The first thing about Classical Conversations that attracted me was some of its signature verses, such as Proverbs 24:3-4 (KJV):
Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
As classical, Christian homeschoolers, my husband and I were deeply persuaded by this biblical expression of the classical stages of the Trivium (eloquently expressed by Dorothy Sayers in her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning”1): knowledge correlating with the grammar stage, understanding corresponding to the dialectic stage, and wisdom coinciding with the rhetoric stage.
We understood the stages of the Trivium to reflect the learning progress of children as they grow to adulthood as well as to mirror the universal way in which people pass through degrees of learning about any new material. Thus, we saw in these verses not only a biblical confirmation of classical principles, but a beautiful vision of how applying these principles would result in a life blessed by the Lord: Knowledge of information provided the wealth, the fertile ground for growing in understanding; this in turn produced the wisdom by which a sturdy, godly house might be built.
It was exciting for us to see this classical methodology reflected clearly in the Scriptures. Since that time, we have seen additional correlations between the paradigms of classical education and biblical teachings. For example, another such area that we have come to comprehend more fully is the idea of Christian paideai. And as we have journeyed down our classical, homeschooling path, we have also become convicted that if there is one thing central to Christian paideia, it can, perhaps, be said to be the essence of the Hebraic Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, KJV).
The Shema is the core Jewish prayer, articulating the commandment to love the Lord with all the heart, soul, and strength. It is followed by emphatic instruction to faithfully teach subsequent generations to do the same. It is reaffirmed in the New Testament in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27, at which point Jesus seems to add another element: to love the Lord with all the mind.
Although this additional specification might seem to be something new, we need to recall that Christ told us He came not to change, but to fulfill the Old Testament (Matt 5:17-20). This means that what Christ was teaching must already be present in the Old Testament! If we seek it there, we will find it.
Where then can we find this idea of loving God with all one’s mind expressed in the Old Testament? I believe there is possibly no more powerful place to find it than in the Book of Job. Not only does a study of this ancient ‘wisdom’ book reveal the potency of the New Testament mandates as expressed in Luke 10:27, but it invites us to return again to Proverbs 24:3-4, and finally, to remember that the root of all understanding and wisdom is found in grasping that “The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy [is] understanding” (Proverbs 9:10, KJV).
How is all of this played out in Job? Recently, I was reading Job and was struck once again by the forcefulness of the following words uttered by him in a moment of fathomless frustration and desolation:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27, NKJV)
I find it stunning that out of catastrophe, suffering, confusion, and despair comes this statement from Job, articulating absolute certainty and magnificent hope!
How, I have wondered, is this possible? In the world before the Incarnation of Christ, in the prehistory days of the ancient Patriarchs so long before all the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament prophets, how did Job know?How did Job not only perceive, but hold steadfastly on to the truth that one day Christ would not only walk the earth, but that Job, himself resurrected, would stand before Christ one day and see the Redeemer in the flesh?
The answer lies in the Shema. Not, perhaps, the precise text of it as articulated by Moses in Deuteronomy, but in the basic principle of it. That is, to teach the love of the Lord diligently and faithfully down through the generations. Here’s how I think it works:
(1) To teach the love of the Lord, the knowledge of the Lord must be taught. Information about the Lord must be transferred. How can a person love what he or she does not know about?
(2) If, then, we want to teach knowledge about the Lord, we must teach history. In short, we must teach the full history of man beginning with the Creation. And it is important not to stop there, but to teach about the creation itself in order to come to know its Creator.
When we consider this, it becomes clear that Job’s parents—and all his ancestors preceding them—who traced their line directly back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, had been instructing Job in the history of creation! How did Job know there would be a future Redeemer? He knew because his ancestors had essentially followed the instructions later expressed in the form of the Shema: Job had been taught the story of the Fall, and he had thereby also been taught about the great messianic promise made by the Lord at the dawn of human history:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15, KJV).
From Adam, through Noah, and then through Noah’s descendent Abraham and into the age of the Patriarchs, knowledge of God and of God’s promise of a Redeemer was taught to Job. This happened not simply in the form of a promise, but clearly in the form of a precisely articulated salvation plan: the Redeemer would come in the flesh and those who believed upon Him would also be in the flesh to see Him before them!
What the Book of Job also reveals is the truths of Proverbs 24:3-4, verses which form the basis of important Scriptural understandings of education mirrored in the classical principles of learning; in essence this can be understood as an articulation of Christian paideia:
• The Shema: Job had knowledge in the form of the instruction he had been given, handed down through the ages to him from the mouths of Adam and Eve.
• Proverbs 9:10: Job gained understanding through the course of his experiences. He came to have knowledge of the holiness of God: the unsearchableness of God’s ways, the fundamental ‘unknowableness’ of the source of all creation. Job also used his mind in argument and discourse, through the course of the story, both with his so-called advisors as well as with the Lord himself. Job reasoned, but ultimately came to the realization that no amount of his own reasoning would bring him to knowledge of God’s ways. What he did realize was a profound fear of the Lord.
• Proverbs 24:3-4: As a result of Job’s knowledge and understanding, he then acted in wisdom: he bowed before the Lord in profound repentance, acknowledging the holiness of the One who had created him. Job acted in deep comprehension of the fear of the Lord. It is because of this that the Lord rebuilt Job’s house, giving Job health and long life, and increasing his wealth and family.
What a rich and powerful metaphor God gives us in the story of Job! God shows us the importance of the Shema.He directs us in gaining comprehension of what true understanding entails (knowledge of the holiness of God gained through the study of creation and its history), and He affirms the truth that through the Shema(knowledge gained through love of the Lord), knit together with understanding (comprehending God’s holiness), wisdom is possible for man (acting wisely, with fear of the Lord). The result of all this is that a godly house is constructed: the very thing which should be the aim of Christian paideai!
Now to return to Luke 10:27. How did Job navigate all those tasks? With his mind, which first acquired the historical knowledge, then grasped and affirmed it in proclaiming the existence of his Redeemer, and then acted upon it by subjugating himself—his body, his emotions, his spirit, his will, his thoughts—to the Lord:
Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee…Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-2,6, KJV).
1 You can read the full text of Sayers’ speech in Classical Christian Education Made Approachable.