Talking to Kids about Violence in the Bible
Also Available on:
No matter what age, kids are bound to have questions about violence in the Bible. As a parent, it's important to be prepared to answer these questions in a way that is both honest and intentional. In this podcast, Elizabeth Urbanowicz will talk about how to address and talk to kids about violence in the scripture in a way that is developmentally appropriate and sensitive to their unique needs.
Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.
Hello friends, and welcome to the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions, to equip you to get the kids God has placed in your care carefully evaluating every idea they encounter so they can understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast. Now, the question that we have today is one that I got really excited about when I saw come in because it's a more apologetic space question. And many of you know my background is in apologetics. So I always love the opportunity to answer apologetic space questions. And so this question says, "How do we address and explain violence in scripture?" So again, love this question. It's a very important one today. Several hundred years ago, it would not have been a big question whatsoever because there wasn't such a huge campaign against all violence.
But in our culture, our culture views any violence as something that is wrong. And so a lot of times we think, okay, what do we do with all of this violence in scripture? And so the first thing that we need to think through is what I would say is a problem within Christianity today. And this problem is that most children's Bibles are sanitized. Most children's Bibles take out any violence. They take out any of God's justice or judgment. They take out a whole lot of human sin and rebellion. And the problem with this is I think the intentions are good. The intentions are to make everything developmentally appropriate for children. But the problem is when our children's Bibles are completely sanitized, then once our children grow up and they read scripture on their own, they feel like they've been hoodwinked.
Just thinking, this is not what I read in my children's Bible. What in the world is this? And that's particularly true with the violence. So we need to make sure that we're not sanitizing scripture for our children. Now, do we need to read our three year olds like graphic depictions of violence in scripture? No, that wouldn't be developmentally appropriate, but we need to make sure that we're exposing them to the truth and the reality of what's in scripture at an appropriate pace. We also need to make sure that we're not placing an incorrect focus on biblical narratives. Now, you may laugh or this may disturb you, but at baby showers, I've been to many baby showers. I've had many friends who've had children, and so many times I've been in the position like where you sit next to the person at the shower that the shower's hosted for, and they're opening gifts and write down what is the gift who gave it.
So they have a list of who to write thank you notes for, and I'm always the person who every time a baby shower bag comes or a card comes with a Noah's arc that looks like this cute little floating bathtub, I will remind my friend, "Please don't hang that on your child's wall. This is a story about God's judgment. There's thousands and thousands of dead people floating beneath that giant bathtub." That Noah's arc is not a story about cute little fuzzy animals. It's a story about God's just judgment on sin. And so we need to make sure that we're not taking an incorrect focus with the narratives that we're presenting to our children. So now let's dive into how do we actually address the violence that's in scripture? Because we want our kids to be biblically literate. We want them to understand what is in scripture. So we're going to need to take them through passages that contain violence.
So a really important question for us to ask and for us to train our children to ask is, is this passage descriptive or prescriptive? So is this passage describing something that took place or is it prescribing, commanding something for someone to do? Now, much of the violence that takes place in scripture in... Sorry, I'm losing my words today. I need to slow down. Much of the violence that takes place in the scripture is descriptive, that it's explaining what has happened. It's not actually God commanding violence or commanding us to follow suit in that. Much of the violence presented in scripture is just descriptive. It's describing what happened because the Bible is an accurate account of different portions of human history. So that's the first question we need to train our children to ask, is this passage descriptive? Is it describing something that happened or is it prescriptive actually giving a command for someone to do some act of violence?
Then the next question that we need to train ourselves and our kids to ask is, does this violence stem from human sin? Because a lot of the violence in scripture stems from human rebellion, human sin. I mean, just think about the first couple chapters of the Bible. In Genesis chapter four, we read the descriptive account of Cain murdering Abel. That's a very violent passage that Cain took Able out in the field and killed him. And in that passage, that passage is describing Cain's sin. It's not prescribing something that we are supposed to do. It's describing Cain's sin. And in many situations in the Bible, we read about violence where the violence takes place because of human sin. In the next chapters in Genesis, when there we go through the lineage from Adam on down, Lamek, he brags to his wives that he has killed more men than Cain has.
That's a description of human sin. So first we need to identify, is this passage descriptive or is it prescriptive? Then we need to ask, okay, is this violence stemming from human sin because much of the violence in scripture is. Well, then the other question is this violence commanded by God? Because there are places in scripture where God does command armies to go out and fight battles where people are commanded to inflict punishment on others. Usually the biggest one that people always go to is God's command for the Israelites to drive the Canaanites out of the land. For them to completely get rid of everyone who's left in the land to clean the land. So that violence, that violence against the Canaanites that is prescriptive for the nation of Israel, who is under the leadership of Joshua. Now, this is something that's sometimes really hard for us to understand.
A great resource that I recommend is by Dr. Clay Jones. He has an article, I forget the exact title, but it's something to the effect of we don't understand what happened to the Canaanites because we don't hate sin. And so what he does is he just goes through a number of ancient near Eastern texts and different things from archeology showing how sinful the Canaanites were and why it would've been necessary, and even loving for God to command that the Canaanites be completely wiped out of the land before Israel entered it. Now, I know some people even have trouble that there was a lot of places where God commanded that even the animals had to be wiped out. And these days we don't necessarily have so much compassion towards human, but we have a lot of compassion towards animals. And I'm not saying we shouldn't have compassion towards animals, but we should also have compassion towards humans.
But one thing Dr. Jones even outlines in that article is we're thinking like, oh, the poor dogs. Oh, the poor goats. We're not even understanding what life was like in that society. That society, the Canaanite Society was so debased that people were regularly practicing bestiality and you cannot have cows and dogs and goats walking around who are used to having sexual relations with humans. You just can't have these animals walking around because what are these animals going to do to humans, to children as they come into the land? And so just that article's a really great resource for just understanding a little bit more about, okay, why did God command that the Canaanite be wiped out of the land?
Another thing that we find that God does prescribe in scripture is there are times when capital punishment is prescribed in the books of the law. And so one thing that we need to train our kids to do as they're reading through scripture is to ask anytime they're reading a command is which covenant does this command represent living under? Which covenant does this command represent living under? Because many of the commands that we find for capital punishment and other things represent living under the Mosaic Covenant, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel when they were at Mount Sinai. Now that covenant was specifically for the people of Israel, and that's covenant that Christians are not living under. Now, many of the commands that we follow and the new covenant that God has open wide to all people, many of those commands are the same as commands we find in the Mosaic Covenant, but we don't obey those commands because they're in the Mosaic Covenant. We obey them because they're part of the new covenant in Jesus's blood.
That's something that we need to ask. Which covenant do these commands describe living under? And then who are these commands prescriptive for? If we're reading commands in the Mosaic Covenant about capital punishment, about ways to worship in the temple, about ways to live in the land, those commands are not prescriptive for us because we are not living under the Mosaic Covenant. Now, that doesn't mean we can just get rid of it. That's an important part of God's word. So the question we need to ask ourselves instead is what do we learn about God and what he values from this command? When we're reading commands in the Bible, there are commands for violence. There are commands for putting someone to death, for stoning them, for killing them when they've committed a certain crime, okay? That's not a command that's prescriptive for us because we're not living under the Mosaic Covenant.
But we need to ask ourselves from that command, what do we learn about who God is and what he values? So I'll take us through an example of this right now. In Exodus chapter 21, verses 15 through 16, God says, "Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. Whoever steals a man and sells him and anyone found in possession of him shall be put to death." So we see the death penalty for two crimes, for striking father and mother. The punishment is death. For stealing a human and selling that human, the punishment is death. So when we ask these questions that I just took us through, which covenant do these commands describe living under? They describe living under the Mosaic Covenant because they're found in Exodus where God is giving his law to the people of Israel. Then the question, who are these commands prescriptive for?
They're prescriptive for the nation of Israel who's living under the Mosaic Covenant in God's land. And then the third questions, what do we learn about God and what he values? Okay, so from these commands that whoever strikes father and mother shall be put to death, and whoever steals a man and sells him and anyone found in possession of him shall be put to death,, we learn that God is just. God does not let wickedness go unpunished. God is a God of justice. He is just. Then what does he value? From these commands, we learn that God values caring for parents, honoring father and mother. That's of great value to God. And then from the command about not stealing someone and selling them, we learned that God values justice and just fair treatment of others, that God did not permit his people to go out and take captives willy-nilly and sell them as slaves, that the punishment for that was capital punishment.
So we learn who God is, that he is just. That he values caring for parents, that he values justice and treating others justly. Okay. So when we come up against commands in the Bible that prescribe a certain form of violence, those are questions we need to train our kids to ask, which covenant that these commands describe living under? Who are these commands prescriptive for? What do these commands reveal about who God is and what he values? And just as kind of like a side note of a recommendation here, after ages five and six with kids, ditch the Children's Bibles. Okay, seven max. Just ditch the children's Bibles because there are some good ones out there, but most of them do sanitize scripture and do not prepare our kids to correctly understand God's word. I don't mean you have to throw them out, I don't mean you have to get rid of them, but I just mean your children's main diet should be scripture, not children's Bibles.
So one thing I recommend, just choose a book to read through as a family. Choose an easy book. Start off with the gospel of John. Read one chapter a night and start discussing it together. And I think you'll be amazed at how much even your little ones, even five and under can glean from reading through a chapter of the Bible. Yes, they're going to have questions. Are they going to understand everything perfectly? No. Do we understand everything in scripture perfectly? No. But they're going to learn. And then if you have kids that are eight or up, I recommend find an age appropriate Bible reading plan. Find a Bible reading plan that's going to take you from the beginning of scripture all the way through the end. Something that's going to cut out some of the sexualized narratives, maybe some more of the gratuitous violence that comes from human sin. But find a Bible reading plan that you can go through together.
If you are taking your children through foundations, studying the Bible curriculum, at the end of that curriculum, we give a resource that we've created, just a chronological Bible reading plan that kind of cuts out some of the more sexualized and grotesque violence passages. Not because we're trying to sanitize scripture, but because we want to be developmentally appropriate. And the Bible does describe human sin, human wickedness in some very real ways. And so we want to wait until our children are older before we expose them to that just raw account of human sin. So just really highly encourage you, be intentional at the way you're reading scripture with your children. Do not sanitize scripture after ages five or six. Ditch the children's Bible and just dive into scripture with the kids that God has placed in your care.
Well, that's a wrap for our podcast today. But I'm so glad that you joined me. And just as always, my prayer for you as you move on from this time is that God would bless you as you continue to intentionally disciple the children that he's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.
Related Posts and insights
Teaching Kids to Share the Gospel
Today's question says, "My children and I have many friends from different religious backgrounds, Mormon, devoted Christian, lukewarm Christian, and non-Christian. My kids know the differences, but how can I teach them to effectively tell their friends about the good news? Hopefully without offense?"
Disney Vacation Dilemma: Critical and Biblical Thinking for Families
Today's question says, "My husband and I plan on taking our kids to Disney World this summer. We both really enjoyed Disney vacations while growing up, but I know Disney has changed a lot since then. What are good questions we can ask our kids to help them think critically and biblically about our time at the parks?"