Preaching in the Synagogues

Preacher

Preaching in the LXX

Alan Knox just finished a series on Preaching in the LXX (Old Testament). He examined the Greek word kerusso (usually translated “preach”) as found in the Septuagint (LXX, the Greek Old Testament).

I have previously done a similar study, looking at kerusso in the New Testament. The conclusion to which I came was precisely the same conclusion Alan reached. Kerusso primarily means “proclaim” or “announce.” The word in no way carries the connotation of preaching a monologue sermon like pastors do today.

In the conclusion to his series, Alan took some New Testament verses that use kerusso, and replaced preach with announce to demonstrate what they really mean. This was very helpful, but he did leave out one verse which may seem to create a problem for our conclusion.

Preaching Moses

“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:21, NASB)

At first glance, that sounds an awful lot like our modern Sunday morning church services. Replace Moses with the whole Bible, synagogues with our church buildings, and Sabbath with Sunday morning and you have our same formula, right? Well, the problem is that we often try to interpret other cultures through the paradigm of our modern practices. To understand this verse, we need to understand the synagogues of the time.

Synagogues

Synagogues did not employ the same services we have in churches today. The word for synagogue, sunagoge, simply means a gathering place, and all that was required to start one was four adult male Jews. In each synagogue, there would be a scribe whose job it was to copy and read Scripture. As a natural extension of this, the scribe would often be the one to teach from Scripture, but he was by no means the only one interacting with it.

Rather, the synagogues were a place for adult males to discuss Scripture and even debate it. That is why Jesus, Paul, and others went to the synagogues to evangelize. A great example of how this worked is found in Acts 13.

But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:” (Acts 13:14–16, NASB)

Paul and those with him entered a synagogue. The scribe read some Scriptures, and then he opened the meeting up for discussion. This gave Paul the opportunity to expound the Scriptures to those present.

Furthermore, we see from other examples (such as Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8) that what Paul proclaimed in the synagogues was not done in a monologue sermon format. Rather, these verses show that he “reasoned” with them. The word translated “reasoned” is dialegomai, which means to discuss or debate. It is inherently a two-way conversation. You can even hear the word dialogue contained within, which makes sense, as dialogue comes from the related Greek word, dialogos.

Conclusion

Going back now to Acts 15:21, it is easy to see that the “preaching” in the synagogues was nothing like the sermons preached today. It was participatory, with dialogue and multiple men teaching each other. Moses (the Pentateuch) was “announced” and then discussed.

By the way, the early church met in a manner very similar to this synagogue model.

What Do You Think?

Why are sermons today preached as monologues with little to no participation from the congregation? Isn’t the whole church supposed to be teaching one another (Colossians 3:16)? How can we fix this? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.