Music was an important element of both temple and synagogue worship. Undoubtedly this music and its forms influenced the form and use of music in the early Christian church. Both Jews and Christians revere a transcendent God and both give honor to Scripture. For these reasons and others, Jewish synagogue worship and modern Christian services are similar in content and spirit.
Preaching in the Jewish synagogue instructed members in faith and practice but also could be intended for indoctrination and proselytizing. Christianity first spread through the preaching of Paul and others who traveled from city to city, preaching Jesus and the Resurrection and calling Jews to conversion in Christ.
The New Testament records that Jesus and his disciples, as well as early Christian preachers such as Paul and Barnabas, attended the synagogue assemblies. The true influence of the synagogue on early Christian worship, however, is difficult to assess. Contacts between Christians and Jews continued up to the fourth century; thus, in the post–New Testament period Jewish influence can be seen in the development of Christian prayer and the Christian calendar.
In the assemblies of the early church, the Scriptures were read to the congregation by a lector, or reader. This practice was modeled on that of the synagogue, wherein the Old Testament Scriptures were read aloud every Sabbath by a reader appointed from the congregation. The practice of the synagogue, in turn, had developed from the ancient concept of a literary document as something recited, rather than something read silently from a manuscript.
Synagogue worship expanded and developed the use of the voice. No musical instruments were used in synagogue worship.
Like any religious institution, the synagogue developed various leadership functions. Over the centuries the roles of the synagogue officers have altered as the needs of the Jewish community have changed. The most important development has been the emergence of the office of rabbi.
The synagogue preserved and passed down the heritage of the Hebrew Bible and developed as an educational institution for the transmission of Jewish rabbinic tradition.
The architecture of the synagogue reflected its function as a place where the Jewish community gathered for prayer, the study of the Law, and other activities. The synagogue often borrowed architectural features from the prevailing Greco-Roman culture.
The history of the synagogue as an institution among the Jews is difficult to trace to its source. Its origins seem to lie outside Palestine and apart from that sector of Jewish life that governed the nation and shaped the Old Testament. By the time of the New Testament, the synagogue had become established as the central institution of local Jewish life.
The book of Acts and the Epistles reflect continuing involvement of Christians with the institutions of Jewish worship. However, with the Gentile mission and increasing separation from the temple and synagogues, the churches had to develop their own forms of common worship. Even Jewish Christians came under increasing pressure as persistent evangelism aroused the hostility of the ecclesiastical authorities.