The Berean Expositor
Volume 46 - Page 31 of 249
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born the synagogue; first simply a company of people meeting in the open, but later
(after the return from Babylon), in a building erected for this purpose.
The object of the synagogue was not to supplant the Temple, which was the House of
Prayer, but to provide houses of prayer for those at a distance from the Temple, who were
not able to attend as often as they would like to have done. Eventually, as the synagogue
came to play a bigger and bigger part in the life of Israel, and with the rise of Rabbinism,
synagogues were built in Jerusalem itself, until at the time of Christ, a great number
existed there. Prayer was still offered with due recognition of the Temple as the dwelling
place of God, the worshipper turning towards Jerusalem to pray.
"Daniel . . . . . . . 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"
(Dan. 6: 10).
It is probable that the Lord's prayer (Matt. 6: 9-13) when first given, was prayed with
the same attitude.
Synagogues were very often built beside running water, no doubt to provide for the
"divers washings", and in towns where no synagogue existed, it was customary to gather
by the side of a river if possible. The N.T. Philippi seems not to have possessed a
synagogue, although many of the towns of the dispersion did, so Luke testifies:
"On the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be
made" (Acts 16: 13).
The interested reader may also like to compare Ezra 8: 15, 21 and Psa. 137: 1.
When the N.T. period opened, a great number of synagogues existed both in Israel,
and many towns of the dispersion. It is claimed by one authority that there were 480 in
Jerusalem alone, and although this is no doubt an exaggeration (or may even be a
symbolic number), a great number almost certainly did exist in Jerusalem. This factor
led, as would be expected, to many differences of doctrine, and this is suggested by
Acts 6: 9:
"Then there arose certain of the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and
Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen."
When the Acts church arose, it was looked upon as simply another sect or synagogue
of the Jews:
"As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28: 22).
Constitution of the Synagogue.
The basic division of the N.T. synagogue was into three parts, dealing with worship,
education and government. There were the ordinary services of worship, which included
prayer, the reading of the Law and Prophets, and the word of exhortation. Then followed
the Rabbinic school concerned with the exposition of the word, although some Rabbis