Many churches have a custom of giving out "3rd Grade Bibles." At my previous church job, I had the privilege of giving one of my daughters her Bible in worship. Now, two years later, I have taken it away and hid it.
I have not done this because I don't want her influenced and shaped by biblical stories. I've done it because I don't want her to read the Bible on her own at this stage in her life. As I have reflected on it, and with all due respect to those who would disagree with this (which would be many people based on the prevalence of this practice), I've come to the conclusion that giving the "real" Bible to young children is a horrible mistake. Here's why.
Our fifth-grader is a voracious reader. She reads way above her level and has been known to put down a Harry Potter volume in one day. We're pretty proud of that. As she is getting older we want her to be challenged by books with greater depth and complexity, but we still have a very active role in what she reads. There are just some themes and narrative styles that an eleven year old should not be exposed to. It's tough as a parent to try to balance censoring and challenging, but that's the job we all have as parents (nearly every tough part of parenting is some kind of balancing act, isn't it?).
So back to the Bible. I believe the Bible is inspired by God to lead us to faith in Christ and train us in righteousness and all that. Let's just get that out there. My life was changed dramatically by reading the New Testament in one week when I was eighteen. I get the spiritual power of the Bible.
But whatever we want to say about the Bible in terms of being "inspired" or "authoritative" or whatever, it is also undeniably true that the Bible is an ancient library filled with all kinds of difficult and scary stuff. When we go to the public library, we don't just drop off our daughter and let her explore anything in the library. So why should we do that when it comes to the ancient library we call the Bible?
Let's say she were to bring home a book from school that contained stories about:
brothers murdering brothers
a god who kills nearly all of humanity
men letting other men sleep with their wives to save themselves
men having sex with their slaves
daughters getting their dad drunk so they can sleep with him
and men who try to rape other men...
We would probably not approve of such a book. Which is an understatement. I don't want my eleven year old daughter reading stories about incest, murder, and rape. None of this changes just because the cover of the book is a fake black shiny leather with gold printing on it. By the way, this list of themes doesn't even get us past the first half of the first book of the Bible. What if your child were to keep reading and, God forbid, made it all the way to Ezekiel. You might have to answer some awkward questions about donkey penises and stallion ejaculations. (Don't google this. Just turn to Ezekiel 23. Seriously, don't google it.)
So, I think we've made a big mistake in giving Bibles to children. I don't have a perfect solution all worked out. I admire children's pastors a ton for the tough work they have, and I admire any parent who takes an active role in wanting to spiritually shape their kids in the way of Christ. Like I said, I really don't have the solution, I am just naming what I see as a problem.
Because the Bible is an account of divinity getting all wrapped up in humanity, we should expect it to be messy and rough around the edges. We should expect stories of failure and perversion, raw and gut-wrenching narratives of loss and pain, and so on, along with all the beautiful stories of hope and perseverance and faith. That's life, and because the Bible faithfully narrates life with God, all that is to be expected. None of this is a problem for the Bible as such. But as the author of one biblical book put it, there is a time for everything. Maybe third-grade isn't the time to drop our kids off in the biblical library.