Glimpsing Paideia

I have always loved the word paideia. It’s a word I kind of grew up on. Having been raised in the Reformed Christian tradition, Greek and Hebrew and Latin words are not unfamiliar to me, although I have never even considered the option of studying one of those languages to the point where I were fluent or able to translate anything. But when it comes to original languages, especially used in Scripture, I have a longing to know the translation and the etymology and the various definitions and applications of a word. Paideia was one of those words introduced to me from childhood, thanks to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I think it is fairly safe to say that all children raised in a Christian household have been taught Ephesians 6:1 from a very early age: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” and many of us probably even went so far as to have memorized verses 2 & 3 on its heels: “Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” But I think it is less commonplace for verse 4 to be memorized and catechized in our families: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

As a parent, it can be tempting to bark Ephesians 6:1 without first washing ourselves in the gentle command here to parents (fathers specifically). DO NOT provoke your children to anger. Rather, DO bring them up in the paideia of the Lord.

That’s where we see the Greek work paideia.
Biblical translators have a variety of different English words they use in our English Bibles, but they are just insufficient for the height and breadth and depth of what the Greek word would encompass.

Britannica says:
Paideia, (Greek: “education,” or “learning”), system of education and training in classical Greek and Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) cultures that included such subjects as gymnastics, grammar, rhetoric, music, mathematics, geography, natural history, and philosophy.

Merriam-Webster shares this definition:
1: training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development
2: the ideal development envisioned or attained by paideia

And John Piper shares the Greek here:
Fathers . . .
bring them up (ektrephete auta)
in the discipline (paideia)
and instruction (nouthesia)
of the Lord (kuriou).

John Piper continues by saying, “This word [paideia] signifies the actions a father takes to give his children the abilities and skills and character to live life to the glory of God. It is not synonymous with teaching. It is more full and more active.” (emphasis mine)

I have previously written here about paideia as well: how it is the complete enculturation of a person (or society), which is not limited to religion or education, but includes all aspects of training, education, nourishment, nurture, instruction, discipline, and enculturation! The Greeks were endeavoring to raise fantastic little Greek citizens, for which they used the term paideia: but our endeavor as Christian parents is of raising faithful Christian citizens of heaven, using that same all-encompassing term paideia.

But talking about the philosophy surrounding and supporting godly paideia isn’t the whole story. It needs fleshed out! It isn’t enough to simply say, “raise your kids in a decidedly Christian way, and voila, there you have it!” A friend of mine from Paideia Southeast was telling me recently how it feels like raising her kids in the paideia of the Lord is like driving a train down the track… but she is currently laying the track upon which they are driving! And it is exhausting to lay the track while driving the train. And sometimes we don’t even know what other well-used train tracks look like, so we are planning the path of the track while laying it while driving down it. Whew! How much more of a blessing it is to be driving down an already-laid track, or at least to have another track nearby for reference and recommendations.

How do we actively pursue the paideia of the Lord as we raise our children? What are some simple ways for starting out on laying that track? Where are visuals to remind me that it looks different in different families? I am looking now for glimpses of paideia around me. Specific instances where I see godly culture being cultivated both in my home and in the homes of others around us. In pictures, in books, in conversations, in posts online. I want to recognize it myself, point it out to my children, and share it with my friends. The paideia of the Lord.

Oh, may the Lord give me eyes to glimpse His paideia in palpable, practical application so that I can walk in faithfulness for the furthering of His kingdom. Amen.

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