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. “How not to teach Genesis to Kids” is not only great for kids but amazingly inspiring for us as parents and grownups who are called to shepherd Gods entrusted sheep to have the right focus and accuracy of reading and interpreting Genesis esp with the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!! Thanks!

  2. This is a great article. Thank you.

  3. Good guidance. Thank you.

  4. Good clarity on common pitfalls to avoid…. especially if we want our children to “see Jesus”!
    Thank you

  5. This is excellent advice for teaching children…and for teaching adults! Thank you

  6. Very important advice and helpful teaching

  7. I understand the need to properly portray the patriarchs, and the Bible certainly doesn’t sugar coat their sin and disobedience. Yet these were men of great faith and each of them are noted as such in the book of Hebrews. They are heroes to me, men who stumble and fall, but come to know the character of God and understand that He still desires relationship with them. Each of these men repented, turned to God, honored and worshiped Him. These men’s lives remind me that God is never done with me, despite my fallenness. Our heroes can never match up with the person of Jesus Christ, but men and women who persevere in faith through trials and failures are heroes to me.

    • Agree!

  8. THANKS FOR THIS INFORMATION‼️
    WE NEED TO CAREFULLY USE IT WHEN TEACHING GENESIS EVEN WHEN ENGAGED IN CONVERSATIONS, ALSO.

  9. I love being given the ‘bigger picture’ of Genesis. Thank you!

  10. Thank you so much, for your help, this will not only will help our children, but the adults as well. Stay Blessed

  11. Thank you for age appropriate instruction guidelines. Praying for huge numbers in the program this year with genesis.

  12. Thank you so much for the reminder that our teaching should be God focussed, Gospel Centred and age appropriate.

  13. These tips are amazing! Thank you.

  14. Powerful may the Lord bless you

  15. Thanks for the clarification.

  16. Very helpful for teaching Genesis to Primary age children in local school.

  17. Great article. This not only applies to teaching children, but factors, we as adults need to keep in mind as we study Genesis. Thank you for pointing out some important aspects relevant to all ages.

  18. Thank you!

    These 5 points are important reminders to be read and remembered throughout the teaching of Genesis.
    Thinking about them and rereading them, as we prepare our Bible lessons, will be helpful for everyone.

  19. Please keep in mind, “age-appropriate.” Also do not be so negative that the stories are a downer. Many of us grew up and learned all of the stories meanings later in life and it did not hurt us. Let kids be happy. Tell all sounds like tooooooooooo much. I know we live in a time of valuing transparency but too much too early can be a turn off.

  20. Thank you. Loved this. This is my 3rd time studying Genesis in BSF and this is why, exactly what you have said in your article, is how BSF has approached the teaching of Genesis.

  21. Thank you. Loved this. This is my 3rd time studying Genesis in BSF and this is why. Exactly what you have said in your article is how BSF has approached the teaching of Genesis.

  22. Thanks for putting Genesis in perspective. A timely reminder !

  23. Thank you for this, how insightful! May I also add: When there are difficult topics, in addition to not commenting too much ourselves, sit with them in a quiet time of prayer and tell them to ask Jesus directly. Jesus says to let the little children come to Him. I have been very, very surprised at the answers my children come up with after prayers. I know they were inspired by God. Jesus is alive today and loves to interact with us, as He with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. He knows just when and how to inspire our little ones (and us) with the scriptures.

  24. “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” Hebrews 11 certainly elevated them for all of history to remember that these are men that God considered worthy of mention. Sinful as they maybe , but God did not count that against them , but choose instead to emphasize their faith. Important to teach the whole truth , but neither should we miss the big idea.

  25. The most powerful four words to me in the bible are “in the beginning God”. We need to follow these words with the fact of God’s Infinite wisdom, love, power and purpose in creation in everything that follows these four words. I believe then that everything else that is written makes sense. It says in Gen 1:31 that “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good”. This is total truth. Every minutia of creation was perfect. We need to stress the fact that there is nothing man could have wanted or needed that was not provided by God who loved them and created them. And yet, then we come to Gen 3. How can we explain this? By the fact that God created man to obey and love Him, but he had a choice! He chose to disobey and the rest of the story follows; until Revelation 22 and the story ends – or does it begin? Perhaps, we should follow Gen 1-3 before we read any further in Genesis with Revelation 22 – no matter what the age! Tell of the everlasting hope and love Jesus offers His beloved people forever! Tell of God’s wonderful love in spite of man’s sin. Praise His Holy Name!

  26. Children need heroes. If they cannot find them in scripture, where will they find them?
    Heroes by definition are people of courage, outstanding achievement or noble character, not necessarily all three. A man who gives his life by running into a burning building to save a child is a hero, even though he lied about his wife the week before. Not everyone appearing in Genesis is a hero, but there are many who were courageous or achieved something outstanding and a few of noble character. I believe it is our job to give an honest rendering of who they were and what they did. (I marvel at what some were able to do WITHOUT the indwelling Holy Spirit).

  27. Very helpful to 1st year CL Thank You

  28. This is very helpful.

  29. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I will be aware of these thoughts as i read Genesis with my grandkids.

  30. Then who should I tell my children are heroes of the faith by your definition?

    Then what do you do with the statement in scripture …The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

  31. Thank you for guiding us to focus on the Essence of what God wants to teach us through the word . That creation is imperfect, however seeking him blesses us with unconditional love and Grace – through Jesus our Lord & Savior; enables us forgiveness of sins .

  32. Very thoughtful and important points to keep in mind. Made me think more
    about my view of what happened with Noah and the flood.

    Thank you!

  33. This is why I love studying the Bible through BSF! Wonderful!

  34. Thank you so much for this insight. Very helpful.

  35. This is on point! Thank you so much!

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