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Morrish Bible Dictionary

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This word occurs but once in the A.V. of the Old Testament, Psalm 74:8 , but the same Hebrew word (moed ) is many times translated 'congregation.' Mr. Darby, and the R.V. margin translate in Psalm 74:8 "places of assembly." The word συναγωγή occurs very often in the LXX, but as a translation of some twenty different Hebrew words: 'congregation' or 'gathering' is the main thought. As far as is known there were no buildings called synagogues in Old Testament times. It has been judged that they arose after the captivity, and may perhaps have been occasioned by a desire to perpetuate the work begun by the people calling upon Ezra to read to them the book of the law, when those who heard were deeply affected. Nehemiah 8 , Nehemiah 9 .

In the exploration of Palestine remains of buildings have been discovered, which are judged to have been synagogues. They are uniform in plan, and differ from the ruins of churches, temples, and mosques. In two of them an inscription in Hebrew was over the main entrance, one in connection with a seven-branched candlestick, and the other with figures of the paschal lamb. A plain rectangular building answered the purpose. They were often erected by general contributions, though at times by a rich Jew, or in some instances by a Gentile, as the one built by the centurion at Capernaum. Luke 7:5 .

An ark was placed at one end, in which were deposited the sacred books. Near this was the place of honour, or the 'chief seats,' which some sought after, Matthew 23:6 , and James 2:2,3 (where the word translated 'assembly' is 'synagogue'). Nearer the centre of the building was a raised platform with a kind of desk or pulpit, where the reader stood. A screen separated the women from the men.

It is known that a portion of the law and of the prophets was read every Sabbath, and it is clear from Acts 13:15 that if any one was present who had a "word of exhortation for the people," the opportunity was given for its delivery. Prayers also were doubtless offered, but how far these resembled the modern Jewish ritual is not known. The Lord spoke of the hypocrites who loved to pray standing in the synagogues, where they also ostentatiously offered their alms. Matthew 6:2,5 .

It was the custom of the Lord to visit the synagogues, and in them He wrought some of His miracles and taught the people. Matthew 4:23 . In Luke 4 the Lord, in the synagogue at Nazareth, stood up to read, and there was handed to Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. After reading a portion which set forth His own attitude among them (stopping in the middle of a sentence), He sat down and spake "gracious words" to them. His exposition of the passage is not given except "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." It is recorded that the people were in the habit of freely expressing their opinions respecting what was taught, and here they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" In Acts 13:45 the Jews "spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming."

Paul also was permitted to speak in the synagogue at Damascus, when he showed the Jews that Jesus was the Son of God, Acts 9:20; and often afterwards he 'reasoned' or 'disputed' (διαλέγομαι)with the Jews in their synagogues. Acts 18:4,19; Acts 19:8 .

It is important to see that everywhere in their own buildings a clear testimony was borne by the Lord Himself as to the significance of His appearance among them; and afterwards by Paul and others to the work He had accomplished by His death and resurrection for them — reference being constantly made to the scriptures which they professed to reverence and to follow. The reality of the testimony was happily proved by the salvation of many, and which left those who refused it without excuse.

To be "put out of the synagogue" was the Jewish excommunication. The Lord told His disciples that this would be enforced towards them. John 9:22; John 16:2 . The only case recorded is that of the man born blind, when he bore testimony to Christ. It was a happy exchange for him, for the Lord thereupon revealed Himself to him as the Son of God. John 9:34-38 . Of others we read that many of the chief rulers believed on the Lord, but feared to confess Him lest they should be cast out, "for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." John 12:42,43 .

It is evident from what Pilate said to the Jews in reference to the Lord — "Take ye him, and judge him according to your law" — that they were allowed to judge certain matters and to inflict limited punishments. John 18:31 . This appears to have been carried out wherever there was a synagogue, though it is not clear who were the judges, probably the 'elders' mentioned in Luke 7:3 . The Lord told His disciples that they would be scourged in the synagogues, Matthew 10:17; and Paul confessed that when persecuting the church he had imprisoned and beaten in every synagogue those that believed on the Lord. Acts 22:19 . Paul himself doubtless suffered the like punishment in the same buildings. 2 Corinthians 11:24 . Thus a very undignified use was made of their places of worship.

The officials connected with the synagogues were

1. the zaqenim, πρεσβύτεροι, the elders. Luke 7 . These were presided over by

2. an ἀρχισυνάγωγος, ruler of the synagogue. Mark 5:22,35,36,38; Luke 8:49; Luke 13:14; Acts 13:15; Acts 18:8,17 . In the last two passages the A.V. has 'chief ruler,' but the Greek is the same.

3. the sheliach, a delegate of the congregation, who acted as chief reader: he is not mentioned in the New Testament.

4. the chazzan, ὑπηρέτης, translated in the A.V. 'servant, minister, officer,' only once mentioned in connection with the synagogue as the 'attendant' to whom the Lord gave the book when He had done reading. Luke 4:20 .

5. the batlanim, described as 'leisure men,' who attended meetings regularly. There were at least ten of these attached to each synagogue, so as to form a quorum, ten being the lowest number to form a congregation.

SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN. Some who professed, like Jews, to have a claim to be considered the people of God on the ground of hereditary right. These are declared to be liars, for they really form a congregation of Satan, doing his work in seducing the saints from their heavenly character. Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9 . In both cases they may be Jews actually, though disowned of God.

Bibliography Information
Morrish, George. Entry for 'Synagogue'. Morrish Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​mbd/​s/synagogue.html. 1897.
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