Teaching God’s Word to Our Children | by Daniel Botkin
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
This passage makes it clear that the primary responsibility for the spiritual training of children belongs to the parents. Many parents neglect this God-given duty. They think that teaching God’s Word to their children is the job of the Sunday-school teacher or rabbi or parochial school teacher. The instruction these teachers give can supplement and reinforce the spiritual training a child gets at home, but it should never be used as a substitute for instruction from the parents.
Most parents who let others take the responsibility of teaching their children do not do so out of rebellion or defiance. Many parents honestly believe that they are unqualified and incapable of teaching God’s Word to their children. They have believed the world’s lie that says only specially gifted and trained people can teach their children. But God would not command parents to teach their children if the average parent is incapable of doing it.
One part of the problem stems from the word “teach.” Some parents, when they hear this word, think that teaching their children the Bible will entail lengthy, complex theological discussions, complete with historical background, cross references, and insights from the original Hebrew or Greek. Teaching children is not that involved, of course, especially when they are young. The commandment in Deuteronomy suggests that teaching our children involves simply talking about the things of God on a regular, consistent basis when we sit at home, as we travel, when we lie down, and when we rise up.
Some parents might say, “But I don’t know the Bible well enough to even talk about it. What can I do?”
The obvious answer for these parents is to simply read the Bible to their children. Of course it should be a translation that is understandable to the child. As much as I love reading the King James Version to myself, I don’t recommend it for preschoolers.
There are also various children’s Bibles available. These are not actual translations, but Bible stories told in a way that is understandable to children.
I highly recommend Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Bible Story (Review & Herald Publ., Washington DC), a ten volume set that has been around since the 1950s. It stays close to the Bible text, and children of all ages find the stories interesting and exciting. It also has lots of color pictures. It is an expanded version of the one-volume condensed version that is often seen in waiting rooms of doctors and dentists.
Whether parents read to their children from a Bible or from a children’s Bible, it is important to have set times for family devotions on a regular basis. Irregular, haphazard doses of God’s Word will produce irregular, haphazard fruit in our children. Consistent teaching on a regular basis will produce consistent fruit on a regular basis.
When my children were very young (2-3 years old), I began by simply telling them very short Bible stories every day in simple language they could understand, and then prayed a short prayer for them. A few years later we began reading from Maxwell’s Bible Story, and had each child say a short prayer. Then when our two oldest were 9 and 10, they read through the entire Bible on their own and summarized each chapter in writing. We still read The Bible Story for the young children, and our three older ones read and memorize Bible passages as part of their home-school curriculum.
Family devotions do not have to stretch into a one-hour “church service.” It is amazing how much a small child’s mind can accumulate and retain as the result of just 10 or 15 minutes’ teaching per day. When our two oldest children were about 6 and 7 years old, many Christians we knew marveled at how much Scripture our children knew. On more than one occasion, older Christians felt embarrassed and ashamed (and perhaps rightly so!) when our children could answer a “Bible Trivia” question that had the adults stumped. People were surprised to hear our 7-year-old son casually mention how old Joshua was when he died; they were surprised that our 6-year-old daughter knew the names of the two men who conspired to kill King Ahasuerus.
Our children have good minds, but I do not believe they are exceptionally brilliant or have photographic memories. I believe that their knowledge of the Scriptures is just the result of constant, repeated exposure to the Bible stories from a very young, tender age, and from reading through the Bible on their own. I am convinced that saturating any young child’s mind with the Scriptures and prayer will yield similar results. Try it with your children and see what happens. It’s never too late to start!