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    Embracing Paideia, Expanding the Kingdom

    October 29, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,
    but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

    Ephesians 6:4

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Greek in this verse is very enlightening. The word translated as discipline here is one of my favorite Greek words: παιδεία {paideia}. Paideia has no true English equivalent because our idea of education is so truncated, so narrow. I love what Doug Wilson says about paideia in his book The Paideia of God:

    Now were we to describe our process of education to a first century Ephesian and then ask him what Greek word would be used to describe this process, the initial answer would be simple and straightforward — paideia. This is not an obscure word or concept; the idea of paideia was central to the ancient classical mind, and Paul’s instructions here consequently had profound ramifications… Formal education is essential to the process of paideia, of course, but the boundaries of paideia are much wider than the boundaries of what we understand as education. So our helpful Ephesian would tell us that paideia is certainly the word we are looking for, but he would then think for a moment and go on to tell us that it is not quite that simple. In short, their paideia was broader, bigger, deeper, and far more developed than our notions of what constitutes “education.”


    Embracing Paideia Expanding the Kingdom

    Why does this matter?

    Why do we care that the classical paideia was broader, bigger, deeper, and whatever else-er than what we think of as education today? Why does it matter?

    I have a connected question I’ve been attempting to answer for a while now. If we say that Christians can — or even should — be educated classically, why is this acceptable? Is it ever acceptable for a Christian to adopt a Greek methodology like this?

    This last question is the central one I’ve been grappling with lately.

    Recently, there was a debate over the definition of classical education at the Ordo Amoris blog. That got me thinking again about Colossians 2:8:

    See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

    I think that most of us realize that the “philosophy and empty deception” of the day was Roman in nature. So who am I to say that a Christian can–or even should–adopt the method of education used by the Greeks and Romans? Is this — or might it be — a form of syncretism?


    The Christian Paideia

    I think the answer of why it is not just acceptable, but good, lies in Paul’s use of the word paideia for how Christian fathers should bring up their children.

    So Paul says that fathers should raise their children in the paideia of the Lord. Let me quote further on what Wilson says, because it explains it better than I could:

    Werner Jaeger, in his monumental study of paideia, shows that the word paideia represented … an enormous ideological task. They were concerned with nothing less than the shaping of the ideal man, who would be able to take his place in the ideal culture. Further, the point of paideia was to bring that culture about.


    Building Christendom

    I remember once in a class my husband was teaching, one of the students had reached a what do I do now sort of point in his life. He was energized by the teaching, and he wanted to express it somewhere. My husband’s answer was that it starts in the home. The student seemed to me to be somewhat deflated by this.

    However, comma.

    The Greeks understood it perfectly: paideia, a full and purposeful education — or enculturation — that forms a man for an ideal adulthood is the way of bringing the ideal culture about. We do not fight the “culture war” {I hate that phrase … I am not fighting a war, but rather constructing a cathedral} anywhere if we do not fight it at home.


    Yes, Miss Mason, Education is an Atmosphere

    Wilson goes on:

    In the ancient world, the paideia was all-encompassing and involved nothing less than the enculturation of the future citizen. He was enculturated when he was instructed in the classroom, but the process was also occurring when he walked along the streets of his city to and from school. It included walking by the temple for the gods of his people. That too was part of the process.

    I cannot ignore how much this Greek conception sounds like the Hebraic methodology {which is to say God’s methodology} described in Deuteronomy 6:6-9:

    These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

    The Hebrews were told that a process of enculturation should take place, and that process was saturated with God’s law and promises.

    Recall that the Babylonians also understood this. After Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, he brought back sons of Israel

    …youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

    Culture is passed on primarily through language and literature, and I have sat through more than one sermon that explained how this was the most effective way to not only conquer a people group, but force assimilation: steal their children and train them to be leaders in the new culture.

    Part of this enculturation process included dining:

    The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service.

    This quote alone might make it sound like food was a neutral issue; folks have got to eat, after all. But if it were neutral, then why did Daniel refuse it? We read:

    But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

    Since it is not against God’s law for a Jew to drink wine, something else was going on in the educational process of the Chaldeans here, something with Scripture tells us Daniel saw would “defile” him if he participated.

    The food, you see, was part of the indoctrination program. And I find it interesting that Daniel chose not to refuse literature or language lessons, but the food. He opted for a vegetarian diet, and God blessed him for it.


    A Long Tradition of Enculturating Children

    So what does this have to do with classical education? With paideia?

    Well, it seems that there is a history of enculturation that stretches back before the Greeks. I don’t know what else to call the method of handing down the faith that the Hebrews were supposed to use. Paideia sounds like a pretty good term. Here, you have fathers living lives alongside their children, applying God’s law all day long, as they rise up, as they walk along the way, and as they lie down at night.

    In addition to this, we have the example of the Teacher in Proverbs, who takes his son out into the world and gives instruction which is like a graceful wreath to the head, or an ornament around the neck. The Teacher points to the adulterous woman, and gives warning. He points to the ways of the wicked, and of the wise, and prepares the youth to enter the world of manhood.

    And in addition to this, we see that the Chaldeans understood that enculturation and indoctrination included not only literature and language {the Trivium}, but the food you eat, and the wine you drink.

    The Greeks perfected a very old system, which is not a system, but rather a description of how a child is brought up into adulthood.

    So when Paul says to that faithful Christians fathers must bring up children in the paideia of the Lord, he is not saying to bring them up Greek. He is saying that they must continue to bring their children up classically, as they were already doing, but classically Christian.

    Teaching literature in the mimetic mode is not Greek in the sense that it produces Greeks, and if a Christian utilizes the mode correctly, the result will be more effective discipleship.

    Along these lines, Socratic questions are not inherently evil, even if Socrates was an unbeliever.


    Reviewing Paul

    Paul was explaining that the entirety of the child’s education was to be Christian in nature; this is God’s command in Deuteronomy 6 restated for His people again in Ephesians 6. God has always required that His people bring their children up in Him and for Him.

    This is so huge and important if you really think about it, that it reminds me of Jesus’ teaching on divorce. Remember? When Jesus said it wasn’t natural, the disciples marveled and said that maybe it was better to never marry! If we think about paideia {at least without realizing that God always give us strength to follow in His steps}, we just might marvel and say that maybe it is better to never have children!

    Obviously, that’s the wrong response. I’m just saying that this idea is that big.

    In fact, that passage on divorce is quickly followed in Matthew with Jesus saying, “Let the little children come unto me.”

    And that, my friends, is the exact point!

    Let’s go back to the verse we started from.

    Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

    We talked about discipline, which is really paideia, but let’s briefly discuss the second word. It is only used three times in the New Testament, from what I can tell. The word here is νουθεσία {nouthesia}, and it is derived from two different Greek words: νοῦς {nous} which is referring to the general intellectual faculty of the mind, and also the capacity to discern spiritual truth, and the ability to make sober judgments, and τίθημι {tithēmi}, which, when connected to nous refers to the idea that said intellect has been set aside or established.

    The idea here is that Christian fathers are responsible for making sure that their child is enculturated in the Lord and that the child’s very intellect is trained to be spiritually discerning and is set aside and established in God Himself.

    The word for God here is κύριος {kyrios}, which means that He is the master or possessor of the thing. Our children are not our own, and fathers are to actively submit them to the Lord.


    To Build a Kingdom

    Do we not pray to God that His kingdom comes? This is how we bring it about. We evangelize, bringing new families, the very nations, to the Lord, and then we exhort them to offer their children to the Lord, that the kingdom be built, like a leavening loaf, little by little, over the generations.

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  • Reply Mystie November 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Bravo, Brandy!

    An excellent article on Greek thought in education is here:

  • Reply Si October 30, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    To clarify my previous comment, by “sometimes,” I did not mean that I am not proud to be your husband at times. I’m always proud of and grateful for you, but today especially.

  • Reply Si October 30, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Sometimes, I am proud to be your husband. Other times, I am so grateful. Today, I am just plain amazed by you. Thanks for thinking and writing about the paideia of God so thoroughly. We prayed that each of our children would be leaders in their generation, and this whole life-education-training model is the means by which it will happen, one family at a time.

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