SCHOOL. A place or institution devoted to teaching and learning. The word “school” occurs in the English Bible only in Acts.19.9 (kjv) where the reference is to the lecture hall (so niv) of Tyrannus, apparently a Greek teacher of rhetoric or philosophy. But the references to teachers and teaching are numerous in both Testaments. The OT stresses the duty and importance of religious teaching and training. Hebrew appreciation of the nature and value of the teaching function is evident from the fact that ten different Hebrew verbs are translated “teach” in KJV. Yet significantly the Mosaic legislation contains no commands requiring the establishment of schools for formal religious instruction. Hebrew education was mainly domestic and continued to be so until after the return from the Babylonian captivity.
With the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity there came a renewed emphasis on religious instruction. Regular teaching was carried on during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Levites being the teachers of the people (Ezra.7.10; Neh.8.7-Neh.8.9). Ezra the priest, described as “a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses” (Ezra.7.6), made the study and teaching of the law his chief concern. With the cessation of prophecy in Israel the study of the law became a matter of scholastic learning. Gradually there arose a class of men who came to be known as the scribes or teachers of the law, men whose chief employment was the study and interpretation of the law and its application to the practical duties of life. At first the scribes restricted their educational activities to adults, and the education of the children remained in the home.
The synagogue, which has a prominent place in postexile Jewish life, apparently had its origin during the Babylonian captivity. When the exiled people were deprived of their temple and its services, they found it helpful to gather for the reading of the Scriptures and prayer. On their return to the Land of Promise the synagogue spread rapidly and developed into an important education agency. The synagogue services with their readings from the Law and the Prophets and the sermonic “exhortation” (Luke.4.17-Luke.4.21; Acts.13.15-Acts.13.16; Acts.15.21) made their educational contribution to the religious life of the people. Regarded chiefly as places of teaching (never of sacrifice), they became associated with the development of an elementary school system among the Jews. Even before the days of Jesus, synagogues with schools for the young were to be found in every important Jewish community. The synagogue “attendant” (Luke.4.20) generally served as teacher; if there were more than twenty-five students, an assistant was provided. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught as a means to an end. Since the primary aim of education was religious, the OT furnished the subject matter of instruction. Memorization had a prominent place, with emphasis on catechizing, drill, and review. Discipline was strict, the cane was kept available, but undue severity was not condoned. Students seeking training beyond that given in the synagogue schools turned to eminent scribes for further instruction. This was given partly in their homes and partly in the synagogues or the temple porticoes. The instruction was devoted to the rabbinical interpretation of the law and its applications to life. Such advanced theological training Saul of Tarsus received in Jerusalem “under Gamaliel” (Acts.22.3).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)