Do you remember your first Bible? I do – especially the picture of Daniel in the lion’s den.
Those hungry lion eyes make an impression on a three-year-old. So does the angel at Daniel’s shoulder, keeping back the great beasts. In later life, I’ve often sensed that such an angel could be there for me in times of danger.
An illustrated Bible can be a wonderful way to introduce scripture to a child, but it can be challenging to find one that portrays the glorious drama of God’s history with reverence and realism. Here are some classics.
The original edition of The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes has vibrant paintings that many children find unforgettable. The text is geared to two- and three-year-olds, sometimes too much so. (Jesus turns the water into grape juice? The temple is called a church?) My dad solved the problem by paraphrasing while we looked at the pictures. Now my husband and I take the same approach with our children.
In our early school years, my siblings and I loved Egermeier’s Bible Storybook. The stories are written in a simple yet powerful style, with pictures on many but not all pages. (They could have at least shown us Jonah and the whale!) Still, the illustrations drew us in. Children often latch onto a certain face when they think of Jesus –
I responded to the strength and compassion in these portraits of God’s son as a carpenter.
Older school-age children love the Golden Children’s Bible, with text based closely on the biblical original. On each page there are vivid, dramatic pictures or maps – the stories of Moses and the prophets stand out. One criticism: Jesus is not represented as a man of his place and time – he’s blond and blue-eyed. This lapse did give us an opening to talk with our children about how no one truly knows how Jesus looked. Far more important is what he said, did, and asked us to do.
Our own children’s favorite Bible is a timeworn volume passed down to them from their great-grandmother. Published in 1906, The Life of Jesus of Nazareth has eighty paintings by the Scottish painter William Hole, with text taken from the King James version. It’s out of print, but well worth tracking down.
The painter spent years in the Holy Land in a quest to capture the spirit of Jesus’ land and people, and the result is powerful and haunting. Our six-year-old daughter will sit gazing at the pages for hours. When I saw her studying the crucifixion scenes, my first impulse was to take the book away until she was older. I didn’t, and watching her as she looked, I felt sorrow for Jesus’ cruel death in a new way. She wasn’t traumatized. Afterward, she and I had better discussions about Good Friday – about suffering and compassion and new life – than after any other Bible story time.
The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, Kenneth N. Taylor, (Moody, 1978). Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, Egermeier, Hall and Uptton (Warner Press, 2008). The Golden Children’s Bible (Golden Books, 2006). The Life of Jesus of Nazareth: Eighty Pictures, William Hole (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1906).