Paul's Christian Synagogues
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Early Church Meeting Places 176

The Jewish Framework

ancient synagogueIn the light of the Jewish framework within which Paul carried out his missionary activities, one might expect that his congregations would reflect at least in some measure the practice of the synagogue. In Paul's view, the reading of scripture stands in continuity with synagogue practice. Paul exhorts Timothy to give attention to the reading. More importantly, Paul underlines the contrast drawn between the use of "the Old Covenant" in the synagogue and its reading when "the veil is taken away," that is, reading not only in the light of Christ but also in Paul's epistles since few individuals would have possessed their own scrolls of scripture.✞

New Covenant Writings

Tree growing beside a wallE. Earl Ellis states in "Pauline Theology - Ministry and Society" that the reading of the Old Testament may lie behind Paul's references to the Old Testament prefaced by the query, "Do you not know this?" It may be presupposed in the Apostle's instruction to read the "new covenant" writings, specifically the letters and other Christian prophetic writings in their worship, since the prior use of the Old Testament would provide the logical background and setting for introducing it. In urging the house churches at Corinth and Thessalonica to exercise discipline over the membership, Paul implicitly claimed for them a prerogative granted to the synagogues and other clubs, and his warnings against an argumentative spirit and the abuse of wine at the Supper may have been occasioned in part because some were following a pattern known to characterize the secular clubs.✞

Privileges of a Club

Ancient CorinthSaint Paul also presupposed that the church at Corinth exercised the privileges of a club when he directed them to collect money and to put it in a common treasury. Paul's own version of the Christian synagogue showed an affinity with the clubs that was related to and apparently mediated by their closeness to the synagogues across the Roman Empire. This was also the case in a third club-like characteristic of his synagogues, their organization as house churches.

"Paul's Christian Synagogues"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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