Friday, November 8, 2013

Should children be reading the Bible?

A quick history.

Martin Luther was very keen to give the Bible to the people, he thought that anyone could read it and understand it and that the Bible didn't require interpretation. The Catholic church on the other hand has always stressed that truth lies in both scripture and tradition. Tradition being those truths (such as the Nicene Creed) passed on by the Church, via the apostles and the bishops through the centuries.

Bible scholarship wasn't encouraged amongst Catholics until 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. It was after Vatican II (and its constitution on divine revelation Dei Verbum) that Catholic school children started to be given copies of the Bible. Before the council most Catholic schools used books like Schuster's Bible History. These books gave you the story of the Bible without the exact words. They also cut short some of the boring bits (like Leviticus) and left out the x-rated scenes.

The problem.

It seems to me that although school children now have copies of the Bible they tend to use them like a dictionary or encyclopedia i e. they look up passages but don't follow the stories in any particular order. Children might study Noah's ark, or the Good Samaritan, but if you asked them whether Moses comes after Noah or before, or during what part of Jesus' ministry does he tell the story of the Good Samaritan, they wouldn't know. Part of the problem is that the Bible isn't an easy read, another issue is the structure of the curriculum itself.

When I look at the text books used in Catholic schools in Sydney I want to tear out the chapters and rearrange them in a sensible order.  The books are based around the liturgical calendar. Because the school year begins in February we start the year with Jesus' death and end with him being born.  Everything else is slotted in between the chapters on Lent, Easter, Advent and Christmas. This means that the story of Moses as a baby is studied in Kindergarten and Moses and the exodus in Year Two.

The effect of all this jumping around is that the great heroes and stories of the Bible are lost and children are left confused. I would have preferred for my children to have worked through something like the Lion's Children Bible from start to finish (maybe over 3 or 4 school years) or perhaps have studied a single Gospel during a school year using the actual text.


  1. We have a supply of Bibles for use in Scripture classes and the children like to read them. Of course they like to find the x rated (or at least PG) bits. When I was young we liked Song of Songs, but now Leviticus is also a favorite.
    I agree that the syllabus jumps around and confuses the children. I think this problem exists in other subjects as well. The syllabuses are written by smart academics who sometimes forget what the average child does not know. Many children can't answer questions like "is the story of Jesus in the new or old Testament?", "is Moses or Joseph in the new or old Testaments? ".
    This year there was a TV series which told the story of the Bible from beginning to end. Many boys (mostly boys as far as I could see) watched it and liked it despite (or because of) the fact that it was shown late at night and was a bit violent. A result was that these boys could answer questions like the ones above. There is an argument for getting your facts straight in education.

  2. As catechists, you and Paul are more able to comment from your experience with children. Having not acquired the habit of Bible-reading as a youngster due to the prevailing Catholic culture of the time, I have not acquired the habit in adulthood. Only occasionally have I been a Biblical binge reader, when I have had a temporary B (for Bible) in my bonnet. However, having acquired and maintained the habit of Sunday Mass-going throughout my life, I have heard the scriptures read by the lectors every Sunday over a cycle of three years, just like our illiterate ancestors heard them read by the priest more than a millennium ago. That gradual acquisition of knowledge repetitively has held me in good stead, even if not enough to be a Bible-bashing evangelist.. However, being bashed with the Good Book hurts. Better to be caressed with it.

  3. I note that young Timomatic, a former contestant on Australia’s Got Talent, who is now a judge on the same show, has a profile in today’s Daily Telegraph “Funday” section. He lists his favourite book as The Bible.

    1. You made me do some research. It doesn't prove that he has used The Bible as more than a coffee table book, but I found this that suggests he may well have had a look inside:
      "Tim Omaji aka Timomatic is well-known to Christian audiences in NSW and beyond thanks to his involvement with Christian hip hop dance company, Kulture Break. Kulture Break is a non-profit charitable organisation committed to producing creative arts initiatives with a community focus. It was founded by Christian pastor Francis Owusu and has always been focused on the community and bringing a message of hope to young people.


    2. I think other Christian denominations do a much better job of introducing the Bible to young people. It's not used like a dictionary!

      On another note the website seems surprisingly free of the word Christian.