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Many churches using The Gospel Project for Kids are now working their way through Joshua and Judges. Exciting stories, for sure!

But we’ve heard from a few leaders who are troubled by the violence in these accounts. One pastor recently asked us how we approached the planning process:

How did you balance the need to convey the Biblical message and keep it age appropriate? How do you respond to the modern desire to keep children from being exposed to the violence in the Bible?

There are two approaches to telling preschoolers and elementary kids stories that contain violence.

Avoid the Violence

The first approach is to leave the violent stories for Bible storybooks at home and not tell the stories in a group setting. Parents choose what stories to tell their kids and when to tell them. At church, the violent parts are excised. (For example, in 1 Samuel 17, the focus might be on David taking food to his brothers, not David’s slaying of Goliath.)

Just the Facts 

The second approach is to tell the stories that contain violence, but to leave out any additional graphic detail or sensationalism that might distract from the point of the story. Along these lines, you’d tell a preschooler how God helped David kill the giant with a slingshot and five stones, and how this story helps us marvel at the power of God to do great things through ordinary people. You wouldn’t need to focus attention on David cutting off Goliath’s head, etc.

Many curriculum options for kids take the first approach. The Gospel Project takes the second. We stick with the facts of the story without dwelling on the violence.

Why We Tell the Stories

Here are the reasons we tell the violent stories:

  • Small children, especially preschoolers, may not fully understand death, but we believe they are far more perceptive than we give them credit for.
  • Some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales are violent (“The Little Red Riding Hood” or “Hansel and Gretel), but because of our familiarity with these stories, we tend to overlook the violent elements and tell them to our kids anyway. Why would we tell our kids imaginary stories from culture and not true stories from the Old Testament?
  • We’ve discovered that, as teachers, it’s our own unfamiliarity with the Bible that causes us concern when telling these stories. The teacher who is shocked by the story of Achan or Ehud or Jael has no trouble with Noah’s Ark (where God destroyed every living creature) or Abraham and Isaac (where a father almost stabbed his son). In this case, we teachers need to learn about the little-known stories and see the most familiar stories with fresh eyes.
  • Violence in the Bible shows us how bad our sin is and what our sin leads to. We go from a perfect garden to a brother killing his brother. The good news of the gospel grows brighter when we see the darkness of sin.
  • Our children encounter violence in this sin-filled violent world. We can shelter our kids from hearing about Newtown or terrorist attacks… for a time. But eventually, the reality of our fallen world will confront them. It’s important for kids to know that God is not surprised by tragedy or unable to work in the midst of violence.
  • The most important story in the Bible is the most gruesome and most troubling – the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not necessary to show bloody pictures or sensationalize the details of crucifixion. But surely we must tell our kids the story of Christ’s sacrificial death for us. Unjust violence leading to cosmic restoration is the heart of the Christian faith.

Figuring out the age appropriateness of introducing certain stories is something that individual parents and teachers must discern. As curriculum providers, we do our best to walk a fine line. We want to faithfully tell the stories of the Bible in ways that focus on their main point without being distracted by or without denying the violent elements in the stories.

What do you think? How do you handle the Bible’s violent stories with your kids?

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13 thoughts on “Is the Bible Too Violent for Kids?”

  1. Todd says:

    I like the honest approach as we move through TGP each week. However, I did find as we moved into Judges, that we had 2 months of weekly focus on the killing of the masses it seemed. I just didn’t use the videos on some and taught the lesson with a little different approach using a big idea like obedience or honor. All the stories need to be told, but each CP needs to have a pulse on when an adjustment needs to be made for their audience. It was mostly our preschool that grew weary of hearing that if you’re good, God rewards you. If you’re bad, God kills you. But with a little adjustment, we pulled through and are starting Ruth and Boaz this Sunday. Great curriculum with a great message.

  2. Jayna Coppedge says:

    I am pleased that Gospel Project tells the Whole Bible and does it in age appropiate methods. I think that this is especially important now because so many churches no longer have children in the worship service. My children sat beside me in worship from four-years-old until they went off to college. There were many times when they were younger I would cringe win an adult topic would be addressed in a sermon. But I was also glad that this forceed me to discuss difficult subjects. I am glad the children heard from me and my husband; before they heard from a worldly perspective.
    I believe that decades ago we watered down the Bible to everyone be sweet and nice. Be a good citizen and tell everyone Jesus loves them. (OK that was an exageration to make a point) But I do believe that we are reaping now the fruit of those weak seeds. We often refuse to call societies normal behavior “sin”. I am acquaited with churches that unsure what to do with Sunday School TEACHERS that are living a life style that is contrary to the Bible. Perhaps these churches’ leaders need someone to say God is serious about sin.

  3. Nathanael says:

    I think in this case most of the scruples lie with the parents. I know that as a kid growing up the story of Ehud and the story of Jael were always two of my favorites.

  4. C.L. says:

    In a setting where kids are away from their parents, the violence in the stories should be avoided. I homeschooled my children and could introduce concepts and stories when it was appropriate for each individual child. It was disheartening and upsetting when CHURCH was the place that exposed my children to violence. People cringe about sexual exposure and think nothing of violent exposure. This is wrong and something to consider. Don’t let your children watch the violent-themed movies where a woman wants to destroy all the puppies, or the witch wants to destroy the fairest lady. Just because someone makes a colored picture (cartoon) out of a story, doesn’t make it a story for kids. Think about that… rather than just accepting it. Violent Bible stories can be delayed until they are age appropriate. Parents should decide for their individual child, rather than a church curriculum. Parents, don’t just go along with the flow… take a stand, use good judgment, and protect your child until YOU feel the time is the right time for these issues. Be aware of even what the church shares with them BEFORE they share it.

  5. Holly says:

    We’ve never “handled” it we just read them and answer questions as they ask … kids are much more a) astute and b) resilient then we give them credit for. There is a difference in my opinion between the violence of the Bible and make believe … plus say the story of Dinah most kids will know she was raped but they won’t know what that means exactly until later but I don’t believe in leaving out parts of God’s word.

  6. Michael says:

    Thank you so much for this, Trevin. It is very helpful. We found ourselves coming to the same conclusion for largely the same reasons. Your last three bullet points are the linchpins. As our pastor team wrestled with this, we found that if we excised the violence from a story, then we were also excising the sin and God’s judgment, and with out sin, the gospel is nowhere to be found in these stories. As we reviewed the GospelProject for Kids material after these concerns were raised, we saw time and again where the video/lesson would not shy away from the reality of the violence, but was careful not to glamorize it or make it the point of the story. Thank you for striking the right balance.

  7. Jim says:

    Thanks, Trevin. I really like the Gospel Project for my adult class and I would love to use the kids version for the little guys my wife and I teach. Most of the curriculum we’ve been given for kids drives me nuts because it boils down Scripture to nice, moralistic stories – those never resonated with me as a kid. “David’s dad told him to bring food to his brothers. David obeyed his dad and helped his brothers. We should do that too.”

  8. Jenny says:

    I have long believed that God put some of those details in specifically for boys.

  9. Susan C. says:

    We’re not familiar with that curriculum, but our son (8 yrs.) rather likes the violent stories, the genealogies, and the census counts in the Pentateuch. We’ve done some mild editing on occasion.

  10. Deb Brown says:

    I really appreciated this article! Great topic! We are at the point in GP for elementary-age kids when the Israelites move into the promised land and as someone else said, start wiping out the masses. I agree kids are more astute than we think and I also agree about not leaving out parts of God’s Word. We handle it with the idea of tell the truth but don’t dwell on the violence and there’s no need to give nitty gritty details. This is a fantastic curriculum with solid truths being told and built on week after week. We are thankful to be teaching it!

  11. Sue Feke says:

    We are teaching late 3 year olds and 4 year olds. Big difference between the two many times. The stories focusing on Judah and the kings seem to be a bit over their heads. Hard to maintain their attention, especially with those who don’t want to sit and be quiet while you teach the story. I bring in examples from their lives that relate to the story. We have usually at least 1-3 children who have behavior problems and make it harder for those who are willing to sit.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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