Question #3: How do we know that Christian worship is based on the worship of the Jewish synagogue?

Question #3: How do we know that Christian worship is based on the worship of the Jewish synagogue?


4 thoughts on “Question #3: How do we know that Christian worship is based on the worship of the Jewish synagogue?”

  1. The following is from Chapter 9 of The Psalms in Worship, edited by John McNaugher, D. D., LL. D., 1907. Chapter 9 is titled The Psalms in the Old Testament Church, by Professor DA McClenahan, D. D., Allegheny, Pa.

    “V. The Psalms in the Service of the Synagogue. It is held that the mode of worship in the early Christian Church was modeled, in general, after the service of the synagogue. Were the Psalms sung in the service of the synagogue? Edersheim contends that there was no praise service whatever in connection with the synagogue. A few others take the same view.

    Maimonides, Vitringa, Dr. Lightfoot, Ginsburg, The Encyclopedia Biblica, and Cheyne, all of whom are of much higher authority, claim that songs of praise were sung in the service of the synagogue. Our information concerning the origin and the early history of the synagogue is meager indeed. We do not know how and when it originated, though we can with much assurance conjecture.

    There is no direct statement that there was any singing of praise in its service. Some have held that this lack of positive statement is conclusive that praise formed no part of the service. But when we recall what a prominent place the chanting of Psalms held in the service of the temple, when we recall that praise became a part of the worship of the Christian Church from the very first, and when we recall that Jews, who had all their lives been accustomed to worship in the synagogue, were so familiar with the Psalms that in the mid-night darkness of the prison Paul and Silas sang praises to God, we can scarcely conceive that this prominent and popular part of worship was wholly omitted from the service of the synagogue.

    The Mishna, as quoted in The Encyclopedia Biblica, enumerates five principal parts of the service of the synagogue: (a) the recital of the Shema, i.e., certain parts of the Pentateuch, viz., Deut. vi. 4-9; xi. 13-21; and Num. xv. 37-41; (b) the prayer; (c) the reading of the law; (d) the reading of the prophets, and the benediction; (e) the translation and explanation of the Scripture lesson. There is no mention made of the singing of songs, of praise. But there is strong ground for saying that praise was included under “the prayer.” There is such a close connection between prayer and praise that they could easily go under one name. Prayer includes the giving of thanks to God. Praise may include confession and petition, as well as the giving of thanks. I. J. Perritz in The Encyclopedia Biblica, writing on the service of the Early Church, says: “Paul speaks of prayer and praise together (1 Cor. xiv. 14, 15): ‘I will pray’; ‘I will sing.’ This would be the natural combination in the very earliest liturgical arrangement. . . . From the fact, however, that ‘Psalm’ is mentioned alone in the 26th verse, we may well infer with Weizsacker that the song of praise was, as a rule, more prominent than prayer.” Weizsacker in his great work on “The Apostolic Church” takes this view. “Tephillah” (prayer) can include “tehillah” (praise). That the Hebrew word “tephillah” is so used in the Bible the following passages will show: 1 Sam. ii. 1: “and Hannah prayed and said,” etc. Then follows a magnificent song of praise. Jonah ii. 1: “Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly and said,” etc. What follows is a hymn of thanksgiving. The headings in Hebrew to Psalms xvii., lxxxvi., xc, cxlii., and also to the song in Habakkuk iii. are “tephillah” (prayer), not “tehillah” (song). The Bible writers frequently use the word for prayer as inclusive of praise. We believe that the Talmud, in giving the order of service for the synagogue, intended “prayer” to include “praise.” Cheyne, in the Bampton Lectures, 1889, expresses this same belief: “It may be objected,” he says, “that there is no evidence that Psalmody formed part of the public worship in the early synagogue. But they were at any rate prayer-houses like the temple, and I can with difficulty believe that prayer did not include praise; especially as the missionary Psalms contain passages specially appropriate to the Diaspora.” The Encyclopedia Biblica has a statement of this same thought, and in almost identical words. Dr. James Harper, of Xenia, Ohio, says: “For many hundreds of years the singing or chanting which Maimonides includes under the general head of prayer has been an element in the synagogue service.” Note that Maimonides is Dr. Harper’s authority for this statement. Killen, in his “Early Christian Church,” says: “Like the worship of the synagogue, the New Testament service consisted of prayer, singing, reading the Scripture, and expounding or preaching.” Binnie, in his great work on The Psalms, Their History, Teaching, and Use, has this to say: “The worship of the Christian Church was for the most part borrowed from the synagogue. … In addition, therefore, to the reading and preaching of the Word, and the offering of united prayer, the singing of Psalms was in use from the beginning.” Speaking of the common prayers of the Early Church, Burbidge, in his book entitled The Liturgies and Offices of the Church, says: “The resemblances of these services to the synagogue worship can be clearly traced, as might be expected when it is remembered that for many years the Church consisted principally of Jews. . . . Praise, hearing, and prayer formed the main divisions of the common prayers of the Christians, as they had done in the synagogue services of the Jews.”

    This is a strong array of testimony for the ordinance of praise in the synagogue:

    (a) The Bible use of “prayer” and “praise” — the one including the other, showing that “prayer” in the order of service for the synagogue might include “praise”;

    (b) Maimonides’ assertion that “prayer” included “praise” in the synagogue service;

    (c) The New Testament worship, modeled after the synagogue, including from the first the singing of Psalms;

    (d) The claim of Cheyne, Vitringa, Dr. Lightfoot, The Encylopedia Biblica, Binnie, Killen, Harper, Burbidge, and almost all other authorities, that the “prayer” of the synagogue service included praise.

    Now, since they sang praises in the services of the synagogues, what did they sing? The Jews sang Psalms in the temple service. The Jews who were converted to Christianity, modeling their service after the synagogue, sang Psalms. The Jews were familiar with the Psalms. What did the Jews sing in their synagogue service? The Psalms were the songs sung in the temple service. The Psalms were the songs sung in the synagogue service. The Psalms were the songs sung in the service of the early Christian Church.”

  2. Also from McNaugher, The Psalms in the Post-Apostolic Church, by The Rev. James Harper, D. D., LL. D., Xenia, Ohio

    “4. There is no clear evidence that in the second century of our era any songs but those of the inspired and divinely authorized Psalter were used in worship by the orthodox. If songs additional were used, what has become of them? Surely some of them that had been in the mouth of martyrs in that age of persecution must have survived, being treasured in the hearts and memories of fellow-Christians who outlived the scenes of fiery trial. Yet when we ask for them, not one can be produced. Even Dr. Schaff, one of the most erudite ecclesiastical historians and most enthusiastic hymnologists, is forced to admit that from this period no hymn, aside from the Psalms, has come down to us, unless it be some snatches derived from Scripture, especially from the first two chapters of the Gospel according to Luke.

    In vol. ii., eighth edition, page 226, of his History of the Christian Church, we find the following words: “The Church inherited the Psalter from the synagogue, and has used it in all ages as an inexhaustible treasury of devotion. The Psalter is truly catholic in its spirit and aim; it springs from the deep fountains of the human heart in its secret communion with God, and gives classic expression to the religious experience of all men in every age and tongue. This is the best proof of its inspiration. Nothing like it can be found in all the poetry of heathendom.” “

    1. I am performing an indepth study on congregational singing and the ancient synagogue. Modern research seems to suggest that there was no singinging. Do you have any modern references to suggest that there was congregational singing in the ancient synagogue? Say from 2005 and up? the idea that prayer included praise seems speculative.

  3. kg,

    The Songs of Zion by Michael Bushell was republished in 2011 and has a significant number of references dealing with the subject of synagogue “worship”. Bushell’s book is hands down the best modern defense of EP. Even if the reader does not agree with his position, the author devotes a great deal of time to answering the opponents of the regulative principle like Gore, Schlissel, Frame, Wilson and Leithart. Bushell’s view is that there is no evidence that the synagogue was a place of worship, which destroys the arguments of the non-RPW crowd who want to say that synagogue worship is a major problem for the EP position.

    If you are interested in researching this subject, Bushell’s book would be well worth the price. Make sure you get the 2011 edition or later.

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