July 18, 2013

Does Deuteronomy 6 Mandate Homeschooling?

by Nathan Busenitz

Our objective here is not to attack homeschooling. We have many homeschool families here at our church; and I personally have good friends, and even extended family members, who were homeschooled or who practice homeschool with their kids. In instances where parents choose to homeschool their children—assuming their reasons for doing so are genuine and noble—our church gladly supports their efforts. So this post is not an attack on homeschool as either an institution or a community.

Our objective, rather, is to dispel the notion that homeschooling is the only option a Christian can legitimately choose—the idea that those who do not homeschool their children are in violation of a biblical mandate, and therefore in sin. We believe homeschooling is one option, and in fact a good one for many families.

But is it the only legitimate choice that Christian parents can make? Or perhaps more to the point: Does the Bible mandate homeschooling?

We can discuss more passages in the comments section, if our readers would like. But in today’s post we will consider Deuteronomy 6:5–9. The passage (in the NASB) reads as follows:

(5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. (7) You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (8) You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. (9) You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The command here, given to the second generation of Israelites (after the Exodus) on the verge of entering the Promised Land, is that parents must actively and consistently disciple their children in the truth—being faithful to teach them the things of the Lord as a regular part of life. It is a call to lifestyle discipleship, as parents bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

But does it provide a mandate or a model for the modern convention of homeschool?

Despite the good intentions of many well-meaning homeschool-only advocates, this passage is really not the end-all proof text that some might suggest. In thinking about this passage, here are a few things to consider:

* * * * *

First, and perhaps most obviously, these verses do not directly command formal homeschool (in the sense that homeschool is practiced today in Christian circles).

Rather, they instruct Israelite parents to consistently teach their children the things of the Lord within the normal activities of life. The passage says nothing about subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Thus, the question of whether or not one should homeschool is outside the explicit command(s) given in Deuteronomy 6. Obedience to this passage demands that a parent consistently teach his or her children the things of the Lord as a regular part of life. Whether that parent teaches his children algebra or English grammar is not the point.

On a side note, because homeschooling is not directly commanded in this passage (or in any other biblical text), it can correctly be identified as a “gray area” or a “wisdom issue”—one in which Christians must make wise decisions based on biblical principles and within God-given parameters. Romans 14–15 gives New Testament believers guidelines for how to think through these types of issues; it also warns Christians not to force their own personal convictions (in gray areas) onto other believers.

* * * * *

Second, Deuteronomy 6:5–9 is an Old Testament passage. Even if the passage instructed the Old Testament Israelites to practice formal homeschool (which it does not), that kind of civil instruction would not be a binding command on New Testament believers.

In the same way that that laws governing the Sabbath (Deut. 5:12–15); dietary restrictions (Deut. 14); the Sabbath year (Deut. 15); and the ceremonial feasts (Deut. 16) are no longer binding on Christians today—so also, the type of schooling mandated for Old Testament Israel is not obligatory for the New Testament church.

Those who wish to find homeschooling in Deuteronomy 6, must apply all of the specific instructions in that passage if they are to be consistent (including writing Bible verses on their doors, gates, hands, and foreheads). And that doesn’t include the specific instructions found throughout the rest of Deuteronomy (or the Pentateuch).

The church is not under the Law of Moses, but rather the Law of Christ. And while much of the instruction in Deuteronomy 6:5–9 is repeated in the New Testament (in places like Mark 12:30–31 and Eph. 6:1–4), the New Testament nowhere mandates homeschool.

* * * * *

Third, the Jews did not understand Deuteronomy 6 as a mandate to homeschool. Alfred Edersheim, in chapter 8 of Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ explains that while children (primarily sons) did receive some education at home (from ages 3 to 5), they were sent to the synagogue for their education starting at age 6 or 7. There they would attend formal classes with the other boys from their community. This Jewish application of Old Testament instruction accords more with today’s Christian school model than it does with the contemporary convention of homeschooling.

* * * * *

Fourth, Edersheim further indicates that, for Old Testament Jews, the application of passages like Deuteronomy 6 was primarily the responsibility of the father. If a “homeschool-only interpretation” of Deuteronomy 6 is granted, it is inconsistent to place the primary responsibility for the child’s education on the mother (as most homeschoolers do)—since as Edersheim notes, “There can be no question that, according to the law of Moses, the early education of a child devolved upon the father” (p. 128).

* * * * *

Fifth, as we noted above, the primary application of this passage (that parents are to constantly and consistently disciple their children throughout the normal activities of life) is an application that is echoed in Ephesians 6:4. That application (as a command given directly to New Testament believers) is mandatory for parents today. However, it is an application that can be fulfilled no matter which type of formal education parents choose for their children.

Whether the child learns math, history, science, and grammar in a public school setting, a Christian school setting, or a homeschool setting—it is still the direct responsibility of Christian parents to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

This responsibility is not necessarily met just because a child learns math at home. Nor is this responsibility necessarily abdicated when a child attends the public elementary school across the street. In either case, parents must proactively teach their children the things of the Lord, discipling them in the faith throughout the regular activities of everyday life.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Bill

    I whole-heartedly agree that Deut 6 is not a mandate for homeschooling. In fact, to do so reminds me of one of our great theologians of today, that I agree with on many things, yet his eschatology is based solely on Matthew. A full counsel of God approach is best. In the training of children, the parents are responsible. Your education choice should meet the intent of the following:

    Prov 9:10, Psalm 111:10, Psalm 14:1, Deut 6:6-7, Prov 1:7, Eph 6:4, Psalm 1:1-3, Rom 12:1-2, 2 Cor 6:14-15, Col 2:8, Matt 10:24-25, Luke 6:40, 1 Cor 15:33, and 1 Tim 6:20-21. Just to name a few.

    Education is never neutral. If you can say your children’s Biblical (read: Christian) worldview is being shaped by godly men and women, is bathed in the Word, and gives glory to God, congratulations. If you can’t say your children’s worldview is being shaped in a Christian manner then it’s time to change your paradigm.

  • Anon

    Yes, I’d agree this one is a stretch, although I think that a good parallel could be made with the Israelites giving their young children as sacrifices to the demon Molech and Christian parents giving their young children to the public school system…. 😉

    • Ben

      Sacrificing children to the demon Molech is right out of Homeschool Indoctrination playbook. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people try to guilt people into homeschooling by using Molech. Molech is getting all the glory for leaving the fertile soil of public school campuses without Christian kids/Christian witness.

  • Michael

    Following the hermeneutical principle of “one interpretation, many applications,” would it be correct for parents to apply Deut 6 (or Mark 12:30–31 and Eph. 6:1–4) by homeschooling? In other words, given your point that Deut 6 does not mandate homeschooling, would parents be misapplying this verse by saying “one of the many reasons we have chosen to homeschool is to have our children with us so as more easily apply Deut 6 (Mark 12, Eph 6) throughout the day”?

    Also, regarding Eldersheim’s statement, it was my understanding that the synagogues were not instituted until the time of Ezra. Therefore, the model for Hebrew education would have looked differently in the thousand years between Moses and Ezra. This doesn’t change the main point of your article, but does give more food for thought.

  • Drew Sparks

    I think it is sad that you had to take a whole paragraph to explain that you are not attacking homeschooling when there is nothing in your article that resembles an attack. This is an example of how the world’s view of tolerance has influenced the church. I was homeschooled, but I could never sympathize with people who would take offense to an article like this. It is too bad that Christianity is becoming so sensitive. When did disagreeing with someone become an attack?

    Besides all that, thank you for the post.

  • anon

    We have done home education, Christian school, and public school. While I agree that Deut 6 doesn’t mandate homeschooling and believe God can lead families to different options, my home-educating years were far more conducive to instructing my kids in the ways of the Lord because of the time spent together and being able to address life situations from a biblical point of view as they arose.

    The year we had in Christian school was neutral in that the teachers were, with a few exceptions, positive influences, but the kids weren’t. And we have found that we must be SO much more attentive and intentional with our kids in public school that I would caution parents who are busy with work and ministry and other things that, if they prayerfully choose that route, they must be willing to be much more vigilant because of the small window of time with their children and because they will be teaching against the godlessness the kids face for the bulk of their waking hours, especially when they are involved in sports and things after school. i have seen many kids lost due to parents’ spiritual negligence.

    • John_D_11

      A few thoughts….

      “I have seen many kids lost due to parent’s spiritual negligence”

      I think this statement was sloppy at best, dangerous at worst, and I’m afraid reveals a good deal of the overemphasis homeschool leaning parents tend to place on their role in their children’s salvation. No child was ever “lost” due to a parent’s spiritual negligence. Ever. Children, and adults for that matter, are only lost because of unbelief.

      Are you saying that if the parent’s had NOT been spiritually negligent (and homeschooled) their children WOULD be saved? Yikes.

      You also argued that “home-educating years were far more conducive to instructing my kids in the ways of the Lord b/c of the time spent together and being able to address life situations from a biblical point of view as they arose.” This argument could just as easily be made, and is often made, and perhaps more substantially, by a public-school parent, who works through life situations from a biblical point of view as life situations arise in public school. And what “life situations” really arise for a home school child? The kids argue over cereal flavor and you teach them to deny themselves, take up their cross, and eat Cheerios instead of Cinnamon Toast Crunch? The public-school parent might argue that this is actually what does NOT prepare children to embrace REAL life situations from a biblical worldview.

  • GG

    I really appreciate your blog Nathan – because I think there is a lot of pressure in the Christian community to homeschool and if you don’t you can be looked down upon for not and its NOT always the best option for all families or even individual children within one family. We have sent our children to Christian school, public school and a some what of homeschool setting where they’re at school setting and at home on certain days doing school work. I think the problem also lies with the fact that Christian parents think that somehow its the way to go in raising your children because somehow its a guarantee in having “children who believe.” My husband and I really never saw homeschooling as an option. We both came from non-Christian families and we always felt that our children needed to know how to interact with non-believers and even told them at Christian school that those kids aren’t necessarily believers just because they go to Christian school. We always look for opportunities to teach our children when its at school, sport teams, or at home. Being that I wasn’t raised in a Christian home my heart aches to think that more and more Christians are secluding themselves and their children from the opportunity to be a witness in this world where God has called us to be proclaim His gospel. Do we truly believe we are saved by grace or saved by works of the parent by homeschooling your child? When we were a young family and attending Grace Community Church – there was no pressure. We had friends who did homeschool, Christian school & public school. It wasn’t until we left that we felt the exclusion from members of our new church. The Lord saved me when I was His enemy and I know that its the Lord who saves my children – not whether I homeschool them or not. my two cents….

    • Tate

      This is a classic argument, assuming that homeschoolers seclude their kids from “the world” – one that frustrates us more than most of the silly things we hear about homeschooling. Just because we are a Christian home doesn’t mean that everyone in it is a believer. Just because my kids are homeschooled doesn’t mean that they never interact with unbelievers like neighbors, grandparents, coaches, scouts, kids at the park.

      I’d don’t see it as a Biblical mandate, it’s just what works for my family. My son was inundated with un-Biblical influences in a “good” public school. Having him at home reduced those influences. Does homeschooling guarantee he’ll grow up to be an unbeliever? Of course not. Parents who thinks anything they do will guarantee salvation need to read their Bible.

      • John_D_11

        I see good points on both sides here regarding secluding or including kids in the world. But I think we should be thinking more in terms of which path of education would best equip our kids to impact the world as adults (puberty and up), and less as to whether our third grader will be William Cary to his little league team.

  • Ben

    God is sovereign in the salvation of our kids and homeschooling will not make that
    more or less true. In other words, if one homeschools his kids, God won’t be more inclined to save them because they follow some “so-called” Duet 6 model. If I don’t homeschool my kids, God won’t be less inclined to save them either. That is works righteousness and many secretly trust in this program.

  • Will Karbach

    Nathan: I’m a fan. But even if I wasn’t a home schooling father, I’d have real problems with this.

    I don’t know what to make of your italicizing “Old Testament” in your first point. Given the number of times Jesus referenced Moses and the Old Testament, 2 Tim 3:16,17 and other verses, it makes me a little nervous to think you might be diminishing the OT. “All the letters in my Bible are red.”

    (And how would this be classified as ‘civil law’ anyway? Where’s the differentiation among ceremonial, civil, and moral law? Isn’t the admonition to parents to teach their children under the moral law, which is alive and well today?)

    Let’s see: Our churches are ineffective and dying. There is a dearth of qualified teachers and elders. Kids are “Already Gone,” up to 80+%, despite the flood of “Youth Pastors.” Very few confessing Christians can explain even the simplest of theological issues. Unitarianism and Transcendentalism lurk in nearly every pew of nearly every evangelical Church in America.

    Why do we think we’re so smart as to reinvent God’s patterns that promise fruitful life in the land, whether we’re talking about home education or anything else? “The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”

    Are we REALLY willing to gamble our children’s souls on the Normative Principle, supposed ‘Christian Liberty,’ and anti-nomianism? Didn’t thousands of Christians DIE over things like this during the Reformation?

    Why are we not asking God, “How can I better conform to your Law and your image?” rather than, “I wonder if I’m allowed to do “this” or “that”?

    “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

    I’ve seen this movie. It’s called “Exodus Through The Very Last Verse of Malachi,” and it tells a sad tale of what happens when fathers don’t do what’s commanded in Deut 6. And it tells the story over and over and over and over and over and over again. And it doesn’t end particularly well.

  • Pam

    “But does it provide a mandate or a model for the modern convention of homeschool?”

    Did OT Israelite families put their children in schools from 6 years old to 18 years of age?

    Did NT Christian put their children in pagan schools from 6 years of age to 18 years of age?

    The only reference to “children” trained in pagan schools is recorded in Daniel and Moses. Daniel and his three friends were not six years old and had been disciplined by Godly people. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness after he killed an Egyptian. These five men were used by God but it wasn’t their parents’ first choice.

    Please make your Biblical comparisons relevant.

  • Ben

    What Christian parent can bear the thought that they would spend eternity apart from one of their kids? I hate the thought.

    Let’s be honest. We parents try to raise our kids to prevent this very thing. I was pretty certain at one point in my parenting that if I raised my kids according to Growing Kids God’s Way, they’d get saved, secretly I mean. Hey, if I put the program in place God would honor it and save my kids.

    We have an emotional tie to the eternal outcomes of our children. This, for many, causes us to work hard at getting our kids saved. By nature we want a works
    righteousness system. Homeschooling promises this for many of us…subtly. It’s implied by those who promote it. It’s the subtle “implications” that we have
    to recognize as un-biblical and that promote a false sense of security, eternal
    security for our children, not felt necessarily by the child, but by the parent
    that some day in the future all this work will produce a Christian. It really becomes Jesus plus works equals salvation.

    “Godliness” is promoted as the sign of good homeschooling. Hey, if you want godly children homeschool them. This is a false indicator of a saved child. How many of us can say they know of a homeschooled kid that at one time in their life was “godly” but later rejected the faith, left the home at 18-19, never to return to the
    village. Were they really godly? Or were they just good Pharisees? Can a non-believer ever be “godly?”

    Homeschooling really appeals to the independent types, the red blooded Conservative Americans. Homeschooled kids may be the answer to our future in this country. They may be the only ones who will grow up with a real appreciation for the US Constitution. For that reason, I’m pro homeschooling.

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  • bondservant

    The problem isn’t whether homeschooling is “the right way” to do it – there are obviously many ways one can be taught. As homeschoolers ourselves, we don’t begin to think for a moment that we know enough to teach our kids everything they need to know.

    No, the problem is that most people believe that forced (theft), tax-funded governmental schooling is okay. When it is actually the source of most of the problems. If one doesn’t believe in redistribution of wealth, why is it okay when it comes to my having to pay for my neighbor’s education (or vice versa)? A truly free-market society would include education as part of the market. Competition for the best positions, specialty schools for individual training that could adjust much more quickly when needed, private charities funding needy students, etc.

    We do have private schools, church schools, and homeschooling. But all of them fall under some jurisdiction of mandated government education. A monopoly. We don’t see this in part because this is the system we grew up with. So taxpayers have no choice in the matter even if they don’t make use of the schools ( either no no children, children of school age, or privately paying for another form of education).

    What govt needs to do is what it needs to do in nearly all cases – get out of the way. Get rid of the monopoly, let the market compete, and just like the cost of HDTV’s and cellphones, watch the price of education go down while the quality goes up. Students, teachers, parents, and employers would all benefit greatly if it ever did.

    I’m not holding my breath that this will happen voluntarily, in large part because Christians often lead the way in cheering on the State. But I do have hope that, as the system continues to collapse, more and more people will start seeing its collapse, realize that their children are worth more than this, and feel the need to leave the system.