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Lesson 4: Purpose and Methods of Religious Education

The purposes of religious education were three fold:

    1. The transmission of the historical heritage (Exodus 12:26-27; 13:7-8, 14; Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 6:20-21; 7:6-19; 32:7)
    2. Instruction concerning religious ceremonies. (II Chronicles 17:7-9)
    3. Transmission of the ethical heritage. (Exodus 20:1-7.)

An effective method of instruction was to arouse a child’s curiosity and answer his natural questions. (Exodus 12: 26-27; Joshua 4:21-22; Proverbs 24:30-33))

Every father was expected to explain the origin and meaning of the Passover ceremony to his son (Exodus 13:8).

By the time the book of Proverbs was written the mother was also recognized as a teacher in the home (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20).

Most instruction was oral. Memorization was the primary learning technique. Parables were also used to teach life lessons. Annual festivals were an important part of the Jewish teaching system.

The Judges
The conquest and settlement of Canaan pushed religious education to the side. Judges who had been teachers of the Law suddenly became military leaders and arbitrators of disputes. This was a lawless and unsettled time. There was a vacuum of outstanding educational leadership. Samuel, the last of the judges, was the significant exception. Other than Moses, he was probably the greatest religious teacher in early Israel.

The Sages

Solomon represented the wise men or sages of Israel. His wisdom teaching belongs to the postexilic period. The book of Proverbs is a repository of experience, wisdom, and learning of the wise men of Israel. Next to the Torah it is the oldest handbook of Hebrew education. Its main premise is that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Proverbs is a guidebook for successful living. Its purpose is stated in 1:2-4: “…for attaining wisdom and disciple; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young…”

Jewish Adult Education
It was the responsibility of the priests and Levites to serve as guardians of the law. They were to instruct Israel (Leviticus 10:11 Deut. 33:10). II Chronicles 17:7-9 records that King Jehoshaphat sent Levites throughout the land to teach the people.

Deuteronomy 31:10-13 states that every seven years during the feast of booths a public reading of the law was to take place. The reading was public adult education on a grand scale

The Prophets
The Prophets were not only preachers but also teachers. They taught Israel the importance of personal and civic righteousness. The prophets interpreted the religious and social conditions of the nation. They were ethicists.

The Synagogue
As Jewish history unfolded the synagogue began to play a significant part in the Hebrew education system. It probably came into existence during the Babylonian exile. During the exile the people found comfort in meeting with their fellow believers. Both faith and historical tradition were shared in these group meetings. Leaders rose from the gatherings. However, above all else the synagogue was a place where the Scripture was read and interpreted. The primary function of the synagogue was the instruction of the people in Torah or Law. The weekly service was more educational than inspirational in nature. The educational experience in synagogue was a powerful preserver of Hebrew culture and values. By the time of Jesus, each synagogue had a school for children. Memorization was still the main method of learning. The aims of the classes were to instill habits of strict ritualistic observance.

The Postexilic Period

During the Postexilic Period the prophets became less prominent. The scribes came to the religious education forefront. Teaching became little more than the transmission of a narrow system of legalistic tradition.

However, during the late Postexilic Period, the writings of poets, lawgivers, prophets, and sages were brought together in one sacred collection of scrolls. This collection became the Old Testament canon.

From Ezra’s time onward, the Jews became known as “the people of the book”. Ezra was both a priest and scribe. Era 7:10 says this wiseman, set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach God’s statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

It is easy to see that religious education was a major emphasis during the Old Testament period. Jews studied spiritual, ceremonial, social and civic matters in the context of their relationship to God.