Education: The Bible Has More To Say Than You Think
A central question for the Christian when discussing any subject should be, “What does the Bible say about this?” Scripture is clear that some matters are left to individual preference or conscience. But where the Bible speaks clearly, we are to heed its commands and instructions.
What about education? Is this a matter of preference for each family, or are there biblical commands and principles that should guide us? I have often heard homeschooling parents say something to the effect that home education “works” for their family “right now.” When some other option is perceived to serve the family interests more effectively, those other options are placed on the table. All the options are weighed, and the choice becomes a pragmatic decision between equally viable alternatives.
Similarly, I have heard currently homeschooling parents say that they regularly pray about whether to continue homeschooling or not. I have even heard former homeschooling parents say that they prayed about the decision prior to enrolling their children in public school.
The problem I have with these statements is that they assume Scripture is silent on the issue.
It is my belief that God is always consistent in His directives to us as His people. He does not lead us to do things that are contrary to His already revealed will found in the pages of Scripture. To put it another way, if Scripture speaks clearly on a matter, we don’t need to seek God’s will—we already know it. I don’t need to seek God’s will, for example, on whether or not I should remain faithful to my spouse. God has already revealed to me in the Bible that I should. This is the issue I see when parents tell me that they seek the Lord’s leading on whether to continue homeschooling or to place their children in public school. The unstated assumption is that Scripture has little or nothing to say on the subject, and that the only way to know God’s will in the matter is to seek His current, individual leading, not His revelation to us in Scripture.
But what if we searched the pages of Scripture to discern the mind of God when it came to the education of our children? What if we were to discard all of our cultural ideas and norms and instead look to God’s Word alone for guidance on how children should be educated? What would we find?
The Four Key Components
When we look at education, there are four key elements which we can examine according to Scripture. These four elements are content, methodology, instructor, and peers. As we look to God’s Word for answers, we will discover that the Bible has something to say about each of these four elements. Then, using these biblical principles as our lens, we can examine each approach to education to see how it measures up. The most biblically correct model of education will be consistent with Scripture in all four key areas, while other methods will violate biblical truths in one or more of those areas.
Let’s take a look at some of the relevant Scripture passages that speak to these four key elements of education.
What does God desire our children to be taught? What does He desire that they not be taught? Allow me to recommend the following Scripture passages for further study on this topic: Deuteronomy 4:9–10; Deuteronomy 6:6–7; Deuteronomy 11:18–20; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 19:27; Ezekiel 44:23; Matthew 5:19; 1 Timothy 1:3; and 1 Timothy 6:3–5.
All of the above Scripture passages point to one truth: children are to be taught in the ways of the Lord. His truth is to be inculcated in their hearts. However, it’s not enough that we simply add some Bible teaching to an education otherwise devoid of God. The Bible is clear on that as well. For example, Proverbs 19:27 says, “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” Moreover, Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” When we put these two Scriptures together, we see an important truth emerging.
As the late apologist Greg Bahnsen has pointed out, the fear of the Lord mentioned in Proverbs 1:7 is an attitude of the heart. Scripture makes it clear that the starting point for real knowledge is a heart that acknowledges God for who He is. This proper heart attitude leads us to knowledge. However, Proverbs 19:27 informs us that there is such a thing as instruction that would cause us to “err from the words of knowledge.” If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and some instruction can cause us to err from knowledge, then certainly instruction that comes from a heart that does not fear God must be viewed with a cautious eye.
Matthew 5:19 further sharpens the distinction between righteous and unrighteous education: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Ezekiel 44:23 makes a similar point: “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.”
From these passages, we see that any teaching which blurs the lines between right and wrong is not godly instruction. Thus, moral relativism and values clarification clearly cross the line into the realm of ungodly teaching. We are not to call evil good or good evil. Rather, we are to make a sharp distinction between the two.
Our public education system as it currently exists rests on a foundation of secularism. God is disallowed and the Bible is rejected. But we can be sure of this: public school students are not being taught in a philosophical vacuum. There is an underpinning worldview. To put it another way, schools are not worldview neutral. With God eliminated and Scripture discarded, we can be certain that the fear of the Lord is not considered to be the foundation of knowledge in our nation’s public schools.
From the Bible, we see that education is to take place in a righteous, God-honoring context. The bare thought that God could be left out, or worse, that His truth could be contradicted, is foreign to the biblical concept of education.
In addition to the content, we must also consider the methods used to educate our children. What does the Bible say about educational methodology?
Scripture is not as forthright on this matter as it is in relation to educational content. However, we do have some clues. As we look through God’s Word, we see much more discipleship than classroom-style education. In fact, I would suggest that we see no examples of anything resembling a modern classroom. We do see examples of large groups being taught, but these do not equate to the classroom model of modern times.
Consider the following examples of mentoring relationships we see in Scripture:
- Moses with Joshua
- Elijah with Elisha
- Jesus with His disciples
- Paul with Timothy and Titus
- Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos
In addition, the model laid out for us in Deuteronomy 6:6–7 is also discipleship based, wherein parents were to teach their children throughout the day as they went about their lives.
Why the discipleship model? Isn’t a mass-scale approach to education more efficient? That depends on what you want to accomplish. If your goal is simply to impart information to a large group, then a mass-scale model may be superior. There’s nothing wrong with that approach in some contexts. After all, we do have examples in Scripture of large gatherings for the purpose of instruction. But there’s only so much you can do with a crowd. If you need to reach the masses efficiently, you can do it by teaching, preaching, or speaking to a large gathering. But if you want to mold a heart and shape a life, a one-on-one approach is a superior model. It’s not a matter of efficiency, but of effectiveness.
This was the model Jesus chose to implement with His closest followers, and it will serve us well as we raise and train our children for Him.
A third critical component in evaluating an educational approach from a biblical perspective is the question of who will do the teaching and mentoring.
Biblically, there can be no doubt that parents are intended to be the primary instructors of their children. We see this in a number of passages. As we look at the Bible, however, we don’t just find instructions about who should teach our children; we also find principles about the type of person who should not be teaching our children.
The following passages all provide insight on this issue of who should be instructing the next generation: Deuteronomy 4:9–10; Deuteronomy 6:6–7; Deuteronomy 11:18–20; Deuteronomy 32:46; Psalm 1:1–2; Psalm 34:11; Psalm 78:1–7; Proverbs 1:8; Isaiah 38:19; Joel 1:3; Matthew 12:30; Luke 6:39–40; 2 Corinthians 6:14–16; and Ephesians 6:4.
As we examine Scripture, we see repeated references to parents teaching their children. There is a profound lack, however, of commands to anyone else to teach our children. Grandparents are given a supplemental role, but parents are central. The government has no command to teach our children. Even the church has no such command. Yes, the church does have a role to the extent that families are to gather together for the preaching of God’s Word. That much is upheld by Scripture. But where in the Bible do we see the church becoming the primary conduit by which spiritual or academic knowledge is imparted to our children? Parents alone are given this function.
Some will suggest that the scriptural commands cover only spiritual matters, not academics. In other words, parents are to mentor their children spiritually, but they may turn over the academic instruction of their children to others without violating Scripture.
It is true that the immediate context of many of the passages I listed above is spiritual instruction. However, is this the complete extent of parental responsibility? Allow me to offer a couple of thoughts.
First, we are confronted with the reality that no one else has been specifically commissioned by God to teach our children anything. In other words, God didn’t command parents to handle spiritual matters and the government, church, or other entity to handle academics. Thus, we are left with the reality that only parents have a clear, direct command to be the day-in, day-out teachers of their children. I would suggest that the biblically safest approach—that is, the interpretation least likely to violate the scriptural principles we see—is to acknowledge that parents are the primary ones responsible for all education—not just spiritual instruction.
Second, I believe the suggestion that parents aren’t responsible for academics rests at least in part on an improper understanding of academic education. Too often, we view spiritual and academic education as two very distinct spheres. Spiritual instruction, we recognize, should be handled by those who acknowledge and fear the Lord. We would never entrust the spiritual education of our children to an atheist, for example. Very often, however, we view academics as wholly secular, and therefore it doesn’t matter who teaches our children these subjects, nor what worldview they hold.
In truth, this perspective is incorrect. The Bible clearly instructs that we are to love God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind. God does not view our intellectual pursuit of knowledge as secular. Our minds are not independent of His rule over our lives.
How is it that academics are connected to God and our pursuit of Him? Our study of academic subjects is concerned with the pursuit of truth, and God is the divine Author of all truth. All truth is God’s truth, as Arthur Holmes observed. No truth exists that He did not create.
To divorce academics from the spiritual realm is to remove the ultimate purpose of study, which is to love God with our minds and to fit us for whatever work He has called us to do in the practical realm. It is God who infuses everything with purpose and vitality.
Take history as an example. God instructed the children of Israel to pass their history down through the generations, from father to son, son to grandson, and so on. History is not a dry, dusty subject. It is the story of God working through people and nations to bring about His purposes. This was the context in which the Israelites were to teach their children about history. It was inextricably linked to God and their relationship with Him. It was never meant to be a godless, secular study.
Academic subjects should not be divorced from how they relate to God. If nothing else, our children need to see that all of life is subject to Christ; nothing is outside of His domain.
We all recognize that academics are the preparation for a future career and a well-rounded intellectual life. But what happens when we treat academics as a thoroughly secular study? By implication, we place the mind (as well as the future vocation) in the secular category as well, divorced from our relationship with God. We create a false dichotomy in the minds of our children, subtly teaching them that some areas of life are subject to God, and some areas are not.
If we cannot (or at least should not) separate God from academics, then the allegation that parents are only meant to handle spiritual education, and others may handle the academic, is on shaky ground.
Biblically speaking, God has placed the education of the next generation squarely on the shoulders of parents. This is not to be a passive managerial position, but an intensely personal, hands-on endeavor.
The final aspect of education which we must consider is peers and their influence. Once again, the Bible gives us insight. Consider the following passages: Psalm 1:1; Proverbs 4:14–15; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 14:7; Proverbs 22:24–25; Proverbs 29:25; and 1 Corinthians 15:33.
These passages speak about the types of people we should avoid as our friends and close companions, as well as the dangers of negative peer pressure.
For example, 1 Corinthians 15:33 says: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.”
I find this passage interesting. It is one of only five times that the phrase “be not deceived” occurs in Scripture. It is one of only two times that a verse starts with those words. It seems to suggest that God is giving us a special warning about the dangers of negative influences. Apparently this is one area of life where we are uniquely prone to deception, so God gives an extra caution: be not deceived.
Proverbs 13:20 is another interesting verse. It reads: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”
Like many of the verses in the book of Proverbs, this one is broken into two halves. Since the first half tells us that “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise,” we might expect the second half to inform us that the companion of fools will become foolish. In reality, the warning is more severe: “A companion of fools shall be destroyed.”
When we combine this verse with Proverbs 22:15 (“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child”), we see an interesting truth emerge.
We all know what happens when we place children together in a group without rigorous supervision. Rather than pulling each other up until they’re all behaving at the level of the best behaved in the group, we typically see the exact opposite—they gravitate downward toward the level of the worst behaved. If foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, and if the companion of fools will be destroyed, could it be that when we see this negative gravitation taking place we are observing the fulfillment of these two proverbs?
As we examine Scripture, we not only see instructions and principles regarding negative influences, we also have at least two vivid examples of what happens when we subject ourselves to the influence of ungodly peers.
Recall the story of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. Amnon fell in love with his half-sister, but “thought it hard for him to do anything to her” (2 Samuel 13:2). The opening of the next verse is revealing: “But Amnon had a friend . . .”
Verse 2 presents the dilemma: Amnon is unable to figure out how to exploit his half-sister. Verse 3 presents us with the twisted, evil solution: Amnon has a friend who can work it all out for him.
The verses that follow are the sordid account of how Jonadab, Amnon’s friend, plots for Amnon to assault and rape his own half-sister. Amnon was apparently a man of weak morals, but he lacked either the diabolical cleverness or the sinful callousness to follow through on his immoral desires when left to himself. With the counsel and help of Jonadab, however, Amnon plunged ahead and committed one of the most heinous sins recorded in Scripture. Without Jonadab pushing Amnon forward in his destructive path, Tamar likely would have escaped harm.
The short phrase “but Amnon had a friend” could be equally applied to countless young people in more modern times who are susceptible to being carried further along the path of sin than they would dare go on their own, pushed along by a friend or peer with a strong personality and a lesser regard for righteousness.
Another account worth noting is found in 1 Kings 12. It is the story of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and heir to his father’s throne. After Solomon’s death, Rehoboam went to Shechem to be made king. While there, the people of Israel requested that he lighten the burden placed on them by his father. In verse 6 we read, “And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?” These wise older men advised that Rehoboam grant the request of the people.
Unfortunately, Rehoboam rejected the counsel of his elders and “consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.” These younger men gave exactly the opposite advice of the older men, but Rehoboam chose to follow it, with disastrous effects. The people rebelled, and ultimately the kingdom was torn in two.
In both of these accounts, we see vividly illustrated not only the devastating consequences that can come when we follow the counsel of ungodly peers, but also the propensity in the human heart to do so.
The Bible is clear in its warnings: avoid the friendship and companionship of those who would carry us in a negative direction. As parents, we would do well to heed these warnings on behalf of our children.
How Do They Measure Up?
Any approach to education will encompass these four areas of content, methodology, instructor, and peers. The Bible provides instruction on all four points, giving us a blueprint to determine which form of education is most pleasing and honoring to God. The most biblical form of education will be consistent with scriptural principles in all four of these areas. Unbiblical approaches, on the other hand, will violate the principles in all four. How do the different approaches measure up?
As we look to the Bible, we can see that public education fails to meet the scriptural criteria across the board. Neither the content, methodology, instructor, nor peer influences are consistent with the principles God has given us in His Word. On this basis, we are forced to conclude that enrolling our children in public education is at best inconsistent with the Bible, and at worst in direct contradiction to the commands and instructions of God.
Christian schools fare somewhat better, but still fail in some key aspects. The content may be correct, but principles in the categories of methodology and instructor are violated. The fourth category—peers—may also be violated depending on the specific school and its environment. At best, the score is 50 percent—two right, two wrong—when evaluating the four components.
Christian home education, on the other hand, meets the biblical criteria on all four points. The content can be God-honoring in all subject areas. The methodology is largely consistent with the mentoring model outlined in Scripture. The instructor is God’s first choice to teach children. And peer influences can be carefully chosen and evaluated.
God is not silent on the question of how our children ought to be educated. If we turn to Scripture alone as our guide, there can be no doubt that home education lines up more consistently with the principles and directives of God’s Word than any other approach available today. Some will suggest that the Bible does not command parents to homeschool. While there may not be a single verse stating “Thou shalt homeschool thy children,” the message of Scripture comes into focus as we examine the four key aspects of education. Pragmatic decisions made on the basis of “what works best for our family” should be reexamined in light of God’s Word and the principles found in its pages.
God cares about how we raise the next generation. He is not silent on this vital matter. Let’s look to Scripture more—and to the culture around us less—as we seek to understand His will for our families.
Jonathan Lewis, 29, is a homeschool graduate and glad of it! He is one of the founders of Home School Enrichment Magazine and enjoys writing and speaking from his perspective as a homeschool graduate. In May 2011, Jonathan and Linnea were married, and they had their first baby a year later. If you would like to invite Jonathan to speak to your group—or to get in touch with him for any other reason—drop him a note at jonathan@HomeSchoolEnrichment.com.
© 2012, Jonathan Lewis. This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.