Hebrew: “mizbe'ah,” “mizbeach” (prononced: miz-bay'-akh), meaning “an altar” from a word meaning “to slay;” Greek: “thusiasterion,” (pronounced: thoo-see-as-tay'-ree-on) meaning a place of sacrifice, i.e., an altar

Biblical altars were generally structures of earth (Exodus 20:24) or of stones that had not been hewn (20:25). Sacrifices were offered on them. Altars were generally erected in conspicuous places (Genesis 22:9; Ezek. 6:3; 2 Kings 23:12; 16:4; 23:8; Acts 14:13).

The word altar is used in Hebrews 13:10 for the sacrifice offered upon it—the sacrifice Christ offered.

Paul found among the many altars erected in Athens one bearing the inscription, “To the unknown God” (Acts 17:23), or rather “to an [i.e., some] unknown God.” The reason for this inscription cannot now be accurately determined. However, it offered the apostle the opportunity to proclaim the gospel to the “men of Athens.”

THE FIRST BLOOD SACRIFICES are mentioned in connection with Adam and Eve (God’s shedding of animal blood to make coverings for them) and their son Abel’s offerings (Genesis 3-4).

THE FIRST ALTAR specifically mentioned in the Bible is the one erected by Noah (Genesis 8:20), although we assume that Adam and the pre-Flood patriarchs also used altars for their sacrifices. Altars were erected by Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:4; 22:9), by Isaac (Genesis 26:25), by Jacob (33:20; 35:1, 3), and by Moses (Exodus 17:15, “Jehovah-nissi”).

TWO TABERNACLE AND TEMPLE ALTARS—In the tabernacle, and afterwards in the temple, two altars were erected.

  1. THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING (Exodus 30:28), called also the “brazen altar” (Exodus 39:39) and “the table of the Lord” (Mal. 1:7)

  2. THE ALTAR OF INCENSE (Exodus 30:1-10), called also “the golden altar” (39:38; Numbers 4:11), stood in the holy place “before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony.”

Author: Matthew G. Easton, edited and reorganized by Paul S. Taylor.

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