While discussing the current state of research into first century synagogues, Stephen Catto makes the following observation:
There would appear to be two major difficulties in addressing the area of worship practices in the first-century â€˜synagogueâ€™. The first is the lack of detail that we have on the subject, which should make us wary of overly confident assertions on practice. The second is defining what should or should not be considered worship. It is difficult to separate the spiritual from the secular in the first century, with any public act often having a religious element to it. (Catto, Stephen K. Reconstructing the First-Century Synagogue: A Critical Analysis of Current Research. New York: T&T Clark, 2007, pg. 106)
Certainly, we can do little about the detail of the evidence that we possess, however we can seriously consider that evidence. As Catto notes, in the evidence that we do have, the Jews of the first century did not make a distinction between the spiritual and the secular when it comes to worship. (Of course, the same could be said – and has been said many times – concerning other religious groups of the first century, including early Christians.)
This causes a problem for modern readers. Why? Because we DO make a distinction between the spiritual and the secular, and so we try to FIND that distinction in all historical evidence, including Scripture.
What would happen if we accepted (as those in the first century did) that there is no distinction between the spiritual and the secular, even when it comes to worship?