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Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Self-Harmony of the Bible - 3 (Part Seventeen)

Where Was the Altar of Incense?
The skeptic cites Exodus 30:1,6 (ESV) which says: “You shall make an altar on which to burn incense . . . And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above [near - NIV, NWT] the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above [above – NIV; over - NWT] the testimony, where I will meet you.”[1] And he cites Hebrews 9:3 (ESV) which says: “Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant.” So we are presented with two descriptions, one which places the altar in the Most Holy, the other that puts it just outside the Most Holy in the Holy. Which is correct?
            First, let us see what is being discussed in Hebrews. Insight on the Scriptures notes: “In Greek it is called thy·mi·a·teʹri·on. That word refers to something connected with the burning of incense. Was it the altar of incense? Some translations present the matter that way, and the use of the word by Philo and Josephus with reference to the altar of incense is cited in support.” However, after citing Exodus 30:1,6, the same work notes: “On the other hand, thy·mi·a·teʹri·on can properly be rendered “censer,” and a censer was actually taken into the Most Holy by the high priest on Atonement Day.”[2]
            Having, therefore, been presented with a harmonization, that is, the altar for incense was not in the Most Holy, but the censer having incense was brought in with incense, it being golden as well, we need not assume there to be a contradiction here. Supposing, though, that Paul intended to refer to the altar, what can be said? Let us bring his words up again; he says: “[The Most Holy] had a golden [altar].” Are we forced to conclude that Paul placed this in the Most Holy itself?
From Exodus 40:1-5 we see that the two things, the Ark of the Covenant and the golden altar were places very near to each other, with only the curtain to separate them. Also, 1 Kings 6:22 says that it “belonged to the innermost room,” which does not necessarily mean that it was in the other room. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that Paul must have meant for the altar to be placed in the Most Holy; he could have simply meant for it to belonging to the Most Holy. To conclude, there is no contradiction, even if we suppose that he was referring to the altar of incense.



[1] The word that the ESV renders “above” in both cases, but which the NIV renders “near” and then “above” has no single meaning. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance notes that “al” means “above, according to, after, as against, among, and, as, at.”

[2] Leviticus 16:12,13

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