SYNODS, though actually synonymous with COUNCILS, are in common historical parlance employed to designate minor ecclesiastical conventions. In virtue of this distinction councils have usually claimed for themselves the ample epithet of oecumenical or general, while synods have long been known only by the humbler term of local or provincial. In the apostolic age four local assemblies were held, which some have called councils and others synods. The first was convened for the election of a successor to Judas in the apostleship, Ac 1:26. At the second, seven deacons were chosen, Ac 6:5. The third, like the two which preceded it, was held at Jerusalem, according to some authors, A.D. 47, but, according to others, A.D. 51; that is, at the latest, eighteen years after Christ's ascension. It originated in the attempt made to oblige the Gentile converts at Antioch to submit to the rite of circumcision. St. Paul and Barnabas opposed this attempt; and after "no small dissension and disputation," it was determined, that the question should be referred to the judgment of the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Accordingly, some of the Apostles and several of the "elders came together" to deliberate on the propriety of dispensing with the ceremonial law. The result of their deliberations was, that the Mosaic ordinances, being too rigorous, should be abrogated; and that their decision should be communicated to "the brethren which were of the Gentiles," Ac 15:1-30. The fourth apostolic synod was convened in reference to the toleration of legal rites, Ac 21:18. With respect to all these, the fact is, that, instead of being councils or synods in any proper sense, they were mere meetings of the church at Jerusalem, and all of them ordinary meetings except the third, when they assembled upon the request of the deputies from Antioch who came to ask advice.
Dr. Neander, speaking of the origin, use, and abuse of synods, says,