As a lifelong Christian educator and Christian school leader, I was thrilled to learn that a school has been discovered attached to every first-century synagogue. The Capernaum synagogue school is the largest discovered to date. (The school is the large section to the right in the image)
Synagogue schools were not at all like our modern day schools. They were single rooms attached to the synagogues. There was just one book, Scripture, and it was memorized. God’s creation itself was the classroom. Rabbis gathered the students under a tree, along the lake, or walked through fields or the countryside. Education was a combination of the memorization of Scripture and the revealing of Scripture in the context of God’s world.
Both boys and girls were educated in the Galilee from ages 5-12. Then they apprenticed with their fathers or mothers. The formal education for girls was complete. Some boys continued their education, some entered the family business, and some followed a rabbi up to age 30. A few boys became rabbis or Torah teachers themselves at that point, while others entered the family business at some point during those years.
“All of life is learning”; that was the belief of the first-century Jewish believers. It fits exactly with the philosophy of Christian education that is the foundation of our Christian schools. We believe, as did first-century believers, that faith and life are inseparable. Faith and learning are interwoven, integrated, and imbedded within one another.
Why were synagogue schools essential to the believing communities? Why are Christian schools essential today?
Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 and Psalm 78: 1-7 answer those timeless questions:
“Israel, listen to me. The LORD is our God. The LORD is the one and only God. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength. The commandments I give you today must be in your hearts. Make sure your children learn them. Talk about them when you are at home. Talk about them when you walk along the road. Speak about them when you go to bed. And speak about them when you get up. Write them down and tie them on your hands as a reminder. Also tie them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses. Also write them on your gates.”
“My people, listen to my teaching.
Pay attention to what I say.
I will open my mouth and tell a story.
I will speak about things that were hidden.
They happened a long time ago.
We have heard about them and we know them.
Our people who lived before us have told us about them.
We won’t hide them from our children.
We will tell them to those who live after us.
We will tell them what the LORD has done that is worthy of praise.
We will talk about his power and the wonderful things he has done.
He gave laws to the people of Jacob.
He gave Israel their law.
He commanded our people who lived before us
to teach his laws to their children.
Then those born later would know his laws.
Even their children yet to come would know them.
And they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God.
They would not forget what he had done.
They would obey his commands.”
Teaching children to love and serve God and raising up the next generation to follow in his ways is not a choice for believers. It is obedience to God’s commands.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services