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