Series - Synagogue and Church

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.

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 10)

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

Chapter Six (continued): The Place of Women

Women in the Synagogue

Nothing is said about women in listing the requirement of ten men as the bare minimum for the establishment of a synagogue. The express instructions about the process of Gentile conversion to Judaism focus on male proselytes, but the mention of female proselytes in the Mishnah de facto establishes that female Gentiles could also convert to Judaism. And though women could convert to Judaism, this does not necessarily indicate that women were allowed to become a part of the synagogue. Kaufman Kohler, renowned Jewish scholar and President of Hebrew Union College, asserted matter-of-factly,

Women could not be members of the synagogue, though they seem to have performed synagogal functions of their own, and so prominent women were elected as mothers of the synagogue (‘Mater Synagogue’)…. They attended the service…, but could take no part in the common service.1

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 9)

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

Chapter Six: Officers in the Synagogue and the Church

Officers in the Synagogue

The classes of officers in the synagogue as reported in the NT are three in number, namely, “rulers of the synagogue,” “elders,” and “attendants.” The offices as related in the Mishnah include these three, but also others.

Ruler of the Synagogue

The Gospels mention two men who are identified as “ruler of the synagogue” (archisunagogos): Jairus (Mark 5:22, 35, 36, 38; Luke 8:49) and an unnamed individual who rebuked Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Mark calls Jairus archisunagogos four times, while Luke does so once; Matthew in his parallel account does not do so at all. When first introducing Jairus, Luke does use the virtually identical term “ruler of the synagogue” (archon tes sunagoges, 8:41) which is simply the same Greek elements not combined into a compound word. Matthew refers to him simply as “ruler” (archon, Matthew 9:19, 23), making no specific mention of any connection to the synagogue. It is of note that Mark identifies Jairus as “one of the rulers of the synagogue” (Mark 5:22), which suggests or at least allows for a plurality of such rulers within a single congregation.

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 8)

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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.

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 7)

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Chapter Five: The Public Service in the Synagogue and the Church (continued)

Bible Reading in the Church

While accepting the complete OT canon of the Jews, NT-era Christians also recognized additional written works as divinely-inspired and therefore authoritative. As the various Apostolic writings were composed and circulated, their authority was recognized and they began to be read in the churches in addition to the Old Testament Scriptures.

In 1 Timothy, Paul’s “textbook” on “church polity” (see 3:14-15), he instructs Timothy, proseche tei anagnosei, “devote yourself to the reading” (4:13). That this is the public reading of the Scriptures and not simply an exhortation to extensive private study is evident, first, from the presence in Greek of the definite article, “the reading,” that is, something well-known The article is similarly used in the references to the reading of the Scriptures in the synagogue, Acts 13:15; 2 Corinthians 3:14. Second, the two following activities, “the exhortation, the instruction,” are clearly public activities carried out in the assembly. Most commentators seem to understand the reading to be public and in the church, rather than private. Included in this number are Alford,1 Ellicott,2 Fairbairn,3 Van Oosterzee,4 Liddon,5 White,6 Lock,7 Robertson,8 Hendricksen,9 and Earle.10 On the other hand, there are those who understand the verse to mean private study, including Calvin,11 Gill,12 and Barnes13 (Clarke understands it of both public and private reading).14

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 6)

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

Chapter Five: The Public Service in the Synagogue and the Church (continued)

Public Bible Reading

Inasmuch as Bible instruction was an important function of both the synagogue and the church, it is no surprise to discover that the public reading of the Scriptures was among the regular activities of both. The value, even necessity, of the reading of Scriptures orally in both the synagogue and the church is further recognized when it is pointed out that considerable numbers of individuals in the first century were completely illiterate and could not read the sacred text for themselves at all. Besides this, the high cost of manuscript copies of the Bible made private possession and private reading of the Scriptures well beyond the reach of most individuals.

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 5)

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

Chapter Five: The Public Service in the Synagogue and the Church

An interesting Greek inscription discovered in Jerusalem is reported by Meyers:

Theodotus, son of Vettenos, the priest and archisynagogos, son of a[n] archisynagogos and grandson of a[n] archisynagogos, who built the synagogue for purposes of reciting the Law and studying the commandments, and as a hotel with chambers and water installations to provide for the needs of itinerants from abroad, which his fathers, the leaders and Simonides founded.1

This inscription, besides mentioning three successive generations of “rulers of the synagogue” in one family (on which title, see below), it also addresses two of the three major purposes for the synagogue’s existence: reading the Law and studying the commandments. Only prayer of major synagogal public activities is not mentioned. Hospitality shown to travelers was considered worthy of note as well (following Abraham’s example in Genesis 18?).2

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 4)

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

Chapter Four: Requirements for Membership

The Synagogue

Proselytes

It goes without saying that one must be a Jew, part of the nation of Israel, before one is qualified for inclusion as a constituent member of the synagogue. However, this did not absolutely ban Gentiles either from attendance at the weekly Sabbath meetings, or from becoming a part of the congregation through the conversion process. Acts is replete with example after example of interested Gentiles, whether proselytes or not, in attendance, often in great numbers, at the Sabbath synagogue service (see, e.g., Acts 13:44; 14:1).

In the NT, we commonly find Gentiles, whether described as “proselytes” (proselutos) or “God-fearing” (sebomenos, lit. pious or reverent), associated with the synagogues. Philo (d. ca. A.D. 50) explains the term “proselyte” and the status of such people:

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