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Generally, we often see in Bible study that the Pharisees would "kick them out of the synagogue because they didn't want people to believe in Jesus". But, that doesn't address the actual process that would have happened.

In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man who eventually was expelled from the synagogue.

John 9:34 (NASB, emphasis added)

They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.

Just before that, the formerly blind man's parents had equivocated in their answer to the Pharisees for fear this would happen to them, in v22.

John 9:21-22 (NASB, emphasis added)

21 but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.

What would the formality have been for expelling the formerly blind man or his parents from the synagogue? What process was feared in v22 and happened in v34?

It seems as if the Pharisees expelled someone by mere fiat, not needing a vote from the congregation. What is the truth about that?

What would the put out of the synagogue process look like?

  • What reason would the Jewish leaders/Pharisees have given for the expulsion?
    • Maybe "heresy" or "blasphemy" etc, but then also, what specifically might their claim have been? ie:
    • Blasphemy: claiming that a mere man is God
    • Blasphemy: believing that a man used God's power to heal, but illegally on Sabbath
    • Law-breaking: working/healing on Sabbath
  • Who would they have given the reason to for it to be official?
    • Higher leaders in the synagogue institutions should approve?
    • Local synagogue leader can expel, but must report to someone or just keep a record?
    • Would it need a vote from the congregation at the synagogue to be effective? Why or why not?

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There are few sources from the 1st century describing synagogue rules. However, the Talmud lists 24 offenses that could result in excommunication. Declaring someone to be Christ (messiah) is not one of them. A court procedure would be involved. (see linked article for details, understanding that it is not clear if this was already the case in the 1st c.)

Another issue is whether this man was actually excommunicated, and by whom. The text (9:34) implies a physical expulsion, perhaps a temporary measure, rather than a formal expulsion from synagogue membership. In addition, the actors in this paragraph are "the Jews" (v. 18) and no longer "the Pharisees." The people who kicked him out were apparently not the synagogue's leaders, but the rank and file.

Another point: Critical scholars tend to see the attitude of the Pharisees here as reflecting the time of John's writing. By this time many synagogues indeed understood the declaration of Jesus as Christ to be blasphemous - not because a person believed him to be the messiah but because the church taught that he was equal to God. A note in the NABRE reads:

Rejection/excommunication from the synagogue of Jews who confessed Jesus as Messiah seems to have begun ca. A.D. 85, when the curse against the mînîm or heretics was introduced into the “Eighteen Benedictions.”

The 12th of these benedictions includes a curse against "slanderers." The Jewish Encyclopedia says this included both "heretics" (meaning Christians) and Sadducees. Both groups tended to oppose the Revolt of 66-70 which resulted in the destruction of Temple:

May no hope be left to the slanderers; but may wickedness perish as in a moment; may all Thine enemies be soon cut off, and do Thou speedily uproot the haughty and shatter and humble them speedily in our days. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, who strikest down enemies and humblest the haughty.

Conclusion: The formerly blind man seems to have been physically removed from the premises in the heat of the moment rather formally expelled from synagogue membership. There was no rule forbidding the declaration of any person as the Messiah. However, by the time John's Gospel was written, the church taught that Jesus Christ was equal to God, which was considered a blasphemy. In any case, a trial was needed; no one could be excommunicated by fiat.

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  • "There was no rule forbidding the declaration of any person as the Messiah. However, by the time John's Gospel was written, the church taught that Jesus Christ was equal to God, which was considered a blasphemy". However, the "church" had councils outlawing unitarianism. Commented Feb 22 at 17:44

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