Chapter Five: The Public Service in the Synagogue and the Church (continued)
The Sermon in the Synagogue
After Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, He delivered a message—a sermon, if you will—to those assembled in the synagogue (Luke 4:21-27). All the references to Jesus teaching or preaching in the synagogues of Galilee also bear testimony to the fact that the synagogue was pre-eminently a place of biblical instruction (see Mathew 4:23, 9:35, etc.) where the sermon was as regular a part of the service as the prayers and the Bible reading.
In Acts, we find Paul regularly preaching in the synagogues, whether in Damascus (Acts 9:20), on Cyprus (Acts 13:5), in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41, 44), Iconium (Acts 14:1), or other places. Apollos followed Paul’s example and preached in the synagogues as well (Acts 18:26).
Outside the NT, Philo gives some account of the sermon in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In his treatise on “The Special Laws [of the Jews], II,” he notes that,
[O]n the seventh day there are spread before the people in every city innumerable lessons of prudence, and temperance, and courage, and justice, and all other virtues; during the giving of which the common people sit down, keeping silence and pricking up their ears, with all possible attention, from their thirst for wholesome instruction; but some of those who are very learned explain to them what is of great importance and use, lessons by which the whole of their lives may be improved.*
No further proof is necessary to establish the importance of the sermon in the regular synagogue services.
The Preaching and Teaching in the Church
There is no question that one of the chief purposes of the NT church is for the instruction of believers in the doctrines of the Bible and encouragement to obediently practice its precepts. This is first of all evident by the constant references to teachers and prophets (the latter not chiefly in the sense of predictors of the future, but as proclaimers of the truth), and the practice of instruction in the churches. Those converted at Pentecost are said to have been “devoted to the doctrine of the apostles,” (Acts 2:42). Later, Acts informs us that “every day, both in the temple and house to house they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:42). The temple seems to have been a favorite place for the assembling of early Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 5:12), probably because it provided a sufficiently large area for the gathering of the multiplied thousands of believers in Jerusalem. Yet, as the text also states, instruction was conducted in various houses as well, presumably to smaller groups, possibly “house churches.”
Outside Judea, the pattern of teaching in the churches continues. Because of the burden of the work in Antioch, Barnabbas went to Tarsus and brought Saul to Antioch, and “they met together for a whole year with the church and taught a significant number of people” (Acts 11:26). Acts 13:1 states, “Now, there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers,” which included three others besides the soon-to-be missionaries Barnabbas and Saul. After their first missionary journey, once again Paul and Barnabbas are in Antioch, “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord along with many others” (Acts 15:35).
Acts 20 refers to two sermons by Paul to audiences composed of Christians. Acts 20:7-12 reports the circumstances of Paul’s all-night message “on the first day of the week” to the assembled church at Troas, then Acts 20:17-36 records his message to the elders of the church in Ephesus (the only apostolic message to a Christian audience in Acts, the substance of which is recorded). In his message to the Ephesian elders, Paul repeatedly notes the fact that he had “taught them publicly and house to house,” that he “went about proclaiming the kingdom,” and that he had not “refrained from declaring all God’s counsel” to them (Acts 20:20, 25, 27), all of which add supporting testimony to the prominence given to teaching/preaching in the churches.
Paul’s letters also contain repeated references to teaching and teachers in the churches. In Romans 12:6, 7, he wrote of those with the gifts of prophecy and teaching. In 1 Corinthians 11:4, 5, he mentioned both men and women “prophesying,” a much-disputed verse (on which, see the forthcoming section on women in the church). In Paul’s lengthy treatment of “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the subject of teaching, preaching, and prophesying is repeated touched upon. “Prophecy” is noted among the gifts (1 Cor. 12:10), and the presence in the church of prophets and teachers is mentioned (1 Cor. 12:28, 29).
1 Corinthians 14 gives the only extended NT description of the actual place and practice of preaching in a church. “Prophesying” (1 Cor. 14:1), which is generally understood as a reference to preaching, is given the pre-eminence among the gifts by Paul. This practice edifies the church (1 Cor. 14:3). Prophesying in the church can lead to the conviction and conversion of unbelievers who meet together with the church (1 Cor. 14:24-25). Public instruction by prophets should be limited to two or three at a given meeting, and must be done in an orderly fashion (1 Cor. 14:29-31).
In Ephesians 4:11, Paul mentions among the gifts God gave to the churches “prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers.” In his first letter to Timothy, who was pastoring the church at Ephesus at the time the letter was written, Paul instructs Timothy to devote himself to “exhortation and instruction” (1 Timothy 4:13). In setting forth the requirements for holders of the office of elder, he declares that they must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), or as he states elsewhere, “able to exhort with sound teaching” (Titus 1:9). Men who fulfill this duty by “laboring in word and doctrine” are to be considered worthy of “double honor,” that is, the honor of respect as well as the honor of financial support.
* Philo Judaeus, The Works of Philo, trans. by C. D. Yonge, p. 574. See also what may be another description of the Sabbath synagogue sermon in “On the Contemplative Life,” III:32, p. 701.
Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.