History of Education: Biblical Times

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the posts here.

Most recently I have been looking at what various reformed thinkers have had to say on education. In the course of doing so, I came across a book on the history of Christian education: D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). We have looked previously at some of Lockerbie’s own ideas on education (see here, here, here and here). In this book he presents not his own thought but an overview of historic Christian views of education. The book is not necessarily meant to be read cover-to-cover. Each chronological division is given an introduction, and each section contains a selection of primary source material. I had been looking for a book just such as this — something to help me ensure that I am not missing major schools of thought and also to give a kind of thread which can be followed through the ages so I am quite excited to start on Lockerbie’s book.

As a matter of definition, it should be stated that Lockerbie views his subject not as education but as schooling which he defines as “the formal pedagogical instruction of children, at home or in a school” (p. xxi). I would note, however, that while his definition seems to particularly include homeschooling, it does not seem to be large in his thinking as he mentions a couple of times in the preface alone the great tuition costs associated with schooling.

I am going to divide my discussion of A Passion for Learning into chunks based on the divisions Lockerbie uses. The first such period is what he terms “the biblical foundation,” that is, everything up through the time of Christ. I actually have some problems with Lockerbie’s interpretation in this section. He begins well enough, quoting Deuteronomy 6:6-7, and concluding that “Evidently each father was to be responsible for the instruction of his own household” (p. 3). He goes on, however, to essentially blame the Babylonian exile on poor parental instruction:

“Yet without a systematic means of instructing all youths beyond the home, irresponsibiliy within indiduvual families inevitably led to national apostasy.” (p. 3)

One cannot deny that there were many bad parents in the Bible — Lockerbie cites numerous examples — but it is quite another step to first blame the nation’s downfall on neglectful parents and then, as he does, do use this as an argument for formal schooling outside the home. Again, I cannot deny that there were bad parents who failed to educate their children in the things of God, but this does not give us liberty to re-assign their God-given duty to others. If oversight were needed, the society of the time already had the means in place to provide it. The nation of Israel had both a priesthood and a kingly line. Just as I would expect a pastor today to step in and give counsel if he saw a family within his congregation failing to properly educate their children, so it would have been up to the representatives of these institutions to do so in Old Testament times.  There were, in fact, three God-ordained institutions which could have taken charge of education: the family (to whom the primary responsibility was given), the religious establishment, and the political establishment. If all these three failed, I don’t see how creating another, of human rather than divine origin, would solve the problem.

Moving on to the post-exilic period, Lockerbie paints a picture of a growing school sytem, beginning first with scribes but quickly extending to elementary education. He says, for instance, that Jesus himself “no doubt” came into this “system of teaching and learning” (p. 6). The problem is that this seems to just not be true. In another article I reviewed recently, A History of Jewish Education from 515 BCE to 220 CE  (see my review here), the author, Nathan Drazin, shows that Jewish education, while it did begin after the exile, spread from the top down, from older to younger ages so that elementary education was added last. He dates this innovation to the days of Joshua b. Gamala, roughly 64 AD (p. 46). While it is perhaps not the most important point, it is unlikely that Jesus had any formal schooling before his teen years.

Given that Lockerbie defines schooling as formal education of children, the short answer on the biblical period was that there was none outside the home. Though I have a fair degree of confidence in Lockerbie, in his scholarship on this period he seems to be reading his own preconceived notions into the history rather than approaching the evidence honestly.


6 responses to this post.

  1. […] the history of Christian education with lots of snippets from primary sources. His first division, which we examined last time, was the biblical period, through the lifetime of Jesus. The next era to look at is the age of the […]


  2. […] (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times and the early church. Today’s topic is the medieval […]


  3. […] (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times, the early church, and the Middle Ages. Today we are looking at the rise of humanism and the […]


  4. […] (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times, the early church, the Middle Ages, and the rise of humanism and the Protestant Reformation. Today […]


  5. […] are three God-given institutions: the Church, the Government, and the Family. (History of Education: Biblical Times; Church, State . . . and […]


  6. […] Implementing a Christian Education; Church, State . . . and School?;  Lockerbie on Schools; also: History of Education: Biblical Times; History of Reformed Education; History of Education: Humanism and the Reformation; Public […]


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