Last week, we posted an article entitled, “Home, Private, or Public School?” The article concluded that the issue is ultimately a wisdom decision—one in which Christian parents have freedom to do what they believe is right on a case-by-case basis.
To our surprise, the post received a great deal of attention—especially from those in the home school community. The article did not dismiss home schooling as a viable option for parents (provided it is their conviction to home school). Nonetheless, it was clear from the comments that many of our readers were offended by the fact that we did not openly promote home schooling.
Some of our readers indicated that they consider home school to be more than just a preferred option for educating their children. They consider it a biblical mandate, and therefore the only real option for Christian parents.
One of the primary passages used to defend this position (that home schooling is the biblical option) is Deuteronomy 6:5–9. In today’s post, we will examine that text from the standpoint of the home schooling discussion.
Please note: Our objective is not to attack home schooling. We have many home school families here at our church; and I personally have good friends, and even extended family members, who were home schooled or who practice home school with their kids. In instances where parents choose to home school their children—assuming their reasons for doing so are noble—our church gladly supports their efforts. So this post is not an attack on home school as either an institution or a community.
Our objective, rather, is to dispel the notion that home schooling is the only option a Christian can legitimately choose—such that those who do not home school their children are in violation of a biblical mandate, and therefore in sin. We believe home schooling is an option, and in fact a good one for many families. But is it the only legitimate choice that Christian parents can make? Or perhaps more to the point: Does the Bible mandate home school?
We can discuss more passages in the comments section, if our readers would like. But in today’s post we will consider Deuteronomy 6:5–9. The passage (in the NASB) reads as follows:
(5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. (7) You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. (8) You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. (9) You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The command here, given to the second generation of Israelites (after the Exodus) on the verge of entering the Promised Land, is that parents must actively and consistently disciple their children in the truth—being faithful to teach them the things of the Lord as a regular part of life. It is a call to lifestyle discipleship, as parents bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
But does it provide a mandate or a model for the modern convention of home school?
Despite the good intentions of many well-meaning home school advocates, this passage is really not the end-all proof text that some might suggest. In thinking about this passage, here are a few things to consider:
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First, Deuteronomy 6:5–9 is an Old Testament passage. As part of the Mosaic Law, it is not immediately binding on New Testament Christians. If this passage is normative for NT believers, than everything else in Deuteronomy must also be considered binding. Yet, just one chapter earlier (in Deuteronomy 5:12–15), there is an extended section commanding the observance of the Sabbath. The dietary laws are found in Deuteronomy 14; the Sabbath year in Deuteronomy 15; the ceremonial feasts in Deuteronomy 16; and so on. (For that matter, I don’t know many Christians who write Bible verses on their front door and their gates … cf. 6:9.) These are all commands that given to Old Testament Israel. They were not directly given to the church (which is not under the Mosaic Law).
Having said that, much of the instruction in Deuteronomy 6:5–9 is repeated in the New Testament (in places like Mark 12:30–31 and Eph. 6:1–4). At the same time, any argument made specifically from Deuteronomy 6 must be given with an important caveat—it is part of the Mosaic Law, a code to which New Testament believers are no longer bound.
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Second, even if Deuteronomy 6:5–9 were immediately aimed at New Testament believers, the passage does not directly command formal home school (in the sense that home school is practiced today in Christian circles). Rather, it directly commanded Israelite parents to consistently teach their children the things of the Lord within the normal activities of life. The passage says nothing about subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Thus, the question of whether or not one should home school is outside the direct command(s) given in Deuteronomy 6. Obedience to this passage demands that a parent consistently teach his or her children the things of the Lord as a regular part of life. Whether that parent teaches his children algebra or English grammar is not the point.
On a side note, because home schooling is not directly commanded in this passage (or in any other biblical text), it can correctly be identified as a “gray area” or a “wisdom issue”—one in which Christians must make wise decisions based on biblical principles and within God-given parameters. Romans 14–15 gives New Testament believers guidelines for how to think through these types of issues; it also warns Christians not to force their own personal convictions (in gray areas) onto other believers.
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Third, the Jews did not understand this passage as a mandate to home school. Alfred Edersheim, in Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ (specifically chapter eight) explains that while children (primarily sons) did receive some education at home (from ages 3 to 5), they were sent to the synagogue for their education starting at age 6 or 7. There they would attend formal classes with the other boys from their community. This Jewish application of Old Testament instruction accords more with today’s Christian school model than it does with the contemporary convention of home schooling.
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Fourth, Edersheim further indicates that, for Old Testament Jews, the application of passages like Deuteronomy 6 was primarily the responsibility of the father. If a “home school interpretation” of Deuteronomy 6 is granted, it is inconsistent to place the primary responsibility for the child’s education on the mother (as most home schoolers do)—since as Edersheim notes, “There can be no question that, according to the law of Moses, the early education of a child devolved upon the father” (p. 128).
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Fifth, as we noted in our first point, the primary application of this passage (that parents are to constantly and consistently disciple their children throughout the normal activities of life) is an application that is echoed in Ephesians 6:4. That application (as a command given directly to New Testament believers) is mandatory for parents today. However, it is an application that can be fulfilled no matter which type of formal education parents choose for their children. Whether the child learns math, history, science, and grammar in a public school setting, a Christian school setting, or a home school setting—it is still the direct responsibility of Christian parents to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
This responsibility is not necessarily met just because a child learns math at home. Nor is this responsibility necessarily abdicated when a child attends the public elementary school across the street. In either case, parents must proactively teach their children the things of the Lord, discipling them in the faith throughout the regular activities of everyday life.