Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Temple or Synagogue: What Model for the Christian Church?

A question arises when one looks at the constitution of the Christian Church Scripturally and historically: on what basis or model was it founded? Was it the Jewish Temple or the Jewish Synagogue? The answer to this query has many implications for the government and worship of the church. D. Douglas Bannerman, who edited his father, James Bannerman's, treatise on The Church of Christ, Vol. 2, p. 282, wrote in 1868 that

That the polity of the Christian Church was framed on the model, not of the temple, but of the synagogue, just as its Sacraments arose out of Jewish ordinances which had no connection with the temple services, is a point on which almost all theologians agree, at least since the date of Vitringa and Selden's great works on the subject.

Modern writers such as Steve Schlissel and Peter Leithart, however, take the side of the Temple as model for the Christian Church. Their position leads them in a certain direction contrary to the Regulative Principle of Worship, which though Leithart denies it, leads in fact towards Rome. Dr. William Young, in his refutation of John Frame's Worship in Spirit and Truth, writes:

A brief paragraph about the synagogue scarcely refutes Vitringa's elaborate argument in his classic work on the synagogue (C. Vitringa, De Synagoga Vetere. 1726, Levcopetrae).

The classic study devoted to answering this question already alluded to is that by Campegius Vitringa the Elder (1659-1722), De Synagoga Vetere Libri Tres (1685), translated as The Synagogue and the Church, Being an Attempt to Show, That the Government, Ministers, and Services of the Church, Were Derived From Those of the Synagogue (1842). For a sample of his thesis, apparent in the title of his work, consider this extract (pp. 135-138), and if you wish to study this subject further, I commend this work very highly.


Probable Source from which the Apostles derived the Rites and Ceremonies of the

We have no means of ascertaining, directly, from the sacred Scriptures, the form of worship or of government adopted in the early Christian Church. Our blessed Lord has left no rules upon this subject; his Apostles are equally silent; they exhort the Christians of their day, "not to forsake the assembling of themselves together;" a but we cannot collect from their writings, after what model, or in what form, they worshipped. We must have recourse, then, to indirect proofs; and from these we shall find, that there is strong presumptive evidence, amounting almost to certainty, that the early Christians, when ordering and arranging their places and forms of worship, the discipline, the government, &c. of their Church, had especially in view the Jewish Synagogue.

And, in the first place, there is a strong presumption that if any of the rites and customs of the Old Dispensation could have been adopted in the New, the Apostles would have adopted Jewish them; for they were Jews, and a pertinacious adherence to doctrines and rites, was a peculiar trait of Jewish character. Thus Josephus boasts, all through his writings, that a Jew would sooner give up his life, than his religious observances; and that the Apostles were, in this respect, every whit Jews, is evident from their history. No one conversant with Scripture is ignorant of Peter's vacillating conduct;b his desire to adhere to Jewish customs.c The Apostle Paul, who wrote so strongly on the subject of circumcision, yet circumcised Timothy, on account of the Jews.d The same feeling seems to have animated the whole body of the Apostles; they gave in to the prejudices of their countrymen, in things which they must have known were to be abolished: thus they frequented the Temple, they observed the feasts;e the entire Presbytery at Jerusalem induced the Apostle Paul to bind himself by the vow of a Nazarite, merely to soften down the prejudices of some Judaizing Christians;f and the same Presbytery, when assembled for the purpose of determining, whether the Gentiles were to be under the Law, absolve them alone from the yoke, without making any declaration, in their decree, respecting the Jews.g These facts show us the feelings of the Apostles; that they would not willingly lay aside any Jewish custom, which could be transferred into the Christian Church. They had two models before them; the Temple, and the Synagogue. The question then is; which of these two did they take as their model?

There are great names on both sides of the question. Of those who hold, that the Temple was the model of the Church, none state their views more clearly than Archbishop Usher, whose arguments will be examined in a subsequent chapter; on the other side are the names of Lightfoot, Selden, Dodwell, Spencer, Grotius.

It is our design, in this second part, to show, that the Apostles, when modelling the Church, took for their pattern the Synagogue, and not the Temple. And indeed, it might fairly be presumed that they would do so; for the Temple service was not at all adapted to Christian worship. The Temple was the House of Sacrifice, rather than the house of Prayer:h it was the Habitation of God, i.e. the place where alone he put his name, and dwelt;i rather than the place for the assembling of men. True, Jehovah has even now his Temple, but it is not a building of wood and stone: the Church, the Congregation of Believers, is now the House of God; Jesus Christ, its great and only High Priest, its foundation, and chief corner-stone: and believers in him are the living stones of this Temple; "built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood; to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."k

a Heb. x. 25.
b Gal. ii. 12.
c Acts x. 14.
d Acts xvi. 3.
e Acts xviii. 21.
f Acts xxi. 20, &c.
g Acts xv. 19. It is evident from the address of the Apostle Peter on this occasion, that it was known at this time, that the Law was to be abrogated: "Why tempt ye God; to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" Verse 10.
h Public prayer, the reading and explaining the Scriptures, formed no part of the usual worship of the Temple. When the victim was prepared to be offered, the priests retired and prayed in silence (Tam. iv. sec. 3); the people also prayed without in silence (Luke i. 4.)
i Hence the name of [Gk.], from [Gk.], "to dwell." See [Samuel] Hinds's "Three Temples."
k 1 Pet. ii. 5.


  1. Excellent Read. Thanks a Bunch for this...