Biblical Definitions

Biblical Definition Of ALTAR

  • 07-Nov-2022, 19:33
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ALTAR From the time of Noah there are biblical records of people who erected altars, usually to commemorate special religious experiences that people had with God.

Biblical Definition Of



From the time of Noah there are biblical records of people who erected altars, usually to commemorate special religious experiences that people had with God. Some stories record the offering of sacrifices on these altars (Gen 8:20; 12:7; 13:18; 22:9; 26:25; 33:20; 35:3; Exod 17:15). Even after the establishment of the tabernacle with its specially appointed bronze altar of sacrifice, Israelites at times erected altars to commemorate important events (Deut 27:5; Josh 8:30-31; 22:10; Judg 6:24-26; 2 Sam 24:18-25; 1 Kings 18:30).


But these altars were not to be permanent or lavish. They were to consist simply of a mound of earth or a heap of loose stones, depending upon which material was available in the region. The altars were not to be so high that they required steps, in order to avoid any immodesty which might occur if a priest lifted up his robes while climbing the steps (Exod 20:24-26). In the tabernacle, and later the temple, there were two altars, one in the open courtyard and the other inside the sanctuary. The one in the tabernacle courtyard was called the altar of burnt offering, for it was the altar on which all the animal sacrifices were offered. In appearance it was like a large wooden box overlaid with a metal variously described as bronze, copper or brass. It was five cubits square and three cubits high (a cubit being about forty-four centimetres or eighteen inches).


This ‘box’ may have been filled with rocks and dirt to form a mound on which the sacrifices were burnt. Alternatively, the sacrifices may have been burnt on a grid inside the box. Extending halfway up the altar on the outside was a grating that supported a ledge. This may have had some use during the offering of the sacrifices (Exod 27:1-8). The altar inside the sanctuary was positioned in the Holy Place against the veil, and was only for the offering of incense. It was much smaller than the altar of burnt offering, being only one cubit square and two cubits high. It too was made of wood, but its overlaying metal was gold, befitting the splendour of the shrine in which it was placed (Exod 30:1-10).


Both the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense had horn-shaped projections at their corners. The Bible does not explain the practical or symbolic significance of the horns, but blood was sprinkled on them in certain rituals (Exod 27:2; 29:10-12; 30:2; Lev 4:4-7). The altars were also fitted with carrying poles, for they were taken with the people on the journey to Canaan (Exod 27:6-7; 30:4-5).



The Bible speaks of no literal altar for the Christian religion; only of the figurative ‘altar’ of Christ’s atoning death. Sacrificial altars and their accompanying festivals belong to the old Jewish religion and have no place in Christianity. When certain Jews in the early church were tempted to combine Christian faith with sacrificial rituals, the writer to the Hebrews told them that such a combination is impossible. If people continue to join in eating sacrifices offered on the Jewish altar, they cannot join in receiving benefits from the sacrifice offered on the Christian ‘altar’, which is the death of Christ (Heb 13:10; cf. 1 Cor 9:13; 10:18).

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