Plainer Words since 1968
May 31, 2011
PLAINER WORDS ONLINE … THE SYNAGOGUE OF THE JEWS
The word, “synagogue,” carries with it a meaning, such as, “an assembly” or “a congregation.” Also, it was “a gathering place.” The name, “synagogue,” was applied to the Jewish place of worship and instruction. In Scripture, the word, “synagogue,” is used in many instances as the word, “church,” is today. In the Book of Revelation, “synagogue” is used as an “assembly” or “congregation.”
“I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9).
“Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Rev. 3:9).
Notice in these verses that the word, “synagogue,” does not refer to the building, but rather, to the assembly of the people who are called “the synagogue of Satan.” They are called this because of the fact that they worship and serve Satan by error and deception. These assemblies will not, openly, acknowledge their worship of Satan. Only the initiated ones, in the “synagogue of Satan,” know “the depths of Satan” (Rev. 2:24) which is to say, the “worship of the Dragon.” The initiated ones, who claim to be Jews but are not, follow the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7). This will be a form of idolatry, the creation by Satanic wisdom of a mighty system crafted to ultimately lead to the open worship of himself—as God in the person of the Anti-Christ (2 Thess. 2:4). The uninitiated see only a glorious religious experience. They are spiritually blind.
These counterfeit believers in Christ will have “slipped through the cracks.” They are vocal Jews, professing to be citizens of the “Israel of God.” They will fool many by their “profession of faith.” The uninitiated, ignoring the divine warning, “… but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). All of this precedes the “Parousia” and is part of the consummation of the Pre-Millennial Kingdom of God (Matt. 24:3-7).
Our studies of the Bible have brought light to bear on the fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and James wrote to a targeted audience—First Century Jews. Therefore, there was no need for them, as writers of the New Testament, to explain Jewish institutions and Jewish traditions. As New Testament authors, under inspiration, they wrote knowing that their audience understood, clearly, Jewish customs, traditions, and institutions. We find this to be true with such subjects as the Priesthood, the Synagogue, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and Sanhedrin. I have set out to give the reader some background information that should help in gaining a better understanding of “What saith the Scripture.”
It is important to know about the synagogue because of the part it played as the prominent institution of the later phase of Judaism. We cannot over-estimate the influence of the synagogue system. To the synagogue system, the Jews adhered, with tenacity, to the tradition of their Fathers. The synagogue system evidently began in Babylon during the 70 years of Israel’s captivity, around 500 B.C. and was highly developed by the time of Christ.
The synagogue, during New Testament times, was one of, if not the most important institution in the Jew’s religion. The synagogue attending Jews were taught that the institution originated in the teachings of Moses according to the “Oral Law.” Moses supposedly taught this, orally, but never put it into writing.
This “tradition” seems to be in conflict with the history of Judaism because the synagogue system originated during the Babylonian captivity hundreds of years after Moses died. During their captivity, far from their native land and without the Temple or Altar, the more devout Jews, no doubt, felt drawn from time-to-time to meet and read the Word of God.
Outwardly, it appeared that the primary purpose for establishing the synagogues was for religious instructions to be kept alive, to wit, the knowledge of the Written Law. But, more importantly, it was to sanction the “Oral Law.” This organized setting was developed, minus the Priests, by those who became the Pharisees.
Ezra, the priest, presupposed that the habit of solemn gatherings would continue after their return to Jerusalem from captivity.
“And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; and there abode we in tents three days: and I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi” (Ezra 8:15).
“And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month” (Nehemiah 8:2).
“Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them” (Nehemiah 9:1).
After the Captivity, the synagogue remained and even developed as a counter-balance to the absolute sacerdotalism of the Temple. The Jews of the dispersion must have felt that the synagogue was absolutely essential. In Palestine and Jerusalem, synagogues developed in great numbers. It has been reported by some authorities that at the time of Christ, there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem, although, this may be an exaggeration. However, evidently, there were a large number in Jerusalem, and this fact could lead to many differences in doctrine.
Synagogues were scattered all over Palestine. The larger towns had one or more synagogues, such as, Nazareth (Matthew 13:54) and Capernaum (Matthew 12:9). All parts of the dispersion were represented by particular synagogues (Acts 6:9). In Pagan lands, the Jews had their synagogues.
Damascus…………….. Acts 9:2
Salamis ………………. Acts 13:5
Pisidia Antoch ……….. Acts 13:14
Thessalonica …………. Acts 17:1
Corinth ……………….. Acts 18:4
The primary function of the synagogue was to instruct all classes of Jews in the Law. This was a noble purpose, indeed, but as our studies proceed, we will note that the instruction was not so much the Word of God but the tradition of the fathers. Philo stated, “the synagogues were a House of Instruction, WHERE THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FATHERS AND ALL MANNER OF VIRTUES WERE TAUGHT.” The people were taught the philosophy of the fathers. “Bagster’s Help of Bible Study” states that part of the synagogue service was the reading of the Word. The reading was so arranged that once every three years the Law of Moses and the Prophets were read through.
After the reading of passages, then, the translation was added “because to many, the original had become a dead letter.” The reason was, the Hebrew language was not the language of the day in Palestine. The Jews picked up Aramaic while in Babylonian Captivity. Hence, the Scriptures were translated into the vulgar dialect by an interpreter, an officer of the synagogue. Many times, the interpreter would give an exposition that the hearers might better understand the “sense” of the words and their practical application. The expositions of the Law became, over time, more important than the Law itself. The most learned men in the synagogue were those who devoted themselves to learning the traditional expositions of the noted teachers of times past.
The “philosophy of the fathers” became more important than the Scriptures. In fact, Rabbinical Schools were set up to teach the “philosophy and virtues of the fathers.” There even developed the idea that Moses instituted the synagogue and delivered to the “Fathers,” the “Oral Law,” which was to “explain” the written Word of God. The synagogue produced men who devoted themselves to the pursuit of learning “the traditions of the Fathers.” It is important in the learning of The Word of God to be cognizant that in most cases, “tradition” refers to the “Oral Law.” These men were highly respected among the Jews and were looked upon as men of great wisdom and understanding.
OFFICIALS OF THE SYNAGOGUE
The officials of the synagogue were called the “elders” or the “rulers.” The rulers were elected by the congregation. The rulers formed the “Council” and acted in a judicial capacity.
The chief elder had the duty to maintain sacred books. Possibly, there were a number of clerks, which would be equivalent to the New Testament deacons, who were in charge of the alms. Besides the regular officials, there were those who participated in the service itself. The “angel” of the synagogue was chosen by the chief elder to conduct the devotions, as well as those who read the Law and the Prophets, or gave a word of exhortation. The “Interpreter” was mentioned earlier.
DISCIPLINE IN THE SYNAGOGUE
The “Council” dealt with certain offences and disciplined their flock. The “servant of the synagogue,” sometimes referred to as “the minister,” was the one who meted out punishment upon those who transgressed the Law, or Traditions, or brought scandal upon the synagogue. In fact, the Lord Jesus warned His Disciples; “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues.”
The Apostle Paul, before his conversion, beat believers in the synagogues when he found them.
“And I said, Lord, thy know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on Thee” (Acts 22:19).
After his Damascus Road experience, Paul suffered, at the hands of the Jews, the same flogging that he had previously “dished-out.”
“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one” (2 Corinthians 11:24).
Forty lashes or stripes were allowed (see Deuteronomy 25:3). The Jews were careful not to exceed the forty stripes, so they reduced them to 39.
“Decrees of Excommunication” could be issued by the elders. To be excommunicated was to be cut-off from all of the privileges of being an Israelite. This, in effect, handed the “sinner” over to the judgment of God.
The man who was born blind, as set forth in John 9, was “kicked-out” of the synagogue because he believed on Christ. He was issued his Excommunication by the rulers (i.e., the Pharisees).
“They [the rulers] answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out” (John 9:34).
“Cast out” meant that he lost his privilege to share in the life of Israel. He was turned over to God for judgment, so thought the “blind guides.” The threat of excommunication was the synagogue’s means to keep the people in-line. (John 12:42). The blind man’s parents were fearful of being “put out” of the synagogue.
“These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22).
The Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples that this, too, would be their lot.
“They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2).
Those who were under the yoke of the rulers were constantly reminded of their duty to attend the synagogue. The rules of the synagogue, which regulated it, required the people of the district to meet, together, twice every Sabbath. The Jews became so bound to this requirement that on the whole, they attended religiously. This was not Moses’ requirement, but it was the traditional requirement—the Rule of the Oral Law. In order to lend greater weight to this, the elders claimed Moses set it up. They claimed that while Moses did not write it in the Law; he taught it orally. This Oral Law was passed down to each generation by the elders, and the Tradition carried more weight than the Scripture.
ARRANGEMENT IN THE SYNAGOGUE
We are informed that the synagogues, outside of Jerusalem, were built so that the congregation would face toward Jerusalem. Inside the synagogue was a raised platform from which the Law was read. On the raised platform were the “chief seats” for the rulers. These seats were arranged to face the congregation. The “ruler” probably seated himself in the most prominent seat, referred to as “Moses’ Seat.”
“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:1-6).
These seats were coveted by the hypocrites. The “chief seats” represented authority and power.
“And He said unto them in His doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts (Mark 12:38-39).
“Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets” (Luke 11:43).
“Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts” (Luke 20:46)
Have you ever noticed the “chief seats” in present-day churches? Who likes to sit in the “chief seats?” Many of the churches, today, have an arrangement on the platform somewhat similar to the 1st Century Synagogues.
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matthew 6:1-2).
Ten people were required to form a congregation and, thus, duly constitute an assembly. The Jews who kept the “Oral Law” thought it would take ten people in order for God to recognize the assembly and assure “the presence of God.” The contrast to this “tradition” was what the Lord Jesus told His disciples; “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
There was a great divide between what Moses wrote and the “Traditions” taught by the “Officials of the Synagogues.” The concept of the synagogues originated in the minds of Jews, not in the Mind of God. Because of this fact, we have titled this study—THE SYNAGOGUE OF THE JEWS.
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From Plainer Words
The Synagogue of the Jews
Posted in: 2011
By Tom L. Ballinger
May 31, 2011 - 11:47:45 AM
May 31, 2011 - 11:47:45 AM
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