by Lance Lambert ..During the Exile, God’s people were forever cured of idolatry. With the Temple destroyed, sacrifice ended, the Priesthood scattered, Jerusalem razed, the people deported, a new form of worship and fellowship grew up. We do not know how or when exactly the Synagogue started but somehow during the Exile, God’s children began gathering together for the reading and exposition of Scripture, and for worship and prayer. “Synagogue” is a Greek word meaning “a gathering of people,” a congregation” (Hebrew Knesset.) it is used 56 times in the N.T.
Tradition ascribes its beginning to Ezekiel and its development to Ezra. What we do know is that during the 400 years before Christ the Synagogue became the greatest single factor in the life of the Jew and even to this day the Synagogue is the focal point of Jewish life.
Before the Exile any such gathering was suspect because of the popular worship of “local” gods and the possibilities of this helping it. However, after the Exile, the Synagogue became the recognized place for local Bible study and prayer; and the Temple the place for sacrifice and Great Feasts.
Before a synagogue could be formed, there had to be 10 males (thus Lydia’s predicament!) The Synagogue was governed in a larger town by a body of 23 Elders (Greek Presbyters) and in smaller places, 7 Elders. This body was called a “Sanhedrin.” They were sometimes called “rulers” or “shepherds.” One called “The Chief ruler” was first among equals.
Another important office was “the attendant” or “minister.”  His job was to prepare the building as rooms for service; take the Scriptures needed to the person reading; teach the children and also inflict corporal punishment!
These Elders or Sanhedrin, served as the local court, in Judea both civil and religious. They could inflict three forms of punishment, namely, forty stripes save one, carried out in synagogue by the attendant, excommunication and death by stoning which required the Roman governors assent.
The Sanhedrin of Jerusalem became known as the Great Sanhedrin – the highest court and authority among Jews, recognized throughout the Land and the Dispersion.
The Synagogue building was simple. The chief piece of furniture was the Ark in which the rolls of Scripture were kept. It was normally placed in front of the wall farthest from the entrance. In the larger buildings there was a platform in the centre with a lectern upon it. The rest of the room was used for seating, the chief seats being near the Ark.
In the Synagogue worship any competent Jew of age could contribute under the supervision of the Chief Ruler. The service consisted of prayer, reading of Law; and of Prophets; and the translation and exposition of Scripture. Normally it was a Scribe who would be called upon to preach or teach. All contributions were made from the platform. To read you stood, to teach you sat. For prayer all stood normally with arms outstretched. The Synagogue acted as a library and a school.
The Synagogues main contributions for Christ’s coming were the intensive regular reading and teaching of Scripture, which kept alive the Word of God, & sense of His purpose, and of Messiah’s coming. Equally tremendous was the impact upon the gentile world throughout the Dispersion. They were strategic centers already prepared for the gospel. The Synagogues simple pattern and way of meeting influenced the early Christians under God.
The Great Sanhedrin
We have already mentioned the Sanhedrin, but further mention should be made. The Great Sanhedrin was the highest and most authoritative court and assembly in Jewry before and during the time of Christ. Comprising some 70 councilors, it is referred to in the N.T. as “The Council,” “The Body or Assembly of Elders” or “The Senate”
According to the traditions it began with the 70 Elders in Moses day and was reorganized and reinstated by Ezra after the return from Exile. However we do not really know how it began. The Persians certainly constituted some such body under the governor who administered “home rule” for Judea.
In the Greek period a senate was permitted which represented the whole nation, made up of aristocratic Elders. During the Roman period this became known as the Sanhedrin, and the whole internal government of the Land was in its hands under the watchful eye of the Roman Procurator. Whilst beyond the Land throughout the Dispersion its authority was recognized.
Originally the Sanhedrin was comprised of the Sadducean priestly aristocracy. From Ezra’s day civil and religious authority was in the hands of the High Priest. Thus the priestly nobility were the leading people of the nation.
During the 1st Cent BC the Pharisees and the Scribes were both admitted and given seats. In earlier days it was mainly sadducean, but under Herod the Pharisees grew in strength and the Sadducees were restricted.
By N.T. times the Sanhedrin was made up of three groups. These three groups included the Chief Priests, also known as the High Priests, acting and previous, and members of priestly nobility, along with the Elders including both tribal and family heads, and finally the legal experts of the day known as Scribes. All three groups belonged to either the Pharisees (mainly Elders & Scribes) or the Sadducees (mainly chief priests and aristocracy)
The Sanhedrin had two main areas of responsibility, the administrative & judicial, as well as the religious. It had either the sole right of judgment upon especially important matters, or was appealed to by the local Sanhedrin’s when they were unable to come to a decision.
When in session they sat in a semi-circle in order to see one another in debate. There were no sessions on Sabbaths or Holy Days. Two clerks sat before them, one to count “no’s,” the other “yea’s.” Twenty-three members was the quorum for a session. A majority of two was necessary for condemnation, but just one for acquittal.
 Ezekiel 8:1; 20:1-3 cf 11:16
 Luke 4:20
 Greek “anathema” – absolute and final exclusion; or temporary loss of privilege etc.
 Matt 26:59
 Luke 22:66, Acts 22:5
 Acts 5:21
 Numbers 11:16,17
 Mark 15:1
 Cases of capital punishment required the Roman Procurator’s consent