Sunday, March 5, 2017

My negative review of a children's Bible

After carefully reading through the notes of the NIV Investigator's Holy Bible, I'm afraid that I cannot recommend it. In fact, I'm going to dispose of my review copy rather than keep it for my children, sell it, or give it away.

On first glance, the Investigator's Bible has a lot going for it. The shiny cover is inviting. The darker-skinned boy with a camera and magnifying glass standing with a lighter-skinned girl holding a Bible and a dog are all smiling should tell children "Hey, we're like you, we're fun, and we like the Bible." Excellent! The introduction explains that Mateo and Isabella are going to help you read and understand the Bible, with notes introducing each book of the bible, answers to questions kids (and adults) might have as they read, explanations of the meaning behind certain names, information about the Bible's varied settings, and summaries at the end of each book. All these are written with kids in mind. Hey, there's even multiple choice questions throughout to help kids remember what they're reading about.

Many of these notes are great at explaining difficult concepts or confusing material. For instance, the note on Myrrh (Genesis 43:11) says, "This plant was used to make perfume. It was also a medicine, and was used to preserve dead bodies. Myrrh was one of the gifts the wise men gave Jesus when he was a baby." Apart from the unnecessary comma in the second sentence, it was just what a young reader would benefit from knowing. Similarly, the note on Luke 2:21 explains that circumcision is when "they cut off a little piece of skin that covers the end of the penis," and, "It's also a way to make sure that this part of the body is always clean." Perhaps that's more information than some parents want their children to have, especially at the low end of the recommended age range (6-10 years old), but it's the kind of information kids need if they're to take the Bible seriously as they get older.

If I had to rate the book based only on the good notes, I'd give it two thumbs up. However, the content of other notes caused me concern:

First, the notes seriously undermine the concept of inerrancy, the traditional Christian teaching that the Scriptures do not err in what they say. This can be seen as early as the book of Genesis. The notes say that it was probably written around 700 BC and finalized around 400 BC. That would place it's writing about 700 years after Moses lived and 300 years after King David, meaning that no one was reading Genesis until around the time that Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon, despite the fact that the Old Testament regularly records that Moses wrote these things down in a book and passages describing events during the life of Moses' successor mention the "book of the law of Moses" (Josh. 8:31; 23:6). The introduction to Isaiah says the book "has probably been edited several times (meaning that it was written and then corrected several times)." Similarly, the New Testament notes question Paul's authorship of a number of epistles.  The note on 2 Peter states "Most Bible experts think the author was really one of Peter's followers, who wrote in his name," and that "it's possible" it was written in the 2nd century AD.

Second, the notes take a clearly egalitarian view of passages about the roles of men and women in the church. Complementarians hold to the historic Christian teaching that men and women, though equal, are different and that God has reserved the pastorate for men. Egalitarians do not. As a result, the notes frequently dismiss passages about distinct gender roles as merely being a product of their misogynistic times: "A long time ago, the law didn't give women any rights. But now we know that men and women are equal." "It's just that the law didn't used to give women any rights. Now men and women are equal." The notes state that Priscilla and Junia "knew a lot about the Bible and they preached," and dismiss Paul's prohibition on women speaking in the church (which does need some explanation) with, "What Paul probably means is that women shouldn't be gossips and that they should listen to the teachings. Doesn't that make more sense?" They even go so far as to suggest that prohibiting women from teaching was just a concession to the culture of that day because Greco-Roman society were biased against women leading a gathering and, "If they saw a woman doing this, they might think Christianity was a bad idea and reject it."

I had other concerns as well, such as the emphatic stance that God in no way hardened Pharaoh's heart, which is clearly anti-Calvinist. Also, when addressing Jewish-Gentile relations in Galatians 2, the notes state that it was the Jews' fault because they "...wanted everybody to continue the Jewish customs from before the time of Jesus." They also come down hard on the Jews in their note on 1 Timothy 1:4 and say, "So that's why they thought they had more rights to land and religious jobs. But that's just not so! Jesus saves us, and God accepts us all equally." I'm not sure if this is intentionally anti-semitic or if it is a subtle reproof to those of us who hold to traditional Christian teachings on gender and sexuality.

Regardless, unless you come from a "mainstream" denomination that has long since said goodbye to inerrancy and a traditional Christian stance on sexuality and gender, this book is probably not for you or your children. I only hope this Bible does not represent the direction the ZonderKidz brand has in mind for the future of their products directed at Christian families.

Note: I requested and received a copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

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