Last Sunday we gave Bibles to Third Graders. This is a long-standing tradition in United Methodist Churches. The exact age varies a little bit, but somewhere around that time, we give children their own Bibles, figuring that by the age of 9 or 10, most children have become good enough readers that they can read the Bible for themselves. Often adults tell me they still have their Third Grade (or whatever year) Bible.
The practice varies a bit in each church. Some churches give Children’s Bibles to make them more accessible for young readers. In another church, one father noted, “I want the Bible my daughter gets to be something she will use as she grows up,” so in that church we gave adult Bibles. In yet another church, a mother commented that her son (by then a teenager) did not understand the Bible and she wished we had chosen a more readable translation. There are no perfect answers.
In another church I served, one man remembered that when he was a boy old enough to get his Bible, the church’s practice was to require children to fulfill certain requirements to “earn” their Bibles. I don’t remember all the specifics, but they had to memorize Psalm 23, Psalm 100 and several other things. This particular boy did not feel confident in his ability to memorize and so he never got his Bible. The irony was that as an adult he taught one of the best Adult Sunday School classes I have seen, and was a strong and wise leader in the church. Knowing that story, one year as we gave Bibles to Third graders, we also gave one to the man. It was a poignant and beautiful moment.
In every church I have served, we have tried to err on the side of generosity, giving Bibles to children regardless of how often them come to Sunday School, their ability to memorize, or any requirement. Children who are new to the church and older than Third grades also get Bibles. As Martin Luther taught during the Protestant Reformation, the Bible should be used and available to anyone. In Luther’s day that meant translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people. In our day maybe that means finding a more accessible translation. Above all, it means that the Bible is to be used, read and discussed. After all, the Bible is the most basic tool for faith that we have. I hope you get your Bible down from whatever shelf it is on, and open it up.