What is the purpose of education?  Who is supposed to do the educating?  What topics should be covered?  What should be the end result of education?  Do we have any moral obligations in how we educate our children or are we free to choose any method whatsoever?    

These are all important questions, and people have very strong opinions on them.  But the most important question has not yet been asked.  Namely, what does the Bible teach regarding these issues?  Let’s be honest.  We all have preconceptions about how the above questions should be answered.  And perhaps we then look for support in the Scriptures.  But such preconceptions have been formed by our experiences, our society, and even our own education.  When “we have always done it that way,” it is especially difficult to put our preconceptions aside and ask, “Yes, but is that way truly biblical?”  However, as Christians, we must ask that question.

The Bible on Education

The word “education” is not found in most English Bible translations.[1]  But words associated with education such as training, teaching, learning, instruction, knowledge, and wisdom are abundant.[2]  The Bible indicates that knowledge and instruction are very valuable.  Proverbs 8:10 states, “Take my instruction and not silver, And knowledge rather than choicest gold.”  Are wisdom and understanding really better than silver and gold?  Proverbs 3:13-15 states, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding.  For her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold.  She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her.” 

Clearly the Bible is very much in favor of learning.  We are even commanded in Scripture to gain knowledge and understanding.  “Buy truth, and do not sell it, Get wisdom and instruction and understanding” (Proverbs 23:23).  Consider Proverbs 8:33 which states, “Heed instruction and be wise, And do not neglect it.”  Proverbs 4:13 states, “Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.”  We read in Proverbs 10:17, “He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, But he who ignores reproof goes astray.” 

Many passages in Scripture deal with learning in a general sense for all kinds of people.  For example, a priest is authorized to teach God’s people His statutes (Deuteronomy 17:8-12; Leviticus 10:11; 2 Chronicles 35:3; Nehemiah 8:9).  A skilled and God-fearing worker may teach a trade to another person (Exodus 35:30-34).  Christians are authorized and commanded to teach all nations to obey God’s laws (Matthew 28:19-20). 

However, there is one kind of teaching that is forbidden by God.  God’s people are not to learn the ways of pagan nations (Deuteronomy 20:18).  Deuteronomy 18:9 states, “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.”  Notice that the text does not forbid us from learning about pagan practices.  Indeed, we must know at least something about wicked ways in order to avoid them.  Rather, we are not to learn them in the sense of embracing them (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:9-12).  This theme is continued in the New Testament where we are not to be taken captive by the “wisdom” or philosophy of the world (Colossians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 3:19), or to heed what is falsely called knowledge (1 Timothy 6:20).  On the contrary, we are to cast down every argument that exalts itself against the knowledge of God as stated in 2 Corinthians 10:5.  In the same verse we are instructed to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  Could that be the purpose of education?  Could it be to learn to think in a way that is pleasing to God?

Education of Children

One aspect of education that is particularly important is the education of children.  The Bible has much to say about this topic.  Although we all need instruction, children need it so much more because they come into the world knowing almost nothing.[3]  Proverbs 22:15 states, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”  The Hebrew word translated “discipline” in this passage is mûsār, and is the same word translated as “instruction” in Proverbs 4:13, 8:10, 8:33, 10:17, 23:23 (NASB) – the passages we examined previously.[4]  So, according to Scripture, one of the purposes of instructing/educating children is to remove their foolishness.

Foolishness is a lack of sense, or a lack of correct reasoning.  It is a failure to use our minds properly.  Thus, to “remove foolishness” from the heart of a child, he or she must be trained to think properly – in a way that is pleasing to God.  This is necessary because, in general, children are not good thinkers (Jeremiah 4:22).  They don’t have good reasons for their beliefs.  They act foolishly and immorally due to their inherited sin nature.  And we expect such silliness from children.  But as they grow up, they should gain wisdom and knowledge and put away childishness (1 Corinthians 13:11).  They must learn to reason properly.  Biblically speaking, this is the purpose of education.  So, “do not be children in your thinking;” rather, “in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Perhaps the most significant text pertaining to a child’s education is Proverbs 22:6 which states, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  The Hebrew word translated “train” is (ḥᵃnōḵ).  It is in the imperative form, indicating a command.  That is, God commands us to train up children in the way they should go. 

Interestingly, in all the other places where this Hebrew word is used (Deuteronomy 20:5; 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chronicles 7:5), it is translated as “dedicated” in the NASB.  Thus, children should be dedicated to the way they should go.  Many churches have a ceremony in which parents bring their newborn child before the church and dedicate that child to the Lord.  They promise to bring up that child in the way of God.  Although the ceremony is not commanded in Scripture, fathers are commanded to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). 

There is a reward for training up a child in the way he should go.  It is contained in the second part of the verse.  Namely, “Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”[5]  Students eventually become like their teacher.   Jesus said, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).  Generally, if children are consistently taught the whole council of God by biblically-minded Christian teachers, they will become biblically-minded Christian adults.  Biblical thinking is right thinking because the mind of God is the ultimate source of all truth.

The Goal

So, biblically, one goal of education is to train children to become rational, clear-thinking adults.  But training up a child “in the way he should go” implies more than mere intellectual knowledge or reasoning skills.  “The way he should go” is the way of righteousness.  A child should be educated in the ways of God.  And those ways are delineated in Scripture.  Therefore, God’s Word should be central to a child’s education.

In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Moses says of God’s statutes, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up.”  This is repeated almost verbatim in Deuteronomy 11:19, “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” 

In Genesis 18:19a, God says of Abraham, “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.”  In Exodus 12:26-27, and 13:14-15, the Israelites are commanded to teach their children about how the Lord faithfully delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  In Psalm 78:4-7 we are instructed not to conceal God’s works and commandments from our children, but rather to teach them, “That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.”

Clearly, Scripture plays a central role in a child’s education.  Children must learn God’s law so that (1) God may bless their obedience both individually and nationally, (2) they might see how they fall short of God’s glory (Romans 7:7, 3:23), and (3) they might repent of sin and trust in Christ for salvation.  By learning the history recorded in the Old and New Testaments, they can learn of God’s faithfulness, His justice, His grace and mercy.  By reading the biblical wisdom literature and the epistles, they gain insight into the nature of their Creator and Savior, as well as very practical principles by which to live in a way that pleases God.

Education is a necessary aspect of sanctification – to become more like Christ.  Education does not necessarily mean formal education in a classroom setting.  But we need instruction so that we may grow in knowledge and wisdom.  We need to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).  This is because sin begins in the mind (Matthew 5:27-28; James 1:14-15, 4:2).[6]  Our behavior then follows from our way of thinking (Mark 7:21-23, Matthew 15:18-19, Psalm 4:23). 

The two central problems with human beings are that (1) we do not think in a way that is consistent with God’s mind, and (2) we do not behave in a way that is consistent with God’s character.  “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).  As sinners, we do not properly reflect the image of our Creator.  That’s the problem.  What then is the solution?  Isaiah 55:7 states, “Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”  We need to abandon thinking and behavior that is contrary to God.  We need to repent of sinful thinking and behavior and trust in Christ who is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  This must be the central theme of education.

Biblically, the goal of education is to inculcate thinking and behavior that aligns with the character of God.  We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:30-31).  Therefore, every aspect of education should be geared to achieve this end.  Students are not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).  Rather, the goal for ourselves and our children is to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31; Psalm 96:7-8, 29:1-2).

First Corinthians 10:31 states, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  No doubt we all fall short in this area.  Nonetheless, it is a biblical command that whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God.  So, consider this simple syllogism:

Whatever we do should be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Education is something that we do.
Therefore, education should be done for the glory of God.

Biblically, the entire point of education is for children to learn to glorify God in their thinking and their behavior, to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves.  Some may ask, “But what about learning a skill or trade so as to provide financially for oneself and family?”  This, of course, is part of our obligation to love God and to love our neighbor.  Yes, God created us to work (Genesis 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:10), and a righteous man provides for his family (1 Timothy 5:8).  Therefore, learning such skills should be a part of every student’s education.   

Educated by Whom?

To whom has God assigned the responsibility for educating children?  Many people assume that this is the responsibility of the government.  After all, most Christian parents send their children to be educated at a government school.  But is this biblical?  Where in Scripture did God authorize the state to educate children?  You can search the Bible from cover to cover, and yet God never gave the state permission or authority to educate children.  God does have a purpose for government and has delineated the authority and responsibilities of the state in passages such as Romans 13.  Namely, God authorizes the state to punish certain sins (and not others), to be an avenger of God’s wrath on evildoers so as to restrain wickedness for the protection of law-abiding citizens (e.g. Romans 12:19-13:7).

It is obvious that our government does far more than God has authorized it to do.  When a government official exceeds the authority God has granted him, it is sin (John 19:11).   A government that exceeds its biblical mandate eventually becomes a tyrannical “beast” that oppresses its own citizens (Revelation 13:11-17).  For a government to assume the authority to educate the children of its citizens is contrary to Scripture and is a violation of its God-ordained purpose. 

The Bible does give us an example of government education, but it is a negative example – an example of judgment.  The nation of Judah had fallen into sin, and God judged that nation by allowing it to be captured by Babylon (Jeremiah 25:8-11).  As a result, many of the Jewish youth were forced to be educated in the Babylonian state school system (Daniel 1:1, 3-4).  We don’t know how many students were forced into this program.  But we do know that only four excelled while maintaining faithfulness to God (Daniel 1:8-17, 19).  From this example we see that government education is a pagan practice and an indication that a nation is under the judgment of God.[7]   

Biblically, God has authorized parents to educate their own children.  There may be situations where some education can be delegated to another, and we will examine those cases.  But the responsibility to ensure that children receive an education that glorifies God belongs to the parents.  Many verses confirm this.  Consider the following:

You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19)

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction And do not forsake your mother’s teaching;” (Proverbs 1:8)

“Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, And give attention that you may gain understanding, For I give you sound teaching; Do not abandon my instruction.  (Proverbs 4:1-2)

“When I was a son to my father, Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, Then he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live;’” (Proverbs 4:3-4)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  (Ephesians 6:4)

“My son, observe the commandment of your father And do not forsake the teaching of your mother;” (Proverbs 6:20)

Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death.” (Proverbs 19:18)

“but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.” (Deuteronomy 4:9b)

“so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:10b)

“For He established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children.” (Psalm 78:5)

“When your son asks you in time to come… then you shall say to your son…” (Deuteronomy 6:20a,21a)

“A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness.” (Isaiah 38:19b)

“he said to them, ‘Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law.’” (Deuteronomy 32:46)

“Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’  then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:7-8)

“He said to the sons of Israel, ‘When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, “What are these stones?” then you shall inform your children, saying, “Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.”’”  (Joshua 4:21-22)

“We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.  For He established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, (Psalm 78:4-7)

Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul.” (Proverbs 29:17)

Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol.”  (Proverbs 23:13-14)

“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7)

Clearly, God expects parents to teach their own children and to train them up in the way that they should go.  Grandparents also have a supplementary role (Deuteronomy 4:9; 2 Timothy 1:5), as does the church (Acts 11:26, 13:1; 1 Corinthians 4:17).  But the responsibility to ensure that a child is brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord lies with the parents (e.g. Ephesians 6:4).  Central to all such instruction is the Word of God. The goal is to help children to become faithful adults who love God and desire to live for His glory.  They are to think and behave in a way that is pleasing to God, to have their minds not conformed to this world but transformed to obey Christ.  God designed marriage to produce godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).  Therefore, this must be the central goal of education. 

As far as I can tell, there is no biblical command or principle that forbids parents from delegating some aspects of their child’s education to someone else.  Perhaps they know an individual who is skilled in knowledge of history or mathematics, and who is a gifted teacher.  They might want their child to receive instruction from such a person.  If so, how much of a child’s education can be delegated, and to whom?  Although our government schools are not biblically sanctioned, are we permitted to benefit from them anyway?  Is a Christian school a good alternative?  More to come.

[1] However, the word “educated” is found four times in the NASB: Daniel 1:5, John 7:15, Acts 7:22, and Acts 22:3. 

[2] Education is defined as “the action or process of teaching someone especially in a school, college, or university.”

[3] There are a few things that people are born already knowing.  One example is induction: the principle of drawing universal inferences from specific instances.  The proof of this goes beyond the scope of this article.  But it is fascinating that God has hardwired some knowledge directly into His image bearers. 

[4] That the same word is variously translated as discipline or instruction suggests that these two often go together.  The instruction we should seek involves discipline, which may involve a penalty for failure and rewards for success.  Biblical education is thus not a passive lecture but a training process.

[5] Please note, this is a proverb – not a promise.  And it needs to be treated as a proverb – something that is typical or generally true.  God has no obligation to save your child from sin (or to save anyone at all).  However, generally, if you raise up a child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, when the child grows up, he will not depart from it.

[6] In the biblical languages, the “heart” represents the core of man’s being, and includes the mind.  Thus, the heart thinks and has intentions (e.g. Hebrews 4:12; Luke 9:47).

[7] When government-controlled education was introduced into the United States of American in the 1870s, most Christians recognized it as unbiblical and strongly resisted.  Even by 1900, 2/3 of American high-school students were educated at home or in the church.