The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 11)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com. Read the entire series.

Chapter Seven: Conclusion

It is no “stretch” to find in the churches of the NT what may be characterized as “Christianized” synagogues. The membership in the synagogue was rather restricted, being based first on physical requirements (male and Jewish by birth), but slightly expanded to admit those men who spiritually came over to the Jewish religion and submitted to its rituals and requirements. In the churches, the membership requirements were spiritual rather than physical in nature, being based on a new spiritual birth for both Jews and Gentiles, followed by a public declaration through immersion of faith in the Messiah Jesus. Gentiles were not required to “become Jews” in order to qualify for admission. Women as well as men were admitted into the congregation.

The chief constituent elements of a synagogue service—prayer, Bible reading and a sermon—are found as well in the churches. There are some differences, of course. While the synagogue naturally enough limited its Bible reading to the OT, the NT churches also included the reading of the NT books as they became available. The prayers in the synagogue tended toward the written and liturgical while the NT churches betray no evidence of such a practice in the first century.

The synagogue seems to have been led by a group of rulers or elders, with one or more chiefs among them. These were responsible for the conduct of public worship. Their precise duties are not sufficiently detailed in first century sources to affirm that they closely paralleled the pastors in the churches. The synagogue in the first century had at least one additional office, that of “attendant” whose duty was primarily focused on the custody of the synagogue Bible manuscripts. Both offices were evidently limited to men.

In the churches, the leadership was vested in overseers or elders, who seem to have been plural in number in at least some churches. They were responsible for leading, ruling, teaching, publically reading the Scriptures, and other duties. Only men were qualified to be pastors. The other NT church office is that of deacon, a servant of the churches whose duties involved practical matters, such as distributing material assistance to those in need. It does not seem to parallel the synagogue office of attendant. Deacons could be either male or female.

Women were excluded from membership in the synagogue though permitted to attend services and, for Gentile women, become proselytes to Judaism. They could, however, hold no office nor could they participate in the service (with one possible exception). In the churches, women were admitted to membership, and could serve in the office of deacon, but could not preach or teach men. Women were elevated in the church, in comparison with the synagogue.

Strong similarities and some differences, occasionally striking, between NT churches and Jewish synagogues of the same era, support the thesis to be tested, namely, that “The outward form of the Church was in great measure derived from the synagogue.”

In short, the churches of the NT began as “Christianized” synagogues, but in the process of time, and with Divine direction, developed along somewhat different lines.

The Synagogue and the Church - Selected Bibliography

Abbott-Smith, G., A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937. Third edition.

Aland, Barbara and Kurt Aland, edd., Novum Testamentum Graece. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993. Twenty-seventh revised edition.

Aland, Kurt, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Greek-English Edition. Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1989. Ninth edition.

Alford, Henry, The Greek Testament, 4 vols. Chicago: Moody Press, 1958 reprint.

Archer, Gleason L., and Gregory Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotes in the New Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983.

Arnt, William F., and F. Wilbur Gingrich, transs., A Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979. Second edition.

Barnes, Albert, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, ed. by Ingram Cobbin. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1962.

Beckwith, Roger, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.

Ben-Asher, Naomi, and Hayim Leaf, edd., The Junior Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Shengold, 1961. Fourth revised edition.

Benedict, David, Fifty Years Among the Baptists. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1860. Reprint.

Bruce, F. F., The Acts of the Apostles: the Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary. London: The Tyndale Press, 1952. Second edition.

__________, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1974.

Calvin, John, Calvin’s Commentaries. 22 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979 reprint of Calvin Translation Society edition.

Carroll, B. H., An Interpretation of the English Bible. 17 vols. bound in 6. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973 reprint of 1948 Broadman Press edition.

Conner, W. T., Christian Doctrine. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1937.

Dagg, John L., A Manual of Theology. Harrisonburg, Va.: Gano Books, 1982 reprint of Southern Baptist Publication Society edition, 1857, 1858.

Danby, Herbert, trans., The Mishnah. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933.

Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Two volumes bound in one. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1971. Reprint.

__________, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ. Grand Rapids, 1970. Reprint.

Ellicott, Charles J., Ellicott’s Commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul. 3 vols. Minneapolis: James Family, 1978 reprint.

Epstein, Isidore, ed., The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed. 4 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1938.

Fairbairn, Patrick, Pastoral Epistles. Minneapolis: James & Klock, 1976 reprint of T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh edition, 1874

Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992. S.v. “Proselyte” by Paul F. Stuehrenberg, 5:503-505; s.v. “Synagogue” by Eric M. Meyers and Rachel Hachlili, 6:251-263.

Gaebelein, Frank A., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976ff.

Gill, John, A Body of Divinity. Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1971 reprint.

__________, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity. Paris, Ark.: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1984 reprint of Mathews & Leigh edition, 1839.

__________, Gill’s Commentary. 6 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980; reprint of William Hill, 1852-1854 edition.

Hastings, James, ed., A Dictionary of the Bible. 5 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1898. S.v., “Proselyte,” by F. C. Porter, 4:132-137; “Synagogue,” by W. Bacher, 4:636-643.

__________, A Dictionary of the Apostolic Church. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973 reprint of Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918 edition. S.v. “Proselyte,” by James Donald, 2:284-285; s.v. “Synagogue,” by K. Kohler, 2:541-545.

__________, A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973 reprint of Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908 edition. S.v. “Excommunicate,” by J. C. Lambert, 1:559-560; s.v. “Proselyte,” by F. E. Robinson, 2:444-445; s.v. “Synagogue,” by R. W. Moss, 2:689-692.

Hendricksen, William, I & II Timothy and Titus. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960.

Hiscox, Edward T., Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980 reprint of The New Directory for Baptist Churches, Judson Press, 1894.

Horne, Thomas Hartwell, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. 4 vols. in 5 parts. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970 reprint of Edinburgh, 1839, eighth edition.

Jackson, F. J. Foakes, Josephus and the Jews. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977 reprint.

Jastrow, Marcus, comp., A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature. 2 vols. New York: P. Shalom, 1967.

Josephus, Flavius, The Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. by William Whiston. Four vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974. Reprint.

Kubo, Sakae, A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975.

Lange, John Peter, ed., Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 12 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960 reprint.

[Letteris, Meir Ha-Levi], ed., [Torah Nevi’im Ukhetuvim]. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., n.d.

Liddon, Henry P., Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1978 reprint of Longmans, Green, and Co., 1897 edition.

Lightfoot, J. B., Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. London: Macmillan and Co., 1892.

__________, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. London: Macmillan and Co., 1908.

Lightfoot, John, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979; reprint of Oxford University Press edition,1859.

Lipschitz, Israel, [Mishnayyot Seder Neziqim]. Vilna: The Widow and the Brothers R’am, 1911.

Lock, Walter, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1924.

M’Clintock, John, and James Strong, edd., Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. 12 vols. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1895. S.v. “Shemoneh Esreh,” by B. Pick, 9:660-661; s.v. “Synagogue,” by 10:71-82.

Metzger, Bruce M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. London: United Bible Societies, 1971.

Meyer, H. A. W., Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles. Trans. by Paton G. Gloag from the fourth German edition. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1889. Second edition.

Milligan, George, St Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1980 reprint of Macmillan edition, 1908 (?).

Montefiore, C. G., and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology. New York: Shocken Books, 1974.

Neusner, Jacob, Introduction to Rabbinic Literature. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

New American Standard Bible. Philadelphia: A. J. Holman, 1976.

Nicoll, William Robertson, ed., The Expositor’s Greek Testament. 5 vols. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1910.

Philo Judaeus, The Works of Philo, trans. by C. D. Yonge. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993.

Plummer, Alfred, The Pastoral Epistles in The Expositor’s Bible, ed. by W. Robertson NIcoll. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1894.

Orr, James, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 5 vols. Chicago: The Howard Severance Co., 1937. S.v., “Synagogue,” by Paul Levertoff, 5:2877-2879.

Roberts, Alexander, and James Donaldson, edd., The Ante-Nicene Fathers. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979 reprint.

Robertson, A. T., A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934. Fourth edition.

__________, A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ. New York: Harper & Row, 1922.

__________, Jesus as a Soul-Winner. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, n.d. Reprint of Fleming H. Revell edition, 1937.

__________, The Minister and His Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977 reprint.

__________, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. Nashville: Broadman, 1932.

Sampey, John R., Memoirs of John R. Sampey. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1947.

Schaff, Philip, ed., A Religious Encyclopedia. 4 vols. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1891. S.v. “Synagogues of the Jews,” by E. Leyrer, 4:2277-2278.

Schaff, Philip, and David Schaff, History of the Christian Church. 8 vols. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1966 reprint of the Charles Scribner’s Sons edition, 1910.

Smith, William, Dictionary of the Bible, rev. and ed. by H. B. Hackett. 4 vols. Baker Book House, 1981 reprint of Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1896 edition. S.v. “Proselytes” E. H. Plumptre, 3:2602-2607; s.v. “Synagogue,” by E. H. Plumptre, 4:3133-3139.

Smith, William, and Samuel Cheetham, edd., A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1880. S.v. “Anagnostes-Lector-Reader” by Daniel Butler; s.v., “Lection” by F. H. Scrivener; and s.v., “Lectionary,” by Samuel Cheetham.

Strong, Augustus Hopkins, Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907

Swete, H. B., The Apocalypse of St. John. London: Macmillan and Co., 1911.

[Williams, Sir Edgar,] ed., The Compact Edition of the Dictionary of National Biography. 2 vols. Oxford: University Press, 1975.

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio


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.

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