Bible Studies, Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Bible Story Handbook” by John Walton and Kim Walton


John Walton and Kim Walton’s The Bible Story Handbook is a resource for teaching 175 Bible stories and their meanings. I want to say at the outset that this wide range and its being written towards a general audience (with teaching to children as a special focus) in no way means this is an easy or unchallenging book.

The book has a great introduction that argues that we need to be teaching the actual point of the Bible stories we use in lessons in Sunday School, sermons, and the like rather than abstracting the stories and chopping them apart to draw out specific illustrations we’d like to have. This is a very challenging introduction, not because it is technical, but because we so often do see this done in teaching the Bible and we so often do it ourselves. For example, we might see the story of Jonathan and David as about friendship rather than about what God was doing through the people acting in the story. A more extreme example is from the authors: one of their children came home and had been taught the story of Cain and Abel in Sunday School. But the point of the story–which was told sans violence because of the age of the children–they were told was that Cain and Abel had bodies. That’s it.

It is this level of abstraction that John Walton and Kim Walton work against in the book, consistently arguing story-by-story that the point of the Bible is to teach us about God and God’s action in human history. The stories are each outlined in the same fashion. There is a subheading listing the passage that has what the Bible story is (i.e. Samson and Delilah) followed by the verses that will be discussed (i.e. Judges 16). Then, there is a “Lesson Focus” that outlines key parts of the lesson in a sentence or two, then has main focal points of the lesson in bullet points. After that there is a Lesson Application which hones the Lesson Focus in to what we might take from the lesson. Then, the biblical context of the lesson is highlighted (this section often begins the same if there are multiple lessons in the same book). After that, Interpretational Issues are addressed (such as Samson’s hair and his strength). Background information related to the text is given (such as looms and their usage at the time of the story). Finally, “Mistakes to Avoid” puts forward the key meaning of the text and highlights some errors related to interpretation that people often make related to the specific text.

These sections each have vital information and are certainly of great value for those who want to preach, teach, or explore God’s Word.

There are a few downsides to the book. At times, it seems the “Mistakes to Avoid” might not fully explain why certain interpretations are “mistakes” or why the preferred interpretation ought to be put forward. The book has very broad application but does focus on teaching the Bible stories to children. It would perhaps have been nice to have similar notes about how to direct the lesson towards adults. These are both largely just nitpicks about what is an otherwise phenomenal book.

The Good

+Extremely challenging to many presupposed ideas about how to tell and teach Bible stories
+Great selection of Bible stories
+A constant stream of firm exegesis yielding sometimes surprising insights
+Applicable immediately to teaching settings

The Bad

-Would have been nice to have more focus on teaching Bible stories to adults as well
-Some of the “mistakes to avoid” do not seem like mistakes after all


John Walton and Kim Walton have done a great service with The Bible Story Handbook. I would recommend it for the shelf of the pastor, teacher, and laity. Anyone can benefit from reading the book, whether they are just learning the Bible or coming back to stories that have grown familiar with time. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: Crossway provided me with a copy of the book for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever, nor did they request changes or edit this review in any way. 


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John Walton and Kim Walton, The Bible Story Handbook (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Bible Story Handbook” by John Walton and Kim Walton

  1. This looks great. I’ve read a number of Walton’s other books and have appreciated them.

    Posted by Anthony Weber | May 26, 2015, 6:29 PM
    • I have always been challenged by books Walton writes, in ways that developed me further and gave me lots of insights. I am a huge fan of his works. I had the chance to meet him last year and he was very gracious and had lots of insight in conversation as well.You can get the book for free in e-book form through Crossway’s “Beyond the Page” blog review program if you want to look more deeply into it. I know it’s not the type of review you most often do on your blog, but it’s one way to get into it if you’d like. I’m a big fan of Crossway’s program for blog reviews.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 26, 2015, 9:02 PM
  2. Hm. It sounds potentially interesting, from your review. I do have to say I get skittish whenever Christians start talking about “the meanings of Bible stories.” Clearly, Bible stories *do* have meanings; and, as a member of a theological tradition that takes confessional standards seriously, I don’t believe that Bible stories have *unlimited* meanings, or that all “meanings” are equally valid. But I’m suspicious of rushing to “the meaning” or even “the meanings” too quickly, and don’t even know that “the meaning(s)” of the stories can be “taught” in the kind of didactic way that this book seems to advocate (again, only inferring, and maybe wrongly, from your review).

    As for why Cain and Abel were taught to their kids that way… on the one hand, maybe the teacher thought that was the only age-appropriate “meaning” to be found (though I doubt it). On the other hand, there are some Bible stories that, if you can’t teach them as they are, should wait to be taught!

    Interesting review – I will remember this book and check it out sometime.

    Posted by Michael Poteet | May 26, 2015, 8:05 PM
    • Yes, I think there is a danger to looking for “the meaning” in the sense of one and only, but there is something to be said for there being a reason (reasons?) God revealed this as inspired words. It’s a tough line, but I think that the authors do a great job walking the line and putting forward some great insights throughout the book. I don’t always agree, but I was often challenged and made aware of the depth of texts I hadn’t thought about as thoroughly before.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 26, 2015, 8:59 PM
  3. Got this about a year ago. As you said, the intro is great, very thought provoking. My one issue with it is that Walton seems to reject the idea of doing character studies of OT people, that attempting to derive examples to emulate/avoid from studying the actions and traits of those people is to forsake the purpose of the narratives they are found in. While I appreciate his corrective emphasis on making “God the hero” of every Bible story, I wonder if maybe he’s narrowing things just a bit too much.

    Posted by yankeejwb | June 4, 2015, 2:20 AM
    • I do agree with this and probably should have highlighted this a little more. It’s a bit hasty at points, I think, to seemingly dismiss any possibility of character analysis and application from the people involved in the stories.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 7, 2015, 9:41 PM

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