Raising Biblically Literate Children

Jude Preaches the Word of God - DIG Bible Study Method - Raising Biblically Literate ChildrenDue to snow, our normal church service was cancelled. We gathered as a pajama-clad family in our living room.

Our son, Jude, pulled up a stool in front of him. He laid a Bible on the makeshift pulpit and read aloud John 2:1-11 — the story of Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

He proceeded to deliver a thirty-four second sermon on Jesus changing the water to wine. It included details, the full Gospel, and an invitation to explore the passage with him further.

Jude was seven-years-old.

In recent memory, I have rarely heard a more Biblical and Christ-centered sermon from a preacher of any age.

Your Child Is A Scripture Sponge!

As I listened to Jude, I was reminded of the first time he ever read Scripture aloud. He had been learning to read in school, and in a determined manner he read through John 2 — the very same passage he would later preach this cold winter morning.

I also recalled how many times we had previously read John 2 with Jude.

And read John 2.

And read John 2.

And read John 2.

“The Lord creates children to be Scripture sponges, and if we teach the Word of God to them, they will soak it up.”By the time he preached it, he had heard it, knew it, believed it, and proclaimed it. More than that, I am confident we could have removed the Bible from the stool and he would have simply recited the passage.

The Lord creates children to be Scripture sponges, and if we teach the Word of God to them, they will soak it up.

And maybe someday not just know it, but proclaim it.

Tips For Parents (‘Cause This Is OUR Job)

A college buddy called me up out of the blue not long ago.

“My kids are growing up fast,” he said, “and I just realized it is my responsibility to teach them the Bible.”

He was right. While we hope for the pastor, youth pastor, and Sunday school teachers to help out, it really is the job of parents to nurture a child’s faith by teaching them the Word of God.

“What do I do?!” my friend asked with a bit of anxiety.

Fortunately for him, his two kids are still young — an ideal time to begin with children.

It really is the job of parents to nurture a child’s faith by teaching them the Word of God.Our three kids still have a long way to go, but I would love to share five tips Katie and I have found helpful in raising Biblically literate children. This is the very same advice I shared with my friend on the phone that day.

Do you have tips, too? I’d love to hear them! After reading, please share them in the comments below.

Tip #1 – Use Scripture

The very first and most critical thing I would encourage you to do is use Scripture.

It’s so important, I’m going to say it again:

Use Scripture. Use the actual Bible.

Wouldn’t that be obvious? you might ask. You would think so, but I find very few parents actually do for a couple of reasons.

First, many parents resort to Bible storybooks. These are tempting since they rework and edit passages into sweet little bite-sized stories and poems.

Children like little stories and poems, so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is storybooks are not Scripture, which means they are not living and active, nor are they breathed out by God. (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, they are incapable of fully doing the work needed within our children. One of the main goals for book publishers is to turn a profit, not necessarily to raise your children in the Scriptures. Compromises creep in.

Imagine putting your infant child into a car, but instead of using a car seat you merely placed him or her into a cardboard box full of packing peanuts. The car seat and the box are the same thing, right?

Wrong. Very Wrong.

You’re not shipping stuff. You are transporting the most precious of cargo — your child! — and you secure them with the best possible equipment. It’s a no brainer, and you would not compromise.

Such is the difference between Scripture and storybooks. They are not the same. For parents who want to raise Biblically literate children, consider using books with Bible stories, not Bible storybooks.  Let me explain the difference.

Storybooks often boil down the Bible into stories centered on the human characters or morals, instead of God. Authors of storybooks put Bible passages into their own words. They retell and paraphrase the stories, but their version is not the same as a proper Bible translation. Children will miss out on many of the details God intended to be included in the text, and they have a difficult time transitioning from storybook treats to full-blown texts of Scripture at a later time.

They may even add details to the text not intended to be there. In a somewhat similar example, my brother-in-law was reading the book of Jonah to his kids. When finished they asked him, “What about the pirates?”

“Pirates?” he asked.

“Yes, pirates,” they replied. “In the VeggieTales movie there are pirates.”

Don’t get me started on VeggieTales — Soapbox alert! [sirens sounding and red lights flashing]

However, storybooks often make the same mistake of injecting non-biblical characters, sequences or other words causing gross misunderstandings, like edible pirates on the high seas far from Nineveh.

Books with Bible stories have actual Scripture passages and help develop a child’s ability to digest the Word themselves as they grow older. Their minds may not initially grasp every detail included, but they will begin to memorize them just the same. Sure, they may not understand the first time they hear something, but it’s not a one-and-done type of situation. After hearing a passage many times, things will begin to click.

We must trust the Lord to bring understanding to our kids at the proper time — and He may use us to help them understand (more on this in Tip #4). It has been an amazing experience to hear our kids speak about deep theological truths from Scripture. It seems almost unreal — truly a miracle!

To be honest, children’s Bibles that use the actual texts of Scripture are really hard to find. As you look for one, examine the Bible carefully to see if it is actually using a good translation, such as the NIV or ESV. Even though the word “Bible” may be on the cover, very few use true Scripture.

While there are not many available with Scripture, we found two great options, which have been helpful for our family and friends:

  1. For younger kids especially, we suggest this NIV Bible with artwork by Tomie dePaola.
  2. For kids 8 and older we’ve liked  the ESV Illustrated Family Bible.

Tomie dePaola Book of Bible Stories ESV Illustrated Family Bible for How to Read the Bible With Children on DIG Bible StudyBoth of these Bibles use the text from Scripture, abridge passages into manageable sizes, and include artwork in a supportive role, not as central content.

However, as soon as your kids are old enough, I would begin integrating your regular NIV and ESV Bibles for use when reading with your kids. What about lack of pictures? Let the Lord paint pictures of the scenes in their minds and spirits.

The second reason parents do not use Scripture is because they feel inadequate teaching from the Bible themselves. They feel under-equipped. We’ll cover this issue later in Tip #5.

Tip #2 – Repetition

Early on in our parenting careers, Katie and I learned the value of repetition for retention. As the children watched and watched and watched Finding Nemo, they could recite large portions of dialogue (unlike Dory herself). And when they loudly played and replayed and replayed our Frozen CD in the van, they could sing the lyrics to “Let It Go” at a moment’s notice.

The same was true with Scripture. As we read with them night after night after night, we would repeat the same stories often. They not only learned the stories, but memorized large portions of them.

One night as I was reading with the kids, I decided to jokingly test them. I read a portion from the Feeding of the Five Thousand, a favorite of theirs. However, I suddenly stopped just before saying a detail in the story, pausing in silence. They quickly filled in the next word.

Just as children memorize movies and songs through repetition, reading the same Bible passages over and over and over helps our kids to learn and memorize Scripture.I kept reading and stopped again before another keyword. They supplied the missing word instantaneously.

More and more I would stop, and each time they would not only give the correct word, but even complete whole sentences and paragraphs.

I had no idea they knew the passage that thoroughly, and it was true for many other passages as well. The more stories we continued to repeat during our nightly readings, the more Scripture they absorbed into their minds and souls.

Just as children memorize movies and songs through repetition, reading the same Bible passages over and over and over helps our kids to learn and memorize Scripture.

They do not need to learn every chapter and verse between the covers at this point. Instead, you are laying a foundation of knowledge and devotion to the Word.

Begin by selecting 3-5 stories from Scripture to read repeatedly. I would suggest choosing passages with stories about Jesus’ ministry. As your kids learn them, start adding a couple more, while still continuing to read the original handful.

Soon your kids will be speaking back the details of Bible passages to you, too!

Tip #3 – Daily Commitment

Like anything of substance in life, a commitment is essential to ongoing success. We must be committed to establishing time in the Scripture with our children every day.

Sure, there will be days when chaos seems to reign. However, do everything in your power to make reading the Bible with them as essential as getting them breakfast before school. As kids grow up, schedules get more grueling — but as parents you must fight to guard Bible time together as the #1 priority.

As kids grow up, schedules get more grueling — but as parents you must fight to guard Bible time together as the #1 priority.It doesn’t need to be a chore. Our kids look forward to our daily family time reading Scripture and praying together. If friends or grandpa and grandma are over, we invite them to be a part of it instead of skipping.

Choose a time that works for your family, and if possible with two parent families, have both Mom and Dad present each time. If the parents are committed together, the kids will follow suit. If Dad is off watching football or Mom is Facebooking, then the children are going to want to sacrifice Bible time for other time-fillers, too.

We placed our family reading time just before the kids go to bed. Nearly every night, our three children brush their teeth and then jockey for a cozy seat next to Mama while we read Scripture together.

Night time may work for you, too, or maybe in the morning while everyone is eating their breakfast before school.

Keep it at the same time everyday, though, instead of flip-flopping mornings and evenings. Make it a normal part of your family’s routine, not to make it mundane but to be committed to something your family will come to cherish.

Tip #4 – Semi-DIG

As you read Scripture with your children, a neat thing happens: They learn how to read Scripture, too! As you become familiar with using the DIG Bible Study Method, you can easily integrate a couple of the DIG steps in the background.

As you read Scripture with your children, a neat thing happens: They learn HOW to read Scripture, too!While you are reading, they may have questions about a Detail in the passage. If they ask about a word, a character, a place or some other detail, take those moments to explain the Detail to them.

You may also pause at Details you know need to be made clear in order for the story to be more fully understood. Maybe it’s the background of what a Samaritan is. Maybe they want to know what circumcision means (good luck with that one).

All passages of Scripture are a part of the Bible’s narrative revealing God, pointing to Jesus, and unfolding His Gospel message.These are wonderful opportunities to dig in the Details in order for the Bible’s richness to percolate in their minds. It may be tempting to ignore Details because we want to scoot them off to bed. However, an extra few minutes to ponder some Details helps your kids learn how to notice and research them on their own, too.

Another part of DIG that is crucial for studying with your children is the G step: God. All the passages you read are a part of the Bible’s narrative revealing God, pointing to Jesus, and unfolding His Gospel message.

As you finish reading, ask the kids what they heard about God. Help them learn to look first for what the passage is revealing about Him before venturing to morals and mortals. Help them notice how the stories make known His character, His actions, His desires, and His attributes.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.com

Ultimately, you have the opportunity to connect every passage to Jesus. Explain the timeline of Scripture to reveal God’s plan, prophecies, fulfillment and proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Use themes to relate to His transcendent work. For example, link God’s grace both in providing a single way of salvation for Noah and his family to the only way of salvation from sin and death through the gracious work of Jesus Christ on the cross.


As you teach them to look for Details in the Scriptures and listen for how God is revealing Himself, your children will be equipped to look for these when they one day are able to pick up and read the Bible for themselves.

Tip #5 – Prepare Yourself

One question you may be fearfully asking yourself is, “Am I capable of teaching my kids the Bible?”

If you have not spent much time in the Word yourself, this could be a very real struggle. How do you fix it? You get disciplined studying the Bible yourself!

Yes, this is a big task with a lot of responsibility, but it is yours. As God commanded in the book of Deuteronomy:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
— Deuteronomy 6:6-9 ESV

As parents, we are commanded to diligently teach the Words of God to our kids all the time…sitting in the house, walking down the sidewalk, from morning till night. Everywhere and all the time.

But, did you notice what was commanded first?

We are to have the Word of God impressed upon our heart first.

I have high expectations for the teachers in our kids’ school classrooms. I expect them to be knowledgable about the subject matter so they can adequately deliver instruction to my children.

We are to have the Word of God impressed upon our heart first.We should have these same standards for our kids’ Bible teachers — which are first and foremost us as parents!

Yes, we have work to do to prepare as spiritual leaders in our homes. We need to be equipped in the Word ourselves, which is another great reason to be utilizing DIG to learn how.

But, wait…there is reason to have confidence: God promises to use the Scriptures to equip us for every ministry He’s called us to do, which includes raising Biblically literate children.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
— 2 Timothy 3:16-17

You’ve got this because God’s got this!

As much as you want to raise children in the Scriptures, how much more does He want to raise your children in His Word. This includes helping raise you up in the Word to help them.

He will help you.

He will help them.

And one cold winter day in your living room, you may get to have them minister back to you by preaching the Gospel of Christ into your ears and heart.

Review of the 5 Tips

So, just a quick review of the five tips above:

  1. Use Scripture
  2. Use Repetition
  3. Make a Daily Commitment
  4. Integrate Some DIG Steps
  5. Prepare Yourself to be Their Teacher

I’d love to hear any questions or tips you may have about teaching children how to read the Bible. Do you have a story about reading Scripture with your kids? Please tell me in the comments below!

Looking to help all the youth at your church learn how to read the Bible? Consider getting our Bible Diggers For Kids material, which now has three years of curriculum available.

And if you know someone who could use this article, consider passing it along via email or social media.

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