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Category Archives: Education for Jewish boys

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,

[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.

Mary’s Song

The announcement

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her,”Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-33)

The words of Gabriel filled her with awe, some fear, and wonderment. She, a virgin, would conceive and bear “the Son of the Highest!” Still, bolstered by her faith and trust, she managed to answer, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (verse 38).

John MacArthur, in his book, Twelve Extraordinary Women (2005), wrote, “There’s no evidence that Mary ever brooded over the effects her pregnancy would have on her reputation. She instantly, humbly, and joyfully submitted to God’s will without further doubt or question. …Her great joy over the Lord’s plan for her would soon be very evident” (page 114).

Miracle and blessing x two

Mary was not the only one touched by a miracle. Her relative, Elizabeth (whom some say could have been in her eighties), would also bear a son—this after having endured a lifetime of barrenness. These two, John and Jesus, would work in tandem, each fulfilling his awesome part of God’s unfolding plan.

Mary’s heart song

Her heart full of awe and reverence, Mary rejoiced with what is now known as “the song of Mary,” or her “song of thanksgiving.”[1]Perhaps its inspiration came to her as she walked from Nazareth to south of Jerusalem where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived. The long walk allowed plenty of time for pondering the angel’s words.

view of Nazareth

view of Nazareth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not capable?

Some may wonder if a young unschooled girl was capable of composing such a magnificent song. It reflected knowledge of scripture and Old Testament concepts and phrases,[2] but she had not attended a synagogue school—that was reserved for boys. She must have learned it at home.

Jewish parents strove to provide a “well-rounded education” for their daughters and sons. Synagogue school for boys supplemented what was taught to all children at home: practical skills and “wisdom centered around one’s relationship with God.”[3] The major concern of Jewish parents was that their children come to “know the living God.”[4]

“Familiarity with the OT was not at that time so unusual for a pious Jewess like Mary as to bar her from consideration as its author. Moreover, it reflects qualities suitable to the mother of the Lord” ( Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 8, page 835). This commentary notes the “ability of people in ancient times to absorb and remember the spoken word, especially the biblical word.”

It is likely that Mary and her siblings had a strong foundation in the Old Testament scriptures and an understanding of their relationship to God.

Offering praise

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

 Mary began by magnifying God.  “The verb megalunein…signifies ‘to celebrate with words, to extol with praises.’This is the only way in which God can be magnified, or made great; for, strictly speaking, nothing can be added to God, for he is infinite and eternal; therefore the way to magnify him is to show forth and celebrate those acts in which he has manifested his greatness.”[5]

Mary offered humble reverence:

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His name (verse 48).

 Highly favored

God favored her with a unique role in human history. She would be remembered for it. Things would never be the same after that. Some commentators state that Mary’s praise of God’s power in verses 51-53 refers to the past and the future. “These verses portray a ‘reversal’ in the end times, when those who have abused power will be judged and those who have suffered persecution will be exalted. Mary was looking forward to the day when God’s people are no longer oppressed, but are instead blessed by the Lord. God’s strength with His arm figuratively describes His activity and power as Savior of His people.”[6]

Mary understood her role in the promises God made to Abraham:

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever (verses 54-55).

 Happily blessed

The word “blessed,” from the Greek makarios, conveys being especially favored, happy and privileged. Gabriel stated that Mary was blessed among women (Luke 1:28). Three times Elizabeth used the word “blessed”: blessed among women, blessed the fruit in her womb, blessed in believing (verses 42-45). Mary recognized she would be remembered as a woman “blessed.”

Undoubtedly, she enjoyed many happy hours with her baby. She may have been an especially joyful and grateful mother. Her natural love for the infant Jesus was enriched by God’s love for His Son through her. What a pleasure it must have been to hold her child, to look in his eyes, to see his first steps.

However, the state of being blessed referred to by Gabriel, Elizabeth and Mary herself related to her privilege of bearing “the Son of the Highest,” the “Son of God” (verses 32, 35), and not necessarily to her happiness.

Why a “song”?

Sometimes the use of certain words leads to questionable impressions. For instance, translators have labeled Mary’s exaltation as a “song.”[7] And indeed through the ages her words have been incorporated into hundreds of musical compositions in various forms; they figure prominently in the liturgy of various denominations even today. These hymns or “canticles” can be sung or spoken,  and customarily have musical accompaniment.

Did Mary set out to compose a song with future use or presentation in mind? The Bible account does not give that indication. Rather it would seem her words were a spontaneous outpouring of a deep devotion to God–a prayer, if you will–which somehow Luke was able to quote in his Gospel account.

Upon reflection

I believe Mary composed the song herself, that her parents instructed her in the ways of God, that she loved the scriptures. To me, her betrothal signifies a sound-minded, realistic appreciation for marriage and family. Because her song touches on prophetic themes, I believe God inspired her words.—Mary Hendren (with Karen Meeker)


[1] Luke 1:46-55

[2] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, note on Mary’s song, p. 835.

[3] “Childhood and Adolescence,” Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 452.

[4] Ibid, p. 453.

[5] Adam Clarke Commentary, note on Luke 1:46, Online Bible.

[6] NKJV Study Bible, Second Edition, note on Luke 1:50-53.

[7] Did you ever wonder where the chapter and section headings found in Bible translations came from? “With the exception of the titles in Psalms, the Bible’s authors didn’t write their books of Bible with chapter or section headings in mind. They were added later by translators in order to help organize and divide the Bible into easier to digest pieces.

You’ll note headings in most English translations of the Bible, though they do vary across different translations. For example: Genesis 1 begins with the heading: “The beginning” in the New International Version 1984 translation, “The Account of Creation” in the New Living Translation, and there’s no header at all in the King James Version. A side by side comparison of Genesis 1 in five translations easily highlights the differences in section headings.”

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