The church versus the synagogue

 Please note that in the New Testament there is a big contrast between the church and the synagogue.

The synagogue was a gathering place (cf. Greek sunagoge, "gathering") and applied to the Jewish place of worship.  See Acts 13:42-43.  As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.  When the congregation was dismissed…” NIV

The first mention of church (In Greek ekklesia) in the New Testament was given by Jesus Himself Matt 16:18-19 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  NIV

The word church is used in 2 ways in the New Testament.  1. Referring to the local body of Christians (cf. Acts 13:1; Acts 15:22) 2. Referring in a wider sense to all the churches of Christian believers (Acts 9:31)

While the term synagogue always refers to a Jewish place of worship, church always refers to believers in Jesus Christ.  This will help us understand why Paul and the apostles were visiting synagogues on the Sabbath day.

Whenever there is mention of one of Jesus’ disciples entering a synagogue after the ascension of Jesus, it is always associated with proclaiming the gospel message.  Jews and other proselytes would gather in a synagogue on the Sabbath day and it was customary to invite a visiting Rabbi (like Paul for example) to speak to the congregation. What a great place to share the gospel message!  They had an attentive audience!  What a shock it must have been when Paul and others started to prove from the Scriptures that the Messiah had already come! 

Read the following texts, all mentioning Paul and others visiting a synagogue.  Please notice the purpose of their visit:

Acts 13:14-15 “On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down.  After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak."  NIV Paul then stood up and started to preach the gospel (cf. verses 16-41) The result of Paul’s speech? Here it is: Acts 13:42 “As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.”  NIV

Acts 14:1 “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue.  There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.”  NIV

Acts 17:2-4 “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.  "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said.  Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” NIV

Acts 17:10-12 “On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”  NIV

Acts 17:17 “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”  NIV

Acts 18:4 “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”  NIV

Acts 18:19-20 “He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.”  NIV

Acts 18:26 “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.  When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”  NIV

Acts 19:8 “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.”  NIV

No better opportunity was available to the disciples to preach the Good News to their own people. 

However, the term “church” is never associated with the “Sabbath” day in the New Testament.  You can read from Matthew to Revelation, but there are no texts indicating that they were meeting on the Sabbath day.  Strange, don’t you think?