The Bible’s Viewpoint
Does the Bible Discourage Education?
“It is only the ignorant who despise education.” —Publilius Syrus, Moral Sayings, first century B.C.E.
THE Bible urges us to “safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability.” (Proverbs 3:21) Jehovah, the God of knowledge, wants his worshipers to be educated people. (1 Samuel 2:3; Proverbs 1:5, 22) Yet, some statements in the Bible might raise questions. For example, referring to his former pursuits, including his higher education, the apostle Paul wrote: “I consider it all as mere garbage.” (Philippians 3:3-8, Today’s English Version) In another inspired letter, he asserted: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”—1 Corinthians 3:19.
Does the Bible, then, discourage education? How far should a Christian go in the pursuit of secular education? Is the minimum required by law enough, or should additional education be pursued?
Education in the First Century
Among first-century Christians, there was a wide variety of educational backgrounds. Certain prominent men viewed the Galilean apostles Peter and John as “unlettered and ordinary.” (Acts 4:5, 6, 13) Did this mean that these two men were illiterate or unschooled? No. It simply meant that their education was not from the Hebrew schools of higher learning in Jerusalem. The writings of these two bold exponents of Christianity later attested to the fact that they were well-educated, intelligent men, capable of lucid Scriptural exposition. Their education had included practical instruction in caring for the material needs of their families. They were colleagues in what was evidently a lucrative fishing business.—Mark 1:16-21; Luke 5:7, 10.
In contrast, Luke, the disciple who penned one of the Gospels as well as the book of Acts, received a more advanced education. He was a physician. (Colossians 4:14) His medical background gives a distinctive tone to his inspired writings.—See Luke 4:38; 5:12; Acts 28:8.
Prior to becoming a Christian, the apostle Paul was instructed in the Jewish law, under the tutelage of one of the most brilliant scholars of the time, Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3) Paul’s schooling might be comparable to a university education today. Further, in Jewish society it was considered honorable for young ones to learn a trade, even when higher education was to be pursued in later years. Evidently Paul received training as a tentmaker while still a young lad. Such skills enabled him to support himself in his full-time ministry.
Nevertheless, Paul recognized that in relation to the surpassing worth of the knowledge of God, secular education—though necessary—is of limited value. Accordingly, the Bible places the greatest importance on acquiring knowledge of God and of Christ. Christians today do well to adopt this realistic view of secular education.—Proverbs 2:1-5; John 17:3; Colossians 2:3.
Carefully Weighing the Matter
Some Christians have found that pursuing additional education, in the form of either academic or vocational studies, has assisted them in caring for their family’s material needs. Caring for one’s family is proper, for ‘providing for one’s household’ is a sacred duty. (1 Timothy 5:8) Gaining the skills needed to do this is a matter of practical wisdom.
However, those who feel the need to acquire more than a basic education to meet this objective should weigh both the benefits and the drawbacks. Potential benefits include being equipped to procure employment that enables a person to support himself and a family adequately while zealously pursuing the Christian ministry. In addition, he may be able to assist others in a material way, ‘having something to distribute to someone in need.’—Ephesians 4:28.
What are some potential drawbacks? These may include being exposed to teachings that erode faith in God and in the Bible. Paul advised Christians to be wary of “the falsely called ‘knowledge’” and “the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men.” (1 Timothy 6:20, 21; Colossians 2:8) Undeniably, exposure to some forms of education can be detrimental to the faith of a Christian. Those who consider additional training or studies should be aware of the risk of such harmful influences.
Moses, who was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” maintained strong faith despite receiving an education that doubtless included polytheistic, God-dishonoring teachings. (Acts 7:22) Likewise, Christians today are careful not to succumb to unwholesome influences in whatever environment they find themselves.
Another potential danger in pursuing additional education is that knowledge puffs up, or breeds conceit. (1 Corinthians 8:1) Many seek knowledge through education for selfish reasons, and even the sincere pursuit of knowledge could result in feelings of superiority and self-importance. Such attitudes displease God.—Proverbs 8:13.
Consider the Pharisees. Members of this prominent religious sect prided themselves on their erudition and supposed righteousness. They were well-versed in the large body of rabbinic traditions, and they looked down on the common people, who were less educated, viewing them as ignorant, contemptible, even accursed. (John 7:49) Besides this, they loved money. (Luke 16:14) Their example shows that when pursued for wrong motives, education can make a person proud or lead to his being a lover of money. Therefore, in determining the type and amount of schooling to pursue, a Christian would do well to ask himself, ‘What are my motives?’
A Matter of Personal Choice
Just as was true in the first century, a wide variety of educational backgrounds exist among Christians today. Under the guidance of their parents, young people who complete their obligatory schooling may choose to pursue additional secular education. Likewise, adults interested in improving their means of providing for their families may view such additional schooling as a viable means to that end.a Some aspects of traditional academic education lay emphasis on developing general intellectual capacity rather than professional or vocational skills. Thus, a person may find that even after investing much time in acquiring such an education, he lacks marketable skills. For this reason, some choose to pursue studies in vocational programs or technical schools, with a view to more readily filling actual demands in the job market.
At any rate, such decisions are of a personal nature. Christians ought not to criticize or judge one another on this matter. James wrote: “Who are you to be judging your neighbor?” (James 4:12) If a Christian is considering pursuing additional schooling, he would do well to examine his own motives to make sure that selfish, materialistic interests are not the driving force.
It is apparent that the Bible encourages a balanced view of education. Christian parents recognize the surpassing value of a spiritual education based on God’s inspired Word and give balanced counsel to their children regarding supplementary education. (2 Timothy 3:16) Being realistic about life, they acknowledge the value of secular education in gaining the skills necessary for their grown children to provide for themselves and their future families. Therefore, in determining whether supplementary education is to be pursued, and to what extent, each Christian can make sound personal decisions based on devotion to Jehovah God, which “is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8.
a For more detailed information on this subject, see The Watchtower of November 1, 1992, pages 10-21, and the brochure Jehovah’s Witnesses and Education, both published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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“Safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability.”—Proverbs 3:21
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In considering whether to seek additional schooling, a Christian would do well to ask himself, ‘What are my motives?’