Teaching Children How We Got the Bible

Teaching Children How We Got the Bible - Parenting Like Hannah
Photo by Lawrie Cate
I am old. Really old. When I was a teenager and wanted to learn about something, I had three options. Trust my parents to have the answer, use our set of encyclopedias or drive five miles to the library and hope they had a book or magazine with the answer. Now, in a few seconds, I can have millions of answers to a question on my computer screen right in my house.

In those olden days, you either had to trust the few sources you had available or you just sort of forgot the question. Today’s child has millions of possible answers to their questions in a few seconds after they ask it. The problem is that some of them are accurate, some are partially accurate, some are wrong and some are just too weird to even consider. With so many answers to choose from, how do we know whose answer we can trust?

I am sure there were people who questioned the validity of the Bible during my youth, but I was not exposed to them in any regular way. I couldn’t search my Biblical questions and come up with as many non- and anti- Biblical answers as I found Biblical ones. My questions were answered by my parents, Bible class teachers, preachers or by reading the Bible.

I don’t really remember any discussions of how we got the Bible. A preacher may have reassured us from time to time that it was God’s inspired Word written down by His people. I really had no reason to question or doubt it and had no reason to learn more details about how the Bible came to us in the form it is today.

Now it seems like every weekend our local paper or some magazine has an article about a “missing” Bible book that has been found or some discovery or other that calls the validity of scriptures into question. Most of the articles are poorly written and very poorly researched. Many don’t even bother to locate and question scholars who have an opposing point of view. Do an internet search and the information is overwhelming and frankly in many cases, even more poorly researched.

The problem is that if we and our children begin to believe all of these articles, then the Bible becomes merely a book of interesting stories. A book of Aesop’s type fables with possibly dated moral teachings. If we reduce the scriptures to a book of fables, then what is our incentive to not only believe but obey what God teaches us in the Bible? The 20 somethings I have been talking with would have every right to say what they have been saying to me too many times lately. “Well I know there is that one verse in there, but…”  Truth is no longer truth, but a matter of personal opinion and preference.

Unfortunately, I think the time has come where it is important for us to start at the beginning with our children and help teach them the validity of the Bible. Lee Strobel does a great job of giving tons of facts in several of his books. I think with younger children though, a few basic facts can be the start for building their faith on trusting in the Bible.

In Atlanta right now, we are lucky to have the Passages Exhibit. We just went on a field trip with our church there. I hope the children who were in my group were able to understand some of the basic principles I personally took from the exhibit and tried to share with them.

The Passages Exhibit takes you through time and how the Bible gradually came to be in the format we have today. Several basic facts became apparent to me as I have gone through the exhibit several times now. Perhaps one of the most important is the unbelievable care the early people who copied the scriptures were to get everything literally perfect.

In our world, “good enough” is often acceptable. We discourage our children from becoming perfectionists. To be a scribe though, you had to memorize thousands of rules before you were allowed to copy even the first letter of scripture. If any mistakes were made, the entire scroll was destroyed. Perfectionism was not only encouraged, it was demanded.

Various scholars have gone back and compared very early copies of scripture to what we have today. One of the items they had on display was a fragment of the book of John from just a few decades after John’s death. After thousands of years of hand copying scripture, you would think there would be tons of mistakes. In reality, scholars have found only a handful of differences in the entire Bible. None of the differences are about any matter of faith and most are just things like spelling variations. We can be confident that the scriptures we read today are the same as the ones Jesus read or Christians in the early church studied.

As we continued our walk through time, something else jumped out at me. Whenever someone tried to keep the Bible from people, God would raise someone up who fought to have the Bible available to everyone. Perhaps the most interesting story was how hard people fought to have the Bible available to everyone in English. People died for trying to get the Bible into the hands of everyone in a language they could read. Even today there are languages into which the Bible is being translated for the first time. God continues to work through people to get His Words into the hands of everyone.

I admired so much the stories of people who realized that the Bible contained the Truth. They did not want to depend on various clergy members for their interpretation of what was in the Bible. Their heart’s desire was to read the words for themselves. They wanted to make sure they knew what was in the Bible and knew and understood God’s Truth for their own lives.

Honestly, in the most turbulent time period for the English Bible, they were right to be concerned. Corruption was rampant in the clergy and they were being taught outright lies as scriptural truths. Even in our time, there are many false teachers. I have noticed a few interesting takes on supposed scriptural truths as I flip my television dial. How will we know the truth unless we value the Bible that previous generations fought so hard for us to have? We can only know the truth for sure, if we read our Bibles. Even the best preachers can make mistakes. This exhibit reminded me how important my personal Bible study is.

I think the other think that was interesting over time is that God does not allow mistakes and additions to remain in our Bibles without serious questioning from others. If you read much about how we got the books in the Bible, you will understand how hard those people worked to make very sure that the books in the Bible were the ones God intended for the Bible to have.

Other various apocryphal books, may be interesting and even have some (or no!) historical value. The early decision makers rejected them for various reasons as not being on the level of scripture. Of course, the Old Testament was pretty set by the time of Jesus. In fact, he quoted Old Testament scriptures regularly. Many early church fathers worked on what we know as the New Testament. Some of these men had direct connections to the Apostles that were only slightly removed from them. Although it wasn’t made official until a few hundred years later, the books in the New Testament were set only a few generations after the death of the Apostles.

One of the more interesting rooms in the exhibit are the “mistake” Bibles. In the early years of the  printing press, the Bible was a popular item to print. You would think that in the age of machines, mistakes would be more accepted. They happened, but they were not accepted at all. One British Royal printer lost his license, his reputation and died in debtors’ prison because his printing shop made so many mistakes in its Bibles. There was a lot of pressure from people to ensure that even with the speed of the printing press, the idea of Biblical accuracy would always be a top priority.

There are so many lessons to teach your children so they will accept the Bible and God’s Words as THE TRUTH, that should be obeyed. I think it is important though to begin by teaching our children that they can always believe that God has protected His Words so that we can read them and know they are what He would want us to obey.

We need to teach them to love the Bible more than any book in the world. Hopefully, we can teach them to not only love the Bible, but to learn to love to read it for themselves. If we can teach our children to really understand that the Bible is the true and living Word of God, we are making a great beginning in raising our children to be the Christians we are praying for our children to become.

If you live in Atlanta, take some time in the last few weeks of the exhibit to take your children to see some interesting Bible treasures. No matter where you live, I hope you will begin to teach your children the value of the Bible as the most true, valuable and important book they will ever own. Then give them the gift of teaching them to love to read it.

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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