Let’s be honest, shall we? Studying the Bible as a family can seem intimidating. As the developer of an at-home Bible survey curriculum for families, Bible Road Trip™, I get emails from parents who find reading the Bible with kids to be daunting. A lot of emails. Most of the time, these messages boil down to one of three issues. These concerns are truly valid, and they have real answers. As you embark on a Bible-reading journey with your children, you’re likely to ask these questions yourself.
We don’t need to fret—these common queries about family Bible studies have answers, and we’ll go through them together.
I assigned David Copperfield to the boys while I was homeschooling them through middle school. They spent about three weeks reading the novel during their literature time. I just asked my seventeen-year-old, Forrest, how long the book is, and without taking a breath he rattled off, “Eight hundred sixteen pages.” It was a memorable experience for him. The tome by Charles Dickens has an estimated 282,315 words. It’s a pretty big book! Even so, they covered it in about fifteen days of reading time—and they talk about the characters and themes all the time.
The word count of the Bible varies by version, but it clocks in at a little over two and a half times longer than David Copperfield. The New International Version contains 726,109 words, and the King James Version is 788,280 words.
Personally, I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover in ninety days or less several times. While that’s not a task I’d assign to my child, it certainly made reading the story of Scripture while looking for the main themes seem much more accessible to me.
You can read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation with your kids. Spread it over a three-year period, or just spend ten minutes in Scripture each day, and suddenly reading the Bible cover-to-cover is very doable.
Another common objection parents have about reading the Bible with their children is that Scripture seems like it may be too difficult for their kids to understand. But there are a lot of Bible translations that are easy to read, so let’s just look at a quick sampling.
The New International Readers Version (NIRV) and the International Children’s Bible (ICB) are both written at a third-grade reading level. These translations are paraphrases, so while they stick to the main message of the original languages of the Bible, they may retell the story in a more modern, straightforward manner.
When our preschoolers listened to the audio Bible at night, it was the ICB. Will your kindergartener understand absolutely everything in the ICB version? Probably not, but repeated exposure to God’s Word will allow her to absorb much of what is read and to grow in understanding as she hears new words and concepts. With an emphasis on simple vocabulary and grammar, these versions may be very helpful when reading as a young family.
The New Living Translation (NLT) is written at a sixth-grade reading level. It’s a thought-for-thought translation, rather than a word-for-word rendering, making it less desirable for serious adult study, yet accurate in its portrayal of biblical concepts. It can be a good version for reading aloud with your family.
At the seventh-grade level are the New International Version (NIV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Both translations are a mixture of thought-for-thought and word-for-word translations. Many families choose these versions for their more modern language with uncompromised meaning.
In the word-for-word translation category, you’ll find versions that strive for accuracy and integrity to the original biblical language. The English Standard Version (ESV) is rated grade eight. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is eleventh grade level with some out-of-date phrases modernized for clarity. Finally, the King James Version (KJV) is a translation from 1611—updated in 1769—and is written in older English. It is the most challenging to read, so it is rated at a twelfth-grade reading level.
As you can see, the Bible is available in languages children can read on their own. When we’re reading aloud to kids, they can often understand and process a much higher level of information. They won’t be working hard to sound out unfamiliar words, and we parents are available for explanation.
Even if your family translation preference is above your child’s reading level, you can make it work for your kids as you come alongside them in their reading. Your children with learning disabilities can also successfully participate in family Bible time at the level they are able—even if that is just listening. God is always working in the hearts of our children, and he is not surprised by their challenges.
Sometimes, what parents mean when they say the Bible is too hard to read is that the theology of Scripture is challenging. While that may be true, we can work to explain and help our kids understand difficult concepts. There is value in tackling tough subjects like sin and salvation. It’s the way we help our kids mature in Christ.
Parents agree: There are some truly tough subjects in the Bible. Theology is worth wrestling through, but what about all the sexual content, violence, slavery, and distasteful stuff we don’t want to cover with our kids? Judges 19—the chapter about Levite and his concubine—is, in my opinion, one of the most painful sections in the Bible. It makes my heart hurt every time I read it.
Paul answers our question about whether the Bible is appropriate in a passage he writes to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
That is absolutely true. All of Scripture is valuable.
Yet not all is necessary for little hearts to wade through as they are first learning to read the Bible. In my opinion, it is acceptable to skip parts of the Bible as you read through it with your younger children. We certainly waited to present the story of the poor, abused concubine until our kids were in middle school. With our kindergartners, we skipped for mundane sections of the Bible liked the detailed genealogies. We didn’t read the Song of Solomon until high school.
As for sexual content that wasn’t graphic or an example of the abject depravity of man, we just explained—in a matter-of-fact way—that God has a plan for sex within marriage, that it is a very special gift to married couples, and that babies come from sex. Sex is a wonderful thing that has rules—just like all of God’s gifts. We taught our elementary-aged kids that rape is a terrible way that men who don’t love God sometimes hurt women. For our very small children, we skipped Dinah’s and Tamar’s stories and others that would introduce the subject front and center.
The Bible, especially the historical books, often introduces stories factually, just telling them outright. That doesn’t mean these narratives are prescriptive—we aren’t to follow every example set by biblical figures.
Often, we see the terrible pain caused by the sin and selfishness of people in the Bible. Slavery, for example, is clearly a grave injustice. There are different kinds of slavery. Often, slavery in the Bible was due to debt and allowed bondservants a great deal of freedom and an escape from starvation in a society without social nets. Biblical prisoners of war, on the other hand, suffered terribly.
There are subjects in Scripture that are difficult to read and comprehend—they’re downright edgy. That doesn’t mean we can’t do the hard work with our kids to help them understand the Bible. But it also doesn’t mean our small people need to hear all of the Bible at once.
We can read through Scripture cover to cover with our teens, yet selectively omit sections for our younger kids. We can work to explore tough subjects with our middle-grade and teen children, making sure we truly understand God’s heart for his people.
Taken from Help Your Kids Learn & Love the Bible by Danika Cooley ©2021 Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.
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