Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Teaching Your Children How to Study the Bible.

As your children grow, one of your goals should be to prepare them to study the Bible on their own. This is essential if they are to develop and maintain their own faith and convictions.

It's helpful, as is appropriate for your child's age, to pass along some basic information about the Bible, as well as some instructions about how to apply its truth to the child's life. In this article, I will outline just a few things I humbly think are important for a child to learn.

A. Teach your child the purpose and layout of the Old and New Testaments (Old and New Covenants).

The Old Testament is composed of the writings that God gave to the nation of Israel. Naturally, the Hebrews did not have these books (scrolls, actually) all bound together in one volume, as we do today. Nor, did they refer to them as the Old Testament, since the New Testament had not yet come. In several instances, Jesus referred to the Jewish scriptures as "the law and the prophets," which was a way to indicate the Hebrew canon.

The Old Testament begins with the creation and fall of man and looks forward to the coming of the Messiah. One of its many great themes is God's continual faithfulness, love, and concern for man, despite man's repeated unfaithfulness to God. Another important theme is God's holiness, man's sinfulness and his inadequacy to atone for his own sin, and the promise that God, himself, would provide the perfect sacrifice -- the Lamb of God -- in order to reconcile people to himself.

We are not under the Old Testament today, especially with regard to the OT system of worship. We have a new covenant. See Hebrews 9:1-20. However, it is still vital for us to study the Old Testament. Here are just a few reasons why: 1) It teaches timeless truths about God and about man. It also instructs us in righteousness. 2) Many teachings of Jesus and the apostles refer to scriptures and stories in the Old Testament. Studying the OT helps us understand these NT references. 3) Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, and studying the OT helps us understand what this means and how He accomplished that. 5) We can learn much from the examples of the men and women whose lives are recorded in the OT. 6) Seeing how OT prophecies are fulfilled in the NT builds faith. Also, it builds faith to see God's Sovereign work in the entire sweep of Biblical history, from Genesis to Revelation.

Romans has this to say about the Old Testament:
"For whatever things were written before were written for our
learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the
Scriptures might have hope. (Ro 15:4)"
The books in today's old Testament are grouped in a certain way. This grouping is not necessarily in chronological order.

The first five books are called the books of the law or the Pentateuch or the Books of Moses. Though there is some history contained in these books, it also outlines the law of Moses -- hence the reference to them as law.

After the books of the law come several books of history. After that, are books of wisdom, written in the form of poetry. After that come the prophets.

If your child understands this basic grouping, he or she will be better able to find his or her way around the Old Covenant.

The New Testament begins with the four gospels or accounts of Jesus' life. Each was written to a slightly different audience and each has certain themes that it pulls from Jesus' life and teachings. For example, Matthew was probably written to people who had a Jewish background, and it focuses on Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Next comes the Acts of the Apostles. This book describes Jesus' ascension, the coming of the church on the day of Pentecost, and the spread of the church. In the first two chapters, Peter and the other apostles speak by the power and instruction of the Holy Spirit. Peter preaches the first sermon explaining God's offer of redemption through Jesus Christ and how to be saved. His audience was Jews of all nations, who had gathered in Jerusalem for the observance of Pentecost. In Acts 10, we see a similar happening: As Jesus promised, the gospel was offered first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. God demonstrates to Peter through a vision and other signs that the time has now come to open the door of salvation through Jesus to the Gentiles. Thus, Peter also preaches the first sermon to Gentiles, teaching them about Jesus. Acts also tells about the conversion and travels of Paul, whom the Lord chose to be an apostle among the Gentiles.
After Acts are placed the letters from the apostles instructing the various churches. The letters were generally read aloud in the churches to whom they were written and, at least on one occasion, two churches swapped the letters they received. (See Colossians 4:16) The essential letters have been preserved for us today, providing us access to teaching from the apostles.
The last book in the New Testament is Revelation, which uses apocalyptic language to encourage Christians who were under persecution and to describe future events.

Again, if your child understands this basic grouping, he will know where to look for certain topics in the NT.

B. Teach your child how to identify the context of a passage. The Scriptures were spoken to all of us. God's word is eternal, living, and active, and, thus, the Bible applies to us as much as it did to the first hearers. However, in order to use God's word correctly in our own lives, it helps to know the following items: To whom was this passage originally spoken or written? Why was it spoken or written to that person or that group? Teach your child to look for clues in the text. Then, teach your child how to use that information to better apply the scripture to his or her own life.

For example, Romans 1:7 tells us this letter was written to the saints in Rome. Romans 1:1-15 shows us that Paul was the author, and we know from other passages in the NT that, as an apostle, he spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 1 of Romans, Paul reminds his readers of his Jewish background, but also notes that he is called to be an apostle to the Gentiles.

The first three chapters of Romans give us a window into what was happening in the church in Rome when Paul sent them the letter. The Christians with Jewish backgrounds and the Christians with Gentile backgrounds needed instructions about how to worship together as God's family. Each group was tempted to take pride in their own heritage and to look down on the other group. This was a particular temptation for Jewish Christians, who had been taught God's law from infancy -- well before they learned about Jesus. They took undue pride in being God's chosen people, a choice God made by grace in order to bring Christ into the world. They looked down on the Gentiles, who came to Jesus from a background of pagan idolatry. God's wisdom in choosing Paul through whom to speak this letter is clear; who better than Paul, who was a Jew of Jews and also an apostle to the Gentiles, to help the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians appreciate each other?

How would we apply the book of Romans to our lives today? Well, one thing we can learn is how Christians of different ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds should love each other. Another thing we can learn is to be humbly dependent on Christ, rather than to place our confidence in our religious upbringing or our religious heritage. Of course, there are many other things to be learned from Romans, and there are wonderful passages you could easily apply even if you didn't understand the underlying theme. But, knowing that Paul was addressing a specific problem helps us better understand the letter's overall message and how the book fits together.

Here's another example: Revelation 3:19-20 has often been cited as instruction for the lost about how to be saved. However, the text tells us that this verse was not addressed to unbelievers in need of salvation. It was written to the lukewarm church in the city of Laodicea, admonishing the church to repent. See Revelation 3:14-18, Revelation 1:11. It's important that Christians understand that this passage is for those who have already come to faith in Christ, for it teaches believers not to let their faith become tepid -- something that is all too easy to do in our day. It also holds out the promise to the church or the individual saint who has become lukewarm that Christ is ever ready to renew a warm and close fellowship when we repent.

Now, it's not bad to read this passage of scripture with unbelievers, as it does teach us something about Christ's heart for his bride -- the church. But, this passage is not intended to explain to someone how to become a Christian. For that, an unbeliever needs instruction from scriptures that do deal specifically with the gospel and with conversion.

C. Some other good things to explore with your child: How does this passage of scripture fit in with other scriptures in the Bible that deal with the same topic? (Since God cannot contradict himself, you can often figure out the meaning of a verse by comparing it to other verses about the same subject.) Does this passage contain a direct command? Is this a promise of God? Is this an example from which I can learn? How does this passage help me know God better?

D. Teach your child the order of the books in the Bible. There is a little song to help children remember the order of the NT and one to help them remember the order of the OT, and you can find them both on the net, I'm sure. In the grand scheme of things, it's not essential that your child have this down pat. After all, we do have indexes in the front of written Bibles, as well as Bible search programs on the Internet. And, as a child reads more and more, he'll naturally pick up on which books are where. However, it's good to be able to find a passage quickly when you need it, and memorizing the order of the books does help with that.

E. Remember, the goal isn't just intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, though it is important to love God with all of our mind. See John 5:24-42. Inspire your child to know, love, and trust the Lord through his study of the Scriptures. Also inspire your child to put the Scriptures into practice by loving others the way Jesus loved us.

F. Similarly, teach your child to trust God even if he comes across a passage that may be puzzling to him at first. If you know and trust someone, and he or she says something you don't quite understand, you don't worry about it. You trust the person's heart enough to be at peace until things are made clear. If we have this much faith in our fallible loved ones, how much more should we trust God, who is perfect! If a child develops this kind of faith, he won't be shaken when faced with his own questions or with questions from skeptical peers. He will be able to trust in the Lord and lean not on his own understanding.

Well, as I said, this is pretty basic stuff. So, you may be already acquainted with these principles. However, it's good to review these things with children who are old enough to understand them.



the7gerbers said...

Really super post, thank you! Please do feel free to expand on this topic. It is stuff I know, but the organization of your post and the reminder to make sure we teach this to our children are priceless. Thank you so much!

Andrea, a grateful mama in Sterling, OH

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the encouragement, 7gerbers.

Buffy said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. It was helpful to have someone break down the different sections of the Bible and explain what they were about and how we could use them.

As you probably have gathered I am reading through the Old Testament and have got to Deuteronomy so I am learning a lot about the law and how we can still apply it today. (I don't mean as the way of salvation but in order to live a life that is as ethical, holy and good as possible for a mere human being to manage!) I started reading through the OT as a way of understanding better the teachings of Jesus. I think there is such a huge difference between the world He was born into and the one we are in now that to understand everything He said you have to understand the world of the Jewish Covenant and the law that He taught within. I hope that makes sense, I know you are much more knowledgable about this than I am.

One of the things you said that I find interesting was how The Bible has not always been the book that we know it to be. It's easy to assume it's been around in that format forever, which is not the case. Also, of course, it has only been available in English translation for 500 years or so, not to mention the fact that most people were illiterate until recently. We are very fortunate to be able to have such easy access to the Bible and to Bible commentaries, of course.

May I humbly suggest you consider doing a series on your blog on the different books of the Bible, you seem to know so much. Adults as well as children would benefit.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Buffy,

I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

As you point out, we are blessed by God to have access to so many Bibles today. I think about the Bereans in Acts, of whom it was said were more noble than the Thessalonians because they eagerly searched the scriptures daily to see if Paul's teachings were true. They might have had only a few complete sets of scrolls to share among them, though I don't know this for sure. How much more eager we should be to study today, when the majority of us can obtain at least one copy of the Bible.

In the synagogues of the Biblical era and in early churches, scriptures were read aloud so that everyone could hear God's word, even if they did not have their own copy. I enjoy hearing God's word read today.

I may write some more on the topic of how to study the Bible in the future.

(((((HUGS))))) sandi said...

Blogger does NOT want me to talk to you today, apparently! LOL! and ACK! LOVED this and would also appreciate such a series. I enjoy what you share sooo much~I gave you an award for bloggy excellence! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sandi,

Thanks for the award!

I'll be over to visit your blog, soon.

Hadias said...

This has to be one of my favorite things to teach my children about besides about homemaking.

I love to peek into their rooms a catch them reading their Bibles by choice. It is a beautiful sight to see.

And to be able to disscuss the scripture with my children is awesome. To listen to them tell me what they have been studying makes my heart glad.

Great post Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I learned something :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! That was a great post. I'm always on the lookout for ways to incorporate knowledge and familiarity of the Scriptures with the kids. I've found some great resources in the past - and now I can add your post to them! Thanks!


Anonymous said...

My little Chatterbox has just started wanting to read the Bible. She keeps asking to sit with me and highlight passages in her Bible just like I do.