodus;

They can be designed to be devotional: Eggermier’s, calendar based story books (The Children’s Everyday Bible), One Hundred Bible Stories.

They can be designed to teach Bible history: Children’s Story Bible, The Bible Story, One Hundred Bible Stories.

And sometimes they are just meant to be funny pictures with moral lessons: The Children’s Story Bible, The Children’s Everyday Bible, The Bible in Pictures, Veggie Tales.

Some basic standards

There are issues of material quality when giving a gift: is it paper or hard covered, glued, stapled, saddle stitched; whether the paper of the pages is fragile or durable; and whether the art work and arrangement is worthwhile.

But the standards we will consider here have to do with some quick ways to check whether the story book is faithful to the Scriptures.

Remember your Catechism: The Law, the Gospel, the response of Prayer; the Means of Grace: Baptism, the Keys, and the Sacrament of the Altar.

Check the story about the Lord’s Supper, The Baptism of Christ, the Great Commission. If these accounts are included watch for any rephrasing of the Words of Institution  or redirection of meaning away from God’s grace and forgiveness toward moralizing–making the Means of Grace into a new law to be better people.

This first set of examples is from The Children’s Everyday Bible published by Dora Kindersley Ltd., 2002.

Changing the Sacraments into mere symbolism

This is a calendar based devotional with simplified but eye catching artwork. The account of the Lord’s Supper is slotted for October 17th (not really great for observing the seasons of the Church year).

The text says:

“Then Jesus took some bread and thanked God for it. He broke it into pieces and told his friends the bread was like his body. Next he took a cup of wine and said the wine was like his blood. Jesus was talking about the way he would give up his body and blood when he died on the cross. He would die to save people from their sins.” (p. 300)

Notice that right away we see that this Bible story book is unsuitable because it changes the words and meaning of Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Moralizing Repentance and Denying the Means of Grace

This book also shows how Baptism is often twisted in Bible story books.

The book presents John the Baptizer on July 31 with the Baptism of Jesus on August 1.

Both the mission of John and Baptism are perverted.

According to the text, John preached, “Tell God you are sorry for the wrong things you do. Start over again. Live good lives that please God, because God’s kingdom is on its way.”

The text describes baptism this way:

“Because of his words, many people asked God to forgive them. John baptized these people in the Jordan River to show they now had a new life.” (p. 222)

So John’s preaching is changed from a Gospel of Repentance for the forgiveness of sins into a chance to reboot your life and try again. Original sin is denied and Baptism is made into a work that is give people a picture of their starting over fresh to do better.

A second example of Moralizing Repentance and denying the Means of Grace is found in the Pentecost account.

This lesson is scheduled for Nov. 6.

In response to a very short word from Peter the response is:

“The people wanted to know what they should do.”

To which Peter is supposed to have said:

“Tell God you are sorry for your sins, and be baptized to show that you believe in Jesus,” said Peter. “Then the Holy Spirit will come to you too.” (p. 320)

Notice here that Baptism is not acknowledged to be God’s work, rather Baptism is made into something people do to demonstrate to God and other people that they really mean it. Baptism is perverted into a human work for self-righteousness.

The Great Commission on Nov. 3 is reversed and made into a new moral demand. Instead of making disciples through the Means of Grace of Baptism as Christ instituted it, Baptism is made a moral deed that should follow the efforts to be good.

He said, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I’ve given you. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And remember, I will always be with you.” (p. 317)

So, despite the nice arrangement, compact lessons, and nifty art work, this particular devotional denies God’s grace, turns God’s Means of Grace into new symbolic gestures by which Christians demonstrate to God and to others that they really love God and want to do what God commands.

The Veggie Tales were terrible at moralizing in this way. David and Goliath was turned from the account of how God had removed His grace from Saul and given the kingdom to David into a story of triumphalism regardless of size–just believe. David and Bathsheba–instead of the account of horrible sins, repentance, and forgiveness–was turned into a story about being content with your own rubber duck.

But this devotional is just quotes from the Bible!

The Thomas Nelson’s Children’s Story Bible is a great example of how even a book that simply quotes the NKJV text can be bad.

The arrangement is a little awkward, not chronological nor thematic. The arrangement is based on the order of the Books of the Bible. So, if the family knows order of the books of the Bible, then they should be able to sort out the lessons.

The artwork superb, and if you ignore all of the notes and questions in the book, it might be fine to use. But, if it is just quotes from the Bible, why not just read the Bible?

The section on the Lord’s Supper is on p. 196-9 and is the account of Mark 14:12-26.

Here is where the book goes of in the wrong direction. Each reading is followed by a 3 part application with the headings: Discover, Understand, and Live It Out.

Notice what the text says about the Lord’s Supper in Understand:

“The bread was a symbol for Jesus’ body, and the wine a symbol for His blood, which He would shed on the cross, a sacrifice that would save us.” (p. 199)

So, despite keeping to the words of the text of Mark 14, the editors took it upon themselves to make an explicit denial of the Words of Institution which Jesus spoke.

Two lessons later (p. 204-7) we have the account of John baptizing Jesus from Luke 3.

The Live It Out section states the following:

Follow God’s instructions for living a Christian life, and He will be pleased.

No grace, no forgiveness, no preaching of repentance: Just do a better job at being good–with the implication that this is enough to make God happy.

In fact, looking at the contents it becomes apparent that the Gospel texts on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus are not included.

The book includes: Peter’s Denial; Jesus’ Ascension (with no reference to the crucifixion), And “The Disciples Find the Tomb Empty (John 20:1-10). It is ironic that the Understand section of this account (p. 239) says:

When the disciples found the tomb empty, they did not know what had happened to Jesus, because they did not have the “rest of the story” as we do today.

Since this very book does not include the “rest of the story” there is an implication–perhaps accidental, perhaps not–the implication is that the Bible does not record Jesus’ Resurrection.

Despite being nicely made and having great art, this book denies the means of grace and does not include the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  This would make it difficult to recommend to anyone.

Looking Carefully at the More Advanced Books

Sometimes there is a desire to have books with more detail and instruction. But the same basic method applies. Remember your Catechism. If the Law and Gospel are mixed up, if the Sacraments are denied, then the book is not fit for devotional use.

This last example is from Walter Russell Bowie’s The Bible Story for Boys and Girls: New Testament.

The book has an index, so we look up the Lord’s Supper and turn to page 81 and read through the account.  On page 82 we find these words:

Jesus took the cup of wine and said over it the words of blessing, and passed it to them all. He said that the bread and wine should always be in memory of him as his disciples had known him in this life, and a promise that they should know him in the life to come.

So Bowie gets rid of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood for the remission of sins.

These are the basic tests of a Bible story book or a video or a TV mini-series.

Other things could be added, such as, does it teach Millenialism, does it deny the Trinity, does it deny the Resurrection, the Creation, etc. But for most books and such, the test of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is more than adequate to demonstrate whether a book/video is worthwhile.

About Pastor Joseph Abrahamson

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson serves Faith Ev. Lutheran Church, Clara City, Minnesota (E.L.S.). He and his wife, Mary, have 10 children. Pastor Abrahamson is a graduate of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, and of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. He has served on the Faculty/Staff at Bethany Lutheran College teaching Religion, Linguistics, Archaeology, and Self-Defense; and was on Staff at the University of Wisconsin as an Information Processing Consultant (Computer Geek) while doing graduate work in Semitics. Pastor Abrahamson served Clearwater Lutheran Parish (ELS) from 2001 to April 2015.


Evaluating Bible Story Books/Videos for Devotions — 28 Comments

  1. When I was young, every Lutheran child I knew had a copy of Egermeier Bible Story Book. It has been in publication for over 100 years. I recently bought a copy for my grandchildren because I have such fond memories of it, although it was been some years since I have read through it. I guess I need to take a closer look at it and what it is teaching. Meanwhile for Easter I purchased a Bible in a modern English translation for the 8 and 10 year olds and they are reading them faithfully.

  2. Apparently the Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd Jones) is getting some good reviews for tying each story back to Christ. The line used to describe it is “every story whispers His name.” It is actually recommended for adults as well as kids, since so few churches are showing us adults Christ from all of Scripture, or rightly dividing law and gospel, let alone explaining the sacraments properly.

  3. Thanks for writing this. This is the sad result of anabaptism/enthusiasm becoming the dominant form of “christianity” in America, which the American enthusiasts have now spread worldwide.

  4. Thanks for the insights and glad to see another Lutheran with a large family.

    #2 terriergal – we have worn that book our and probably need to get another copy. Great for the little ones.

  5. We love The Jesus Storybook Bible. We wore out the first copy and are now enjoying the second. You can also get the audio version and our kids love listening to it as they fall asleep.

  6. Doesn’t Thrivent, still have Smidge & Smudge? The Veggies, before when they first started, when no one knew who they were & the Doughnut Man… pickin’s were mighty slim, back then….Davy & Goliath were long gone. Those I bought on Ebay for our boys.
    I remember the blue children’s picture Bible being in my Dr.’s, Dentist’s, & at Children’s (early) Milwaukee waiting rooms…can you imagine that now?

    I bought, hymn press button books, when our boys were babies, I screened what I could, LCMS & WELS, just didn’t offer much in the 90’s or well, much now. The boys learned the Church year from Smidge & Smudge, w/the CD’s to go w/the books no less….do they still do this?

  7. @terriergal #2

    The Jesus Storybook Bible is not Lutheran in its understanding of the Sacraments. For example: “My Body is like this bread. It will break” and “This cup of wine is like my blood. It will poor out.”
    That being said, every story talks about the need for a “Rescuer” and about God’s plan to rescue us and the world through Christ.

  8. While this is good to point out that some of the popular bible story books have mistakes, I would have liked for you to also include bible story books that you recommend to replace those that you consider flawed.

  9. Does anyone know of any good videos for toddlers? My son is memorizing all sorts of other television and I’d like to add some of God’s Word to the mix. He is able to memorize during story time and in song but that “tv” time is missing God’s Word?

  10. This is very helpful. We bought our 5-year-old her first “real” Bible for Easter. She loves it. Buy one for your kids as soon as they can read chapter books. Yes, a lot will go over their heads, but she does understand many of the stories (especially since she’s so familiar with the basic plot), and now she knows the Bible isn’t just a series of stories–there’s a lot more in there!

  11. Perfect! Thank you! I need to weed through our children’s Bible story books. Now, what to do about some that are just one story from the Bible? For example, I have 2 from a series – one is “The Story of the Sermon on the Mount.” I read through it with the kids, all the while watching carefully, and it *seems* OK, but it’s definitely not from a Lutheran publisher. I am going to compare it directly against the Bible to see what they cut out & added in. And I really dislike the VeggieTales….. 😉

  12. Why doesn’t anyone know if Smidge & Smudge, the 2 little mice, their books & CD’s are or are not still available? They were great!!!

    If NPD & CPH want to compete on a marketing level, how many do they have on staff, thru 2 Synods that can write, illustrate & compile for books & CD’s, for Lutheran kids?

    Good grief, if we did Davy & Goliath, what can’t we accomplish now a days? Why borrow & beg, if 2 Synods, have such a wealth of gifts & talents?

  13. @Jerry Freudenburg #14
    Jerry, I recommend reading a good translation (NKJV, ESV) of the Bible out loud in small sections of narrative at first: the Gospels, Samuel, Exodus, Acts, etc. Then go over one of the chief parts of the Small Catechism in a read/response method. Tie it up with memorizing a verse from a seasonal hymn. Then morning/evening/Lord’s Prayer.

    The article was written to help readers make their own judgments about other materials on the basis of sound doctrine. If you are uncertain about a particular book then don’t get it.

    There are some books we use for the younger kids learning: 100 Bible Stories (CPH), the old NPH Bible Histories (out of print now), the new version of the Advanced Bible History (CPH) but these books go out of print so fast or get new versions so quickly there’s no point in making recommendations.

    For example, over the years we have been given 4 copies of Egermiers’s Bible Story Book. Each one is a different edition, different page numbers, slightly different wording. The Golden Children’s Bible has been more consistent through the years, but now they make it out of such junky material that it falls apart each time you use it.

  14. If ya really want, to get those kids, who can read or are just learning…get a large print Bible. Our kids, have the one from ’04 Christmas present to both. This is easy, to do. If what you were trained, taught, and instructed, was what it used to be. If Luther’s works, only exist in Small Cat, then make it for younger kids, before they get to classes. It always amazes me, how really dumb sheep must seem.
    If we parents are than dumb, why don’t both publishing houses, offer what 0-11’s need?

  15. If you are looking at books designed for devotional use these are ones I’ve found good through the years:

    Luther Day By Day We Magnify Thee

    Laache Book of Family Prayer

    C.M. Zorn’s Manna

    Sacred Meditations, Johann Gerhard

    The Daily Exercise of Piety, Johann Gerhard

    I like the new layout for the Concordia that CPH has put out. I also like the Treasury of Daily Prayer.

  16. Jean,
    My boys are alot older now. It’s such a shame these are no longer available. Oma & Opa got them for the boys, way back when (AAL).

    I really don’t think, we do well, w/0-10’s.

    Until publishing houses, use the wealth of those gifted, to produce their own, for 0-10’s, parents do have to pick thru the slim pickens’.

    If Smidge & Smudge, didn’t last, I’ll wager they never made it into any of our classrooms either. Been, was borrowed out, and done. If we want a future, why do we not value, teach, or train our children, thru our own publishing houses? With things we produce, not borrow.

  17. My favorite devotion books besides Laache’s Book of Family Prayer are Meditations on the Gospels (originally from the late 1940s, republished by CPH currently); To Live With Christ by Bo Giertz, and the one I’m currently using, A Year With the Church Fathers by Scott Murray. I think that Meditations on the Gospels and To Live With Christ are easily usable with 10-year-olds and up.

  18. Just looked at a “board book” kids’ Bible that was given to a family I am catechizing (and the 4-year-old will be baptized tomorrow). I was pleasantly surprised. It has a simple, faithful presentation of the Supper, includes His crucifixion (can’t remember how explicit it is re: substitutionary atonement, though), and a clear presentation of the Resurrection. It happens to *end* at Christ’s Resurrection, which is strange, but I’ve seen a whole lot worse.

  19. @Joe Abrahamson #19
    Re: Eggermeier’s–I remember sitting on the arm of our swivel chair while my dad sat in it, reading the evening devotion story out of it. We got a copy from a friend at the baptism of our youngest, (11 years ago) and I was kinda disappointed at how it “vanilla-ized” everything–“softening” a lot of the stories (violence and such, tip-toeing around David’s adultery with Bathsheba, etc.), and turning the Gospel the apostles preached into a typical “Sheriff Woody theology” (“So PLAY NICE!”). As I read to my kid, I used the opportunity to put the teeth and the Truth back in. 🙂

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