[from Gr., skho·leʹ, basically, “leisure”; then, that for which leisure was employed, a disputation, lecture, study, learning; by metonymy, school].
The Creator placed the responsibility upon parents to teach their offspring the true meaning of life, their physical lives as well as their spiritual lives. They were to train them up in the way they were to go, and this training would be a guide to their children, not only in their youth, but also in their old age. (Prov. 22:6) Parents were obligated to begin the training during the child’s infancy. (2 Tim. 3:14, 15) To fulfill this obligation they were to provide schooling for their children in the home. It appears that there were no community schools for children in ancient Israel. The home was the school. The parent was to teach by example as well as by precept, and schooling was to be a regular and continuous arrangement.—Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:6-9, 20-25; Prov. 6:20.
King Jehoshaphat of Judah instituted schooling in God’s law by sending princes, priests and Levites to teach in all the cities of Judah, with the good result that Jehovah blessed his rule with peace and prosperity.—2 Chron. 17:7-12.
From the exiles taken to Babylon with King Jehoiachin in 617 B.C.E. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon selected some Israelite youths, including some of the royal offspring and sons of the nobles. Among them were Daniel and his three companions. These Jews were taught the Chaldean language and given special instruction for service in the king’s palace. They proved to be very apt students.—Dan. 1:2-7, 18-20.
It seems that, before the exile, there were meeting places for instruction in God’s law, aside from the temple. (Ps. 74:8) After the return from exile in Babylon both Ezra and Nehemiah vigorously promoted education in God’s law as the really vital factor in restoration. All the people were gathered to hear the Law read and explained by the Levites. (Ezra 7:10; Neh. chap. 8) Synagogues (from Gr., sy·na·go·geʹ, a bringing together) were places of instruction, not of sacrifice, which was restricted to the temple. (Acts 15:21) It is not known when synagogues were instituted, but many, because of the Jewish dispersion, existed throughout Palestine and the Greek-speaking world before and during Jesus’ earthly ministry, a goodly number being in Jerusalem. Jesus made use of these places for teaching. (Luke 4:16-21; Matt. 13:54) The apostles took advantage of them, not as Christian meeting places, but for preaching Christ as the Messiah to the Jews gathered there. The apostle Paul would first preach in the synagogue in a city, then turn to the Gentiles.—Acts 13:14-16, 44, 46; 14:1; 18:4-6.
Paul utilized the synagogue in Ephesus as a place of instruction for a period of three months and then withdrew those who had become disciples to a school auditorium, where he gave talks daily for two years. His schooling efforts resulted in education in God’s Word for the whole Roman district of Asia.—Acts 19:8-10.
Places of advanced religious schooling developed. For example, Saul (Paul) had studied at the feet of Gamaliel. The Jews challenged the qualifications of anyone claiming to instruct in God’s law if he had not studied at their schools.—Acts 22:3; John 7:15.
The congregation meeting place was used as a school for religious instruction by Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 11:25, 26; 14:27) Groups of Christians met in homes or other convenient places for schooling, as in Rome. (Rom. 16:3-5) In Colossae the home of Philemon was a meeting place; also the home of Nympha. (Rom. 16:3-16; Philem. 1, 2; Col. 4:15) A large upper chamber was used in Troas for a meeting with Paul. (Acts 20:6-8) Instructions for orderly congregation meetings are found at 1 Corinthians, chapter 14, in which it is clear that primary emphasis was placed on learning and edification.
Congregation meeting places served as schools where the scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the writings of the apostles and their associates could be considered. Few Christians could possess all the Hebrew scrolls or copies of all the Christian letters. The meetings provided an opportunity for thorough examination and discussion of these. (Col. 4:16) Ostraca, pieces of broken pottery, were used by poor Christians, who did not possess other writing material, to write down Bible texts for personal study and use. As they heard the Scriptures read or had access to the scrolls at the meeting, they could copy them in ink on the pottery fragments. Many of these ostraca have been found inscribed with Bible texts, especially from the Gospels. At the same time schooling at home for the entire family continued as a vital part of Christian education. (Eph. 6:4; 1 Cor. 14:35) No separate arrangement for children, as with the modern-day “Sunday school,” was anywhere authorized or practiced by the Jews or by the Christian apostles. The children were to meet with parents and not be segregated. The divine command was that they must sit, listen and learn in the same school as adults. It was to be a family affair.—Deut. 31:10-13; see EDUCATION; INSTRUCTION.