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Early childhood education

She looked at Timothy, opened her eyes expectantly and touched his thumb.

Hear, O Israel…

 She smiled and touched the tip of his first finger.

The LORD is our God…

 She nodded and touched his next finger.

The LORD alone.

Timothy’s mother was Jewish and his father was Greek. Whether Timothy’s father became a Jewish proselyte or if he was present in the home, is not known. In a letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul mentions his grandmother and mother but not his father or grandfather.  It may have been that Lois, Eunice and Timothy were a family of three when they converted to Christianity through the ministry of Paul in Lystra.

Rembrandt's Timothy and his grandmother, 1648.

Rembrandt’s Timothy and his grandmother, 1648. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul credits Eunice and Lois for Timothy’s spiritual foundation (2 Tim. 1:5), which is a significant compliment. Jewish parents highly valued education. They wanted their children to know God and their relationship to Him. Josephus states that the Jews’ “principal care” was “to educate our children well.” It was the “business of life” to “observe the laws…and rules of piety” associated with them.[1] Fathers and mothers were commanded to teach the word of God to their children (Deut. 6:6-8).

What did they teach?

In general terms, Hebrew children were taught “the way of the LORD,” following the commendation God gave Abraham. Abraham taught his children and household to “keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). More specifically, when a child was able to talk, he learned two scriptures—one about God and the other about God’s law  (Deut. 6:4 and Deut. 33:4).[2]

Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD alone.

 Moses commanded a law for us, a heritage of the congregation of Jacob.

Following the Hebrew model, Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him about God, the law and the right way of doing things.

How did they teach?

On the Sabbath and Holy Days Jews heard scripture read in the synagogue. Few families could afford to have their own copy of the law as a reference. Parents depended on memory and experience to teach their children. Children learned by listening to their parents, grandparents and experienced adults.  They repeated what they heard. They memorized scriptures. They asked questions. They practiced telling stories.

Parents taught when they answered questions. “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households” (Exodus 12:26-27).

When a child asked a “why” question, an adult answered in context of God’s historical acts. One of the “singular aspects” of Jewish education was to “recognize and remember the Acts and events of divine providence in history.”[3]

In general, parents made ways to teach from morning to evening—drawing attention to lessons at hand (Deut. 6:7).

Why this method?

Hebrew education emphasized the importance of the whole person—mind and body. True knowledge and understanding came from God (Psalm 111:10), and parents based their teaching on that truth. They began the process of instilling wisdom into the minds of their children through discussion, repetition and memorization. The Hebrew model stressed developing a good memory. Without scrolls at home, it was important to store God’s word in the mind. “The worthiest shrine of truths that must not die is the memory and heart of the faithful disciple.”[4]

When boys like Timothy turned seven, they attended synagogue school or studied in the home of a paid teacher. Boys entering synagogue school had already learned the fundamentals of “the way of the LORD.”[5] Additional education prepared a young man to read and discuss the Law. His education built on what he had learned and covered a variety of subjects: agricultural laws and prayers, festival laws, laws concerning marriage and divorce, criminal law, dietary and temple practices and laws about purity.[6]

Eunice and Lois gave Timothy a good spiritual foundation. They taught him the word of God and set the example of living what they believed. Later Timothy became a protégé of Paul and a minister of the Church of God.

Timothy faced challenges and hardships pastoring the church in Ephesus. The comment in Paul’s letter must have encouraged Timothy when he doubted his ability to do the job. “Timothy, you’ve seen real faith in action since you were a child, and now it’s evident in you.”—Mary Hendren

 


[1] Against Apion, Book I, note on 1:12, Flavius Josephus

[2] “Ancient Jewish Education of Children and Use of Scripture,” Blair Kasfeldt, http://suite101.com

[3] “Education in Bible Times, “ Andrew Hill, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, online

[4] Ibid

[5] Baker’s Evangelical Encyclopedia, “Education in Bible Times,” Andrew Hill

[6] “History of Education in Ancient Israel and Judah,” Wikipedia.

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

3 responses »

  1. I need to change my email address for this page. How do I go about doing that. I want to change from spurdy@neo.rr.com to spurdy46@yahoo.com. I don’t see anyplace to do that so if you can change it for me I would appreciate it. Thank You, Shirley

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