The Difference Between Bible Lessons and Family Devotions

Today I want to address a question that has come our way several times and just share with you my perspective on it. The question goes something like this: “Why do I need to include Bible lessons in my homeschool schedule? We do family devotions, so I think I’ve got it covered.” It’s a great question. Let’s talk about the difference between Bible lessons and family devotions.

When we talk about the difference between family devotions and school Bible lessons I realize that we can’t make any hard and fast divisions. Different families do different things for their family devotions. So let me say up front that my goal is not to split hairs over when certain study techniques happen. The main thing I want to point out is to make sure that you’re including both Bible literacy and Bible application.

Traditionally, family devotions focus on the application part: how does this passage of Scripture apply to our lives? How do we put it into practice? But it’s easy to neglect the Bible literacy aspect, and that’s what can be accomplished by studying the Bible as a school subject.

Think of it this way: Bible literacy is about knowing what the Bible says; application is about doing what the Bible says. Both are important. I want to focus on Bible literacy in our discussion today; this is what I see as the main goal of school Bible lessons.

Bible literacy focuses on knowing the contents of each book of the Bible, understanding how it fits into the broad panorama of history, who wrote the book, and the main themes and truths that it teaches. It’s about working your way through the books of the Bible, reading and narrating it for yourself as you go, just as you would any other history book. 

In the Simply Charlotte Mason curriculum, you read and narrate through the books of the Bible chronologically and see the story of Scripture unfolding alongside the world history of the same time periods. That’s when the context of those Bible accounts comes alive. When you study the Bible accounts alongside ancient history, you discover 

• What life was like in Egypt when Joseph was a slave there;

• That certain psalms were written to commemorate certain events;

• Why Jonah hated the people of Nineveh so much (and what premiere historic event was happening in Athens, Greece, about the same time as he was in the belly of the fish);

• How the Pharisees got started as the spiritual police in Israel;

• How the Israelites ended up under Roman rule and what life was like for those whom Rome conquered; in other words, why Israel was looking for a political savior; 

• Who Caesar Augustus was, how he was related to Julius Caesar, and what kind of ruler he was when he called for the census and Jesus was born;

• How Paul, an Israelite, gained Roman citizenship and what was so important about that;

• Which Caesar Paul appealed to and what that ruler was like;

• Who James, the brother of Jesus, wrote a letter to, why they were scattered, and what life was like for them.

These (and other) historical settings add depth and personal connection to the accounts that your student reads in the Bible. When you understand the historical context, it really sinks in that God’s Word was not given in a vacuum but in the midst of a challenging culture. The principles that are revealed in Scripture weren’t easy to carry out in the culture in which God’s people were living back then. They weren’t just some sweet “be nice and get along” sentiments; they were radical heart and life challenges that also require radical heart and life changes in the midst of our challenging culture too. 

But you miss that deeper understanding if you aren’t familiar with the world history that was happening at the same time. That’s why the first three years of our curriculum trace the events of Scripture from Genesis through the book of Acts alongside the corresponding world history from Ancient Egypt through Ancient Rome. That’s what I mean by Bible literacy: having a deep understanding of what the Bible says and the historical context in which its accounts took place.

Now if you’re doing all of that during family devotions, great! But if you’re not, don’t overlook all that this type of Bible lesson can add to your student’s spiritual understanding.

Then there’s one other focus of Bible lessons that I want to mention. School Bible lessons are a great opportunity to teach older students how to study the Bible for themselves—how to confirm the historical context; how to research what a word means in its original language; how to do a topical study, a book study, a character study, a word study, a compare-and-contrast study, a true inductive study—in order to make an accurate personal application. In other words, how to rightly handle the word of truth, as 2 Timothy 2:15 says. 

Your student needs to learn how to feed himself from the Word. School Bible lessons offer regular, structured study time that you can use for that purpose. We have seven different Bible studies that older students, grades 7–12, complete as they go through our curriculum plan. You don’t usually have the opportunity to do that kind of in-depth training when the whole family is gathered for a short devotional. 

So that’s why I encourage families to include both school Bible lessons and family devotions. Now, as I said, there isn’t a hard and fast division. Since school lessons are taken in pretty much the same private community as family devotions, you might have the opportunity at times to focus on personal application during Bible lessons or on historical context during family devotions. And you can include Scripture memory in either one or both.

I wanted to touch on this question today, not to split hairs about when you teach the Bible to your children, but rather to encourage you to make sure you are including Bible literacy as well as Scripture memory and personal Bible study. And if we can help you accomplish that, it will be our delight.

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