WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE SCHOOLS JESUS ATTENDED?
One of the most outstanding women in Jewish history was Queen Salome Alexandra who reigned from 78-69 B. C. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, the famous leader of the Sanhedrin, was her brother. He made elementary education compulsory for all Jewish boys. Joshua ben-Gamala, who was High Priest from 63-65 A.D., established that teachers should be appointed for every district. The subjects taught were reading, writing, natural history, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and the Scriptures. A teacher was held in high honor. In some cases, respect for the teacher probably surpassed parental respect.
Though various subjects were taught, the main emphasis was on the Torah, emphasizing both reading and writing Scripture. Large portions were memorized and it is likely that many students knew the entire Torah by memory by the time their elementary education was finished. When a student turned ten, he entered “secondary school,” in which he studied oral Torah and learned Greek, Greek being considered the language of business and politics in the Roman world. During this time, male students would also find a teacher to “follow”, and in a way become their apprentice. When Jesus was a student, he chose to follow John the Baptist. It is at this point that a boy would participate in his first Passover in Jerusalem. Jesus’ excellent questions for the teachers in the temple at his first Passover indicate the excellent education He had received.
Students studied seven days a week, and even went to school instead of the synagogue. The reason students did this was not because the Jews of Jesus’ day considered biblical education more important than worship. It was because they did not separate education of the Torah from worship. In fact, education of the Torah was considered the highest form of worship. For Jesus, and for the Jews of Jesus’ day, school and synagogue were not separate or independent. No, not at all, they were integrated. In fact, the meaning of the word synagogue is: “the building where a Jewish assembly or congregation meets for religious worship and instruction.”
During the time of Christ, from birth to around thirteen years of age, a child’s life would have been focused on education. This would include both boys and girls, girls now being included in Jewish compulsory education. Though little is stated about Jesus’ childhood, we know that he “grew in wisdom” as a boy (Luke 2:52) and that he reached the “fulfilling of the commandments” indicated by His first Passover at age twelve (Luke 2:41). He then learned a trade (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3); spent time with John the Baptist (Luke 3:21; John 3:22-26) and began his ministry at about thirty (Luke 3:23). This parallels the Mishnah description of Jewish education quite closely.
While there are many things we can learn from the schools Jesus attended, I have chosen five.
- The most important subject to be learned is the Bible. More time should be devoted to learning and understanding its contents than any other subject. It should be taught by the best teachers, should be the most demanding subject, and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that at one’s school learning the Scriptures reigns supreme.
- Students are capable of far more than is generally believed. By age ten, a Jewish student had memorized the first five books of the Bible and was learning Greek.
- When God’s glory is the motive behind the education being given, the whole process is a grand act of the worship of God.
- Schools of elementary and secondary education should be viewed by churches as a God given responsibility, either to sponsor or to support. After all, is that not what the Great Commission commands? (Matt. 28:19-20)
- Educators should insure that students do more than memorize. They must make sure they also understand.