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In James 2:2 (YTL)

for if there may come into your synagogue a man with gold ring, in gay raiment, and there may come in also a poor man in vile raiment,

or in ASV

For if there come into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor man in vile clothing;

Is the church at the time of the book of James meeting in synagogues?

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4 Answers 4

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The operative word in James 2:2 is indeed, συναγωγή (synagoge). However, this does not not necessarily imply that James is referring to Jewish synagogues. The word simply means "place of assembly", or "meeting", "gathering place"

For example the following versions translate this word as "meeting" or "assembly": NIV, NLT, ESV, BSB, BLB, KJV, NKJV, NASB, CSB, HCSB, CEV, ISV, etc. According to BDAG, this is the meaning in James 2:2.

It is quite misleading to use the word, "synagogue" here, as is in modern English it means a Jewish house of worship. This is not to suggest that some Christians may been meeting in such places, but that is not the meaning of the word at the time.

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    Similarly, Revelation 2:9 says "… I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.". A modern English meaning would be more along the lines of "… they are Christians and are not, but are a church of Satan". John was simply using the common terminology of the time. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 13:04
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    Excellent citation!
    – user35953
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 14:26
  • The meaning might be assembly, but the translators prefer Church for ekklesia when the meaning is assembling together, leading to the connotation of the church building for the word. For consistency they should use synagogue and leave upto us understand instead leaving it to us to discover these things later by chance.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 4:00
  • @Michael16 - that is essentially what the translators have done - rendered the word 'meeting", not "church" and not "assembly". BTW - ekklesia would be far better translated "congregation" - church building were unknown in the 1st century.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 4:03
  • He used ekklesia in 5:14, so if he wanted to use the congregation meeting he could have used ekklesia in 2:2 as well; This gives support for the view that the sense is the assembly place rather than the meeting/congregation.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 13:23
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A Translation Bias

With time and culture, the Christians have changed the identity of the Jewish religion to non-Jewish, due to antisemitic culture within the mainstream "Churches". The Church building is nothing but a replacement for the Synagogue. Synagogue more pertains to the place of ekklesia or assembly, thus a proper translation should use synagogue, which also portrays the Jewish roots of the faith. The word ekklesia was used in the LXX as well describing the assembly or congregation. Since the Church was meeting in the Synagogue, it suggests that their number was so huge that they had the control over certain Synagogue buildings; unlike the minority groups who might have assembled in homes like Peter's home. Or perhaps the word is used as "meeting" rather than the proper building of assembly as the translators put. The cultural and historical ignorance is so bad that Christians ask, "When did the Jewish believers realize, their faith was no longer Jewish?" When did the religion suddenly become Roman, Italian, non-Jewish just because of the inclusion of Gentiles (as Gentiles)? Do the Synagogues turn into temple and Cathedral after the coming of the Messiah?

Similarly, the Jewish community in their ignorance accuses the Jewish Christians of losing their Jewish identity by following the Jewish Messiah; and on the other hand when a Jewish Christian observes the Jewish way and culture, they condemn them as being missionary imposters living in the guise of a Jew, to convert others. Michael Brown writes about a recent controversy in Israel:

The anti-missionary group Yad L’Achim has drawn attention to Messianic Jewish leader Boaz Michael who lives in Jerusalem and who is open and unashamed about his faith in Yeshua. He also believes in a living a Torah-observant life and honoring Jewish tradition. How, Yad L’Achim asks, can this possibly be?

As a headline on the Israel National News website states, “‘Synagogue’ and study hall in Jerusalem found to be used as Christian missionary training centers by missionaries posing as Orthodox Jews.” It is at this point, though, that I need to interrupt this story and ask some honest questions. What is the Jewish community asking of Messianic Jews? What are Jewish followers of Jesus supposed to do?

Groups like Yad L’Achim would surely say, “Don’t play games with us, Brown. You know exactly what the issue is. These missionaries are claiming to be frum Jews. Just look at how they live.”

But that’s the whole point. These Messianic Jews are telling the Jewish world, without any ambiguity whatsoever, that: 1) they believe Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel; 2) they believe that Yeshua fulfills the Torah rather than abolishes it, so, in light of His teachings, they are Torah observant; and 3) they believe that, because of God’s covenant with Israel, there is much beauty in Jewish tradition, so where they do not find it contradictory to their faith in Yeshua, they honor those traditions.

What is so evil about that?

After all, when Jews come to faith in Jesus in a church setting, leaving all trace of their Jewishness behind, the anti-missionaries say, “You see! That proves it. Once a Jew believes in Jesus, he is lost to our people and his children will no longer be raised Jewish.”

But then, when a Jewish follower of Jesus feels deeply drawn to his people, makes Aliyah, lives as a model citizen, keeps the biblical calendar, observes the dietary laws, and raises his children to be Jewish, he is called a dangerous deceiver.

Do you see the hypocrisy of this? Do you see the double standards? [....] One article actually carries this astonishing statement from Yad L’Achim about Firstfruits of Zion’s study center in Jerusalem, called Tzemach David and located within the Bram Center: “The Tzemach David facility that trains them looks like a synagogue in every way. Instead of crosses, it has an aron kodesh [Holy Ark], sifrei Torah [Torah scrolls] and sifrei kodesh [holy books]. The literature they put out appears to be Torani [Torah-themed] but is spiked with Christian teachings. The missionaries themselves conduct what would appear to be Jewish lives and wear haredi garb – kippahs, beards and so on.”

Exactly! Just like the first followers of Yeshua were Jews who continued to live as Jews, so also these Messianic Jews live today. And just like the meeting places of these first Jewish disciples were called synagogues (see Jacob [James] 2:2 in Greek), so Tzemach David doesn’t look like a church building with crosses. (For the record, it is a study center; it is does not house a congregation.)

The Greek words ekklesia and synagogue are practically synonyms. On (synagogue) Strong’s Greek #4864

συναγωγή (in origin abstract, a leading [bringing] together, convening an assembly, then concrete, a [religious] meeting), a meeting (assembly), a place of meeting (assembly), particularly of Jews for the reading of scripture and for worship, a synagogue. In certain passages it is doubtful whether the congregation (e.g. John 6:59. 18:20) or the place of meeting (e.g. James 2:2) is particularly intended, but the sense is not seriously affected by the doubt. In the O.T. συναγωγή and ἐκκλησία are practically synonymous, but in ordinary Christian writings the former is rarely used, and seemingly only of communities of Jews or Jewish Christians (e.g. James 2:2, where it is probably the building).

Souter, A. (1917). A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (p. 246). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

There is a danger of losing the Jewish roots of the faith by interpreting Synagogue as "assembly" and "meeting". The translators never hesitated in writing the "Synagogue of Satan" in Rev 2:9, 3:9 in the polemical context; which shows their bias. We see that there is no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, both are alike. To quote from Danker lexicon:

on ekklesia:

ἐϰϰλησία, ας, ἡ [ἐκ, καλέω] —1. ‘a gathering of people meeting for matters of common interest’, assembly

—a. in Hellenic society, w. ἔννομος, emphasizing stat-utory time for meeting Ac 19:39. Cp. the non-regulated gathering vs. 32, 40.

—b. in the early Messianic community, of pers. gathering in a meeting place Ro 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phlm 2; with focus on deliberation Mt 18:17; Ac 15:22; 1 Cor 6:4; 14:35; with focus on a cultic meeting 11:18; 14:4f, 28; 3 J 6. Usage in b is closely connected with the understanding of Israel as God’s chosen community and Christ followers/Messianists in legitimate continuity, hence

—2. ‘God’s people as a community’, assembly, congregation

—a. specifically in ref. to OT Israel Ac 7:38; Hb 2:12.

—b. with focus on Messianists in an area but without ref. to one specific meeting place as in 1b

—α. in general Ac 5:11; 8:3 (here the generic term alongside implied house congregations); 1 Cor 4:17; Phil 4:15.

—β. of Christ followers in a named locality: Macedonia 2 Cor 8:1; Thessalonica 1 Th 1:1; and others; the global community of Christ followers Mt 16:18; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 1:22 and oft.; Col 1:18, 24; Phil 3:6. ἐ. τοῦ ϑεοῦ God’s assembly/church 1 Cor 10:32 al.; ἐ. τοῦ χριστοῦ Christ’s assembly/church Ro 16:16. (The gloss ‘church’ is freq. used to render ἐ., but with the result that connection with usage in the LXX and connection with Israel is lost.)

and Synagogue:

συναγωγή, ῆς, ἡ [συνάγω (reduplicated form of ἄγω)] —1. ‘place of assembly’, in NT specifically of a local Israelite cultic and community center, which in the early decades of the Messianic movement would be used also by followers of Jesus: transliterated synagogue Mt 4:23; 10:17; Mk 1:39; Lk 4:15f; 7:5; J 6:59; 18:20; Ac 13:14; 17:17; 18:4; 22:19.

—2. ‘synagogal group’,assembly, synagogue Ac 6:9; 9:2. In polemical context Rv 2:9; 3:9.

—3. ‘synagogal meeting’, meeting: of Judeans Ac 13:43; of Judeo-Christians Js 2:2.

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    (+1) I love the angle you've taken on this one - very well explained and great supporting references.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 10:39
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We need to remember that Rabbinical Judaism did not exist at the time of the early Church, it is a product of the second century. Similarly, the idea of a separate Christian liturgy that was distinct from judaism took hold when the early Christians who were gentiles needed to form their own house of worship as they were no longer allowed to meet in synagogues. But this was after James was written.

There was a dawning awareness that gentile believers don't need to first convert to judaism, but this was still a matter of much debate in the early church.

Jewish Christians do not consider themselves "no longer jewish" for believing that Messiah had come anymore than Pharisees don't consider themselves "no longer jewish" just because they abandoned the entire sacrificial system and no longer had access to either priests or an altar. Both view themselves the true disciples of Moses, and at that time both continued to meet in Synagogues, often the same syngagogues, and to argue with each other in those synagogues until the Pharisees became powerful enough to expel all the believers from the synagogues, which was a process that was fought synagogue by synagogue across the Roman Empire. Then the Christians jews would create their own meeting places.

This explains apostolic council when the gentile converts were advised to only follow the Law of Noah. It was not because the Law of Noah somehow applied, but rather if they followed the Law of Noah they would be accepted by jews in Synagogues, which is where they were meeting, and so they told the gentile converts to do the bare minimum to not be kicked out of the synagogues:

Acts 15.20-21 ESV

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.

These were the synagogues that the gentile believers were meeting in. They were not just "generic houses of worship", they were jewish Synagogues that allowed "God fearing" gentiles to worship provided that they obeyed the Law of Noah.

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James is not written to the (or a) "Church" (or the Ekklesia, however you like to translate that word) but rather to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (James 1:1). Thus, James 2:2 does not say anything about the gathering of the Church as it is understood today. The Jews that are addressed in James are apparently meeting in Synagoges.

There is a similar thought in the letters to the Ekklesias in Smyrna and Phildalphia Revelation where Synagogue of Satan is related to Jews.

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  • James 5:14: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 5:18
  • I fail to see how James 5:14 relates to the discussion. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 5:51
  • You think the letter has nothing to do with the "church" as if they are unbelievers or not related to the Church of Christ.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 6:28
  • I see the point. I need to clarify my first sentence. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 6:35
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    (-1) There are a couple of controversial claims made here with very little supporting evidence. Why should we find the term 'church' inappropriate for James' audience of believers, simply because it hadn't been coined yet? Also don't agree with the point about James not relating to 'the Church as it is understood today' - the modern church is such a distant cousin from those we know of from the first century as to make James' audience and Paul's churches look like twins.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 9:02

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