Explaining the Bible to a child (or teaching the Bible to a child) can seem tricky, but it gets easier when you start near the end: with Jesus. Read on to find out WHY you should start with Jesus, HOW to start with Jesus, and some great Bible-teaching resources to use with kids.
Why explaining the Bible to a child is so hard…
If you’ve ever tried to sum up a novel, you’ll have a small inkling of why its difficult to explain the Bible to a child.
- For starters, it’s ridiculously long. The Bible is so long that people often commit to reading it in a year…and fail because there are just SO many words.
- The Bible isn’t written as a single narrative, which makes it far more complex than any other book you use in teaching your child. The Bible contains poetry and story and wisdom literature and prophecy and sermons.
- Not only that but the Bible jumps around, so it isn’t linear. There are entire prophetic books that fit inside a few verses of history, and the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are all interwoven and basically tell the same story twice!
- A lot of the Bible is confusing to adults, never mind children. It was written thousands of years ago in a very different culture, so there are cultural understandings that we miss. And the cultures of the Ancient Near East were also quite brutal and tribalistic. It’s hard for kids to understand stories of chopped up concubines and brothers sold into slavery. (I mean, it’s hard for adults to understand too, but especially hard for a kid to comprehend outside of the realm of fiction.)
Does that mean we should NOT explain the Bible to kids?
God can teach us so much through the pages of the Bible. We just have to be aware of how we present it to kids.
For example, the story of Noah’s flood is very common in children’s literature, but if it were another culture’s story of mass destruction, I’m not sure we’d give it to our toddlers as a sweet bedtime story.
As a Children’s Pastor and mom, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the way we presented the Old Testament to our kids. Joshua and the battle of Jericho is an exciting story, but we gloss over the reason those walls needed to come down: so the Israelites could slaughter every man, woman, child, and animal inside the walls.
While I do believe we should teach our kids the Old Testament stories (including the Jericho story), I think there’s a step we need to take first.
Start with Jesus
The Bible is God’s story as recorded through history. It points us to God, but it’s incomplete.
Or rather, it’s incomplete without Jesus.
Colossians 1:15 reminds us that “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15 NLT)
Later, Paul writes that “God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ.” (Colossians 1:19 NLT)
We need to know Jesus WELL because God is most fully revealed in the person of Jesus.
For example, last year my son wanted to read the book of Revelation with me. I agreed, but only AFTER we’d read Luke and Acts so he had a better understand of Jesus’ ministry on earth and how the apostles continued it, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
After we read Luke and Acts, and stumbled our way through Revelation, we moved onto the first few books of the Bible. BUT now we are able to point back to Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the promises and as God more fully revealed.
Jesus is the ULTIMATE FULFILLMENT of God, so if we get confused about who God is from the Old Testament, we go back to Jesus for clarity.
Keep reading for the following tips on explaining the Bible to a child:
- How to share the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ with a child.
- Which book of the Bible should a child read FIRST?
- How to make learning about the Bible FUN and ENGAGING for kids.
- Bible storybooks that keep Christ at the centre.
1. How to share the GOSPEL with a child
I won’t go into too much detail here because I have an entire article on how to share the Gospel with a child. I like to use a “color Gospel presentation” because it’s easy for kids to remember.
2. Which book of the Bible should a child read FIRST?
There are 4 books of the Bible completely dedicated to the story of Jesus here on earth. How do you know where to start? Here’s a brief overview of each of the 4 gospels:
MATTHEW: Contains A LOT of teaching and less action. If you’re looking for the Sermon on the Mount, for example, you’ll find the whole thing in Matthew. It takes up 3 chapters! If you have older kids that are beyond “Bible stories” I’d start here.
MARK: The shortest gospel with a good combination of action and teaching. Personally, I recommend beginning with the gospel of Mark for almost all kids because it’s short, sweet, and to the point.
LUKE: The longest gospel, but also a good combination of action and teaching. It also connects seamlessly with the book of Acts, so it would be my second choice for “where to start”.
JOHN: The gospel of John is VERY theological. I don’t recommend reading it with kids under 10, as their brains literally cannot grasp the many metaphors and word pictures. No matter how bright your child is, young child cannot understand abstract concepts. I use the book of John with preteens (at the youngest) and teens.
FREE RESOURCE: If you aren’t sure HOW to read the Bible with your kids, check out my totally free, 40-day journey for families through the gospel of Mark. It takes the shortest gospel and chunks it into 40 doable readings, discussion questions, and a connected devotion for adults. Because of the nature of the discussion questions, you can use this devo with big AND little kids, or even just use it on your own to deepen your connection to Jesus.
3. How to make learning about the Bible FUN and ENGAGING for kids
Similar to sharing the Gospel with a child, I have a full article on how to make the Bible fun and engaging for your kids WITHOUT spending any time prepping lessons and crafts and all that stuff parents don’t have time to do.
4. Bible Storybooks and Devotionals that keep CHRIST at the centre
The Jesus Storybook Bible is the most obvious Christ-centered Bible storybook for kids, although it’s not the only one. If you haven’t yet heard of/read this storybook Bible, be prepared with a box of Kleenex when you read it with your kids! It will remind your heart of God’s goodness and love as your kids learn how basic Bible stories point to Jesus.
In Fruit Full, Christie Thomas helps your family focus on how Jesus lived out the fruit of the Spirit…and how, as we abide in Christ, the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus.
This devotional can be used by an entire family, or just one parent with a child. Either way, families will fall more in love with Jesus and grow in the fruit of the Spirit…together.
Rather than bouncing around the Bible, cherry-picking verses like most kids devotionals, Breakfast With Jesus takes a linear look at Jesus’ life and ministry, ending with his ascension.
Vanessa connects well with children in her devotions, opening up and explaining the text to kids rather than turning it into a moral lesson (another of my pet peeves with devotionals). Each devotion also includes a way that kids can put their faith into action in their personal life, their family, and the community.
And bonus: there are some great breakfast recipes! I’m not saying that if you give your kids this devotional they’ll start making you breakfast…but here’s hoping!
The Biggest Story is a little hard to define. It’s a narrative version of the Bible, similar to a Bible storybook, but it’s aimed at older kids and only has 10 chapters. As you can see from the cover, the illustrations are very funky and modern. It shows how the entire Bible connects with Jesus.
Further Resources for Explaining the Bible to a Child:
I really love to use picture books and Bible storybooks with kids. They are truly engaging and make “Bible time” feel like a joy instead of a chore. To see some of my book recommendations, take a peek at these articles: