Does the Bible say anything about pedagogy?Pedagogy refers to the method and practice of teaching. It is the study of techniques for teaching and learning. Throughout history, people in different cultures have learned and taught in different ways. Some cultures restricted formal learning to certain privileged classes (like priests), while other cultures have expanded access to learning to as many in their community as possible. Some cultures have relied on oral tradition, while others prized learning from written records. Some cultures have valued subjects like religious learning, cultural arts, and tradition, while others favored subjects like mathematics, scientific observation, and logic. Thus there is great diversity in who learns, what is taught, and how knowledge is passed on in different cultures throughout history. Pedagogy tries to discern more effective techniques for the practice of teaching from less effective techniques and even to develop new techniques altogether. In the Bible, there are myriad examples of passing on knowledge to those who didn't yet know. Many techniques were employed.
In the Old Testament, God commanded His people, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). Older generations were told to teach the children diligently, throughout the day, while doing customary tasks, by simply talking about God's commands. Verbal presentation, open discussion, and on-going conversation was the first method God mentioned in this passage, but God then commanded that they tie symbols on their bodies. These symbolic accoutrements would be visual reminders of God's commands—a representation children could see and from which they could learn without even the use of words. Finally, God directed that they write His commands on their door frames and gates. In this way, children would have access to written words that could be read and studied.
Besides these examples, God also commanded that His people observe holidays in order to teach their children. When describing the purpose of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, God declared, "You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 23:42–43). Acting out with their bodies this history by observing this holiday year after year was how each generation was to learn about God's character. When God explained how to observe Passover, He said, "You shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' you shall say, 'It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses'" (Exodus 12:25b-27). God expected the physical practicing of tradition to stir up questions in younger generations that they would then ask the older generation to explain.
God endorsed other methods of learning as well. He commanded kings to learn His Word through copy work, by handwriting their own copy of the Law under the supervision of Levitical priests (Deuteronomy 17:18). He ordered that music and song be used to help people remember His Word (Deuteronomy 31:19). God even used illustration and object lessons when He called Ahijah to tear Jeroboam's cloak into twelve pieces (1 Kings 11:30–31), Hosea to marry an unfaithful wife (Hosea 1:2–3), and Jeremiah to break the potter's flask (Jeremiah 19:10–13). Thus, God both used and commanded the use of many methods in teaching both children and adults the things He wanted them to know.
When Jesus, God incarnate, walked on this earth, He was called "Rabbi," meaning "teacher" (John 1:38; 13:13); He employed many methods of teaching during His ministry. Jesus lectured to large groups (Matthew 5—7). He used discourse in small groups (Matthew 24). He dialogued one-on-one (John 3:1–21). He told stories and parables (Matthew 13). He used object lessons (Matthew 24:32–35). He asked questions to His students (Matthew 16:13–20; 17:24–17; 22:18–20). He modeled behavior and attitudes for His students to emulate (John 13:14). He expounded upon Scripture (Matthew 19:4–6; Luke 24:25–17) and taught with charisma and authority (Luke 4:31–32). Jesus used many methods of teaching in order to share His message with the people of His day.
The New Testament epistles use several teaching methods as well. Of course, they are written teaching, but they were generally read aloud to the churches. Within the writings we see methods such as direct instruction (Ephesians 4:25–32; Colossians 2:6–23; Romans 12:9–21), use of illustration (1 Corinthians 9:3–14), logical persuasion (Romans 6—8; Hebrews), and recounting of history (1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 11). We also see believers commanded to engage in physical acts of symbolism like water baptism and communion (Matthew 28:18–20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26).
While pedagogy may be helpful in learning techniques and methods to help different students learn new material, it is the material itself that truly matters. Some Pharisees and scribes, who were the teachers of their day, came to Jesus accusing His disciples of breaking a traditional law. Jesus rebuked them quoting Isaiah, "in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). These teachers were effective in teaching and leading the people, but they were teaching falsehoods. Jesus told another set of leaders, the Sadducees, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). So rather than focusing exclusively on technique, teachers must also focus on ensuring that the material they are teaching is true. Verifying that the material being taught is true is also the responsibility of the students (Matthew 7:15–20; 1 John 4:1–6). The Jews in Berea were commended for comparing Paul's teaching to Scripture in order to assess the veracity of his claims (Acts 17:11). In this way, both teacher and student are accountable for the material being presented.
Teaching is both a gift (1 Corinthians 12:28) and a responsibility (James 3:1), so anyone passing on knowledge to learners should do so with humility and seriousness, using skills promoted by pedagogy, to teach what is true, remembering "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17).
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