Volume 38 - Issue 1

Telling the Story from the Bible (Part 2): Reviewing The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Story

By David A. Shaw


Children's story bibles are not Bibles and, it turns out, neither are they for children. My previous article explores the truth of the first statement. 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.

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. So 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) to underline the significance and multifaceted nature of these relationships and (2) to 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?”

1.1.1. Omission

As with all story bibles,we must ask what has been left out at every level. Which biblical genres and books does it omit? Which narratives within books? Which details within narratives?

My first article recommends that readers quickly survey the contents page of any story bible to gauge the omission of genres, books, and narratives. In this case (and for TheJesus Storybook Bible), however, I must confess a failure: that recommendation works only where chapter titles sufficiently describe their contents. The chapter titles in these two are, for different reasons, rather opaque, so in both cases I include a table of contents, with the author’s chapter titles and my summary of their contents (see Table 1).

Table 1: BPSB Contents

Chapter Title


Old Testament

The Very Good Beginning Creation
A Very Sad Day The fall
Life Outside the Garden Ongoing rebellion, Noah and the flood
God’s Big Promise The promise to Abraham of descendants as numerous as the stars
God’s People Grow Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph
God’s People Become Great Israel’s growth in Egypt and plagues 1–9
God’s Great Sign Passover, exodus, Sinai, wilderness wanderings
Going into God’s Place Fall of Jericho, Philistines, David and Goliath, David’s reign
God’s Blessing Grow Davidic covenant, Solomon’s temple, Queen of Sheba
Another Very Sad Day Solomon’s and people’s idolatry, Mount Carmel, exile of northern and southern kingdoms, destruction of the temple
God’s Promise Remains In exile God still sends prophets: Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel. Return from exile. Rebuilding, celebration, but old men weep

New Testament

Many Silent Years Silence from God, rise of Caesar Augustus
God’s Promised One Is Born The census, annunciation, birth in the stable
God’s Promised One Is Announced Angels announce news to shepherds
God’s New People Are Called John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, call of 12 disciples
Jesus Restores God’s Place Clearing the temple
Jesus Reveals God’s Kingdom Nicodemus
A Blind Man Sees Healing the man born blind
A Dead Man Is Raised to Life Lazarus and plot to kill Jesus
Jesus Wears God’s Kingly Crown Gethsemane, arrest, Pilate, abuse, death
Jesus’ Followers Are in the Dark Darkness in the land, burial
A Brand-New Day Mary at the tomb, Peter and John, locked room appearance
God’s Promise Is Explained Jesus teaches disciples from the Scriptures
God’s New Kingdom Spreads 40 days of post-resurrection teaching, ascension, Pentecost and Peter’s sermon; Gospel spreading to Judea, Samaria and Rome
Letters to Live By Letters inspired by the Holy Spirit with summary of NT epistles
The Very Good Ending John in prison. Vision of future, the throne-room of God, the place of hell, new heavens and new earth

A number of omissions are worth highlighting here. First, as is so often the case with story bibles, BPSB largely excludes non-narrative genres. It briefly summarises the content of the Law as “how to love God . . . how to love others . . . how to live as God’s people” (134).10 It includes no psalms, proverbs, or other wisdom literature. It makes some attempt, however, to summarise OT prophecy and NT letters:

The prophet Ezekiel wrote that one day God would raise up the temple and give his people new hearts. Isaiah reminded them that God’s forever king would come from the family of David. The prophet Jeremiah was hopeful too. He said that Israel would return home again in seventy years. (214–17)

These letters told God’s people: “Remember, hold on to the message. Keep believing in Jesus! Love one another like family. Forgive one another. Be careful! Don’t let people trick you. Run away from sin. Endure hardship. And look for Jesus’ return”.(432)11

At the level of books and narratives, the more conspicuous omissions include any reference to Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, the sacrifice of Isaac, Rahab, Saul, Samuel, any of the judges, Ruth, Esther, the golden calf, Jonah, Daniel in the lion’s den or his friends in the fiery furnace,12 the magi, and the boy Jesus at the temple.13 While material from the Synoptic Gospels covers Jesus’ infancy, BPSB‘s account of his adult ministry draws almost exclusively from John 2, 3, 9, 11, and 17–20. Consequently, the question becomes, “What has BPSB omitted from the available material in John?” The answer includes John’s prologue, the turning of water into wine, the “I am” sayings (apart from “I am the resurrection”), Jesus’ meeting with the Samarian woman, his feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water, his anointing by Mary, his washing his disciples feet, the entire upper room discourse (apart from one brief quotation of John 17:1), and Peter’s denial and subsequent reinstatement. This relying on one Gospel is unusual and interesting; it would be a fascinating project to build a children’s story bible one book at a time and to try to capture each book’s distinctive voice and mood in text and image. One wonders, however, in this case, whether BPSB‘s use of Synoptic birth-narratives and omissions from John’s Gospel dilute the character of John’s Gospel.

Turning to the relationship between BPSB text and Scripture in the retelling of those narratives it does include, there are two main issues to note. The first is a tendency to omit detail. According to BPSB, Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat of “a special tree,” not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (33). Moses ascends “a mountaintop,” not Sinai, in order receive, not the Law, but God’s “good word”(132). When Moses descends,”something sad happened” (134), but that “something” remains rather abstract; instead of mentioning the golden calf, the grumbling in the desert, and the desire to return to Egypt, BPSB says, “God’s people still forgot God’s Word. Many of them doubted that God’s Word was good. Many of them disobeyed God’s Word. Many of them did not let God be king over them” (136). It is “a ruler from far away,” not the Assyrians, who take away “many of God’s people” (200). Jesus “chose twelve followers,” but BPSB does not name them (284). “Some people who hated” Jesus brought the soldiers who arrested him (362). After discovering the empty tomb, Mary speaks to “two of Jesus’ followers” (389), not Peter and John.14

In part, as we shall see, BPSB describes events in more general and formulaic terms in order to preserve their unity as part of one story, but the effect of their omission is worth pondering. Part of the significance of these details is to emphasise the locatedness of the events: they happened in this place, to these people. The Gospel writers’ characterisation of Thomas or Peter will make an impression only if we are able to pin down who put their hand where and who cut off whose ear. This is especially significant for children. As I have observed with my own, they have a remarkable capacity to soak up names and details, but they struggle to engage with abstractions.

The second issue to note is that BPSB also directly quotes Scripture. Throughout the story bible there are short passages in quotation marks; on a few occasions these are Helm’s way of indicating what people were thinking, and some examples are paraphrases rather than direct quotations; but the vast majority cite the ESV.15 Nothing on the page identifies these as quoting Scripture, so their relationship to Helm’s own text is not as clear as it could be; the only hint is that the front matter mentions that Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV.16 Parents would be able to introduce their children to the idea that behind the story bible lies the true biblical text if BPSB identified quotations. So, should it prove useful, I include a list of texts BPSB quotes, the majority of which appear in the NT:

  1.  p. 17 = Gen 1:1
  2.  p. 38 = Gen 2:17 (alluded to on 34)
  3.  p. 69 = Gen 12:1–3
  4.  p. 78 = Gen 15:5 (paraphrased)
  5.  p. 114 = Exod 5:1
  6.  p. 144 = Josh 1:6
  7.  pp. 151–52 = Josh 24:15, 21
  8.  p. 179 = 2 Chr 7:3
  9.  p. 194 = 1 Kgs 18:36, 37
  10.  p. 223 = Ezra 3:11
  11.  p. 262 = Luke 2:10–12
  12.  p. 265 = Luke 2:14
  13.  p. 280 = John 1:21, 23 (paraphrased)
  14. p. 282 = Luke 3:22/Mark 1:11
  15. p. 284 = Matt 4:19/Mark 1:17
  16. p. 296 = John 2:16
  17. p. 299 = John 2:19
  18. p. 302 = John 2:20
  19. p. 313 = John 3:2, 5
  20. p. 315 = John 3:4
  21. p. 325 = John 9:2
  22. p. 328 = John 9:11
  23. p. 333 = John 9:16
  24. p. 343 = John 11:21
  25. p. 344 = John 11:23, 25–26
  26. p. 346 = John 11:37
  27. p. 349 = John 11:41–42
  28. p. 351 = John 11:43
  29. p. 361 = John 17:1
  30. pp. 364–65 = John 19:12–15 (paraphrased)
  31. p. 366 = John 18:33, 36
  32. p. 369 = John 19:3
  33. p. 389 = John 20:2
  34. pp. 398, 406, 408 = John 20:25
  35. p. 420 = Acts 2:15
  36. p. 445 = Rev 21:3–517

The text of BPSB, therefore, often omits details of narratives for the sake of clear, simple summaries, but intersperses that text with direct biblical quotations. The intent behind such an approach becomes clearer as we turn to what BPSB adds to the biblical text.

1.1.2. Addition

BPSB has Big Picture in the title because it attempts to give the Bible’s big picture, to tell the storyline of Scripture as a unified whole. To that end Helm’s text makes a number of additions. First, there are places where he points out connections between the individual stories he narrates. For example, the exile is related back to the expulsion from Eden: “Do you remember when God sent Adam and Eve away from him out of the garden? Well, God was doing it again. He was sending his people out of his place because of their sin” (209). Similarly, the way that Jesus chooses twelve disciples signals a reconstitution of Israel: “Do you remember Jacob’s twelve sons? Well, Jesus was beginning to call out a new people for God” (284). 18 BPSB also makes these links at the level of chapter headings. This is why the titles are less clear than they might be; they summarise chapters which sometimes contain several different passages and relate them to one another. Thus the book begins and ends with chapters entitled “The Very Good Beginning”and “The Very Good Ending.” Chapters dealing with the fall and the exile are called “A Very Sad Day” and “Another Very Sad Day.”

The most frequently used means of unifying the narrative, however, derives from Graeme Goldsworthy’s work on biblical theology, outlining the story of Scripture as the story of “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”19 Hence, summarising God’s work in creation, Helm writes,”God’s people, Adam and Eve, lived in God’s place, the Garden of Eden. And they ruled God’s world by obeying his good word” (35). As we have already glimpsed, the story bible then frames the history of Israel as God’s people who are given God’s word and enter his place, but then their rejecting his rule results in the exile. BPSB uses the same threefold formula to describe the sin of Adam and Eve, the grumbling of Israel in the wilderness, and the apostasy of Israel after the time of Solomon: doubting that God’s word was good, disobeying God’s word, and not letting God be king over them (42, 136, 189). Resolution occurs in the NT, which sees the regathering of God’s people and the promise that “God’s forever people will one day live in God’s forever place under God’s forever rule” (450).

The use of this scheme explains and, to some extent, justifies the omission of some of the details mentioned in §1.1.1 above. It also, I think, explains one curious addition, namely, a much-expanded role for Caesar in the birth narratives. BPSB introduces the birth of Jesus at length as a contest between God and Caesar; it devotes a whole chapter to the emperor and his motives for commanding the census:

This Roman ruler thought he was very important. One day he wondered to himself, How will everyone know that I am the great Caesar, the Roman ruler, the king of the world? I know! I will count all the people under my rule. Surely that will show the world how great I am.

So Caesar, the Roman ruler, the king of the whole Roman world, began counting all his people to show everyone how great he was. What Caesar did not know was that . . .

God, the world’s true ruler, the king of the universe, was getting ready to show everyone how great he was . . .

And do you know how God was going to do this? Not like Caesar . . . not proudly, by counting all his people, but humbly, by becoming one of his people. (235–40, emphasis original)

Although that seems a small amount of text, it amounts to six pages and emphasizes Caesar by giving him a speaking part. Moreover, the next chapter takes up the theme again:

Look at all the people on the road to Bethlehem. They were on their way to be counted, and they were very unhappy. They were mad at the king, and they frowned as they walked. They were angry with the king, and they grumbled as they walked. (244–45)

This parallelism emphasizes the point, saying the same thing twice, which is very unusual in BPSB; elsewhere it uses words very sparingly. And then, after the birth of Jesus,

While Caesar, the king of the Roman world, was showing everyone how great he was by counting all of his people, God, the king of the universe, was showing the world how great he was by sending his Son into the world as one of his people. (255, emphasis original)

Presumably BPSB develops Caesar’s role to serve as a foil to God’s rule. Goldsworthy’s framework explains this, but it is a curious addition given the restraint of the rest of text, even if there is some scriptural warrant for this foray into anti-imperial subtexts.20

Despite this addition and because of the flattening out of individual narratives to unite them under the rubric of “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule,” BPSB remains a strong introduction to biblical theology. Indeed we should view the book more as a biblical theology than a Bible, or at least at that end of the spectrum among books that call themselves story bibles. The Goldsworthy framework helpfully establishes the good authority of God over his world, the authority of his word in the life of his people, their role as the means of bringing blessing to the whole world, the corporate nature of the church, and the global implications of the gospel. These are themes that most other story bibles neglect.

1.1.3. Reformulation

Reformulations of Scripture in BPSB are minor. In a couple of places, Helm’s text deviates from John’s Gospel. In John 2:19–20, Jesus predicts that he will rise from the dead on the third day, but later in the Gospel, John surprisingly introduces the resurrection scene as taking place not on the third day but “the first day of the week” (20:1). But BPSB changes it back to “the third day” (385).21

BPSB also refers to Jesus’ high priestly prayer (“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son . . .” [361]) and contrasts it with the disciples sleeping, even though John makes no mention of the disciples sleeping in Gethsemane. This might seem pedantic when that material appears in the Synoptics, but it does raise the question once more of why BPSB chooses to follow John’s Gospel as closely as it does but reformulate it at several points.

1.1.4. Transposition

Transposition involves the rearrangement of biblical material. In BPSB the only significant example of transposition reflects BPSB‘s attempt to offer a Bible overview, for it deals with the return from exile in chronological rather than canonical order. In BPSB the OT ends with old men weeping in remembrance of the glory of the first temple (224), which comes in Ezra 3:12. Giving preference to chronology clearly makes it much easier to piece together the “big picture” in a single timeline rather than moving forwards and backwards in time. Nevertheless it is striking that no story bible I have seen attempts to cover each and every book of the Bible, let alone in their canonical order. In this sense story bibles are more story than they are Bible.

1.2. The Relationship between BPSB Images and Scripture

BPSB has Big Picture in the title not only because it attempts to give the Bible’s big picture but because it contains, well, big pictures. The bible itself is larger than average (square in shape), and most images fill either a whole page or a two-page spread. Schoonmaker is clearly an excellent illustrator. The images are colourful and dynamic. Characters are clearly distinguishable from one another, which greatly helps the child identify them on the page. An informed viewer could have guessed that Mary found Peter and John long before the text finally names them because the illustrations have frequently and distinctively depicted them with Jesus. Dramatic developments are well-captured by several means. BPSB depicts the plagues on Egypt in several panels on each page and, alongside them, nicely captures Pharaoh’s increasing obstinacy (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Pages 116–17, 118–19, 120–21

Elsewhere BPSB captures development within a single image. An image of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection captures the movement from fear to shock to joy as the eye moves from left to right (Figure 2).22

Figure 2: Pages 392–93

There is also the occasional anachronism. Some are humorous: John the Baptist eats a honey-and-locust sandwich (277). Others are more poignant: alongside the childless Abraham and Sarah is an empty cot, a bundle of towels, and a little toy in the form of a ram, anticipating the sacrifice of Isaac in Gen 22 (77).

The charm and quality of the artwork in BPSB is obvious, but what might remain underappreciated is the strength of the relationship between Scripture and the artwork of BPSB. That relationship blossoms in two main areas: first, the artwork is filled with biblical detail, something which is sometimes absent from the text (cf. §1.1.1 above); second, the artwork makes intertextual connections visually.

1.2.1. Biblical Details Depicted but Not Described

The illustrations of John the Baptist and Isaac just mentioned are cases-in-point. The text omits the narrative of the sacrifice of Isaac, but the image of the toy next to his cot alludes to it. Similarly the text introduces us to John the Baptist as someone who “did not eat like most of God’s people”(276) but does not specify his unusual diet; that is left to the illustration.

Additional examples abound. The text of the flood narrative does not say that pairs of animals came to the ark, but the illustrations depicts them in pairs;23 the text does not mention the raven or the dove, but two shadows of birds fall on the ground beside Noah in the image as he offers sacrifices, which the text also does not mention. Nor does the text refer to the sign of the rainbow, but the illustrations depict it twice (64, 66). The text does not mention Esau, but Isaac appears beside two smiling baby boys (85). The text does not mention that Moses escapes the slaughter of Hebrew boys, but the image shows his mother placing him on the river in his basket (112–13). When Moses receives what the text calls “God’s good word,” he is holding two stone tablets complete with Hebrew script of the commandments in the image (133, 134–35). The text describes the grumbling of Israel in the wilderness, but the image combines that grumbling with the provision of manna, which the text also does not mention (136–37). The text does not mention Rahab, but a red cord hangs from a window in the illustration of Jericho (145). And the image (but not the text) reflects the prominence of the ark of the covenant in the conquest of the land (146, 149). The annunciation to Mary by the angel appears on 238, but it is eleven pages later that the text briefly recounts, “God had told Mary and Joseph that their baby was the one promised long ago” (249). The text does not mention but pictures show the star over Jesus’ birthplace (257), the guard at his tomb (377), and his post-resurrection wounds (393, 409, 414–15).24 The same is true of healing miracles post-Pentecost and Paul’s imprisonment (424–25).

Probably this was an intentional partnership, with Helm’s text giving a stylised overview and the artwork supplying more of the detail. In any case, the result of placing more detail in the artwork is to make that detail less explicit. It takes a biblically literate adult to point out and explain those details which the text omits. In BPSB‘s favour, however, the artwork itself remains remarkable for its biblical literacy.

1.2.2. Intertextual Connections Made Visually

In my previous article I note how the artwork for Gen 3 establishes several visual motifs which recur throughout BPSB: the artwork recreates a pose of worship that highlights the fall of humanity away from worship into idolatry and the restoration of true worship in the NT; a piece of fruit, half-eaten and discarded by Adam and Eve, appears again beside Solomon as he turns away from God; the conquest of Canaan and the exile from Judah show that God gave Israel a new Eden and that Israel lost it, recapitulating the fall; and finally, Schoonmaker connects Adam and Christ through their physical appearance and through the (somewhat incongruous) motif of a fox which appears in Eden and at the resurrection. 25 All of these recreate visually the intertextual features of the biblical text, and subsequent illustrations develop several more visual allusions beyond the creation narrative. Here are three examples:

First, the text connects Jesus’ twelve disciples and Jacob’s twelve sons (284) as well as the growth of Israel and the reconstituted people of God after Pentecost (423). The image of Jesus’ reunion with his disciples further strengthens this connection by echoing Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers (100, 394, Figure 3).

Figure 3: Pages 100, 394

Second, the illustrations brilliantly capture the promise of inward transformation by the Holy Spirit in the new covenant (Figure 4). The image accompanying the précis of Ezekiel’s message establishes a pattern of personal transformation, representing the Spirit’s work by swirls of wind or cloud (214–15). Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus replicates this, just as Jesus alludes to Ezekiel in his insistence that one must be born again of the Spirit (318–19; see John 3:5).26 The same image of the Spirit’s activity appears in the retelling of Acts 2 both to show the transformation of the disciples (418) and the substance of Peter’s sermon (420–21). Finally, the motif of the Spirit’s work represents the Spirit’s inspiration of the NT (432–33).

Figure 4: Pages 214–15, 318–19, 418, 420–21, 432–33

Third, a recurring visual motif of a star highlights the line of promise from Isaac onwards and the sense in which David, Solomon, and others are typologically as well as physically related to Christ (Figure 5). This first appears in the Isaac narrative (83, 84 and alluded to again on 317), then on Jacob’s crib (85), around Joseph’s neck (86), on David’s throne or around his neck (165, 167, 168, 173), on Jesus in the image representing the promise of the Davidic covenant (170, shown again on 405 and 411), and finally on Solomon (175, 177, 181, 185, 187, 189).

Figure 5: Pages 84–85, 86, 165, 170, 180–81

Each of these visual links has a firm basis in the biblical text and demonstrates the strength of relationship between Schoonmaker’s artwork and Scripture. Less clearly derived from intertextual references in Scripture but effective nonetheless are moments when Schoonmaker gives us a God’s-eye view (Figure 6), looking down on his people as they grumble against God (58–59), call out to him (110, 156–57, 430), or praise him (32, 84, 168–69, 22–23, 416).

Figure 6: Pages 58–59, 156–57

Anecdotally, a number of parents have mentioned that children find the viewing angle of such artwork in BPSB disorientating. We will say more below about the significance of the point of view for how it communicates with the viewer; for now, suffice it to say there is probably a balance to strike. BPSB illustrates some scenes from above without any obvious gain (e.g. 112–13, 438), but the images in Figure 6 helpfully retain a vertical dimension to story bibles, reminding readers that the Bible is the story of God and his redemption of all creation so that we might worship him.

One final feature of the relationship between the artwork of BPSB and Scripture is that it adds a thematic animal to many of the narratives. My first article draws attention to this: “throughout The Big Picture Story Bible animals are used to demarcate narratives; a cat appears throughout the Abraham narrative, Joseph is accompanied by a lizard, butterflies populate Jerusalem post-exile, and in Eden, Eve is attended (and often has her modesty preserved) by a fox.”27 That is not, however, the full extent of it. Many of the narratives have an animal in attendance, as Table 2 highlights.

Table 2: Thematic Animals

Person or Event

Thematic Animal


Creation and Resurrection


23, 24–25, 26–27, 28–29, 32, 34–25, 46–47, 52–53, 384, 387, 389

Abraham and Sarah


70–71, 72–73, 74–75, 76, 78–79

Ram 67, 68–9, 70–1, 72–73, 74–75, 77 (as a toy) 78–79



86, 88, 90, 91, 93, 95, 97


87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 95, 97, 99

Passover and exodus


125, 126, 129, 130, 137, 138–39

Conquest of Canaan and Davidic reign

Bee (?)

144, 154, 164

Prophets and exile


191, 192–93, 195, 196–97, 198, 203, 204, 207, 209

Return from exile


211, 215, 218, 221, 223

Birth of Jesus

Mouse (?)

236–37, 240, 243, 251, 253

Baptism of Jesus and call of disciples


281, 282, 284


The mouse reappears!

312, 314, 317, 321

Healing of the blind man Turtle 324, 326, 328, 335
Resurrection of Lazarus Rock Hyrax28 343, 346, 348, 353, 354

Some of these animals, mice and dogs for example, recur at intervals throughout, but their concentration in specific narratives is clearly intentional, and most occur only in these sections. But why? Some story bibles hide an animal on each page for the child to find (which in my experience merely distracts children until they find it!),29 but there is no such suggestion here. In the case of the exile, the dogs are anthropomorphised characters: they are mistreated by God’s people (198); they cover their eyes at the sight of other violence (203) and are taken into exile (207, 209).30 In one instance the animals contribute to the intertextual connections we have been discussing: the fox creates a link between creation and new creation. In others there is, perhaps, some correspondence between the narrative and its animal counterpart: a bee for the conquest of the land flowing with milk and honey? A dove at the exodus signifying sacrifice or the Spirit’s presence (Neh 9:20)? Butterflies as the people emerge from the cocoon of exile or anticipating transformation in the new covenant? A snail representing Joseph’s nomadic existence with his possessions on his back?31 As I argue in my earlier article, there is an opportunity here. Story bible artwork can replicate the intertextual connections of Scripture visually, and it can likewise capture something of Scripture’s characterisation and other motifs. The Gospel of John’s use of light and dark imagery lends itself well to this, and the text and artwork of BPSB are alert to that, at least in the Nicodemus scene. Why Abraham is never without a cat is less clear.

To sum up, Schoonmaker’s illustrations have a strong relationship with Scripture. First, they are full of biblical detail, supplementing a more stylised and generalised text. Second, they make visual connections very effectively, linking OT promises and typological patterns with their fulfilment. In that respect they are without equal in story bibles.

1.3. The Relationship between Text and Image within BPSB

The first two relationships consider the connection of the story bible to the Bible. Now we turn to the relationship within the story bible of text and image. Their relationship can be characterised as one of enhancement, counterpoint, or contradiction.32 These are really points on a spectrum from a position where the two are in complete harmony, to where they offer complementary but different information, to where they fall into mutual contradiction. We have already noted a degree of counterpoint on the question of how much biblical detail text and artwork supply. There is, as far as I can see, no instance of outright contradiction. But there is a clear sense in which text and artwork mutually rely upon one another in a couple of ways we have not yet addressed.

First, the text relies on the artwork. BPSB text asks the reader approximately fifty questions, and the second most common question (after “Do you know . . .?”or “Can you guess . . . ?”) is “Can you see . . . ?”33 Far more than any other story bible, the text of BPSB sends its hearers to the image.

Second, the artwork draws upon and reinforces the text in powerful ways. Two examples will suffice. First, at creation, as Helm’s text emphasises creation by word, Schoonmaker has lands and creatures coming out of the words “land” and “creatures”(18–19, Figure 7).

Figure 7: Pages 18–19

The second example concerns the growth of the church after Pentecost where againSchoonmaker’s illustrations enhance the emphasis of the text. The artwork give windows onto the growth of the church made up of circular images which both become more crowded scenes and the pictures themselves grow in size across the double-page spread (424–25, Figure 8).

Figure 8: Pages 424–25

Most notably however, the illustrations further the aims of BPSB in part 23, the chapter devoted to Jesus’ opening up the Scriptures to his disciples. Schoonmaker’s images draw together earlier artwork to confirm the text’s claim that there have been “many word pictures that proved he must die to pay the penalty for sin” (402–3) and that in the OT “were many pictures that promised he would rise again” (404–5, both in Figure 9). Finally behind the text which reads,”Do you see the Lord? Painted on the pages of Israel’s hard and happy history is the big picture of God’s forever king,”the image highlights Jesus’ links with Adam and God’s presence in the tabernacle, the promise of the Davidic king and the events of Jesus’ life (410–11).

Figure 9: Pages 402–3, 404–5, 410–11

The whole effect, therefore, is a marriage of word and image uncommon in story bibles. Sometimes one wonders if the author and artist ever even spoke, but BPSB unites word and image in pursuit of its goals. But what exactly are its goals? For a fuller consideration of that, we come to the last of the four relationships.

1.4. The Relationship between BPSB and the Child

Story bibles are rarely simply abridged and illustrated versions of Scripture. Increasingly they add commentary, discussion questions, prayers, and so on, which require careful reading. How does the story bible view the child and his or her needs? How is the child being encouraged to respond to God or to conduct themselves? Even the purely abridged versions reveal something by what they deem worth including or omitting. Already in the case of BPSB there is the sense that its main aim is to offer a Bible overview, helping children see how the parts fit the whole and how the whole points to Christ. To explore this further we will consider first the engagement of the child from within the text and then consider how the artwork engages and situates the child.

1.4.1. Textual Interaction

Unlike some other story bibles, BPSB has no discussion questions at the end of chapters or in separate text boxes.34 There is only the continuing narrative of the “big picture.”But within that narrative there are comments and questions which engage the child more directly. First, confirming the desire to offer a Bible overview, there are instances where individual narratives are connected to the whole. Three times, the text asks,”Do you remember?”reinforcing why Adam and Eve had to leave the garden (52), linking that expulsion with the exile (208) and linking Jacob’s sons with Jesus’ disciples (284). Elsewhere the account of Solomon’s wisdom finishes with the question “Does this make you wonder if Solomon might be God’s forever king?”(184). Later the text voices the disciples’ questions for the reader’s benefit after Jesus’ death: “Will God ever rescue his people from sin? Will we ever have our place with him? Will God ever bring again his blessings on all peoples of the earth?”(380, emphasis original). Leaving aside “Did you know?”and “Can you see?,”35 the remainder of the questions directed at the reader are more significant:

Adam and Eve were very special to God. Did you know that you are also very special to God? (26)

Now Adam and Eve had a choice to make . . . What do you think you would have done? (41)

Can you imagine what God thought about all of this? God was very angry. (44)

Do you know why God had to punish them? God punished them because they disobeyed God’s word, which was meant to rule over his place and his people. (45–46)

Do you know what the flood teaches us? God will judge every single person who rejects him as king. And do you know what God’s judgment teaches us? Every single person needs God’s blessing. (65)

[After God sends fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice] But do you think this made them return to God? No, it didn’t. They continued to disobey God’s word. (198)

[After Jesus has shown how Scripture points to himself] Do you see the Lord? (410)

[Raising the question of how the growing church would be taught beyond the apostolic age] God’s people were growing in number. But how would they grow strong in their faith? . . . Would God’s people know what to do? God knew what to do for his people! God chose some of Jesus’ special followers to write letters to complete God’s holy book. (429, 431–32)

God’s forever people will one day live in God’s forever place under God’s forever rule. Can you believe it? (450–52)

A number of observations flow from this. First, and in passing, there is a glimpse here of how frequently BPSB invokes the Goldsworthy framework. Second, in most cases the text answers the question, indicating that the question-and-answer format is a means of emphasis. Third, in the fall and flood sections, divine judgment is clear and applies universally. Fourth, the solution is “blessing”from God, “belief,” and as the NT section of BPSB makes clear, that belief involves repentance (421, 423) and following Jesus as king (282–83, 426, 428). Fifth, the questions unanswered by the text ask the child if they would have done as Adam and Eve did, whether they can see how the Bible points to Christ, and if they can believe that God will bring full and final salvation to the world. All in all, not a bad set of questions to put to a child! Taken together, this reveals that as well as wanting to communicate the “big picture” there is also a desire to show children their need of forgiveness, the certainty of God’s judgment, the authority as well as the love of Jesus, and the centrality of the word in the life of his church.

1.4.2. Visual Interaction

Images engage their views in several ways: by manipulating the point of view, by making eye contact between characters and the viewer, and by framing, which brings the viewer near, either by use of close-ups or by softening the edges of the image. The last of these is the most subtle, but it is worth noting that BPSB‘s images almost always fill the page or have soft edges which bring the viewer nearer to the action, compared to artwork with strong borders. The use of close-ups has more impact. My first article highlights how BPSB uses close-ups and point-of-view in the fall narrative, where Schoonmaker puts the viewer literally in Adam and Eve’s position, looking up at the fruit; and when they eat it, the close-up makes the viewer so proximate as to feel complicit (Figure 10).36 In effect the image subtly answers the text’s question about whether we would have done as they did.

Figure 10: Pages 40–41, 42–43

Frequently, as §1.2.2 notes, the illustrations give the viewer the point of view of God himself as his people cry out to him or praise him. This is especially effective when the text invites us to see God’s perspective on the fall for example (Figure 11), and throughout the work, it preserves the sense that the Bible is the story of how God relates to his people, rather than an anthology of heroes and cautionary tales.

Figure 11: Pages 44–45

In other places we stand with Adam and Eve praising the Creator (30), with Abraham gazing at countless stars (80–81). We are in the cave with Lazarus, seeing and hearing Jesus call him/us out (350–51), and we stand with Peter and John as Mary rushes towards us with news of the resurrection (388–89). This variety is helpful. Scripture teaches that we are in Adam, that we are Abraham’s offspring, and so on, but Scripture also, as God’s self-revelation, tells us how he sees us and how he sees the world, and so for story-bible artwork to give us that point of view at choice moments is beneficial.

1.5. Conclusions

As I have become fond of saying, choosing a story bible is like choosing a commentary. It is not possible to say which is the “best”; it all depends who it is for (learned scholar, busy pastor, newly converted church member?) and what they need it for (help with Greek exegesis or for devotional reading on holiday?). Every story bible, like every commentary, should handle God’s word with care, but after that, there are legitimate and very different directions they can take. BPSB aims to present the Bible as a single story in which God’s king, his Son, brings blessing to the world through his death and resurrection for our sin and who reestablishes God’s rule over his world. The clarity of that presentation, derived from Goldsworthy, comes at the expense of the detail and texture of individual narratives, but that is in the nature of Bible overviews. The prominence of Caesar in the birth narratives is an oddity in an otherwise faithful story bible, and the use of ESV quotations, though unreferenced, tunes the ear to at least some of Scripture’s language and imagery. The extent to which the artwork contributes to the goals of the book is remarkable. Schoonmaker’s big pictures visualise the big picture brilliantly, connecting the parts to the whole in imitation of Scripture’s intertextuality. In our own family we have benefitted from it alongside other story bibles which preserve more biblical detail text in order to advance our children’s biblical literacy.37 We have also given it away to several families in the hope that its strengths might bless child and parents alike.

2. The Jesus Storybook Bible

According to its own dedicated website,

Since its release in 2007, The Jesus Storybook Bible has become a must-have for children and adults and has grown into a brand that includes: a large trim Read-Aloud edition, an eBook for large and small group presentations, a bilingual Spanish/English edition, a complete curriculum kit, and a Deluxe Edition which includes the complete book on audio CD, read by award-winning British actor David Suchet.38

Once more this says something about the success of the book and the nature of the publishing industry, but it also invites a clarification: this review is limited to the book itself and not the other materials.39 Intended for ages 4–8, The Jesus Storybook Bible (hereafter JSB) includes 44 stories, drawn evenly from the OT and the NT, with an introductory chapter. We begin, as before, with the text and its relationship to Scripture.

2.1. The Relationship between JSB Text and Scripture

As with BPSB, it is sometimes hard to discern the content of chapters from their titles, so once more I include a table of contents. At the beginning of each chapter, Lloyd-Jones gives subtitles and scriptural references upon which the chapters are based (but the subtitles and Scripture references are not listed in the book’s table of contents), so in Table 3 the chapter titles and subtitles are hers, and the content summaries are mine.

Table 3: JSB Contents

Chapter Title


The Story and the Song: Introduction from Psalm 19 and Hebrews 1 Hermeneutical introduction: The Bible is not a book of rules, not a book of heroes, but a (love) story with a baby at the centre.

Old Testament

The beginning: a perfect home; The Song of Creation from Genesis 1–2 Creation
The terrible lie: Adam and Eve lose everything, from Genesis 3 The fall, Adam and Eve clothed and sent away with a promise
A new beginning: Noah’s ark, from Genesis 6–9 Noah’s ark
A giant staircase to heaven: The tower of Babel, from Genesis 11 The Tower of Babel
Son of laughter: God’s special promise to Abraham, from Genesis 12–21 The call of Abraham and the birth of Isaac
The present: The story of Abraham and Isaac, from Genesis 22 The sacrifice of Isaac
The girl no-one wanted: The story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, from Genesis 29–30 Jacob’s marriage to Rachel and Leah
The forgiving prince: Joseph and his brothers, from Genesis 37–46 Joseph, sold as slave, elevated in Egypt and reconciled with brothers
God to the rescue! Moses and the Great Escape from Egypt, from Exodus 3–13 Egyptian slavery, the burning bush, plagues, Passover
God makes a way: Moses and the Red Sea, from Exodus 14–15 Egyptian pursuit and crossing the Red Sea
Ten ways to be perfect: Moses and the Ten Commandments, from Exodus 16–17, 19–40 Grumbling, providing manna and water from the rock, giving the 10 commandments
The warrior leader: Joshua and the battle of Jericho, from Joshua 3 and 6 The fall of Jericho
The teenie, weenie . . . true king: Samuel anoints David, from 1 Samuel 16 Israel’s demand for king, Saul, Samuel sent to Jesse’s sons, David chosen and anointed
The young hero and the horrible giant: David and Goliath, from 1 Samuel 17 David and Goliath
The Good Shepherd: David the Shepherd King, from Psalm 51, 2 Samuel 7; paraphrase of Psalm 23 Brief reference to David’s murder of Uriah, confession, Davidic covenant, and then a paraphrase of Psalm 23
A little servant girl and the proud general: The little slave girl and Naaman, from 2 Kings 5 Healing Naaman
Operation “No More Tears!” The Rescuer will come: prophecies from Isaiah 9, 11, 40, 53, 55, 60 A summary of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies
Daniel and the scary sleepover: Daniel and the lion’s den, from Daniel 6 Daniel in the lion’s den
God’s messenger: Jonah and the big fish, from Jonah 1–4, Hebrews 1:1–2 Jonah’s unwillingness, the storm, the fish and his eventual preaching to Nineveh
Get ready! God’s people return from being slaves, from Nehemiah 8–10, Malachi 1, 3, and 4, Ezra 7 Reading the law, celebrating the Feast of Booths, paraphrase of parts of Malachi’s prophecy

New Testament

He’s here: The Nativity, from Luke 1–2 Annunciation, journey to Bethlehem, birth in the stable
The Light of the whole world: The story of the shepherds, from Luke 2 Angelic announcement to the shepherds and their visit
The King of all kings: The story of the three Wise Men, from Matthew 2 Wise men’s journey to Herod and then to Bethlehem with gifts
Heaven breaks through: The story of John the Baptist, from Matthew 3, Luke 1, 3, John 1 John the Baptist’s birth, Zechariah’s song, John’s ministry and message, Jesus’ baptism
Let’s go: Jesus is tempted in the desert and chooses his helpers, from Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4–6 Jesus’ temptation and call of the 12 disciples
A little girl and a poor frail lady: The story of Jairus’ daughter, from Luke 8 The healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman
How to pray: Jesus teaches people about prayer; paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer, from Matthew 6 Mention of Pharisees’ public prayers, paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer
The Singer: The Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 6, 9, Luke 12 Sermon on the Mount teaching concerning anxiety and God’s provision of food and clothes
The Captain of the storm: The Storm on the Lake, from Mark 4 and Matthew 8 Calming the storm
Filled full! The Feeding of the 5,000, from Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 Feeding the 5,000
Treasure hunt! The story of the hidden treasure, from Matthew 13 The parable of the hidden treasure
The friend of little children: Jesus and the children, from Matthew 18, 19, Mark 10, Luke 18 Who is the greatest? Let the children come
The man who didn’t have any friends (none): The story of Zacchaeus, from Luke 19 The story of Zacchaeus
Running away: The story of the lost son, from Luke 15 The parable of the prodigal son
Washed with tears: A sinful woman anoints Jesus, from Mark 14, Luke 7, John 12 Jesus is anointed and Pharisees object
The Servant King: The Last Supper, from Mark 14, John 13–14 Feet washing, Judas leaving, institution of the Lord’s Supper
A dark night in the garden: The Garden of Gethsemane, from Luke 22, Mark 14, John 18 Gethsemane and arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin
The sun stops shining: The Crucifixion, from Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19 Jesus mocked, crucified, and buried
God’s wonderful surprise: The resurrection, from Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20 Mary Magdalene at the tomb; “he is risen”; Mary’s meeting with risen Jesus
Going home: The Ascension, from Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 14 Resurrection appearances to the disciples, great commission, and ascension
God sends help: Pentecost, from Acts 1–5; John 15 Pentecost, Peter’s sermon, gospel spreads
A new way to see: The story of Paul, from Acts 6–9, 12–28, Colossians 2, Romans 8, Ephesians 2 Conversion and ministry of Paul
A dream of heaven: John sees into the future, from Revelation 1, 5, 21, 22 Vision of enthroned Christ, Satan’s defeat and the New Jerusalem
2.1.1. Omission

While the narrative genre continues to dominate, there are attempts to incorporate at least some poetry, prophecy, and NT letters. JSB gives a summary of Isaiah’s message a chapter of its own, and it paraphrases Psalm 23, Zechariah’s song from Luke 1, the Lord’s Prayer, and Paul’s message.

On the question of which narratives JSB omits, some of the more notable OT absentees are Cain and Abel, the birth of Moses, the Golden Calf, Rahab and the spies, all of the judges, Ruth, Samuel as a boy, Solomon, the division of his kingdom, Elijah, Esther, Job, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the fiery furnace, and minor prophets (apart from Malachi). In the NT, notable omissions include the boy Jesus at the temple, the parable of the sower, the transfiguration, the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, the rich young ruler, Peter’s denial, and Jesus’ predictions of his death.

Some of these omissions are, if we can say such a thing, almost welcome. Moralistic story bibles have often made the most of sibling rivalry (Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau) or the mention of children (Samuel or Jesus at the temple) to commend good behaviour, but JSB clearly rejects such approaches and chooses stories with other criteria in mind, as we shall see.40

Before that, however, we must mention two notable omissions within narratives. The first is that at Jesus’ baptism JSB does not mention the Holy Spirit by name, despite being identified with the dove in Matt 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, and John 1:32. Instead, JSB simply says,”a white dove flew down and gently rested on Jesus” (206).41 What is lost is not just a reference to the Holy Spirit but an opportunity to highlight the unity of the three persons of the Trinity at work for our salvation.42

Second, the story of the prodigal son does not mention the older brother. Although this is quite typical of story bibles, it is surprising in this case, given the influence of Tim Keller on JSB and his dependence on Luke 15 to highlight three ways to live: irreligion (the younger brother), religion (the older brother), and the gospel.43

2.1.2. Addition

The contrast between BPSB and JSB in what they add could not be more stark. Where BPSB strips stories down to fit into the “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule”rubric, JSB retells and expands the biblical narratives with a wealth of wit, adjectives, and conversational asides. Selected almost at random, here is the introduction to John the Baptist:

So John grew up and—well, to tell you the truth, he was a bit unusual. He lived in the desert. He wore itchy-scratchy outfits made of camel hair. . . . And here is the oddest thing of all—he only ate locusts (short for big, creepy, crunchy grasshoppers), which he dipped in honey (to disguise the taste, probably). (201)

There are a few more traditional and apocryphal additions (e.g., Noah’s neighbours laughing at him, 40), but what stands out is the originality of Lloyd-Jones’ text and how well it lends itself to reading aloud. The drama of scenes is well-imagined. For example, the shepherds breathlessly rush to see the baby Jesus:

Through the gates of Bethlehem, down the narrow cobble streets, through a courtyard, down some step, step, steps, past an inn, round a corner, through a hedge, until, at last, they reached . . . a tumbledown stable. (189–90; cf. 214)

There are moments of comedy too, as when Jonah requests,”One ticket to Not-Nineveh, please”(161), or in the account of the plagues: “God made frogs come hopping and leaping and jumping. In your bed frogs, in your hair frogs, in your soup frogs, all over everywhere frogs!” (86) and “God sent swarms of flies—flies buzzing in your eyes flies” (87).

There are also moments of real clarity and power. At the end of the feeding of the 5,000, Lloyd-Jones comments that although Jesus’ miracles were not “natural,”

It was the most natural thing in the world. It’s what God had been doing from the beginning, of course. Taking the nothing and making it everything. Taking the emptiness and filling it up. Taking the darkness and making it light. (249)

Perhaps most distinctively, JSB also concludes each OT chapter with some application to Christ and his work. The acknowledgements express “a debt of gratitude . . . to Dr Timothy Keller, whose teaching informs every story, and from whom I have liberally borrowed” (7), and that debt is most clear here. Whereas BPSB waits until after the resurrection to go back and show how everything points to Christ, JSB does this at each stage. So after retelling Gen 22, Lloyd-Jones writes,

Many years later, another Son would climb another hill, carrying wood on his back. Like Isaac, he would trust his Father and do what his Father asked. He wouldn’t struggle or run away. Who is he? God’s Son, his only Son—the Son he loved. The Lamb of God. (69)

And after the Joseph narrative:

One day, God would send another Prince, a young Prince whose heart would break. Like Joseph, he would leave his home and his Father. His brothers would hate him and want him dead. He would be sold for pieces of silver. He would be punished even though he had done nothing wrong. But God would use everything that happened to this young Prince—even the bad things—to do something good: to forgive the sins of the whole world. (82–83)

Of course, where so much is added to Scripture, the first question must be how, if at all, the two are distinguished. We can make three observations.

First, the biblical references at the start of each chapter signify where readers can find the biblical version of the story, but the relationship between the two texts varies considerably. JSB always dramatically retells the biblical passage in question, and sometimes the correspondence is quite clear. The chapter retelling the prodigal son directs the reader to Luke 15, and there is nothing too complicated about that. Other sections are less clear, however. Where the same or similar events in Jesus’ life occur in several Gospels, JSB cites all the passages, even if the text of JSB clearly relies on one Gospel more than the other. For example, when Jesus is anointed, JSB references Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12 even though Lloyd-Jones retells the anointing which happens at the Pharisees house (Luke 7) and not at the home of Simon (Mark 14 and John 12).44 Perhaps most tangentially, JSB references Heb 1 in the Introduction and in the Jonah narrative. The connection is that in both places Lloyd-Jones draws attention to God speaking, but she does not discernibly use Heb 1; the application in the Jonah story is that God would one day send another messenger like Jonah: “he would be called ‘The Word’ because he himself would be God’s Message” (169), which surely evokes John 1:1 more than Heb 1:2.45

Second, imaginative as much of the text is, there are places when the biblical text surfaces clearly, as when the introduction to the flood says, “Everyone everywhere had forgotten about God and were only doing bad things all the time” (38; cf. Gen 6:5), or when Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “Today God has rescued you” (270; cf. Luke 19:9). And there is the occasional direct quote: “even the wind and waves obey him” (242; Mark 4:41). The text does not differentiate between these phrases and the rest, however, so it is hard to chart the varying distance of the text from Scripture in many places without constant comparison with the biblical text.

Third, in a few places the font changes to signal a paraphrase of a biblical passage (Ps 23 on 132–34; Isaiah’s message on 146–49; Malachi 1, 3 and 4 on 174; the Benedictus on 200; the Lord’s Prayer on 226; Revelation on 344–47; and John 1:12–13 on 351). These are not direct quotations, however, but loose paraphrases which broadly follow the structure of the passage in question, yet reword them to a similar extent as the rest of the text. This, for example, is the Lord’s Prayer:

Hello Daddy!
We want to know you.
And be close to you.
Please show us how.
Make everything in the world right again.
And in our hearts, too.
Do what is best—just like you do in heaven,
And please do it down here, too.
Please give us everything we need today.
Forgive us for doing wrong, for hurting you.
Forgive us just as we forgive other people
When they hurt us.
Rescue us! We need you.
We don’t want to keep running away
And hiding from you.
Keep us safe from our enemies.
You’re strong, God.
You can do whatever you want.
You are in charge.
Now and forever and for always!
We think you’re great!
Yes we do! (226)

So JSB makes some attempt to distinguish itself from Scripture by referencing the biblical sources and by setting some text in a different font when paraphrasing. Those paraphrases and the rest of the text, however, vary considerably in their proximity to the biblical text. But does that matter? A story bible could retell a Bible story in completely different language and still capture its essence, and clearly many people feel JSB has done that. I have two reservations. First, the danger of these embellishments is that it prevents the child’s growth in biblical literacy but for the opposite reason than BPSB. While BPSB gives the reader too few details, JSB overwhelms the reader with details, some derived from Scripture and some not. Without a clearer signal as to what is biblical and what is not, the child takes it all in and will later have to sift through what they recall of any given passage. Of course, these embellishments occur in the name of great storytelling, but if you want to tell great stories, why not tell more of the stories Jesus told? If you want to use humour, why not tell the Bible’s jokes?46 That way children will be spared searching their Bibles in vain for details they recall from childhood story bibles.

The second reservation relates to its conception of the Bible as a love story. The introduction helpfully states the Bible “isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. “Rather, all the stories in the Bible “are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them” (17). As a result, the most frequently occurring refrain speaks of the “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” of God (36, 74, 134, 172–73, 200, 227, 270, 331, 340).47 Of course there is much that is helpful about this approach, and the theme of God’s love for his people, and of Christ’s love and sacrifice for his bride, is thoroughly biblical and wonderfully true. My concern, however, is that JSB does not always develop it in a biblical way; it reformulates several stories to fit the theme, so §2.1.3 addresses these concerns.

2.1.3. Reformulation

By far the most frequent way that JSB describes the human plight is that we are children who have run away from God for fear that he does not love us or want us to be happy. In that sense we have hearts that are broken. JSB often describes the solution in corresponding terms: God comes in Jesus to convince us that he does love us, to mend broken hearts. Some examples are called for. At the fall, Satan does not come questioning the certainty of God’s word (Did God really say?) but his love:

“Does God really love you?” the serpent whispered. “If he does, why won’t he let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn’t want you to be happy.” The snake’s words hissed into her ears and sunk down deep into her heart, like poison. Does God love me? Eve wondered. Suddenly she didn’t know anymore . . . Eve picked the fruit and ate some. And Adam ate some too. And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God’s children: “God doesn’t love me.” (30, emphasis original)

Of course in Gen 3 the snake does question God’s generosity, converting God’s prohibition concerning one tree into a prohibition about eating from any of them (Gen 3:1), but he also tempts them set to set themselves as rivals to him—”you will be like God” (Gen 3:5), and this is absent in JSB. Similarly, JSB reformulates God’s response to their actions. First, there is grief that Gen 3 does not mention: “terrible pain came into God’s heart. His children hadn’t just broken the one rule; they had broken God’s heart” (33). Second, he protects Adam and Eve:

Sin had come into God’s perfect world. And it would never leave. God’s children would always be running away from him and hiding in the dark. Their hearts would break now and never work properly again. God couldn’t let his children live forever, not in such pain, not without him. There was only one way to protect them. “You will have to leave the garden now.” (34)

In Gen 3, on the other hand, God combines judgment (curses on Adam, Eve, and the snake and expulsion from the garden) with provision (they are expelled so that they will not remain forever in their fallen state by eating from the tree of life, and God clothes them with skins), but JSB omits the curses and casts the expulsion as a purely protective measure.48 JSB once again describes Adam and Eve’s plight as lost children after God expels them from Eden: “though they would forget him, and run from him, deep in their hearts, God’s children would miss him always, and long for him—lost children yearning for their home” (36).

The Noah account makes more of God’s hostility to sin: people are doing “bad things,”and they have “filled my world with hate instead of love. They are destroying themselves . . . and each other . . . and my world. I must stop them”(38). The application at the end even speaks of the day when “God’s strong anger against hate and sadness and death would come down once more” (47) for Jesus to bear, but even then JSB directs God’s anger at abstractions, “hate and sadness and death,”not sinners.

JSB uses Naaman’s leprosy to develop more clearly the pride as well as the brokenness of human hearts (140), but then Joshua’s charge to the Israelites to serve the Lord is predicated on the fact that “only God can make your heart happy” (114), which though true, is rather different from Josh 24:20: “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”Likewise Jonah’s message is not “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” but “Even though you’ve run far from God, he can’t stop loving you . . . Run to him! So he can forgive you” (169).

The JSB‘s NT stories present the same themes. JSB describes Jesus’ temptation in similar language to Gen 3: “‘Are you really God’s Son?’ he whispered. ‘Poor you. God must not love you. You don’t need to die'” (209). Jesus’ own ministry is

showing people that God would always love them—with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. So they didn’t need to hide any more, or be afraid, or ashamed. They could stop running away from God. And they could run to him instead. As a little child runs into her daddy’s arms. (227)49

Although this might preface an entirely unobjectionable account of Jesus’ ministry, four specific examples clarify the extent to which JSB reformulates that ministry. First is the call of the disciples. Mark emphasises Jesus’ authority (“immediately they left their nets,” Mark 1:18; cf. 1:20). In Luke, Peter falls at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). But in JSB they come because when the disciples “looked at Jesus, their hearts filled up with a wonderful, forever sort of happiness and inside it was as if they were running free in an open field” (213).

Second, the parable of the prodigal son begins with some sense of rebellion against the father, but it becomes another moment of temptation to doubt his father’s love, which is hardly present in Luke 15:

Now, one day, the boy gets to thinking, Maybe if I didn’t have my dad around telling me what is good for me all the time, I’d be happier. He’s spoiling my fun, he thinks. Does my dad really want me to be happy? Does my dad really love me? The son never thought of that before. But suddenly he doesn’t know any more. (272, emphasis original)

Third, JSB first explains the parable of the hidden treasure from Matt 13 as a parable about our seeking after God’s kingdom, but then Lloyd-Jones turns it around:

God had a treasure, too, of course. A treasure that was lost, long, long ago. What was God’s treasure, his most important thing, the thing God loved best in all the world? God’s treasure was his children. It was why Jesus had come into the world. To find God’s treasure. And pay the price to win them back. And Jesus would do it—even if it cost him everything he had. (255)

At first sight this is moving stuff. In the context of the parable of the hidden treasure, however, it is quite troubling. In the parable the man spends everything he has to secure the treasure, but it is actually to his profit—the treasure is worth more than his expenditure. But that is precisely not the case with Christ’s death for us. We were not “worth it.” Of course, we must strike a balance. God values us in the sense that he made us in his image and sets his love upon us, but the backdrop of our lack of love for him illuminates God’s love (1 John 4:10) and, at least in some sense, our worthlessness (Rom 3:12). It is this backdrop that JSB‘s account of the human plight lacks, and, ironically, given the emphasis on it in JSB, God’s love appears less wonderful without it.

Fourth, the giving of the Great Commission in JSB does not say that Jesus has been given all authority nor does it include the charge to teach people to be obedient. Instead it involves telling people, “I love them so much that I died for them. It’s the Truth that overcomes the terrible lie. God loves his children. Yes he really does!” (323).

JSB enhances this impression by frequently presenting Jesus as playful. At the feeding of the 5,000, he winks at the boy, saying, “Watch” (246). After the resurrection, Jesus appears and says not “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 26) but “I’m hungry. What’s for lunch?” and upon eating he says “‘Delicious!’ . . . Can a ghost do that?’ He winked. And then they all laughed . . . Peter’s heart leapt with joy and he fell into Jesus’ arms, hugging and kissing him. The others followed” (318–21).

Given this book’s popularity, it is worth repeating myself. The JSP does speak of God’s anger at sin, but the primary account of the human plight is that we are his children who doubt his love rather than, in the terms of Rom 1:21, rebellious idolaters who refuse to honour him as God or give thanks to him. In JSB we are clearly objects of divine love, but it less clear that we are also objects of divine wrath (Eph 2:3). This creates something of a tension within the story bible. When Jesus dies, “the full force of the storm of God’s fierce anger at sin was coming down” (306), but little of what comes before prepares us for that as the fitting or necessary solution to the plight. As Justin Taylor writes, “My one qualm is that it so emphasizes the (legitimate) biblical theme of God’s yearning/wooing love that the theme of judgment and wrath in the OT stories tends to be muted; when the story comes to the cross, the readers have not really been ‘set up’ very well to understand the need forpropitiation.”50 This over-emphasis, as I have argued above, also pulls some of the OT stories and the life and teaching of Jesus out of shape.51 It also, paradoxically, downplays God’s love. The power of God’s demonstration of his love for us in the death of Christ is that it happened while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8) and enemies (5:10), and we will appreciate that love only to the degree that we recognise we are sinners deserving condemnation.

There are other minor reformulations unrelated to this theme which need not detain us,52 but one is worth highlighting for its significance. When Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection, Lloyd-Jones has Thomas in the room and gives him a speaking part: “‘It’s a ghost!’ Thomas screamed and hid under the table” (318), even though John 20:24–29 is quite explicit that Thomas is not with the rest and makes much of that fact. Of course there is no need to mention Thomas’ later meeting with Jesus—Luke’s account does not—but it seems odd to insert him at the first appearance in contradiction to John.

2.1.4. Transposition

Like BPSB the OT section of JSB transposes Ezra and Nehemiah to the end, reflecting a chronological interest, but a summary of those books combines them with a paraphrase of Malachi 1, 3, and 4, reflecting its place in the OT canon. Within the NT the only example of transposition is innocuous: JSB does not relate the substance of John 14:5–6 before Jesus’ death; rather, the disciples recall it after the resurrection (322), just as Jesus promised they would (John 14:26).

To conclude this lengthy section, JSB‘s relationship to Scripture is complicated. JSB identifies the biblical sources of its stories, and a change of font highlights several paraphrases which follow the structure of the relevant biblical passages. Lloyd-Jones creatively retells biblical stories. As a result, the text is often moving or amusing by turns, but it is hard to distinguish where Scripture ends and retelling begins. The narratives of the OT helpfully connect to Christ, and a clear theme throughout is the love of God for the lost and his pursuit of them. My chief concern is that JSB elevates this one biblical theme as the central theme of Scripture at the expense of others, such as the enmity between God and his world (think Ps 2 or John 15) and the authority of Christ as the king set over and against the nations (Ps 2 again).

2.2. The Relationship between JSB Images and Scripture

The quality of Jago’s artwork is immediately clear.53 It is rich, detailed, full of warmth and life. The illustrations are very much illustrations of Lloyd-Jones’s text (see §2.3), but there are several comments to make about the artwork’s relationship to Scripture. First, the artwork is clearly well-researched to reflect the historical periods of the Bible. Pharaoh looks like an Egyptian Pharaoh; David plays a turtle-shell lyre (131); Jericho falls at the sounding of horns that clearly once belonged to a ram (113, cf. Joshua 6:5). In the same category is the skin colour of all the Near Middle Eastern characters, which is far more realistic than many story bibles.

There are also biblical details or motifs which Jago’s artwork helpfully reflects. Genesis 3 is silent on the location of the serpent during the temptation, and several story bibles have it in the tree. Jago, however, has it coiled round Eve, ensnaring her with his body as with his words (31). When God expels Adam and Eve, the artwork indicates God’s judgment more strongly than the text by means of the pathetic fallacy—dark clouds covering the sky (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Pages 34–35

JSB uses a break with visual narrative convention to great effect in the illustration of the return of the prodigal son. In illustrated books, if there is movement in an image, it will almost always move with the eye from left to right. In this illustration however, the picture is dominated by the father who runs right to left, breaking the visual convention just as the father’s sprint to his son broke social convention (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Pages 276–77

In the NT, two illustrations deserve particular mention. First, in the précis of the Sermon on the Mount, Lloyd-Jones retells Jesus’ instruction not to worry since God provides for the birds and flowers without their needing to farm and store food or to make clothes for themselves (Matt 6:25–34). The illustrations run with that image, showing its absurdity by depicting birds with shopping trolleys (Figure 14) and flowers sewing clothes and buying off the rack (232–33).

Figure 14: Pages 230–31

Given the visual quality of many of Jesus’ parables, or OT proverbs for that matter, it is surprising that so many story bible illustrators overlook their potential. Where is the gold ring in the pig’s snout (Prov 11:22) or the soft tongue that breaks a bone (Prov 25:15)? Where is the camel straining to pass through the eye of a needle or the man doing eye surgery with a plank firmly in his eye?

The second NT illustration is a fine example of salience, using colour to emphasise one aspect of an image. Throughout the NT, Jesus wears a robe with a creamy, off-white colour. But at his arrest, in the darkness of that scene, his robe becomes a brighter white, indicating perhaps his innocence or the inability of the darkness to overcome the light (Figure 15). Either way, it is a powerful and biblical image.

Figure 15: Pages 298–99

2.3. The Relationship between Text and Image within JSB

Compared to Schoonmaker, Jago has much more to work with. Whereas Helm’s text is short on detail, Lloyd-Jones’s overflows, and the result is that Jago’s illustrations are closely related to Lloyd-Jones’s text. The same sense of humour occurs in both; after the confusion of languages at Babel, the text describes comical misunderstandings while the artwork shows slapstick mishaps. While Lloyd-Jones imagines Jacob’s scream upon waking up with Leah, Jago imagines his expression. In content and tone, the overriding relationship is one of enhancement.54 Often this is a positive thing, but of course the power of images to linger and reinforce the text means that sometimes the effect is less salutary. In some instances, it means simply that Lloyd-Jones’s artistic flourishes will be lingering impressions. For example, for Jesus’ baptism, Jago illustrates the “beads of water” which “glittered and sparkled in his hair” (206–7). Likewise the illustration of David and Goliath picks up the fairy-tale allusions of Lloyd-Jones’s text (“his beady greedy eyes glowered at them hungrily . . . as if any minute he really might just gobble them all up” [123]) and draws him to be at least twenty feet high (122–23).55

Other times this attention to the detail of Lloyd-Jones’s text means that the illustrations reinforce some longstanding but apocryphal details such as the mockery of Noah’s neighbours (40). An illustration also reinforces Lloyd-Jones’s placement of Thomas with the disciples when the risen Jesus first appears by depicting him hiding under the table (Figure 16).

Figure 16: Pages 319

Similarly, Jago’s illustrations enhance the characterisation of Jesus as playful. Jesus winks twice in the text, and on both occasions Jago includes the detail in the artwork. (247, 320). As the text speaks of Jesus laughing and playing games with children, the illustration shows him playing “ring-a-ring of roses”(262–63).

2.4. The Relationship between JSB and the Child

2.4.1. Textual Interaction

Like BPSB, JSB has no discussion questions or suggested prayers, simply the stories retold. That retelling is thoroughly conversational and is peppered with explanatory asides such as “now in those days” (72, 118, 186, 222) or “You see . . .” (30, 34, 36, 54, 74, 256). Insofar as the text addresses the child or invites a response to the stories, three things stand out. First, in several places JSB invites the reader to identify with the narrator’s viewpoint. When Israel grumbles in the wilderness, saying,”God brought us our here to kill us. God doesn’t love us!” the narrator turns to the reader and says,”they didn’t know God very well did they?” (101). When Naaman refuses to wash in the Jordan (“I am Naaman. I am important. I should do something important so God will heal me”), Lloyd-Jones writes in parentheses, “Of course you and I know that’s not how God does things” (140, emphasis original). The same phrase appears when Lloyd-Jones describes the Pharisees’ confidence that their holiness earns them God’s love (222). The danger of such comments is that we fail to heed the warning of their examples because actually we are just like grumbling Israel (1 Cor 10:1–13) and proud Naaman. On the other hand, the comments have an exhortatory function: they teach us to see things aright, and to that extent are helpful.

Second, we need to reflect on the impact of the widespread idea that people are fundamentally God’s children who doubt his love and so flee and hide.

There is not only the question of how well that reflects Scripture but also how well that serves the readers. Certainly we want to emphasise God’s love, but it is important to distinguish, as D. A. Carson so helpfully does, between God’s love understood as his “salvific stance towards his fallen world” and “God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.”56 JSB confuses these, and the result is that it views people as children already within God’s family who need assurances of love, rather than as sinners who by adoption might join the family.57 The implicit response called for is “now I see I’ve been mistaken, God really does love me.”

Finally, to end on a more positive note, a wonderful motif throughout JSB is that God’s love is unconditional. As the introduction says, the Bible is not a book of heroes, and “most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean” (15). Subsequent stories highlight how God persists in working through people irrespective of beauty (brought out in the Leah narrative, 74), strength (David, 118–19), popularity (Zacchaeus, 270), good works (Pharisees, 222), or bad ones (Jacob, 70, David, 130, Zacchaeus, 270). It appears that JSB chooses some of these stories to make exactly these (well-made) points and to do so in ways applicable to both sexes. Thus, even if the older brother is missing from the parable of the prodigal son, JSB challenges his reliance on works throughout the book: we cannot earn or lose God’s love by our actions.58

2.4.2. Visual Interaction

Lastly, we come to the way in which Jago’s artwork communicates with the reader. Compared to BPSB, Jago’s artwork much more often views events from a bystander’s perspective, rather than viewing from above, but this is occasionally used to good effect. In the tower of Babel narrative, the first illustration of the tower is in a portrait orientation, so the reader has to rotate the book to view it. Even then the tower more than fills the page. When one views the tower from God’s perspective a couple of pages later, however, it looks far less impressive (50–51, 54–55).

The Zacchaeus narrative twice gives us his point of view, first unable to see Jesus through the crowds and then in the tree, looking down to see Jesus calling us down (266–69). Interestingly, Zacchaeus, shown in the tree, looks not at Jesus but at the viewer, as if looking for guidance.

One other combined use of the point of view and gazes comes in the lion’s den. As Daniel is dropped in, two lions wait for him, but a third is turned, roaring at the reader who is already in the den (Figure 17). To that extent we are united with Daniel, in his peril, and (over the page) in his rescue.

Figure 17: Pages 156–57

2.5. Conclusions

JSB aims to relate the stories of the Bible to the larger story of salvation, and, more specifically, to show how the OT narratives prefigure Christ’s role in that salvation, hence The Jesus Storybook Bible.59 It chooses the love of God for his children as the central theme, which is certainly a more relational and dynamic choice than BPSB‘s categories of people, place, and rule. Lloyd-Jones’s talents as a storyteller are clear, hence The Jesus Storybook Bible, as are Jago’s as an artist, and the same humour, depth, and richness suffuses both of their efforts. JSB often artfully and movingly makes connections between OT passages and their christological fulfilment. The stories, creatively retold, place the emphasis as much on “storybook” as “bible,” but JSB brilliantly captures the drama, humour, and earthy reality of many of the narratives. The emphasis on the unconditional love of God is well-deployed against the thought that we might earn or lose it on account of how we look, what we have, or what we do. On the other hand, its emphasis without sufficient reference to God’s authority or holiness creates a tension with JSB‘s clear account of the wrath-bearing death of Jesus. The characterisation of humanity principally as God’s children deceived into thinking that God does not love them makes the necessity of Jesus’ death harder to integrate and the wonder of it harder to grasp. It also shapes the account of Jesus’ earthly ministry: attractive in its beauty but hardly ever challenging in its authority, power, or purity. For that reason I would want to use JSB more selectively and cannot offer the unconditional endorsement that others often give it. I recognise that this is something of a conclusion contra mundum, but I believe it is borne out by a careful reading of JSB. I also, tentatively, and in closing, suggest that this imbalance (emphasising the attractiveness of Christ and defining the human predicament as a search for happiness in the wrong places, to the neglect of harder truths) is not limited to story bibles.

3. Summary

BPSB and JSB broke the mould in important respects. Instead of offering an anthology of biblical stories, they sought to tell one story: the story of “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule” and the story of the “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God.” The benefits of tracing one thought throughout are clear, both as a way of emphasising the unity of Scripture and as a pedagogical tool for young children. Of course, where the message of the Bible is distilled to a sentence, everything hangs on its quality.

Of the two I believe BPSB is the more successful in combining faithfulness to Scripture with a hermeneutical approach that lends clarity and unity to its presentation. As an overview of the Bible’s message it serves a useful purpose, and other story bibles which offer a greater level of detail and abroader coverage of Scripture can supplement it. While the love of God has a strong prima facie claim to being a central theme of Scripture, JSB reflects some of the weaknesses of that model, at least insofar as it is finding expression in contemporary evangelicalism.

Whether or not others accept these judgments, I hope the approach taken at least models the level of engagement that these works deserve, both in light of the enormous energies poured into them by authors and artists, and their widespread use in our churches. Our thanks are due to these authors, and I hope that even my criticisms demonstrate how seriously I take their work. This kind of sustained attention is a compliment of sorts, and I hope that others will pay the same compliment by taking up these tools to evaluate yet more story bibles. To the extent that these books are used by children and adults alike, the whole church stands to benefit.


[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, available at

[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.

[10] Unless otherwise noted, all page numbers in §1 refer to BPSB.

[11] Among story bibles, the only recent attempt to cover the NT epistles in any more depth is Machowski’s The Gospel Story Bible, 260–309.

[12] BPSB mentions Daniel as praying for the end of exile (219).

[13] Omissions can be conspicuous either in comparison to other story bibles, for which there is a fairly well-established pool of narratives, or in comparison to Scripture. The latter is obviously more significant; we should learn to think which passages are significant in Scripture because they are prominent in their own place in the Bible (e.g., Babel), the Bible frequently alludes to them later (e.g. the golden calf), or they take on greater significance in the NT (the Son of Man prophecy or Rahab).

[14] BPSB gives their names later when Peter preaches after Pentecost and when John pens Revelation. One might expect more individual names since BPSB names all of Jacob’s sons (although my edition has “Rueben” for “Reuben”), king Zedekiah (203–5), and Nebuchadnezzar (207).

[15] The ESV might seem a strange choice for a story bible intended for 2-7 year old, but the texts quoted are almost always sufficiently clear and simple.

[16] By contrast The Gospel Story Bible quotes from the ESV and gives a biblical reference each time.

[17] Page 453 quotes Rev 22:20, although it appears without quotation marks. In other places BPSB alludes to or echoes Scripture, but the purpose of this list is simply to identify the quotations of Scripture that BPSB signals by speech marks but leaves unidentified.

[18] BPSB also relates the growth of the church in Acts back to Israel’s growth in Egypt: “God’s people were growing in number again” (423). This seems to allude to the summary of Jacob’s move to Egypt: “by now God’s promise of a great people was really growing” (105).

[19] The brief “Acknowledgments” section in BPSB says, “We are indebted to Graeme Goldsworthy, who first helped us grasp the Bible along the lines of ‘God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule’” (13). For this scheme see Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, The Gospel in Revelation (2000; repr., Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003), 51–57.

[20] Seyoon Kim argues sensibly for some counter-imperial rhetoric in Luke’s birth narratives in Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 77–81.Whether there is any anti-imperial thrust to the Gospels or Paul more widely has been hotly contested. For views in favour, see especially Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003); N.T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005). For a critique of the view in relation to Paul, see Denny Burk, “Is Paul’s Gospel Counterimperial? Evaluating the Prospects of the ‘Fresh Perspective’ for Evangelical Theology,” JETS 51 (2008): 309–37; John M. G. Barclay, “Why the Roman Empire Was Insignificant to Paul,” in Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews: Studies in the Social Formation of Christian Identity (WUNT 275; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 363–88.

[21] Perhaps John’s intent is to signal the beginning of a new creation by alluding to Genesis, for like Gen 1, John 20 begins on the first day, in darkness, and the action unfolds in a garden (John 19:41).

[22] This is good example of the use of narrative structures, connecting characters within an image. On this see Vasiliki Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories: Proposing an Analytical Tool for the Study of the Visual in Children’s Literature,” The Journal of Children’s Literature Studies 6 (2009): 56; and also the discussion in Shaw, “Telling the Story from the Bible?How Story Bibles Work,” 225.

[23] I have yet to read a children’s bible which depicts or describes seven of every kind of clean animal and bird entering the ark (Gen 7:2). Apparently the iconography of two-by-two is too firmly ingrained.

[24] Somewhat curiously, Jesus’ wounds appear on pages 393, 409, and 414–15 but not on 399 and 401.

[25] Shaw, “Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work,” 230–35.

[26] The text makes a more general allusion: “Jesus hinted from God’s holy book about God’s Spirit who brings new life” (318). On the textual allusion to Ezekiel and parallel new covenant promises in John 3, see D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 194–95.

[27] Shaw, “Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work,” 233.

[28] With thanks to Kim Phillips for his superior knowledge of small herbivorous mammals!

[29] E.g., Kenneth N. Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures (Carlisle: Candle, 2004).

[30] But the dogs do not return; butterflies replace them.

[31] I am indebted to the imaginations of Charles Anderson and Matthew Sleeman for these last two.

[32] Shaw, “Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work,” 235–37. The taxonomy is derived from Maria Nicolajeva and Carole Scott, How Picturebooks Work (New York: Garland, 2001).

[33] “Do you know . . . ?” or “Can you guess . . . ?” is asked 15 times (18, 35, 46, 131,147, 134, 160, 194, 224, 240, 246, 251, 273, 329, 351). “Can you see?” is asked 11 times (24, 112, 130, 164, 221, 244, 246, 260, 309, 428, 439).

[34] Most recently Meade’s Mighty Acts of God gives questions of interpretation and application in a textbox with each story entitled “As for me and my house . . . ”. Machowski’s The Gospel Story Bible has a section on each page called “Let’s talk about it”; Thornton’s God’s Love offers a “target truth” for each story.

[35] See n33.

[36] Shaw, “Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work,” 243.

[37] For younger children, Champ Thornton’s God’s Love is worth considering. So too is the underappreciated Read with Me Bible: An NIrV Story Bible for Children (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

[38] “About the JSB,” (cited November 19, 2012).

[39] The Sunday school curriculum has additional material including “notes for teachers based on material from Timothy Keller” which there is not space to cover, even though strengths and weaknesses of the book will likely apply to a curriculum based upon it. Nor will the CD and DVD material (part of the curriculum and available for separate download as MP4’s) be addressed directly, but comments about the text and artwork will apply to what is heard and seen in those formats. This is so because the audio is a verbatim reading of the text and the visuals are effectively slideshows which move around Jago’s artwork but contain no original material.

[40] We will also see that those criteria result in some regrettable omissions of their own.

[41] Unless otherwise noted, all page numbers in §2 refer to JSB.

[42] Some might object that Trinitarian ideas are too complex for young children, but we cannot be content to make the Trinity peripheral to how we speak of God to them. For a story bible aimed at a similar age-range which introduces God as Trinitarian from the start, see Thornton, God’s Love, 7–9.

[43] See Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009), 7–16.

[44] Matthew 26:6–13 is not even mentioned, but belongs with Mark and John as a separate incident to the one Luke 7 describes and that JSB retells. Another example is that JSB cites Mark 1 and 16 in the sections that deal with Jesus’ temptation and resurrection even though the text of JSB relies on the other Gospels, given how little Mark has to say about either.

[45] There is also an opportunity missed here. Why is it only the chapter on Jonah that has a NT reference when each OT story finishes with some NT application to Christ? Why not give a reference to show that there is NT support for every fulfilment in Christ that Lloyd-Jones proposes?

[46] For example, in the tower of Babel narrative, humanity builds its tower up to the heavens, but God has to come down to get a look (Gen 11:5). Or there are Jesus’ comical images: planks in eyes and camels in eyes of needles.

[47] The second most frequent refrain, derived from Tolkien, is that “Jesus was making the sad things come untrue” (149, 220, 316, 321, 346), an allusion to Samwise Gamgee’s question to Gandalf: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

[48] JSB similarly describes the exile without reference to God’s judgment: “Things were not looking good for God’s people. They had been captured and taken far from home” (152); this contrasts with BPSB’s treatment of the same passages.

[49] Cf. the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount which says there is a “song people’s hearts were made to sing: “God made us. He loves us. He is very pleased with us.” It was why Jesus came into the world: to sing to them that wonderful song; to sing it not only with his voice, but with his whole life—so that God’s children could remember it and join in and sing it too” (235). Notably the only material used from the Sermon is the Lord’s Prayer and the instruction not to be anxious; nothing of the Sermon’s challenge remains. The preacher becomes the singer.

[50] Justin Taylor, “The New ‘Gospel Story Bible’: 67% Off,” Between Two Worlds, November 28, 2011, (cited November 1, 2012).

[51] It also accounts for some of the omissions that §2.1.1 notes. Unlike many story bibles, there is no mention of Jesus clearing the temple, the transfiguration, or the rich young ruler. With the exception of Jesus’ calming the storm, there is little to suggest Jesus’ power and authority. The treatment of the Sermon on the Mount is also highly selective, on which see n49 above.

[52] JSB ’s Daniel narrative twice says that Daniel prays in his room with the door closed (153, 55), but the narrator in the book of Daniel is more interested in the open window than the closed door (Dan 6:10). Of course they are not mutually exclusive, but it seems a strange shift, perhaps owing more to Matt 6:6 than Dan 6. Another room-related reformulation says that the disciples are “scared and hiding” in a locked room before Pentecost when Acts 2 says nothing about them being afraid at that stage. They were in hiding after Jesus’ death, but between the resurrection and Pentecost, Luke 24:52 says, “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”

[53] Regrettably, circumstances prevented use of Jago’s artwork beyond the six images included.

[54] The only example of counterpoint might be where a picture of dark clouds east of Eden signifies the involvement of God’s judgment more than the text (32–33, 34–35). The three hints of contradiction are minor. First, the picture of Jonah emerging from the fish has a more heroic pose than the text or Scripture warrants (168). Second, whereas Scripture says that Jesus addressed the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples (Matt 5:1), the text of JSB has him teaching “people” how to pray, and the image shows him surrounded by children only (224–25). Lastly, at the crucifixion, the text says, “the soldiers made a sign—‘Our king’—and nailed it to a wooden cross” (303), whereas the sign in the image on 303 and 305 more properly reads, “King of the Jews.”

[55] The title of the chapter “The young hero and the horrible giant” also evokes the fairy tale genre: it could serve equally well as the title of Jack and the Beanstalk. In the same narrative, Lloyd-Jones also talks about Goliath’s voice “echoing horribly around and around the dry, dry valley” (123) which seems to overlook the stream from which David gathered his stones (1 Sam 17:40), and the illustration of a waterless valley reinforces that.

[56] For these terms see D. A. Carson,The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 1999), 17–18.

[57] The book ends by paraphrasing John 1:12–13, which speaks of the offer “to be born into a whole new life. To be who they really are. Who God has always made them to be—their own true selves—God’s dear child” (351). Although this does express some discontinuity, it should be noted how different this is from the text of John 1:12–13, where the emphasis is entirely on conversion as adoption into a new family, rather than conversion being a realisation of what we “really” are already: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

[58] Even here, though, greater precision would be welcome, for the emphasis ought to fall on the irrelevance of good works, physical appearance, or popularity to election. God sets his love on the elect without reference to those factors, whereas in JSB it seems more as though God unconditionally loves all humanity. That, though true in a sense, needs developing more carefully.

[59] To that extent it reflects a wider and resurgent interest in Christocentric preaching of the OT and Keller’s influence within that movement.

David A. Shaw

David Shaw is a PhD candidate in New Testament studies at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

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