Today there is a surge of interest in ancient Greek education methods, but we reject those methods, as the ancient Hebrews did, and look to God’s Word for instruction. To build a thoroughly Christian educational system, we must begin with a thoroughly biblical definition of education. What does the Bible tell us about education?
Education in the Home
In ancient Israel family home was set apart for something special. The Hebrew word me`at (meh-atґ) (Strong’s 4592) means “little” (Ezekiel 11:16). God made the home the “little sanctuary.” The home was a house of prayer, worship, and study (all study—academic and spiritual).
Today’s Christians have it backwards. The primary sphere of religious activity should be in the home, not the Church. The dinner table was a place to gather, not just for food (Deuteronomy 8:3), but also to study God’s Word, to pray, to praise, and to worship. The home was more important than the synagogue. The center of all training—religious, academic, and family—was the home.
Most people tend to view life as quartered: partly religious, partly educational, partly professional, and partly for leisure. Yet everything we do, regardless of our occupation, whether homemaker, businessman, ditch-digger, or dentist, we should do unto our King. We should be praising and acknowledging Him in learning, work, recreation, and worship—in all things. In the same way, our children need to see all their lives revolving around our King, including their reading, writing, daily routine, studies, experiments, and friendships.
The Hebrew word for parent is similar to teacher. It is horeh, which is from the root word yarah, meaning “to cast, throw or shoot.” The Bible commands the father, the priest of his little sanctuary, to instruct the children (Deuteronomy 6). The father is to diligently impart wisdom and knowledge to his children.
Teaching the Whole Child
Collier’s Encyclopedia explains that education during Abraham’s times taught the whole child:
The keynote of biblical education appears as early as Genesis 18:19 in the revelation made to Abraham: For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment….This same note runs throughout the Old Testament in various injunctions: Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6), and Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
The aim of education was ethical and religious. The education of youth was an obligation of the parents, and was intimately associated with the performance of ritual observances and with learning the Mosaic law, both of which were regarded as essential to the survival of the Jews as a people. In the educative process, both father and mother were equally concerned, and both were to be equally honored (the fifth commandment). For a long time, the method of instruction in the home was oral, and learning was accomplished by practice. These methods were continued outside the home in gatherings and assemblies held for both worship and instruction.
Corporal punishment was regarded as an essential element in training. He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Proverbs 23:24) is a precept frequently repeated both in Proverbs and in Ecclesiastes.
Visual aids, including monuments as records of history, were employed. The setting up of “great stones” with inscriptions on them implies an early knowledge of writing (Deuteronomy 27:2, 3, 8, and elsewhere). The scribes were not only copyists but also teachers and interpreters of the Law of Moses. There existed a knowledge of arithmetic and astronomy; music, dancing, games, and sports were cultivated; and moral instruction was an essential part of education.
Study as an Act of Worship
Marvin Wilson explains in Our Father Abraham:
People seek education for many worthy reasons: some desire to broaden horizons; others wish to develop skills; still others want to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. The Bible, however, teaches that study ought to be, above everything else, an act of worship, one of the highest ways by which a person can glorify God.
As a Pharisee, Paul was a learned product of Judaism, a man well versed in Jewish thought and biblical theology. (Philippians 3:4–6) Paul made no distinction between the so-called sacred and secular areas of life. He taught—as his Hebrew forebears did— that all of life was God’s domain of activity. Every detail of life therefore, must be set aside and consecrated to the glory of God. So, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). He later wrote to the Colossians, And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (3:17). As David Hubbard reminds us, “There is an intimate connection between work and worship. For to work is to give glory to God…We work with God’s goods, and we use God’s talents to perform the work, and we serve God’s people through our work.”
Since the Bible period, Jews have considered the quest for knowledge to be one of the great desiderata [desires] of life (Philippians 3:4–11). Learning, learning, learning—that is the secret of Jewish survival. (Hacker, ed. p. 21). So strongly did the early rabbis feel about the priority of education that they said it may not be interrupted even for the rebuilding of the Temple. Israel was to acknowledge the Lord’s authority in every circumstance and turn of the way. (Psalm 16:8; Proverbs 3:5–6). The ultimate prophetic vision was that all the peoples of the earth know that the LORD is God and there is no other. (1 Kings 8:60).From early in history the center of education was the home. Both parents shared responsibility in this task (Proverbs. 1:8; 6:20), though the Father bore the chief responsibility for the instruction of the children (Deuteronomy 11:9).
In biblical times it was the father who taught—not textbooks, audiovisuals, or brightly colored classrooms—and the main instruction was the learning process itself. As teacher of his children, the father served as a living dynamic communicator of divine truth. A Bible could not be substituted because there were no Bibles at that time.
There is no shortcut method to a sound education. If someone wants to make spiritual training a priority, they must make a major commitment of time. Thus the Psalmist says, …His delight is in the law [instruction] of the Lord; and in His law [instruction] doth he meditate day and night (Psalm 1:2).
Ancient Israel had no formal system of schooling; however, learning and knowledge were considered one of the most important goals of life.