Five lessons for parents from the Bible

The Bible is not a handbook on parenthood, or morality, or any number of other things for which handbooks are perfectly suitable.

The Bible is a written testimony to the persistence of God’s grace throughout centuries as experienced by a particular people, in particular times and places. Scripture presents ancient families doing things that ancient families did and presuming things that ancient families presumed.

Viewing Scripture as a direct source of parenting advice disregards the complexity of the biblical witness as well as that of our own lives. Such an approach leads to sentiments that are comforting on the surface but lacking in depth and substance.

Coming to terms with the distance between Scripture and our own experience is an important first step in recognizing the parallels that may actually exist.

Values, knowledge and beliefs change significantly over time and across cultures. Yet some basic experiences still unite human families. Family members are generally marked by affection for one another, new caregivers are often deeply anxious about their duties, and parents must negotiate childrearing within the constraints of external forces and their own abilities.

Encountering the biblical testimony with an honest and critical eye to both its complexity and our own experiences permits encounter with the counsel it may offer.

1. Families are complicated. Even the most cursory review of families in Scripture reveals their complexity. In the first family, Cain’s jealousy provokes him to murder his brother, Abel (Gn 4:8).

A few chapters on, Noah curses his own grandson, condemning him to slavery (Gn 9:25). Later, Abraham fathers Ishmael with the concubine Hagar (Gn 16) and eventually abandons both in the desert (Gn 21:14). Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, marries the wrong sister (Gn 29:25) and eventually fathers children with four separate women (Gn 30). This list could be much longer. Continue reading



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