Bible Analytics: What do Children’s Bibles Focus On?

We have quite a lot of children’s bibles and it’s always interesting to see what each one focuses on. This post carries out some fairly surface level analysis of how much time different children’s bibles spend on different books.

First, the actual bible
We can look at the relative size of the different books of the bible by comparing the number of chapters they have. It’s not a perfect analysis – some chapters are longer than others – but it’s good enough for a first approximation.

The Beginner’s Bible
This is a fairly standard children’s bible, covering the whole Bible in a moderately narrative way with lots of pictures.

Its graph looks like this:

The obvious difference is the huge focus on the gospels, at 42% of the book, compared to just 7% of the original Bible. Also prominent is Genesis, at 17% compared to 4%, whilst Acts goes to 6% from a former 2%. Most of the prophets other than Daniel and Jonah are completely wiped out, as are the Epistles and all the wisdom literature except the 23rd Psalm. Given that these sections take up almost half the Bible, it’s interesting to see that this extra capacity has gone almost entirely on Genesis and the Gospels, with the other historical books either about the same length (Kings and Chronicles) or in some cases, such as Ezra and Nehemiah, completely omitted. Indeed, though The Beginner’s Bible is in many ways one more most ‘straight’ tellings of the narrative portion of the Bible, it’s major idiosyncracy is to complete omit the restoration, skipping straight from Esther and Daniel to Jesus by way of Jonah.

The All-Colour Children’s Bible
This is aimed at slightly older children – more of a chapter book with pictures than a pure picture book. There are sections where some paragraphs are taken almost word for word from the actual bible.

Its graph looks like this:

There’s still a big focus on the Gospels and Genesis, though less than before – 35% and 11% compared to the Big Picture Bible’s 42% and 17%. This is also the only children’s bible of the four examined to acknowledge that the Old Testament is longer than the New Testament (it goes for a 60:40 split).

This version is notable for the detailed focus on Old Testament history, with 31% of its length (compared to 18% of the original) being devoted to Joshua, Judges and the three double books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, meaning these get a fairly extensive treatment. Daniel gets a slightly disproportionate focus at 3% (12 pages – literally a page per chapter) and Esther is unaccountably omitted. Unlike the Beginner’s Bible, it not only has a decent treatment of Ezra and Nehemiah, it even has a special ‘interlude’ page (not included in the chart) covering Maccabees and the Roman conquest to ensure the reader knows what happened to set the scene for Jesus.

The Jesus Story Book Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible
These are both more creative interpretations, which focus on bringing out the Christian theological message rather than on recounting familiar stories.

Their graphs look like this

We can see that the focus on the Gospels and Genesis has returned with a vengeance, with these two sections comprising almost two thirds of the whole book in each of these versions (compared to just 11% of the original). And unlike in the first two versions, with the exception of Exodus, the other historical books have been greatly reduced, with Samuel, Kings and Chronicles given proportionately less space than in the original, sometimes significantly so. Judges and Ruth are gone from both, while they were included in both of the other two versions, while The Big Picture Story Bible also loses Daniel and Jonah.

It is interesting to see what is included. (Very small) excerpts from the non-narrative prophets are included in both and The Big Picture Story Bible is the only one of the four to properly include the Epistles. Overall, these two children’s bibles are taking the ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ approach, focusing on the core moments that deliver the central theology and leaving the rest until later.

It’s interesting to see not just the differences between these books and the original bible, but also between the different versions. It’s obviously not surprising that picture books aimed at Christian children should have a strong focus on the Gospels, nor that they should omit much of the Old Testament law, prophecy and the teachings of the letters. But I was surprised to see just how strongly Genesis featured; in two cases taking up over 1/5 of the entire book.

Joshua is pretty consistently in at 2-3% across them all, but the kingly period varies tremendously, from 6% to 24% (14% in the original). Esther makes only one of the three and Job makes none of them, not even the more theological ones. This is a bit disappointing; the question of evil can definitely occur at a child’s level – ‘Why do bad things happen to people?’ – and Job is fairly fundamental to the Bible’s answer to this.

More broadly, a good rule of thumb is that the more faithfully the version is trying to give a picture of what’s in the full Bible, the more evenly it will distribute its pages across the books (though Epistles, non-narrative prophets and Wisdom literature still won’t be in luck), whereas the more it’s trying to convey the core Christian message, the greater the concentration on the Gospels and Genesis. There’s naturally no right answer, but I found it interesting to see the different approaches.

The full comparison table and graph are set out below.

Book Bible The Beginner’s Bible The All-Colour Children’s Bible The Big Picture Story Bible The Jesus Story Book Bible
Genesis 4% 17% 11% 21% 20%
Exodus 3% 6% 6% 8% 7%
Rest of Torah 8% 1% 1% 0% 0%
Joshua 2% 2% 3% 3% 2%
Judges 2% 3% 4% 0% 0%
Ruth 0% 1% 1% 0% 0%
1 and 2 Samuel 5% 7% 12% 4% 4%
Kings and Chronicles 9% 9% 12% 9% 2%
Ezra and Nehemiah 2% 0% 3% 2% 2%
Esther 1% 1% 0% 0% 0%
Job 4% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Psalms 13% 1% 1% 0% 2%
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs 4% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Daniel 1% 1% 3% 0% 2%
Jonah 0% 2% 1% 0% 3%
All other prophets 20% 0% 2% 2% 3%
Gospels 7% 42% 35% 43% 45%
Acts 2% 6% 5% 2% 5%
Epistles 10% 0% 0% 2% 0%
Revelations 2% 1% 1% 4% 2%