A parent’s guide to building Biblical literacy in the home

Teaching your children the Bible is one thing — training them how to read, study, and think about it for themselves it is quite another. It is important to do both throughout their years at home.

A parent’s guide to building Biblical literacy in the home

The Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith and much work has gone into its creation and canonization. In many parts of the world the scriptures, which we take for granted, are difficult to come by or forbidden.

We should take seriously the duty and privilege of studying the scriptures. As parents, we have the double duty to make sure we are teaching our children the scriptures and more importantly, the love of God’s word and how to study it for themselves. Biblically illiterate children make for biblically illiterate adults. Our families and even our civilization are only one generation away from losing the ground that previous generations have fought so hard to keep.

A sacred duty of parents not the church

Even well meaning and biblically literate parents can be easily dissuaded from playing an active role in training their children in the scriptures. Usually, this comes through well-meaning children and youth programs our churches provide.

Some churches have moved away from doing children's and youth ministries in an effort to make sure children are parent led rather than youth minister led.

Either way, parents need to strongly and assertively take the lead in teaching their children how to read and navigate scripture.

Start them young with the stories

I love how many Bible resources there are today to put in front of our children. Even before they can read your children can get a head start with the Picture Bible, the Minecraft Bible, the Action Bible, the Good and Evil Bible, and so many more.

The Bible is a story and understanding that story is so important to understanding the Bible’s details.

When we read the Bible together as a family I can't tell you how many times my younger children will run and grab one of these picture Bibles and open right to the story we are in.

Read the Bible to them

Reading the Bible as a family has so many benefits. One of them is that your little ones who can't yet read get to hear it. One of my friends has been doing this for years, and they are now well into their second time through the whole Bible.

I'd encourage you to primarily read the actual Bible rather than a children's Bible or Picture Bible. Feel free to embellish it with different voices or act portions out to keep it fun and interesting.

Buy them a new Bible

My brother Nathan has given each of his children a Bible after they are old enough to read. It honestly never crossed my mind to buy my children a Bible since we have so many sitting around. Each of my kids as claimed a Bible from the stack we had.

I noticed in my brother’s family that gift of a Bible set a milestone for each child to look forward to and laid an important foundation in their mind as to the importance of this book. Now each of my readers has their very own ESV study Bible and I can tell the pride they take in it.

I wanted this Bible to be the same one that I use rather than a “youth” Bible. Not only can this Bible be one they use for a lifetime but also makes them peers with me in the studying of God’s Word.

Use creeds, confessions & catechisms

Christians over the years have come up with ways to summarize and teach biblical concepts. Creeds and confessions have been useful to succinctly differentiate one set of beliefs from another. In turn, they have also been used as teaching tools. Catechisms, in a similar pattern, have been created to teach a set of doctrines in the form of a question and answer that can be memorized by students.

These can be useful tools in Bible study as long as they do not replace the careful study of God's word.

Teach these creeds and confessions to your children when they are young, but make sure they can defend them with scripture when they are older.

Creeds can give a young person and their parents a false sense of biblical understanding, however, when used correctly they can be a useful guide as they were intended.

Here is a good resource of common creeds, confessions, and catechisms.

Be their Bible study role model

My father was a Navy SEAL; you don't get much cooler of a role model than that. But one of the most important things my father modeled for me was being a Bible student. I remember him rising early every morning with a Bible, notebook and pen on the kitchen table, not just reading the Bible but studying it.

It is important to be the Bible student you want your children to be, but then take that extra step and make it visible to them. Do it in a time and place where they can see you doing it.

Set your expectations high

I have been continually surprised at how my children rise to meet expectations we have for them at both young and older ages. This is a lesson I have learned that applies to many areas of life not just spiritual.

Our modern society has lost expectations for our children across the board. Our churches have bought into this too. We have separate Sunday school, and even separate church service for our children and teenagers. Churches end up “dumbing” down the Bible for young people or try to make it more “relevant”.

Let the Bible stand on its own and let’s give our youth the benefit of high expectations.

Take teens & pre-teens to adult Bible study with you

Many churches have separate Bible studies or Sunday school classes for adults and teenagers. That kind of thing both discourages parent directed Bible learning and insinuates there are different ways young people should be learning the Bible. There isn't.

If the parents are going to a Bible study, the children should attend the same one. Pre-teens are a good age to start, but even the younger ones will benefit from seeing their parents discuss scripture with others.

Force the discipline

I was listening to a podcast of Navy SEAL Jocko Willlink as he was discussing leadership in the military. He was saying that one thing you learn in the military is that when it comes to soldiers in the field the primary job you have as a leader is to tell your young soldiers what they already know to do and to remind them to do it over and over again.

Your children are young recruits. They need constant prodding to brush their teeth, comb their hair, and clean their room... every... single... day. Religious disciplines are no different. Some may think that disciplines like Bible study and even prayer need to come from inward motivations or else they will be just mundane tasks and our kids will learn to despise them.

First of all, I have not seen that be the case. Furthermore, many Christian adults who love God admit they don't commit to these disciplines like they want to, how much more will a teenager struggle with these same commitments?

Introduce them to Bible study tools

There are a number of basic Bible study resources and tools built right into many Bibles.

  • Bible Maps: Introduce them to using Bible maps which help use visually understand the locations, routes, and even distances that scripture refers to.
  • Cross References: These references in the margins of our Bibles are used to bring context when scripture references other scripture.
  • Concordance: With the internet and electronic Bibles at our finger tips, a concordance doesn’t seem as necessary but for our young readers who don’t have access to these online tools, looking up topics and terms in the back of their Bible can be the beginning of their Bible study practice early on.

Warn them of pop-Christianity

Relevance: The Bible is not relevant (and that is ok)

Our family has just finished up studying the book of Leviticus. One of the things you realize when studying that book of the Bible is how much of the Bible is not relevant to us. The tabernacle, the altar, the golden table of showbread. Then there are all of the sacrifices and the blood, so much blood, sprinkled on this and that. Our sensitive 5 year-old Jonah had to cover his ears at times. This book by it’s self had little to no personal take-a-ways or life lessons.

However, we have been having a wonderful time learning how God worked with his chosen nation of Israel. This knowledge helps us understand the mindset of the people in that part of the world at the time and how God was trying to teach them and prepare their hearts for relationship with him. We also get the framework for understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus which leads us to a richer understanding of the gospel message.

In teaching our kids about how to study the Bible we talk about how to read it. Children are often times not expected to gain anything from scripture unless it is packaged neatly into a lesson that is relevant and can be applied to their life immediately. Nah! The Bible is a rich book if you read it for what it is — a history of who God is, what He is like, what He expects from us, and how He has interacted with this world over the years. It is less of a self-help book, a devotional, or rules for living.

Not only is relevance over-rated, it can be dangerous. We can try to force stories, prophecies, rules, and directives to apply to ourselves when it was not meant to. I find that when you give yourself permission to read the Bible without having to have a take-a-way, it can be a much more consistently rewarding experience and time of growth.

The one relevant thing after reading through the gory details of the book of Leviticus is this: God ultimately cares about what is in our heart, everything else is just a means to that end.

Humanism: What does this verse mean to you?

Sometimes the scriptures tell us what to do and other times it tells us what other people have done. Some label these “descriptive text” versus “prescriptive text”.

When you read the Bible ask God to help you understand what you are reading, but never ask for Him to reveal what it means for you. There is only one meaning, scripture is not spooky or magical like that. There are many who view the Bible this way. They will even open the Bible to a random place and ask God to speak to their specific situation. That is superstitious non-sense. The Bible means the same thing for all who read it.

Scripture as self-help & life lessons

Pop-Christianity tends to take a humanist approach to reading and teaching scripture where everything is about me — promises for me, blessings for me, wisdom for me, and life lessons for me. Now there is plenty of scripture that fits into those categories, but if we only look on scripture for self-help and life application we miss so much of the richness and benefit that God has for us.

And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.
— 1 Samuel 15:33

Not exactly a scripture with personal application.

When we study scripture we should learn:

  • the heart and character of God
  • the history of God’s interaction with the world
  • the history of man’s interactions with God
  • God’s intention in creation
  • Godly wisdom
  • a biblical worldview, ie. how God sees and created things to be

Not everything in the Bible has personal application. We should seek to understand the importance and meaning in each book of the Bible we read, reading to understand it for what it is and not manipulate it and read into it some forced meaning that the author never intended. It is okay to read scripture and walk away with no direct application to your life.


So start the work of training at a young age. Instill in them the disciplines that they can carry with them the rest of their life. Give them the tools and the frameworks that will be the foundation for them to flourish in their Christian walk.

Some parents place a larger emphasis on experiencing God or immersing their children in Christian culture in order to keep them on the right path, but I believe a solid understanding of God's word is the most important thing that will set them up for a life of love and devotion to our good and gracious King of Kings.