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Education and the Family

By R. J. Rushdoony
May 01, 2005

(Reprinted from Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1 [Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973], 182-185.)

A fundamental aspect of the support due a child from his parents is education in the broadest sense of the word. This involves, first of all, chastisement. According to Proverbs 13:24, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Again, “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Pr. 19:18); parents then were as inclined to be tenderhearted as now, but the necessity for chastening cannot be set aside by a foolish pity. Chastisement can be a lifesaver to the child: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Pr. 23:13, 14). Chastening is necessary, as Kidner points out, because, Proverbs holds:

First, “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”; it will take more than words to dislodge it (22:15). Secondly, character (in which wisdom embodies itself) is a plant that grows more sturdily for some cutting back (cf. 15:32, 33; 5:11, 12; Heb. 12:11) — and this from early days (13:24b: “betimes”; cf. 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it”). In “a child left to himself ” the only predictable product is shame (29:15).1

A Godly Education

But chastening is no substitute for sound instruction, for proper teaching. Thus, second, the parents have a duty to provide the child with a godly education. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Pr. 1:7).  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr. 9:10). Wisdom rests on faith, and true knowledge has as its presupposition the sovereign God. There can be no neutrality in education. Education by the state will have statist ends. The school cannot be subordinate to either church or state.2 The church of Christ’s day taught men to give to the church, ostensibly to God, rather than providing for their parents (Mk. 7:7-13). Sin was thus taught as a virtue.

Children are required to obey their parents. The counterpart to this is the parents’ duty to teach the fundamentals of obedience to their children, the law of God. The law itself requires this:

For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them to thy sons, and thy sons’ sons. (Dt. 4:7-9)

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Dt. 6:6-7)

Once every seven years, in the Sabbath year, children with adults had to hear the reading of the entire law (Dt. 31:10-13).

Very early, religious leaders in Israel understood the task of education. The prophet Nathan became the instructor of the young Jedidiah (“Beloved of Jehovah”) or Solomon  (2 Sam. 12:25).3

Third, because the law is intensely practical, Hebrew education was intensely practical. The common opinion held that a man who did not teach his son the law and a trade, the ability to work, reared him to be a fool and a thief. It is said that Simeon, the son of the famed Gamaliel, observed: “Not learning but doing is the chief thing.”4 Josephus, in his work,Against Apion compared the education of the Hebrews with that of the Greeks. Greek education veered from the severely practical to the abstract and theoretical, he pointed out, whereas Biblical law has a healthy relationship between principle and practice.

Family-centered Education

Fourth, Biblical education, being family-centered and emphasizing the responsibility of parents and children, was productive of responsible people. A person reared and schooled in the doctrine that he has a responsibility to care for his parents as need arises, provide for his children, and, to the best of his ability, leave an inheritance of moral discipline and example as well as material wealth, is a person highly attuned to responsibility. In such an educational system, the state is not the responsible party but the family is, and the man has a duty to be a competent and provident head of his household, and the wife a skilled helpmeet to her husband. The abandonment of a family-oriented education leads to the destruction of masculinity, and it renders women either fluffy luxuries for men or aggressive competitors to men. Men and women having lost their function gyrate unstably and without a legitimate sense of function. Modern education abstracts knowledge; the specialist prides himself on knowing nothing outside his field and wears his refusal to relate his knowledge to other areas as a badge of honor. If the scholar seeks social relativity, again it is without a transcendental principle, and the result is an immersion in the social process without a value structure; all else is charged off as meaninglessness save the process which at the moment becomes the incarnate structure.

In modern education, the state is the educator, and the state is held to be the responsible agency rather than man. Such a perspective works to destroy the pupil, whose basic lesson becomes a dependence on the state. The state, rather than the individual and the family, is looked to for moral decision and action, and the moral role of the individual is to assent to and bow down before the state. Statist education is at the very least implicitly anti-Biblical, even when and where it gives the Bible a place in the curriculum.

Fifth, basic to the calling of every child is to be a member of a family. Virtually all children will some day become husbands and wives, fathers or mothers. The statist school is destructive of this calling. Its attempts to meet the need are essentially external and mechanical, i.e., home economics courses, sex education, and the like. But the essential training for family life is family life and a family-oriented school and society. It means Biblical education. It means discipline, training in godly responsibility.

The statist school, moreover, basically trains women to be men; it is not surprising that so many are unhappy at being women.5 Nor are men any happier, in that dominion in modern education is transferred from man to the state, and man is progressively emasculated. The major casualty of modern education is the male student. Since dominion is by God’s creative purpose a basic aspect of man, any education which diminishes man’s calling to exercise dominion also diminishes man to the same degree.

Sixth, Biblical education emphasized learning, godly learning. Jewish proverbs emphasized this. We have already referred to one, “Just as a man is required to teach his son Torah, so is he required to teach him a trade.” Moreover, “He who teaches his neighbor’s son Torah, it is as if he had begotten him.” But supremely, “An ignorant man cannot be saintly.”6 Since holiness is not a self-generating act but requires a conformity to God’s law and righteousness, an ignorant man cannot be saintly. Moreover, since knowledge is not self-generating, and the meaning of factuality comes not from facts but from the Creator, knowledge requires as its presupposition in every area the knowledge of God, whose fear is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.

It needs more than ever to be stressed that the best and truest educators are parents under God. The greatest school is the family. In learning, no act of teaching in any school or university compares to the routine task of mothers in teaching a babe who speaks no language the mother tongue in so short a time. No other task in education is equal to this. The moral training of the child, the discipline of good habits, is an inheritance from the parents to the child which surpasses all other. The family is the first and basic school of man.

1. Derek Kidner, Proverbs, An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1964), 51.

2. See. R. J. Rushdoony, Intellectual Schizophrenia and The Messianic Character of American Education, both available at www.chalcedonstore.com.

3. A. R. S. Kennedy, “Education,” in James Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1, 647.

4. Ibid., I, 646.

5. Carle C. Zimmerman, Lucius F. Cervantes, Marriage and the Family (Chicago: Regenery, 1956), 310f.

6. Julius B. Maller, “The Role of Education in Jewish History,” in Louis Finklestein, The Jews, Their History, Culture, and Religion, Third edition (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), Vol. 2, 1240f.

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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