Teaching the Basic Concepts of the Christian Faith

It’s never too early to start sharing the big truths of the Bible with young children. In My First Book of Bible Verses, Jonathan Gibson helps kids ages 3–5 to learn key Bible verses along with their ABCs. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers will love using this book to teach foundational biblical truths in a fun, easy-to-remember way.

In this interview, we talked to Jonathan about his new release and making Bible study and devotional time a part of family life.

Q: Please introduce us to your new children’s book, My First ABC Book of Bible Verses.

The title of the book really tells you what the book is about. It’s an ABC book of Bible verses for children. When my wife and I were thinking about what verses we wanted our kids to memorize, we wondered if there was a book that had a short collection of foundational Bible verses for kids to memorize. We couldn’t find one, so I decided to write one myself. 

We have two children under the age of five who love books and who love to be read to. I wanted to write a book that I hope that they love hearing read and one day will love reading for themselves. I also wanted to have a book with key, memorable Bible verses that they could memorize from a young age. I hope it will become a help to many parents who want to instill God’s Word in the hearts of their little ones from the earliest age. The motto verse for the book is Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Q: Tell us more about the format for each letter and accompanying verse within the book.

Each verse is tagged to a letter of the alphabet, really to a word in the Bible verse that begins with that letter. The first verse is “All we like sheep have done astray.” The word “all” is linked to the letter A. The next one is “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The word “beginning” is linked to the letter B. And so on. At the bottom of the page, I give a one- or two-sentence explanation of the verse. Simple, short, and sweet — that’s how I’ve aimed to keep things in this book.

Q: Would you give us a few examples of the verses you chose and the sentences that explain the verses?

For the letter C, I chose: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) The word “care” links to the letter C. At the bottom of the page I explain: “When you are sad, tell God about it. He cares for you and can help.” And the picture is of a girl who’s just dropped her ice cream, which, as every parent can testify, is a very anxious moment in a life—and not just for the little girl!

For the letter L, I chose: “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4). The word “love” links to the letter L. At the bottom of the page I explain: “Love isn’t cranky or mean.” And the picture is one of a girl sharing her toy with her brother/friend. (I plan to read this page to Zac and Hannah over and over.)

My First ABC Book of Bible Verses A
My First ABC Book of Bible Verses B
My First ABC Book of Bible Verses C

Q: Why is it important to introduce not just Bible stories, but actual Scripture to children at a young age?

It’s important that we teach our children the ways of the Lord and bring them up in his discipline and instruction, as Paul encourages the parents in Ephesians 6:4. This involves teaching them the basic “grammar” of the gospel—the facts of who God is, who Jesus is, and what he did for us in his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. But part of teaching the gospel is also introducing our children to the words of the gospel—Scripture itself. The Psalms speak of the importance of loving God’s Word, reading it, and meditating on it. Psalm 119 is big on this theme. One of the reasons for Scripture memorization is so that we might not sin against God; another reason is to ward off the devil when he comes to tempt us. The devil is after our children, and one way we can teach them to fight him off is to be like Jesus, who when he was tempted said, “It is written . . . ” If Jesus stored up God’s Word in his heart, then so should we (and our children). And there’s no better time to do so than when our children’s minds are like little sponges.

Q: How have you and your wife worked with your own children on memorizing Scripture? At what age does verse memorization really start to click?

We started memorizing Scripture with them when they were about two or three. We learned Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Also John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Next was: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). When our son, Ben, was a bit older (five or six), we memorized Psalm 23 and Psalm 121 with him. Sometimes we did it through sheer repetition; other times we found a cool, funky song with the lyrics and memorized it that way.

Q: What advice do you have for parents when it comes to making devotional and worship time a regular part of their daily home life? How do you structure your Bible study time as a family when your children vary in ages?

Find the most conducive time of the day and KISS it—keep it simple, stupid. My wife is good at reminding me of this. Less is more, at least to begin with. When Ben was two or three years old, we worked on a Bible verse and a catechism question for a week or more, and that was it. As he got older, we did more—like reading through Catherine Vos’s The Child’s Story Bible—short sections at a time. When Zac and Hannah came along (eleven months apart), we kept going with The Child’s Story Bible for Ben, but we first did a Bible memory verse or a catechism question for Zac and Hannah, and then let them down from the table to roam. But we always finished with the Gloria Patri or the Doxology, and it was interesting to see the little ones want to circle back to the table to be a part of that. We also do songs at their age level.

Now that they’re a little bit older, we stretch them a bit more. On a “good” evening, we do a short paragraph from a Gospel, then I ask them five or six catechism questions, and then we do the Apostles’ Creed from memory, short prayers for others, and end with the Gloria Patri. This is on a “good” night! Other nights—of which there are many—we just about manage a memory verse and the Lord’s Prayer. As you can see, we didn’t begin with a lot, but built up to it. Interestingly, it has become such a part of our dinnertime routine during the week that if we don’t do a family devotion, one of the kids will remind us about it! We have not yet reached the heights of devotions on the weekends. We think Sunday is well covered as we worship together as a family at church.

Q: You are an Old Testament seminary professor who teaches adults about big theological concepts. Is it ever a challenge for you to present some of those big ideas in a way that children will understand?

Yes, it is always a challenge to keep things simple, but it is so important. When I was a minister, I set myself the task of including at least one section of the sermon where I would engage the children—often at the beginning. I tried to engage them again once or twice after that. I also did a children’s talk earlier in the service (as per Ephesians 6:1–3) and aimed to tie the sermon to that to keep the kids engaged. It was hard work, but something I grew to love. I think it was mainly because my son was 2–4 years old at the time and I wanted him to be as engaged in church as he could be.

What struck me when I did this was the number of adults who would engage with me after the service about how I’d explained things in the sermon. It was often the explanation I’d given to the children that was what helped them with their understanding of the passage. I soon realized that, at one level, you can never keep things too simple. I also realized that unless I could explain the passage or theological concept to a child, then I really didn’t understand it myself.

Q: Children often have big questions that adults never think to ask. Have your children ever caught you just a little off guard with some of their questions about God?

Just the other week, my son Zac (5) asked me if God can fly. As I was scrabbling to think what to say, a part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that we had taught our children came to my mind. I said, “Well, Zac, think about your catechism question: “Where is God?” He replied immediately, “God is everywhere,” doing a big circle in the air with his arms. So, I said, “Zac, if God is everywhere, does he need to fly anywhere?” He looked at me and said, “No. If he’s everywhere, he doesn’t need to fly anywhere.” But then we spoke about Jesus, who did fly up through the sky in his ascension. Hannah piped up, “But if Jesus is God, then why did Jesus fly if God doesn’t need to fly because he’s everywhere?” I said, “Well, Jesus flew up to heaven, but God the Son was also present everywhere at the same time.” They were puzzled to know how that could be, but the look from my wife Jackie reminded me to KISS it! So I suggested we talk about that another time and we sang and prayed to close.

What I loved about that short conversation was how Zac and Hannah were connecting the dots of Christian theology in their little five- and four-year-old minds. This is an example of the benefit of catechisms, but the same can be said of Scripture memorization. Knowing Scripture helps to join the dots of gospel grammar for our children. Sometimes when we are outside with the kids and we see a beautiful part of God’s creation, I’ll ask one of them, “Who made that?” And they’ll say, “God did.” I’ll then ask, “What Bible verse tells us that?” “Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” they say. Knowing the memory verse helps them to connect the big world around them to a big truth about God.

Q: My First ABC Book of Bible Verses is the first book in the Big Truths for Little Minds series. What can we expect from future books in the series?

I’ve written one on numbers called My First 1, 2, 3 Book of Bible Numbers. It will be a bit different but will teach children numbers through Bible stories. They will then be asked to find and count certain numbers of things on the page.

Q: This book was written for toddlers and preschoolers, but you also have also cowritten a series of books for middle-grade children. Would you share a little bit about the Acrostic Theology for Kids series?

The Acrostic Theology for Kids series is a four-book series I wrote with Timothy Brindle, a Christian hip-hop artist. We cover four areas of theology: the doctrines of God, Jesus, Salvation, and Scripture (Biblical Theology). In each book, following the alphabet as an outline, we wrote short 4- or 8-line stanzas to explain an attribute of God, who Jesus is, an aspect of our salvation, or some part of Scripture’s story. They are rhyming stanzas, as we wanted them to be memorable. In fact, Timothy has put them all into rap albums that can be found on Spotify (just put the title of the book into the search bar). If you’re looking for a fun way to teach your kids the great truths of Christian theology, the Acrostic Theology for Kids series is a great place to start.

My First ABC Book of Bible Verses Frontcover

My First ABC Book of Bible Verses

Jonathan Gibson helps toddlers and preschoolers learn key Bible verses along with their ABCs. Each letter of the alphabet has a bright, captivatingly illustrated page with a short, foundational Bible verse to be memorized and a simple sentence that helps explain the verse. 

About the author

Jonathan Gibson

Jonathan Gibson, PhD, is an ordained minister in the International Presbyterian Church, UK, presently serving as the associate professor of Old Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. He is author of 2 Peter: Living with the End in Mind, Isaiah: Good News for the Wayward and Wandering, Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship, and The Moon Is Always Round, as well as coeditor of Reformation Worship and From Heaven He Came and Sought Her. He is also coauthor of the Acrostic Theology for Kids series. Jonny is married to Jackie, and they have four children.

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