Early Days As soon as they are born, babies recognize their mother by all their senses, including smell. This tells us something very important: that babies are designed for interaction with others, and that parents are designed for interaction with them. We have, of course, a wonderful designer in God, and it is wise to follow His directions for our lives and those of the little ones dependent on us. It is clear that sounds are very important to young babies. They certainly let us know when they are hungry or when they need changing. The ear-splitting noises they make are their form of communication. But crying is by no means all they do. They also laugh, gurgle, coo and make babbling noises because we either do them too or do things which provoke these reactions. Babies need parents for all this communication learning, and the process is important for their emotional and intellectual development.
In the 50s, child development psychologist John Bowlby1 and others found that children who were not cuddled and kissed, who were not embraced tenderly and talked to at feeding time, turned out to be less able to express and receive love. Without this significant amount of parental input children will grow up lacking important personality development. God however has made it so that most people, especially women, find babies irresistible and love to fuss over them. Men may be less enthusiastic initially, but their time will come as their children grow older.
Very quickly the gurglings and cooings turn into recognizable sounds approaching actual words. Adults find themselves repeating the sounds the baby makes and a game of verbal copycat commences. When the baby manages something similar to ‘mmm’, we express delight and claim that the little one is saying ‘mummy!’ And very soon he is, to our complete delight.
In the time of Christ, the Jewish mother had the responsibility to teach her children to memorize, say aloud and discuss simple passages from the Scriptures. Discussion was a ritual at the Passover meal where the sons were to question their father concerning the meaning of the meal and its rituals (Ex.13:8-10; Dt. 6:6-9; Ps. 78:67). This set out a principle not only for the Passover meal but also for the daily interaction between parents and children.
Jewish schooling started when the child was often very young. Held in the synagogue, it was usually run by a young rabbi who had recently graduated from a rabbinical school in Jerusalem. We might think of these schools as very noisy places where children argued with each other, recited passages of Scripture aloud and questioned, even argued with the rabbi.
The atmosphere was the same in the schools of the rabbis in Jerusalem. These schools were the equivalent of our universities, whose main purpose was to educate rabbis and lawyers to be well versed in the Torah, the prophets and the other books of the Old Testament.2
Rabbis from all over the empire and abroad studied at the schools in Jerusalem. For instance, Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the Apostle of the Lord, studied the Greek and Roman philosophers as well as the rabbinical books and all aspects of Jewish culture and history (Acts 22:1-3).
At certain seasons it was customary to give open seminars in the temple courts in Jerusalem where leading rabbis would conduct classes which all could attend. Luke gives us a brief account of this custom in his gospel, and tells us how even twelve-year-old boys were welcome to listen and ask questions. Indeed, given the culture of the time, it would be unusual for Jewish boys not to question the rabbi (Lk. 2:41-47).
Medieval and Renaissance theologians and painters have depicted the Lord Jesus as “teaching” the rabbis. This is a fanciful view. Actually He listened to them and asked them questions (Lk. 2:46). What amazed those present was the level of His understanding. He was an exceptionally gifted boy, but not a prodigy who went beyond the bounds of courtesy, custom and normality consistent with His role as a young person in childhood’s pattern.
Here in England, I hear people complain that Scripture is no longer taught in the schools. It is clear from what we read in the Bible that it is to be taught, first and foremost, in the Christian home. Of course Christian parents should live what they teach, but it is also their responsibility to see that their children are brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:2021). As for secular schools, can we really expect them to do this work for us?
While we may encourage our young people to equip themselves at university for a useful career, we ought not to neglect that aspect of higher spiritual training which is the job of the elders of the church (Eph. 4:1112). It really must be our task to enable young people to learn to think for themselves. To qualify in this we may look at the example of the Bereans. These dear folk “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
If our young people do not receive the Word in this way, we have failed them. If they are incapable of searching the Scriptures for themselves with a healthy skepticism for any teaching, then we have failed the Lord in a task He has entrusted to those of us who are mature, and we shall be ashamed at the judgment seat of Christ (Acts 20:28-31).
1. British psychologist John Bowlby’s book, Child Care And The Growth Of Love (Penguin Books, London, 1951) was a groundbreaking work commissioned by the World Health Organization. It led to more detailed and exhaustive studies in the USA.
2. For more information on the teaching of Jewish children consult Alfred Edersheim’s classic, The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah (Vol.1, pp. 227-234).
By Roger Penney
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org