In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Bible and Children

  • Introduction
  • Bible: General Overviews
  • Bible: Overviews, Special Topics
  • Textbook
  • Bibliographies
  • Hebrew Bible: Children/Childhood as Source of Metaphor
  • Qumran
  • Early Judaism and Early Christianity: Overviews
  • Early Judaism and Early Christianity: Special Topics
  • Historical Jesus/Jesus as a Child
  • New Testament: Overviews
  • New Testament Letters
  • Reception History: Children’s Bibles, Books, Other Media
  • Theology of Childhood
  • Childist Interpretation

Childhood Studies The Bible and Children
Reidar Aasgaard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0163


Study of the Bible and children has been a growing area within research, and it has flourished particularly since the 1990s. During this period, research has developed and gone through certain stages; however, these stages do not replace but rather complement each other. To simplify, an early stage focused on aspects of children’s formation (common and religious upbringing), a second stage stressed children’s social relations and networks (belonging and dependence), and then—more recently—a stage appeared in which children are seen as active subjects (agents in their own lives and in the lives of others). Attention has also grown to matters such as gender, life stages, social class, ethnic diversity, and disability and illnesses. Research is now characterized by interdisciplinarity, particularly with the social sciences (e.g., social history, cultural anthropology, sociology), but also with fields within the humanities (e.g., art, classics, history, archaeology, literature) and more recently also with medicine (children’s diseases). In research on the Bible and children, it is important to distinguish between the study of children and the study of childhood, with the former referring to the living conditions, social functions, activities, etc. of children and the latter, inter alia, to conceptions of children as human beings and ideas about childhood as a stage of life. Whereas the former focuses chiefly on the children themselves, the latter usually reflects the viewpoints of adults. These perspectives are of course not mutually exclusive but rather complement and inform one another, which makes the relationship between the two—between “reality” and “idea(l)s”—a matter of interest in itself. The two main parts of the Bible are termed in this article “Hebrew Bible” (which, considering its central place within both Judaism and Christianity, is less biased than the Christian “Old Testament”) and “New Testament” (which is the firmly established terminology within Christianity). Research on children in the Bible and its individual parts is presently carried on unevenly. Comparatively, far more research has been done on the New Testament than on the Hebrew Bible, but within both some areas are more thinly covered than others; this is evident in comparing various subsections in this article. Moreover, the topic “Bible and children” must be approached in at least two ways, namely, to study children in the Bible and to study the impact of the Bible on children. To date, much more research has been done on the former than on the latter; this is clearly reflected in the present article. This incongruity does not correspond to their importance, however, considering the enormous impact of the Bible on history, cultures, and societies, and consequently also on children and their lives. The latter approach is most clearly foregrounded under the last three headings (see Reception History: Children’s Bibles, Books, Other Media; Theology of Childhood; and Childist Interpretation).

Bible: General Overviews

The Bible is a collection of writings with different social, cultural, and ideological origins and with a history spanning more than a millennium, and the place of children and conceptions of childhood varies correspondingly. Scholarship on children in the Bible is still at a stage at which it is difficult to synthesize research findings meaningfully. General overviews are thus mostly tentative and piecemeal. Bunge 2008; Parker, et al. 2012; and O’Brien 2014 give brief surveys as does to an extent King 2013 (cited under Early Judaism and Early Christianity: Overviews). Larsson and Stenström 2013 gives the broadest and most comprehensive overview; it is scholarly based yet accessible. Two important anthologies deal with central writings and topics: Bunge, et al. 2008 is the more comprehensive, and more popularly and hermeneutically oriented; Ebner, et al. 2002 is somewhat more specialized and scholarly oriented. Lockyer 1970, Voeltzel 1973, and Zuck 1996 are useful for their surveys and lists of passages on children and childhood, but they represent earlier stages of research and can primarily serve as reference tools. For other overviews that cover parts of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, see citations under Hebrew Bible: Overviews and New Testament: Overviews.

  • Bunge, Marcia J. “Introduction.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, xiv–xxvi. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

    The brief introduction presents examples of the growing attention to children/childhood in biblical studies and the Academy, sketches the volume’s aim, significance, and guiding questions (e.g., nature and status of children, adult responsibilities, adult/child relationships, formation, children’s agency), and briefly summarizes the main topics and findings.

  • Bunge, Marcia J., Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, eds. The Child in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

    A major contribution to the study of children in the Bible, this work consists of eighteen chapters by established scholars and covers central writings in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament as well as some thematic essays. Presents overviews but also has substantial scholarly discussions and hermeneutical reflections. Suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduates as well as general readers. All individual chapters are annotated in this article.

  • Ebner, Martin, Paul D. Hansen, Marie-Theres Wacker, and Rudolf Weth, eds. Gottes Kinder. Jahrbuch für biblische Theologie 17. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener, 2002.

    An important collection of contributions (in German) dealing with a variety of ancient and modern perspectives on children and childhood, with sections on social context, identity formation, children’s education, childhood metaphors in the Bible, children’s rights, and theology of childhood. Suitable for postgraduate students and above, but varying in level of difficulty. Several individual chapters are annotated in this article.

  • Larsson, Mikael, and Hanna Stenström. Ett myller av liv: Om barn i Bibelns texter. Uppsala, Sweden: Svenska kyrkan, 2013.

    The book provides a systematic and easily accessible presentation of the place of children in the various groups of writings in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, respectively. Contains also theoretical and hermeneutical reflections on various aspects of children and childhood in the Bible and its relevance for today. Suitable for scholars, students, and general readers.

  • Lockyer, Herbert. All the Children of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970.

    The book lists and names all the children in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Its value is primarily as a reference tool.

  • O’Brien, Julia M.. “Children.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies. Vol. 1, ASI–MUJ. Edited by Julia O’Brien, 25–60. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Brief introductions to children and childhood in the Bible and the ancient world, informed by gender studies, and with select bibliographies. Contains seven subentries: Ancient Near East (Erin E. Fleming), Hebrew Bible (Jennifer L. Koosed), Greek World (Pierre Brulé), Roman World (Christian Laes), New Testament (Chris Frilingos), Early Judaism (Karina Martin Hogan), and Early Church (John W. Martens and Melvin G. Miller). Suitable for scholars, students, and general readers.

  • Parker, Julie Faith, Marcia J. Bunge, David Kreaemer, et al. “Child, Children.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Vol. 5, Charisma—Czaczkes. Edited by Dale C. Allison, Jr., Hans-Joseph Klauck, Volker Leppin, and Choon Leong Seow, column 83–118. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012.

    Useful and readable introductory surveys of various aspects of childhood in the Bible and its reception, with select bibliographies. Areas dealt with are: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Greco-Roman Antiquity and New Testament, Judaism (rabbinic, medieval, modern), Christianity, other religions, literature, visual arts, music, film.

  • Voeltzel, René. L’enfant et son éducation dans la Bible. Paris: Beauchesne, 1973.

    A seminal survey of children and childhood in the Bible. Deals with a broad range of aspects of ancient childhood (stages of childhood, the childhood of Jesus, etc.), not only with education and pedagogy. A general sketch with limited nuances; holds an optimistic view about the high valuation of children both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament.

  • Zuck, Roy B. Precious in His Sight: Childhood and Children in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996.

    The book contains a useful survey of passages and material on children in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but it is of limited value for research due to its conservative-biased ethics on matters such as corporal punishment.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.