synagogues in the Bible

Greek: συναγωγή —transliteration: sunagógé or sunagoge —meaning: an assembly —occurrences: 56 times in Scripture

Synagogues are buildings or meeting places generally used for worship and religious instruction by the Jews.


The origin of synagogues is unknown, but is is 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 gradually developed.

Some, however, are of opinion that it was especially 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).

Synagogues widely built

In later years, when the Jews were dispersed abroad, wherever they went they erected synagogues and kept up the stated services of worship.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles repeatedly mentions apostles visiting synagogues in foreign lands.


The ruins of at least 10 synagogues of ancient Israel have been discovered by archeologists that date to before the destruction of 70 A.D.

  1. Magdala (probably the hometown of Mary Magdalene)
  2. Capernaum
  3. Beth Shemesh
  4. Gamla
  5. The Herodium
  6. Jericho
  7. Masada
  8. Modi’in
  9. Qiryat Sefer
  10. H. et-Tuwani

Features of synagogues

The form and internal arrangements of the synagogues greatly depended 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 center, 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, 8:8)
  • 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’ (Matthew 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.

Synagogue services

Where perfected into a system, the services of the synagogue, which were at the same hours as those of the temple, consisted of…

  1. prayer, which formed a kind of liturgy, there were in all 18 prayers
  2. the reading of the Scriptures in certain definite portions
  3. the exposition of the portions read


The synagogue was also sometimes used as a court of justice, in which the rulers presided (Matthew 10:17; Mark 5:22; Luke 12:11; 21:12; Acts 13:15; 22:19); also as public schools.

Keeping alive the hope of Israel

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 synagogue.

The Messiah comes to teach in the synagogues

The Messiah Jesus Christ and his disciples frequently taught in the synagogues.

Jesus was going about in all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people. —Matthew 4:23 NASB

Also see: Matthew 13:54; Mark 6:2; Luke 4:15; 4:22; John 18:20; Acts 13:5; 13:14-15; 13:44; 14:1; 17:2-4; 17:10; 17:17; 18:4; 18:26; 19:8

Being put out of the synagogue

To be “put out of the synagogue” is a phrase used by the Apostle John (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2) and means to be excommunicated.

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the word synagogue is found only once in the King James Version of Psalm 74:8 KJV. Other versions say place of assembly, which is probably correct. The original Hebrew word here is moed ( מוֹעֵד ), meaning meeting, place, or appointed time and is also translated as “of the congregation” (Exodus 29:10 KJV).

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Article Version: September 21, 2021