The Jewish Religious System Then and Now!

Posted: August 17, 2021 in Prophecy
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By Chad Daugherty

Other than Jesus’s death and resurrection, the Jewish people and nation are the most important aspect of history. Jesus Himself said, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). God chose the Jewish people to bring redemption to the world through His son Jesus Christ, and yet the Jewish religious system is misunderstood by most people. What is the difference between the temple and the synagogue? What is the difference between the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes? Let us look at these questions.

            During their time in the desert after the Israelites were freed from Egypt, God met with Moses and instructed him to build a tabernacle. It was to be a place to worship God and where God would meet with the priest. It was a temporary structure that was movable and was used until the time a permanent structure known as the temple was built by King Solomon after the Israelites had entered the promise land. The temple was the place where the people worshiped God, the priest served God, sacrifices for sin were made, and Jewish feast were held. Over time the people turned away from God, so He brought judgement against the Israelites. The temple was destroyed, and the people were taken captive to Babylon. Since there was no longer a temple to worship God in, the decision was made to build synagogues. A synagogue could be built where ten or more Jewish men lived. It was a place where Jewish people could meet and was the center of religious, civil, and educational activity for the Jewish people. When the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity, they built a new temple. Even with the new temple, the synagogue became the central focus of Jewish religion and worship. Eventually the Israelites turned away from God again, and God brought judgement again and the temple was destroyed again. Today, the synagogue is the central place of worship for the Jewish people as they await the rebuilding of a third temple which they believe will happen when the Messiah returns.

Worship in the temple and synagogues can be confusing. What is the difference between the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes? What were their roles? When God brought judgment against the Israelites and they were taken captive to Babylon, the Jews learned their lesson. As foreign culture began to spread its influence among the Jewish people, they purposed to resist it and to make sure no Jewish person would defile themselves with foreign culture or religion. They determined to strictly adhere to every letter of God’s law, so a group formed known as the Pharisees. They were filled with zeal for making sure everything God had commanded was obeyed. Unfortunately, the Pharisees became so focused on obeying God’s law that they forgot the central purpose of it which was relationship with God. Relationship turned into religion. Although most think the Pharisees were priest, as a general rule most of them were not, but rather were middle class lay people.

The Sadducees made up the priestly group. The high priest and chief priest were almost always from this group. Since they made up the priestly group, most of their activity was focused around the temple in Jerusalem and not the synagogues. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees felt that outside culture and influence were good. They focused more on politics than on religion. The Sadducees accepted only the written books of the Law and rejected the books of the Prophets and the Writings. They also rejected the oral tradition of the Pharisees, as well as teachings on angels and the doctrine of bodily resurrection (McClaflin 2017, 54).

Another group mentioned several times in Old Testament scripture are the scribes. Ezra was a scribe. When you examine the roles of scribes from the time of King David until the time of Jesus, you will see their roles changed. Early on they acted more as secretaries and clerks. By the time of Christ, a scribe was more properly called a “lawyer” or “teacher of the Law.” In this later role scribes had three main duties: they acted as copyists, preservers, and interpreters of the Law (McClaflin 2017, 57). The scribes were not considered a political or religious party, but rather were considered a professional group. The scribes were professional students and interpreters of the law, and their word was final on matters concerning the law. While it was possible for a scribe to be a priest, most were not. They aligned themselves more with the Pharisees due to their zeal for the law. The scribes were important members of the Jewish religious system, and they were the leading authorities in the system.

The Jewish worship system is a very important part of history. Unfortunately, the system they were so zealous about turned them from a relationship with God to a religious system that caused them to miss the coming of the promised Messiah Jesus Christ. The Jewish people may still be caught up in that religious system, but God has a plan to deliver them and to open their eyes to His love and salvation through Jesus Christ. A new worship system is coming for the Jewish people and the Jewish nation.

McClaflin, Mike. 2017. THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS, 6th ed. Springfield, MO: Global University.

  1. It is interesting that the Sadducees of the temple were more accepting of foreign influence and culture while the Pharisees who were working lay people in the synagogues were strict adherents of the law. I’ve read an opinion of Mike McClaflin that said, this may have been a political compromise with their foreign oppressors to keep the peace. The Sadducees, though they were less in number they were wealthier and closer to their foreign rulers.

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