Monday, September 1, 2014

"They Will Put You Out of the [Jewish Community]": Shaye Cohen on Why "Sunagoge" in John 16:2 Should Not be Translated as the English Term "Synagogue" But Rather as "Jewish Community" Generally

The Greek term sunagoge is very different from the English term synagogue.  Shaye Cohen explains:
The English 'synagogue' is narrower than Greek sunagoge in three respects:  the English word does not mean 'community,' while the Greek often does; the English word implies the existence of a building, while the Greek does not; the English word designates a gathering of Jews or a place where Jews gather for the sake of communal prayer and/or Torah study, while the Greek can refer to a gathering of various sorts,"  Evolution of the Synagogue, Edited by Kee and Cohick.  From the Essay Entitled "Were the Pharisees and Rabbis the Leaders of Communal Prayer and Torah Study in Antiquity?  by Shaye J. D. Cohen
This ambiguity has implications for how we translate passages like John 16:2.  Here's a typical translation:
"They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God,"  John 16:2, NIV.
This would certainly be a frightening prospect for a Messianic Jew, being kicked out of a local synagogue for believing in Yeshua as Messiah.  But the Greek term sunagoge, as Shaye Cohen explains, conveys an entirely different sense than the English term "synagogue" used in most English translations:
"6. John 12:42, 'Nevertheless many even of the authorities believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the sunagoge' (literally, lest they should become out-of-the-sunagoge).  As many commentators have noted, the term aposunagogoi is unique to John in the New Testament.  It recurs in 9:22, in the story of the healing of the blind man, in a very similar passage:  'His parents [i.e., the parents of the blind man healed by Jesus]...feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the sunagoge (literally, he was to become out-of-the-sunagoge).  In 16:2 Jesus tells his disciples,...they shall make you out-of-the-sunagoge.'....What is the meaning of 'out-of-the-sunagoge'?...[S]unagoge should in this case simply be understood as 'community.'  Those who confess Christ will be excluded from the Jewish community."  pg. 99, ibid.
That seems like a fate worse than death in a way--for a Messianic Jew to be excluded from the global Jewish community!

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