As we’re preparing to launch our new world history curriculum (Daniel’s Statue: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome), I’ve been really pondering what we homeschoolers should do about teaching pagan mythology to our children.
Should we teach about Greek gods and goddesses? Should we include myths and stories of giants, fairies, ogres, and more?
The homeschooling world seems rather divided on this topic.
What People Say
While surfing the Internet, I found the following opinions on the topic of teaching Greek mythology:
“Don’t teach mythology.”
- Some families purposely teach nothing about Greek mythology because of the Bible’s commands (such as in Exodus 23:13) not to mention the names of false gods or to learn the ways of worship of the pagan nations.
- Once their children are well-grounded in the Bible, these parents might explain a reference to a Greek god or goddess if they stumble upon it, but they don’t give too many details.
- Some parents don’t teach mythology simply because it is fiction. If their state laws do not require it, they don’t address it at all.
“Teach just a little.”
- These parents teach their children the basics of Greek mythology and the most known stories.
- They teach Greek mythology as a background for understanding the culture that surrounded the early church and the context of much of the New Testament. Mythology was part of the very fabric of society and even commerce.
- Some parents teach mythology only from an ancient Hebrew perspective, demonstrating the differences between the true worship of YHWH and the false and perverted mythology of the Greeks.
“Definitely teach mythology.”
- These parents believe that Greek mythology is classic literature and so has value. Learning Greek mythology is part of a well-rounded education. Many (most?) great works of literature (such as Shakespeare) refer back to Greek mythology, and we won’t be able to understand what great authors were saying if we do not know about this topic. (This is often referred to as the “Great Conversation.”)
- Many parents are using a classical style of education and make a point to spend a considerable amount of time teaching Greek myths. They believe they are interesting and enjoyable, even though they teach their children that they are fiction and make-believe.
“For the last two weeks in school, to accompany our history readings about ancient Greece, we have also been reading Greek myths. This has been our favorite thing in school so far this year–even when reading a children’s version of the stories, they’re so fascinating and engaging, and just really well-written.“
- Some parents believe their kids need to learn that other people carry different beliefs, and it is important to teach them how to interact with those beliefs.
- While not wanting to teach idol worship, some parents believe that Greek mythology offers an opportunity for just the opposite — a chance to talk about powerless gods crafted by men, in comparison to our living God.
- They believe that children will be exposed to worldly things eventually, so it is better to expose them when they are still under the care and teaching of the parents in the home. They wish to help their children learn discernment, because they will encounter evil all their life.
- Some people believe that not teaching mythology is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Why study literature at all? Or read fairy tales? Or watch movies or read fiction or story books?
What Scripture Says
What makes a person well-educated in God’s eyes?
- “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
According to this verse, we literally wouldn’t need to study anything else in addition to Scripture to be equipped for every good work.
- “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Should we take this literally? “Everything we need”?
Whose eyes matter?
- “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
What if state standards require us to study mythology? What if every other family thinks we’re crazy?
- “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).
- “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
What does God say about worshiping other gods?
- “You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars —all the heavenly array —do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven” (Deuteronomy 4:15-19).
- “Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates… If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly… You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 16:21-17:7).
- “…If I have regarded the sun in its radiance
or the moon moving in splendor,
so that my heart was secretly enticed
and my hand offered them a kiss of homage,
then these also would be sins to be judged,
for I would have been unfaithful to God on high” (Job 31:26-28).
- “This is what the Lord says:
‘Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the sky,
though the nations are terrified by them.
For the customs of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
Like a scarecrow in a melon patch,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good'” (Jeremiah 10:2-5).
- “But our fathers refused to obey [Moses]. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of Molech
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Babylon'” (Acts 7:39-43).
- “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21).
Okay, so idolatry is obviously wrong. But what about learning the mythology of ancient Greece?
- “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips” (Exodus 23:13).
- “Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them” (Joshua 23:7).
- “The sorrows of those will increase
who run after other gods.
I will not pour out their libations of blood
or take up their names on my lips” (Psalm 16:4).
What does it mean not to invoke the names of other gods (Exodus 23:13)? Isn’t this referring to not speaking the names of other gods in a worshipful manner, or swearing an oath by their names, or doing something in their name?
Only the NIV translates Exodus 23:13 as “Do not invoke the names of other gods.” Look at it in some other translations:
- “And be watchful in all that I have said to you. And you shall not mention another god by name; it shall not be heard from your mouth” (LITV).
- “And in all that I have said to you take heed. And make no mention of the name of other mighty ones, let it not be heard from your mouth” (ISR).
- “…and in all that which I have said unto you ye do take heed; and the name of other gods ye do not mention; it is not heard on thy mouth” (YLT).
- “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips” (ESV).
- “Listen to everything that I, the LORD, have said to you. Do not pray to other gods; do not even mention their names” (GNB).
- “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth” (KJV).
What does it mean to not mention the names of other gods?
“and make no mention of the name of other gods; neither call upon them, nor swear by them, nor make vows to them; and, as little as possible, ever utter their names, and never with pleasure and delight, and showing any honour of them, and reverence to them, but with the utmost detestation and abhorrence:
neither let it be heard out of thy mouth; not any of their names; the same thing in different words, the more to inculcate and impress the thing upon the mind, and to show with what vehemence and earnestness this is pressed” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible).
“make no mention of the name of other gods, etc. — that is, in common conversation, for a familiar use of them would tend to lessen horror of idolatry” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown).
Do people in our modern culture really “learn the ways” by reading Greek mythology?
- Well, I dunno. Ever heard someone say, “Good luck“? or “Knock on wood“? or 12 more words and phrases we get from Greek mythology? Ever seen anyone throw salt over their shoulder when cooking?
- What about statues? Many statues of heroes and famous people have been erected across our cities. Are these biblical, even if we’re just remembering someone’s good deeds rather than worshiping them as a god? Exodus 20:4 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (ESV). Most of our statues are made in Greek form.
- What about funerals? Ever wondered why we place flowers at the grave of a loved one?
- Why do grooms carry brides over the threshold?
As one website stated, most modern people claim not to believe in these superstitions, but we do them anyway because “it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg of how we have “learned their ways.”
The trick comes in figuring out how to unravel the thousands of years of pagan customs that have woven themselves into our everyday lives, even without our knowing about it. (I don’t have this all figured out. It certainly is a tangled mess!)
But how can we teach our children to discern evil and be prepared for it in the “real world” if we don’t carefully expose them to it at home?
What about the children who are exposed to the immoral evil of Greek mythology? (Or Shakespeare, for that matter!) Just because something is old doesn’t make it good! How many teenagers had their first taste of pornography while exposed to “art” through literature, history, and even Christian museums and books?
Note that the Greek word porneuo is translated “fornication” in the King James Version.
- to prostitute one’s body to the lust of another
- to give one’s self to unlawful sexual intercourse
- to commit fornication
- to be given to idolatry, to worship idols
- to permit one’s self to be drawn away by another into idolatry
What about all the stories of evil and idolatry in the Bible, as well as the mention of the names of foreign gods? Isn’t reading them the same as reading Greek mythology?
The difference is that the Bible’s stories portray evil as evil and good as good. We do see that Moses was instructed to read the entire Torah in the hearing of all people, even the children, yet some of the evil deeds recorded in the Torah are enough to make anyone blush. However, by reading God’s commands to all people of all ages, everyone was equally hearing God’s definition of sin, as well as His pronouncement of judgment and condemnation on those who sinned.
However, ancient literature from other cultures simply portrays stories of humanity and human-like gods. Sin isn’t labeled as evil but just as an honest portrayal of mankind. Humanity is lifted up as the ultimate expression, and that’s the difference.
“Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
I really like how John Wesley says it.
“We are in danger of missing our way on the right hand and on the left, and it is at our peril if we do, therefore we have need to look about us. A man may ruin himself through mere carelessness, but he cannot save himself without great care and circumspection; particularly since idolatry was a sin they were much addicted to, and would be greatly tempted to, they must endeavor to blot out the remembrance of the gods of the heathen, and must disuse all their superstitious forms of speech, and never mention them but with detestation. In Christian schools and academies (for it is in vain to think of re-forming the play-houses) it were to be wished that the names and stories of the heathen deities or demons rather were not so commonly and familiarly used” (John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes).
It’s something to thing about, huh?
What should our curriculum standard be?
- “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).