Sometimes in the course of parenting, we are given sound advice in the raising of children. Other times, the counsel offered is not the path to take. Sadly, it may only be the course of time that leads one to discover whether there was value in the words that were spoken. Steve and I found ourselves in this kind of difficulty, when it came to reading the Bible with the children, as we raised our first three who are now adults. We listened to the wrong encouragement. We were given another opportunity with our five younger children, having the benefit of spiritual growth in us as parents. We also had more experience in learning to listen to the Lord instead of listening to others.
When our older children were young, we were told that preschoolers couldn’t understand the Bible. It was simply too difficult for them. The words were too hard. The concepts were above their heads. The Bible wouldn’t hold their attention. Spiritual training, according to these voices, was not to be neglected, though. We were encouraged to make the Bible real to our young children by reading them books with stories that were easy to understand, exciting, fun, and enticing for young eyes and minds with oodles of colorful illustrations. Most said that our preschoolers needed easy-to-understand materials like picture Bibles or books that had one verse and then a story connected with the verse. There were plenty of these books available, so that’s what we started using for our Bible time with our children.
Although our Kindergarten-age oldest son was praised by a teacher for his Bible knowledge, gleaned from a picture Bible, we never felt like we were quite hitting the mark in our children’s spiritual nurturing when we used these types of materials. The children enjoyed them, no doubt. We spent beneficial time together with our children as we read from these books. Where was the spiritual meat, though? Could it really be that pictures illustrating God’s truth or paraphrased stories were able to convey the same truth and wisdom found in the Word? Did these children’s materials have the power of the Bible in them?
As our children became older, the Lord was pulling our hearts away from the fluff of other books for family Bible time. It took a few intermediate steps from picture Bibles, but eventually we moved to using the Bible for Bible time. What a novel idea! Of course, by now our older children were well into their elementary grades and could be expected, even by those who liked to give suggestions, to start understanding some of what was read from the Bible.
In our large family, using Bibles for family time meant that our youngest children—who were then babies, toddlers, and preschoolers—were involved in Bible time using real Bibles. We were amazed. We were shocked. We were dumbfounded. Our preschoolers most certainly weren’t fitting the model set out earlier for us. They liked Bible time with the family and with Bibles. Our little children could understand much of what we were reading. They would ask questions about what they didn’t understand. They did great. When Mary was four years old—long before she could read—she would still participate in our family’s tradition at the end of our Bible reading. After reading the chapter for that night, each family member picks out a verse that applies to his life in some way and shares it with the rest of the family.
Mary would listen as the chapter was read and understand it well enough to know which verse she wanted to pick. She even had a system to be able to tell us her verse number. She would identify the family member who read the verse she was choosing. She would then count around the room, since we each read two verses until the chapter ended—sometimes her verse was read on the second round—to determine the verse number. Then she would tell us the verse number and articulate the personal application from what had been read in that verse. That is pretty amazing for a very normal four-year-old if preschoolers can’t understand the Bible!
Scripture gives us a good basis for reading the Bible with our children and teaching them from it. “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). I don’t know exactly how Timothy was taught. However, when this verse says that he has “known the holy scriptures” from a child, I don’t think he was learning from any popular Jewish children’s picture books of the time. I believe he was being taught directly from Scripture. Look at these verses and the power we see in God’s Word—even for a child. Strong’s Concordance indicates that the word “child” is actually a baby or young child. Timothy’s instruction from the Bible began when he was very young.
In this process of what to use for Bible time with young children, consider the appetites that are developed. When we give our children Bible story books and picture Bibles rather than real Bibles for family Bible reading, are we developing a love in their hearts for God’s Word? Are we teaching them that God’s Word is the very sustenance of their lives? Are we giving them a comfort level that they can and should learn and understand the Word? Are children’s picture Bibles “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”? Are they “. . . quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and . . . is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)?
We experienced firsthand the consequences of using picture Bibles, story books, and cute devotionals for Bible time. We had created an appetite in our three older children for those kinds of materials. They much preferred something with a story and a picture in it to the Word itself. They weren’t excited when Steve said we were going to begin reading the Bible. They wanted a story from one of their other books or children’s devotionals. It was a process to help them develop a love for the Word and to let go of wanting it to be entertaining.
Our younger children haven’t had this problem with bad appetites being developed in them regarding Bible reading. Instead they have had positive appetites instilled in them. They have grown up with real Bibles and have been a part of the family reading the Bible together. They have been able to understand the Word without needing pictures and stories. Some have participated in family Bible time since the day they were born, once we had instituted reading the Bible with the children. God’s inspired Word has filled their minds and consequently taught their hearts from infancy. They truly love God’s Word.
I would encourage you to consider these thoughts as you plan what to use in your family Bible time and preschool Bible time. We pray that our experience, both negative and positive, would give you information to help you see the value of using Bibles even with young children. May we be moms who love the Word so much that nothing can be substituted for it in the lives of our children.