Should Children Read the Bible?

Should Children Read the Bible? November 8, 2011

Former Conservative comes across a parent who is rewarding his 10 year old daughter for reading the Bible everyday. This isn’t a new idea for me: growing up I had several friends who would whip out a bible and start reading whenever their parents were watching. I was never convinced that they understood what they were reading, but their parents were always suitably impressed with their piety.

My question is, why do we want children to read the Bible? This question has nothing to do with the violence in the text. After all, are the Brothers Grimm any less gory? The question has to do with comprehension.

If you are a liberal or moderate Christian, you probably believe that the Bible has to be understood in its context as an ancient document. How likely is a child to be able to understand ancient greek and Jewish cultures? Even adults need a lot of hand-holding and support as they start to read the Bible. Without that they frequently come to mistaken understandings of the text.

If you are a conservative, you probably wouldn’t phrase things the same way, but there are similar problems. Conservatives are forever talking about the “apparent contradictions” in the text. One moment we’re being told that the Bible should be taken at “face value,” – none of that wishy-washy interpretation stuff for us – and the next we’re being told that the apparent meaning isn’t the actual meaning.

This is enough to trip up an educated adult. I’ve had several discussions with conservative evangelicals about the book of Job. I’ve been told several times that Job was prideful and so his suffering was punishment. This despite the fact that we learn from the very first sentence that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.”

Is a child going to be able to grasp that just because the book says that Job was blameless doesn’t mean we can’t find something to blame him for? Perhaps we should stop printing those various children’s bibles (my sister-in-law has one where Adam and Eve eat the “no-no fruit”), comic book bibles and coloring book bibles. Maybe it’s time we put the bible on the same shelf with the other books for when they’re older.

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