Some initial thoughts as to some Biblical principles that ought to shape the way Christian schools and Christian teachers order their classrooms. These thoughts are not meant as exhaustive, but instead are meant to be a Biblical foundation upon which a philosophy of Christian education can be built.
1. The interaction with students, from instruction to discipline, must be built on the principle that students bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and though that image was twisted and deformed as a result of the fall through the entrance of sin and death (Romans 5:12), the image of God was not lost in the fall (Genesis 9:6). Thus, a large part of the role of Christian education is that of “straightening” the fallen person—helping to restore the person in such a way that they accurately reflect the image of God. As Christ is the perfect reflection of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), it is into the image modeled for us by Christ that we seek to direct the transformation of our students. The life and well-being of the child is seen by scripture in a special way (Psalm 127:3; Matthew 19:14; Mark 9:42). How we handle sin in the classroom as well as education in the classroom must be seen in this context, and teachers are to understand that they are to be held to a higher standard than others (James 3:1).
2. Education is a divinely ordained responsibility of parents, but particularly that of the Father as the covenant head of the household (Ephesians 6:4; Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 4:10; 6:7, 20-21; 11:19; 32:46; Psalm 78:5; 2 Timothy 1:5). It is also noted in scripture that the Levitical priests were to come alongside of the parents for the purpose of educating their children (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Judges 13:8; 1 Samuel 12:23; Ezekiel 44:23; 2 Chronicles 15:3) as part of the larger covenantal community of believers (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; Matthew 2:6; Romans 9:25; 2 Corinthians 6:16). There are also occasions where others within the covenant community who had particular gifts and skills were gifted to teach (Exodus 35:34). While it is recognized that God’s people can learn things from non-believers (1 Kings 5:6; Acts 7:22), the Bible presents teaching as an activity to be undertaken by the covenant community. Though the Levitical Priesthood has fallen away and been replaced by Christ (Hebrews 7), all believers are now priests (1 Peter 2:9; Isaiah 66:20-21) and thus responsible to fulfill the Levitical functions which are not a part of the sacrificial system as that role has been fulfilled by Christ alone (Hebrews 10:10-14). Hence, Christian parents must not only seek to oversee the education of their children, but they also have a Biblical mandate that the education of their children is done by Christians, and not by non-believers. In turn, teachers must be mindful that they are serving as proxies for the student’s parents, not as replacements and are to instruct in such a fashion as to honor the parents for whom they are acting.
3. The teacher must understand that the Biblical end of education is to equip the students to obedience to God’s commands so that their days may be long in the land (Deuteronomy 5:33; 11:9). Hence, children are also commanded to honor their parents (which implies an honoring of their instruction) so that their days may be long in the land (Exodus 20:12). The Biblical idiom of “living long” does not so much refer to long physical life in the land as it refers to the life and essential health of the covenantal community of the faithful in the land which God had given them. This language, though, is later applied to the church (Ephesians 6:3) under the auspices of living faithfully in the world. To accomplish this, teaching is to include the law for righteous living (Exodus 24:12; 2 Kings 17:27) and also instruction in more mundane areas (2 Samuel 1:8; Exodus 35:25; Isaiah 28:23-29). In addition, scripture mandates the teaching of the history of God’s acts (Exodus 12:14; 2 Samuel 1:18; Psalm 66:5). Thus, teaching that is scriptural (and hence mandated to be done within the community of faith) is teaching that covers every discipline of life and is designed so that the believer may walk in reverence and obedience to the commands of God (Deuteronomy 14:22; Micah 4:2; 1 Peter 1:16). The implication of this marks Christian teaching as being something distinct from secular (the Greek model) education. For the heathen, religion and faith have no bearing on one’s thinking, philosophy, or ordinary life; for the Christian, knowledge of God lived out in faith is everything—there is no aspect of life that religion is not meant to touch and inform. Hence, the Christian classroom needs to reflect that principle.
4. Discipline is a God-given tool by which education is furthered (Hebrews 12:5-11; Psalm 50:16-23; Proverbs 12:1; 13:24; Revelation 3:19). It is designed to keep children from vicious teachings and error, to suppress feelings of bitterness of students who have been wronged, to punish wrongdoing, and to show the repulsive nature of sin and the pains that are associated with it. Said discipline should be non-preferential and balanced to suit the infraction. Discipline also should not be designed to break, humiliate, or discourage the child from a pursuit of a God-honoring life. It should be firm, but delivered with a spirit of kindness and not vengeance or anger. Ultimately discipline should build up not only the student being disciplined, but the entire class as well. Finally, once discipline is administered, the student is to be considered as justified as to the law of the classroom and should be reinstated to the covenantal community of the class in question without lingering reminders of said sin.
A few final thoughts about the childhood education that Jesus would have received:
- Synagogue schools were funded by the parents of the children attending. The education of poor students was funded by donations given in the temple or at Sabbath worship.
- Teachers were salaried by the synagogue and were not allowed to accept money from wealthy families lest favoritism be given.
- Teachers were forbidden from losing their patience with students for not understanding concepts, but were expected to be able to make them plain to all.
- Kindness was encouraged and schools used the strap in discipline, not the rod.
- Parents were prohibited from sending their children to schools in other communities for the purpose of eliminating rivalries and to maintain the educational level of the town.
- Leviticus was the first book taught to children (particularly Leviticus 1-8).
- Other passages of scripture that were found in Children’s primers were: the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41); the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113-118); and The Creation and Flood narratives (Genesis 1-11).
- To the Jew, the study of scripture was of greater importance than any other study they could pursue. The culture considered it profane to even learn a trade apart from a study of the scriptures. The study of trades did not replace scriptural study, but flowed out of scriptural study.
Part of a Traditional Jewish Morning Prayer:
“These are the things of which man eats the fruit of the world, but their possession continues for the next world: to honor the father and mother, pious works, peacemaking between man and man, and the study of the law, which is equivalent to them all.”