How not to teach Genesis to 

 

How not to teach Genesis to 

BY DANA WILKERSON, CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR

G enesis is full of exciting stories: Creation, Noah’s ark, Abraham (almost) sacrificing Isaac, Jacob tricking Isaac, Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, and much more. It seems so much easier to teach these stories to little people than to teach them the prophets, the epistles, and other books that are full of abstract concepts and imagery. Yet in our eagerness to bring the intriguing stories of Genesis to life, we often get it wrong.

Oh, we might get the literal facts right, but we can easily miss the mark on interpretation and application. Here are five mistakes to avoid in teaching Genesis to children.

Make the Patriarchs out to be Heroes

How many times have we seen children’s curriculum create a “heroes” theme around Genesis or the Old Testament in general? Many studies and churches embrace this idea without thinking much about it. But we do need to think about it, because these men were truly not the superheroes we often make them out to be.

Abraham passed his wife off as his sister – twice. Granted, she was his half-sister, but that’s not the point. He failed to identify her as his wife and, as a result, he put her in a very precarious position. Abraham also slept with his wife’s maid in an attempt to produce the child God had promised.

Isaac, like his father, claimed his wife was his sister. He also played favorites with his twin boys. He tried to give the blessing to Esau even though God had said Esau would serve Jacob.

Jacob manipulated his brother to get his birthright. He lied and tricked his father to get the blessing. And, like his father, he played favorites with his sons.

There is much more, but you get the point. Did these men do some great, faithful things? Of course. Can they be role models in some ways? Yes. But they were sinners just like we are. They were not on some higher level of spirituality than we are. So let’s not make them out to be something they are not.

Focus on the Animals in Noah’s Story

Ask a child what the story of Noah’s ark is about, and almost every time the answer will have something to do with animals. But that’s not the point of the story. It’s about God’s judgment of sin and wickedness. And it’s about His grace toward those who seek and follow Him.

This is not a cute, happy story. All but a handful of humans were killed. And all but two of each species of land animal and bird drowned. It is a story full of death and darkness, but it is also a story full of grace and God’s light. That should be the focus of this story when we teach it to anyone – including children.

Avoid the Hard Topics

We all know Genesis isn’t full of rainbows and roses. It has its high points, sure, but it also contains stories of mass murder, rape, incest, slavery, unjust incarceration and more. It is in a child’s nature to be curious and they will comment on these things when they read them in the Bible or hear about them.

You may not know how to answer their questions or respond to their comments about these topics in the moment. That’s okay. The important thing is to let the child know you hear them and that their comments, questions or concerns are valid. Then you can explore the topic together in a way that is developmentally appropriate for the child.

It may be tempting to gloss over or even avoid some of these topics. And, frankly, some of them should be adjusted appropriately for most 5-year-olds or even 11-year-olds. But the reality of our world is that some 5-year-olds have experienced these things in their own lives, families or cultures. They may need understanding, love and care when it comes to the hard topics. We can approach these topics with care and discernment.

Give the People Thoughts or Motives We Can’t Know

 It’s common for us to give the people in the Bible the motives or thoughts we would have in their situation. Or we might even think we know their motives because of the other things we do know about them. But there is often no way to know.

When teaching Genesis, we might say that Jacob had been plotting for years to manipulate Esau into giving him the birthright. But we know no such thing, even though that would not be surprising given what else we know about Jacob (who, as we have already noted , was no superhero).

Or we might want to say that Joseph tested his brothers in Egypt in an effort to find out if God had changed their hearts. Maybe He did. Maybe He didn’t. We don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us why Joseph made that choice.

Can we ever speculate about the thoughts or motives of someone in the Bible? Yes, it can sometimes be helpful to do so. But we should also make it clear that we are just guessing.

Fail to Connect it to Jesus

In the midst of all the action and excitement of Genesis it can be easy to forget it is all part of a much larger story – God’s big story of redemption. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, all of history was moving toward the day when God’s Son, Jesus, would come to earth and die for the sins of humanity so that we can be restored to a relationship with God. This theme runs throughout the book of Genesis as we see God reiterate His covenant with Abraham again and again.

Genesis is not just about Creation, the flood and the patriarchs. It is also about Jesus. Let’s make sure to communicate that to our children!

341 Comments

  1. I tried to submit a comment on the other blogs, but was not able to.
    I am very confused about all the MANY ways to connect and/or participate in BSF.
    Is there a comprehensive list that describes everything, along with links or websites.
    I do not know HOW TO direct any new comers.
    There is bsfinternational.org
    There is bsf blogs
    There is BSF podcasts?
    There is WordGo
    There is mybsf.org
    There is Google classrooms
    There is WhatsApp
    There is email.
    I am just shaking my head on all the different ways.
    Very confusing.
    Most online churches just have 1 website where you hear their sermons and download materials and read their news and announcements
    I am very confused on all the many ways in BSF.
    Please outline them, their function or purpose so I can direct people.
    Thank you.

    • Dear Marc, we are working to consolidate all of our technology. Thank you for your continued prayers in this effort. For anyone new to BSF, please direct them to bsfinternational.org for general information. If they join a class, they can access materials through mybsf.org

  2. Excellent Points, just on time for gathering my grandchildren and great grandchildren on a day to celebrate.
    Thank you,

  3. Gracias por las galería de imágenes de genesis me ayudó mucho para mi lección

  4. I love this! I have taught children at church for many years. After reading this article, I will never teach it the same way again. Thank you so much for this tool.

  5. This is indeed very helpful as we look forward to these great stories in Genesis.

  6. Making God the ultimate Hero of the Bible stories (or any of our own life stories as He works in and through us today) gives the glory to God, for enabling sinful people to trust and obey Him.
    If we put Noah on a pedestal, what do we tell the child when we get to Chapter 9:21…

  7. I don’t agree with your analysis.

    Who are the heroes of the faith then, by your definition?

    Kids these days have heroes from pop culture, rock bands, from Football, Basketball, Baseball, etc. I’d rather my son have Noah as a hero than Russell Wilson. I’d rather my daughter have Rahab as a hero rather than Oprah!

    I think Hebrews 11 gives you a list of people that I hope and pray my family and friends can hold up as hero’s of the faith.

  8. Thank you so much for reminding of these! It’s a great reminder for adults, too!

  9. Excellent article !!!!
    I grew up in a bible believing church & didn’t realize until later in life these truths presented here
    Thank you for sharing the truth always

  10. Thank you very much for reminding us about the truth behind these stories!

  11. How do I join into a class during covid 19? Do I join a Zoom meeting? I want to join a local class. What is the closest class to me? I live in Hesperia, California! Is there a class in nearby Victorville, California?

    • Dear Marty, visit https://www.bsfinternational.org/map to find your nearest class. Contact you class administrator to connect with a group!

  12. Very good insight. Gave me a perspective & overall understanding of the Book of Genesis.
    We usually don’t study Genesis often. But more important ideas to think about than I realized
    Thanks for writing.

    • Thank you for the “warning”: I’m a preschool Life Group teacher. This article is very helpful. Appreciate it. God bless.

  13. Very good insight. Gave me a perspective & overall understanding of the Book of Genesis.
    We usually don’t study Genesis often. But more important ideas to think about than I realized
    Thanks for writing.

  14. I love this. It brings attention to me that before I teach the story I have to first find God’s lesson in each story.

    Ie, I recently heard a sermon about Jonah.
    God commanded Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah disobeyed by leaving on a sea voyage instead.

    Lessons:
    . God’s commands are for good reasons. The Ninevites were in danger of destruction if they didn’t repent.
    . God expects obedience.
    . Jonah disobeyed. God caused the storm. When Jonah was thrown off the ship, God sent a fish to swallow him for 3 days and 3 nights.
    . While in the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed, accepting he was wrong and praised God, “What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.'”
    . God brought him back to dry land and gave Jonah another command. This time Jonah obeyed and the Ninevites were saved from destruction.
    . Obedience is effective and benefits God’s plan.

  15. Thankyou so much for that guidance that God is the hero of the whole bible and the redemption of mankind is the whole purpose of it through Jesus.

  16. No one in this world is righteous but the grace of God is sufficient to bring redemption to all.

  17. Noted, the information is very helpful.

  18. Good insights for adults as well! Thank you for this post.

    • Amen, Cathy!

  19. Wonderful thoughts and guidance! I thank God for BSF and for corporate personnel who work so hard to produce materials, guidance, and so much more that allow us as BSF leaders to carry the Gospel to more people all over the world. God bless you for your work and dedication. One point of correction — in Genesis 7:2 God said there would be 7 pairs of all the clean animals in the ark. The overwhelmingly propagated error that there were only 1 pair of each animal is often passed on as fact. I believe we should be careful with details God provides.

  20. Thanks for the warning not to give the characters motives we would feel in that situation

  21. This was so enlightening. Thank you.

    • Thanks alot for the information and guide lines

  22. Very helpful and a good reminder.

    Thank you!

  23. You are right! Exactly it is with us with kids, as you have noted. But, I’m afraid, this should be done carefully, introducing the character’s weaknesses to kids. A balance must be maintained.
    Thanks for sending this article.
    God bless you, your family and your ministry.

  24. Good points! Thank you!

  25. God’s work true , this commentary could not be more truthful .

  26. Very insightful

  27. Great insights for me as a children’s Pastor in our church!!

  28. This is really helpful. It will help me explain or teach other bible passages to adults as well.

  29. Thank you for this important information. Make me more carefully how to teach the kids and is very important to avoid false teaching.

  30. Nice & useful article.

  31. Because of how i was taught these stories as a child ,this is helpful for my “re “learning of Genesis!

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