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Συναγωγὴν in James 2:2

Tonight in Bible study we started working our way through James 2. Almost right away we ran into a slight difference of opinion. In v2 we read

For if someone comes into your assembly . . . (NET)

The word that the NET translates “assembly” is συναγωγὴν. Now, we were trying to decide what this is. Obviously it’s some sort of meeting place. However, our disagreement was over whether it was a synagogue or not. Our teacher proposed that since Christians were not well liked by mainline Jews, that it must’ve been a meeting place outside of a synagogue, perhaps a house instead.

I suggested though, since James seems to be writing to Jewish Christians, that it may have been a synagogue that had converted, in whole or in part, to Christianity (ie. Acts 18:8).



13 Responses

  1. But it’s a generalized “synagogue” if James was a circuit letter “to the twelve tribes dispersed”. Thus, it cannot have been “a” synagogue that was converted.

    The word Synagogue is transliterated everywhere else in the NT, except here. My own theory is that James wrote to synagogues as a PR effort on behalf of the Christ-faction within Judaism. How does that grab you?

    • You seem to agree that συναγωγὴν here refers to an actual synagogue (rather than simply a meeting place). However, you think that James is writing to more than one. Correct? I could see your point. And as I study, I may end up agreeing with you completely.

      I wonder though, if “the twelve tribes dispersed” could simply refer to Jews (an idiom of sorts), and could still be sent to a single assembly of them (keeping in mind that others would get the epistle later. The reason I suggest this is because of the specific nature of the 2:1-13 (and other places; this is just what I studied last night). It would be somewhat of a stretch to think that all Jewish Christians would be struggling with partiality between rich and poor. The questions James asks also seem very pointed here. I could be wrong. At this point I’m just thinking out loud.

      • I think James was addressing – collectively – several individual synagogues. A mass e-mail can still provide instructions in the singular imperative.

        It would be somewhat of a stretch to think that all Jewish Christians would be struggling with partiality between rich and poor.

        Why? I read James’ advice as more of a general pet peeve he had against something that could occur anywhere at any time, and often did. Jesus talked about the Pharisees coveting the chief seats in the Synagogue, and wealthy folks could covet those too, couldn’t they? (Why did such seats even exist? But that’s a different question.)

        Sucking up to the newest rich man in town is something everyone was succeptible to. In the name and appearance of hospitality, you start working your way towards securing larger donations. I imagine we could list a dozen reasons very quickly why Synagogue budgets always needed all the help they could get.

        This may be partly circular, because it goes back to who we suppose that “Synagogue” was made up of. However, if I’m right on that point, James had plenty of experience there. (How many synagogues did he visit in Jerusalem, to maintain such a fine reputation around town for three decades?) Thus, it makes more sense to me that James wrote about what he’d seen commonly.

        If Alan’s right, of course, then you’re also right that James would have no idea to expect such a general trend in exclusively jewish-christian assemblies.

  2. While συναγωγὴν is used primarily of Jewish synagogues (either the place or the people gathered together), the verb form συναγω is used of Christians gathering together. Since James was a Jew who also followed Jesus, he seems to be writing to Jews who now followed Jesus, and was concerned about they way they showed partiality to the rich when they met together.


    • No argument from me there.

    • Fair point, Alan, but those are pretty big differences contextually. I don’t think it justifies the noun form being translated as [christian] “assembly”.

      • Bill,

        The nearest context is James 2:1 – “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” I think James assumed his readers to be followers of Jesus Christ. He was talking about their gathering together. Were they gathering together at the same time and in the same place that Jews (who did not follow Jesus Christ) were gathering together (i.e., during a Jewish synagogue)? Perhaps. But, from 2:1, it seems that James did intend for his readers to gather in a “Christian” manner.


  3. Since James is an early letter, it is possible that some synagogues at the time were filled with believers in Jesus who still followed the Jewish law, Temple worship etc… Or that since believers might have still been in the synagogues, they were commanded to stand apart by doing these things.

    • Agreed. It is possible. Especially if this was before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). That would make James one of the first (if not the first) writings of the NT. However, I’m not too sure how many people would defend that.

  4. Bill: I can see your point. Do you think that James’ epistle would’ve been meant to circulate widely? Or perhaps to a specific geographic region (ie. Galilee, or Rome, etc)? I Imagine I know your answer here, but I’m curious.

  5. I do. The boy didn’t think small. I’m much more impressed with him than to think that.

    Besides, the whole letter is general in tone. If it was written to one particular congregation (Jewish OR Christian), there’s not much in there to suggest so.

    I’m enjoying this greatly, btw. Here’s more. 🙂

    • I’d agree with you that there’s not much to point to a particular congregation, since there is no address except “the twelve tribes dispersed.”

      But the questions he asks are what’s throwing me off so far. He seems steamed on this issue, as if it affect him personally (of course it would). Then again, if this problem happened widely, then I would understand the need to send it widely. Hmmm…I’ve got to study on this some more.

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