Theological Schools Impact Communities
(Excerpted from commencement address at Yellowstone Christian College)
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts 19:8–10)
In 1928, a missionary stood on a hill in the center of Cuba and counted the rooftops. Rev. Elmer Thompson could see five hundred homes from that spot. “How could he possibly reach so many people in his lifetime?” he asked. The answer, he found, is the answer we see modeled by Paul at Ephesus.
About a quarter century before Castro’s communist revolution, Thompson helped develop a little Bible institute. The students were poor and poorly educated. To study there, a student needed to bring a Bible, notebooks, clothing, a bed, bedding, and $1/month for tuition. Room and board were free in exchange for a few hours work each day on the farm that was part of the Bible institute.
Yes, theological schools impact communities, but what impact could this struggling little Bible institute and these unpromising students have on the entire nation of Cuba—even on the world? Could this poor, shoe-string Los Piños Nuevos Bible institute even survive?
Theological Schools Impact Communities through Student Fieldwork
Unlike much of academia, Los Piños Nuevos had an educational model that did not front-load students with knowledge while waiting a few years before they could figure out how to put whatever knowledge they remembered into practice.
Los Piños Nuevos put a great deal of emphasis on ministering while studying. Rev. Thompson, the missionary who stood on the hilltop, had concluded that spiritual formation happens in the context of ministry. And, furthermore, that leaders cannot fully develop in an atmosphere where studies are not supplemented by a great deal of actual ministry. So, the Los Piños Nuevos students took the gospel to the nearby communities. Students set up Sunday school classes in villages and towns around the school.
Imagine how that hands-on interaction changed classroom discussions from theoretical issues to practical solutions to the problems they were facing in their ministries.
Exciting things were happening in nearby communities, but how could they reach the entire nation of Cuba the way that Paul reached the entire province of Asia?
Students began using their summer vacations to do what they had been doing during the school year. They went to new places, evangelized, set up Bible studies, and after graduation, some went back and pastored churches that they had begun during summer vacations.
What impact could this struggling little Bible institute, and these unpromising students have on Cuba and the world? Los Piños Nuevos still exists in Cuba. It even became a mission agency—the West Indies Mission.
The model they developed for Cuba, with a farm for funding and a great deal of hands-on ministry while studying, were exported to other countries.
They set up such schools in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Canary Islands, Venezuela and finally in North Africa and Europe. The West Indies Mission later merged with The Regions Beyond Missionary Union and exists today as World Team. However, the mission agency is no longer based in Cuba.
Where Did Paul Set Up His “Bible School”?
He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall [or school] of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:9b)
Some translations, such as NASB or KJV, use the word “school,” while other translations, like NIV or ESV use the word “lecture hall.” Young’s literal translation states that Paul was “every day reasoning in the school of a certain Tyrannus.” The Aramaic Bible in Plain English reads, “… speaking every day with them in the school of a man whose name was Turanos.”
What was this place? There seem to be three main theories:
- A lecture hall for teaching Greek philosophy and rhetoric—and perhaps other subjects such as medicine;
- A Greek school for boys; or
- A “House of Discussion” (i.e., a beit-midrash)—a private school where a rabbi led discussions on torah, the oral law, and other theological issues
The latter two options seem especially interesting to those in Christian academia.
Greek School for Boys
Some scholars suggest evidence that this was a Greek school for boys where a slave would take his master’s sons to school in the early morning until 11:00.
In the early church, two slightly different versions of the book of Acts were being circulated: the Western Text and the Alexandrian Text. The differences are not significant, and the Alexandrian Text is probably the earlier one. However, the Western Text has an interesting comment added to this verse. Perhaps it was a text note in the margin that was later incorrectly incorporated into the text.
The Western text adds that Paul held discussions “from the fifth to the tenth hour” (i.e., from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.). This could fit the cultural patterns of Ephesus. Public activity ceased during the hottest part of the day. People had a long lunch and a nap. In fact, a historian commented that Ephesians were more likely to be awake at 1:00 a.m. than 1:00 p.m.
So, perhaps Tyranus operated his school in the morning until siesta time. The school would have been empty at 11:00. Paul may have spent his morning making tents and his afternoon making disciples in the empty school.
Likewise, if our graduates did a significant amount of ministry while in school, then perhaps if they spend their workdays after graduation making tents, they will be more likely to spend their evenings making disciples. This is worth checking on an alumni survey.
House of Discussion – Beit-Midrash
Other scholars believe Tyrannus was a rabbi, who taught the law and Jewish wisdom in an upper room of his home. In large towns with significant Jewish populations, rabbis often had theological discussions and led students in arguing the difficult matters of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and oral law. This was often in an upper room of a rabbi’s home. This was so common that a “house of a rabbi” became synonymous with a beit-midrash, a “house of discussion.”
Whatever type of school was operated by Tyrannus, it is likely that Paul made his contact with Tyrannus in the synagogue where Paul had been teaching for three months. We can guess that Tyrannus had a sympathetic view of the faith. We can surmise that Tyrannus was “lucky” to have Paul around; after all, how would you like to have Paul as a guest lecturer?
Did Tyrannus rent the space, or was Tyrannus a convert who let Paul use his school to reach the province of Asia? We don’t know. But, still today, many a church have been planted by renting space in public or private schools.
Let us express our thankfulness for all the people who make it possible for Christian schools to operate: donors, volunteers, and prayer warriors. Consider what incredible things such people can help accomplish.
Influencing Your “Province of Asia”
This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10).
Theological schools impact communities and these were spectacular results. The province of Asia was so well evangelized that it remained a leading center of Christianity for centuries.
The Roman province of Asia was the western portion of what is now Turkey. This includes Colossae and Laodicea. In fact, this includes all seven churches in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation. They were all centers of trade and within reasonable distance for doing business with Ephesus.
Some people visiting Ephesus could have heard Paul at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. But visitors coming to the lectures were probably not the main way the Gospel spread throughout the entire province of Asia.
Much happened beyond the direct involvement of Paul. Without Paul going to them, churches were established in Colossae, Laodicea, and other locations in the province of Asia. The seven churches may have been founded at this time. All heard Paul’s message; not all heard Paul. Students spread the good news.
For example, in the book of Colossians, we read that it was Epaphras who brought the Gospel there. Paul had not even visited Colossae, but the influence of Paul’s school reached Colossae and the entire province of Asia.
What influence can your school have?
Theological schools impact communities. The degree to which you impact your “province of Asia” is based on the degree to which your students and graduates will have developed lifelong habits of being involved in ministry.
Significant ministry while in school is a key. For theology students, real-life experiences along with their textbooks can transform them. Running into problems and finding their weaknesses while still in school can be such a blessing. Students can write research papers on the issues that they have run across. Their experience will also give them new ears, new perspectives, when they listen to class lectures.
What about students with career goals outside traditional ministry?
These are the students that we hope will spend their days making tents and their nights making disciples. For them, having significant ministry experience while in school makes it more likely that they will develop lifelong habits of ministry.
How Far Can Your School Reach? You may not need a farm like at Los Piños Nuevos. You do need students and graduates who will carry their teachers’ message to their “province of Asia.”
David Agron, Ph.D.
Dr. Agron is an accreditation consultant and the managing editor of Christian Academia Magazine. Information about consulting services, especially initial accreditation, can be found at www.accreditation101.com.
It would have also been interesting if you had also expanded on the possibility of Tyrannus’ school being a school of contemporary Greek or Roman thought that Paul entered into conversation with. Perhaps a subject for another article.