The School of Tyrannus, what Lessons Taught?


     There has been much speculation, misunderstanding, and even false doctrine advanced based on the historian’s reference to Paul teaching in the school of Tyrannus. The verse that mentions the school is Acts 19: 9 and it thus reads: "But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus."

     There are many things concerning which we are ignorant. For instance, who was Tyrannus, what were his moral and philosophic views? We do not even know for sure what the School of Tyrannus’ curriculum was or the chief design of the school, to teach language, logic, and/or philosophy, for instance. There are, however, certain stated facts in the historian’s account that we do know: The School of Tyrannus was located in Ephesus; Tyrannus or the school must have been somewhat open-minded in view of allowing Paul to make use of their facility, especially in view of the controversy already created by Paul in Ephesus; Paul used the facility to debate and teach, presenting the word of God on a daily basis (Acts 19: 1-10). Based on Paul’s subject matter, it does not appear that Paul had a professorship or instructor appointment on the school staff. In order to assist us in our understanding of what Paul was doing regarding the School of Tyrannus, notice what the historian earlier said as to Paul’s work in Ephesus: "8: And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 19).

     It might come as a surprise that a matter incidentally mentioned has been such a focus and viewed as so doctrinally important. Some view Luke’s passing reference of Paul making use of the school as proof that the gospel can be a mixture of philosophic and abstract ideas, viewed as part of academia and the intelligentsia. They extract from Paul’s relationship with the synagogue and school, alliance with what the synagogue and school taught. Hence, they believe that in these examples they have discovered the ideal case of unity-in-diversity. Again, we do not even know what the School of Tyrannus actually taught, but we do know that Paul taught "the word of the Lord" to both "Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19: 10). The School of Tyrannus has also served to some as a model of a Church Seminary, offering studies and even degrees in theology, and requiring that their preachers be products of the school (Paul being the Dean).

     There are some among religionists, even among Churches of Christ who have been discontent with the local church and schools, etc., being kept separate in their identity and work, who have pressed the School of Tyrannus as proof of church supported secular schools. Gary Fiscus in Truth Magazine, 16; 7, pp. 10, 11, 1971 correctly taught:

     "…Remember, Paul had just left the Jewish Synagogue where he had also been preaching. Would those who support the theory that the church can finance a school today also allow the church support of a Jewish Synagogue? Again, let me emphasize the difference between the rental of a material building, and the support of its secular practices. Because a building is used for a school, does not necessitate or even allow church support of it!..."

     Prior to proceeding, it might be good to pin down a little more exactly what Paul’s relationship with the school of Tyrannus appears to have been. I quote Edward Bromfield:

     "…it was probably a private school run by someone named Tyrannus, and Paul was granted or perhaps rented the use of it for the afternoon hours of each day. 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…" (Smoodock’s Blog).

     During especially the last several decades, some in churches of Christ have found the School of Tyrannus of great interest in their advocacy of private (non-church) supported organizations through which Christians are enabled to collectively and corporately preach the gospel (see Addendum 1). To this end one wrote:

     "…Is it not rather significant that the apostle Paul used a school for a few years to teach and preach the gospel? Indeed it is significant because this fact proves that the issue is not whether the organization has a right to exist. The school he used did not solicit funds from churches, as far as we are able to tell. But it did not have to because it a church! (I think it should be, "did not have to become a church!, dpm.) That school not only was not spoken against in the scriptures but was set up as an example of how good could be accomplished. It was there, no bad word was said about it and Paul used it. But now if Don Martin had been there I suppose he would have argued that the school had no scriptural right to exist. "WHERE IS THE SCRIPTURE FOR IT?" he would argue. There wasn't any scripture for it, but, again, there did not have to be authority because it was not a church. But now, in our day, we DO have scripture for the school to exist. We have the example of Paul using a school. This means individuals can use a school through which to teach the gospel. It also means the school has a right to exist. And I see little difference in a school and a foundation like the Guardian of Truth…" Martin/Waters Debate, Robert Waters’ Introduction, Total Health: Caring for the Whole Person).

     This last quote reflects a growing mentality that not only provides the milieu for a serious error as to the collective work of Christians to preach the gospel, but also puts into place a down hill grade for all manner of doctrinal error.

     I see, frankly, in the historian’s allusion to the School of Tyrannus the same principal point as to Paul preaching the word in the synagogue. That being simply the supplied logistics for the preaching of the word in Ephesus at different stages and during Paul’s over two year endeavor in the city. Nothing more than this and nothing less. What Paul did in the Jewish synagogue, he did the same thing in the School of Tyrannus. Both the synagogue and the School of Tyrannus provided a material meeting place as well as a potential audience. I see, then, in the example of the use of the synagogue and the School of Tyrannus that a preacher today may make use of such facilities to serve as a meeting place. We cannot honestly read into the reference to the synagogue that Paul and the synagogue enjoyed a group or shared effort, while one denied Jesus as the Son of God; the other without compromise presenting Jesus as God’s Son, in the case of Paul. We do not see even a hint or intimation that the individual Christians in Ephesus created a separate and apart entity, separate from the entity, the local church through which to work. The synagogue or the School of Tyrannus, as such, is not presented as a means to corporately preach the gospel (see Addendum 2).

     I agree that a secular school or for that matter a Jewish synagogue has the right to exist, such is not the issue and must not be allowed to deflect from the real issue. At the risk of being overly simple or redundant, Paul using the synagogue and the School of Tyrannus is a far cry from Christians coming together to form an entity, having its own treasury, leadership, and goal: the corporate preaching of the gospel.

     Indeed, there are resident lessons in the reference to the School of Tyrannus, but privately funded orders to preach the gospel is not one. The scriptures have spoken as to how God wants Christians to corporately preach the gospel and we must observe God’s silence as to any other arrangement (cp. I Cor. 16: 1, 2; I Tim. 3; Tit. 1; I Tim. 3: 15; I Tim. 3: 15; Heb. 7: 14, see addendum 3):

     Addendum 1: Some view the apart from the local church organization as having the advantage of freedom. "We are allowed more flexibility in our worship compared to worship in the local church setting," it is explained. "In the local church, we must be careful not to invite in men that might be viewed as unreliable in their teaching. In the apart entity, elders have no oversight or say in what we do." Some have already gone as far as to say, "It would not be necessarily wrong in an organizational setting for a female to address a mixed audience in presenting the gospel. However, in the local church arrangement, such would not be allowed." Being a little confused, I have in the past asked some of the promoters of privately funded organizations if their singing, preaching, etc. are considered by them to be worship. Their answer has been, "Yes." An unsettling question to some is, "Would you participate in the Lord Supper if offered by one of the non-church institutions?" I have observed mixed answers, most in the past answering, "no." I wonder how many today would answer in the negative? However, even a negative answer creates questions. If a non-church order is scripturally allowed to provide the setting for corporate worship and work, its own oversight, and the giving into a separate from the local church treasury to do the same work as God has assigned to the church, would it be any great abuse for such an organization to also provide the Lord’s Supper?

     Addendum 2: There is not a scintilla of evidence that Paul and even the mentioned disciples worked with the synagogue or school administration to collectively preach the gospel, other than to secure their permission to use their facility. Neither is there any suggestion that the Christians at Ephesus apart from the local church circumstance met in the synagogue or school to corporately spread the word (separate treasury, board of trustees, etc.).

     Addendum 3: Again, this material is not about a preacher or a church renting or using a building dedicated to a secular purpose to serve as a meeting place to facilitate the preaching of the gospel. Moreover, the issue is not whether or not secular entities such as schools have a right to exist.