boys reading the bible

There are close to 300 references to youth or young people in the Bible. It goes without saying though that the experience and meaning of youth in the ancient world is a very different reality to today. In the ancient world you transitioned from childhood to youth to old as we do today. The differences from today though are quite significant. In the ancient world you were considered young up until the age of 40. The Greek word for youth, ‘neonate’ can mean up to 40 years of age. For a male the normative pattern would be that you followed in the trade of your Father and probably to work in a family business. You would be married quite young and in all likelihood start having a large family. For young women, marriage and starting a family would have been the normative pattern.

"Youth is often described as a ‘time of regret’ when unwise choices and sinful rebellion can and does occur."

The definition of ‘youth’ in today’s setting varies among psychologists and professional youth worker / minister writers but anything from 10-25 years of age is quite common. So ‘tweenagers’ at one end and ‘young adults’ at the other would be considered youth / young in our culture and time. It would now be rare for a young man to follow in the footsteps of his Father concerning a career or for young women to be intentionally starting a family. The two groups of women in our culture that tend to have children young are the ‘poor’ or ‘religious’ and young people of religious conviction tend to marry younger than those of their peers. We see this pattern of early marriage quite regularly in our own Church communities.

Of the 300 references to youth in the Bible, four clear motifs or themes can be detected. The first is ‘youth as a time of promise.’ Texts abound that describe young men as strong, virile and good looking. Texts abound describing young women as beautiful, honourable and virgins. Secondly, is the regular overturning of the ancient cultural ‘law of primogeniture’ where the blessing is passed from one generation to another, usually to the oldest son. In the Scriptures we regular see God chose the ‘youngest and the least’ rather than the oldest sibling through which his blessing and purposes will flow. Thirdly, youth is often described as a ‘time of regret’ when unwise choices and sinful rebellion can and does occur. The story of the prodigal son is the quintessential description of this theme. Finally, youth as a time when you place your faith and trust in God and develop Godly patterns of thinking and behaviour early in life.

In future articles I will develop each of these four themes and highlight some of the ministry implications that emerge from them.


Reverend David Fuller, former Regional Youth Officer