Three Biblical Models for Grounding Education
1. Solomon’s Worldview Model
Solomon’s commentary on the foundations for learning is not insignificant. Solomon is lauded as the wisest person who would ever live,6 and he formulates a very straightforward philosophy of education. He asserts that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,”7 and adds that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”8 Solomon is not limiting the scope of education here to religious education. Rather, he makes a much more profound and far reaching epistemological statement: wisdom, knowledge, and understanding all find their derivation in the fear of the Lord.
Arguably, there can be no education without the increasing of knowledge and understanding, nor any fruitful application of knowledge and understanding without wisdom. So, at least according to Solomon, we can not get far into the educational process without an awareness of how to foster wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Solomon’s formula directs the educator to focus on the fear of the Lord.
The Fear of the Lord
From examining the Biblical data on the fear of the Lord, it is evident that in each of the instances of the Hebrew yirah, the idea is truly fear, and not simply respect. This kind of yirahcauses people “to tremble and be in anguish…”9 Even in worship it is associated with trembling.10 But when used in relation to God it is also closely associated with His lovingkindness. As David observes, “But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in fear of You.”11 Note the relationship of the love of God to the fear of the Lord. The two are not only not mutually exclusive, but they go together. The writer of Psalm 111 illustrates the connection:
Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart,
In the company of the upright and in the assembly.
Great are the works of the Lord;
They are studied by all who delight in them.
Splendid and majestic is His work,
And His righteousness endures forever.
He has made His wonders to be remembered;
The Lord is gracious and compassionate.
He has given food to those who fear Him;
He will remember His covenant forever.
He has made known to His people the power of His works,
In giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of His hands are truth and justice;
All His precepts are sure.
They are upheld forever and ever;
They are performed in truth and uprightness.
He has sent redemption to His people;
He has ordained His covenant forever;
Holy and awesome is His name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;
His praise endures forever.
Notice that fearing the Lord is not an isolated activity. In this context, the one who fears the Lord is also praising the Lord, giving thanks, studying the works of the Lord, remembering His wonders, and having good understanding overall. It seems fair to say that the fear of the Lord is the proper perspective of and response to God.
In an education context it is notable that these five activities related to the proper perspective of and response to God are representative of major areas within education. (1) The arts and disciplines of expression are helpful in expressing praise of the Lord. (2) Character development and ethics come into play in developing thankfulness. (3a) The sciences are helpful in studying the works of the Lord revealed in creation, (3b) Biblical theology and philosophy are products of considering the works of the Lord revealed in Scripture. (4) Remembering His wonders is an enterprise of the humanities and history, and (5) having good understanding overall is expressed in critical thinking, logic, and math. The fear of the Lord undergirds all of these expressions of thought and action, and deserves our attention not just because we seek to be good educators, but because we seek to be good creatures of our God and King.
The Source of the Fear of the Lord
If the fear of the Lord is the critical first step undergirding learning, then we must know how to get it. It is noteworthy that Solomon doesn’t simply provide the key ingredient without telling us how to locate it. Solomon tells us where to source the fear of the Lord: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”12 If wisdom, knowledge, and understanding come from His mouth, and the fear of the Lord is the source of those three commodities, then the equation is clear: we gain the fear of the Lord from His mouth – from His word. David echoes this sourcing in Psalm 34, charging his young readers to listen and he would teach them the fear of the Lord.13 He emphasizes the benefits of avoiding evil and pursuing good. These two values can ultimately be understood through what God has revealed, as the Psalmist illustrates in Psalm 119 – “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.”14 Each of the 176 verses of Psalm 119 emphasizes the superlative benefit of God’s revelation. That is our starting place, our guiding first principle.
The fear of the Lord comes from the word of the Lord. Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding ultimately come from the word of the Lord. Consequently in Solomon’s education model (as revealed in Proverbs, and as in agreement with David and other Psalmists), there is no worthwhile education without the word of God. In fact, if an educator is beginning without the fear of the Lord, that educator must begin with the first principle that God is not, and that we must work our way to God. David calls this foolishness, reminding the reader that “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”15 Shall our educational pursuits begin with a posture of foolishness, or shall we endeavor to move toward wisdom, knowledge, and understanding by beginning with Him and with His word? Solomon’s worldview model answers that question resoundingly.
If the outcome is truth and certainty, what is the impact on happiness, mental health, and overall well being? David invites the reader to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”16Solomon encourages his son that, “Wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil…”17 Solomon adds that wisdom will add length of days, years, and peace to one’s life.18 The fear of the Lord will be healing to the body and refreshment to the bones.19 Wisdom’s ways are pleasant and bring peace.20 Wisdom and discretion are life to a soul and adornment to one’s neck.21 Solomon’s prescriptions are foundational for resolving today’s unique challenges.
(Part 3 will consider the 2nd model.)
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.