Solomon wrote, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Any student who has pulled an all-nighter, crammed for a test, memorized an equation, or pored over a textbook can verify the truth of that statement. Solomon’s point was that there are more important things than simply amassing knowledge—namely, fearing God and obeying Him (verses 13-14).
That is not to say that education is unimportant. In fact, Jesus Himself learned. One of the only things we know of His childhood is that He “grew in wisdom” as He grew “in stature” (Luke 2:52). That is, the Son of God voluntarily put Himself in a position where He needed to assimilate knowledge as a man. Education was part of the process.
The church has historically promoted education and the improvement of the mind. The Reformer John Calvin was a strong advocate for universal education, believing that every child should be trained in reading, writing, math, and grammar, as well as religion. Martin Luther taught that education was essential, “both to understand the Word of Scripture and the nature of the world in which the Word would take root.” The modern Sunday school movement began in 1780 when Robert Raikes began educating poor children who were otherwise overlooked by society. Most universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge, were founded by Christians as religious schools.
In the book of Proverbs, a son is exhorted to heed his father’s instruction, and the application of the knowledge learned is called wisdom. The word education may not appear in the English form in the Bible, but Scripture does say a lot about the process of education, and it begins with the parent and child. The command to parents is to nurture their children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), and the Greek word paideia, translated “nurture” in the KJV, carries with it the idea of training, education, instruction and discipline.
Solomon tells us that the basis of all true knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). The word fear here does not carry the idea of terror or dread; rather, it is awe and reverence for the holiness and majesty of God and a reluctance to disappoint or disobey Him. Jesus said that when we know the truth, the truth will make us free (John 8:32). Freedom from fear comes from being educated in Truth.
In Romans, the apostle Paul uses the word know or knowing eleven times. What are we to know? God’s Word. When we acquire spiritual knowledge and apply it to our lives, we serve the Lord in spirit and truth (Romans 6:11-13). Theology has been called “the queen of the sciences” because our knowledge of God informs every other area of erudition.
The Christian is to “study to shew thyself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV). The NIV renders this verse, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” The Greek word translated “study” means “to give diligence, to exert oneself, or to make haste to apply oneself.” Therefore, in order to educate ourselves, we must apply ourselves to study with diligence the Word of God.
Some people see education as a cure-all for society’s ills. However, education, in and of itself, does nothing to combat ungodliness. In fact, knowledge, apart from the love of God, leads to pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). Nicodemus was “Israel’s teacher,” yet he did not understand even the basics of spiritual life (John 3:10). Paul was a highly educated man, having been trained in the best Jewish school of his day (Acts 22:3), and he used his education to communicate effectively to people of many cultures (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12). Yet Paul’s education certainly did not make him holy (1 Timothy 1:16), and he warned of those who were “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Simply knowing facts does not make one a better person, and it is indeed possible to be a highly educated fool.
Education begins with the reality of God’s existence and the fact that He has communicated to us through creation, His Word, and His Son. As we learn more of God’s creation, our understanding of God’s wisdom and power deepens. As we study God’s Word, we become more equipped for God’s work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Son (2 Peter 3:18), our love for Him increases and our service for Him intensifies.