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Apr 25, 2022

How to Answer Teens’ Toughest Questions About the Bible

Mark Hart

Do Your Teens Think the Bible Is Sexist, Antiquated, and Irrelevant? Here’s How to Handle It.

Do you ever feel anxious the night before teaching? Do you ever fear that one of your teens might throw a wrench into your lesson plan by asking a really tough question that you just don’t know how to answer? It’s OK! We’ve all been there. Here’s how to handle it.

Myth: The Bible is antiquated.

Let’s say your teens think the Bible is outdated or antiquated, and that we don’t need it anymore. Push back a little bit. Make them think about what they just said. For starters, I like to point out that to say the Bible is antiquated is actually a very smug and prideful thing to say. 

Why? Because the Bible was written thousands of years ago, and we can’t control God’s inspiration. We might have science and technology today, but the people back then were able to navigate using only the stars. They were able to build massive pyramids without cranes. They were able to survive without technology, right? And they were able to do so in some pretty amazing ways.

So when your teens get on their high horse about our modern age, make them think a bit more about that. Ask them, How many of the people nowadays would be able to dig a trench, plant a seed, and grow crops without Google? How many people would actually be able to build a house using only natural materials like wood, mud, and stone? 

The people in the Bible were far more crafty and far more capable and clever than many of us are today, and there’s wisdom in that. Today, many of us rely on technology and modern advances so much that they essentially make us less capable by thinking, doing, and finding things for us. But what if one day all of that went away? What would we really be capable of?

Myth: The Bible is sexist.

Let’s say you get a question from one of your teens about the Bible being sexist. Again, this just speaks to their improper reading of Scripture. Here’s what you can say: The Bible appears sexist to us when we read it through a twenty-first-century lens, through an American lens, through a Western culture lens. The reality is that we are affected by the culture that we were raised in.

Teens can look at the Bible and say, “Oh, well, Abraham was going to sacrifice his son 4,000 years ago. What a horrible guy.” Well, if you understand that all the communities around Abraham were sacrificing their kids, it puts things in context. While of course as Catholics we are pro-life and we don’t do things like that, the thing to keep in mind is that Abraham was a product of the culture he was brought up in, and throughout all of salvation history, we get to see how God slowly but surely uses the 1+1 method of teaching, where he reveals one thing to us at a time.

A Fun, Easy Way to Show Teens the “Big Picture” of the Bible

Venture: The Bible Timeline for High School introduces teenagers to the “big picture” of salvation history in a way that is simple to understand and easy to teach. 

Sign up for a free preview!

For example, think about a priest who receives a new placement at a different church, and when he gets there, he notices that it isn’t very well run. He sees a lot of irreverent things happening, and he notices that the congregation may just not know that there’s a better way. So if the pastor is wise, he isn’t going to come in and try to change everything all at once, right? It would just be way too much for the people. They’d feel as though this new priest just wants to change everything, and they’d have bad feelings toward him. 

But if the priest is wise, he’ll patiently adopt or teach one new thing at a time and wait until the congregation is ready for the next change. This is how God works with his people. While Abraham came from a culture that we look at today and know was quite savage for sacrificing human beings, God is patient, and he was revealing one new thing to them at a time.

The reality is, there are two ways to read Scripture: (1) we can read it with all our own preconceived notions and fallacies and through the lens of our own personal issues, or (2) we can read Scripture the way that the Holy Spirit intended it to be read. The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible. When we read any other book, we typically try to read it the way the author intended us to. So why wouldn’t we read the Bible the way its author intended, too? In the case of the Bible, we need to shift our perspective so that we read it the way it would have been culturally understood at the time, and we need to recognize that the things we see in the Bible that seem sexist were cultural norms at that time. 

Now, these questions about sexism and the Bible seeming antiquated, these are valid questions. Questions like “Why does God say that?” and “Why would Paul say this?” and “Why do they treat women and outcasts that way?” The answer is, Because culturally, at the time, that’s what was “normal” and allowed. It doesn’t mean that it was part of God’s plan. It just means it’s what the cultural norm looked like then, and that’s a higher reason for all of us who do understand context and do know better to not allow those things to go on anymore. Like, the denigration of women, slavery, murder, etc. We don’t advocate for the people who allowed for these things to happen. Scripture may have allowed for them the same way that it allowed for divorce—out of necessity. But it wasn’t God’s plan. God wanted to rescue his people from these sinful and immoral ways.

Another aspect to consider is the definition of certain words. For example, the word “slavery” meant something different in the Old Testament than slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. So we have to be able to have a historical context for what we’re reading in the Bible. We have to be really, really careful that we’re not reading Scripture with our own biases and modern, preconceived notions. Back then, they were reading Scripture through a similar cultural lens. But our world is very different from theirs. That’s why having other resources and experts that we can turn to and ask questions are so important because they can help us put things into proper context. 

If you’re looking for a resource created by subject-matter experts on teaching teens the Bible, I highly encourage you to check out Venture. In this study program, I go even deeper and offer entire sections on answering teens’ toughest questions. And I talk to other experts – PhDs, leaders, teachers, and ministers – about how they would answer these questions too. I think you’re going to find it extremely helpful.

That’s all for now.

A Fun, Easy Way to Show Teens the “Big Picture” of the Bible

Venture: The Bible Timeline for High School introduces teenagers to the “big picture” of salvation history in a way that is simple to understand and easy to teach. 

Sign up for a free preview!

Mark Hart has helped transform Catholic youth and young adult Scripture study in parishes, homes, and classrooms with his wildly popular Bible study programs, T3: The Teen Timeline (for teens) and Encounter (for pre-teens), as well as Altaration (a program about the Mass for teens). Mark’s humor and his passion for Scripture are helping hundreds of thousands of Catholics, young and old, begin to read and study the Bible in engaging, fun, and relevant ways. A devoted husband and father of four, Mark is also the main author and presenter in The 99, A New System for Evangelization.

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