Teaching the Torah to Tots

Our church uses a Sunday-school curriculum that works its way chronologically through the Bible in three years.  There are tremendous positives to this approach.

There are also some challenges.

Like this one:  you’re flipping through your teacher book, and you discover that you’re coming up on the book of Leviticus. 

Agh!  Choke!  Gag!  REALLY?

How are you supposed to teach pre-schoolers about Levitical law?  It puts YOU to sleep, after all.  How are you supposed to make it come to life for the little ones in your class?  If you teach 5th-graders, your job is a little easier, although it’s still a stretch, but what if you’re teaching 3-yr.-olds? 

As the teacher, you’ll always have to work to help the Scriptures connect with your specific class, but here are some general recommendations to keep in mind when trying to teach some of the more… challenging books of the Bible.

God Gave the Law with Spiritual Children in Mind

In Galatians 4:3, Paul says, “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.”  In context, he’s saying that God gave the Law to His people to prepare them for a fuller revelation of His grace.  People couldn’t fully understand how incredible it would be for God to actually live with His people until they saw the massiveness of their sin.

No one was ever saved by keeping the Law.  The Israelites were saved by grace through faith just like we are.  But something had to regulate their relationship with God, if God was going to actually live with them.  For Christians, that “regulator” is the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:4-6).  The Law was a constant reminder, before the cross came, that man was sinful and God was holy.

So, use the Law to talk to kids about their sin.  Talk about God’s holiness.  Before they can understand the wonder of God’s grace to them, they need to know how badly they have fallen short.

Have the kids in your class ever lied?  Stolen?  Hated someone?  Coveted someone else’s toy?  Then, the Law has something to say to them:  you are a law-breaker and sinner!

God Gave the Law with Literal Children in Mind

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7).

This command is referring to, of all things, the boring old laws in Exodus-Deuteronomy.  How on earth did God expect sane parents to try to teach their children these laws?

Keep in mind that the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament are actually action-oriented.  We often forget.  Reading about these ceremonies can be like reading a recipe.  The recipe itself isn’t very interesting, but it’s an important guide to the the much-more-interesting process of cooking.  While you wouldn’t sit and read a cookbook to your child, many of you might try actually cooking with your child.

Imagine taking a small child to the Tabernacle.  You’re bringing a spotless lamb to sacrifice.  Imagine the impact that watching a lamb be slaughtered on an altar would have on a child.  Most of us would cover our children’s eyes! 

But God set no age limit on those witnessing the grotesqueness of animal sacrifices.  (Is it less grotesque to think of a human sacrificed on a cross?)  Your child would see the priests wearing robes splattered in blood, probably looking more like a butcher than anything else.

So, when it comes to teaching about the Tabernacle and sacrifices and the table of showbread, act it out!  Use visual elements and props like crazy!

DO NOT simply read the cookbook.  Use the smells, sights, and sounds that God intended to accompany the “recipe book.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject as well, especially if you have any other suggestions that could help others teach this tricky area of the Bible.

Scott Allison
Scott is a pastoral intern at Faith Church. He and his wife Courtney work in Children's Ministries at the church.