teaching

What Does the Bible Teach About Education?

By Joel Settecase / 13-minute read

While Christians approach the subject of education from different perspectives and come to diverse conclusions, the Bible does present clear answers to questions like whose responsibility it is, what the curricula should center around, and the desired effects and goal of education.

With home education growing worldwide and about ten percent of American students enrolled in private, non-governmental schools, this seems like a good time to talk about education from a biblical perspective.

The endeavor of entering a discussion of how Christian parents ought to educate their children is one fraught with peril. Inevitably any discussion or teaching on the subject is going to step on toes and aggravate raw nerves of Christians with strong convictions on the matter. Even those of us who ostensibly consider themselves “Bible Centered” (which, according to the Barna Group only amounts to a paltry 5% of Americans) have undoubtedly had our views on education shaped by both Scripture as well as external influences, including memories (good and bad) of our own childhood education. If we were to listen to the voice of God through the cacophony of voices speaking about this issue, what would we hear him saying?

In a (now postponed) episode of The Think Podcast, my guest and I enjoyed a robust conversation about Christian approaches to education, although we did not answer the question many want to jump to: “Should Christian parents put their children in the public (government) schools?” This is the question many want to jump immediately to answering. However before we can answer that we need to see what God tells us in his word about three vital elements: the responsibility of education, the focus of the curricula and the goal or desired results of education.

I want to close this introduction with two quick thoughts.

First, note that just now I did not say we are going to look at the goal or desired results of education “for Christians,as though there were separate norms for believers that unbelievers would be free to accept or reject. Of course anyone may accept or reject whatever the Bible says (and we reject it to our peril), but if Christ really does possess all authority in Heaven and on Earth (and he does according to Matthew 28:18), and if the Bible is his word (and it is according to Luke 24:27 and John 5:39, etc.), then the Bible’s prescriptions for education apply to the whole of humanity, not just those who accept them. So there’s that.

Secondly, in terms of defining what education is, I roughly have in mind the definition expounded upon by Douglas Wilson when he speaks about the paideia of God (quoting the Apostle in Ephesians 6:4), which I loosely summarize as:

A system of teaching and enculturation that transcends (though not excluding) the formal schooling happening typically between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and that is built upon the foundation of, and in support of, a robust biblical worldview.*

I want the rest of the article to serve as a resource for parents and other Christians who are thinking (or want to begin to think) biblically about their children’s education. Under each of the three headers, I will list the answers and supporting biblical passages. Feel free to leave any comments in the appropriately-marked “comments” section below.

Who “Owns” Your Children’s Education?

Whose responsibility is it to education our children?

Fathers and Mothers

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

—Deut. 6:6-7

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

—Deut. 11:19

Note: as a good New Covenant Theologian (as I am, which was pointed out by Joe and Jimmy on a recent episode of the podcast Doctrine and Devotion), I recognize that these commands were given to Old Covenant Israelite parents, that they would teach their children the commands of the Mosaic Law. Believers are not under that covenant or law, but the O. T. Law is instructive for us (Romans 15:4) and the pattern of parents teaching their children persists throughout Scripture into the New Testament, as we shall see.

Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching

—Prov. 1:8

O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth

—Prov. 4:1-5

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

—Eph. 6:4

Interestingly, the same verb (ektrepho) Paul uses for how fathers are to “bring up” their children is also used in Ephesians 5:29, when Paul commands husbands to “nourish” their wives as their own bodies. Husbands and fathers therefore have a special responsibility to oversee the educative environment of their homes (see also 1 Cor. 14:35, Eph. 5:25-26).

God Directly

God may directly impart wisdom or knowledge to people. Because Christians enjoy a personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, we enjoy the benefits of God teaching us (often through his word, and always in direct agreement with his word, when the instruction comes by way of other means).

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

—Psalm 25:4-5

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

—Daniel 1:17

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

—James 1:5

The Church

Just as parents are to foster the household of the immediate family as an educational environment, so also is the “household of God” a place where teaching and learning take place. In fact the leaders of each local church, the elders, are required to be men who are “apt to teach” (2 Tim. 2:24). Education is a mission of the church given by Christ himself in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

—Matthew 28:19-20

And elsewhere, the Apostle Paul instructs the church to teach:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching

—Romans 12:6-7

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

—Titus 2:3-5

In that Titus passage, Paul essentially tells Pastor Titus to commission the older women to facilitate a kind of practical-theology-meets-home-economics-meets-marriage-counseling program.

The State (in the right circumstances) may provide some facilitation

Again, this deals with Old Covenant Israel, however it is instructive:

David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals...And they cast lots for their duties, small and great, teacher and pupil alike.

King David, as head of state, set up a worship music arts teaching program for temple worship. Note that David was not doing the teaching, nor were any of his governmental officials leading the department. Rather David set it up and entrusted it to faithful and gifted instructors, under God’s leadership.** Translated to modern times this may look like a government giving a public award or even a tax break to an arts program that seeks to instill the love of truth and beauty in its students, which would be in line with the responsibility of government (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14) to sanction good behavior.

What Should the Content or Curricula of Education Be?

Education should found its foundation in the worship and reverence of the Lord:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

—Proverbs 1:7

As for the subjects to be covered, anything good, true and beautiful is fair game. Classically, students were taught according to the Trivium of subjects, namely Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. This format is followed by classical schools today. In my own perusal of Scripture I found support for inclusion of the following subjects. The list is not certainly not exhaustive but may be instructional.

  • Natural sciences. Adam’s first job was to classify the animals. Proverbs 6:6-8 encourages entomology as a source wisdom.

  • Biblical Hermeneutics. Jesus says one who has mastered the Old Testament and is also trained in the New Testament is like a man who “brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).

  • Philosophy and poetry. The Apostle Paul quotes from pagan poets and philosophers when he needs to demonstrate a point, indicating the value in this study (cf. Ti. 1:12, Acts 17:28).

  • Literature. Jude (1:14) quotes from the Book of Enoch, even citing the passage he quotes as an authority. Paul asked Timothy to bring him his books (2 Tim. 4:13).

  • Cosmology and Astrophysics. Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God. The study of the heavens ought to aim to find out what the heavens are saying.

  • History. Scripture is itself a historical text and is filled with commands for God’s people to “remember.”

  • Christology and Theology. Jesus tells his followers to teach disciples “All that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20), just as Paul tells Timothy to pass on “What you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 2:2) and to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13) .

What Is the Biblical Goal of Education?

Ultimately, the goal is that the student would own his own learning and be able to test doctrines and studies himself, to discern truth from error. For example, the author of Hebrews admonishes the Hebrew Christians for their inability to have achieved maturity, calling them children in need of “milk” (Heb. 5:12).

The Berean Jews, on the other hand, took ownership of their own education and searched the Scriptures as soon as they heard the new teaching of the Gospel; Luke (the author of Acts) calls them “noble” (Acts 17:11).

Good instruction is life-giving (Prov. 4:13); as parents we ought to seek to educate our children in such a way that, when they are older, we will be happy if they stick with it (as they most likely will according to Proverbs 22:6). We want our children to become the kind of learners who intertwine their righteousness with their learning and become wiser still (Prov. 9:9).

Ultimately our goal is to ensure that our children are provided with the tools to become mature and complete through their studies, studies which are rooted in Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17) but which branch out into every area of God’s world, and studies which are supplemented by rigorous testing, which produces maturity (cf. James 1:4).

There are many more passages we could have cited and dissected, but this should at least provide parents with a framework for thinking robustly, from a biblical worldview, about these three pertinent questions as they seek to pursue their children’s education in a way that honors the Lord.

Notes:

*Wilson sees full-orbed Christian education as not being fully possible to achieve apart from a Christian civilization, but as a Postmillennialist he believes we are on our way there. As an Amillennialist I disagree with him. However, I do consider myself something of an “optimistic Amillennialist, to which, when I told that to Doug Wilson in a recent phone conversation, he replied, “Well, that works.”

**King David, the man of God and prophet, was himself “apt to teach,” and apparently enjoyed teaching children the fear (worship and reverence) of the Lord (Psalm 34:11).

This article by the Institute for Faith, Works & Economics helped me find the 1 Peter passage about government praising good behavior: Dr. Art Lindsley, “What Does the Bible Say about the Role of Government?”, tifwe.org, accessed on July 30, 2019, at https://tifwe.org/bible-role-of-government/.

The Biblical Worldview, Part 4: What Is Man?

By Joel Settecase / 8-minute read.

Man’s nature is best described as fundamentally broken. While having been initially created good, mankind has gone astray and is in desperate need of restoration, forgiveness and redemption.

Why This Question Matters

We start this section by asking why we need to ask this question at all. That is, why do we need a definition of man at all? After all, we are human beings. Shouldn’t it be obvious to us what we are?

The fact is, the answer to “What is Man?” is not obvious. Or at the very least, there is no shared definition of humanity across all worldviews. Therefore, if we want our thinking to be shaped by the Bible, we must ask this question and see how the Bible answers it. (It is also important to note here that we are using the term “man” in an inclusive way to refer not just to adult males but to male and female human persons of all ages. This usage is biblical and theologically significant in ways which we won’t expound on here, but which will perhaps become clear as we go on).

Some Alternative Views

worldview views o f man.png

We mentioned above that there is no unified way that all worldviews answer the question of mankind or human nature. Here are a few samples of the various answers out there:

  • Materialism: Man is a complex machine or evolved animal, the product of an unguided process of evolution by natural selection over millions of years.

  • Mormonism: Man is a spirit child of Elohim, the Heavenly Father, who himself is an exalted or deified man. As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.

  • Hinduism & New Age: In Hinduism, “Atman” (man) is “Brahman” (ultimate reality or the cosmic soul). Man is one with the universe, though he may not be aware of this. New Age thought is similar, in that the self is god.

  • Postmodernism & Intersectionality: Man’s nature is debated, but generally seen as being without any objective definition or essential nature (a Postmodernist would likely object to my use of “man” to describe humanity!). Neil Shenvi says, “As a non-theistic worldview, critical theory believes that our identity is not primarily found in our vertical relationship to God but in our horizontal relationships to other people and other groups.” On this view, individuals define themselves and relate to one another and society according to an intersecting network of sub-groups, each with various levels of “privilege” and “oppression.”

Then there is the question of the moral status of human nature: is man basically good, basically bad, more good than bad, more bad than good, or fundamentally broken? There are diverse answers to this question as well.

The Biblical Teaching

So what does the Bible teach? What does man’s Creator have to say about his creation? According to the Bible, man is:

  • Persons bearing God’s own image (Genesis 1:27).

  • Designed as an expression of unity-in-diversity, male and female each with their own roles and both equal in value and personhood (Genesis 2:18; 5:2).

  • Created to procreate and exercise dominion over the animals and the natural world (Genesis 1:26).

  • Valuable and possessing of dignity from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5; 139:13; cf. Exodus 21:22-25; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:41).

The first humans were a married couple, specially created by God (the husband from the soil and the wife from the side of her husband) (Genesis 2:7, 21-22). All humans since that time are descended from the same married couple (Genesis 3:20; Acts 17:26) and so are rightly considered a single race.

Man is the only “animal” given personality, and as such people are more like God than anything else in nature and enjoy a status infinitely higher than animals, plants and machines. However, unlike God, who is infinite, man is finite. As such, he is infinitely lower than God and is dependent on him (Matthew 4:4).

Adam, our first father, sinned, an event we refer to as the Fall, recorded in Genesis 3:1-7. As the father of all mankind, Adam was also our representative. As a result of his Fall, sin and its consequences (death and hardship) spread to all mankind, who all became sinners (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 5:12).

So man’s nature is best described as fundamentally broken. That brokenness is both given to us (by virtue of our shared ancestry, according to Psalm 51:5) and chosen by us (by virtue of our own individual sins). We should not think of ourselves as victims but rather as villains. In man’s natural state he is utterly sinful (“totally depraved,” as the Reformers put it) and enters this world under God’s judgment. Ephesians 2:3 describes our state apart from God’s grace as living “in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts,” and being “by nature children under wrath.”

Sin broke all human relationships--to God, to society and the world, and even to oneself. Although man was originally created to exist in perfect relational harmony (similar to how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another), since the Fall man’s default is interpersonal strife and jealousy (action that the Apostle Paul calls “merely human” in 1 Corinthians 3:3). Left to our own devices, we would become more and more sinful, and earn more and more of God’s wrath and judgment. The final state of an unrepentant, sinful person is everlasting punishment in Hell (Matthew 10:28; Revelation 21:8).

Yet while man’s nature is broken, his dignity as being God’s image bearer has not been completely destroyed. Human life is still valuable and dignified (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9-10). Furthermore, mankind is not a lost cause. It is possible for sinners to be reconciled to God and reborn, given new life and adopted into God’s family as his children (John 1:12; 3:7).

So we see that man, while having been initially created good, has gone astray and is in desperate need of restoration, forgiveness and redemption.

There has only ever been one human being who did not sin, namely Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully God (Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, Jesus both flawlessly exemplifies what it means to be human, and perfectly provides the means by which broken and sinful humanity may be “fixed” and forgiven.

Notes:

For a comparison of different worldviews’ answers to the question of humanity, cf. the “Theory Comparison Chart (Santrock Chapter 2)” Christinao.wordpress.com, accessed on June 18, 2019, https://cristinao.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/sire-cristinao.pdf.

See also: James Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic World View Catalog (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 156-209, especially page 200.

On the issue of ethnicities and race: although the Bible recognizes many ethnicities, it presents only one “race.” That is, human beings of every ethnicity share the same primeval parents, Adam and Eve. However, biblically speaking there are really two “races,” the race of Adam (unregenerate sinners still under Adam’s headship) and the race of Christ--those who have been reborn and brought into God’s family (John 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9), who have Christ as their representative or head.