With school back in full session around the country, it’s interesting to think about how the Bible is often banned directly or indirectly in schools. The 2016 PureFlix movie, “God’s Not Dead 2,” dealt with that issue so well.
Yet the Bible gave birth to schools for the masses. There would be no public schools without the sacred book.
The first law to mandate compulsory education for children in British North America was passed in Puritan Boston. It was called "the Old Deluder Satan Act.” It was written first in 1642 and adopted in 1647.
It states, “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue…and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.” They were saying, in other words: The devil has kept us from the Bible long enough. And we do not want Bible-knowledge to die off when our church leaders do.
Therefore, let schools be established to promote knowledge of God’s Word. The act continues, “It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read…”
For the first 200 years or so after the settling of America, education at all levels was explicitly Christian---so that people could read the Bible for themselves. The original colleges and universities were explicitly Christian to train ministers.
In 1692, the Puritans produced a short little book, of which there eventually millions of copies published. It was called The New England Primer, and it went through multiple editions.
David Barton of WallBuilders has reproduced the short primer, and he once gave me a copy of the 1777 version.
The New England Primer taught American children the alphabet using biblical truths. For example, “A - in Adam’s Fall, We sinned all.” “B - thy life to mend, the Bible tend.” “C - Christ crucified, for sinners died.”
The primer contained all 107 questions and answers of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), which includes this famous question and answer:
“Quest. WHAT is the chief end of man?
“Ans. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
The New England Primer also contained the Apostles’ Creed, the centuries-old summation of the Christian faith which is recited in churches all over the world to this day.
The primer was quite influential, and all the founding fathers from New England (and beyond) were weaned on Biblical principles, in part through this little book. This would include Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Sam Adams, John Hancock, and so on.
Because of influences like The New England Primer, Dr. Donald S. Lutz, author of The Origins of American Constitutionalism, once told me that the Founding Fathers of America knew the Bible “down to their fingertips.” That doesn’t mean they all believed, but most did. And most of them were schooled in it.
In a book I had the privilege of co-writing on the faith of our first president, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, Dr. Peter Lillback created a chart showing dozens of biblical phrases that can be found in the writings, private and public, of George Washington. It’s as if you cut the man, he bled Scripture.
One of Washington’s favorite biblical references was Micah 4:4: “…they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.” Washington saw this as a metaphor of what America could become---a place where everyone who wanted to live in peace could sit under his own vine and fig tree.
With an education that was explicitly Bible-based, what was the impact on literacy rates in America? They were very high. Dr. D. James Kennedy once put it this way, in contrasting colonial America (with its emphasis on the Bible) versus modern education (which is often downgrading the Scriptures): “What was the result of over 200 years of Christian education? John Quincy Adams said that in the early 1800’s, only four people out of 1,000 were illiterate, or four-tenths of one percent.”
But what about today? Alas, there are millions of functionally illiterate Americans today. Some of those graduating can’t even read their diplomas. Kennedy noted we’re approaching the illiteracy rate of some of the undeveloped countries.
I think the time is overdue to welcome back to the schools the very book that gave them their birth.