Thursday, January 24, 2013

The State of Jewish worship in Jesus' Time

The Jews of the Intertestamental period devoted themselves to two main places of worship the first was the Temple in Jerusalem and the second was their local synagogue. For the average Jew of this time the synagogue became the most important place of worship. Understanding the roles that each of these places played in the time of Christ, will enlighten us to a deeper understanding of what the scriptures are saying without saying it specifically.
                        The Temple in particular was in the process of being rebuilt after its destruction in 586 B.C. with the Babylonian invasion. It would be completed around 63 A.D. only to be destroyed again in 70 A.D.  According to Lea and Black, “Within the daily life of the temple, priest presided over offerings in the morning and the afternoon, and sacrifices for Caesar and the Roman nation were also offered.”[1] Most people would assume that the high priest presided over the worship regularly, when in actuality it was only on the Sabbath and festival days.[2] While the temple at one point held high honor amongst the Jewish people, “the significance of the temple in Intertestamental Judaism was then, largely symbolic and sentimental. It was the visible center of the religious life and pride of the nation. Nevertheless, in fact, its role and function were in decline.”[3]
            With the role of the temple on the decline that meant something else was on the rise and that would be the synagogue. Most scholars will agree that we do not have an exact date for the beginning of the synagogue; however it is assumed they originated in the time of exile. If you take a moment to read what Lea and Black say of the service in a synagogue, and you did not know they were referring to an ancient Jewish service you would feel as though you were in a modern day church service. Listen to what they had to say,
The synagogue service consisted of a recitation of the Jewish creed known as the Shema (see Deut. 6:4-5). This recitation was accompanied with praises to God known as the Shemone Esreh and was followed by a ritual prayer….The reading of Scriptures was followed by a sermon, explaining the portion that had been read. A blessing by the priest closed the service.[4]
I am part of a PCA church where we have multiple Scripture readings, sing praises to God, several prayers are offered, and then the pastor will read the Scripture, teach from it, we sing a closing song and receive the benediction. We do not however have eighteen benedictions in the middle of our service. So this is more than likely where we get our model for a service which makes me appreciate it all the more.

[1]Thomas D. Lea, and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003)60.
[2] J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995)150.
[3] Ibid, 155.
[4] Lea, New Testament, 63.

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