Grace City Articles

Children And Tricky Bible Passages

  / April 29, 2024

If a book had themes of violence, abuse, sex, murder and graphic content, it is understandable that our reaction would be to not let our children read it. But what if that book was the Bible?

In Deuteronomy 6, God calls the Israelites to teach their children about his commands, laws and decrees, so that they may fear the Lord. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” The question then becomes, if part of discipling children is teaching them all of the Bible, and all of scripture is God-breathed, how do we teach tricky parts like Judges, Tamar and Absalom, or Bathsheba and David? 

1. Don’t avoid difficult topics. It’s likely that children are already exposed to some tricky topics. Even videos on YouTube kids are not always age-appropriate but are well disguised. Different households have different restrictions and monitoring technology. When tricky topics come up in the Bible, it’s actually a proactive opportunity to address these themes with children from a biblical perspective. For example, with themes of violence, it’s a chance to talk with children about how living in a fallen world with sin means that violence exists, but we can pray and look forward to when Jesus comes and makes all creation new. 

2. Sit with uncomfortable feelings with children. We might be tempted to avoid tricky passages with children because we want to protect them. But if we sit with children in difficult feelings, we can show them how to run to God in our grief and sadness. We can show them how God offers hope and comfort. 

3. Use age-appropriate language. Consider things like what we say, and which version of the Bible children are reading. Often, we suggest using the International Children’s Bible (ICB) or the Contemporary English Version (CEV) for children and teenagers because the language is simpler and less graphic. 

4. Focus on reading key sections of tricky passages with children. Consider if it is developmentally and age appropriate for children to be reading the passage in its entirety. Teaching children about the Bible does not necessarily mean reading the full passage with them. In the City Kids and Youth programs when we were looking at Judges, only selected excerpts of the passage were chosen for the children to read together. This meant we could select age appropriate content. 

5. Stick to the facts, avoid the gory details. We don’t want to completely avoid talking to children about parts of the Bible that contain tricky themes, but we can tell these stories without the graphic and explicit details. For example, with a preschool aged child, we might tell them about how God told a prophet, Hosea, to marry Gomer, who was unfaithful, and broke God’s rules for marriage. We might use this story to marvel at how God loves His people so much, and He continues to love us, even when we are not faithful to God, and love other things more than God. But we wouldn’t focus on how Gomer ended up a slave and was sold to the highest bidder. 

6. Don’t underestimate children. Children might not fully understand tricky topics, but they are often more insightful and perceptive than we give them credit for. 

7. Read the Bible together with children. As we teach children about the Bible, it’s important that we read it together with them. We can talk about what we’ve learnt from the passage, and how to apply it to our lives. This also means that we know what they’re reading in the Bible, and can address difficult themes when they come up. For older youth, this might instead be asking them “what did you read in the Bible today?”

8. Explain to children why some passages might not be appropriate for them to read at their age. It’s important that children understand why there are parts of the Bible that are being “censored” from them. You could say “As Christians, we believe that the Bible isn’t just a storybook, it’s God’s word that he has given to us. It’s written for God’s people to know Him, and understand him. But there are some parts of the Bible that are quite graphic and aren’t age-appropriate for you to read on your own at this time. Actually, knowing these bits are in the Bible shows us it hasn’t been edited or changed to make a nicer story.” 

9. Read ahead so you have time to plan what you will say for tricky topics. Give yourself time to think about what you will say and how you will explain things. 

10. Talk about the big picture of the Bible. Think about the context of the passage in the light of the big picture of the whole Bible and relate it to their lives. For example, the violence in Judges reveals how the world is so broken without God as king, how our hearts now are sinful. It reveals how much we need God to be our king, and how undeserving we are of God’s grace.