A question about reading the Bible with kids – even the hard bits

There was an interesting comment on my post Reading the Bible with kids – even the hard bits.

A mum who’s thinking about how to read the Bible with her family said, “I’d love to see a follow up article about tackling the other types of difficult passages of the Bible – the particularly gory or sexual bits.”

I’ve been giving some thought to this, and I hope to write something in response; but I’m interested to hear your thoughts first, since I think different people will rightly handle this in different ways.

I think there are two important issues:

  • how do we deal with these passages with our own children?
  • how do we deal with these passages with other people’s children, for example, when teaching Sunday School?

What do you think?

38 thoughts on “A question about reading the Bible with kids – even the hard bits

  1. Jean, just quickly, since I have to rush for a monthly church service for people at the other end of life 80-101! (where the helpers are in their 60s-80s!)…

    I think that some discretion with exposing younger children to various matters is quite appropriate. Without being prescriptive about it, there are one or two passages that hint at an age of discretion (Isa 7:15-16?). There are doctrines of milk and of meat (Heb 5:12-14). Therefore some things are probably not appropriate to read with children of tender years. The range of such things one might pass over will diminish as they grow.

    With other people’s children, the discretion level should be even more cautiously applied since one would not want to usurp the parents’ roles, and positively to respect the greater knowledge parents have of their own children’s level of readiness etc.

  2. It’s a bit cheeky commenting on your own blog post :) but just to give another perspective to add to Sandy’s very helpful one:

    My husband and I do read all the Bible with our kids, including the gory and sexual bits. We read through whole books of the Bible, chapter by chapter, after dinner. This is partly to do with the ages of our children – 5, 8, 11 and 13 (if we just had a 5 and 8 year old, we probably wouldn’t be at the “family devotions” stage, but at the kids’ story Bible stage, and this wouldn’t be an issue). But given the ages and stages of our family, this works well for us.

    We are very open (in an appropriate way!) about sex with our kids, and none of them are of the type to be negatively affected by the more violent passages we read. We want them – especially the older kids – to be able to read, learn from and confidently handle all of the Bible. Each understands at their own level: what goes over the youngest one’s head is fascinating to the 8-year-old and relevant to the 11 and 13-year-old.

    Like Sandy, I would be more careful with other people’s kids, not knowing their sensitivities or their parents’ preferences.

  3. Not cheeky at all, Jean. Actually we have read large chunks of the Bible, certainly many full books, and have censored very little. However passages like the rape of Dinah and the Levite’s concubine were either passed over, or only selections read aloud when our girls were younger – I am thinking of Jean’s 5 & 8 stage.

  4. Hi Jean: yesterday evening at dinner time, we finished reading through Judges with our kids – a book with quite a wide spectrum of human depravity. I agree with your comments so far; I’ll add one other point in addition to those.

    Christian parents need to realise what the alternatives actually are. The choice we face is not whether or not we should expose our kids to bad sex and violence. The choice is whether we are going to expose our kids to bad sex and violence in the context of a loving, God-centred family context, or whether we wait a short while for our kids to be exposed to bad sex and violence through movies, computer games, advertising and friends.

    Of course, that’s not really a choice, is it? Here are some of the advantages of dealing with these passages in the Bible with our kids:

    1) We get to give the kids God’s perspective on the issues. In Judges, the terrible human depravity (including the horrific rape near the end) is presented as a logical consequence of denying the loving rule of God over Israel. Movies, computer games, etc., just present it as entertainment, or as random.

    2) Compared to the images of sex and violence all around us, the Bible’s written description leaves a lot to the imagination, and allows the issues to be presented in a way that is appropriate for the readers. So when the kids asked what “rape” was, we gave them a simple age-appropriate description (we said it was hurting somebody very badly and it was not using sex the way God wants us to). They were OK with that.

    3) We get to model to the kids the right reaction to the issues. Many of these biblical stories are told in such a way that they invite us to be (rightly) angry and appalled at human sin. My son and two daughters got to witness their dad (and mum too) recoiling in horror at the idea of a weak father and husband abandoning their daughter / wife to her awful fate. I hope that will be a lasting impression. Much better than seeing this kind of thing for the first time in a context where there is no such interpretation and where it’s presented as “just the way life is” or (even worse) entertaining.

    • Totally agree with you Lionel. That’s why I stopped reading children’s Bibles to my two kids (aged 4 and 6), and started reading the “uncensored” Bible.

      It is vitally important that kids are able to see that the Bible covers ALL of life, particularly the nasty bits. God is not a polite upper class snob, shocked by human depravity – he knows it, will judge it, and has dealt with it on the Cross.

      Praise God that we have Truth for all of life – God help us if we don’t show our children that.

  5. Thank you to everyone who has shared already–it is interesting to read your thoughts!

    A discussion like this makes me think of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (about all Scripture being God-breathed and useful for teaching…). In light of these verses, I would affirm that believers (“the man of God”) could benefit in some way from reading any and every part of the Bible.

    As parents, we should be intentional about reading the Bible with our children. As we consider the “hard” topics, we should ask ourselves what our purposes are for reading these stories to them. Are we just reading it to them because they’re in the Bible, or are we reading it to them because they really need to know it right now? In one sense, there is an urgency for investing in our children’s spiritual lives through words and deeds. On the other hand, we should “zoom out” to consider the child’s life as a whole. They don’t need to be exposed to everything at a young age; some things can wait a while.

    Here’s some advice that I receive on talking with children about difficult topics: Tell them the basics, then invite them ask whatever questions they want. Answer their questions honestly, but don’t give them more information than they ask for. In today’s society, our children will undoubtedly hear about things like rape and murder. When they have questions about these, we should be ready to answer their questions using the Bible. However, I don’t see much benefit to telling them about these topics at very young ages, since there are so many other great stories and topics would focus on. The Bible has countless of stories that are unquestionably appropriate for children. Sure, there are the most popular ones, but there are also several lesser-known ones that rarely get taught–even to adults.

    There is a helpful series of books that help parents talk about sex with their kids (the series is called Learning About Sex). Each book in the series is written for a different age level of children, starting at ages 4-6. Ideally, parents would go through each book with their children at the appropriate age level. Each book has more and more age-appropriate details. By gradually introducing more and more details, parents cultivate an environment that is safe to talk about the topic, in age-appropriate ways.

    • Thanks for your comments, Ben, which I found very helpful.

      Just a side-note… I personally think that 2 Tim 3:16-17, and in fact most of this epistle, in the first instance has a direct application to pastors.

      Certainly it’s clearly a letter from an experienced missionary-pastor to a more junior colleague in pastoral ministry.

      It’s not a letter addressed to the whole church. Even less so than 1 Timothy, which although also addressed to Timothy, has a give away plural ‘you’ in its last verse – 1 Tim 6:21, “Grace be with youse!” (as we’d translate it into Aussie English!)

      But 2 Timothy is a very personal letter addressed to an individual pastor.

      The ‘man of God’ language in 2 Tim 3:17 is reminiscent of what appears to be a semi-technical title for prophetic figures in the Old Testament throughout Joshua – Nehemiah. Moses, David (in a musical context, perhaps linking to his prophetic psalm-writing ministry), Elijah and Elisha are called ‘man of God’, along with many nameless prophets throughout this section.

      It’s also used to refer specifically to Timothy as an individual in 1 Tim 6:11.

      Why this long comment? Because I think that 2 Tim 3:16-17 is a ‘proof-text’ for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture for pastor-teachers (especially in his ministry of teaching and admonishing, see 2 Tim 4:1-5), before it is a proof text for Scriptures’ usefulness for all Christians.

      That is, the Scriptures are to be the Man of God’s textbook for preaching and ministry more broadly!

      Of course, by extension, if they are good for the pastor to teach, and sufficient and authoritative for him, then they are also good for his congregation to learn and should be respected by them as sufficient and authoritative too.

      But I am not quite ready to go in such a straight line to say that 2 Tim 3:16-17 proves that every little section of Scripture ought to be delivered to every little believing child of God at even very young ages. (And I see you agree a few stories might not be raised for the very young.)

      So I am just saying that in context, I am not convinced that very young children qualify as a ‘Man of God’, as mentioned in this verse!

      • Hi, Sandy!

        If it’s true, as you conclude, that all of the Scriptures are “also good for his congregation to learn and should be respected by them as sufficient and authoritative too”, then however we come to this conclusion (whether by reading “man of God” as all Christians or as the pastor-teacher and hence, by implication, all Christians) isn’t the conclusion the same: that all of the Bible is sufficient and authoritative for every Christian? And doesn’t this include children?

        I can imagine not reading certain passages to certain children in exceptional circumstances until they’re older, but I wouldn’t like to make a regular practice or principle of it. It seems to me that if you start cutting our certain bits, it’s hard to see where that might end. I can see that your practice is very close to ours – there are very, very few passages that you wouldn’t read to young children – so I think we’re basically on the same page. But I can also see that there’s a precedent here for cutting out all kinds of stuff – which is, I guess, where the watered-down kids’ Bible comes from! I wonder if the sensitivities are normally the adult’s rather than the child’s.

        I think I’m with Lionel on the importance of talking with kids about these things before they get society’s perspective on them – or come across them themselves in their own Bible reading as they get a little older!

        With great respect :)


  6. My husband reads a chapter of the Bible to my five-year-old son every night, at my son’s request. They read from the CEV, which seems to have less confronting language. They read Acts, then Luke, then he couldn’t get enough of 1 & 2 Samuel and then 1 & 2 Kings, and now they are working through Matthew and Psalms. In general, we explain things to him if they are pivotal to him understanding a situation or if he asks about something. We are usually open and honest about life, but put things in language that he can understand. We apply this to his Bible reading as well.

    • That sounds like a great way of going about it, Susan! Praise God that your 5 year old loves the Bible already! :)

  7. Jean,
    Thanks for starting what has been an excellent discussion. I have two four-year olds and a two-year old and one on the way, Lord willing. So, we aren’t quite at the age where we’ve moved, as a family, past the basics of quality story bibles (like David Helm’s and Sally Lloyd-Jones’). But, I am beginning to read aloud part of the gospels to them in the mornings. So, these are all wonderful helps as I prepare for our next stage.

    Just curious on the follow up from Sandy’s point on 2 Timothy. I’ve been thinking about this recently as I have had helpful push back from a friend on this issue. Other than piety, why are we afraid of skipping over sections of Scripture? I certainly think Lionel’s points out how and why the Bible can set the agenda for our kids’ view of the world and all the mess therein. But, certainly we agree that not all parts of the Bible are equally “important” (I say this cautiously). I haven’t seen many Bible studies on Nahum. Nor have I heard many sermons on it. While everyone agrees that it fits under 2 Timonthy 3, we all set priorities of which parts of the Bible are especially important for a person to grapple with and understand. Even in regular Bible reading, not only studying, most people have read Romans more than Nahum.

    So, take this down to the application to kids. Is it fair to say that some parts just aren’t as important to read to the kids at this point in their development and understanding? Sometimes is it okay to skip some difficult parts? Of course, all the time while praying for wisdom and using appropriate filters to know what is “milk” and “solid food”, and not skipping them only because we don’t want to spend the time in uncomfortable conversations.

    • Thanks, Marty!

      “Is it fair to say that some parts just aren’t as important to read to the kids at this point in their development and understanding? Sometimes is it okay to skip some difficult parts?”

      I agree with you that there will always be some selection in what we read with people. For example, if I’m reading the Bible with a non-Christian, I’ll start with Mark, not Malachi; and I’ll talk about salvation before I talk about predestination. When I’m teaching Sunday School (or first year uni students!), I’m more likely to teach Mark than Ezekiel, as I want to introduce the kids to Jesus and the gospel. But I won’t avoid or ‘skip’ more difficult topics and passages. In fact, I’ve found great value in talking about these topics and passages with children – even young ones.

      Are some passages ‘less important’ to people at different ages and stages? Harder to understand, certainly. But I’m not sure if they’re less important – they all build up our picture of God and his salvation. And, in fact, I’d probably deliberately read some of the ‘harder’ bits as well as some of the ‘easier’ bits with kids, because I want them to grapple with both. You have to work much harder to teach the difficult bits, but my favourite Sunday School lessons ever came from Leviticus! We learnt so much about how Jesus fulfils the Old Testament law – including my 5 year old.

      Althought perhaps by ‘less important’ you mean a lesser priority: in other words, we need to get some bits under our belt first (the gospel and the gospels, for example). I guess I’d agree with that – there are some bits I’d do first. But I wouldn’t skip the other bits. I hope (and I’m sure you do too!) that we’re reading Nahum (or similar) with our kids as well as Mark. And in the congreagation and the family, a 5 year old (especially one with older siblings) could find themselves starting anywhere!

      I think I need to shut up now and let someone else have their say! :) Tell me what you think, Marty.


      • PS. I’m not sure ‘lesser priority’ is all that helpful a category now I think about it! I think what I mean is ‘clearer’ and ‘harder to understand’; or, perhaps, ‘more clearly about Jesus and the gospel’ and ‘about Jesus and the gospel but in a way that’s harder to see’ :)… I guess what we might do at this point is start with the ‘clearer’ bits, but also make sure we cover the ‘harder’ bits.

        This is a separate category from ‘gory’ or ‘sexual’, of course, and a bit of a separate issue. These are the bits you might, I guess, ‘skip’. Although I wouldn’t generally do this, for reasons already mentioned!

  8. I might throw in a slightly different point of view.

    I think the problem is not with exposing our kids to unpleasant things in the Bible – especially if, as Lionel points out, that is done in a caring way by a loving parent who understands the sensitivities of their own child.

    My concern with reading the whole Bible with little kids is more that many of us don’t really understand what a young brain is capable of understanding as it develops. If you are going to read the Bible with kids, I urge you to take the time to understand something about the basics of child educational development so that you can explain to your children what the Bible is saying in ways they will not misunderstand.

    For example, if your children are still at a stage that they are concrete thinkers (not abstract) they will need to have Jesus’ parable very clearly explained or they will think that Jesus is more interested in sheep than in people.

    If you are reading parts of the OT to young children, you need to make sure they understand when these things happened. But really young kids struggle with concepts of time and history.

    Part of the skill of teaching kids well is checking they have understood by asking them questions (not just “do you understand?” – questions which ask them to explain back to you).

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  10. Hi Friends, I am certainly not wanting to discourage parents from systematically reading every bit of the Bible to their kids of whatever age, if that’s what they think is best. Certainly as they grow both in age and, Lord willing, in knowledge of the Lord, I want to encourage them to read every bit of the Bible.

    But I am just a little hesitant to make this following move:

    “Man shall not live by bread alone, but every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God” = Thou shalt adopt a method of discipling your children that involves systematically reading of every verse of every chapter of every book of the Bible, from a very young age, without any discretion to pass over something you might judge age inappropriate (possibly educationally, as Ian mentioned, or topically, as with Jean’s “gory or sexual bits”).

    I do not think the implied command follows so neatly. The authority, inspiration and usefulness of every part of Scripture does not imply there is only one acceptable Bible reading method to adopt with young children (or adults).

    In addition to slowing down the direct-line application of 2 Tim 3:16-17 to congregation members, by pointing out it’s primary referent is to pastors, I have also given two other scriptural reasons for suggesting there may be good reason to hold back certain passages, one being the suggestion of an age of discretion for children in the Bible, the other being the principle that you focus on the milk and making sure believers are coping with that before moving onto meat (though you want to get there).

    Not sure anyone has really demonstrated whether those observations are inadequate as reasons for not insisting on every single verse being read to a young child.

    But just ask whether we are consistent with adults.

    Do we command adults to read every bit of the Bible? We encourage it. Bit do we command it? Certainly we’ve all agreed that we start in particular places with adults new to the faith before going elsewhere. Preaching programs, even systematic expository ones also give different amounts of time to different books and parts of of books of the Bible. They’ve even been known to skip over sections!

    I think the combination of the scriptural hesitations I’ve raised and the need to allow room for parental wisdom means I am content not to insist parents must never skip verses or episodes they judge their children not to be ready for.

    • I’ll throw in the interesting example of Nehemiah 8:2. Only those capable of understanding were brought to hear the Law read.

      • Wouldn’t that have included children, Ian – at least those old enough to comphrehend spoken speech? I don’t know the passage well. But it could well be talking about people who truly can’t understand: like toddlers or those with dementia.

        • Yes, of course. I was really quoting it in support of my ‘educational capacity’ point. There are people who can’t understand parts of God’s word. That must include babies, and then there is a spectrum of development as children grow, so that what I might read to a 3 year old will be different to what I might read to a 5 year old.

          Just because they can understand the speech or the words doesn’t mean they understand the meaning. Which brings me back to the importance of questioning and reviewing a child’s understanding as a vital part of any teaching session.

    • Thanks, Sandy. I’m finding your reflections helpful and thought-provoking as always. Thank you for giving an alternate point of view so coherently and thoroughly.

      I get your point: that the fact that we should be reading all of Scripture with people (including children) doesn’t mean we have to read every little bit, but may exercise some discretion in what we read and the age at which we read it.

      I’m a bit uncomfortable with being associated with the “gory and sexual bits”, but I guess I asked for it by posting this question in the first place! :)

      This on-line communication is so frustrating: there are so many questions I want to ask you! For example, why did you choose to read that JC Ryle chapter with your kids but skip some other bits? To my mind it’s pretty scary – though I think it’s a helpful balance to our modern tendency to avoid anything that talks about God’s judgement.

      How would you positively state a way of reading the Bible with kids that covers the ‘tough stuff’ even if it skips the occasional bit that we may judge our kids aren’t ready for?

  11. Just thinking about a few other passages people haven’t mentioned yet…

    What about Exodus 10:1-2 – “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.”

    and Exodus 12:26-27 – “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country”

    and Psalm 78:1-7 – “O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth… I will utter hidden things, things from of old what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.”

    – read in conjunction with Joel 1:3 (‘Tell it to your children’ – about God’s terrible judgment), Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (‘impress’ these commands on your children), Psalm 34:11-14 (teach them the ‘fear of the Lord’) and 2 Timothy 3:14-15 (‘From infancy you have known…’)?

    You could make a strong case from these verses for reading out passages from the Bible that talk about God’s judgement, even in graphic ways (like the plagues on Egypt), and even with young children.

    I can’t imagine an Israelite parent skipping bits as they told the stories of God’s judgement annd salvation with their children – though this is speculation, of course – but it makes me wonder if these are modern, Western sensibilities.

    Of course Sandy is right that there’s no command to read every bit of the Bible with everyone. I don’t think we’ll emphasise all parts equally with children – or anyone. But I’m still a little uncomfortable with leaving bits out as we read.

    On the ‘milk and meat’ issue – if I was reading through a book of the bible with a non-Christian or a very young Christian (as I’ll be doing with the book of Mark with a friend soon) I wouldn’t skip bits, even if they were hard for them to understand or to take. I’d read them, then explain them with care and sensitivity.

    Sandy, you say “Do we command adults to read every bit of the Bible? We encourage it. But do we command it?” I would never command it, but I would encourage it, with children as well as adults.

    To be honest, my personal tendency is to be squeamish in what I read, and I’m glad of a confidence in the Bible (which does come from 2 Timothy 3:15-17, I admit!) and a practice in reading it that gives me courage to read it all with my kids and others.

    I don’t think I disagree with you that it’s okay for some parents to skip bits they think their children may be particularly sensitive to. I think I’d just encourage them to take care in doing this – that they don’t skip over important issues like sin and judgement – and I’d share my own personal experience: my parents read it all with us, and we read it all with our kids, and I’ve only seen good come from that.

    • Hi Jean,

      All of the OT passages you quote refer to “sons” and do not use words specifically related to young children. Their focus is on the preservation of knowledge throughout succeeding generations and not specifically on the age of the sons when they are taught, so in the end I don’t think they tell you much about whether parents would “censor” information relayed to young children. They could be paraphrased as “teach the next generation these things, and the generations that follow them.”

      Furthermore, at that time the parents did not have a copy of the Bible in their homes (this is largely a post-Gutenberg problem), they relayed stories orally. If they were speaking to young children they would most likely speak in language appropriate to those children, and so they would effectively provide a “children’s version” of the story.

      In later times there are also indications that instruction was selective (such as the tradition that the Song of Songs was not to be read be men until they reached the age of 30).

      If there is anything in the Bible about pedagogy it is the wisdom literature, most specifically Proverbs. It teaches that children are to be disciplined and taught by their parents, and that they begin life foolish/ignorant and that foolishness is to be trained out of them by these means. More relevant to this discussion, however, is the notion that bearing knowledge does not make one knowledgable — in fact, bearing knowledge one cannot handle makes one more foolish (Prov 26:7, 9)!

      I would take from all these things that discretion is appropriate when teaching young children. Do not teach something that the child is not ready to understand or is likely to misconstrue — and I can’t see why that would not apply to which parts of the Bible we read with them!

      • Thanks, Martin. What’s the word for “infancy/childhood” in 2 Timothy 3:15 mean – do you or anyone else know? I’ll look up a commentary but thought I’d ask.

        • Hi Jean,

          The word is βρέφος (brephos, cf. Luke 1:41, 44; 1Pet 2:2 which associates it with teaching and “milk”) and the phrase could almost be translated “since you were a baby.” Again, however, the instruction would largely have been oral and, I expect, age appropriate (see 1Pet 2:2).

          • What about the public reading out of the Torah/law, which is referred to a few times in the Old Testament, Martin? I hear what you’re saying – that the stories would generally have been retold orally – but there were occasions when the law was read to the whole community (including children, I assume). This is closer to when we read the Bible out loud to the church either in a congregation or in a home (particularly one with a spread of ages, as Fiona points out below).

            Or the prophets or Jesus speaking to the crowds (they didn’t pull any punches) or the Psalms sung in the temple (which are often very violent) – but maybe the mothers covered up their children’s ears and hurried them away…;) I’m not trying to be difficult, Martin, just chase this thought down all its different pathways. Glad to hear what you think.

    • Hi Jean,

      Seems replies can only be nested to a certain level, so hopefully this will appear in an sensible location in the thread!

      It isn’t entirely clear what was read out in places like Deut 31:11 and Josh 8:34 (Neh 8:8 is particularly interesting). It seems unlikely that it was more than Deuteronomy, and probably only part of it at that. Beyond this, we don’t know a lot about what was read to whom, so it remains a matter of conjecture. OTOH I think there are good indicators (mentioned above) that some discretion was exercised over exactly what was read in public contexts, and within the home where parents are responsible the situation would have been vastly different without a copy of the Bible to read from.

  12. I wonder if some of this discussion is too child-centric. When we have age-segregated learning times, or just one or two children in our families, we can tailor what we read and teach to that age-group, and there are great benefits in that. It is appropriate to think about how much knowledge children can handle. However, if we have all-age services, where we are committed to reading the whole Bible aloud, or family Bible readings with children of a range of ages, children may well be exposed to Bible passages and ideas that we would not readily choose to read to them. It may not be suitable to make these passage the focus of a Sunday School lesson, but I would be very loathe to edit out difficult parts of the Bible from congregational reading because there might be children present when it is read aloud. (P.S. I’ve enjoyed reading from other comments, and particularly liked what Lionel said – thanks, Lionel.)

    • Thanks, Fiona. Yes, that’s where the issue has come up for us: not when we had a couple of young kids, but as our children have spanned a greater range of ages, and we want to read through books of the Bible as a family. And a friend last night was just commenting that next week, in their church service, they’ll be reading one of the ‘rape’ passages in the Old Testament before the kids go out to Sunday School.

      Children are part of the people of God, and while we may be selective about the passages we read to them at home, there’s a place for them being exposed to more. I grew up in a church where children sat through the whole church service and where we sang only psalms, and I’ve never forgotten the impact of sermons on predestination and psalms about God’s judgement, which I heard and sang at an early age – this has given me a much bigger view of God, even now. I wonder if we protect our children too much.

  13. There’s certainly been a lot of discussion over the weekend! I thought I’d add a couple more thoughts.

    Sandy, I agree with you in rejecting the ‘extreme case’ command – i.e. “Thou shalt adopt a method of discipling your children that involves systematically reading of every verse of every chapter of every book of the Bible, from a very young age, without any discretion to pass over something you might judge age inappropriate”. But I’m wondering where you’re getting this extreme case from? It doesn’t really seem to be what Jean or anyone else is arguing. Are you reacting against something else? Maybe I’m missing something.

    As for 2 Tim 3:16-17, I think there’s a more direct line of application to family devotions than you’ve given credit for. Certainly, 2 Tim 3:16-17 is about the usefulness of scripture for pastoring / teaching. But one of the big themes of the pastoral epistles (1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus) is the very close relationship / overlap between the church and the family. This close relationship is, admittedly, more explicit in 1 Timothy and Titus. But it’s also there in 2 Timothy. The “all scripture” which Paul mentions in 2 Tim 3:16 must include the “sacred writings” – i.e. the Old Testament – which Timothy learned as a child / infant, almost certainly as a direct result of the work of his Jewish mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5) teaching Timothy on the basis of the synagogue readings.

    So while I agree with the ‘man of God’ = pastor / teacher equation, there’s no reason to exclude family life here. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children. And those who teach, including parents, should realise that all scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching (themselves and others), rebuking (themselves and others), correcting, etc…

    So the question when I come to a difficult part of scripture is not “am I commanded to read it according to a particular systematic methodology?” but rather, “How on earth is this useful for teaching?” The answer might be different in different family circumstances. You might answer, “I can’t see how it’s useful at the moment, so we’ll skip it for today” (we’ve done this). But I think Jean is right: if we do that too often, we risk undermining the principle of Scripture’s usefulness. Perhaps we need to be more creative. We certainly need to be sensitive to where our children are at. But we shouldn’t give up too easily.

    Finally, here’s a further reflection about our own family’s recent roller-coaster ride through Judges. We didn’t actually start to read Judges on the basis of some detailed, theologically informed 10-point plan or anything. Rather, we initially chose to read Judges at dinner time because we thought it would be a cool and fun way to introduce our kids to reading and learning from large chunks of scripture; we knew that the stories (at least the early ones) were really gripping. When we got further in to the book, we remembered how “gory and sexual” some bits of it were. But we decided that we should keep going – after all, it was God’s word and therefore useful for teaching. We were using the NIV for our reading – which turned out to be quite useful for our purposes, because many of the words and phrases were a bit over-the-heads of our kids, and that meant that it was up to us to explain a lot of it. And we could do the explanation in an age-appropriate way. For our older two kids (aged 7 and 9), we could talk more about the sexual stuff (see above). For our youngest (aged 4, and with autism), we were able to explain to her that “The people were very naughty. They needed a king. They needed Jesus!” (we’ve explained to her before what a king is).

    A bit rambling, but there’s my thoughts. I’d be happy to read further reflections, but unfortunately other commitments mean I can’t comment any further on this post.

    • :) That sounds very like our haphazard approach to reading the Bible after dinner. “I know, let’s read Ezekiel!” “Oh, dear, look at chapter 23” (that’s me). “Nah, let’s read it, it’s God’s word” (that’s my husband). Cue eye-rolling from our 13-year-old, scientific interest from our 11-year-old, questions like “What is a prostitute?” from our 8-year-old, and ‘over-his-headness’ from our 5-yerar-old (and much laughter from us all). But along the way, we all learn a lot about God, his commitment to his people, his anger and judgement, the seriousness of sin, and the importance of following him with all our heart.

  14. Wow, there’s been a lot of lively discussion going on in here! Thanks Jean for opening my question up to all :-).

    The question came up in relation to Jean’s blog post and our plans to read Genesis with our children (2-8yo) next year. We’ve already had the “what is adultery?” question ;-). I think the ultimate outcome (that I took from the discussion) was that our children will become aware of violence etc in the world, and the best way to “introduce” them to that is through reading about it in the Bible and seeing it from God’s perpective. However, it is also appropriate to “censor” your reading of the Bible at times, taking into consideration the ages and maturity of your respective children.

    Thanks. I will ponder this further in relation to my own family.

  15. Thanks, all, for what has been a very interesting discussion. It’s certainly given me heaps to think about. Thanks for all your contributions.

    Liz, I’m glad you found it helpful, and pray that God will bless your family as you read the Bible together!

  16. Thanks everyone. Not much to add. However when I say that I often end up contradicting myself. So let’s see.

    Lionel, I think you are right that I was maybe over-reacting. I think by reading bit and pieces of different people’s comments I felt there was a bit of a vibe in the direction of applying a doctrine about the authority and usefulness of every bit of Scripture into a somewhat inflexible single method of reading everything without exception to all kids and removing any discretion in passing over particularly horrific incidents like the rape of Dinah or the Levite’s concubine.

    I’ve re-read and you are right. No one was going that way. I think everyone acknowledged there could be some discretion.

    Jean, I strongly hear what you are saying about being very hesitant to get into the habit of passing over stuff we find unpalatable. In re-reading I also realised that the gory and sexual bits was not originally your phrase, but your original questioner’s!

    I also noted that your opening comments that “I think different people will rightly handle this in different ways.” I should have not lost sight of the flexibility you put right up front!

    Martin, thanks as always for your precision in some of the details and some careful implications you suggested.

    And thanks to those who pointed out 2 Tim 3:15 to add to my 2 Tim 3:16-17… From infancy!

    So I think there’s a fair bit of agreement that
    (i) there’s lots to like theologically and practically in working our way through all the Scriptures with our children over time, and sometimes they will just take it as it comes better than we may worry about it; and yet
    (ii) there’s some room for discretion – and I think it is often not so much about avoiding concepts of judgment or horrible sin, but more in passing over some incidents or details thereof which little children may find particularly disturbing.

    Over and out for me.

  17. And another link: this time to an article my friend Fiona McLean (who commented above) wrote in response to the question, “Should we read the gory or sexual bits of the Bible to children?” You’ll find the first of four short posts by Fiona on my blog at reading the whole Bible to our children.

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