the weblog of Alan Knox

It is difficult to separate the spiritual from the secular in the first century

Posted by on Jan 6, 2010 in books, church history, worship | 4 comments

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 ‘synagogue’. 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?


4 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-6-2010

    Would the same hold true not just for worship but community? It seems that the early church did not neatly divide their lives into “church lives” and “non-church lives”.

  2. 1-6-2010

    Ah yes, that old heresy rears its ugly head again. Tozer attacked the secular/sacred divide in Pursuit of God, many years ago. It’s too bad nobody listened to him then.

    If we would just learn that all of life is sacred and a gift from God, then we would begin to experience real freedom in every part of our lives…

    James

  3. 1-6-2010

    Arthur,

    Yes, I think you’re right. It reminds me of a Spurgeon sermon where he says that it’s hard to tell the difference between their normal meals and the Lord’s Supper.

    James,

    “all of life is sacred”… which, of course, removes any meaning of the word “sacred” in relation to “life.” :)

    -Alan

  4. 1-9-2010

    “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?”

    We would become extremely frustrated with the culture around us that doesn’t. Or maybe something like that.