636. The Synagogue

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Jewish writers claim for the synagogue a very remote antiquity, but its origin probably dates during the captivity. There were no fixed proportions in the building, as there were in the tabernacle and in the temple. When a synagogue was to be built the highest ground that could be found in the vicinity was selected for the site and, if possible, the top was erected above the roofs of surrounding buildings. Where this could not be done a tall pole was placed on the summit in order to make the building conspicuous. Synagogues were often built without roofs. They were also so constructed that the worshipers, as they entered and prayed, faced Jerusalem. See note on Daniel 6:1010Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. (Daniel 6:10) (#595). At the Jerusalem end was the chest or ark which contained the book of the law. Toward the middle of the building was a raised platform, and in the center of the platform was a pulpit. A low partition five or six feet high divided the men from the women.
The leading object of the synagogue was not worship, but instruction The temple was “the house of prayer” (Matt. 21:1313And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (Matthew 21:13)). The synagogue was never called by that name. Reading and expounding the law was the great business of the synagogue; and, though a liturgical service was connected with these, it was subordinate to them.
The priests had no official standing or privileges in the synagogue, though they were always honored when present. They were the hereditary officials of the temple, but the officers of the synagogue were elected either by the congregation or by the council.
The leader of the congregation might ask any suitable person to address the assembly. Persons who were known as learned men, or as the expounders of religious faith, were allowed to speak. Hence in the text and in the parallel passages we find Christ publicly speaking in the synagogue. See also Matthew 13:5454And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? (Matthew 13:54); Mark 6:22And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? (Mark 6:2); Luke 4:15; 4:16-2215And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. (Luke 4:15)
16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. 17And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. 22And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son? (Luke 4:16‑22)
; John 18:2020Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. (John 18:20). So also the apostles on their missionary journey addressed the people in these places of public gathering. See Acts 13:5,15; 14:1; 17:10-11; 17:17; 18:195And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. (Acts 13:5)
15And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. (Acts 13:15)
1And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. (Acts 14:1)
10And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:10‑11)
17Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. (Acts 17:17)
19And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. (Acts 18:19)