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Luke 7:4 KJV

And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he [the Centurion] was worthy for whom he should do this: 5 For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue

The Jews were very strict about issues of faith and their place of worship.Paul had got into trouble when the Jews suspected that he had taken a non-Jew into their place of worship

Acts 21:27 KJV

And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, 28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. 29 (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

Even Peter had at one time refused to go to Cornelius who happened to be a non-Jew

Acts 11:6 KJV

Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. 8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.

Christ had also reiterated the same position when he meet a Canaanite woman

Matthew 15:24 kjv

But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Why did the Jews accept the Synagogue built by a non-Jew?

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  • I would think Luke 7:5 mean the Jews got permission from the centurion to build the synagogue. This particular type of setting the Romans should not care to build it. May 24, 2023 at 1:20
  • @VincentWong welcome back. Since the text says he "built" it, I'd think this means he paid for it, at least in large part -- perhaps with public money. May 24, 2023 at 14:27
  • @DanFefferman - thank you for your greeting. As a military commander, the best he could do was pleaded for the Jews to the governor permission to build the synagogue. Synagogue had a specific setting, that its design and built should be handled by the Jews. I think it just showed a respect to him for his effort to say he 'built' it. May 25, 2023 at 2:23

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To answer this question, let us look at another example of Herod. Here is a quote from Wikipedia found in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_the_Great

Herod was born around 72 BCE in Idumea, south of Judea. He was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, a high-ranking official under ethnarch Hyrcanus II, and Cypros, a Nabatean Arab princess from Petra (in present-day Jordan). Herod's father was by descent an Edomite with a Jewish mother; his ancestors had converted to Judaism. Herod was raised as a Jew.

This fact is well-known. However, Herod was a narcissistic megalomaniac. His reign as "king" of Judea was marked by nepotism, murder, infanticide, and fratricide and much else. The same reference also correctly observes:

Although he made many attempts at conforming to traditional Jewish laws, there were more instances where Herod was insensitive, which constitutes one of the major Jewish complaints of Herod as highlighted in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews. In Jerusalem, Herod introduced foreign forms of entertainment, and erected a golden eagle at the entrance of the Temple, which suggested a greater interest in the welfare of Rome than of Jews.

Thus, the relationship between the Jews and Herod was quite a mixed one. The Jews recognized Herod's attempts at placating the Jewish mood by notionally conforming to their customs and building the temple; however, his rule was notorious for its violence, megalomania, obsequiousness to Rome.

Thus, Herod was both loved and loathed with equal passion.

Luke 7:1-10 - The Centurion

We know very little about Luke's centurion except that he appears to have converted to Judaism and was a very generous donor to the costs of building the local synagogue. There were many gentiles that had become Jews and become fully accepted such as:

  • The unfortunate story in Gen 38 about Judah and Tamar shows that a foreigner became the mother of the tribe of Judah.
  • Moses married a Midianite (Ex 2:16-21) also known as a Cushite. Miriam and Aaron were severely reprimanded and punished for displaying racism (Num 12:1, 2)
  • Caleb, who represented and led the tribe of Judah was a Kennizite (Num 32:12).
  • Rahab was a Canaanite (Josh 2:1, 2, Matt 1:5)
  • Ruth was Moabite (Ruth 1:4 16, 17, Matt 1:5) – these last two make King David descended from foreigners (Ruth 4:13-16).
  • Uriah was a Hittite (2 Sam 11:3)
  • King David’s elite personal regiment consisted of Gittites, that is, Philistines (2 Sam 15:18-22, 1 Chron 18:17)
  • Isa 56:6, 7 - And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants— all who keep the Sabbath without profaning it and who hold fast to My covenant—I will bring them to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” See also V3.
  • The Rechabites were Kenites (Jer 35:1-19)
  • In Esther’s time “many of the people of the land became Jews” (Esther 8:17, 9:27)
  • Even in NT times, many Jewish synagogues were attended by godly gentiles converted to Judaism (Acts 13:16, 26, 16:14, 17:17)

Acts 21:27-29 - Gentiles in the Temple

Paul was innocent of these crimes; however, the incident illustrates the almost duplicitous nature of the attitude that some people had toward gentiles, both tolerated and hated in some circles. The real matter, and cause of this incident was the hatred of the Jewish leaders toward Paul because he was undermining their legalistic authority of fear with the gospel of grace.

Acts 11:6 - Peter's Vision

The purpose of Peter's vision was to eradicate the above biases toward gentiles. This is explicitly stated in the subsequent verses:

  • V8 - But the voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
  • V15-17 - As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He had fallen upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, as He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift He gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder the work of God?”
  • Acts 10:34-36 - Then Peter began to speak: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. He has sent this message to the people of Israel, proclaiming the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Thus, Peter was being instructed, via the metaphor of clean vs unclean food, to allow gentiles to become part of the spiritual kingdom of Israel, that of the kingdom of grace.

Matt 15:24 - Jesus Comment to the Syrophoenician Woman.

Jesus' comment was a means of testing the faith of this lady. Had Jesus really taken such an exclusive attitude, He would not have healed the daughter. Jesus attitude to gentiles can be ascertained from His teaching in Mark 11:17 where He quotes Isa 56:7 -

“My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations”

In short, there is no room for racism among the followers of Jesus.

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    While I agree about racism and Jesus, I'm not sure it's really relevant to the question asked, as it's about how the Jewish people pre-Jesus felt.
    – trlkly
    May 24, 2023 at 2:25
  • "appears to have converted to Judaism" -- isn't it just as likely that he simply understood and respected Jewish customs, and that his generosity stemmed from a sincere desire to maintain good relations with the Jews of Capernaum? May 24, 2023 at 13:53
  • @DanFefferman - maintaining good relations with the Jews is surprisingly noble for a Roman killer/soldier. It is even more surprising that he donated large portions of a modest pay packet to build the synagogue. Most Roman soldiers worshiped Mithraism.
    – Dottard
    May 24, 2023 at 21:34
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Whether the centurion was a convert to Judaism or merely a foreigner who understood Jewish customs and wanted to win the support of the populace, most Jews would welcome his paying for the construction of a local synagogue.

The OP states: "The Jews were very strict about issues of faith and their place of worship. Paul had got into trouble when the Jews suspected that he had taken a non-Jew into their place of worship." This confuses the Temple of Jerusalem with synagogues. Gentiles were indeed not allowed in the inner courts of the Temple (although they were welcome in the Court of the Gentiles, or outer court.) Gentiles were not excluded from synagogues. They were places of study and prayer, not sacrificial offerings. Many non-Jews were known to have converted (see Acts 13), and there would be no reason for them to be prevented from listening to readings and sermons or studying in the synagogue before becoming proselytes.

There might be a few Jewish leaders with Zealot leanings who would spurn a Gentile's generosity to pay for a synagogue, but the text is clear that the Jewish elders of Capernaum did not feel that way at the time. Capernaum was a town with a mixed population in the northern part of the country, where Jews were more likely to be more open to Gentiles than in Jerusalem. According to Biblical Archaeology Review:

New evidence indicates that Romans indeed lived in Capernaum in the first century A.D. Moreover, far from being a poor, isolated village, Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, was quite prosperous and was apparently home to gentiles as well as Jews.

Regarding the centurion's role, the Roman Empire generally encouraged local religions as stabilizing influences and its representatives acted wisely when they supported this financially. The text is not clear as to whether he was a convert or merely a wise Roman commander who respected the customs of the local people. Nor does it tell us whether he "built" the temple with his own funds or public money raised by taxing the Jews themselves.

Conclusion: Jews were less exclusive toward Gentiles than sometimes imagined. In a relatively cosmopolitan town such as Capernaum, synagogue leaders would not have a problem in cooperating with a Roman centurion who wished to win/retain their support by building (paying for) a synagogue for them, whether he was a convert or not.

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  • The OP also mentions the case of Peter and Cornelius... this involved a Jew (Peter) entering a Gentile home and dining with him, very different from a Roman official constructing (or paying for) a synagogue that would be under the control of Jewish elders. May 24, 2023 at 14:39
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They already accepted Herod's temple, didn't they?

Maybe they cleansed it, or dedicated it, after it was constructed, thus making it holy, like they did with all the other temple stuff in the Old Testament.

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  • Yes, but Herod was a Jew, though not ethnically. Also, it was not considered a new Temple per se, but an expansion of the Second Temple. May 24, 2023 at 13:48

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