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The Background to the New Testament.
pp. 12 - 16
The Greek sunagoge, "synagogue", derives from the verb sunago, "to gather
together", and there are many occurrences of the word both in the LXX and N.T. In the
LXX the word is mostly translated by the words "congregation", "assembly" and
"company", but apart from Acts 13: 43 ("congregation") and James 2: 2 ("assembly"),
the N.T. renders consistently "synagogue". The A.V. translation of the word in James is
most unfortunate, as it obscures the close connection of the early believers with the
synagogue, which is an important consideration for a correct understanding of things at
It is possible to use the word "synagogue" in much the same way as "church" is used
today, i.e. of the company met together, or the building in which they meet. Rev. 2: 9 is
an example of the former usage, when it refers to "a synagogue of Satan". Here it is not a
building which is in view, but a company of people who promote the cause of Satan.
Origin of the Synagogue.
Although the synagogue as a building did not appear until late on in the history of
Israel, the custom of resorting to the "men of God" on the sabbath for the reading and
exposition of the Law, was of great antiquity. This is suggested in Acts 15: 21:
"For Moses from generations of old, in every city, has those proclaiming him in the
synagogues, being read every sabbath" (lit.).
Dr. John Lightfoot identified the "high places", mentioned in the O.T. in a good sense,
with the synagogue.
"And Samuel answered Saul, and said, I am the seer: go up before me unto the high
place . . . . ." (I Sam. 9: 19).
"Thou shalt come to the hill of God . . . . . thou shalt meet a company of prophets
coming down from the high place . . . . . and they shall prophesy: And the Spirit of the
Lord will come upon thee . . . . ." (I Sam. 10: 5, 6).
These "high places" must not be confused with others used for idolatrous purposes
(e.g. I Kings 11: 7).
The gathering together in companies of the people of Israel came about gradually over
a period of time. With the division of the land amongst the twelve tribes, and the choice
of Jerusalem as the accepted centre of worship, the people found themselves at varying
distances from the place where the Lord had put His name. It was only natural that those
at a distance from this centre, and required to present themselves there three times a year,
should desire to meet together for prayer, reading and edification at other times. So was