By Jodi Hiser
Holding centuries of wisdom, Aesop’s fables are some of the most well-loved children’s literature of all time. Children are drawn to these fables because of interesting characters who experience problems with which we can all identify. These fables are so relatable to our human nature that they have been strung across many cultures and rewritten into different versions, skipping across genres and time.
Parents love Aesop’s fables because they promote good behavior in their kids. We teach “The Tortoise and the Hare” because we desire our children to be purposeful and carefully diligent in their pursuits. Or we tell them about “The Ant and the Grasshopper” in order to show that there is a time for work and a time for play.
Although these morals are beautiful and helpful, many people often adapt this incorrect method for teaching Bible stories to children. For example, our culture tends to moralize the story of Noah, using it to teach children to be steadfast in work, even if one feels defeated. Or we use the story of David to inspire children to be courageous as they fight the giants in their lives. In this light, the story of Joseph is seen as a message that determination and patience pays off in the end.
And while they are good and right in and of themselves, these morals are not the true message of the narratives in Scripture. In fact, attaching morals to a Bible story actually damages the ultimate understanding of Scripture narrative. When we fable-ize the Bible, we are actually teaching our children to look inwards, finding the strength, courage, or other noble traits within themselves. And this can be dangerous. When we look at Scripture through a moralized lens, we will either develop a Pharisaical attitude, congratulating ourselves for an obedience well done, or we develop a heart of defeat, realizing our inability to measure up. Either way, the arrow becomes pointed to self, and God is forgotten.
In order to teach these stories, we must properly understand them. As we already know, the stories found in God’s Word fall underneath the genre of narrative. A narrative is a story; a presentation of historical events that reflect a particular point of view. The Bible is filled with narratives, covering roughly two-thirds of the entire canon. And, each of these stories is connected to God’s Greatest Story, the metanarrative that flows from Genesis to Revelation. Learning to read and interpret Scripture rightly within the context of metanarrative is a necessary skill commanded by the Lord (2 Tim. 2:15). So then, how shall we rightly interpret and teach Biblical narrative?
First, pray for illumination. As with all Scripture, the portion of narrative in the Bible is illuminated to us through the Holy Spirit. We must acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s power to bring clarity and understanding of the Word while humbling ourselves to be teachable. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and lead you in rightly handling His Word.
Read with eyes of historicity. Narratives were written to demonstrate God’s involvement with His creation and His people over the epochs of history. Each narrative story has historical context and significant truth meant for the original audience. Take time to discover where the story takes place, what events happened before and after, and when this story happens on the timeline of history.
Hunt for the literary elements. All good stories have the same basic ingredients. List the characters and describe them. Examine the setting and think about how its particular time and place affects the story. Talk about the main conflict, and how it is resolved. Discuss the scenes in order, noticing how the author weaves the story from one point to the next.
Locate God’s presence. The job of a Biblical narrative is to exhibit God as our hero. The Bible stories highlight God’s involvement with His people through His promises, commands, and acts of providence. Narratives were created to teach us the character of God. These stories of Scripture always point to God, who is the protagonist of every Biblical narrative. In order to acknowledge this important concept, observe the moments where God speaks and notice what kind of words He is using. Does He speak commands or promises? Does He speak directly to the people, or is His presence implied? Notice His orchestrated acts, His mercy, and consequences that are sovereignly taking place by His hand.
Find the thread of connection to God’s plan of redemption. Another job of the narrative is to point toward the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Each story will lend itself in some way to highlight the redemptive work of Christ’s perfect life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection, or His promised restoration of all things. This is a crucial step in teaching Scripture to our children. Because all of reality is wrapped up in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we must interpret all Biblical stories through Him.
Resist the urge to moralize. Narratives were not written to teach morals. They were not created to teach us what to do or what not to do; nor do they have hidden allegorical meanings that are just waiting to be discovered. The job of the narrative is to teach us the character of God, point towards His plan of redemption, and instruct the church in truth. Avoid the urge to emphasize what this story means to you. In light of discovering the character of God, we can then focus on humble application by considering what truth God is giving to us, His bride. Recognizing God’s character that is revealed in each narrative, what encouragement can we receive? How does the light of God’s redemptive plan in each narrative change us? We can unearth these truths only after discovering where God is present, how God is the hero, and how the story points to His ultimate plan of redemption through His Son.
Worship God for His character and plan. Worship is the logical response for discovering more about the Lord. Take time to praise God for His character that is revealed in His word, and His heroic activity in the entire timeline of redemptive history. Praise God for protecting His people, and for loving His church. Praise Him for the life and work of His Son that saves us. Praise Him for the eternal blessings He gives to His children that can never be taken away.
What a joy it is to teach such an awesome concept to the precious souls of our kids. We get the honor of a front row seat to watch the Holy Spirit quicken the hearts of our children. We get to see those moments of faith unfolding. We get to witness God transforming the hearts of our kids to become more like Him. And we know that He does all of this through His Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Teaching Scripture to our kids is the highest calling of parenthood, and it is a kingdom job with eternal blessing.