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The normal gathering places, or meeting locations, of local Christian congregations were synagogues not churches. The writers of the New Testament generally used the word synagogue with respect to its meaning as a meeting place, e.g., “in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20 NASB), “the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:6 NASB), “they went into the synagogue and sat down” (Acts 13:14 NASB), "into your synagogue" (James 2:2). They did not refer to their community as a “synagogue” in the sense of an assembly or congregation. Rather, Judeo-Christians met in synagogues but saw themselves as the new elect people of God or assembly of God. New Testament writers did not use the word synagogue to describe their assembly. Nevertheless, they did use synagogue in reference to various Jewish and opposing “christian” sects (Revelation 2:9).

The notion of a gathering place suggests that the synagogue served as a central social center for the congregation and presumably represented a symbol of belonging. As a meeting house, or a community center, the synagogue not only accommodated weekly Sabbath activities, but provided a place for wedding feasts and other functions as well. Synagogues, constructed of stone, often had stone benches fixed along the walls. Moreover, during the first century men and women were not segregated in the synagogues nor were they separated in the Jerusalem Temple.

Shmuel Safrai, who argues that not only were women the religious equals of men in regular attendance in the synagogue but there was no separation of the sexes in the first-century synagogue, suggests that segregation in the synagogue arose due to the influence of Islam (Safrai 1993:3-6). Archaeological evidence suggests that the first century CE synagogue always faced east, or southeast, as did the entrance to the Temple. Later this practice was incorporated into Jewish Law. After the separation of Jews, Judeo-Christians, and Christian Gentiles, the meeting places of Christian congregations lost the sense of synagogue.

Page last edited: 02/02/06 08:39 PM

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