Teenagers Are Irresponsible

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

The second lie teenagers believe is that they are, intrinsically, irresponsible. “Research” shows their brains have not yet fully developed so they can’t be expected to act appropriately. They are not ready to answer for their actions. Experts define adolescence as an extended season for experimentation and prolonged preparation. The teen years are for development and responsibility must be deferred.

Inevitably, the teenagers is a disappointment, whose combination of adult capacities and juvenile irresponsibility sows personal heartbreak and social chaos.” (Hine, 8)

*Our government doesn’t hold teens responsible. We’ve created an entirely different legal system to segregate younger lawbreakers from older ones. We’ve written new laws with lower standards because we don’t think they are able to make right decisions and behave appropriately. Many parents, teachers, and youth ministries have done basically the same thing by postponing opportunities to fail, as well as by protecting young people from the consequences of wrongdoing. We’ve gift-wrapped the excuse for them.

Shifting blame and shirking responsibility is as old as sin. Adam did it first when he sidestepped culpability in the garden–and he wasn’t even a teenager (Genesis 3:12). “It’s not my fault; it’s her fault.” And then he went even further and said “It’s the woman You gave me.” Adam was shameless enough to claim his sin was God’s fault.

Teenagers walk a similar path of unreasoning when they disavow responsibility. “I’m just a teenager.” Who does that blame? It implicitly points the finger at God. It’s almost as if they said, “God is in control of how old I am, and since He has me in this stage of life as an adolescent, He can’t hold me responsible.” They also take that to mean no one else can either.

But here is the crucial question: when a teenager disobeys God, is it a lesser offense in God’s sight? Is the penalty for adolescent sin more along the lines of purgatory rather than eternal death? No. God’s law opens no loopholes for teenagers. His standard remains perfection for all His creatures, including those who are still growing. We may be slow to hold teens responsible morally and spiritually; God is not. Church leaders, especially those of us who are parents or youth pastors, do young people no favors by failing to prepare them for God’s judgment.

Teenagers Are Incompetent

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Today we’ll address the first of the six lies of adolescence. Remember, by the name “adolescence” we are not simply referring to the biological changes that take place in a person over a small period of time (i.e., puberty). In our culture the word is more than a convenient catalog of the days, months, and years of being a teen. Adolescence refers to a mindset, and now an entire sub-culture, that has been established by certain lies that need to be laid bare.

1. Teenagers are incompetent.

*The first lie of adolescence says teens are not quite competent, in some ways not really complete humans. Thomas Hine said, “The concept of the teenager rests…on the idea of the adolescent as a not quite competent person, beset by stress and hormones” (The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, p.4). Someone who is “incompetent” is a person who fails to have or show the necessary skills to do something. This lie presumes that teenagers don’t yet have the necessary skills for life. The church version of the lie maintains teens do not have the wisdom or ability for spiritual life.

To be sure, growth and maturity is a process. There is no reason to expect teens will have the wisdom and competence that they will when they are 30, 50, or 70. But the lie of adolescence implies that because teens are not as mature as they will be someday, it is okay for them to remain childish. Many parents defend their child’s incompetence like it is a right while others even insist that it is unreasonable to expect them to grow up!

This low expectation has far reaching consequences. Because we believe the lie that teenagers are incompetent we don’t expect them to be responsible, so we don’t give them responsibility, and the downward spiral is perpetuated. We’re not surprised when they fail. We anticipate their excuses. And now even medical doctors are dispensing excuses for their incompetence.

For example, one diagnosis of teenage incompetence comes in the form of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is a behavioral disorder found mostly in boys that renders them incapable of paying attention for any significant length of time. Those with ADHD are easily distracted and physically incapable of sitting still. Currently, ADHD is understood to be “a persistent and chronic syndrome for which no medical cure is available.”

There have been some very excellent advances in medicine and technology in our day. Of course, some of those advances have enabled us to become really good at packaging our bologna. ADHD may just be old bologna in new packaging. When I was growing up, failing to pay attention was called rude, and 1 Corinthians 13:5 exposes rudeness as a lack of love. Getting low grades in school didn’t mean that you had a disorder, it typically meant that you were sluggard. Proverbs 6:6-11 clearly designates laziness as a moral problem, not a medical disorder.

I am not denying that there are legitimate disabilities that make it difficult for some people to learn and that may even make it hard for some people to sit still. In fact, I don’t love sitting still for long periods of time. Maybe I have adult ADHD (which of course is now a sanctioned diagnosis from medical professionals). But isn’t it obvious what happened? The kids diagnosed with ADHD grew up and, low and behold, it didn’t go away. But the reason their inability to pay attention didn’t go away is because it’s not an adolescent problem, it’s a heart problem.

For the majority of young people, hyperactive behavior, unwillingness to pay attention, habitual forgetfulness, etc., is just plain selfish. Selfishness says that my plans and what I want to do with my time are more important than what you want me to do. Not paying attention to someone else has more to do with focusing on yourself (cf. Philippians 2:3-5). That is selfishness and pride, not a disorder. Selfishness is a sin.

The lie of certain adolescent incompetence paints a pathetic picture of teens. But to believe that every teen is incompetent ignores thousands of years of capable and accomplished young adults. Consider David the shepherd boy as he defeated the giant, Daniel the exile who stood up to the Babylonian king, Mary the young mother of the Messiah, and even Jesus Himself as a young man in the temple confounding the wisdom of the Scribes. The Bible specifically exhorts young people, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but be an example of the believer” (1 Timothy 4:12). Scripture assumes teens are capable of spiritual competence with the Spirit’s help.

Of course, saying that teens are incompetent not only casts an ugly shadow on teens but it also calls God’s competence into question. Is adolescent incompetence so powerful God cannot overcome it? Or does He just not care about teenagers to begin with? We must press to this final point of trusting God at His Word and looking for His grace in our young people. Buying into the cultural lie that adolescents cannot be spiritually empowered to live wisely merely reveals a deeper problem, namely a belief that God cannot or will not use our teens for His own glory.

The Birth of Adolescence

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

In 1904, G. Stanley Hall published a book titled, Adolescence: It’s Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. Regardless of our opinion on his title, this is the first documented writing on adolescence. Let that sink in. The first time someone delineated adolescence as its own stage of development was 1904. Similarly, the term “teenager” was first published in the magazine Popular Science, but not until 1941.

The thesis of Hall’s book and his assumption about adolescence is that everyone between the ages of thirteen and eighteen is in a constant state of turmoil. Life is stormy for every teenager, a constant series of crisis and violent reactions. And this presupposition was based on his belief in evolution. The backbone of his argument was the evolutionary process, where through a sequence of events an organism passes by degrees to a different stage. Thomas Hine summarized Hall’s argument as,

The development of the individual mirrors the evolution of the species as a whole. He saw the adolescent as a savage, prone to violent, disruptive, impulsive behavior. The good news was that, just as humanity evolved to a higher form, adolescents will grow out of their savagery….[T]he optimism inherent in the notion that adolescence is something you’ll eventually grow out of does survive. (p.36)

So first, the idea of adolescence is based on the faulty assumptions of evolution. And second, the idea itself has only been around for 100 years!

Of course, Thomas Edison didn’t get his patent for the light bulb until 1889. I say that because I recognize just because something is relatively new in history doesn’t automatically make it invalid or unacceptable. New and helpful discoveries are frequently made. But it is also important to recognize that adolescence is not a timeless category, it is a modern invention and in this case, being “new” is not in favor of it’s being true.

But the biggest problem is not that adolescence is a new idea, it is that the idea of adolescence is unbiblical. The purpose of this entire series is to expose the origin of the lies of adolescence while also providing a more positive biblical approach with examples of young people from the Old and New Testaments. It will also address the impact of adolescence on youth ministry and offer more specific counsel to youth pastors.

Before we do that I need to share a few qualifiers. First, please understand that I have no intention to attack particular individuals, churches, or parachurches. But I do have a strong desire to assault false ideologies. An ideology is an orientation, a bent that characterizes the thinking of a group of people. And adolescence is just that. It is a social invention, an artificial concept, a lie. It is a myth that wrongly dominates the mindsets in our families, our schools, our society, and our churches and it must be challenged with truth.

Second, there is no denial that growth is a process. I happily acknowledge that the changes in a person’s life, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, are progressive and gradual. Incremental maturity is seen in small stages or steps that are followed by still more stages and steps.

But even though normal growth is gradual, gradual growth is still growth! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a child doesn’t become an adult overnight, but that is not the same thing as giving a person a free pass from pursuing maturity and responsibility because that person is a teenager.

I also make no denial that most teenagers act like…teenagers. The world and the church are filled with 12-20 year olds with adolescent mindsets. What I deny is that this is how it has always been and how it must be. I believe we have created this context and it only continues because we keep giving it credence. Ideas have consequences and the consequences of believing the lies of adolescence are no myth, they are very real. We in the church must work to change our collective thinking as God’s community before we will see any change.

Let me also say that I am thankful for God’s patience with me, and a rejection of adolescence is not equal to an approval of intolerance for or impatience with those who are in the growing process. My challenge is to those who argue that adolescence grants them the right to stay stagnant and prolong immaturity and irresponsibility as long as possible.

There is no doubt that the influence of our culture is profound, persistent, and real, but it is largely an act of human imagination. No matter what else you come away with from this series, the purpose of every pastor (and every parent too) is to present every man complete in Christ. The NRSV translates Colossians 1:28, “to present every man mature in Christ.” Whatever age you are, wherever you are on the road of maturity, the goal is always increasing maturity in Christ. Teenagers are no exception.

So, the earth is not flat, and most people have never thought it was. You know what else? Teenagers are not incapable of responsibility or maturity, and most people have never thought they were. To believe otherwise is to believe the lies.

A Definition for Adolescence

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Adolescence has achieved objective status as an obvious stage in human development in our culture. It is probably un-American and maybe even un-Christian, depending on what circles you’re in, to dispute it. And though this attitude toward teenagers is not surprising from the world since the secular culture is always looking for ways to excuse behavior, it is inexcusable that so many in the church have adopted the same mindset.

Webster defines adolescence as, “the state or process of growing up; the period of life from puberty to maturity terminating legally at the age of majority.” It categorizes the time period beginning at puberty and ending in adulthood, typically designated somewhere between the ages of twelve and twenty. Of course the high-end number continues to climb and entire books now suggest that the end of adolescence is closer to 25.

Growing up is a process. It would be foolish to suggest that a person should or could skip straight from 12 to 20. But there is more to the term adolescence than simply as a handy label to catalog the days, months, and years of a teenager.

The entire idea of adolescence is built on a mindset. A mindset is “a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.” Parents assume that their teenager will have a certain mindset, and teenagers typically believe what adults tell them they will act like.

So what are some of the characteristics of this mindset? Though not organized in bullet form, Thomas Hine helps describe this mindset in his book The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager.

  • A teenager is incompetent. “The concept of the teenager rests in turn on the idea of the adolescent as a not quite competent person, beset by stress and hormones.” (p.4)
  • A teenager is irresponsible. The period of adolescence is a time for experimentation and prolonged preparation. It is a deferring of responsibility. “Inevitably, the teenagers is a disappointment, whose combination of adult capacities and juvenile irresponsibility sows personal heartbreak and social chaos.” (p.8)
  • A teenager is in a perpetual identity crisis. Every adolescent is always in a constant struggle to find self-esteem. “Who am I?” “Why do I have pimples?” “Why don’t other people like me?” “Why don’t I fit in?” Their struggle is one just to survive by adapting to ever changing situations.
  • A teenager is a problem waiting to happen. There is a kind of mystique surrounding teenagers that “encourages adults to see teenagers (and young people themselves) not as individuals but as potential problems.” (p.11) In addition, adolescence assumes that what teenagers do doesn’t really count.
  • A teenager will be rebellious. Rebellion is not a question of if, but when. An adolescent always wants to break out of the cocoon and get out from under the umbrella of parental authority. They will naturally want to challenge their teachers if not the law. They have no desire for accountability from anyone, including the church.*
  • A teenager is at the mercy of their hormones. There is a bias against teenagers, “expressed in the two-word term that serves as the vernacular explanation for almost everything teenagers do: Raging Hormones” (p.29).

The greatest danger of these descriptions of the adolescent mindset is that they are presented to as timeless, universal, and inevitable. The culture, and many in the church, have swallowed these definitions hook, lies, and sinker. This is precisely the way Hollywood portrays teens on television and in movies. This is exactly what popular music assumes life is like for teens.

And the result is that teenagers cannot be held responsible for what they do. An adolescent cannot possibly be expected to function like a reasonable, normal human being, they are just victims of their hormones.

Some have seen through the smoke of excuses, even non-believers.

[W]hile endocrinology (the study of glands and hormones of the body and their related disorders) is a field where fundamental discoveries are made regularly, there is not yet any biochemical explanation for surliness (uncontrolled anger), self-absorption, or rebelliousness. (ibid., p.30)

But sadly, the facts seem to have far less power than what people believe is true. Parents, teachers, church leaders, and teens themselves believe the lies.

An Introduction to the Myth of Adolescence

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

“The facts are simple,” says Charles K. Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society. “The earth is flat.”

As you stand in his front yard, it is hard to argue the point. From among the Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and tumbleweeds surrounding his southern California hillside home, you have a spectacular view of the Mojave Desert. It looks as flat as a pool table. Nearly 20 miles to the west lies the small city of Lancaster; you can see right over it. Beyond Lancaster, 20 more miles as the cue-ball roles, the Tehachapi Mountains rise up from the desert floor. Los Angeles is not too far to the south.

Near Lancaster, you see the Rockwell International plant where the Space Shuttle was built. To the north, beyond the next hill, lies Edwards Air Force Base, where the shuttle was tested. There, also, the Shuttle will land when it returns from orbiting the earth. (At least, that’s NASA’s story.)

“You can’t orbit a flat earth,” says Mr. Johnson. “The Space Shuttle is a joke–and a very ludicrous joke.”

His soft voice carries conviction, for Charles Johnson is on the level. He believes that the main purpose of the space program is to prop up a dying myth–the myth that the earth is a globe.

The preceding excerpt is from an article titled: “The Flat-out Truth” printed in Science Digest, July 1980. The man mentioned in the article, Charles Johnson, died March 19, 2001, having fought the lonely and futile battle to, in his mind, “restore the world to sanity.”

A Google search for “flat earth” reveals a somewhat surprising reality that there are still many people today, even in the 21st century, who believe our earth is flat. There are even entire organizations devoted to fight the idea that the planet we live on is a globe.

But there is a simple problem: the earth is not flat. It is a lie that the earth is flat and that lie has generated a flat earth myth. A “myth” is just a traditional story accepted as history. A myth serves to explain the worldview of a people. And the story of a flat earth is quite literally a worldview; a made-up view of the world; an imaginary story passed from generation to generation.

In addition, I have come to find that there is a bigger myth, a bigger “story” than the story that our earth is flat. The bigger myth is the myth that asserts everyone used to think the earth was flat.

Now I admit, I didn’t always pay great attention in school. But until doing some research one Saturday night I’m sure I remember reading and discussing in school the whole account from 1492 where everyone thought Columbus was crazy for sailing off into the ocean because they all thought the earth was flat. I’m positive my teachers regaled me with the great drama on the high sea as sailors readied themselves to mutiny against the great Captain Columbus, fearful that after so many days without finding land they were sure to sail right off the edge of the world.

That story is all wrong. I read some fascinating research by a gentleman named Jeff Russell, a professor of history at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He says in his book, Inventing the Flat Earth, that throughout history and up to the time of Columbus, “nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical.” Russell claims there is nothing in the documents from the time of Columbus or in early accounts of his life that suggests any debate about the roundness of the earth.

He attributes the myth about flat-earth popularity to the creator of another story, the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. Irving wrote a fictitious account of Columbus’s defending a round earth against misinformed priests and university professors.

The book was titled The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus and was published in 1828. It was a mixture of fact and fiction with Irving himself admitting he was “apt to indulge in the imagination.” Its theme was the thrilling victory of a lone believer in a spherical earth over a united front of Bible-quoting, superstitious ignoramuses, convinced the Earth was flat. Irving invented the picture of a young Columbus, a “simple mariner,” appearing before hooded theologians at the council of Salamanca, all of whom supposedly believed–according to Irving–that the earth was flat like a dinner plate.

There was, in fact, a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, but Irving’s account was pure fiction. He “let his imagination go completely…the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense.” The well-known argument at the Council of Salamanca was a question of the distance between Europe and Japan that Columbus presented and therefore had nothing to do with the shape of the earth. Needless to say Irving took some “dramatic license” to make the story more exciting.

But if the majority opinion was not that the earth was flat, how did the fictional version become the non-fiction truth taught in schools and schoolbooks as of the early 1860’s?

Russell says the flat-earth mythology flourished mostly between 1870 and 1920, and grew in a environment with an emerging acceptance of evolution. He says the flat-earth myth was an ideal way to dismiss the ideas of religion in the name of modern science.

The fundamental reason for promoting the lie about a flat earth was to defend Darwinism and provide ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful: “Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as the idiots who denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you be?”

So not only is the earth not flat, it has never been the popular view that it was! We might say the liberal media of the 1800s spun the truth to make Christians look stupid for teaching a flat earth and make evolutionists look smart. But the idea of a flat world is a lie. And the idea that everyone thought the earth was flat is an even bigger lie.

But this is not a series on the geometry of the earth. The major lesson from flat-earth beliefs is how well-spun myths mislead and how easily they blind one to contrary evidence. Embedded lies are major obstacles to the truth.

And there is a parallel myth running rampant in the church today; dangerous lies propagated by parents, spread by many youth pastors, defended by educators, and swallowed by young people themselves. The presuppositions of our generation about teenagers have become a story–a way we talk about life, and this story is a myth called adolescence.

The lies depict teenagers as helplessly incompetent, irresponsible, and in a perpetual identity crisis. Young people are portrayed only as problems waiting to happen, they are guaranteed to be rebellious, and always at the mercy of their hormones. Belief in these lies has become so commonplace that hardly anyone questions the reality or legitimacy of adolescence, resulting in an inability or unwillingness to hold teenagers responsible for what they do. This has produced widespread confusion among adolescents themselves and frustration for authorities.

Let me be clear as clear as possible, the popular idea of adolescence is not true and it is painfully unbiblical. Adolescence is not a fact–just like the earth is not flat. It is equally wrong to think that everyone has always recognized adolescence as a fact–just as everyone has not always believed that the earth is flat.

Vocabulary for OT Young People

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

The OT is a great place to start in our look to find adolescents in Scripture. We find people of all ages in the OT. There are numerous chronicles of babies, kids, young people and old people in the OT. This is most likely due to the abundance of narrative writing (that is, writing that describes events and history) as compared with the primarily theological (and propositional) nature of the NT.

In our look at OT vocabulary I have not included any words that ONLY refer to infants, babies, children, or older men, even though some of the ones I will refer to overlap with these age groups. This is a short list of four nouns (not adjectives) that are used at least somewhere in the OT as a reference to youth or young men/women. Again, as we’ll see, these four words do have overlap with words for babies and children and with words used in reference to older men.

יֶלֶד (yeled)

This word is used some 90 times in the Hebrew OT. It is translated in various ways in the ESV including “young men,” though predominately by the word “child” or (plural, “children”). Just one example of this use will be sufficient:

For to us a child (yeled) is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Of course, this is a prophecy about the coming of the Christ; the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. Calling Him a child in this verse doesn’t really tell us much about His age, it is simply a general reference to offspring of parents (in this case Mary and the Holy Spirit).

But the word does have more definite age restraints in other places. For example, it is the word used to describe David’s child with Bathsheba.

2 Samuel 12:18 On the seventh day the child (yeled) died.

This is the account of the death of David’s infant son, a punishment of God on David’s crimes of adultery and murder. His son was only seven days old, not even having been circumcised yet. So yeled is used here to describe a very small baby.

More important for our discussion, however, is its use to describe “youth” or “young men.” Yeled is translated as “youth” in Daniel 1:4.

Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths (yeled) without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. (Daniel 1:3-4)

You can imagine that this might be a good model to study later in our series. But before looking at anything else we should figure out how old these “youths” really were.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon adopted a policy of taking the most promising young men and “recruiting” them for government positions in his empire. Rather than reserving leadership for Chaldeans alone, Nebuchadnezzar resolved to pool the best brains and abilities to be found among the nations he had conquered. Though they were to have certain qualities already, probably the one “quality” not prized was stubborn persistence; someone who was “stuck in his ways.” Being stuck in one’s ways is something that is more likely to describe older people.

With that in mind, as well as from other indicators from history and from within the book of Daniel itself, most commentators believe that Daniel and the rest were somewhere between fourteen and seventeen. Yeled is used in Daniel to describe those who were … teenagers.

One more example of this word is important to note. Let’s go back to the story I mentioned in my previous adolescence blog, the story of Rehoboam and the “young men” he took counsel from.

1 Kings 12:8 [h]e abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men (yeled) who had grown up with him….

Forget for just a moment that it is translated young men, not adolescents. The important question is, how old were these “young men”? It sounds typical of teenagers, doesn’t it? It seems like the immature, impetuous manner of most adolescents. So how old were these guys? Take a quick look at 1 Kings 14:21:

Now Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem.

He was forty-one! His peers, his equals were then probably somewhere in their mid-thirties to mid-forties. And yet the same word, yeled, is used to describe them as it is to describe a seven day old baby. I guess sinfully stupid and proud decisions are not something limited only to teens. This is not a passage that adolescent advocates can use to support their position.

So depending on the context, just this one word, yeled, can be used to describe anyone from the age of David’s dead seven day old baby, to Daniel and his teenage friends, all the way to Rehoboam’s mid-life counselors, “young men” who were around forty.

עֶלֶם (elem)

This word is used about five times in the Hebrew OT. It is always translated as some form of the word “youth.” In 1 Samuel 20:22 the youth are military assistants and in Job (20:11 & 33:25) it describes the physical strength, liveliness, and vitality of young people compared with those who are old. It is also used to describe David in 1 Samuel 17:56 after killing Goliath. We’ll look at some of these verses a little later.

נַעַר (na’ar)

This word is the Hebrew workhorse to describe young people, used over 200 times in the Hebrew OT. It is translated predominately with the word “youth,” but also frequently as “young man” or plural, “young men.” But it too is translated in various ways in the ESV. Let me show you a few examples of the various ages covered by na’ar.

This is the word used to describe Moses at three months old, left in a basket by his mother in the river. Exodus 2:2 says that he was three months old, and then in verse six we see that:

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child (yeled), and behold, the baby (na’ar) was crying. (Exodus 2:5-6)

This verse shows that yeled and na’ar can be used synonymously (interchangeably), though obviously na’ar can be used to describe someone extremely little. By the way, na’ar is also used to describe David’s dead infant in 2 Samuel 12:16.

2 Samuel 12:16 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child (na’ar).

So there is overlap in the different vocabulary words, as well as an overlap in age distinctions covered by the same word.

na’ar is the word used of Samuel from before he was weaned (1 Samuel 1:22), immediately after he was weaned (1:24), probably somewhere around two or three years old. Then it continues to describe him as a young person:

Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy (na’ar) ministered to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest. (1 Samuel 2:11)

Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy (na’ar) clothed with a linen ephod. (1 Samuel 2:18)

The young man (na’ar) Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord. (1 Samuel 2:21)

Now the young man (na’ar) Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man. (1 Samuel 2:26)

But look over at chapter three. Here we find the “young man” (na’ar) (3:1) ministering and this is the account of God revealing Himself directly to Samuel (3:8 – na’ar as well). How old do you think Samuel is by this point? The Jewish historian Josephus suggests Samuel was twelve…12! Based on the running story in 1 Samuel at most he could have been only a couple years older than that. He would be considered an early “adolescent” in today’s vocabulary.

But look at the description of him in verse 19:

And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. (1 Samuel 3:19)

This means that God was using Samuel as a young teenager to reveal divine things. He spoke with divine authority as an adolescent! Here was no superficial, trivial, cartoon-watching, computer-game-playing, silly, skin-deep young person with no substance. Samuel was a young person whose life was ripe with knowledge of God. Here was a young person defined by his relationship with God.

A little bit further in 1 Samuel we find the young shepherd David described by this word. Na’ar is the word used of David in:

And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:33)

More than likely David was a mid-teenager, perhaps between 15-17. He was also young enough that Goliath mocked his youth (“when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him for he was but a youth” v.42). You can imagine that we might come back to this representative teenager as well.

Finally, na’ar is the word used of Job’s sons who had their own houses in Job 1:4, 19. We can safely assume a certain level of responsibility and means for these young men to care for their own homes.

So depending on the context, just this one word, na’ar, can be used in a broad variety of ways to describe anyone from the age of Moses in the basket, all the way up to Job’s sons who had their own households.

בָּחוּר (bachur)

Bachur is used over 40 times in the Hebrew OT. It is translated in the ESV predominately as “young man,” and generally seems to refer only to those in the middle to older part of the “young men” spectrum. We could probably limit this word to the time from puberty to around forty.

These young men are of the marrying age:

For as a young man (bachur) marries a young woman…. (Isaiah 62:5)

Though they might not be married:

Fire devoured their young men (bachur), and their young women had no marriage song. (Psalm 78:63)

Another interesting description of these young men was that they were apparently able to have children:

[T]hus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will punish them. The young men (bachur) shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine. (Jeremiah 11:22)

And yet at the same time they were apparently still close to their mothers:

I have made their widows more in number than the sand of the seas; I have brought against the mothers of young men (bachur) a destroyer at noonday…. (Jeremiah 15:8)

They are able to battle (as they are promised to be killed by the sword in battle, while being described as different from men:

May their men meet death by pestilence, their youths (bachur) be struck down by the sword in battle. (Jeremiah 18:21)

So the fourth word, along with the previous three, can refer to a variety of persons in different stages of life, though bachur seems to be the most consistent in its description of those in their teens to their forties.

I will make some additional summary observations in a future blog. For today’s entry I simply want to point out that noticeably absent from this list is one (let alone more) words that restrict a person to the time of 12 to 20. We do not find any equivalent OT vocabulary for persons or the period of adolescence.

Adolescents in the Old Testament

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

There is a great old story about King Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. At the beginning of the chapter we find Solomon’s kingdom divided, and Solomon’s son Rehoboam was made king in the South. The people of Israel petitioned the new king to lighten their heavy work burden and the high taxes placed on them by Solomon (vv.1-5). The new King Rehoboam sent the people away with a promise to answer in three days.

As we insert ourselves into the storyline we are initially impressed that Rehoboam immediately went to get counsel. There is, after all, safety in the abundance of counselors. Our impression is further strengthened when we see that at first he goes to the “old men” who had also stood with his father Solomon. These were the guys who had been around; they were the wise guys. But the story takes a turn for the worse when Rehoboam turns from their counsel in verse 8.

[Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him…. (1 Kings 12:8)

The advice of his peers was to make the burden heavier than before. Their counsel to the new king was to increase his authority, his power, and wealth. The people should serve the king, not visa versa.

Now I don’t know if we would say that Rehoboam followed his friends’ direction because of “peer pressure” or because he didn’t want to lose his relationship with them by offending them. But regardless of his motivation, it definitely was not a good idea to listen to these punks.

But isn’t this just the way we would expect a teenager to act? Doesn’t this behavior seem adolescent, ignoring the elders and following the crowd? This is no surprise; it’s just what young men do.

In our discussion on the birth and growth of adolescence we have looked primarily at the various historical elements over the past century that have promoted (intentionally or unintentionally) this social myth. We’ve talked about the modern idea of adolescence as including more than just the actual years of being a teenager, but the mindset of rebellion and instability that are said to define those years. But whatever the history, we are most concerned with what God’s Word reveals about young people, what it expects of them, and what it expects of those who train them.

This leads us to the next step in our series: to look at the various OT vocabulary for young people and attempt to identify any relevant terms or descriptions of adolescent behavior as we recognize it today.

So does an account like that of Rehoboam reveal adolescence in Scripture? Is this narrative just the tip of the biblical iceberg? If we go below the surface will we find uncontrollable teenage hormones dominating ancient adolescents just like today? Will we find a category of juveniles who can’t help but be trouble causers?

We’ll have to see….

Adolescence Growth Enhancements

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Though we’ve finished covering the eight ingredients in the growth of adolescence there are a few additional elements that have enhanced its growth.

For example, the age of marriage. The myth of adolescence (and its real results) has obviously had an impact on the age young people get married. Under Roman law (2,000 years ago) women could marry at twelve and men at fourteen. A thousand years ago this was true under English law as well. Two hundred years ago in the United States it was still the same: women could marry at twelve and men at fourteen. For at least three thousand years, the minimum legal age for marriage stayed the same. I didn’t include this as an element in the growth of adolescence, though perhaps it should be. Maybe it is more a result. Regardless, today we have trouble imagining that a person would be ready to get married until they have finished at least a Bachelor’s degree and established themselves in a job and whatever else. Currently the average age for first marriages in the United States is 26, and that will only continue to rise.

Now I am not suggesting that we promote and push teenagers to get married. Many teen marriages in our day end in divorce, though obviously age is not the only problem. But we might argue that it is precisely because of our assumptions about adolescents that parents don’t even consider it possible to train their young person for marriage-responsible maturity. Perhaps if our society expected them to act like responsible adults, many of them would be mature enough to marry (impacting a significant number of additional problems that later-age marriage brings with it).

But beware, parents, allowing this immaturity has results. It used to be in the United States, at least to hear the older generation tell it, that young people reaching adulthood could not wait to leave home and be on their own. And their parents longed for an empty nest and quieter lives. But young people are spoiling these plans. According to the 2000 Census, nearly four million Americans aged 25 to 34 are still living in their parental homes or have moved back in with Mom and Dad. Boomerang kids, as they’re called, leave home for college or a job or the military, only to end up back home. Newsweek magazine called them “adultolescents,” young adults who just aren’t ready to face the world on their own.

Perhaps still another adolescence growth enhancement is the invention and accessibility of the automobile. The most obvious value of a car for a teenagers is that it is a private space in which to be alone. Not only is a driver’s license probably our culture’s most important rite of passage, cars impress girls and get you away from your family for a little fun.

Still yet another enhancement relates to the current American economy, namely that the United States is wealthy enough for most everyone to afford to have a troubled adolescence. Many dads (or dads and moms together) make enough (or borrow enough) so that their kids don’t have to work to support the family. There’s no reason for them to act mature if they don’t have to. Why work today when you can put it off until tomorrow?

For many individuals, such a long period of education, exploration, and deferred responsibility has been a tremendous gift. For other individuals, it has not been a blessing. … This lengthy waiting period has tended to reduce young people’s contacts with older people and increase them with people who are exactly the same age. That in turn has lead to the rise of a youth subculture that has helped define and elaborate what it means to be a teenager (Hine, p. 7).

I mentioned this before, but I want to say again that I make no denial that most teenagers act like…teenagers. The world and the church are filled with 12-20 (30-40) year olds with the mindset described above. But I truly believe that we are to blame for creating this context, and it only continues because we keep giving it credence. Ideas have consequences and the consequences of the myth of adolescence are no myth, they are very real. But we in the church must work to change our collective thinking as God’s community before we will see any change.

Let me also say again that I am thankful for God’s patience with me, and a rejection of adolescence is not equal to an approval of intolerance or impatience with those who are in the growing process. My challenge is to those who argue that adolescence grants them the right to stay stagnant and prolong immaturity and irresponsibility as long as possible.

The Easy Sell of Irresponsibility Excuses

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

This is (finally) the eighth and last ingredient in the growth of adolescence: it appeals to the flesh. Everything about adolescence appeals to human nature, which left to itself pursues laziness, irresponsibility, and if possible, an excuse for it all.

For example, adolescence appeals to the most basic attitude of sinfulness: pride. It makes adolescents out to be special and unique, significant and great. And if a teenager’s problem is a lack of self-esteem, their pride doesn’t need to be deflated, but inflated! This is certainly anti-biblical.

In addition, adolescence appeals to the most basic expression of sinfulness: rebellion. We are presented as if it were a medical fact, that a teenager will be rebellious. They will always want to break out of the cocoon and get out from under the umbrella of parental authority (not to mention other God-placed authorities).

But think for a moment about the chief biblical commandment for children: “honor your father and mother.” The fifth of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:12 provides a clear word to children of all ages – including teenagers.

And here’s what is so instructive, apparently God does not expect young people to despise their parents and see them as irrelevant and useless and restrictive. God expects young people not just to submit and obey with unhappy hearts. Instead, God expects that young people look up to their parents. He expects that they “honor” both their father and mother. The word “honor” has the idea of giving weight or value or importance to. In other words, God requires young people to attach value and worth to their parents and respect them accordingly.

Don’t you think this exactly where Satan would challenge? Young people today are encouraged to think of their parents as irrelevant, restrictive, and narrow. The examples they see night after night in TV sitcoms, the typical parental models found in movie after movie and in popular music indoctrinates teenagers into thinking that their parents are incompetent. Media brainwashes adolescents into thinking that parents are incapable of understanding them. You can forget the old-fashioned notion that “Father knows best.” Make way for the wisdom of the teens.

By the way, this aspect of the parent-child relationship is so important that the death penalty was prescribed for disrespect towards one’s parents. Exodus 21:17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.” While this was typically only applied to over-the-top rebellion from an older child, it does remind us that God has a very serious perspective toward rebellion against parental authority.

The bottom line here is that the Creator of humanity did not chalk up teenage (or any other age for that matter) rebellion to raging hormones. To disobey or disrespect one’s parents is not a mark of adolescence, it is sin. And one more thing, just as God did not excuse sin in teens, He likewise does not permit parents to passively sit back and excuse such rebellion. Again, God takes this very seriously. So should we.

The Expansion of National Media

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Whether it is mass produces pop music, or cable television, or the internet, adolescent culture is disseminated and domesticated by national media outlets.

One of the first examples of this national media influence in the spread of adolescence was the show American Bandstand. This was the original TRL (Total Request Live). This weekday afternoon dance party program had its national debut in 1957. It was created by Walter Annenberg who was also the owner of Seventeen. With the clean cut Dick Clark hosting, the show made teenagers and their music acceptable to middle America (the majority of the country) by taking the edge off. The dancers didn’t look like juvenile delinquents in their jackets and ties or skirts and blouses, but they did look like they were cool.

The media, which some feared were corrupting youth, had tamed and exploited the threatening adolescent subculture, and together they put on a real nice show.

One of the “advantages” of the nation media is that disaffected young people all over the country (and the whole world for that matter) can find out exactly what gestures, costumes, and attitudes were driving adults nuts at any given moment.

Today the only constant presence in the household is the television set, which instructs children not on what they should become, but rather on what they should buy. If you research the inauguration of media monsters like MTV you will find out that their goal is to promote the ideals of adolescence through flesh-feeding entertainment and then to sell young people on worldly, liberal values as well as the “in” bubble gum to chew.

As you know, the political left attempted to use this force in the last election to their benefit. I guess thankfully the results of the myth of adolescence kept most older teenagers and tweeners from exercising their citizen’s responsibility by voting. Nevertheless, through music and movies and television shows and commercials and magazines and the internet and even video games, teenagers are learning more about who they can and should be from the media then perhaps anywhere else.