The modern Sunday school concept began in Britain in the late 1700s and became popular in America in the 1800s. Unlike Sunday school programs today, however, most Sunday schools originally operated similar to a public school with the Bible as the key curriculum. Many children worked on farms, in factories, or at stores on weekdays, leading to the need for educational assistance from the church.
While Sunday school did not exist as a program in the early church, Scripture is very clear about the importance of education. For example, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." Because Scripture is "breathed out by God," it is important for Christians to study and understand what it says.
The early church was based on the teachings of Jesus as proclaimed through the apostles. Acts 2:42 states, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Over time, the apostles and their associates wrote down many of these teachings in what became the New Testament.
The Old Testament is also important for study. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 teaches, "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." Scripture was important to know, to memorize, to teach, to discuss, and to apply in the lives of God's people. Throughout their history, the Jewish people have conducted the Yeshiva, a school that teaches the Torah. Instruction usually begins at a very young age.
Psalm 19:7-8 also shares why learning Scripture is important: "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes." God's words are perfect, sure, right, and pure, bringing life and wisdom to one's days.
Finally, Sunday school also exists to help Christians both learn and apply the teachings of the Bible. James 1:22 teaches, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." Learning is incomplete without action. Sunday school serves to equip believers to know the truth so they can live it out throughout the week in every area of life.
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