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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Translation Principle 9: Clearing up Misunderstandings of Church and Synagogue

Welcome back to our series on the sixteen key principles of translation for the TLV. This week, we come to our ninth principle: Clearing up confusion between misunderstandings about intent when referring to the terms “synagogue” and “church.” These terms have often promoted division between Jews and Christians – with synagogues, as we know, being construed as really bad, and churches being seen as really good. Recognizing that neither extreme is correct, we take pains to employ the language respectfully, and take special care to define them properly.

In our westernized thinking, when we see the word “Church”, we automatically assume that its referring to an actual building – one designated for Christians.  The truth is that the early followers of Yeshua met in synagogues. What’s equally true is that a church wasn’t an address on Main Street, with stained glass windows, pipe organs, collections boxes and pews.  The New Testament word for “church” is ekklesia which means “the called out ones.” In classical Greek, the term was used almost exclusively for political gatherings. In particular, in Athens the word signified the assembling of the citizens for the purpose of conducting the affairs of the polis. Moreover, ekklesia referred only to the actual meeting, not to the citizens themselves. The most important background of the term ekklesia is the Septuagint, which uses the word in a religious sense about one hundred times, almost always as a translation of the Hebrew word kahal. When we come to the New Testament, we discover that ekklesia is used of the community of God’s people some 109 times. [1] Therefore, several different terms for “gatherings” of believers in Messiah are employed in our rendition, based on a belief that the terms we use directly affect how readers perceive, self-actualize and socialize communally around the personal message of salvation in Messiah Yeshua.

In Matthew 24:1, we employ the term “temple.” In doing so, we give context to the scene being placed in the actual Second Temple, which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem until it’s destruction in 70AD. We know from the writings of Josephus and the histories of Roman king Herod the Great, that this renovated structure was opulent and grand. By using Temple, we allow for the reader to imagine the story in a clearer way.

Now when Yeshua went out and was going away from the Temple, His disciples came up to point out to Him the Temple buildings.

In  Luke 6:6, we use the term “synagogue.” While the verse contains a participle that indicates a singular synagogue, the reality is that some towns throughout Israel had their own synagogue where local Pharisees and Torah Scholars would gather to pray, study, and discuss the Torah. These open forums were a familiar locale to Yeshua and His disciples, and eventually the apostle Paul.

On a different Shabbat, Yeshua entered the synagogue and was teaching. A man was there, whose right hand was paralyzed.

One of our more frequent terms is “community,” as seen in  Acts 15:41, 2 Corinthians 1:1 and Revelation 1:20. We use this in place of the term “church” to circumvent preconceived, and often subconscious, notions and biases while reading the text and to make the text more accessible to Jewish sensibilities.

He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the communities. … Paul, an emissary of Messiah Yeshua through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to God’s community at Corinth, with all the kedoshim who are throughout Achaia… As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden menorot—the seven stars are the angels of Messiah’s seven communities, and the seven menorahs are the seven communities. …

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