As part 2 of this study of tough things to come to terms with, let’s jump right in with a couple of questions:
If I say synagogue, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
Is it, “ the place where those people that love God so much go?”
Is it, “a House of Study?”
Is it, “the place that takes care of the poor in its midst?”
Is it, “a place where God is acknowledged as Blessed and King of the universe?”
Is it, “a place where children are taught to honor their parents and elders?”
Is it, “a place where God’s commands and instructions are followed and revered?”
Is it, “the worship place of the covenant people of God?”
I would suspect based on my experience that most of you did NOT think “those” things. However, what if I say “synagogue of Satan,” what is the first thing that comes to you mind?
Is it, “Pharisee?”
Is it, “phony, fake? – people that say but don’t do?”
Is it, “people that think they are better than us?”
Is it, “greedy people?”
Is it, “pit of vipers?”
Is it, “the people that turned their back on God so now He has turned his back on them?”
Is it, “the people that crucified Christ?”
Is it, “people that are going to hell?”
If I say church, which of the 2 above lists do you think about? What about if I show you that synagogue and church are synonyms? Other than the name (church and synagogue), they have the same basic understanding:
4715. συναγωγή sunagōgē noun
Place of assembly, a congregation, synagogue
1564. ἐκκλησία ekklēsia noun
Assembly, congregation, church.
Let me ask a more pointed question – regardless of the way you answered:
“Did YOUR answer show love for your neighbor that WE are commanded to have in the text?”
Does that LOVE we are supposed to show for our neighbor in the command in the text specify any exclusions? Does it give us any outs? If our answers were not in line with the command to love our neighbors, maybe we should examine why. Maybe we should take a self-inventory of our suppositions towards each other: Christian towards Jews – Jews towards Christians. It really doesn’t matter which direction you are coming from – ALL that MATTERS is GOD’S WORD and HIS INSTRUCTION!
This is going to be a fairly long study because we are going to examine EVERY instance of synagogue in the Brit Chadasha (New Testament). Let’s start with The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary entry for synagogue, the Thayers Greek-English Lexicon entry for synagogue, and the Strong’s Greek Dictionary entry for synagogue:
Place of assembly, synagogue, a congregation.
ἐκκλησίαekklēsia(1564) *My addition: aka “church”
אָסִיף ’ās̱îph (628), Ingathering (Ex 34:22—Codex Vaticanus only).
אָסַף ’ās̱aph (636), Gather (Ex 23:16).
בַּיִתbayith (1041), House (1 Kgs 12:21).
בֵּןbēn (1158), Children (Lv 22:18).
גַּלgal (1569), Pile (Jb 8:17).
הָמוֹןhāmôn (2066), Army (Dn 11:10-13).
חַיִלchayil (2524), Army (Ezek 37:10).
מַחֲנֶהmachăneh (4402), Camp (Nm 5:2—Codex Alexandrinus only).
מִקְוֶהmiqweh (4885), Collecting (Lv 11:36).
מָקוֹםmāqôm (4887), Place (Gn 1:9).
מִשְׁכָּןmishkān (5088), Dwelling (Nm 16:24).
סוֹדs̱ôdh (5660), Gathering (Jer 6:11).
קָבַץqāvats (7192), Gather, collect; niphal: be gathered (Isa 56:8).
קְהִלָּהqᵉhillāh (7236), Assembly (Dt 33:4).
תִּקְוָהtiqwāh (8951), Hope (Zec 9:12).
1. συναγωγή sunagōgē nom sing fem
2. συναγωγῆς sunagōgēs gen sing fem
3. συναγωγῇ sunagōgē dat sing fem
4. συναγωγήν sunagōgēn acc sing fem
5. συναγωγῶν sunagōgōn gen pl fem
6. συναγωγαῖς sunagōgais dat pl fem
7. συναγωγάς sunagōgas acc pl fem
|6||Jesus went about … teaching in their synagogues,||Matt 4:23|
|6||hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets,||Matt 6:2|
|6||for they love to pray standing in the synagogues||Matt 6:5|
|6||teaching in their synagogues, and preaching||Matt 9:35|
|6||and they will scourge you in their synagogues;||Matt 10:17|
|4||he went into their synagogue:||Matt 12:9|
|3||he taught them in their synagogue,||Matt 13:54|
|6||and the chief seats in the synagogues,||Matt 23:6|
|6||some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues,||Matt 23:34|
|4||on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue,||Mark 1:21|
|3||in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit;||Mark 1:23|
|2||when they were come out of the synagogue,||Mark 1:29|
|6||And he preached in their synagogues||Mark 1:39|
|4||And he entered again into the synagogue;||Mark 3:1|
|3||he began to teach in the synagogue:||Mark 6:2|
|6||And the chief seats in the synagogues,||Mark 12:39|
|7||and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten:||Mark 13:9|
|6||taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.||Luke 4:15|
|4||he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day,||Luke 4:16|
|3||the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue||Luke 4:20|
|3||all they in the synagogue, when they heard these||Luke 4:28|
|3||And in the synagogue there was a man,||Luke 4:33|
|2||And he arose out of the synagogue,||Luke 4:38|
|6||And he preached in the synagogues of Galilee.||Luke 4:44|
|4||that he entered into the synagogue and taught:||Luke 6:6|
|4||and he hath built us a synagogue.||Luke 7:5|
|2||Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue:||Luke 8:41|
|6||for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues,||Luke 11:43|
|7||And when they bring you unto the synagogues,||Luke 12:11|
|5||And he was teaching in one of the synagogues||Luke 13:10|
|6||and the highest seats in the synagogues,||Luke 20:46|
|7||persecute … delivering you up to the synagogues,||Luke 21:12|
|3||These things said he in the synagogue,||John 6:59|
|3||I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple,||John 18:20|
|2||Then there arose certain of the synagogue,||Acts 6:9|
|7||of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues,||Acts 9:2|
|6||straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues,||Acts 9:20|
|6||they preached the word of God in the synagogues||Acts 13:5|
|4||and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day,||Acts 13:14|
|2||when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue,||Acts 13:42|
|2||Now when the congregation was broken up,||Acts 13:43|
|4||that they went both together into the synagogue||Acts 14:1|
|6||being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.||Acts 15:21|
|1||Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:||Acts 17:1|
|4||went into the synagogue of the Jews.||Acts 17:10|
|3||disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews,||Acts 17:17|
|3||And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath,||Acts 18:4|
|3||whose house joined hard to the synagogue.||Acts 18:7|
he himself entered into the synagogue,
|3||And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue:||Acts 18:26|
|4||And he went into the synagogue,||Acts 19:8|
|7||in every synagogue them that believed on thee:||Acts 22:19|
|6||neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:||Acts 24:12|
|7||And I punished them oft in every synagogue,||Acts 26:11|
|4||For if there come unto your assembly a man||Jas 2:2|
|1||and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.||Rev 2:9|
|2||I will make them of the synagogue of Satan,||Rev 3:9|
Sunagōgē, “synagogue,” is related to the verb sunagō (4714), “to bring together.” This might be a gathering of either objects or persons. Later, sunagō came to be associated with cultic feasts (cf. Liddell-Scott; Schrage, “sunagōgē,” Kittel, 7:800).
The Hebrew terms ‛ēdhāh and qāhāl, both used of meetings or gatherings of the people of Israel, stand behind sunagōgē in the Septuagint. Whereas ‛ēdhāh consistently depicts the gathering of Israel, qāhāl tends to be reserved for describing the cultic gathering of the community under special circumstances (ibid., 7:802). Later Judaism adopted the idea of the institutional gathering, as reflected by ‛ēdhah, in its naming of the synagogue. Thus the thought behind synagogue is the “gathering of the people” of Israel rather than a meeting for some special purpose (ibid., 7:804f.).
Insufficient evidence exists to know for certain when the synagogue came into being. We can be sure that it dates back to the Babylonian captivity; however, it is entirely possible that the initial trend to meet in synagogues developed inside Israel, perhaps even occurring within Jerusalem (as well as outside). Possibly they originated some time before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (586 B.C.). Local worship services other than in the temple or tabernacle, such as new moon festivals and sabbaths, were conducted at a very early date.
During the exile in Babylon and in those lands of the Dispersion the synagogue grew rapidly. Since the temple was destroyed, there was no temple worship. The synagogue in one way substituted for this lack. When the temple was rebuilt the synagogue service, whose main focus was prayer and the reading of Scripture, became the complement to the sacrificial service of the temple.
Thus the synagogue is not in contrast to the temple service. In the Diaspora (regions of the Dispersion), where regular temple attendance was impossible, the synagogue in one sense replaced the temple. By participating in the synagogue service one indirectly shared in the temple rituals. This relationship between the two is reflected by such similarities as location: both were situated on the highest ground; and position: all synagogues faced Jerusalem (Sonne, “Synagogue,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4:485). Thus we note that in Mesopotamia the synagogues face the west; in Greece and Italy they face the east; in Galilee they point to the south.
Jerusalem itself contained a rather large number of synagogues. According to Jewish tradition— however unreliable—there were as many as 480 synagogues of varying sizes in the Holy City. This indicates that the synagogue not only substituted for the temple, it was the chief expression of and site of worship among the common people of God in that time.
New Testament Usage
Jesus showed the same attitude toward the synagogue as did the common people.He went “as his custom was” to the synagogue, and He evidently endorsed it as being ordained by God (Luke 4:16; cf. Matthew 4:23; 9:35; John 6:59; 18:20). Although Jesus condemned the Pharisaic legalism, He never criticized the synagogue service. Undoubtedly this comes from the fact that the synagogue service had remained relatively uninfluenced by the Pharisaic philosophy and practice that had contaminated Judaism on so many other fronts.
The earliest Christians also maintained a close relationship with the synagogue whenever they could. On his missionary journeys Paul never neglected to visit the synagogue of the city. There he participated in the service and even had the opportunity to preach the gospel (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1,10; 18:4; 19:8). Paul did not discourage participation in the synagogue service until some started to speak “evil of that way (of Christianity)” (Acts 19:9). Under some circumstances Jewish Christians continued to worship in the synagogue as late as A.D. 100 when the legal experts of rabbinic Judaism added the so-called Eighteenth Benediction to the synagogue prayer. This prayer invoked a curse upon the “heretical” Christians.
The synagogue gathering was not only a religious phenomenon, it also functioned socially and legally. Synagogues afforded relief to the poor; their leaders were authorized to judge legal matters. According to the Talmud there were as many as 168 violations of the Law which could be punished by scourging. Such a penalty was determined by the body of elders of a synagogue, and it was administered by the attendant of the synagogue (Matthew 10:17). In accordance with the law of Moses, no more than 40 strokes were given (cf. Deuteronomy 25:3). An even more serious punishment was to be excommunicated from the synagogue. This isolated an individual from his own people; he could have no contact with orthodox Jews whatsoever.
The synagogues also became places of instruction and training in the Law. Besides the place of assembly there were rooms for education and for the administration of the affairs of the synagogue. Furthermore, several rooms were set aside as places of lodging for travelers.
The style of service in the synagogue consisted of prayer and the reading of Scripture with comments upon it. There were alternate readings between the “angel/messenger of the church/ assembly” (cf. Revelation 1:20) and the gathering itself. Scripture was read verbatim, quoted from memory, paraphrased and explained, and set in poetic form. Scripture thus became the focal point of every service. The form of earliest Christian worship was influenced by and patterned after the synagogue service.
Colin Brown 1:291-93,295-97,307
Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., “4715. συναγωγή,” in The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Sigma-Omega, (Springfield, MO: Complete Biblical Library, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4715. ÏƒÏ…Î½Î±Î³Ï‰Î³á½µ”.
συναγωγη<G4864>, συναγωγης, ἡ (συναγω), the Septuagint for קָהָלand very often for עֵדָה. In Greek writings “a bringing together, gathering (as of fruits), a contracting; an assembling together” of men. In the N.T.
2. “a synagogue,” i.e.,
a. “an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayer and listen to the reading and exposition of the Holy Scriptures”; assemblies of the sort were held every sabbath and feast-day, afterward also on the second and fifth days of every week (see references below): Luke 12:11; Acts 9:2; 13:43; 26:11; the name is transferred to an assembly of Christians formally gathered for religious purposes, James 2:2 (Epiphanius haer. 30, 18 says of the Jewish Christians συναγωγην ὁυτοι καλουσι την ἑαυτωνεκκλησιαν και ουχι εκκλησιαν (cf. Lightfoot on Philippians, p. 192)); (cf. Trench, Synonyms, sec. 1, and especially Harnack’s elaborate note on Hermas, mand. 11, 9 (less fully and accurately in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr. f. wiss. Theol. for 1876, p. 102ff) respecting the use of the word by the church Fathers of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries; cf. Hilgenfeld’s comments on the same in his ‘Hermae Pastor’, edition alt., p. 183f).
b. “the building where those solemn Jewish assemblies are held” (Hebrew הַכְּגֶסֶתבֵּית, i.e. ‘the house of assembly’). Synagogues seem to date their origin from the Babylonian exile. In the time of Jesus and the apostles every town, not only in Palestine but also among the Gentiles if it contained a considerable number of Jewish inhabitants, had at least one synagogue, the larger towns several or even many. That the Jews held trials and even inflicted punishments in them, is evident from such passages as Matthew 10:17; 23:34; Mark 13:9; Luke 12:11; 21:12; Acts 9:2; 22:19; 26:11. They are further mentioned in Matthew 4:23; 6:2,5; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; 23:6; Mark 1:21,23,29,39; 3:1; 6:2; 12:39; Luke 4:15f,20,28,33,38,44; 6:6; 7:5; 8:41; (11:43); 13:10; 20:46; John 6:59; 18:20 (here the anarthrous (so G L T Tr WH) singular has an indefinite or generic force (R.V. text “in synagogues”)); Acts 6:9; 9:20; 13:5,14,42 Rec.; 14:1; 15:21; 17:1,10,17; 18:4,7,19,26; 19:8; 24:12; 26:11
(Josephus, Antiquities 19,6,3; b. j. 2, 14, 4. (5; 7, 3, 8; Philo, qued omn. prob. book sec. 12)). Cf. Winer’s RWB, under the word Synagogen; Leyrer in Herzog edition 1, xv., p. 299ff; Schürer, N.T. Zeitgesch. sec. 27 (especially ii.); Kneucker in Schenkel v., p. 443f; (Hamburger, Real-Encycl. ii, p. 1142ff; Ginsburg in Alex.’s Kitto, under the word Synagogue; Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, book iii, chapter x.).*
J. H. Thayer, trans., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1889), s.v. “,” WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
Greek Strong’s Number: 4864
Greek Word: συναγωγή
Root: from (the reduplicated form of) <G4863>
Cross Reference: TDNT – 7:798,1108
Part of Speech: n f
English Words used in KJV:
synagogue 55 congregation 1 assembly 1 [Total Count: 57]
from (the reduplicated form of) <G4863> (sunago); an assemblage of persons; specially a Jewish “synagogue” (the meeting or the place); by analogy a Christian church :- assembly, congregation, synagogue.
James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4864”.
As you can see, there are some interesting points in these (3) dictionary entries. One wavers between a synagogue being both good and bad – one is neutral to not so good towards the synagogue, and one actually seems to understand that it is a synonym.
While these entries give us some understanding of what the Greek word synagōgē (synagogue) is, they also have a bias inherently built into them based upon the particular way the writer understands the Greek and his/her understanding of how the word is used in the text. Sometimes a systematic theological context is applied for understanding and sometimes that same approach causes the immediate context to be ignored. More times than not, the Judaic context seems to be treated lightly, if not ignored altogether – more of an afterthought or of no great importance – there is also supposition supplied in many of the dictionaries that the talmidim (disciples) and Paul converted to Christianity from Judaism that can not be ignored.
Let’s do some learning and consult the text itself on of each of the entries we have for synagogue and see what the text portrays that the synagogue is. In our first entry, we come to the 4th chapter of Matthew:
Matthew 4:23 (CJB)
23 Yeshua went all over the Galil teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing people from every kind of disease and sickness.
You may notice the word “their” in this verse. Some people understand to to mean that Yeshua (Jesus) is making a distinction between “them” and “us” as in those that go to synagogue and those that are Christian. The text doesn’t imply this unless you come at this verse and the context surrounding it with a theological supposition that Yeshua is something other than Jewish.
It simply means the synagogues in the Galil (Galilee). Notice the above map where the Galil is big area in the NW corner of the map?
Matthew 6:2 (CJB)
2 So, when you do tzedakah (merciful acts – alms to the poor), don’t announce it with trumpets to win people’s praise, like the hypocrites in the synagogues and on the streets. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already!
Who is Yeshua talking to here? You may have to read chapter 5 in context to figure that out. I could tell you, but in this instance, I think because it is such a beautiful teaching that I will let you read and find out for yourself.
I am going to ask a pointed question. Do you think when Yeshua is teaching, that he is teaching “all” in the synagogues are hypocrites (pretenders – stage actors)? If you do, then just remember that Yeshua went to the synagogue too, so, if you do, wouldn’t He would have to be included in that “all” then?
An interesting point that most of the commentaries miss in this verse is the part about “trumpets.” It is not talking about bugles as some dictionaries will state, it is talking about the metal “alms box” which was called a trumpet because it was metal and because of the way it was shaped. This is why some of the churches in America would pad their alms box and/or collection plate – place “padding around the command” so to speak so that you wouldn’t break the command. Kind of like when Rabbis place a fence around Torah.
Read the entry and the following comments by Adam Clarke on trumpet where he quotes the Gemara and at the end offers an alternate explanation as well.
While the 2nd explanation may sound plausible, we would have to ask if we have any writings that support that people in the synagogues carried bugles to service with them or that they walked around with shofars blowing them every time they dropped money in the alms box? The context here is people on the streets and in the synagogues and that context gives us the answer.
shopher, a trumpet, refers to the hole in the public alms chest, into which the money was dropped which was allotted for the service of the poor. Such holes, because they were wide at one end and grew gradually narrow towards the other, were actually termed שופרות shopheroth, trumpets, by the rabbins; of this Schoettgen furnishes several examples. An ostentatious man, who wished to attract the notice of those around him, would throw in his money with some force into these trumpet-resembling holes, and thus he might be said שופר σαλπιζειν, to sound the trumpet. The Jerusalem Gemara, tract Shekalim, describes these שופרות shopheroth thus—These trumpet holes were crooked, narrow above and wide below, in order to prevent fraud. As our Lord only uses the words, μη σαλπισης, it may be tantamount to our term jingle. Do not make a public ostentatious jingle of that money which you give to public charities. Pride and hypocrisy are the things here reprehended. The Pharisees, no doubt, felt the weight of the reproof.
Still the words may be taken in their literal meaning, as we know that the Moslimans, who nearly resemble the ancient Pharisees in the ostentation, bigotry, and cruelty of their character, are accustomed, in their festival of Muhurram, to erect stages in the public streets, and, by the sound of a trumpet, call the poor together to receive alms of rice, and other kinds of food. See WARD.
Adam Clarke, A Commentary and Critical Notes, (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1826), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Matthew 6”.
Matthew 6:5 (CJB) 5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners, so that people can see them. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already!
In context, “don’t let you left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I am going to be more succinct:
Don’t rob God of His glory by calling attention to yourself instead of to Him! To do so is to be a hypocrite (a pretender – a stage actor) ie, if you are truly doing it for His glory, you would NOT want to bring attention to yourself in any way. If you do want to bring attention to YOURSELF and take the attention OFF of HIM, then you truly are a pretender – an actor . . . a hypocrite!
Were there people in the synagogues that tried to look and act pious so as to get attention – undoubtedly!
Are there people in Christian churches that do the SAME exact thing? – undoubtedly!
Matthew 9:35 (CJB)
35 Yeshua went about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and weakness.
This verse is a very important verse! A verse about Yeshua teaching in the synagogues. What was he teaching? The Torah and the Prophets – the only bible that there was at the time. What would they call him as a result of his teaching? Prophet? Sage? Torah-teacher? Rabbi? What are the implications of understanding this?
For one, Yeshua criticized some Torah-teachers that were hypocritical. It has to be “some” or he would be criticizing himself because he also taught Torah – and as a Rabbi at that. Notice what David Stern writes in his Jewish New Testament Commentary:
Torah-teachers (scribes) did not have sʾmikhah (were not ordained as rabbis; see Mt 21:23N) and therefore could not bring chiddushim (introduce new interpretations) or posek halakhah (make legal judgments; see Mt 2:4N). This is why the people were amazed (one could say “were in shock,” Hebrew hishtomemu): Yeshua taught like a rabbi and not like a scribe. This was one level of amazement.
The second level of amazement was that he taught as one who had authority himself. No rabbi taught (or judged, pasak) against the halakhah of his own rabbi. But Yeshua, who had no rabbi of his own, appeared to have authority beyond that of any of the rabbis (vv. 23-27&N). By Yeshua’s own testimony throughout Yochanan 5-9, and summarized finally at Yn 12:44-50, his authority came directly from his Father, God; see also Daniel 7:14, Mt 28:18).
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, (Clarksville, Maryland: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1992), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 87-88.
Matthew 10:17 (CJB)
17 Be on guard, for there will be people who will hand you over to the local Sanhedrins (courts) and flog you in their synagogues.
Matthew 12:9 (CJB)
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue.
Matthew 13:54 (CJB)
54 and went to his home town. There he taught them in their synagogue in a way that astounded them, so that they asked, “Where do this man’s wisdom and miracles come from?
Matthew 23:6 (CJB)
6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,
Matthew 23:34 (CJB)
34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and Torah-teachers — some of them you will kill, indeed, you will have them executed on stakes as criminals; some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.
Another important verse for both Jew and Christian. It is Yeshua’s precursor to when and why he will come back based upon Psalm 118:26 (the bolded words).
Matthew 23:39 (CJB)
39 For I tell you, from now on, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of Adonai.’”