Education is a popular topic in the news, and for good reason. Education is one of the most important influences on future generations. That is why the Bible has much to say about the topic. Unfortunately, the Scripture’s theology of education is too often neglected in our day.
What is education? Its Latin root educare (“to lead out”) helpfully hits at the concept, as education is the process of intellectual and moral instruction that leads a person out of darkness, into light. We typically associate education with schools, but it cannot be limited to classrooms and degrees. Parents, family, friends, and pastors play a vital role in a person’s education.
Redemption Through Education
Good biblical theology begins in the garden. It was there that God created Adam and Eve in his image and without sin. But they needed to mature and learn to trust him.
“Education is the process of instruction that leads a person out of darkness, into light.”
Unfortunately, Adam’s and Eve’s educational sequence took a wrong turn when they failed the test of just one prohibition, “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (see Genesis 2:17). Notice this was a tree of knowledge. Adam and Eve desired what they would gain from this forbidden tree, and so they disobeyed God and ate. They received a kind of education, but not in the way of righteousness. Instead, Adam and Eve came to know sin, and God banished them from the garden-paradise of his presence.
All humans now are born into the fallen, post-garden state of our ancestors, which is why God sent his own Son to redeem us through his life, death, and resurrection. But our redemption requires that we trust in Christ and his work. Which means there is an educational component to redemption. Someone has to teach us what Christ did so that we may believe. This education in the gospel can come through a preacher or a friend telling us about Jesus.
But our education in Christ does not stop after we first believe. We then need the “training in righteousness” that comes through the written word of God in the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16). Christ died and was raised so that we may have new life in him. We need continual education in the Bible so that we may know God and walk according to his ways.
Christ the Educator
Our education in righteousness ultimately comes from God. This is why the psalmist cries out, “Teach me your statutes!” (Psalm 119:26). And this divine instruction is seen more clearly with the coming of Jesus. As Christians, we have come under the tutelage of Christ. He is our great teacher, and he calls us to learn from him (Matthew 11:29). This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ — disciple means “learner.”
Jesus commands us to love God with our whole being, including our mind (Matthew 22:37). And so we study the word of God, that the Holy Spirit may teach us (John 14:26) and make us more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This education will be complete when Christ returns — but it will not be finished. We will perfectly live in God’s revealed will in the resurrection, but we will come to learn more about God and his world and his grace throughout eternity. Our education in this life is, therefore, a foretaste of what is to come.
Pastors as Educators
Though God is our ultimate teacher, he chooses to work through humans to educate his people. God has always appointed religious leaders in the community to teach his people. In the Old Testament, the Levites were assigned the task of teaching Israel the ways of Yahweh (Nehemiah 8:9; 2 Chronicles 35:3). In our day, God has given us pastor-elders to teach the church.
“We need continual education in the Bible so that we may know God and walk according to his ways.”
Elders are educators, as God has entrusted them the task of instructing his people in his word, not their own opinions. Elders are to be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) and are to be able to “give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). The church, in this way, provides Christian education for the whole family.
Parents as Educators
However, children have a special need for education, as they are in their most formative years. And so God gives parents the important task of training up their children. All parents educate their children, for either good or bad. Some parents train their children in an unbiblical worldview, teaching them to go after false gods (Jeremiah 9:14). But God’s people are to train their children in the way of Christ.
This important role is seen in God’s instruction to Israelite parents in Deuteronomy 6:7: “You shall teach them [God’s words] diligently to your children, 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.”
In other words, Israelite parents were to frequently teach their children the Word of God. His teachings were to be a regular part of life and passed down through the generations (Psalm 78:1–8). This includes practical teachings, as seen in the king’s instruction to his son in the book of Proverbs. “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), and such knowledge ought to lead him to be honest, hardworking, and faithful to his wife.
This parental responsibility of education is reaffirmed in the New Testament, as the apostle Paul instructs fathers to train their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Paul thus commands Christian parents to give their children a Christian education. Parents can send their children to a school if need be, but this is an extension of their authority and therefore ought to help train their children in the way of Christ.
Discipleship as Education
“Pastors, parents, and the congregation work together to carry out the task of discipleship.”
Whether or not we are elders or parents, all of us have been entrusted with the role of educating others. Jesus commands his followers to “make disciples,” which involves “teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Christians are to pass on the teachings of Christ to others who will be able to teach others in the future (2 Timothy 2:2). Men are to train up younger men, and women younger women (Titus 2:1–6). This is part of the beauty of the Christian life. Pastors, parents, and the congregation work together to carry out the task of discipleship. We may have different roles, but we are all together in the school of Christ.