02.04.07 Work and the Purpose of Education
To the Greeks and Romans, the pursuit of study was to enter a “spiritual realm” and, therefore, escape the rigors of work. The pagans believed the world was in two dimensions: spiritual and temporal. The goal was to escape from the temporal world and live in the spiritual world. Everything physical in the world was evil and to live in the spiritual world was the ultimate goal. This is the essence of Gnosticism. In recent Western church history this philosophy was reflected in “sweet bye and bye” hymns, Negro spirituals, and other songs of escape.
The Romans believed work was evil, and was for those in the lower classes of society, namely slaves and the poor. Those in the lower classes saw that the purpose of an education was to acquire material things and become socially elevated. On the other hand, a scholar was one who pursued the spiritual life. Hence, “scholar” by definition meant “leisure.” Philosophers, priests (incl. theologians), etc., were the ideal spiritual class. The Greeks studied to comprehend while the Jews studied to revere God. The Greco-Roman philosophy teaches that man is basically good, but has the potential for doing evil. Jewish thought is that man is by nature evil, but has the potential for making good decisions. To the Greeks and Romans, the highest level of education was philosophy, and logic, in the form of dialectic, was common to philosophy and rhetoric. “Learned people” knew how to argue philosophically and theologically.
To the Jews there was only one subject of study: theology. Mothers taught children Bible stories prior to entering the synagogue school at the age of five. The Scriptures were studied daily by all, as it was the only way by which one could learn what God required of humanity. If one did not study, he had no opportunity to be obedient to God. It was the method of understanding and attaining the character of God. Work was not seen as an evil endeavor, but a divine blessing. To the Jew, all men were equal before God, an idea that was completely foreign to other religions.
Another unique feature of Judaism was that all men, including priests, were trained in an occupation, in the event they would be called upon to support themselves. Work was admired and considered to be God-given. The work ethic had no hierarchy, but was considered to be a blessing for all.
. Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian. 65.
. Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages. 32, 128.