Although we find the word ‘synagogue’ in the Old Testament, there seems to be no evidence there were any buildings called ‘synagogues.’  In the New Testament, synagogues are often mentioned and literally means “an assemblage of persons.”  In other words, it was a building for people to get together for fellowship, prayer, and teaching.  The Lord Jesus used the synagogues while on the earth.  We read in Matthew 4:23, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.” 

We have a wonderful incident of the Lord teaching in a synagogue in Luke 4:16-21, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”  Here the Lord showed how that He was the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 61:1-2. 

Typically, in the synagogue, there was a container for the sacred writings, there was a place of honor for those deemed worthy (Read Matthew 23:1-6), and in the center was a podium or desk for the speaker to speak from.  Notice in the above event of the Lord in the synagogue, He STOOD UP to read (showing respect for the Word of God) and it was on the Sabbath Day.  So, we see this was a place where the people of the time would gather on the Sabbath to hear from the Word.  It seemed to be the custom of the Lord to find a local synagogue each Sabbath and teach in it.  Although the tabernacle and the temple were built according to God’s instructions and were the place of His presence, the synagogue is generally considered to be the most central place of gathering for the Jews at that time.  There are many events that happened in a synagogue in the Bible.  There is even an instance where a benevolent Roman centurion built a synagogue for the people of Capernaum. (Luke 7:1-5).

As it is in many cases, some people loved the preeminence and used the synagogues as a source to get it.  Matthew 6:5 says, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”  Matthew 23:6 says, “And (they) love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues.”  James warns against giving people special treatment in the synagogue. (Read James 2:1-7). 

Acts 13:14-16 tells us, “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.” Antioch in Pisidia was the Roman capital city of the Galatia Province.  So, we find synagogues in Rome.  It appears that while being joined together, there was an opportunity given to those who had a word from the Lord to share with those present. 

With so many mentions of synagogues in the Bible (the word ‘synagogue’ is found almost 60 times), we have only looked at a few.  I trust this will be enough to give you an idea of what the synagogues were and what they were used for.  (CC)  (519.2)