What are duplicates in the Bible

Tools of the hand of childlike Bible interpretation

Children as exegetes

Ronald Goldman asked children nearly 40 years ago why Jesus resisted the devil's suggestion to make bread out of stones. "People didn't like bread in this country," said a six-year-old child. The almost 12-year-old Jana said that even God could not live on bread alone. When asked, she explains this. “You should eat something else with it - butter.” 1 Dialogues like this one are at the center of thinking about how children (can) understand biblical stories. For a long time it was considered the most important task of religious didactics to think about the tricks that could be used to dissuade children from such a false understanding of the Bible. If the children's knowledge came into view at all, then primarily under the question of the right connection point

In the meantime there is a growing number of religious educators who, under the influence of currents such as reception theory in literary studies, the postulate on the "change of perspective towards the child" in the church discussion, the reflections on philosophizing and theologizing with children, have reached the radical insight : "Biblical stories may also be understood 'incorrectly'." 3

Of course, such a statement is challenging. It affects the self-understanding of the historical-critical method of being able to generate historical "truths", although here too a change is in progress due to the inclusion of reception-theoretical approaches and the postmodern knowledge of "many readings". In such a context, attempts to allow children or young people to interpret biblical texts as important interpretations no longer appear exotic.

Friedrich Schweitzer emphasized some elements that have to be considered in a program "Children as Exegetes":

  • "The reception processes of children and young people (should) be carefully observed and documented.
  • No (psychological) theory can anticipate what certain children or young people actually think, what interests, worries and moves them.
  • [Working with children] requires [...] a didactic setting in which children and young people can really come into play with their interpretations. "4

We see our own consequence from the discussion about "children as exegetes" in two respects. Support should be given to all attempts to obtain as much empirical material as possible on how children of different ages and different backgrounds deal with certain biblical stories. Even if - as Schweitzer rightly notes - every child will find their own access to the Bible text, certain modes of reception can be predicted, at least in the area of ​​the probable. On this basis, for example, a horizon of possible didactics and reception can be defined for parables

But it is also part of a constructivist perspective, as we want to take it here, to think about how biblical exegesis takes place. Horst Klaus Berg has given an overview of the repertoire of contemporary exegetical approaches.6 Presumably, one could still do a large number of these in detail implicit rules get on the track on which the individual approaches are based. In this article, we want to look for such rules in children's exegetical work. As far as we will find such, we can then ask in which way they correspond to those of the "official" exegesis or where they differ.


Ronald Goldman: Children understand biblical stories specifically differently than adults - mechanisms of the interpretation of miracles

When studying intelligence tests, Jean Piaget had noticed that there are such things as typical errors.7 Building on this basic insight, Piaget was able to specifically identify different ways of thinking in children than in adults. When these findings are later received, a distinction must be made as to whether the child's "misinterpretations" (from the adult point of view) are more about deficits or about competencies. The English religious educator Ronald Goldman was a pioneer in the application of Piaget's research to the religious understanding of children.8 He himself wanted to show how - from his theological perspective - many interpretations of biblical stories by children are "wrong" . He therefore pleaded for a later encounter with the Bible in terms of age. For us today, Goldman's precise observations and the children's interesting statements are captivating. In the sense of a "pluri-interpretability" of biblical texts in postmodernism, one will show one's own interest in childish expressions.9 Accordingly, the structural requirements for childish exegesis would be specific To evaluate competencies. We want to classify the mechanisms that become visible as "tools of the trade".

When referring to Goldman's study, the gap of almost 40 years is striking. An at least selective repetition of Goldmann's research therefore appears to be desirable. Christine Martin undertook one for the reception of the story of the "Burning Bush" (Ex 3 ).10 She modified the original questionnaire11 for the six interviews she conducted with fourth graders. We document one of their interviews and their résumé here. 12


Adrian, 10 years

I: Have you heard the story before?

A: Nope.

I: Why do you think the bush that burned wasn't burned?

A: Maybe the god wanted it that way, he can actually determine what (short break)what that does now. (Laughs) The god also called the flood from Noah's ark, so to speak. And maybe he then said: "The bush shouldn't stop burning until I sent the message to him."

I: He sends that in a message.

A: Yes, until he says that and then the bush will soon go out.

I: So God can do that?

A: Yes.

I: By saying that.

A: Yes, he also created the earth.

I: You just heard the story. What do you find yourself, what is the most important thing about the story?

A: That Moses spoke to God and that He should set them free.

I: The Israelites in Egypt?

A: Yes, the Egyptians have to buy them somehow and then the slaves have to do what they want.

I: Do you still remember what the name of God is?

On a.

I: God said to Moses: My name is "I am here for you!"

A: Hm.

I: What can that mean?

A: Maybe that he takes care of everyone or something. Stop, for example, you don't need to know the name, that's not so important, but whether it's a good one. Stop, I'm there for everyone and they couldn't imagine anything among the gods and then they couldn't have imagined anything and then God simply has the name "I'm there for you!" elected.

I: Have you ever heard of gods because you just said gods?

A: Yes, I was in Egypt. There are falcons, cats and humans as gods.

I: Do you think the story is true?

A: Maybe he thought "I'm kind of crazy". Because that doesn't happen if such a bush were burning in front of me and someone would say something, then I thought: "I'm kind of crazy!" (laugh)

I: (laugh) You can't believe that at all.

A: Hm. (Break) I just think, God let a bush burn and said that to Moses from heaven and he only does that for very important things. If something is very important or something.

I: Do you think that one could have left out that with the thorn bush?

That this is not so important with the bush.

A: No, otherwise he would hardly have noticed.

I: So you mean, God had to do it this way first, so that Moses would leave his work?

A: Yes.

I: So you mean that the story is true?

A: Yes.


Christine Martin gives the following interpretation: 13

"The story is unknown to Adrian. His explanation that the thorn bush burns and yet does not burn is characteristic of Goldman's second stage, that of des technical artificialism: God actively intervenes in the natural world through sheer commanding power, determining that the bush should not stop burning until he receives a message from him. Adrian underpins his assumption that God can command only through his word, through his statement that God called the flood from Noah's ark and created the earth.

What Adrian finds most important in the story is the conversation between Moses and God and the commission of Moses to free the Israelites.

Adrian understands by the designation of God that God cares for all people, is good and wants to be there. [...]. He [...] establishes relationships between biblical stories and makes logical deductions, for example if God called the flood and created the earth, then he can also let the bush burn, but not let it burn.

Adrian thinks the story is true, because God can only intervene in the natural world with important matters. He hypothesizes that Moses could be in the situation at the time thought "I'm crazy somehow", a thought that would come to him if that happened to him with the burning, talking bush today. "

Overall, on the basis of her interviews, Christine Martin sees no change in the response behavior of elementary school children compared to the Goldman study.14 For our own question, namely specific mechanisms in the interpretation, it seems fruitful to us to make a few comments on the marked passages of the interpretation close:

- The artificialistic scheme serves, according to Piaget, as an interpretation of a world that has a meaningful beginning because everything or the most important things have been produced "with care" and thus in the finalistic Senses also have a goal or a purpose.15 A religious interpretation of the world will increasingly understand this scheme only metaphorically, but will not question its fundamental validity. The technical artificialism outlined here, however, still reckons with concrete, tangible interventions by God, depending on the age.

- The Conclusion by analogy of other biblical stories is probably the most frequently used tool in the analysis of new biblical stories.16 On the one hand, this mechanism is a prerequisite for children to be able to develop a coherent knowledge of the Bible and its world, and on the other hand it is also the Prerequisite for the development of criteria, such as the child's demand observed by Nipkow that the Bible should be fair. 17

Unusuality as emphasis is a pattern that occurs in several of the children interviewed by Christine Martin, such as here at the end of Adrian's interview. In this way the children fall back on the basic mechanism that the unexpected has a stronger effect than the ordinary

The subjectification of the miraculous phenomenon is also shown with Adrian as a means of explanation. When Moses "spins", then the events can be interpreted as internal physical phenomena and the problematic violations of the understanding of reality can be avoided


How do children deal with duplicates in the Bible?

A number of duplicates can be found in the Old and New Testaments. This is especially true of the Pentateuch. The story of the "surrender" of the ancestress is told three times in Gen. 12: 20-30; 20.1-18; 26.1-11. The New Testament also contains numerous duplicates. The wonderful feeding of bread, a so-called miracle gift20, is told twice in Matthew, once as feeding the 5000 and the other time as feeding the 4000 (Mt 14: 13-21; Mt 15: 32-39). The duplicates, primarily in the Pentateuch, have become one of the starting points of the historical-critical interpretation of the Bible.21 According to Werner H. Schmidt: "The main impetus and main criteria for the source separation in the Pentateuch remain duplications (of texts or parts of text, sentences, possibly also parts of sentences) and the Change of names of God or designations (Yahweh, Elohim). "22 Evangelical biblical interpreters such as Fritz Rienecker have no problems with duplicates. For them, Jesus performed two miracles of feeding during his period of activity.23 Scientific exegetes such as Joachim Gnilka see in the two traditions" one unfolding common basic tradition ", not" independent traditions "24. But how do children deal with such duplicates?

Anna Friederike Schmitt undertook to confront pupils aged eleven with the duplicates of the feeding miracle.25 The interviews with seven children from a Christian high school in Hesse consisted of four parts. First, "The feeding of the 5000" was read and then three questions about understanding the text were asked: "Who was Jesus?" "Who were the disciples and the people?" "What is special about the story?" Then "the feeding of the 4000" was read and discussed together. Finally the two texts were compared with each other. Almost without exception, the students found that "the stories are almost the same" or that "the same miracle happens". The decisive question when comparing the texts was then: "Can you explain why the Evangelist Matthew wrote two miraculous stories so similar?"

Most of the children did not doubt that both miracle stories happened as portrayed in the Bible. "It happened twice in any case. Otherwise it would be stories of lies and I don't believe that there are stories of lies in the Bible" (Alexandra). "Both happened, otherwise one thing would be a lie. You just have to believe what is in the Bible" (Emanuel). Two students represent the verbal inspiration: "God told Matthew to write it down twice" (Daniel). "Because God told him so. He should write it down twice" (Peppi). Only one student thinks that the miracle did not happen twice (see below). So in general, duplicates don't seem to be a problem for children of this age. Correspondence to the evangelical interpretation of the Bible can be found here (see above).

The reason for the duplicate is the possible reinforcement effect by Jesus himself: "To show even more people that [= that nothing is impossible with God]. The first time there are 5000 and then again 4000. He just wanted to show even more people that he can do it "(Alexandra). - "He wanted them to continue to follow him. That's why he gave them something to eat twice". Jesus' opponents should also be convinced: "And the Pharisees could have said that it was only luck the first time. Therefore twice" (Emanuel). Scientific experts also emphasize a reinforcement effect in the case of duplicates. For the exegete Ulrich Luz, Matthew wanted to emphasize the special importance of Jesus: "As it is reported in the many healings of the sick and in both feedings, Jesus acted again and again on his people Israel. He helped them so concretely, so physically. "26

For Noemi, Matthew wrote down both stories in order to compare them. She notices the fact that five loaves and two fish would have been enough for the first miracle, while seven loaves and a few fish would have been enough for the second. She concludes: "Matthew just wanted to show that more people have less bread. So the first is the greater miracle." When asked why he should write down the smaller miracle, Noemi replied: "This is how Matthew was told and he wanted to compare." Noemi noticed the tendency of tradition to reinforce the "wonderful" found in NT exegesis and tried to interpret it in her own way.27

For some students, the duplicate is intended to highlight Jesus as a helper: "Jesus didn't want people to starve. So he gave them food twice" (Manuel). "Because Jesus had many followers and they were hungry. Then he fed them twice" (Peppi). "Jesus also had to help the second. He doesn't only help those who please him" (Noemi). These considerations of the children correspond to statements of scientific exegesis.Ulrich Luz states: "If Matthew, like Mark, brings a feeding story again, he wants to emphasize that the basic motive of Jesus' work lies in his merciful care for the whole people." 28 Studies have shown that Jesus will be a helper - particularly emphasized by primary school children.29 The pupils have a good sense of "the existential function of early Christian miracle stories" that refer to "real misery", "real need ".30

The interview with Anica brings amazing reflections


A: My first thought was that Matthew was there the first time and the second time someone else told him that and then he wrote it down twice.

(short pause for thought)

A: Or Luther wrote it down once and then translated it differently. I think the second is better German.

L: Did you understand the second text more easily?

A: Yes, it's easier.

L: But if Luther just wanted to make the text simpler, why did he turn 5000 people into 4000?

A: I don't know either.

L: Do you think it happened twice? Both texts are in the Bible.

A: No. You'd have to see if the other [evangelists] still have it in there. And if one is in there more often, it must have happened sooner.

L: The feeding of the 5000 "is found four times in the Gospels and" The feeding of the 4000 "is written twice.

A: Well then the first one must have taken place earlier


Anna Friederike Schmitt writes: "During the conversation with Anica, it is particularly interesting how she transfers what she has already learned to another topic. In retrospect, it turned out that the religion teacher had discussed the topic of 'Luther and his translations' with the students a few weeks ago. Translation errors and various translation texts were discussed. Other translations and linguistically simplified Bibles were also examined by the students. Anica must have remembered this during her reflections and tried to find a solution to the problem at hand.

It is also noticeable that she is the only student who does not assume that there are two miracles that both took place. Her theory that the feeding story, which has been handed down more often, took place earlier, is a logical and unambiguous explanation for her. It is a bit of a shame that your first thought was not discussed in more detail. The realization that people who have experienced the same thing, in retrospect, reproduce a report about what happened in completely different ways, is surprisingly ripe for their age. Indeed, Anica's explanation of the duplicate from the tradition is a mature achievement.

In summary: the duplicates are perceived by the children, but not experienced as painful contradictions. Except for one student, all students assume that the stories happened as reported in the Bible. The children are on the concrete operational level. Only Anica is capable of formal operations. The answers of most of the students correspond to the mythical-literal belief, level two according to Fowler. They are extremely creative in considering why two wonderful bread multiplications are being told. Here they bring up reasons that are represented in the scientific interpretation of the Bible.


Exegetical competence as an expression of "epistemological convictions"

Why should we be interested in the tools of our students? Jürgen Baumert, one of those responsible for the PISA study, makes comments on the deficits in German teaching. With regard to physics lessons, he complains about the lack of attention to the worldview requirements of the students. He is concerned with "epistemological beliefs" as the "ideas and subjective theories" "which people develop through knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge in general or in specific domains" .31 "When epistemological beliefs are dealt with in school subjects, this is what happens This is not only from an instrumental point of view in order to promote learning processes, but also always with an educational theory claim, because the subject-related intuitive theories about knowledge and the genesis of knowledge provide answers to which questions can legitimately be asked in a subject area Achieving subjects and disciplines in their specific focus and where their limits are, is part of the educational mandate of every school subject. In the educational field, epistemological convictions always have an instrumental and substantial meaning at the same time. "32 Baumert's statements In our opinion, they fit exactly with the program we have designed. In the field of religious education, the epistemological convictions are precisely the worldview prerequisites that the students bring up as a preliminary understanding of the biblical texts. But they also form the ensemble of rules that they use to interpret new texts or unknown questions. Knowledge of these should play an important role for religious educators and their training and further education. Finding them at all remains a desideratum of religious education research.



  1. Ronald Goldman: Religious Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence, London 41968, p. 167
  2. On this with critical comments Friedrich Schweitzer: The construction of the child in biblical didactics; in G. Lämmermann et al. (ed.), Bibeldidaktik in der Postmoderne FS K. Wegenast. Stuttgart et al. 1999, pp. 122-133
  3. So Klaus and Philipp Wegenast: in D. Bell et al. (Ed.), People search - find access. FS Ch. Reents, Wuppertal 1999, pp. 246-263
  4. Friedrich Schweitzer: Children and Young People as Exegetes ?; in: D. Bell et al. (ed.), Looking for people - finding access. FS Ch. Reents. Wuppertal 1999, pp. 238-245, here pp. 241f
  5. See our experiment by Peter Müller, Gerhard Büttner, Roman Heiligenthal / Jörg Thierfelder: Parables of Jesus. Stuttgart 2002
  6. Horst Klaus Berg: A word like fire. Munich / Stuttgart 1991
  7. See the distinction between structurally induced errors and errors resulting from inattention in Titus Guldimann & Michael Zutavern, "That won't happen to us again!" Schoolchildren learn together how to deal consciously with mistakes, In: W. Althof (ed.): Fehlerwelten. About making mistakes and learning from mistakes. Opladen 1999, pp. 233-258
  8. Goldman loc.
  9. Anton A. Bucher: Do postmodern children understand the Bible differently? in: G. Lämmermann et al. (ed.), Bibeldidaktik in der Postmoderne FS K. Wegenast. Stuttgart et al. 1999, pp. 135-147, p. 147
  10. Christine Martin: Reflections on the child's understanding of the Bible in the fourth grade of primary school - with special consideration of the story of the Burning Bush. Knowledge Term paper, PH Heidelberg 2002.
  11. Goldman: loc. Cit., Pp. 254f
  12. Martin: loc. Cit., P. 48f
  13. A.a.O., pp. 49f
  14. A.a.O., pp. 54f
  15. Basically Jean Piaget: The Child's Worldview. Munich 41994; on the miracle topic Heike Bee-Schroeter, New Testament miracle stories in the mirror of past and present reception. Stuttgart 1998
  16. Gerhard Büttner / Oliver Reis: How do children become (biblical) theologians or how does coherent knowledge of the Bible develop? RpB 47/2001, pp. 43-54
  17. Karl Ernst Nipkow: Elementarization as the core of curriculum planning and lesson preparation using the example of the Elia tradition. Bb 37 (1986), pp. 3-16, here p. 11
  18. Pascal Boyer reports that scenes in which a situation is influenced by "supernatural" processes are retained much better than "normal" ones. Religion explained. The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York 2001, p. 80
  19. Gerhard Büttner on this phenomenon in more detail: Jesus helps! Studies on the Christology of the students. Stuttgart 2002
  20. Compare Gerhard Theißen: Original Christian miracle stories. A contribution to research into the history of the synoptic gospels, Gütersloh 1973, p. 111ff
  21. Cf. Werner H. Schmidt: Introduction to the Old Testament, Berlin 5th exp. Edition 40ff
  22. Ibid., P. 53
  23. Cf. Fritz Rienecker: The Gospel according to Matthew. Wuppertal Study Bible. Wuppertal ²1981, p. 218
  24. Joachim Gnilka: The Gospel according to Matthew 2. Part Herder's Theological Commentary on the New Testament, Freiburg 1988, p. 255
  25. Cf. Anna Friederike Schmitt: How children deal with "contradicting" texts in the Bible. Empirical research on the use of the Bible in children. Knowledge Term paper PH Heidelberg SoSe 02
  26. Ulrich Luz: The Gospel according to Matthew. 2nd sub-volume Mt 8-17, Zurich / Neukirchen-Vluyn 1990, p. 442. Adolf Schlatter saw a special strengthening of faith in the duplicate: "The disciples think that this cannot be changed and submit to the compulsion that is natural to them Impotence imposed on them. That is why Jesus let them experience once again that even in his hiding on the flight from people for all who seek him, he remains capable of every gift. " Adolf Schlatter: The Gospel of Matthew interpreted for Bible readers, Calw & Stuttgart1895, p. 262
  27. This phenomenon can already be found in the analogous Old Testament stories about the gift of quail and manna. Cf. P. Maiberger: Das Manna. A literary, etymological and natural history investigation. (ÄAT 6). Wiesbaden 1983. [Freundl. Note from Thomas Pola]
  28. Cf. Ulrich Luz: The Gospel according to Matthew. Zurich Bible Commentary, Zurich, 1993, p. 18f
  29. Cf. Gerhard Büttner: Jesus helps! Studies on the Christology of schoolchildren, Stuttgart 2002. Gerhard Büttner / Jörg Thierfelder: Was Jesus wearing sandals? Göttingen 2001
  30. Gerd Theißen: loc. Cit., P. 42f.
  31. Jürgen Baumert: Germany in an international comparison of education. In: N. Kilius et al. (Ed.), The future of education. (it 2289). Frankfurt / Main 2002, pp. 100-150, here p. 140
  32. A.a.O., p. 131