Telling the Story from the Bible

Children’s story bibles are not Bibles and, it turns out, neither are they for children.[1] My previous article explores the truth of the first statement.[2] Story bibles are illustrated, abridged, expanded, paraphrased, and fallible versions of the infallible book whose name they bear. They are not Bibles. But nor are they for children, at least, they are not just for children. Several pastors and reviewers recommend both The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible for use among adults.[3]

One reviewer of the latter in Christianity Today says, “I’m hoping to invite my adult friends over for an evening with the Story. It will help some of us (well, me) to retool our theology a bit. We’ll pass The Jesus Storybook Bible around and read it aloud, taking time to look at the pictures.”[4] Tim Keller goes further: “I would urge not just families with young children to get this book, but every Christian—from pew warmers, to ministry leaders, seminarians and even theologians!”[5] Others make similar claims for The Big Picture Story Bible, which one blog-commenter suggests adding to a list of “Books to Read Before You Start Seminary/Divinity College.”[6]

This is a relatively new situation. Prior to these story bibles, it is hard to find any such enthusiastic endorsements. What are we to make of this? On the one hand it could highlight the extent of biblical illiteracy and theological immaturity among Christian adults and, more alarmingly, among seminary students. On the other hand, or perhaps in addition to this, it could speak of the quality of these books, although the lack of any sustained critical engagement with them means that claims of their value are largely untested.

That testing, therefore, is the focus of this article. Although several story bibles have appeared in recent years, the widespread popularity of these two justifies limiting our attention to them.[7] My previous article demonstrates that it is neither an easy nor a quick task to evaluate a story bible. Drawing on the methodology my preceding article develops, this article considers these two popular story bibles with reference to four key relationships:

  1. story bible text and Scripture
  2. story bible images and Scripture
  3. text and image within the story bible
  4. the story bible and the child

Not every review of a story bible need follow this sequence, or do so at such length, but I hope in what follows to build on the previous article in two ways: (1) underline the significance and multifaceted nature of these relationships and (2) demonstrate their usefulness as a framework by which to evaluate story bibles.

1. The Big Picture Story Bible

The Big Picture Story Bible (hereafter BPSB), first published in 2004 by Crossway, now includes a companion audio CD (2010) and an eBook edition (2011), reflecting both the book’s success and technological advances within publishing.[8] Intended for ages 2-7, it is divided into 26 chapters, 11 covering the OT (201 pages), 15 the NT (225 pages).

1.1. The Relationship between BPSB Text and Scripture

There are four sides to the relationship between the text of a story bible and Scripture: omission, addition, reformulation, and transposition.[9] In other words, we ask, “What has the author left out, added, changed, or rearranged?”

Continue reading at Themeliosan international evangelical theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith. It is published three times per year by The Gospel Coalition.


[1] To avoid ambiguity, this article refers to children’s bibles as “story bibles,” “children’s bibles,” or “bibles” (lowercase) and the Christian Scriptures as “the Bible” (uppercase) or “Scripture.”

[2] David A. Shaw, “Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work,” Them 37 (2012): 211-48.

[3] David R. Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible (illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker; Wheaton: Crossway, 2004); Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (illustrated by Jago; Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2007).

[4] Ben Patterson, “A Very Grown-up Children’s Bible.” March 3, 2008. (cited November 1, 2012).

[5] Quoted in Justin Taylor, “The Jesus Storybook Bible,” Between Two Worlds, February 22, 2007,  (cited November 1, 2012). Tullian Tchividjian gives a similar endorsement: “The Jesus Storybook Bible is, in my opinion, one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the Jesus-centered story line of the Bible.” “What the Bible is Not,” The Gospel Coalition Blog, December 28, 2009,  (cited November 1, 2012).

[6] The suggestion appears in the comments after this post by Michael F. Bird: “Books to Read Before You Start Seminary/Divinity College,” Euangelion, September 14, 2012.

[7] Other story bibles published in the last few years that would merit further reviews include Starr Meade, Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010); Doug Mauss, ed., The Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook, 2010); Marty Machowski, The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011); The Story for Kids: Discover the Bible from Beginning to End (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011); Champ Thornton, God’s Love: A Bible Storybook (Whitakers, NC: PositiveAction, 2012).

[8] For more information see

[9] These terms derive from Ruth Bottigheimer, “An Alternative Eve in Johann Hübner’s Children’s Bible,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 16 (1991): 75.

  • Noah Braymen

    Dear Crossway,

    Please publish the ‘Big Picture Story Bible’ in a format that an adult (new Christian) would not feel embarrassed to read in public. We’ve read this over and over with our kids (3 and 1), and I’ve thought numerous times: “I wish this was in a format I could hand out to older friends.” Some may not be embarrassed to carry this version around, but a lot may. It’s like reading Graeme Goldsworthy’s ‘According to Plan’, but really accessible to those who don’t read a lot of theology (or who don’t read much in general). Appreciative of all the great resources you publish!


  • johnny

    my son loves the big picture story bible! As I read it to him, I sometimes wish that the author would have used some actual bible verses in there to tell the story. I know it is not meant to replace a bible but I feel it is a golden opportunity to memorize key verses. oh well, maybe i’ll just write them in myself :)

  • Emerson

    This is a great kids story Bible, but here is a thought provoking question: should we really ely on story Bibles for kids? I mean, those cartoon characters look pretty good, right? Just like Cinderella and the Little Mermaid. As a matter of fact we keep our story Bible side by side with Beauty and The Beast and Mothergoose Fables, so the kiddos can reach them anytime.

    Aren’t we passing a message to kids “hey, these are all the same, they have great moral values that reach the heart and makes you think”. But are we not confusing them to place history with fables? This is in my opinion one of the greatest downfalls of our society, and I believe kids’s story Bibles reinforce that.

    I think this must be thought over by Story Bible advocates.

  • erica

    I really disagree with this blog.

    And this is very interesting to me as I was going to order a new one and meet with a woman who is MR and have devotions with her each week. She has never heard the true gospel, she hasnt had any love in her life, her reading level is at a 3-4th grade and so is her mind.

    My hope for her is that she will see Jesus and His love for her and it will change her….

    I have read this book over and over with my children and think its great. We also read from our own bible and they each have their own bible (non childrens bible). And when we read the story book bible or when we just speak to them about God ourselves, the Spirit is working….

    Let everyone who is a believer discern for themselves.