Little is known about methods of education in ancient Israel except that religious, moral, and practical training was in the hands of parents (Deut. 4: 9). So far as is known only boys received education—as is implied by the repeated advice on masculine behaviour in Prov. 1–8, which was probably a textbook against the snares of women. Punishments were severe. At a later period the teaching rabbis did not accept fees, and they therefore earned a living by some trade or craft, as did Paul as a leather‐worker (1 Cor. 9: 3 ff.). The content of the teaching was the religious traditions of Israel, and much of these had to be learnt by heart (Deut. 11: 19; Isa. 28: 10).

In the NT Jesus educated the crowds (Mark 4: 1–2) and more particularly his usually hard‐of‐understanding disciples. They in turn were to educate their converts (Matt. 28: 20). There is no evidence that the elaborate teaching given to Paul by the famous Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3) was imitated in the Church. For example, when Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch, they had a conversation about Isaiah, after which the eunuch proposed baptism in the adjacent stream, which Philip administered without further ado. However, by the time of the Pastoral Epistles there existed schemes of instruction (1 Tim. 1: 3; 6: 3) and this was greatly extended with the development of the catechumenate with an elaborate preparation during Lent of candidates for baptism at the ensuing festival of Easter. Details of the instruction are given by Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350 CE).

In the 1st cent. BCE an important element of education for those to enter public life was rhetoric: Quintilian (c. 40–95 CE) held that the very goal of education was to become a good orator. This regard for rhetoric has influenced parts of the NT, e.g. Paul's letter to the Galatians, which could be analysed as: Paul is the defendant, the Jewish Christians are the accusers; while the Galatians themselves are the jurors. The letter can be shown to incorporate the recognized parts of a contemporary speech. The rhetoric of the gospels (Jesus' preaching) does not conform to such a classical analysis, but is based on Jewish methods. Their intention is to convince the hearers by divine authority rather than by rational argumentation.

The Jewish system of education was based on the synagogue (Luke 2: 46). There were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem, with schools attached, according to the Palestinian Talmud, and the Qumran community was highly literate; but even before the Exile there was expertise in writing and reading (Deut. 6: 9; 31: 12–13; 2 Kgs. 22: 3). Isaiah and Jeremiah had scribes to record their messages. Much teaching was by rote (Isa. 28: 10), but in the 2nd cent. BCE there were knowledgeable diplomats (Ecclus. [= Sir.] 38: 24–39: 11).

The Babylonian Talmud claims that schools and teachers existed throughout Israel from the 1st cent. BCE. Although in the NT period the majority of Christians would have been illiterate, there existed opportunities to learn to read and write and before long Christians were to be found in the literary and philosophical schools.