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 love this so so much. Valuable tid-bits to hold onto and revisit.

  2. There’s only one true “hero” in the entire bible. The Lord Jesus Christ.

  3. Very helpful!

    • I’m glad to see in the school age materials that the Trinity is mentioned several times as the worked together in Creation. I think it’s important to know that our actual Creator also came to earth to be our Savior.

  4. Thank you! This article was very helpful.

  5. Many thanks. It would have been easier if we can help with what to focus and play down what to avoid

  6. I have come to refer to the people in the Bible as people not Bible characters, and I talk about what we read in the Bible as events not stories. That is my attempt to separate what children learn as fiction in their daily lives and the real events that occurred to real people as brought to us through the Bible ,God’s true words.

    • This insight was very helpful to me as well thought provoking information

    • I like these important distinctions.

  7. Very good truths for all ages. BSF is an excellent bible study and I love it!

  8. I was encouraged to go back and read about Jacob, Esau, and Joseph. Thanks for sharing.

  9. thank you so much for sharing. I totolly agree ,and I will print this for my reminder.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing. Such good information for me as an adult as I’m learning scripture. When I share I will not forget this.

  11. Great, thought provoking truth here! Thank you for sharing it with us!! It’s definitely a balance between portraying the Genesis characters as superheroes that children become disillusioned with later when they learn the seldom talked about flaws, versus ruining the good things they did with the bad. But with God’s leading I’m confident we can navigate that balance and promote these men as those whom God used to fulfill His all-encompassing plan for grace, God’s ability to use bad for good, and ultimately Jesus. I’m super excited for this year’s teaching! Thanks again for the great preface!!

  12. Great information. Good to focus on each area. Reminder not only Teaching children but adults as well. It would be good to reread again during the year. Thanks for the focus.

  13. Great explanation.Thank you

  14. This an eye opener and a good information I’m truly bless more Grace

  15. Such helpful truths for adults too! Such important reminders in Noah’s story – it’s not all rainbows! Thank you.

  16. Thank you, this is really helpful

  17. Children live in a very unfriendly environment; afraid of COVID, afraid of strangers etc. producing fearfulness. Yes, it is important always to teach the truth of scripture, but to highlight the sinfulness of people produces a lack of trust in people and fear. The truth of these stories needs to be overshadowed by equipping the children with the truth that God’s love is a powerful weapon to influence the world around us, be it the classroom bully, a abusive sibling etc. Teaching a child that God is present and available and always aware, those attributes of God, is so appreciated in the children’s lessons.

  18. Yes, I agree that to tie those stories to Jesus and the NewTestament is good. But, I disagree that much focus if any should be placed on those heroes’ awful sins. Little children need heroes, positive influences in their lives, examples of Biblical influences in their early lives not specific negative teachings! As they grow and mature, they begin to see and learn the negative sides to people and life. They are taught from infancy, “ be a good girl or boy”, and their self images come in part from those stories and the people who tell them. We don’t want them to turn from those Biblical heroes early on. Get them on their feet religiously before filling them with too much that will make them disrespect the heroes and disregard them and possibly give up on the faith! Shakespeare said something like, “ the good is often interred with the bones”! Let’s build up the good in everything , and Give the children some time and maturity to grow up! They have enough dumped on them in today’s culture and in the public schools.

    • We are responsible for teaching truth. God is responsible for implanting and growing truth in our children’s hearts. When they become older, they will remember and not depart from the truth. But, if they do, they will hopefully return, because God‘s word never returns void.

      These are such good reminders! Thanks for blogging them to us.

    • I agree…you explained it better than I could
      Children need to see how God works on our hearts even if we make a mistake..forgiveness is what needs to be taught. They will be able to undetstand more details as they grow & mature….we all did

  19. In our present world full of “super heroes” its easy to fall into that error. Lovely article as we begin this season. Thank you!

  20. Very,very helpful indeed. Thank you very much.

  21. Thank You, dear Light of the World, Father, God, for an answer to my prayers asking for teachers who will teach Truth to even the youngest child, from God’s Word. To make it real, not fantasy, to the child. They soon learn there is a difference! I was remarking “yes” to every sentence I read in this blog! We have a wonderful Creator God, Who calls sinners to Himself (not animals===although there was purpose in saving them.

  22. Thank you for this article. I am guilty of this as I teach children, preschoolers in particular. We want to gloss over the hard lessons of the Old Testament because younger ones have such an innocent view of life. Thank you for this invaluable reminder.

  23. Praise our LORD for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom behind the directives in this teaching for children. Teaching the truth to children may be difficult but it is our mandate as Christians to present all the Bible as true and that cannot be done if we omit parts of the WORD, interject our interpretation or fail to relate it to Jesus. Thank you for remaining faithful to the blessed responsibility and privilege of teaching the Bible to the next generation.
    Grateful,
    Macia

  24. So very true! And applicable to the entirety of Scripture!

  25. As a grandmother if 3 in this program, I really appreciate these reminders. Thinking back on the books I still have from when my children were little, I am in total agreement with this article. Definitely some things to remember. Thank you

  26. Muy buen recordatorio, enseñar a los niños, que el único súper héroe todopoderoso y sin pecados es Dios y Jesus Cristo, que por amor a nosotros Jesus vino y a ser hombre y pudo con las tentaciones, y está vivo. Gracias

  27. Really helpful reminders of our tendencies in teaching children and five important points to keep in mind for ourselves as well. Thank you!

  28. Helpful suggestions I remember.

    • Thank you for posting this. It is a great reminder and advice. I really appreciate your teaching.

  29. I absolutely LOVED this blog, it actually had me laughing because it is so real. Thank you for being real and upfront about pitfalls we can fall into.

  30. What a truth and it has helped even me as the parent. Thank you so much for this

  31. very good points and good food for thought

  32. Good article!

  33. The story of Genesis is the story of life. In real life we are made in the image and likeness of God but sometimes fail to see that in others. We were given a Savior, Jesus Christ. Thru faith and grace we can accept Him. Through our humanity we are given a free will which allows us to be tempted to sin, just as these “heroes” were tempted and fell into sin. The good news is, we all have a chance to ask for forgiveness for our failings and our Savior is always ready to accept us back into the fold if we just ask for forgiveness and repent of our sins. We are all called to holiness and become “heroes” and saints in God’s eyes.

    • Well said Denise.

      • Hebrews 11

  34. Thanks for reminding us that these people are sinners. We all are “messy” mortals! Children need to hear the truth and discuss the hard topics! We all do.

  35. I 100% agree with you on this. I teach a Sunday school class and I have done just as you have said. I leave none of these stones unturned, I tell the whole truth of these stories. Thank you for your commentary on this, very much appreciated.

    • Thanks as this is very helpful .

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