In this scholarly article, I am going to briefly help you understand the meaning of Synagogue in the Bible.
To understand what is a Synagogue in the Bible, we are going to briefly look at its definition, the difference between a synagogue and a temple as well as the key features of the synagogue.
We will also look at the history of the Synagogue and wrap up this article by looking at another word that relates to a Synagogue which is known as the Sanhedrin.
Therefore, after helping you to understand what was a Synagogue in Jesus’ time, we will also help you to understand the meaning of Sanhedrin.
What is a Synagogue in the Bible?
In the Bible, a Synagogue is simply a Jewish sub-worship center that is far away from the temple which is considered the main worship center which was permanently located in Jerusalem.
The simple understanding of this is making an example out of our churches that have a headquarter in a particular place, while their branches are scattered all over the place.
The difference between a temple and a Synagogue.
The difference between a temple and a synagogue is that the temple was the central worship center which was big enough to accommodate several Jews while a synagogue was a sub-worship center that allowed Jews who were living far away from the temple to gather for worship.
Key features of the synagogue.
Basically, the Synagogues had three outstanding features which were:
- The Aron Hakodesh also known as the ark: This is wooden furniture that has the features of a cupboard and often has a curtain or door, and it is a device where the Jewish scriptures known as the Torah is being kept.
- A lamp: The lamp usually sits above the ark and is being referred to as the eternal light which symbolizes the presence of God.
- The Bimah: This is a platform where the Torah was enrolled when it was time for it to be read.
A brief history of the synagogue.
The center of Jewish worship was the temple in Jerusalem until the Jewish exile in 586 BC.
And after the exile, the Jews shifted their center of worship to the synagogue; which was found in every local community of the Jews.
Though synagogues existed in Palestine before the exile; the Jews while in exile in Babylon, emphasized the synagogue for purposes of prayer, reading of the scriptures, and teaching; more than they did in their homeland.
On their final return from exile, the synagogue was further developed and strengthened by Ezra and his successors as a means of teaching the Jewish laws.
The book of Acts reveals that wherever there were Jews in the Roman empire, there was always a synagogue.
The apostle Paul always began his witnessing in the synagogues.
The ruler of the assembly was always the leader. And he was assisted by the reader of the scriptures, a leader in congregational prayers; and an officer who had custody of the scriptures and presided in the absence of the ruler.
The Sanhedrin was the governing body of the Jews in Palestine.
Literally, the word “Sanhedrin” means to “sit together”.
Although the Sanhedrin was under Roman authority, it, however, governed the province in both civil and religious matters.
The Sanhedrin was composed largely of Sadducees and Pharisees under the leadership of the high priest.