(Gr. sunagoge, i.e., "an assembly"), found only once in the
Authorized Version of Ps. 74:8, where the margin of Revised
Version has "places of assembly," which is probably correct; for
while the origin of synagogues is unknown, it may well be
supposed that buildings or tents for the accommodation of
worshippers may have existed in the land from an early time, and
thus the system of synagogues would be gradually developed.
Some, however, are of opinion that it was specially during the
Babylonian captivity that the system of synagogue worship, if
not actually introduced, was at least reorganized on a
systematic plan (Ezek. 8:1; 14:1). The exiles gathered together
for the reading of the law and the prophets as they had
opportunity, and after their return synagogues were established
all over the land (Ezra 8:15; Neh. 8:2). In after years, when
the Jews were dispersed abroad, wherever they went they erected
synagogues and kept up the stated services of worship (Acts
9:20; 13:5; 17:1; 17:17; 18:4). The form and internal
arrangements of the synagogue would greatly depend on the wealth
of the Jews who erected it, and on the place where it was built.
"Yet there are certain traditional pecularities which have
doubtless united together by a common resemblance the Jewish
synagogues of all ages and countries. The arrangements for the
women's place in a separate gallery or behind a partition of
lattice-work; the desk in the centre, where the reader, like
Ezra in ancient days, from his 'pulpit of wood,' may 'open the
book in the sight of all of people and read in the book of the
law of God distinctly, and give the sense, and cause them to
understand the reading' (Neh. 8:4, 8); the carefully closed ark
on the side of the building nearest to Jerusalem, for the
preservation of the rolls or manuscripts of the law; the seats
all round the building, whence 'the eyes of all them that are in
the synagogue' may 'be fastened' on him who speaks (Luke 4:20);
the 'chief seats' (Matt. 23:6) which were appropriated to the
'ruler' or 'rulers' of the synagogue, according as its
organization may have been more or less complete;", these were
features common to all the synagogues.
Where perfected into a system, the services of the synagogue,
which were at the same hours as those of the temple, consisted,
(1) of prayer, which formed a kind of liturgy, there were in all
eighteen prayers; (2) the reading of the Scriptures in certain
definite portions; and (3) the exposition of the portions read.
(See Luke 4:15, 22; Acts 13:14.)
The synagogue was also sometimes used as a court of
judicature, in which the rulers presided (Matt. 10:17; Mark
5:22; Luke 12:11; 21:12; Acts 13:15; 22:19); also as public
The establishment of synagogues wherever the Jews were found
in sufficient numbers helped greatly to keep alive Israel's hope
of the coming of the Messiah, and to prepare the way for the
spread of the gospel in other lands. The worship of the
Christian Church was afterwards modelled after that of the
Christ and his disciples frequently taught in the synagogues
(Matt. 13:54; Mark 6:2; John 18:20; Acts 13:5, 15, 44; 14:1;
17:2-4, 10, 17; 18:4, 26; 19:8).
To be "put out of the synagogue," a phrase used by John (9:22;
12:42; 16:2), means to be excommunicated.
Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. M.A., D.D., "Biblical Meaning for 'synagogue' Eastons Bible Dictionary". bible-history.com - Eastons; 1897.