How to Effectively Read the Bible as a Family

My grandfather was a Dutch immigrant with ten children. He and Grandmother took seriously the instructions God gave Moses for the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, believing this to be a parent’s responsibility:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

As the family gathered around the table for meals, one of my grandparents read from the Bible. It was a kind of spiritual dessert. They had enjoyed physical food from the hand of God; now they would enjoy spiritual food.

My father was one of these children. Later, when his four offspring sat around his table, he initiated the same practice. (As far as I know, his brothers and sisters have done similarly in their homes.) We never discussed whether or not we wanted to do this; it was just always done and never, to my knowledge, questioned. Reading material was chosen according to our ages.

Often at the evening meal we read from a Bible storybook, but at least once a day we read short selections from the Bible. For some reason we read Proverbs more than any other single book; my parents must have believed that book contained an extraordinary amount of wisdom for everyday living. To the children in our family this was a logical thing for a family to do. No one left the table, unless for special reasons, until we read the Scriptures together. This was no legalistic ritual; it was family habit.

Thinking back, I remember numerous instances when our friends called for us and we asked them to wait until we had finished dinner. Dessert may have been served, but none of us considered the meal finished until we had read together.

As I recounted this to a group of young couples recently, one father asked me, “Didn’t you all grow up resenting your father and Christianity?” I felt an aching kind of amusement at his question. It was quite the other way around! In all honesty, I could say that our parents and memories of family life are extra dear because of this. Four new families have come out of our parental home, involving fourteen more children. Each family follows the pattern we learned at home. Our expectations are that each of these fourteen will pursue a similar practice in their homes in years to come. I smile when I visit my brothers’ homes and hear them stop in the middle of the reading to ask a child they suspect is not listening, “David, what was the last word?” That’s what my father used to do. It will be fun to see if the grandsons use the same device on their children.

The Goal

The goal of family Bible reading is to teach children to think biblically.

That’s a large goal: to think biblically. It means a good bit more than quoting certain Scripture verses or participating in quizzes. It involves squaring up our thinking with what the Bible says about God, about man, about sin, about redemption, about human need, and about righteousness. Thinking biblically insists on an understanding of the vast sweep of what Scripture reveals to us. It is the gauge against which we measure our ideas and our lives.

  • How has God worked in human history?
  • What is His goal?
  • What is His essential nature, His character?
  • What is the nature of human beings?
  • What are their basic needs?
  • How does the death of Jesus Christ fit into the picture?
  • How do we know what is true?

These are only some of the questions we answer in learning to think biblically. The ability to quote salvation or assurance verses is inadequate unless the verses fit into a larger concept of the character of God and an understanding of His righteousness.

Knowing favorite biblical heroes and specific stories becomes most meaningful when fit into a larger view of what their lives demonstrate about people or about God’s character.

Parents, not uncommonly, invest time with small children, reading them favorite Bible stories and speaking of salvation. The failure comes in teaching children through their teens how this information fits together to form a true basis for life. Our goal is a valid world/life view. This cannot be scolded into a person; we can only expose young minds to great truth and discuss it with them.

Whether a child adopts a Christian world/life view is not our responsibility. Our job is to expose the child to what we believe is true. (See Honey for a Teen’s Heart for a larger treatment of reading the Bible with teens.)

Our need for a word from God is never finished.

He speaks to our situation, ministers to our problem areas. We receive fresh insights, daily reminders, and new promises because the Bible is indeed profitable “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We demonstrate our confidence in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God by the way we use it in our homes and by our personal obedience to it. No amount of emotional, cozy feeling will stand the rigorous test of exposure to secular culture. Our faith has intellectual content; we must know what we believe. Emotional warmth flows out of the application and obedience of these great truths.

Attaining the Goal

Begin early to teach your children about God and His Son by reading together from Bible storybooks that fit your child’s age. Stories that relate biblical teaching to real life give opportunity for in-depth discovery as children grow. Often questions at the end of the story give children the fun of remembering and taking turns. Never before have publishers offered such creative full-color books, good writing, and excellent graphics.

You’ll find yourself learning afresh as you teach your children. I’d like to share the idea that has worked best toward attaining the goal in our family life. We have given this simple method years of trial and are pleased with its effectiveness in making the Bible meaningful. We began with four-year-old Mark to read aloud from the Gospel of Mark. We chose this gospel because of its short narrative passages and incidentally because it was called Mark. Father had a plan: Everyone at the table (and this included our numerous guests) had to ask a question and answer one. We made a game out of it: sometimes the question was directed to the person on our left, other times to the person on our right. We’d have to listen carefully, because sometimes the question we had thought to ask was usurped by someone whose turn came first, and we would have to think of another.

At first our questions were simple. Where did Jesus go? What did Jesus do? Who went with Jesus? Children pick up the idea rapidly. Then we began to interject another kind of question. Why did Jesus say that? What does He mean? And then, What can we learn from Jesus about the way we ought to act? In these questions are the three elements which open up any text: fact — what does it say? interpretation — what does it mean? application — what does it mean to me?

Children’s questions invariably center on facts, but before long you will find them asking deeply penetrating ones. If Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, why did He let his dear friend John the Baptist stay dead? Why did the Jews say Jesus had an evil spirit? Increasingly we delved into the meat of what the text was saying. Mark was delighted when his father introduced a two-part question, and thereupon set out to explore the possibility of a three-part question. Together, as a family, we dug amazing truths out of the text — and no one in our family would say this was either dull or painful.

This method requires that everyone think through what the passage is saying. Ideas go through the thought processes and come out of the mouth.

We experience a great thing: the joy of discovery.

Adapted from Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life, now updated and expanded, by Gladys Hunt.

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Your Turn

The goal of family Bible reading is to teach children to think biblically. It doesn’t have to be a perfect time around the table. Try something new! Just start! Come share what works for your family. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

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