Is Home-Schooling the Only Option for Christians?

by Cliff McManis

“To homeschool or not to homeschool? That is the question.” For Christian parents with young children there are few matters more important than how we will educate our children. The Bible clearly commands parents to teach and train their children—the question is “By what means can we and will we do that?” In the church, there is much debate about the virtues of homeschooling versus putting the kids in public or private Christian school. Is one more biblical than another? In pursuing an answer, consider the following regarding the three education models and how they are represented in Scripture.

Secular Education in the Bible
Regarding public school, for the sake of the discussion we can also call it “secular education.” Moses, one of the godliest men in the Bible, was definitely raised with a secular education in Egypt, with the pagans. Scripture is clear that around 1520 BC Moses was born and at three months old he was taken in and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in Egypt. This means he was reared with a pagan worldview from his infancy until he was almost forty! Acts 7:20-23 provides information on this.

In addition to Moses, there was Daniel, another godly man in the Bible. He was subjected to a secular education, probably as a junior-higher or teenager, by the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar around 600 BC (Daniel 1:3-4, 6). So it is clear that at this time Daniel’s formal education was utterly secular, pagan and not supervised by his parents.

Homeschooling in the Bible
Homeschooling has a long, unbroken tradition for Christians and Jews that extends back to the time of Abraham, the first Jew (2000 BC). After Abraham was saved in his eighties, no doubt he began teaching his family about the true God, YHWH. Abraham did not have the Bible, ABEKA or Bob Jones Publishing as resources, but he did have occasional direct revelation from God.

The patriarchs Isaac and Jacob were nomads, always on the move, so they did not put their children in an educational institution outside their home. They taught their children at home in their tents—they did tentschooling! This was the case until the twelve sons of Jacob moved to Egypt. After becoming enslaved, the education process became abnormal for 400 years, but nevertheless was centered in the home. 

After God raised up Moses and gave Israel the Torah, He brought them to the Promised Land. From 1400 BC till about 600 BC, religious homeschooling was the norm for God’s covenant people. As a matter of fact, homeschooling was to be deliberate, formal and systematic as God gave the Hebrews divine mandates and guidelines about educating their children from holy Scripture. Parents were expected to teach their own children directly from the Law of Moses (cf. Deut 6), the Psalms and the Proverbs. For example, the godly mother in Proverbs 31 is known for being an outstanding and respected educator of her own children: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue…Her children rise up and bless her” (Prov 31:26, 28).

But even during this time parents did not teach their children in isolation; the whole nation of Israel was one community before God and had built-in corporate and societal identities and practices—including education—that extended beyond the immediate nuclear family. In the covenant community, you were not just part of a family, but you were also part of a larger tribe and nation.

Fast forward to the New Testament several centuries and it is apparent that homeschooling was still the norm for the Jews. For example, Timothy, the disciple of Paul, was Jewish on his mother’s side. It is apparent that he was homeschooled. His Jewish mother taught him the Hebrew Scriptures in a formal manner from the time he was very young until he became a young man. Second Timothy provides a little insight on this (2 Tim 1:5; 3:14-15).

From the select examples above it is clear that homeschooling can definitely be found in the Bible.

Private Religious Education in the Bible
What about Christian schools? Are they in the Bible? Well, I’d say definitely the predecessor to Christian schools is in the Bible as well as the foundational principles that warrant Christian schools.

The New Testament mentions synagogues. Synagogues were places where Jews gathered for worship, studied the Law of Moses and educated the children. The synagogue was different from the Jewish Temple. There was only one Jewish Temple, yet there were hundreds of synagogues. The Temple was to be built only in Jerusalem, God’s designated epicenter of Israelite religion. Synagogues existed everywhere, even outside Palestine in places like Alexandria, Asia and Greece. The Temple was the center of animal sacrifice; the synagogues did not perform sacrifices. The Temple was instituted in the Old Testament at the time of King David and King Solomon (1000 BC). Synagogues are not mentioned in the Old Testament and first appear in the Gospels. Priests ran the Temple; Rabbis ran the synagogues.

Nowhere in Scripture did God explicitly command His people to build synagogues, or to worship, teach and study in them. Nevertheless, Jesus attended synagogue as a Jew and even taught in the synagogue. As a matter of fact, the first place Jesus ever taught publicly upon starting His three-year ministry after getting baptized by John the Baptist was in the synagogue (Luke 4:14-16):

The apostle Paul also taught regularly in the Jewish synagogues during his three missionary journeys. For example, when Paul arrived for the first time in Thessalonica, “there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1-2). Priscilla and Aquila were Christians who also attended synagogue to hear the Scriptures taught (Acts 18:26).

It is clear from Scripture and also from history that the synagogue was a formal educational facility outside the home where people came to receive formal religious education from Scripture—women as well as men; girls as well as boys. The synagogue actually became a pattern for formal education that the early church adopted and perpetuated all through church history. It was extensively formalized in the days of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and he wrote much about Christian school education. Today’s Christian schools definitely have roots in the Jewish synagogue.

So all three ways of education are modeled in the Bible positively to one degree or another. This should cause any Christian parent to pause and refrain from being overly dogmatic about their model of choice. The priorities in educating our children need to emphasize clear biblical mandates rather than debating about changing cultural conventions. Parents need to take this issue to the Lord in prayer, guided by Scripture and wise godly counsel, and then make a decision that best suits your family. 

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