When I began reading the Bible with my kids, it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon passages that were rather graphic in content. At first I panicked and tried to quickly come up with some way to convey the story to a preschooler, without arming them with information I was not ready for them to have. After a few of these pressure packed moments, I realized I needed a plan of attack.
I never want to take away from Scripture nor do I want to add to it. However, I did want to adapt some stories to a child’s level. So, I’m going to tell you what I did. However, keep in mind, I firmly believe that you have to make choices that are best for your family. You have to decide what you are comfortable discussing with your kids, and you have to evaluate their maturity level.
I might also add that the stories of Scripture are dealing with topics that we all, as parents, need to discuss with our kids. And what better context in which to have these conversations that in the context of God’s Word. However, you have to decide when the time is right to give your kids more information.
With that in mind, here’s how I approached this delicate question.
First, I began to read ahead. After I read a chapter each day to my preschool-aged children, I then would just skim the next chapter to prepare myself for what was coming the following day.
When we came to a violent story in Scripture, most of the time I read it with little to no editing. There was only one time when I remember feeling like this might have been a bad idea. I read an account of a king who had his eyes gouged out. (2 Kings 25:7) My kids were stunned, and they let me know it. I realized that I probably should have had a gentler approach on that one. (My bad.) After that, when we came to that particular story again, all my kids would start saying, “Don’t read this. We know what happens.” And I moved on.
Despite that incident, I found that, most of the time, even when we didn’t understand the violence, we could read it and familiarize ourselves with the story. Our understanding could (and did) grow later.
For me, the real tiptoeing came when we got to intimate relationships. The Bible gives us some rather explicit descriptions of both the beauty of intimacy and the reality of sin. So when we arrived at these stories, I would sometimes give my own paraphrase of one sentence or paragraph, or I might omit a word that I didn’t feel my children should have in their arsenal.
I also gave some of my own definitions for certain words. When we came to stories of prostitution, I conveyed to my kids that a prostitute is “a woman who has a relationship with one man after another … the kind of relationship that God designed for one man and one woman to have when they become husband and wife.” You get the idea.
Then there’s that story in Judges. This would be one of the exceptions. In this scene a priest’s concubine is assaulted … and the violence doesn’t stop there. I chose to summarize this entire story when my kids were very young. We have since read the story many times, but it’s a disturbing account to us all. It’s the sad conclusion of Judges. A good reason to scan ahead, and ask God to give you wisdom to know how to approach these passages of the Bible with your own kids.
We’ve been reading the Bible for about fifteen years. As my children have grown and become more “informed,” it’s been so neat to see how this increase in information also gives them an even greater understanding and appreciation of God’s Word. When they were small, I felt as though I was giving them a foundation and getting them acquainted with all of Scripture. Now, having completed four trips through God’s Word together, I’ve been able to witness the Holy Spirit giving understanding. And, I have faith that God will continue to do that work in all of us.