If The School of Tyrannus Wasn't A Seminary, Then What Was It? Besides, What's Wrong With Seminary Anyway?

Training-whiteboard-007In Ephesus where Paul reasoned and taught in the synagogue until the Gospel of the Kingdom clashed with the traditions of men, he also lectured, taught, reasoned, and bore witness to Christ crucified and many other things.  Like it or not, he used various mediums which are being held in contempt by post-modern thinkers.  Yes, teaching, discipling, equipping, encouraging, and strengthening the brethren, all happen best when it’s life on life in one’s context.  Better yet, in the location that God calls you to.  That can be your  neighborhood, the local Starbucks, the smoking section of an airport, or the Cloud Forest Region of Ecuador.  

 Paul lectured, taught, spoke, reasoned, preached, and interacted with students in the school of Tyrannus every day for 2 years!   We have an ancient text that adds information to the end of Acts 19:9, saying that Paul taught there “from the fifth hour to the tenth” [manuscript D Syriac (Western text)]. This was probably something that was written in the margin of a manuscript and ended up in the text itself through a copy error. The point is, the information probably represents either an authentic tradition that those were the hours Paul used to teach there, or those were the hours schools of this kind were normally unused by the owner and could be rented out for other public purposes. 

In Philippi, Paul worked from Lydia’s home (Acts 16:14-15), and in Thessalonica it seems he operated from Jason’s home (Acts 17:5-9). In Athens he used the marketplace and the Areopagus.  In Corinth, he used the residence of Justus (Acts 18:4-7)  Regardless, he had interactive “classes” with people which were sometimes practical in the sense of teaching as he did mission AND non-practical in the sense that he was passing on transforming information or data to be used later on in mission.  There’s nothing wrong with a class structure so long as it doesn’t become the only structure or the simple acquisition of knowledge. 

My friend Jeremy Pryor states;

“Many involved in church restoration see Paul’s methods as extremely simple and essentially free of structure; just encourage people to meet in homes, release gifts and live life in community. Each of these elements have been very helpful but they’ve neglected a necessary piece of Paul’s strategy which has thus far, rendered much of the house church / simple church practices virtually ineffective… I call this missing element the Tyrannus Effect.”

What is this Tyrannus Effect?  Jeremy goes on to explain: 

  • Churches form naturally around those who are being trained
  • Complacent converts are quickly changed to committed disciples
  • The level of discipleship city-wide is continually increasing
  • Unity among the churches is developed through a common discipleship process
  • New believers are immediately immersed in the essential “renewal of their mind”
  • Teaching and training gifts are released for the benefit of the whole city
  • Disciples have a city-wide Kingdom vision vs. a preoccupation on an individual church
  • Individual churches are deeply interconnected with one another and equipped simultaneously
  • Discussion-based training replaces sermonizing as a means to a long-lasting, faith-building group discovery experience.

So, tell me again what’s wrong with seminary, lecture hall, local church, or a class room setting for teaching the things of God to growing disciples?  Aren’t most objections to these “teaching” settings centered on the prevalent and unfortunate consequences of ecclesiastical laziness, lack of practical application, and the creation of an elite clergy force?  What about all the good and biblically beneficial aspects of these sorts of seasonal respites?

One final thought:  Some of you would simply say that no one in the body of Christ needs to be taught in those ways because the Holy Spirit teaches you directly and personally all you need to know to exist and equip others.  You are mistaken.  God gives the gift of teaching and teachers to the body for its edification. (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:1-12)

So, what’s the real problem with seminaries, class room instruction, and the like?  


0 thoughts on “If The School of Tyrannus Wasn't A Seminary, Then What Was It? Besides, What's Wrong With Seminary Anyway?

  1. David Bartholomew says:

    One problem with the modern seminary system is that it limits those who are able to be students to those who have little or no responsibilities outside of being a student. Another is that it’s student bodies are almost exclusively composed of those who are planning on entering “full time vocational ministry”.
    This leaves the believer who has the desire to be a better Sunday school teacher, small group leader, or children’s ministry worker to fend for themselves when it comes to developing a sound theological foundation. These volunteers are probably very similar to those who attended Paul’s classes.

    • Carlos says:

      That’s a good point David.

      I don’t think Paul would have limited his instruction to only those feeling a “calling” to ministry like so often happens with modern day seminaries and bible schools.

      It was open to all.

      What absolutely amazes me is the belief among so many that in order to be a better ___ (fill in the blank here with whatever one wants to be better at in the Kingdom of God) that one MUST get some sort of focused, higher education!!

      That is utterly ridiculous from a Kingdom standpoint.

      Most all of Jesus’s disciples would never have even been accepted within our modern day seminaries and bible schools.

      The Pharisees were big on “proper” education in spiritual things.

      Acts 4:13

      ” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”

      These guys, who I think all of us would readily agree to be giants in the faith, were unlearned and ignorant men (not the kind that come out of modern day seminaries and bible schools – that’s for sure). They were untrained in the the things of God according to acceptable norm among those who were considered to be knowledgeable about God.

      But what they had we ALL can have today WITHOUT seminaries and bible schools.

      Wherever we may find ourselves. With whatever resources we have or don’t have.

      They had been with Jesus in a personal and real, daily relationship. They had heard His word to them personally every day they were with Him. And they had learned in real life how to have faith and live a godly life.

      His disciples did not need to separate themselves off into some focused, exclusive school where Jesus spoke the Word just to them and where after a long period of instruction they would graduate and become useful.

      They were useful to the Master from the get go. Right where they were. Among the people. In everyday life.

      Jesus lived among them. He modeled a godly life for them.

      Seems to me that if we are going to follow the example of Jesus that every seminary or bible school professor needs to go out and find a few disciples and then go live out an exemplary life in their presence and teach them in the context of every day life – not be stuck inside some artificial classroom environment and teach them theoretical head knowledge about the things of God.

      Paul did not tell disciples to accumulate what he knew in their heads. He told them to imitate him! His life. His godliness. Which resulted from knowledge of God that he himself was believing and applying in his life every single day and his interaction with the living God.


  2. Carlos says:

    Hi Miguel,

    The relevant passage in Acts 19:8-10 says the following (from the AKJV):

    ” 8 And he went into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
    9 But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spoke evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
    10 And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelled in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

    First off Paul did not start out at the school of Tyrannus so sticking to what is written and how Paul normally did things I think it would be reasonable to conclude that Paul preferred going into synagogues when he visited a new location and sharing about Christ there (I can cite relevant other passages where Paul did just that if you like).

    The thing that caused Paul to then go to the school of Tyrannus instead was that the Jews became hardened against the Gospel making it impractical for Paul to continue at the synagogue.

    What Paul did in the synagogue he then began to do in the school of Tyrannus. Disputing with others about the things of God.

    The word “disputing” here is the transliterated Greek word, dialegomai (or Strong’s number 1256).

    From how it was used in this and other contexts we can conclude that the word meant “to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss” (as indicated by Thayer’s Lexicon).

    The next verse indicates that the whole of Asia heard the word of the Lord over the time that Paul did his thing in the school of Tyrannus.

    All we know from what is written is that what Paul did in the synagogue he did in the school of Tyrannus and why he felt a need to start using the school of Tyrannus. That he did that for two years there. That all of Asia heard the word of the Lord as a result of what Paul did.

    We do NOT know the details of how Paul disputed. Who he disputed with. How all of Asia heard the word of the Lord (i.e. did people come to hear Paul? Did those who Paul interacted with in the school then go out everywhere and spread the Word? It doesn’t say.).

    In my opinion these passages do not justify the modern idea of seminaries and bible schools.

    The disputing that went on between Paul and those who may have heard him in the school was of the kind that went on between Paul and those who heard him in the synagogue. That wasn’t a sit down and listen and be taught type of instruction of the kind that so often happens in seminaries and bible schools. That was Paul speaking some things about Christ, people interacting with him about what he said, and then Paul saying something else and so forth in a generally back and forth discussion.

    Furthermore what happened in the school of Tyrannus can most certainly happen in the context of a local church if it normally happened inside synagogues.

    Paul did NOT set up the school of Tyrannus in order to do what he did. His preferred method based on what initially happened here and in other localities where Paul went was simply to go into the local synagogue and start disputing there.

    As far as we can tell from what is written Paul did not require particular textbooks to be bought to attend his “lectures”. There was no tenure. No state certification. No oversight by a Board of Regents. No charter or laid out plan of instruction. No semesters and spring breaks. No building enhancement program. No enrollment period. No tuition required.

    I could name a hundred other things that the school of Tyrannus under Paul did not have compared to today’s seminaries and bible schools.

    This is the ONLY set of passages where we see Paul doing anything of this sort. So this was NOT a way of starting churches throughout.

    Using such a place was not the norm.

    It was not Paul’s usual way of doing things. It was something Paul resorted to in this particular case because it became impractical to continue doing things through the synagogue as he had set out to do initially.

    More fundamentally, even aside from the above considerations, one has to ask how it is that disciples learn?

    You probably know a whole lot more about that than I do Miguel but if I venture to say a few things about that off the top of my head.

    How is it that I learn myself? I don’t frankly learn a whole lot through teachings. I just don’t. Most of what I learn about God, about His character, about who He is and what He is like come from times that I spend with the Lord and in the Word.

    The thing that transforms my life is NOT head knowledge about the Word. It is God operating through the Word and otherwise to touch my heart through His personal presence. Touching my heart with His love. Convicting me of sin that I must repent from. Leading me to speak to various individuals about this or that to maintain healthy relationships or Body life.

    In other words it is NOT the words of the Bible alone that transform my life as a Christian. It is when God takes words from the Bible and touches my spirit with those words as being personally applicable and relevant to me and my walk with Him.

    Bible schools and seminaries impart head knowledge. They are NOT able to do what only God can do in our lives as we interact with Him. Bible schools and seminaries cannot give us a touch from the living God in the way that the Lord can do Himself.

    I can listen to sermons all day long, use outstanding resources online to gain knowledge of underlying Greek, read books, what have you to fill my head with knowledge. Nothing wrong with that per se.

    But such knowledge by itself does NOT equal growth in maturity or character. It does not transform my life by itself.

    It is when God Himself impresses knowledge of something personally into my life through His Spirit that transformation happens in my life as a disciple.

    I end up learning from God as all of us do or should be doing.

    That is the essence of what a disciple is. A learner. Learning from the Master.

    Disciples in my opinion are not made by stuffing their heads with Bible knowledge. That tends to puff people up with pride more often than not. It makes those who are attaining such knowledge think they are something because they supposedly know so much more than those who are not receiving such training.

    You said it yourself Miguel…

    “Yes, teaching, discipling, equipping, encouraging, and strengthening the brethren, all happen best when it’s life on life in one’s context. Better yet, in the location that God calls you to. That can be your neighborhood, the local Starbucks, the smoking section of an airport, or the Cloud Forest Region of Ecuador.”

    I want the best.

    If, as you say, these things happen “best when it’s life on life in one’s context” what need do we have (assuming we are wanting what is best) for seminaries, bible schools, bible degrees, and the like?

    Are we not bringing in something that the Lord Himself never modeled for us in terms of how best to train up disciples? That is not the best? That is really superflous if things are working as they should both within the local Body and in our relationship with the Lord?


  3. Good article and good question…what’s wrong with seminaries? You mean besides creating an elite clergy force, producing a poor ecclesiastical model, and lacking practical application all resulting in not really equipping the saints for the work of ministry? Well, they are expensive and leave the trained clergy in need of a paid ministry salary to pay their seminary debt. I doubt Paul charged tuition and fees. And while all seminaries teach how to care for sheep most don’t teach the mission of God, instill apostolic passion, or produce Kingdom minded leadership. But there is nothing wrong with classroom training and academic learning, if it is designed to release workers for the harvest.

  4. As everyone else has already written, the problem with seminaries is that they are usually divorced from real life. Theology is good but not sufficient.

    How did Paul teach in Tyrant’s Hall? He probably said many of the same things we read in his excellent letters. It would have been good, practical, Christ-centred stuff about love in action. Pity there are no DVDs and You Tubes available from those days!

  5. Marshall says:

    modern seminary suffers things estranged to first century faith & times, such as scholasticism (8th century); denominational base/sectarianism (15th century); syncretism with philosophy (accelerated during the 2nd & 5th century, and in our contemporary times); the modern & Nicean fixation with orthodoxy; their built-in clergy-laity distinctions (3rd century), along with an accumulation of unsound doctrine in systematic theology. In short, the mind of man has, over hundreds of years acting, thoroughly corrupted the “school of Tyrannus” today.

  6. There are some good points made here with what might be called the “anti-seminary and anti-Bible college” sentiment expressed in the comments. But I fear that the whole is polluted by a kind of “worst case” argument that is unbalanced.

    I’ve heard similar arguments from people against Hymns and simple choruses. Some one give an example of the worst hymn or chorus they have ever heard and throws all hymns and choruses out on the basis of a bad experience.

    Some seminaries, and increasingly many profs in various seminaries, work in much more dialogical fashion running their classes with much less lecture, much more Q and A, Socratic and frankly, Jesus-like ways. Many profs and whole seminaries encourage and achieve significant life-on-life discipleship with faculty and students engaged in real life ministry side by side in community with one another and in the community for its good. Many of the best profs at an increasing number of seminaries are more engaged in evangelism/discipleship than their students and lead the way as path-finding practioners in the art of making disciples.

    One of my seminary profs is still planting churches at the age of 84!

    Oh, and the Bible you hold and study, and the lexicons you use and search, and the commentaries you consult in an effort to understand what the Spirit is saying in the Word of the Living God—they would all not exist but for the scholarly work of men who gave their lives to produce them while serving God in their generation in seminaries and Bible Colleges.

    We are way to quick to judge the models and efforts of past saints when we are flush with the arrogance of our own discoveries.

    Be careful of so valuing the first century church that we begin to idolize its models and patterns, developed in a previous time for a different culture. The Spirit of God is more than able to give the church new models and approaches that fit it for different times and cultures. That is not the same as saying that Seminaries and Bible Colleges “do it right”. Everything this side of heaven needs constant reformation because, as I read somewhere [ ; ) ], “now we see through a glass dimly.”

    Someday we will see “face to face”. Until than, let’s be careful not to bite and devour one another over models and methods.

  7. William Floyd says:

    “So, tell me again what’s wrong with seminary, lecture hall, local church, or a class room setting for teaching the things of God to growing disciples?”

    In the vast majority of cases, these places are full of (at best) high school students trying to teach middle school and elementary school students how to graduate from college. Because of the various deviations, corrupt traditions, immaturity, etc… the people doing the teaching (who are still in need themselves) are creating people who end up becoming further astray than themselves.

    Not only are these places unbalanced towards intellectualism and theory, but they also lack understanding and genuine training in the operations of gifts and the roles. For instance, I’ve encountered many masters of divinity and doctorates in theology, supposedly specializing in knowledge of gifts and callings. But upon questioning and listening to them, all they had was theory. None of them could actually describe or even mentor a person in say, the gift of healing. How does one recognize the gift? How does it manifest in different people? How does one grow in it? These are the people who are looked to as experts and elders amongst the Body, yet they haven’t a clue about the things which are desperately needed.

    How can these institutions be respected when they are full of children themselves?

  8. David Woods says:

    The REAL problem (easy answer) is the criteria for becoming one of the instructors. PHD’s, Masters of Divinity, etc. are given by man based on academic achievement, and therefore, mean little doctrinally, and absolutely nothing spiritually.

  9. Greg says:

    You must know that the work you’re doing there in the wilds of Ecuador, which is invaluable, underfunded with people and $ etc, is far different than the well greased hamster wheel system of churchianity operating in the developed world, and as such, any lessons learned in either world are probably inapplicable to the other.
    Once the gospel has effectually rid societies of the worst social evils, and/or the inevitable man worshiping system of Popes or Pastors gets its talons into the populace, the transforming power of the gospel is stifled, even outlawed.
    What new plan that hasn’t been tried yet is in place to stop that from happening in Ecuador, as it has everywhere else?
    From Constantine’s time till now, seminaries have been foundational as the local kool-aid store were the distilled doctrines and practices of usurping Christ’s headship over his people are disseminated to the masses thru the various priesthoods.
    Sure, there’s always a few good eggs rolling out their doors, but for the most part, as seminaries increase, so do fuzzy logic, useless argumentation and a pedagogy of control.
    Now, if seminaries produced well educated and gutsy scribes like Haggai, who used their learning to effect real change in the faith and lives of God’s people, I might not have such a jaundiced opinion of them, but their long history and wide influence in most segments of our severely fractured worldwide church has been mediocre in this regard, in my opinion.
    Haggai challenged his generation, who were the front line patriots returned from Babylon, to rebuild Jerusalem, asking why they had stopped building Gods house and were busy on their own houses.
    Sounds just like the church today.
    They were active and busy but complaining about the lack of power, resources and blessing of God as their enemies nibbled away at their heritage.
    That’s us, isn’t it?
    The solution was to go up the mountain, gather wood and bring it back down to finish rebuilding the temple, destroyed 70 yrs earlier, when the Jews had been carried away captive.
    There’s a simple, and profoundly difficult lesson there, one that involves abandoning our current agenda and returning to the original pattern, which you are clearly doing there in Ecuador.
    But we in more advanced countries aren’t, if we’re honest.
    If seminaries can contribute to bringing about the honesty needed to get the church back to being about our Fathers business, so be it, but I’d bet money that this criticism won’t be passed on to any seminary, let alone agreed with by most who benefit from them.

  10. g says:

    What’s wrong with seminaries? Nothing, inherently, but the problem lies in the way they are used and they system that has developed around them that we see today. Essentially, we have created an extra-biblical qualification in order for those who desire the office of elder; in fact, those who tout seminaries the most are guilty of the very thing most of them would condem: adding words to the Bible!

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