Selected Thoughts on the Synagogue.
Extracts from 'A Pattern in the Heavens Part One: Ecclesiology.'
By Richard Bacon, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2000 Richard E. Bacon

[From the introduction to v.9 #4-6: The articles in this issue are not thematic. One has to do with the Old Testament synagogue and its impact on the New Testament doctrine of the church. The flow of this article may seem somewhat uneven. This is due, in part, to its nature as “selected” thoughts. These selections have been drawn from various places and exegetical considerations in my dissertation, A Pattern in the Heavens: Ecclesiology. Some of this material could also have a bearing on the recent discussions over the regulative principle of worship and the nature of synagogue worship as a commanded biblical institution.]

Throughout the Old Testament from the Exodus onward both the term qahal (considered elsewhere) and `edah refer variously to the community of Israel as a whole, to the meetings of Israel for worship, or to the transactions connected with the social and cultic life of the people of Israel. Further, when we come to the gospels we are confronted with the very terms in Greek that were used to translate the Hebrew Old Testament in the LXX.

Thus Jesus went through all Galilee teaching in the synagogues in Matthew 4:23. The hypocrites gathered in front of the synagogues (as places of meeting) in Matthew 6:2. Jesus taught in the synagogues yet again in Matthew 9:35. The disciples were warned about being delivered to the councils (sunedrion) and synagogues to be punished in Matthew 10:17. Jesus claimed in Matthew 16:18 that he would build his assembly or congregation (ekklesia) “upon this rock.” Disputes that cannot be resolved privately or within the confines of a few witnesses should be taken to the Christian assembly (ekklesia) in Matthew 18:17.

So also in the Acts and the Epistles we find the same language and terms adopted wholesale in the New Testament that were already familiar from the LXX to the Greek-speaking Jew or proselyte. Great fear came upon the congregation (ekklesia) in Acts 5:11. Stephen disputed with the libertine party in the synagogue in Acts 6:9 and referred to the congregation or the assembly (ekklesia) in the wilderness in Acts 7:38. There was a great persecution against the congregation (ekklesia) in Acts 8:1 and who were apparently meeting in the synagogues of the Jews in Acts 9:2. But all the assemblies or congregations (ekklesia) had rest in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee by the time of Acts 9:31.

Similarly these same Greek translations were used in Romans 16:1-4 and Romans 16:23; First Corinthians 1:2; etc. As the Reverend Douglas Bannerman observed over a century ago in his Cunningham Lectures, “It is obvious that we cannot be in a position rightly to estimate the meaning of these words in the New Testament unless we know something of their previous history and use.”[1]

The congregation or assembly of Israel was in some places called “sunagoge” and in other places “ekklesia” in the LXX. According to Girdlestone’s Old Testament Synonyms, “Whilst qahal generally refers to the representative gathering, `edah often signifies an informal massing of the people.”[2] On the other hand, Campeggio Vitringa distinguished the two words by claiming that the reason the Christians adopted the term “ekklesia” rather than the term “synagoge” in the New Testament (and even that is not true in all cases as we shall see) was not so much to distinguish themselves from the Jewish synagogue, but because the term “ekklesia,” like “qahal,” denotes “a number of people, joined together by laws and other bonds, although it may often happen that they are not assembled together, and that it is impossible that they should be so.”[3]


There is yet one more Hebrew term that we should explore in the context of this study of biblical terms. The Hebrew term “Miqra’” occurs over twenty times in the Hebrew Old Testament and all but three of them are in the Pentateuch, with seventeen of them being in the books of Leviticus and Numbers alone. Additionally, the term can be found in Exodus 12:16; Isaiah 1:13 and 4:5. In the last place listed, the term almost certainly has reference to an assembly that took place for the purpose of worshipping God. A similar term exists in Numbers 10:2 and though there is a word in Nehemiah 8:8 that is closely related (it shows up as being the same word in Wigram’s Concordance), the Authorized Version properly translates it there as “reading” rather than “convocation.” It is of some further interest to note that in all instances but a handful that the term is joined with the adjective “holy.” Thus the expression is normally not simply “convocation” but is more fully presented as a “holy convocation,” or miqra’-qodesh.

The word for convocation comes, as we might expect from the English translation, from the verb qara’, “to call or convoke.” Not only were the feast days of the annual Hebrew calendar regarded as holy convocations, so also was the weekly Sabbath regarded as a holy convocation or miqra’-qodesh. Given the context of Leviticus 23:3, it is difficult to agree with the interpretation of some that it refers only to holding worship services at home. Rather, the reason that the Sabbath in verse three is separated from the rest of the “feasts of Jehovah” beginning in verses four and following is that the people were not required to go to the sanctuary in Jerusalem week by week. It is here, rather than post-exilic times as D. Bannerman and others have speculated, that we find the origins of synagogue worship.[4] Further, the term “dwellings” used in Leviticus 23:3 has reference not so much to houses as seats or even habitations. The Hebrew term “moshebh” and the particular form of Leviticus 23:3, moshbotheykem, can also be translated as “your cities” (as in Second Kings 2:19) or even as “your assemblies” (as at Psalm 1:1 and 107:32).[5]

Not only Nehemiah 8:8, but Isaiah 1:13 and 4:5 seem also to indicate that these holy convocations were indeed local assemblies of the people for the express purpose of public worship, including the reading (so the use in Nehemiah) and exposition of the law (torah and haf-tarah). Though Girdlestone suggested that the significance may simply have been that the days of holy convocation were intended to be kept free from secular work, the implication of being “called out” or “qara’ min” or “ek kaleo” is simply too strong to ignore.[6]

Girdlestone went on in that same place to point out that the term was generally translated by the LXX with the Greek phrase “klete hagia.”[7] Though it is true that the Greek adjective hagios might be here understood, as Girdlestone suggested, in a predicate manner (“called to be holy”), the LXX appears to be using kletos in a substantive manner as a called assembly that has a holy purpose or a sanctified origin. Conybeare and Stock refer to this sort of LXX usage as “taking the predicative position in an attributive sense.”[8] We thus may understand the adjective “kletos” to be used here as a substantive for the Hebrew miqra’ and the Greek adjective “hagios” to be attributive though it is in the predicative position. As Dana and Mantey have also pointed out regarding the Greek adjective, “An adjective is in the attributive relation when it ascribes a quality to the noun which it modifies;…. The article, however, does not determine the relation of the adjective to the noun. This is determined by the mode of description by which the adjective presents the noun — whether the adjective is incidental or principal in the statement.”[9] Therefore, although the adjective “hagia” appears in the predicative position (i.e. after the word it modifies and without an article) we are justified in translating the phrase “holy convocation” rather than “called to be holy” or “called to be saints” as at Romans 1:7 and First Corinthians 1:2.

Neither D. Bannerman nor Vitringa believed that the synagogue can be traced back any farther in time than Nehemiah chapter eight.[10] Bannerman proceeded to quote Marcus Dods’ Presbyterianism Older Than Christianity to the same end. However, we must respectfully disagree at this point with the learned Reverends Bannerman and Dods. First, we can see something very like the synagogue in the meeting together of the people to hear the expositions and sermons of the prophets, both in the exile and even prior to the Babylonian captivity.

Ezekiel 8:1 may seem at first glance to have reference to Ezekiel’s own house, until we remember the manner in which the term “house” is often used in Scripture in a technical or limited sense for a place of prayer and other worship. The temple itself was sometimes called a house, as Matthew 21:13, “my house shall be called a house of prayer” (cf. Isaiah 56:7) and John 2:16, “make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” The word was also used throughout the book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles to refer to places of worship — both private, as Cornelius’ reference to the place he used for prayer in Acts 10:30 (see also Daniel 6:10 in this regard) — and public as in Acts 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 20:20; Romans 16:5; First Corinthians 15:19; Colossians 4:15; Titus 1:11; and Philemon 2. It was as Ezekiel met together with the elders of Israel that he was taken in the spirit (i.e. “in the visions of God,” as Ezekiel 40:2 — see above) to the then still-standing temple in Jerusalem.

Again in Ezekiel 14:1ff. “certain of the elders” came to Ezekiel and Ezekiel preached to them the word of the LORD. In that context the prophet spoke to the house of Israel (verses 4, 6, 7, 11, etc.). We should also remember as we consider this preaching in and to the house of Israel that the modern Hebrew term for the place — the synagogue — where the local assembly takes place is the beth-knesset, or house of gathering.

In Ezekiel 14:6-7 God began to speak against those who came to a prophet to inquire concerning Jehovah. But in the twentieth chapter of Ezekiel that very thing came to pass. “Certain of the elders of Israel came to enquire of the LORD…are ye come to enquire of me…I will not be enquired of by you” (Ezekiel 20:1-3). Here the Hebrew verb darash is used in a theological sense of seeking or consulting for the purpose of receiving an oracle from God.[11] Though Scripture does not specifically inform us that the meeting with Ezekiel took place on the Sabbath day, we should note that it was “the desecrations of the Sabbath” that formed the theme or subject of his sermon to the elders that day (see, for example, verses 12, 13, 16, 20, 21, and 24).[12]

In the context of the Sabbath desecrations, one of the accusations that Ezekiel made against the elders (or more accurately God himself made the accusation) was that the people had worshipped God in the high places in a manner that was specifically restricted to the temple. This they did and God characterized it as “polluting the Sabbath.” Pollution took place in the high places Sabbath by Sabbath both as the house of Israel worshipped false gods (i.e. idols of their hearts — Ezekiel 14:4) and additionally as they worshipped the true and living God in ways that he had never appointed (Ezekiel 20:27-28 cp. Deuteronomy 12:5ff. and Deuteronomy 12:32) for use outside the temple.

There is yet another place in the book of Ezekiel that indicates at least the possibility of weekly Sabbath convocations during the exile. In Ezekiel 33:30-31 we read “Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” We should note at this passage not only the portion emphasized — the houses and not their houses — but also the fact that the people who came claimed that they were coming for the purpose of hearing a word from the LORD. Of course the fact that they came hypocritically does not change the fact of their purported reason for coming to the prophet Ezekiel. Further, once they came to Ezekiel, they sat before him in order to hear his preaching (weyashbhu lephaneykha `ammi wesham`u eth-debhareykha). But this is exactly the activity that was taking place in Nehemiah chapter eight where D. Bannerman, Dods, Vitringa and others claim that it is possible to discern the synagogue worship. But if the same elements are present both in the Ezekiel passages as well as in Nehemiah, then it seems to this author somewhat more than a little arbitrary to claim to have found the synagogue in one place and not in the other.

While the above considerations from Ezekiel certainly seem to move the synagogue — the place of weekly Sabbath convocations — back to the exile, a question remains whether we can with good cause link the meetings and enquiries of Ezekiel’s day with the holy convocation of Leviticus 23:3. There is yet another place in the Old Testament that may, upon proper consideration, move the weekly synagogue Sabbath convocation back to the time of the kings of Israel and Judah (see below in this section). But if the synagogue predates the exile, then there is really no reason to find the synagogue’s inauguration in the destruction of the temple as many commentators have done.[13]

Yet those very commentators and authors have simply "dismissed" the idea of an early synagogue rather than dealing with the passages of Scripture adduced thus far in this dissertation. The synagogue clearly and certainly existed by Christ’s day. Further, rather than regarding the synagogue as an illegitimate institution, Christ frequented the synagogue and even taught in the synagogues of Galilee. It was his custom to enter the synagogue Sabbath by Sabbath (Luke 4:16) and to teach in the synagogues “about all Galilee” (Matthew 4:23). But if the synagogues were nothing more than institutions developed by the wit and wisdom of men, then one could not endorse them any more than he could endorse the high places that were dedicated to Jehovah, but condemned by him (see again Ezekiel 20:26ff. and Deuteronomy 12:5ff.).

We might reason as follows: If Christ partook of the synagogue worship, then the synagogue worship was lawful (Hebrews 7:26; First Peter 2:22). But Christ partook of the synagogue worship (Luke 4:16; Matthew 4:23). Therefore the synagogue worship was lawful (modus ponens).[14] At the same time, however, we must reason from Deuteronomy 12 and similar passages thus: If an institution of God’s worship is not commanded, then it is unlawful (Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 32; Ezekiel 20:28; Colossians 2:22-23; Matthew 15:6, 9).[15] But the synagogue is not unlawful (by double negation of our previous conclusion: q = not not q). Therefore the synagogue is a commanded institution (modus tollens).[16]

But if Leviticus 23:3 is not the command instituting the synagogue as the weekly miqra’-qodesh, then there is no such command.[17] This we prove reasoning modus tollens as above: If there is no Scriptural command instituting the Sabbath synagogue worship, then Leviticus 23:3 is not such a command. But Leviticus 23:3 does institute a weekly miqra’-qodesh. Therefore, there is a Scripture command instituting the Sabbath synagogue worship. We thus demonstrate apagogically that if Leviticus 23:3 does not institute the synagogue (or if there is no other passage in holy writ that institutes it), then at least one of our presuppositions of a consistent Scripture and a sinless Christ must be a false presupposition. If valid deductions from our axioms result in contradictions, then our axioms must be false. But we do not accept the contradiction that the synagogue is both lawful and unlawful at the same time and in the same way. We maintain that the synagogue must have originated in “the pattern in the heavens” and was revealed through Moses in Leviticus 23:3.

The final passage we should adduce to bridge the gap between the exile and Leviticus 23:3 is Second Kings 4:18ff. The particular portion of the story of the Shunammite woman that interests us in the context of the weekly synagogue worship is found in verse 23, “And he [her husband] said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him [the prophet Elisha] to day? It is neither new moon, nor Sabbath. And she said, It shall be well.” It may be that at first glance this Scripture seems to tell us little or nothing about the Sabbath miqra’. After all, the husband of the Shunammite woman declared clearly, “it is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” But it is his surprise at her leaving that attracts our attention. Had she left on a new moon or a Sabbath, he would not have been surprised, it would seem. C. F. Keil correctly commented on this place, “From these words,…[some] have drawn the correct conclusion, that the pious in Israel were accustomed to meet together…for worship and edification, on those days which were appointed in the law (Lev. xxiii.3; Num. xxviii.11 sqq.) for the worship of God; and from this Hertz and Hengstenberg have still further inferred, that in the kingdom of the ten tribes not only were the Sabbath and new moons kept, as is evident from Amos viii.5 also, but the prophets supplied the pious in that kingdom with a substitute for the missing Levitical priesthood.”[18]

We cannot agree with the idea that the prophets supplied everything that the priesthood was intended to perform under that economy, if that is what Mr. Keil had in mind. Clearly had they attempted to provide sacrifice or burn incense or some such function peculiar to the Aaronic priesthood, God would have regarded them as “light fellows” such as the ones Jeroboam installed at Dan and Bethel (Second Chronicles 11:15; First Kings 12:31). Nevertheless, as the priests and Levites were ordained by God to know and to teach his law and to provide wisdom for the judges and the people alike, Keil has rightly understood the function of the prophet and the role he would have played in a kingdom deprived, according to Second Chronicles chapter eleven, of its Levites.

So then, in conclusion, we maintain that while it is difficult to trace the synagogue through every book and time of the Mosaic institutions, there is a train that extends from Leviticus through Nehemiah, which is to say from Moses’ generation through the generation in which the Old Testament canon came to a close. There was a miqra’-qodesh in the days of Moses, in the days of Elisha, in the days of Ezekiel, and in the days of Christ. That synagogue was an institution of God and will be investigated in somewhat greater detail in the following section in which we will consider some Greek terminology in the New Testament.



We have encountered the Greek word “sunagogê” in our previous section(s). We noted there that the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint or LXX, often translated key Hebrew terms for the church using the Greek word “sunagogê.” The Greek word comes from a root word that means “to gather together,” so that a synagogue comes to mean a gathering place by way of metonymy: the building in this case standing for its function.[19]

Thus Philo used the term as a reference to a sacred place where the Jews gathered on the Sabbath day. “Now these laws they are taught at other times, indeed, but most especially on the seventh day, for the seventh day is accounted sacred, on which they abstain from all other employments, and frequent the sacred places which are called synagogues, and there they sit according to their age in classes, the younger sitting under the elder, and listening with eager attention in becoming order.”[20]

Josephus used the term in an identical sense in his famous work, The Wars of the Jews, “Now on the next day, which was the seventh day of the week, when the Jews were crowding apace to their synagogue, a certain man of Caesarea, of a seditious temper, got an earthen vessel, and set it with the bottom upward, at the entrance of that synagogue, and sacrificed birds.”[21] Though early Jewish sources such as Philo and Josephus indicate an understanding of the synagogue as a meeting place, the LXX never uses the Greek term for an actual building.[22] By the time of the New Testament, however, the term was used regularly as a place for corporate prayer, reading of Scripture, preaching, and teaching.[23] Thus we find such language in the New Testament as “teaching in their synagogues” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35), “he entered into the synagogue” (Mark 1:21; 3:1), “he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16), and “he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath” (Luke 13:10).

The synagogue, as an institution, appears to have served a three-fold purpose of worship, education, and government. Whether the elders of the synagogue were ever permitted to exercise discipline and punish members in civil cases,[24] they certainly could hear ecclesiastical cases and inflict ecclesiastical censures. Based upon the record of the New Testament, it is the opinion of this author that the Jews were restricted, at least in the first century, to an ecclesiastical court in the synagogue, but with instituted punishments that seemingly went beyond the Christian church’s present-day authority to administer. The Christian church has no authority to administer corporal punishments, but is limited according to biblical and Presbyterian understanding to spiritual censures. Thus the Westminster Confession correctly gives an exhaustive list of the church’s remedies in chapter thirty: “For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the church are to proceed by admonition, suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season, and by excommunication from the church, according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person. Yet, according to Matthew 10:17, the councils were permitted to scourge ecclesiastical offenders, and that seemingly in context of the synagogue. Luke 12:11 seems to distinguish between the synagogue on the one hand and the magistrate on the other, yet there is nothing in the immediate context that rules out the idea that the phrase “synagogues, magistrates, and powers” may not form a figure of speech known as “synonymia” in which all three terms have the same referent(s). It must be admitted that it is a possibility, contextually, however remote, that sunagogas, archas, and exousias all have reference to the leadership and jurisdiction of the synagogue. Thus the distinct possibility exists that the synagogue was used not merely for ecclesiastical censures, but for civil censures as well.

In a similarly worded passage in Luke 21:12 the wording seems to refer simply to the various temporal enemies that may one day “lay hands” on Christians without particular reference to either the ecclesiastical or civil, but using terms that encompass both. Whether the synagogue therefore had authority to administer all corporal punishments, what is clear is that the synagogue could excommunicate wayward members and this excommunication may in fact have been regarded as the maximum punishment that the synagogue, as it was ecclesiastical, could rightly inflict upon its members. Thus the phrase to be “put out of the synagogue,” which appears in John’s gospel at 9:22; 12:42; and 16:2 carries the semantic force of “to be excommunicated.” This punishment would be the ecclesiastical equivalent of banishment in the civil realm, and clearly carries over to the Christian church.[25]

Not only did the synagogue have a system for dealing with wayward members and hence a government peculiar to it, it was also a place for the teaching God’s law as can be seen from the New Testament. We already examined such Old Testament passages as Nehemiah 8:8; Ezekiel 8:1; 14:1; 20:1; 33:31; and Second Kings 4:23 and saw the teaching function of the synagogue (or at least the proto-synagogue) in those passages. By the time of the New Testament, however, Christ and his disciples frequently taught in the synagogues of the Jews. Of course it would be imprudent to suggest that the synagogue of the first century had the same shule that the medieval and modern synagogue enjoy. Yet we must also remember, as Alfred Edersheim reminded us, that to the first century Jew the knowledge of torah was everything. “In the days of Christ the pious Jew had no other knowledge, neither sought nor cared for any other — in fact denounced it — than that of the law of God…. To the pious Jew,…the knowledge of God was everything; and to prepare for or impart that knowledge was the sum total, the sole object of his education.”[26]

Much of what a Jewish youth needed to know in order to pursue and then carry out his calling he would have received by way of parental education and apprenticeship. But he would have learned torah primarily at the synagogue. Thus it was that Christ and those who followed him made attendance at the synagogue their custom (Luke 4:16). Jesus taught in the synagogues in Matthew 13:45; Mark 6:2 and places previously adduced. Also significant in this regard is Jesus’ claim in John 18:20, “I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, with the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.” If it is the case, as Edersheim and others have suggested, that there was a synagogue actually attached to the temple complex,[27] then it may also be that much of the teaching that took place “in the temple” was also synagogue teaching (Luke 2:46; Matthew 21:23ff; 23:38-24:2; John 7:14, 28; 8:2; 18:20; etc.). It was also the practice of Christ’s preaching and teaching apostles to teach in the synagogues of the Jews (as Paul at Acts 13:5, 15, 44; 14:1; 17:2-4, 10, 17; 18:4, 26: 19:8).

Additionally, based upon the assumption that there was a synagogue within or attached to the temple, that would likely have been the house where the disciples were sitting in Acts 2:2 on the Day of Pentecost. As their preaching on that Pentecost became known, the multitude came together (sunerchomai) in a place sufficiently large for all to hear. Later, the disciples prayed in the place “where they were synagogued” in Acts 4:31. So also, if it is the case, as Edersheim further suggested, that the temple synagogue was located at the southeastern corner of the temple complex where Solomon’s Porch and the Royal Porch came together, then that possibly gives new significance to the fact that so much of Christ’s teaching took place “in Solomon’s Porch” (John 10:23) and the disciples “were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch” (Acts 5:11-12).

The third function of the synagogue was as a place of prayer and other worship for God’s people. Thus Christ referred to even the hypocrites who came to the synagogue to worship in Matthew 6:5, “for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” This worship appears from Matthew 12:2 (comparing with verse 9) to be especially a part of Sabbath observances. See also Luke 4:15-16 in regard to attendance in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Preaching, or exhortation, was also seemingly a part of regular synagogue activity, for Christ not only taught in the synagogues; Mark’s gospel informs us pointedly, “he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee” (Mark 1:39).

The Jewish synagogue was, in conclusion, a place of study and teaching. It was, moreover, a place of covenantal or ecclesiastical government. And most of all, the synagogue was a place where God was worshipped not in the passing manner of the temple, but making use of the moral elements of worship that transcend the particulars of the Mosaic institutions. The Synagogue is a multifaceted institution, as Charles Lee Feinberg demonstrated nearly fifty years ago:

The Jewish Synagogue is not only a house of prayer (beth tefillah), but a place of communal gathering (beth haknesseth) and a place of study (beth hamidrash). The synagogue contains the ark, the scrolls of the law, the perpetual light, the candelabra, and the bimah or pulpit. The ark containing the scroll is built into the eastern wall toward Palestine. The main scrolls in the ark are of the Pentateuch, but there are smaller scrolls also containing the former and latter prophets. The perpetual light stands for the light that burned continually in the tabernacle and the temple. The bimah is the pulpit in front of the synagogue. The reading desk for the reading of the law is in the center of the sanctuary. Synagogues, in keeping with the Jewish interpretation of Exodus 20:4–6, have no paintings, statues, or carvings of any kind. Orthodox Jews forbid the use of an organ in the service, because rabbinical law set this prohibition as a token of mourning over the destruction of the Temple where the Levites played on musical instruments. All orthodox synagogues have a separate balcony or section for women. This had its origin in the Temple where there was a Court of Women. Each synagogue or temple has a rabbi who is the spiritual leader.[28]

Jesus said that he would “gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other,” (Matthew 24:31). The word, “gather,” is a Greek verb meaning, literally, “to synagogue,” i.e., to lead, gather, or bring together. The point Jesus was making is that with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Jesus would send out his messengers to gather his elect into his gospel synagogue, the church. Jesus was actually quoting from Moses, who promised, “If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather ["synagogue"] thee, and from thence will he fetch thee,” (Deuteronomy 30:4 LXX). Jesus came, in fulfillment of prophecy to restore God’s house, the organized congregation of his covenant people. In the book of Hebrews, the author urges his readers not to forsake “the assembling ['synagoguing'] of themselves together,” (Hebrews 10:25).

The Local Congregation

Scripturally speaking, the term "church" refers not only to the whole multitude of men who worship the true God and Christ. The term can also signify a body of those in any particular locality who are in the same category of those who call upon the true and living God according to his Word (Acts 14:23; First Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3-5; Colossians 4:15; etc.). This local manifestation of the visible church universal is also called by Scripture "a church." The church of God, as it is universal and involves not only presently living members, but also members dead and members not yet born, is one. The church of God as it is local and involves those who profess Christ together with their children is plural, i.e. many.

Previous chapters of this dissertation addressed the catholic (general or universal) visible church as an historical outworking of the ideal church existing eternally in the mind of God. It is the point of view of this dissertation that the catholic visible church is the historical outworking of the ideal church. This point is necessary to press under the heading of the local congregation for two reasons. First, because there have been and are those who maintain that the local congregation is either primary or that there is no church of all the elect, but that the general visible church is at best a mere post rem abstraction. However, we should call to mind Calvin’s statement “we call by the name of ‘the church’ the entire multitude of men scattered throughout the world, who profess to worship the one God and Christ.”[29] Second, however, it must be kept always in mind that the universal church is made visible as it assembles, which assemblies take place in times and locations that we characterize as local congregations.

The universal church spoken of by Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion is not a mere conceptualization of men or an abstraction based upon the experience one may have of many local congregations. Properly understood, it is the church of God as seen by men’s judgment. But men only see the church as it assembles locally for worship or for other ecclesiastical functions such as ordinations, judgments, and writing of confessions. Thus while it is certainly true that the visible church consists of the whole multitude throughout the world who profess the true religion, it is also true that they are seen as visible only as they assemble. Those assemblies are — by the very nature of what an assembly is — local congregations.

When this writer, then, speaks of either the universal church or the local church as the primary outworking historically of the ideal church in the mind of God, the question he is addressing is not one of church government, for it may be that several congregations may send delegates to form a classis or synod of congregations. Neither is the question addressed whether a classis or synod has authority to plant local congregations. Both of those questions are important questions of church government, to be sure. Nor are they questions of no concern at all to this dissertation. But they are not the questions presently before us.

The question of the relationship between the local congregation and the universal or general church arises because Scripture uses the same term for both. Just as Scripture sometimes uses the term "church" to refer to all those throughout the world who call upon Christ as Savior, so also do we find in Scripture use of the same term to refer to the local assembly. "Church" sometimes signifies a body of those who profess the Lord Jesus Christ and their children in any particular place (see references above) and this local manifestation of the universal church is called "the church" with as much authority as is the universal church. The church of God, then, is one and universal. But the church of God is also many and local. As with the visible and invisible distinction, we do not speak properly of two churches, but of a local manifestation of a universal ingathering that is continuing to take place in time and over time.

It is thus necessary to speak of local congregations not as independent existences; not as totally complete in themselves without any reference to any other congregation in the catholic (universal) church. Nevertheless, the biblical use of the terminology does not allow us to define the local congregation as merely a part of the church or even as a branch of the church. Though that language is common when men speak of various denominations, the Scriptures do not speak of the local assemblies in that manner. The Westminster “Form of Presbyterial Church Government” refers to local assemblies as members of the general church visible and that is probably the best way to think of it.[30] The Scriptures, in fact, emphasize the fact that each assembly does have a functional completion and unity in itself. Paul therefore was able to say of the Corinthian church that by God’s grace they were enriched in everything and came behind in no gift (First Corinthians 1:4-9). While overstating the case for the local congregation somewhat, Louis Berkhof maintained, “Every local church is a complete church of Christ, fully equipped with everything that is required for its government. It has absolutely no need of it that any government should be imposed upon it from without.”[31]

It is an unhealthy state of affairs for a Christian not to be an active member of a local congregation. It is through the local congregation that the church manifests itself to the Christian and it is by participation in the local assemblies that the Christian shows himself to be faithful to Christ. There may be times when the church is less visible that a Christian will not be able to take part in a local assembly because there is none that shows the marks of the true church (regarding which see below in this chapter). However, such times are both rare and dangerous. Apart from active participation in a local congregation a Christian’s faith will become lopsided and anemic.

At the same time it must necessarily be acknowledged that not every Christian will be or can be a member of some particular congregation. The Eunuch who was baptized by Philip was a member of no discernible local congregation, yet he was in the general visible church as his baptism attested. Likewise it may be that a person in some remote location apart from the ministry of any local congregation may be converted through the reading of Scripture or of a gospel tract or of a radio broadcast or some similar means. Or it may be that imprisonment, shipwreck, banishment, or some other circumstance might prevent him from joining a local congregation. It is impossible to deny that such a one is altogether divorced from the visible church, though he is quite low in visibility, being alone. A person in such circumstances, it should be said, is fit to join a local congregation and if it were possible ought to join one. But so long as he is isolated from any local assembly we deny that he is part of a local congregation though we do not deny but rather affirm that he is a part of the general visible church.

This consideration forces the conclusion that while particular congregations are members of the general visible church, they do not exhaust the membership of the general visible church. A person is not made a part of the general visible church by virtue of his participation in a local congregation. Nor is it always the case that one who professes the true religion will be circumstantially enabled to be a part of a local congregation. Thus we see that there is not an absolute identity between the membership of the general visible church and the aggregate membership of all local congregations. But the general visible church is visible in context of the local congregations that are members of it. It becomes necessary at this point to attempt to reconcile this seeming logical difficulty (an epistemological problem).

As James Bannerman, the nineteenth century Free Church of Scotland scholar, well observed: “If all professing Christians throughout the world could meet together in one place, and join in the observance of ordinances in one assembly, they would form a visible society in the strictest sense of the term one,--being united among themselves, and separated from the rest of mankind by the profession of a common faith, and by fellowship in the same outward solemnities.”[32] Thus if the multitude of men who make up the visible church universal were not scattered over the face of the earth but lived in one locality with a facility large enough to hold them all, there would be no epistemological distinction between the local congregation and the universal church. Bannerman continued, “The separation, then, of the congregations of this visible Church from each other by distance of place, by difference of language, by varieties of administration, by different modes of worship and different outward observations, is a separation accidental and not essential, and cannot affect the fact of that higher unity that belongs to them as knit together in the bond of an external covenant.”[33] Of course this idea can be seen most clearly if we consider the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two. Acts 2:1, speaking of all believers alive on the earth at that time,[34] states “they were all with one accord in one place.” Granted the fact that very soon men “out of every nation under heaven” would be converted and then presumably some of them would return to their original homes (verses 5ff.), at the moment of time spoken of in verse one the entire church alive on earth met together in one place. The single existing local congregation of Christ’s church was co-extensive, as far as is known, with the church catholic.

As God’s Spirit called others to him that day, “they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (verses 41-42). Ignoring for the time being those who may have returned to their respective provinces after the celebrations of Pentecost were past (verses 9-11), there continued in Jerusalem a great number of people who formed the membership of the church at Jerusalem. Even though they lived in the same city or its environs, yet they were too numerous to form a single local congregation. Still, verse 47 informs us that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The newly saved were not added to “the churches,” but to “the church.”

Yet, in spite of the fact that verse 47 clearly refers to all the believers as “the church,” they met not only in the temple but also broke bread “from house to house.” The phrase “from house to house” has led some to conclude that what is spoken of in verse 46 must be the private meals eaten in private homes (or at least social meals of a few eaten in private homes). Matthew Henry, however, came closer to the truth in this writer’s opinion in his comment on verse 46. Henry commented,

“They frequently joined in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper. They continued in the breaking of bread, in celebrating that memorial of their Master’s death, as those that were not ashamed to own their relation to, and their dependence upon, Christ and him crucified…. They broke bread from house to house; kat’ oikon — house by house; they did not think fit to celebrate the eucharist in the temple, for that was peculiar to the Christian institutes, and therefore they administered that ordinance in private houses, choosing such houses of the converted Christians as were convenient, to which the neighbors resorted; and they went out from one to another of these little synagogues or domestic chapels, houses that had churches in them, and there celebrated the eucharist with those that usually met there to worship God.”[35]

Similarly, the Westminster delegate John Lightfoot claimed, “breaking of bread, in these places we are now upon, must not be understood of their ordinary eating together, but of the Eucharist; which the Syriac interpreter does render so in express terms: a parallel to which we have in I Cor. x.16; Acts xx.7.”[36] The present author would add that not only is the idea of “breaking bread” an ecclesiastical idea in Acts 2:46, so too is the phrase “from house to house.”

At this point we must recall to mind that the eldership of the synagogue was known as the beth din or house of justice (judging). The very synagogue itself was called by the Jews (and continues to the present day) their beth knesset or house of assembly. Further, as the synagogue was the place of worship for the covenant community it became known as the beth tephillah or house of prayer. Accordingly, while it may very well be the case that the earliest Christian meetings were held in private homes, that is not the significance of the breaking of bread taking place from house to house. The early Christians regarded the assemblies in which they administered the Lord’s Supper to be their Christian synagogues.[37] By the end of the second chapter of Acts, then, a single beth knesset[38] had become an undisclosed plurality of them.[39] In Acts 5:42 the same idea of a plurality of Christian synagogues is held forth to us. Though the English phraseology of Acts 5:42 is somewhat different from Acts 2:46, the Greek phraseology of kat’ oikon is identical. They were not simply teaching and preaching Jesus Christ in private homes considered as such. Rather they were teaching and preaching Jesus Christ in the Christian assemblies, whether those assemblies were taking place within the walls of private homes or elsewhere.

In a similar vein, the book of Acts informs us of an official persecution carried out against “the church which was at Jerusalem” in Acts 8:1ff. At Acts 8:3 the Scripture informs us that Saul (later to be known as Paul) “made havoc of the church, entering into every house,…” Note the use of the singular term “church,” along with the distributive idea of “every house.” In order to hale the Christians into prison, Saul entered kata tous oikous. While it is linguistically possible that Scripture is reporting that Saul sought out the private dwellings of Christians in this passage, what is far more likely is that he entered the Christian assemblies as they took place and caught the Christians “red-handed,” so to speak. Note carefully how Saul, but as the converted Paul, related this very incident to King Agrippa: “which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests;[40] and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (Acts 26:10-11).

It is important that we approach “an argument from silence” with great care and not build something out of a non-statement such as, “Paul did not say he was not persecuting Christians in the public baths, so he must have been doing it.” Such an argument would, of course, be fallacious. What follows is not that sort of argument. Rather, what we have is an implication that arises by good and necessary consequence by comparing two passages of Scripture that relate the same event. Luke explains to his readers in Acts 26 by way of Paul’s explication what he intended for us to understand by kata tous oikous in Acts 8:3. Paul’s silence regarding private homes in Acts 26:10-11 is an “eloquent silence” for two reasons: first he described the methodology by which he carried out his fury on the church in Acts chapter eight and that fury involved persecuting the church in every synagogue (kata pasas tas sunagogas), though no synagogues are apparently mentioned in Acts 8:1ff. Second, the synagogue was known to the Jews of that day as well as this as the beth knesset or house of assembly. Thus we find that while mention of the local synagogue (or local congregation) is apparently missing in Acts 8:1ff., the two passages mesh perfectly (cohere) if we understand the “house” of Acts 8:3 to be the same place spoken of as the “synagogue” in Acts 26:11. This also fits with Christ’s own prophecy in Matthew 10:17, “They will deliver you up to the councils [literally “to the Sanhedrin” sunêdria or “synod”] and in their synagogues they will scourge you.” This same phraseology is borne out in Acts 20:20, where Paul taught “publicly, even from house to house,” or demosia kai kat’ oikous. There is no reason from the phrase “from house to house” to suppose that Paul was conducting tutoring sessions in private homes. Given the language of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, however, there is good reason to suppose that Paul was teaching in the public meeting houses.

A further indication that the early Christians thought of their local congregations as Christian synagogues is found in First Corinthians chapters five and six. Chapter five of First Corinthians will be dealt with further in the section on the church as the representative eldership later in this chapter. For now we turn our attention to First Corinthians chapter six. Paul was alarmed that the Corinthian believers, who lived in a godless society with unjust laws, preferred going to the wicked to settle their disputes rather than having them adjudicated by those in the church who knew, submitted to, and practiced the righteousness of God’s law. Paul seems in this passage to regard the eldership of the local congregation as a sort of Christian beth din. Significantly, Paul was not referring to criminal activity that would properly have come before the Corinthian magistrates.

Of course, modern day antinomians and libertines are quite fond of quoting this passage, but their reason for doing so is corrupt. They want to commit their criminal actions without fear of reprisal. If they can keep a Christian from taking them to the civil magistrate, they believe that few churches would do anything toward them but shrug their ecclesiastical shoulders. This is one reason why church sessions must be willing to pronounce excommunication against the recalcitrant offender. “If he neglect to hear the church let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17). But there is nothing at all inconsistent about taking a heathen or publican before the ungodly magistrate for justice because the heathen or publican (remember that the publican worked for the heathen Roman government) regarded the justice of the wicked. Thus if one refuses to hear God’s beth din in the local congregation where he will be treated with reclaiming mercy, the beth din should turn him over to Satan for destruction of the flesh so that the spirit may be saved in the day of Jesus Christ.

Paul expressed surprise to such a degree in First Corinthians chapter six that we could fairly describe him as outraged at the situation. Brethren who trespassed against one another were taking their complaints to the wicked rather than to the beth din of the local congregation. Rome had removed most jurisdiction from the local synagogue of Palestine and placed it in the hands of Roman governors (Matthew 27:2; John 19:15; etc.). Because of Roman interference, the synagogue’s beth din had been reduced for all practical matters to what amounted simply to voluntary arbitration. The only power of enforcement that the synagogue had, then, was reduced to its moral influence. The moral influence of the eldership of the synagogue was therefore paramount. In the Jewish synagogue, the elders of the synagogue would be seen as naturally the most qualified in the community to arbitrate disputes between members of the synagogue. The title of such men, as Chapter Four of this dissertation shows, was that of “wise men” (chokmim). Not only did their judgment carry great weight within the Jewish community, their judgments were also useful in preventing civil litigation when Jews lived in heathen nations (i.e., outside Palestine).[41]

No doubt it was to this synagogue arrangement that Paul referred when he warned the Corinthian Christians in First Corinthians 6:1 against going to court before the heathen rather than before the beth din of the local congregation. The church at Corinth arose originally from the Jewish synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:8ff.) and Paul chided them in his epistle for failing to do as the synagogue did. Paul’s astonishment is on the surface of his rhetorical question: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” Paul seems near bewilderment as he considers that these Corinthians were “telling it to the heathen” rather than “telling it to the church.” Paul went on to ask the Corinthians, “is it so that there cannot be found among you one wise man” (sophos oudê eis--i.e., not one chakham or “wise one”) “who shall be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers” (First Corinthians 6:5-6; cp. Acts 18:4-8). Paul believed that the local congregation of Christians should behave themselves as the synagogue would do in a similar circumstance.

These passages and considerations taken together demonstrate that the local congregation, in many respects, grew out of the synagogue. The local congregation, therefore, can be seen to sustain a relationship to the universal church that is not totally dissimilar to the relationship that the synagogue had to the entire nation of Israel.[42] The existence of separate congregations throughout the whole world does not imply schism in the church of Christ. In order for a true schism to exist, there must be some violation of some of the scriptural bonds of unity.[43] However, the mere existence of separate or distinct congregations (local congregations) is not, in itself, a sign of schism. There have, in fact, been distinct congregations of the Lord’s church since shortly after Pentecost in Acts chapter two, and even long before that if we look back with an eye to the synagogue. Some separation in the body of Christ is due to weakness and sin in Christians who make up the church; another part of the separation in the body of Christ is due to the essential character of a church as local and particular.[44]

Nevertheless, where schism does exist, it is by its definition, the result of the wickedness of those who are in a church. As Bannerman correctly observed, “That can be no light offense which gives to the one kingdom of God in this world the appearance of a kingdom divided against itself, and liable to fall…. [F]or parties to separate wantonly, and on insufficient grounds, from the communion of the visible Church, is a grave and serious offense against the authority of Christ in His house.”[45]

This understanding of the distinction to be maintained between the local congregation and the general or universal church is also helpful to understanding the indefectibility of the church. The indefectibility of the church has been discussed somewhat in the chapter on invisibility and will be discussed again below under the subject of the Nicene attributes of the church. Christ promised that the church built upon him and the Scripture in turn,[46] refers not to any local church, including the church at Rome. Rather the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church applies to the universal church.[47] “The promise of perpetuity, and the fulfillment of that promise in the continual presence of Christ through His Spirit with the Church, belong to it in its character as catholic and not as local.”[48]

Not only is it evident that some local assemblies that flourished for a time are now gone; more importantly for our epistemology, Scripture explains how it can be that when Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church, the fact is undeniable that there are some local assemblies that are no more. As this dissertation has already observed above, this promise of perpetuity was given not to any particular congregation, but to the church generally. Thus these nearly 2,000 years later the church of Christ does exist. Undeniably the head of the church himself has removed the candlesticks of some particular congregations. The universal church, though at times less visible than at others,[49] has nevertheless prevailed over the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of her testimony (Revelation 12:11). The local congregation, by its very nature as a true church of Christ, must be a manifestation of the body of Christ or church universal. To the extent that a local congregation fails to express the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, to that very extent it becomes less of a beacon to the truth and may finally even have its candlestick removed by Christ himself (Revelation 2:5).

Moreover, some local congregations and even denominations have so departed from the truth of the gospel as to be no longer churches of Christ but synagogues of Satan.[50] The buildings may still stand, to be sure. There may be a certain antiquity to the organization or institution, but it is not founded upon Christ the Rock and is therefore none of his. As we shall see later in this chapter, the preaching of the true gospel is the irreducible mark of a true church — the sine qua non. Thus the Reformers, with a remarkable unanimity, declared that any so-called church that preaches a false gospel is a false church. Further, as historicists, they applied Revelation chapter eighteen to false churches generally and to Rome particularly, such that they believed rightly that Christians have a duty before the Lord to separate from apostate communions. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:4b-5).

Thus we consider the causes of divisions in the church of Christ and are humbled in the dust for our sins. To think that those who proclaim a doctrine of reconciliation cannot be reconciled among themselves; that those who declare peace have become the occasion of such discord is to realize what a stumbling and offense our bickering has become. These are genuine concerns and should bring forth mourning and fasting from all genuine believers. And yet the result of so much needless division and separation over trifles as exist in the church today has also given rise to an even greater evil: latitudinarian evangelicalism.

Thomas M’Crie was a founding minister in the Constitutional Associate Presbytery of Scotland in 1806. M’Crie’s advice is as lively and apt today as it was then:

Mournful as the divisions in the church are, and anxious as all its genuine friends must be to see them cured, it is their duty to examine carefully the plans which may be proposed for attaining this desirable end. We must not do evil that good may come; and there are sacrifices too costly to be made for the procuring of peace with fellow Christians.

Is it necessary to remind you, that unity and peace are not always good, nor a sure and infallible mark of a true and pure church? We know that there is a church that has long boasted of her catholic unity notwithstanding all the corruptions which pollute her communion; and that within her pale the whole world called Christian once enjoyed a profound repose, and it could be said, ‘Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language.’ It was a union and peace founded in ignorance, delusion, implicit faith, and a base subjection to human authority; and supported by the arts of compulsion and terror.

But there are other methods by which Christians may be deceived, and the interests of religion deeply injured, under the pretext or with the view of uniting its friends. Among these I know none more imposing, nor from which greater danger is to be apprehended in the present time, than that which proceeds on the scheme of principles usually styled latitudinarian.

It has obtained this name because it proclaims an undue latitude in matters of religion, which persons may take to themselves or give to others. Its abettors make light of the differences which subsist among religious parties, and prepare to unite them on the common principles on which they are already agreed, in the way of burying the rest in silence, or of stipulating mutual forbearance and charity with respect to everything about which they may differ in opinion or practice….

These plans are more or less dangerous according to the extent to which they are carried, and the errors or abuses which may prevail among the parties which they embrace. So far as it is agreed and stipulated that any truth or duty shall be sacrificed or neglected, and that any error or sin shall be treated as indifferent or trivial, the essence of latitudinarianism is adopted, room is made for further advancements, and the way is prepared for ascending, through successive generations, to the very highest degree in the scale.”[51]

More will be said in subsequent Blue Banners concerning the interconnectedness of the church, because it is in its interconnectedness that the eye of man can see much of the unity of the church.[52] Yet we must conclude from not only M’Crie, but also the very Reformation itself, that interconnectedness is a demonstration of unity, not a means to unity. If local assemblies are not agreed in the Christian faith; if they have differing judgments; if they are not of the same mind in the things of Christ then interconnectedness is a façade at best and dangerous to the true faith at worst. The unity of the church is demonstrated primarily as the local assemblies “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (First Corinthians 1:10).

[1] Douglas Bannerman, The Scripture Doctrine of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976 reprint of 1887), 89.

[2] Robert Baker Girdlestone, Old Testament Synonyms, (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., n.d. reprint of 1897), 231. Transliteration modified for consistency with this dissertation.

[3] Campeggio Vitringa, De Synagoga Vetere (Franequerae, 1696), volume 1, p. 88. Cited and translated by D. Bannerman in op. cit., 92.

[4] Keil and Delitzsch, op. cit., I.ii.438-39, n1.

[5] Gesenius, op. cit., 460.

[6] Girdlestone, op. cit., 233.

[7] Ibid.

[8] F. C. Conybeare and St. George Stock, Grammar of Septuagint Greek, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988 reprint of 1905), 62.

[9] H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: The MacMillan Co., 1957), 118.

[10] D. Bannerman, op. cit., 123ff.

[11] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, op. cit., 209. See Brown-Driver-Briggs, 205a.

[12] While we cannot be certain that either the sixth year, the six month and the fifth day of the month or the seventh year, the fifth month and the tenth day of the month fell on a Sabbath, it is interesting to note that if the meeting with the elders in Ezekiel chapter eight fell on a Sabbath day, then so also did the meeting in chapter twenty. Figuring with alternating months of twenty-nine days and thirty days, as would be reasonable based upon Israel’s lunar calendar, we would have a Sabbath on the following days, if year six of the captivity, the sixth month, contained thirty days ( 6.6.5, 12, 19, 26; 6.7.3, 10, 17, 24; 6.8.2, 9, 16, 23, 30; 6.9.7, 14, 21, 28; 6.10.6, 13, 20, 27; 6.11.4, 11, 18, 25; 6.12.3, 10, 17, 24; 7.1.2, 9, 16, 23; 7.2.1, 8, 15, 22, 29; 7.3.6, 13, 20, 27; 7.4.5, 12, 19, 26; 7.5.3, 10, 17, 24. Therefore, if 6.6.5 was on a Sabbath, then so also was 7.5.10.

[13] Not only is this the opinion of D. Bannerman, Dods, and Vitringa as already mentioned; so also is it the opinion of Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), I.431.

[14] I.e., following the prepositional form of “If ‘p’ then ‘q.’ But ‘p.’ Therefore ‘q.’“

[15] See also Westminster Confession of Faith XXI.5

[16] I.e., following the prepositional form of “If ‘p’ then ‘q.’ But not ‘q.’ Therefore not ‘p.’“

[17] Of course it could be argued here that the very existence of the synagogue would “by divine example” be an argument for its legitimacy and an explicit or implicit command need not be found. That argument can have a probative or evidentiary value, but in the final analysis we must agree with those who point out that it is logically impossible to argue from “is” to “ought” (the “naturalistic fallacy”).

[18] Keil and Delitzsch, op. cit., III.i.311., n1.

[19] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, op. cit., 789-91.

[20] C. D. Yonge, trans. The Works of Philo (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 689-90.

[21] William Whiston, trans. The Works of Josephus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), 616 [standard Loeb notation II.14.289.]

[22] Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Eds. The Theolgoical Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), in loco. Hereafter Kittel.

[23] Anthony J. Saldarini, “Synagogue,” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1985), in loco.

[24] Dr. Charles Feinberg is of this opinion in his article on the “Synagogue” in The New Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1962), in loco. He bases his opinion primarily on the fact that punishment in the form of “scourging” was found in the synagogue.

[25] First Thessalonians 5:12 “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;” Second Thessalonians 3:6 “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” Second Thessalonians 3:14-15 “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” First Corinthians 5:4-5 “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” First Corinthians 5:13 “But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” Matthew 18:17 “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Titus 3:10 “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;” All quotations are from the Authorized Version of the Bible.

[26] Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987 reprint of 1876 edition), 124.

[27] Ibid., 265-66.

[28] Charles Lee Feinberg, “The Old Testament in Jewish Thought and Life,” in Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary) Volume 111, #442 (Apr-Jun 1954), 131-32.

[29] Calvin, Institutes, IV.i.7. Emphasis added.

[30] “Of the Church,” Confession, 398.

[31] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), 589.

[32] J. Bannerman, op. cit., I.41. Emphasis is in original.

[33] Ibid., 45. This dissertation takes some exception to Bannerman’s phrase “external covenant.” A better phrase in this writer’s opinion, would be “knit together in the external bonds of the covenant.”

[34] Of course there may have been others in other parts of the world whose existence was not reported by the Spirit — but we have no knowledge of that since no such thing has been disclosed.

[35] Matthew Henry, op. cit., 6.28. Emphasis is in original.

[36] John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1989 reprint of Oxford Univ. 1859 edition), 4.36. Emphasis isin original.

[37] See, too, James 2:2 where the Greek reads, “ean gar eiselthe eis ten sunagogen humon.”

[38] See Acts 2:2, “it filled all the house where they [120 strong] were sitting.” Not only could my private dwelling not accommodate 120 people, neither could the sanctuary of the church I pastor.

[39] Though the Greek kat’ oikon utilizes the singular form of the noun, it is nevertheless idiomatically distributive. Thus “from house to house” is an excellent translation of the idiom and preserves the implication of a plurality of synagogues.

[40] See The Pattern in the Heavens Part One: Ecclesiology, Chapter Four for a discussion of the authority of the ecclesiastical courts in Old Testament Israel.

[41] D. Bannerman, op. cit., 147.

[42] Cf. too Matthew 21:43, “therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” and First Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

[43] Thomas M’Crie, The Unity of the Church (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1989), 95.

[44] J. Bannerman, op. cit., I.46.

[45] Ibid., I.48.

[46] We must understand the phrase “apostles and prophets” in Ephesians 2:20 to refer to their inspired writings and not to their persons or even to their offices.

[47] Of greatest significance is the fact that Christ’s death was unable to prevail against his church, as he demonstrated by his resurrection. Subsequently, however, we see that promise further fulfilled in his abiding with his church to the end of time (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

[48] J. Bannerman, op. cit., I.51.

[49] As, for example, during the centuries just prior to the Reformation there was a significant decrease in visibility for the church.

[50] WCF XXV.5, Confession, 109.

[51] M’Crie, op. cit., 106-14.

[52] The practical outworking of this interconnectedness will be discussed in volume two of this work, The New Covenant Temple, hopefully forthcoming in late 2000 or early 2001, D.V.