The bible never uses the word education. However, it is replete with references to and instruction on the topic. In fact, one could argue that the entire book of Proverbs is, in one sense, a treatise on education. There, we find a concise philosophy of education: “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth” (Proverbs 1:2–4).

Two views of education

  1. The Secular/Statist view: There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to education. One major school of thought views education as a means by which citizens are made fit to function in society and succeed in the work force. This is the secular/statist view of education; the view that the chief responsibility for, and interest in education lies with and emanates from the government as opposed to the church or the home. Secular/statist education sees the home as a minor player in the education of children. Since the interests of the state are central and they determine the nature, scope, timing, character, and content of the education children will receive. Parents have little or no influence in the matter. Their participation is compulsory and failure to comply is met with decisive action

The secular/statist view may have religious overtones. However, they serve only as a means of encouraging basic civility and moral character. Ultimately, without the gospel, this civility and character falls short:

“Non-Christian education puts the child in a vacuum…. The result is that the child dies. Christian education alone really nurtures personality because it alone, gives the child air and food…. Modern educational philosophy gruesomely insults our God and our Christ. How, then, do you expect to build anything positively Christian or theistic upon a foundation which is the negation of Christianity and the theism?” (Van Til, 1990).

  1. The Mosaic/Solomonic view: The Mosaic/Solomonic view sees education through a covenantal/theological lens. This view of education places the home at the centre of the educational process and sees children not as wards of a state, but under the stewardship of parents. In this view, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7) and godliness is its chief end (2 Pet. 1:3–11). Both are linked inexorably to the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:26-28), and the great commission (Matt. 28:18-20).

The parents have an obligation to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Hence, the parents have the final say on the nature and scope of their child’s education. If this education takes place in the church, it is the church of the parent’s choosing. If this education takes place in the home, it uses curriculum of the parent’s choosing. In either case, “The whole range and content of education must be God-centred. That is, God must be the unifying principle and the interpreting principle of the whole curriculum.” (Murray 1976)

The home and the goal/purpose of education

The quintessential biblical passage concerning the role of the home in education is as follows:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:4–9)

If Proverbs provides the philosophical and theological foundation for education, Deuteronomy provides the practical and logistical key. Here we see the where, when, and how of education. Nor is this an isolated instance.

This passage serves as the foundation upon which Paul builds his instruction in Eph. 6:4, “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In verses 1-3, Paul references the fifth commandment, “Children obey your parents…” (Deut. 5:16; cf. Ex. 20:12), then moves to the covenantal/parental instructions which flow therefrom. Hence, Paul provides a sense of continuity between parental responsibility in both the new and the old covenant in terms of the Christian view of education.

This is very important since it eliminates the possibility of Moses’ instructions being misconstrued as a product of mere necessity. In other words, placing the nexus of education in the home was not a matter of Israel’s lack of a government school system; it was an expression of divine intent. God’s people have a fundamental right and responsibility to see to the education of their children.

Moreover, that education must be delivered in a particular manner. As Charles Hodge noted, “This whole process of education is to be religious, and not only religious, but Christian.” He specifies that “as Christianity is the only true religion, and God in Christ the only true God, the only possible means of profitable education is the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”[1]How then does this view of education manifest itself?

The home and the manner of education

Whether the approach to education is secular/statist, or Mosaic/Solomonic, the means of education is the same. Education at its core is discipleship. Jesus captures the essence of this principle in his shortest parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:39–40)This is a clear picture of discipleship and the very nature of education.

All education involves a teacher/discipler, and a student/disciple. All education involves the transmission of material in the context of shared life. In this sense, the home will always be the first, most influential, and most important school. Even as modern technology makes it possible to acquire knowledge outside the context of personal relationship, there is still a discipleship element. The student is learning from someone. They are following someone’s lead.

Here, there are two distinct roles the home can play. First, there is the role of the indirect discipler. This occurs when the child is educated outside the home (either by the church or the state). In this instance, it may appear that the home has deferred the principle discipleship role. However, that is not the case. The child still spends the majority of his or her time in the home.[2]

By making the choice of where to send the child to be educated, the family is making a statement about the value, the source, the nature, and the purpose of education. Essentially, the family is disciplining the child in terms of forming their philosophy of education. They are saying, “We hold to the secular/statist view,” or “We believe the church is the proper place to achieve the Mosaic/Solomonic view.” In either case, the choice of where to send the child is an act of indirect discipleship.

Another possible role is that of the direct discipler. Here, the child is not only educated in the Mosaic/Solomonic model but they are educated in the home. Parents take on the full weight of their child’s education, and shape the curriculum to fit their particular goals. In home education, the family goes beyond basic schooling and makes all of life a classroom. This is the furthest thing from the secular/statist view. In fact, many countries have outlawed this form of education for precisely that reason.[3]

The home and the end of education

Though it is not normally associated with education, Peter’s words in the first full paragraph of his second epistle speak insightfully to the matter at hand, and we would do well to consider his words as we pursue Christian education:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Pet. 1:3–4)

Ultimately, we must educate our children with a view toward giving them that knowledge of God that accords with escaping the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. Each child’s greatest need is to overcome sin and know God. This is impossible apart from the gospel. Hence, all education must be rooted and grounded in this reality.

Peter explains how this ultimate desire leads to particular pursuits and priorities:

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Pet. 1:4–7)

Virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love are not qualities one encounters in the secular/statist approachNevertheless, they are essential to an education rooted in the pursuit of godliness. Nor is this divorced from the gospel:

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so near-sighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” (2 Pet. 1:8–9)

Notice that Peter does not say that the absence of these qualities is the result of a mere lack of diligence; he points to a failure to grasp or remember the gospel, the means by which we are “cleansed from…former sins.”

In the dramatic conclusion of his thought, Peter points again to the educational imperative:

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way, there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:10–11)

Remember the starting point. This is all about our “knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” Therefore, in the final analysis, the goal of all our learning is salvation, godliness and “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” We teach our children to pursue truth, beauty, and goodness, not in order to satisfy the requirements of a secular state, or to secure a better place in the job market, but in a concerted effort to see them conformed to God’s image.

It is this covenantal desire that ought to keep education rooted and grounded firmly in the home. Whether we partner with the church or opt for home education, parents have a duty to see to it that the education and discipleship of their children happen in a manner pleasing to God. This is not merely an obligation. The apostle John captured the essence of parental desire in this regard when he wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).

Bibliography

  1. Murray, John. Christian Education, published in his collected writings. Volume 1: Claims of Truth. Banner of Truth, 1976.
  1. Van Til, Cornelius. Foundations of Christian Education. Presbyterian & Reformed, 1990.

[1] Charles Hodge (1797-1878), Princeton Theological Seminary President 1851-187

[2] A notable exception is boarding school. In this case, the home has indeed abdicated virtually all discipleship of the child.

[3] See most of Europe, for example. Especially Germany, where many families have had their children taken away due to their insistence on educating them at home.