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Parental responsibility for the education of our children: The Biblical mandate

K. Alan Snyder, Ph.D.

[Dr. K. Alan Snyder is currently the History Professor for Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia and a former Associate Professor of Government at Regent University's Robertson School of Government in Virginia Beach, Virginia. To learn more about Dr. Snyder and his areas of expertise, please refer to his web site at]

We live in a "new age," so to speak. Americans today, and even many evangelical Christians, have lost a basic principle that was not debatable in our nation's early years: namely, that parents are the ones given the responsibility by God for the education of their own children. Early Americans, most of whom subscribed to Biblical thinking about the nature of education and the family's role in that education, would be astounded by the wholesale abdication of that responsibility today. Many Christians still say they are responsible for their children's education, yet their decision to turn their children over to state indoctrination opposed to Biblical teaching contradicts their stated belief. How much of this is ignorance as opposed to irresponsibility? It is not my intent to imply that all Christian parents who place their children in government schools are being irresponsible. Perhaps they simply need to pay closer attention to what the Bible says about parental responsibility. Parents need to understand that allowing the state to be the educator of our children, more often than not, undermines Biblical principles.

Children are a gift from God: the work of his hands

Let's begin with the premise stated above. All too often, modern parents see children as a drain on their resources or as a heavy burden they cannot wait to lay aside once their children are grown. I am not going to try to convince anyone that having children is always a joyful experience. There will be battles of the will and, at times, parents — even good Christian parents — may wonder why they voluntarily entered into this thicket, filled with thorns and thistles, called childraising.

Yet God tells each of us to walk in love, setting aside our own desires, denying our self-will, and grasping hold of the high calling of being a parent. There are joys on this path; selfish attitudes are what keep us from seeing the joys. We should remember the admonition in Hebrews 12:2, which reminds us: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Whenever we begin to question whether parenting is worth all the trouble, we should be humbled when we realize that Jesus thought we were worth all the trouble He had to endure.

Our children are a gift from God and they deserve to be seen in that light. When the patriarch Jacob met his brother Esau again after many years, and Esau inquired about all the people with Jacob, Jacob responded, "They are the children God has graciously given your servant." (Gen. 33:5) Later, when Jacob was reunited with his son, Joseph, in Egypt, and he saw all the young men accompanying him, Jacob asked who they were. "They are the sons God has given me here," was Joseph's answer. (Gen. 48:9)

The testimony continues. Hannah was distraught because she had no children. She cried to God over her situation and when she finally gave birth to a son, she called him Samuel, which meant, "heard of God." (I Sam. 1:20) Her son was a direct answer to prayer. King David commented in I Chron. 28:5: "Of all my sons — and the Lord has given me many — He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel." Although David may not have been the best of parents at all times, he still believed that his sons were gifts from God.

We are told in Psalm 113:9 that "He [God] settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children." This is another indication that the Lord is pleased to provide children to those who want them. Then in Psalm 127:3 comes this straightforward declaration: "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him." This one Scripture by itself should be enough to melt any wrong attitude in those who claim the name of Christ.

When Isaiah prophesies the judgment of God on the Israelites, he ends his prophecy with this promise: "Therefore this is what the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the house of Jacob: 'No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will their faces grow pale. When they see among them their children, the work of My hands, they will keep My Name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.'" (Is. 29:22-23) The Scripture is quite clear: children are a blessing from the Lord!

Parents are responsible for educating their children

Having established Biblically that God is the One who blesses us with children, the next step is to see from the Scripture that God gives responsibilities along with that blessing. The education of one's children is a key responsibility.

The first Scriptural indication that parents are to teach their children is found in Gen. 18:19. God, referring to Abraham, says, "For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him." It is significant to note the condition in this passage. God wants to bless Abraham, but it seems to depend on his faithfulness in teaching his household the ways of God.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts all that the Lord has taught the people. He then gives a warning: "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." (Deut. 4:9)

Later, Moses is even more explicit: "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. . . . Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers." (Deut. 6:6-7; 11:19-21) In other words, we are to teach our children at all times. This obviously does not mean that every minute of the day is to filled with formal instruction, but the clear implication is that our lives are not segmented, but whole: the Lord is not omitted from any area. When we send children to an institution that does not teach the truths of the Lord, we are filling many hours of their days with instruction that is ungodly. Clearly, that is in opposition to the spirit of this passage.

We are not done with Moses yet. Near the end of Deuteronomy, we are told: "When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, 'Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you — they are your life." (Deut. 32:45-47) Note the linkage between taking to heart the words of God and the transferring of those words to the children. It's as if the main reason for knowing God's law is that it be passed along to the next generation. Also note the strength of those final words: they are your life. Moses was not giving them mere advice; without these truths, people will be spiritually dead.

Some people may object at this point, perhaps observing that these instructions all deal with the laws of God. Of course we do that, they might say, because we have family devotions and our children go to church and Sunday School. Surely this does not apply to math, grammar, or science. Those subjects have nothing to do with the laws of God.

Such a response is indicative of the state of our society at this time. We have become so accustomed to believing in a dichotomy between the spiritual and the secular that we no longer see the connection. It is not my purpose to focus on how each subject can be taught according to God's laws and from His perspective, but it is important to recognize that there is no purely secular subject. Math comes from the mind of God. He is the one who gave us numbers and all the concepts of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Language is a gift directly from the hand of God. If we do not teach it as such, we give ourselves over to an evolutionary interpretation of the origin of language, which teaches that language slowly developed over centuries with man "graduating" from grunts to fully structured sentences. God gave us language because He is a communicator and desires His people to communicate also. Science is primarily the discovery of how the Lord has made His universe. Most of the early scientists, men such as Kepler, Boyle, and Newton, who gave flesh to the Scientific Revolution, believed they were merely explaining the works of God.

It is imperative that we realize the spiritual/secular dichotomy is false and all subjects not only can, but should be taught through the prism of God's Word. If we neglect to do this, our children may be led into false teachings and turn away from His truth. Thus, we will be responsible for allowing them to develop a worldview hostile to the laws of God.

The Lord's instructions on this parental responsibility do not end with the Pentateuch. Psalm 78:5-8 declares: "He [God] decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands. They would not be like their forefathers — a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to Him."

This Psalm reiterates the command to teach the succeeding generations, but it also focuses on the idea that faithfulness in doing so will manifest itself in a righteous generation, even if previous generations were not righteous. Obviously, the Word of God does not lend credence to the belief that we are in a downward spiral that cannot be reversed. If parents once again take seriously their responsibility to educate their children, the degeneration can be halted.

The book of Proverbs offers a number of insights on parental teaching. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck." (Prov. 1:7-9)

The first point to be made from this passage is that reverence for the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. If we place our children in an educational setting that has no reverence for God, will they even receive the "beginning" of real knowledge? They may learn some facts and skills, but in what context? What will they do with these attainments? As Prov. 9:10 reminds us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Consequently, if our children receive an "education" that ignores God, they will be missing the basis for all true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Contrasted with that bleak vision is the promise that a child who listens to the teaching of his father and mother (assuming it is Biblical teaching, of course) will be blessed.

Proverbs 4 is filled with exhortations showing the need for parental instruction. "Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. When I was a boy in my father's house . . . he taught me and said, 'Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.'" Later in the same chapter, we read: "Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. . . . Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. (1-4, 10-11, 13) It is clear that this father is taking his responsibility seriously, and he remembers that his father had taught him — a linkage through the generations.

Prov. 22:6 is a classic Scripture commanding parental responsibility for a child's education: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Often this Scripture is used as a sort of proof-text, providing comfort to those who have wayward children. We are to believe, this interpretation goes, that because we trained them properly, they certainly will return to the faith. While I believe proper Biblical training gives the Holy Spirit more leverage to use on a non-Christian child, I cannot endorse the idea that it is an absolute promise of a return to the fold. Notice that the verse says, "when he is old he will not turn from it." One can only turn "from" something if one "has" something to turn "from." I believe this verse is actually a promise that if your parental teaching takes hold in your child's life, you can be assured that he or she will remain faithful to the end of his or her days. That is still an awesome promise and provides an even greater impetus for the importance of teaching our children in God's ways.

All of these Scriptures have been taken from the Old Testament. I have no problem with that; it is just as much the Word of God as the New Testament. But it is good to see that the same concepts carry over into the writings of the Apostle Paul. In Eph. 6:4, Paul directs: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Paul, before he was saved, was a Jewish scholar of what we now call the Old Testament. As a Christian, he did not turn aside from Old Testament commands. His doctrine here is simply the Old Testament repeated.

We also get some insight on how the teaching of a mother made all the difference in the life of a young convert who became an apostle himself. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he said, "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." (II Tim. 1:5) Timothy's grandmother and mother were instrumental in his conversion, as Paul notes later in the same book: "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (II Tim. 3:14-15)

Creatures of the state?

The Biblical passages already examined establish the stewardship responsibility God has given to parents over their children in the realm of education. Yet that is no longer a secure position in our society. As we have abdicated parental responsibility, we have allowed the civil government to become the new parent.

There is not sufficient space here to provide a comprehensive history of the development of civil government's authority over education. It is enough to know that state control of education had grown sufficiently by the early 1920s that the Supreme Court had to weigh in on the issue. The state of Oregon had passed a law requiring all children to attend public schools. A Catholic religious school took the law all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1925, the Court ruled on this case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters. In its ruling, the Court did reaffirm the educational rights of parents, but the wording was ambiguous. The Court declared: "The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

In one sense, it is comforting to know the Supreme Court says the child is not the mere creature of the state, but why the use of the word "mere"? This leaves the door open for the idea that all children are indeed creatures of the state, just not "merely" creatures of the state. And what does it mean that parents "prepare him for additional obligations"? Is it the state's right to take care of training children for basic obligations, while the parents handle anything "additional"? Again, this is unclear.

The last half of the twentieth century saw a multitude of Supreme Court cases in which the Court tried to figure out where to draw the line respecting the so-called "separation of church and state." In every case, education was the issue. These are the problems we invite when we bow to the state's presumed authority over the education of our children. Why does the state believe it has such authority? We have allowed it to believe so by acquiescing to its demands. Parents who take their Biblical authority over their children seriously help reverse this trend.

I am aware of only one Biblical passage that deals with government-controlled education. It is found in the book of Daniel, where the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, took some of the captives from Judah and taught them "the language and literature of the Babylonians. . . . They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service." (Dan. 1:4-5) Babylon was a totalitarian regime and the "students" were educated to serve the government. That is hardly a model Christians should follow.

As Christians, we must reject the claims of the civil government regarding its control of our children's education. We must reassert the Biblical mandate that parents have both the distinct privilege and the responsibility for the education of the children given to them by God.

Reasserting the biblical mandate

How can Christian parents best fulfill the Biblical mandate? One option is to send their children to Christian schools. That is the option my wife and I chose for our children. Although I am cognizant that I am writing primarily to homeschoolers, I do not want to minimize the value of a good Christian school. The best of these seek to work actively with the parents to offer an education consistent with the Biblical mandate. Yet there are potential drawbacks to Christian schools. Consider the following:

  1. Finding a Christian school that is more than Christian in name only. Too often, schools started by churches are primarily reacting to the bad discipline and wrong teachings of the public schools, but offer little in the way of positive course development based on Biblical principles. Chapel services and stronger discipline are great, but are not the essence of real Biblical education.

  2. The cost involved can be prohibitive for many parents. This drawback could be reduced significantly if those who choose Christian education could be exempted from paying taxes for the government system, but that is a public policy issue that will have to be fought at the national and state levels over a number of years.

Consequently, homeschooling has become for many parents the most viable option for ensuring that their children are brought up in the "training and instruction of the Lord." I believe it is also noteworthy that the Bible does not mandate any formal school setting. "Systems" of education such as we know today are not present in the Scripture. It was assumed that children would get what they need from their parents or from the community of believers. One of the most interesting developments in homeschooling has been the informal bonding together of homeschooling parents to help one another with specialized subjects. This is particularly important when we face the very real problem of higher level subjects that not all parents are capable of teaching.

We embark on the homeschooling endeavor principally because God wants our children brought up in His ways, but it is encouraging to be able to show the world that those who are homeschooled actually perform better than their counterparts in the government system, and even better than those who are in private schools. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), in March 1999, released the results of a report it commissioned to study the effectiveness of homeschooling. The study was conducted by Dr. Lawrence M. Rudner, Director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, an organization that maintains no affiliation with the HSLDA. Dr. Rudner examined 20,760 homeschoolers and their families.

What did this study reveal? Overall, it provided evidence that homeschoolers do exceptionally well when compared with students nationwide. As the HSLDA website ( notes, "In every subject and at every grade level of the ITBS and TAP batteries, home school students scored significantly higher than their public and private school counterparts." Most astonishingly, the study reports, "On average, home school students in grades 1-4 perform one grade level higher than their public and private school counterparts. The achievement gap begins to widen in grade 5; by 8th grade the average home school student performs four grade levels above the national average." God's wisdom is confirmed by man's research!

I feel constrained to end this brief article with another warning from God's Word. In Hosea 4:1, 6, we are told:

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. . . . My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children."

According to this Scripture, if the knowledge of God is lost, if it is not transmitted to our children, we will be destroyed as a nation. Approximately 85 per cent of our nation's children are in an educational system that has no knowledge of God. For this nation to survive, we who believe the Word of God must take seriously the Biblical mandate to educate our children in His truth. We take this challenge not for our own children exclusively, but for the sake of an entire people.

One final charge: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) One of the real tests of our faith is whether we will be true to our responsibilities to our children. May he find that faith at work when He returns.

(This article is reproduced in total from Appendix A of The Guidance Manual for the Christian Home School: A Parent's Guide for Preparing Home School Students for College or Career by David and Laurie Callihan, copyright 2000-2001;, used by permission. The Callihans are both signatories of the Proclamation for the Separation of School and State.)

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