Post 3 – Stage 1 of Jesus’ Training of His Apostles/Disciples
Why This Note:
In post 2 we listed the four training stages of Jesus’ Apostles/disciples with Biblical references for the beginning and ending of each stage. In this article we will discuss only Stage 1 and its application. This is the “cornerstone”, bedrock or basic element in the development of an adult disciple (talmid) of Christ. This Stage 1 training is essential for new infant believers to develop as a life-long habit. Foregoing this critical stage is manifested in many infant disciples in our churches.
How We Will Proceed
First, we will discuss the educational process of Jewish boys (ages 5 to 13/15) at the time of Jesus. Second, we will discuss the outcome of the process and their importance and third we will discuss the application for today. You are asking, ‘what does the Jewish education system have to do with developing adult disciples for Christ’? A very good question!
There were four phases (stages) in the training of Jesus’ Apostles. The New Testament speaks clearly to phases two, three and four as noted in the previous post 2. Careful reading of the New Testament reveals the “calls” indicating the transition from one phase to the next. A book by Dr. Bruce (ref.1) first published in 1871 speaks of three calls and Bill Hull’s book (ref. 2) in 1988 speaks of four calls with each “call” depicting a phase of training. Recently Bobby Harrington, founder of discipleship.org, has written about the five stages (phases) of Jesus’ training of his Apostles/disciples (ref. 3 and 4).
But there is a forgotten phase that neither Dr. Bruce, Mr. Hull or Mr. Harrington have addressed which is the training received by the Apostles prior to their meeting Jesus (see John Chapter 1). They came with a high degree of religious training. They came with some built-in practical knowledge and qualities that we do not possess as we come into the church – yet these qualities are the very foundation for developing a useful, adult disciple of Christ. This religious training came from their education in their homes, synagogue school and culture. Let us consider the Jewish educational system at the time of Jesus. (ref. 11, pages 945-970 and ref.5)
Note: To obtain information on specific Jewish education I have had to go to other sources outside the Bible – That is a word of caution. The Old Testament gives many directions as to the training (disciplining) of children in the home by the father (Genesis 18:19) and there are many references in the Old Testament directed to parents to pass on the Law and the wondrous events of the escape from Egypt to the next generation. However, these many verses do not speak to the issue of age and content for children. To obtain such information has required a careful search requiring many months. Internet search information was only used if it could be varied. The best internet article can be found at https://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/education-in-ancient-israel. (ref.6)
Jewish Educational System at Time of Jesus
Note: There are two names that are prominent in Jewish education. First, Simon ben-Shetach, brother of Queen Alexandra (78-69 BC) and president of the Sanhedrin (ref.11, p. 947-948), who declared elementary education for boys to be compulsory. Young Jewish boys at age 5-7 had to begin school at the local synagogue. Second, Joshua ben-Gamala, who was High Priest (63-65 AD) established all synagogues had to appoint teachers for primary education up to an age of 16-18. (ref. 5,6 but reference 6 is short and succinct, also Ref.11, P.947-949)
Jewish education was entirely religious education. The text book was the Torah. All elementary school education was preparation for reading the Law. All higher education was for the reading and study of the Law. On the Sabbath (our Saturday) at the synagogue service at least seven members were called upon to read the scripture lesson. The Torah and scripture in Galilee and Judea were in Hebrew (Palestine was a country of many languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) and in Greek speaking areas the scripture was in Greek. Therefore, the ability to read in the Jewish community in Hebrew was needed for reading of Torah at the synagogue. It was said “you were not a Jew if you could not read”.
Age Grouping (for boys only)
Birth to 5/6 – The real center for Jewish education was the home. Jewish education at the time of Jesus was for the development of life virtues (life management skills) manifested in proper moral and ethical conduct in keeping with Torah commands. The home was the nursery of all Jewish virtues and the establishment of Jewish heritage. Thus, children’s education was/is the responsibility of the parents. This was so even before the synagogue schools were started and reflects the command given to Abraham in Genesis 18:19. Josephus said “the duty of the father was to instruct his son (children) in the Law, to bring his son to wedlock and to teach him a skill to earn a living. (ref. 8) We note this emphasis on the parent’s role in many places in the Old Testament in Proverbs, Deuteronomy, the Psalms and many other books. In the home both father and mother shared this responsibility to satisfy Torah (the Law). A Jewish sage said, “you might as well bury a child as neglect his education” (ref.7, p. 16)
As soon as a child could speak, he was taught Deuteronomy 6:4-5 by both his father and mother – the Shema. These verses reflect Jewish heritage and the worship of God – the supreme pillars of Jewish education. At this time all teaching was oral and was conducted by repetition not only in Israel but typical in all countries. Education to a large extent was memorizing.
Ages 2 to 5/6 were very critical with the development of the child’s cognitive ability and personality (same as it is today) and the child was exposed to the religious rituals of the family, the synagogue and the Temple. The Torah (the Law) and its practice was their life. It wasn’t just knowledge but the actual practice of what they knew – it was worship. It was Torah practice manifested in holiness (relationship with God) and righteousness (relationship with your “neighbor’.) Jesus summed this perspective very clearly when he answered the Pharisees question about the greatest commandment in the Law (Torah) in Matthew 22: 36-40.
The child saw the practice (modelling) of Torah by their parents and family including daily prayers at meals and other times. They were part of the many religious feasts and holidays in their home. They were taken to the market several times a week by their mother and this included a visit to the local synagogue where the mother read and studied Torah and perhaps listen to one of the elders or a priest (Not on duty at the tcomment on a specific passage. Many times, the elder was a priest not on duty at the Temple.
They saw the “Mezuzah” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) on the door post/gates of the house and every “clean” room within the house. The saw their parents touching the opening to the small box as they passed and said a prayer. They learned what this little box and the ritual associated with it meant at a very early age. The TMAA Process was used to train the child at home before he began to attend school. The TMAA Process is Teach-Model-Act-Accountability. A process that has been used since very ancient times to train children and adults and is used today. This was the key training methodology Jesus used with his Apostles.
They were taken to the synagogue by their parents and were impacted by what they saw and heard including reading from the Torah, the Psalms and the Prophets. They heard the repetition of the many prayers and this became impregnated in their minds and thinking – this was life! It was part of their life formation as to who they were as Jewish children – their heritage, their obedience to Torah and their understanding of God and his worship. They became friends with other children that were going through the same training in their homes.
Their heritage was cemented in their minds as they travelled with their family and other families to Jerusalem to attend one of the three mandatory Temple feasts. The three included Passover, Pentecost and the Festival of Tabernacles. Each represented a remembrance of God’s faithfulness to Israel and it was the duty of the father to explain the significance of each to the child. These trips were like long camping trips. Jesus participated in these trips as noted in Luke 2:41-52.
Ages 5/6 to about age 10 – At age 5/6 the young boy entered elementary school at the local synagogue. He came with a lot of religious ideas and concepts that had been instilled in him by his parents. He was first taught the Hebrew alphabet and then how to read Hebrew using the Torah. His reading began with Leviticus 1-8 (Ref.7, p.43, ref.9, p.299). Other items included the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), the creation story (Genesis 1-5), the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) which most already knew before entering school.
At synagogue school they were first taught the Hebrew alphabet and then to recognize whole words using the Torah as the reader. By age 10 most were proficient in reading and had begun to memorize scripture (Torah). The teacher explained the laws along with the many decrees (oral law) required with each law. He also taught them about God (theology) and His love and care for the Jewish people. During this age they continued to attend the synagogue and the feasts in Jerusalem with their family. By age 10 most knew the 18 benedictions (or prayers) used in the synagogue and the rituals of the synagogue service (ref.10, p. 204-205).
The teacher explained the laws along with the many decrees (oral law) required with each. With each lesson other items were included such as mathematics, agriculture and other items. Education to a large extent was memorizing and repetition and disciple was required. By the age of 10 many had memorized a portion of the Torah and other books of the Old Testament.
Age 10 to about age 12 – At about age 10 the young boy transition into the oral law which was the interpretations by the former sages on how to apply the many commandments in the Torah. This school was a second part of the synagogue school and operated separate from the elementary school. Some scholars say that boys of this age and older also helped to teach the younger boys. At this age, the boy’s father or others taught the boy a trade. During this time Jesus learned a trade probably from his earthly father. (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3).
During this age period they built upon their reading skills and memorized large portions of the Torah and studied in greater detail the 600 plus laws of the Torah. The teacher explained in more depth the decrees and instructions as they moved through the Torah. They were taught to meditate on the scripture they had memorized. They also had memorized the Decalogue (10 Commandments) and knew much of the ‘oral law’ associated with everyday living rules to maintain ritual purity. They continued in all the family rituals, attended synagogues with parents and attended feasts in Jerusalem with parents.
Why the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy? – These books contained the details of the Law for everyday “life management” including religious, civil, and relational activities. By the time of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees had added a several hundred additional requirements as interpretation to maintain one’s righteousness (sin management) before the Law. This was a “burden” for the common people and especially all the requirements for the Sabbath. Jesus addresses this burden in Matthew 11.28-30.
Age 12 to about 13/15 and beyond – During this period they continued to study the Torah and attend the synagogue and feasts as well as participate in the family daily religious rituals. New in this period was the study of the Talmud and memorization of parts of the Mishnah (oral law) and also the Gemara. Mishnah was the detail requirements on how to keep the laws in Torah – that were not specifically written down – called “oral law” or decrees. Gemara was the rabbinical analysis of and commentary on the Mishnah. Combined they are called the Talmud.
The teacher explained in greater detail the grace God had extended to Israel (theology). Also, during this time, they were taught a vocation by their fathers or served as an apprentice to someone in the community to learn a skill by which they could earn a living and support a family (examples: Peter, James and John). They were also formally inducted into the synagogue and could read from the Torah or the prophets if called upon. They also had background knowledge of the feasts and the history associated with each feast. We see Jesus speaking with the scribes and teachers at age 12 while at the Feast of Passover (Luke 2:41-51). Had he been through this training – the Bible does not say. We can only assume he had – because Joseph and Mary were strict observant Jews.
Age 15 and Beyond – Beyond the age of 15/16 a young man had several options.
- He could start his vocation, marry and have a family.
- He could ask a rabbi to become his talmid and eventual become a rabbi raising his own talmidim. A very few of the outstanding students at about age 15 sought permission to study with a famous teacher (rabbi) and would leave home to travel with the rabbi. Those that did not qualify or chose not to continue their education began their trade as an apprentice to their father or another member of the community.
- He could attend one of the academies of Shammai and Hillel in Jerusalem to become either a rabbi or a scribe. Paul was educated in one of these academies under Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).
At age 14/15 they took their first step into Jewish manhood as they were inducted into the local synagogue and could be called upon to read from the scriptures. All of Jesus’ 12 Apostles were approximately between the ages of 14 to 25 . The Apostle John according to some scholars could have been as young as 13 when he began to follow Jesus and he lived to near the end of the 1st century (100 AD).
Outcome of Education Process
By age 15/16 most Jewish young men had developed some very important basic religious skills/perspectives as well as practical skills to earn a living. What were they?
- They could read Hebrew while they probably spoke an Arabic dialect and Greek.
- They had memorized a great portion of the Torah and the Prophets and of the “oral law”. The Shema was in their bloodstream.
- They had been taught to read/study Torah daily. They had to go to the synagogue to do this.
- They had become members of the local synagogue. They could read the Torah in the Hebrew if called upon in the synagogue. They participated in the synagogue services.
- They had been taught to mediate on scripture.
- They knew the prayers of the home and synagogue.
- They had been taught to pray daily
- They had been taught to fast.
- They had been taught basic theology about God and his love for the nation Israel
- They participated with their family in the observance of the major religious feasts and visited the Temple at least once per year for a religious feast.
- They had been taught a skill with which to make a living.
- They also had a dislike for the Romans.
- They expected their conquering Messiah to return soon and establish Israel as a respected nation.
- They also had a perspective of life after death and of angels.
They lived at home with their parents and were submissive to them (Luke 2:51). They attended the local synagogue with their family. Sometimes they were called upon to read the scripture at the service. At around age 18-20 they married, probably an ‘arranged’ marriage by their parents. Normally they were married to someone younger than they were. We see that Peter was married and lived in Capernaum (Luke 4:38-39).
In summary, we see young men by age 15 were well grounded in their religious culture. Obedience to Torah was their life and their heritage! They could read Hebrew. They had memorized much of the Torah, the Psalms and the Prophets and much of the ‘oral’ law. They were involved in their synagogue and had embarked on their trade.
This was the religious condition of the men and women who God called in Jerusalem to become the first “born again” believers. These were very unique people that God had prepared with very strong Jewish religious convictions. These first believers were from God’s chosen people of Israel and God was faithful to His covenant with His chosen people – the Jews of Israel.This was the worldview established in most conservative young Hebrew men at the time of Jesus and the approximate worldview that Jesus’ Apostles had when several first met him at the site of John the Baptist as given in John chapter 1. Not all came with the same level of these qualities.
Application for Today
What where the basics with which Jesus’ early talmidim (disciples/followers) came as mentioned in the previous section?
- Read/study Torah daily as it was an act of worship.
- Memorization – Great portions of the first 5 books of the OT memorized and especially the SHEMA (Duet 6:4-9) and much of the oral law.
- Mediation -had been taught to mediate on scripture from 5 years of age or before.
- Fasting – practiced fasting with family
- Prayer – they knew a multitude of prayers from family and synagogue services
- Could Read – they had been taught to read Hebrew in their synagogue school even though the local language was either some Aramaic/Syrian dialect or Greek.
- Basic theology about God and his love for the nation Israel
- Synagogue attendance
For us in the USA the elements for stage one training should be at least the eight elements previous stated. The elements should include:
(1) Quiet time that includes: prayer, Bible study and keeping of a spiritual log-book/note book
(2) Scripture memory
(3) Scripture meditation
(5) Basic theology
(8) Gospel presentation
These are the basic elements for stage one discipleship. It is the formation of the basic disciplines resulting in life management. These are the disciplines with which Jesus’ early disciples/followers came — built-in! They came with an understanding of Torah commands and the rules to managed their lives according to the oral law.
New believers that come into our churches do not come with the same qualifications. They have to be train to exercise these disciplines – otherwise they remain in an infant or at most a young child stage of a disciple (see Post 1). Development of spiritual disciplines must be done intentionally with accountability and in small groups. THIS IS THE FORGOTTEN STAGE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF DISCIPLES FOR CHRIST!
Did you (me) come into our local church with these qualities. Do we even practice the “basics” on a weekly “basics”? Are we part of a small group that holds us accountable to the “basics”?
Memory Verse: James 4:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
1.Who is responsible for this training in the local church?
- When and where should it be done?
- How often?
- How long does it take to build the basics into a person’s life?
All very good questions that will be answered in coming posts to this web site.
- “The Training of the Twelve”, Alexander Balmain Bruce, 4th Edition, Keats Publishing 1979 (originally published in 1871)
- “The Disciple Making Church” Bill Hull, Chosen Books, Baker Book House,1990
- Part 1 – https://discipleship.org/bobbys-blog/stages-disciple-making/?ck_subscriber_id=355724216
- Part 2 – https://discipleship.org/bobbys-blog/disciple-making-stages-2/?ck_subscriber_id=355724216
- The History of Jewish Education from 515 BC to 220 AD, By Nathan Drazin, The John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1940-Revised Ph.D. Thesis of 1937 (Reprint from The John Hopkins university Studies in Education, No. 29)
- 7. Barclay, William, Train Up a Child – Educational Ideals in the Ancient World,” The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 1959.
- Josephus, Flavius, “Jewish Antiquities,” in the new complete works of Josephus, Translated by William Whiston, Kregel Publications, 1999
- Wilson, Marvin R., “Our Father Abraham – Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith,” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mi.,1989.
- Sanders, E.P., Judaism Practice and Belief 63 BCE -66CE, SCM Press, London, trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Fourth Printing 2005 (First published in 1992).
- “The Jewish People in the First Century, Volume 2” Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and W.C. van Unnik, Van Gorcum, Assen/Amsterdam, 1976.