How Many Times Is the Altar Mentioned in the Bible

By Paul King •  Updated: 09/11/23 •  15 min read

The altar is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, underscoring its immense significance in both the Old and New Testaments. It serves as a focal point for worship and carries deep spiritual implications. Let’s delve into the frequency of altar references in the Bible and explore the different types of altars mentioned.

In the Old Testament, we see altars being used for various purposes. One notable instance is when Noah built an altar after the great flood. In Genesis 8:20, it is written, ‘Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.’ This act of worship and sacrifice demonstrated Noah’s gratitude towards God for sparing him and his family.

Another significant mention of altars is found in the story of Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 22:9, as Abraham prepared to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, it says, ‘When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.’ This story showcases the obedience and faith of Abraham, as well as the profound symbolism of the altar as a place of surrender and trust in God.

Moving forward, altars continue to hold a vital role in the religious practices of the Israelites. In Exodus 20:24-25, God instructs Moses regarding the construction of altars, saying, ‘Build an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings… If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.’ These instructions highlight the importance of honoring God’s specific guidelines in worship.

How Many Times Is the Altar Mentioned in the Bible

In the New Testament, the concept of the altar takes on a spiritual significance. In Hebrews 13:10, it states, ‘We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.’ This verse suggests that through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, a new altar is established, rendering the old sacrificial system obsolete.

The altar, therefore, serves as a powerful symbol of worship, sacrifice, obedience, and spiritual transformation throughout the Bible. It reminds us of our need to surrender ourselves to God and trust in His plan. By studying the mentions of altars in the Bible, we gain a deeper understanding of the profound impact they had on religious practices and the spiritual lives of believers.

Let us reflect on the significance of altars in our own lives and consider how we can honor God through our worship and obedience, just as those in the Bible did.

Key Takeaways

The Altar in the Old Testament

The altar in the Old Testament holds great significance, as it is mentioned multiple times in the biblical texts. It served as a central place for worship and sacrifice for the Israelites, symbolizing their communion with God. In Exodus 20:24-26, God instructs Moses regarding the construction of the altar, saying, ‘You shall make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings…in every place where I cause my name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.’

One factual story that showcases the importance of the altar is the story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22. God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar. Abraham obediently followed God’s command, but just as he was about to sacrifice Isaac, an angel stopped him and provided a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute. This story highlights the willingness of Abraham to offer his most precious possession to God and foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Another significant event involving the altar is the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see whose God would answer by fire. The prophets of Baal called upon their god all day, but nothing happened. Then Elijah prepared an altar, placed a sacrifice upon it, and drenched it with water three times. He prayed to God, and immediately fire came down from heaven, consuming not only the sacrifice but also the altar itself. This event demonstrated the power of the true God and the futility of worshiping false idols.

In the Old Testament, specific instructions were given by God to the priests on how to perform rituals and maintain the sanctity of the altar. Leviticus 6:12-13 states, ‘The fire on the altar shall be kept burning; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings.’ These instructions emphasized the importance of continuously seeking forgiveness, atonement, and reconciliation with God through the offerings made on the altar.

Transitioning into the New Testament, the significance of the altar evolves as Jesus Christ, the Messiah, fulfills the sacrificial system and brings a new understanding of worship and salvation. In Hebrews 9:11-14, it is written, ‘But when Christ appeared as a high priest…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…how much more will the blood of Christ…purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.’

The altar in the New Testament is no longer a physical structure but a spiritual concept. Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross became the ultimate offering, rendering the need for animal sacrifices and the physical altar obsolete. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus opened the way for all believers to approach God directly, without the need for an earthly altar. As stated in Hebrews 10:19-22, ‘Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.’

The Altar in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the altar holds great significance in religious rituals and practices. It is mentioned in several Bible verses, showcasing its spiritual and symbolic meaning for early Christians. Let’s delve into four aspects of the altar in the New Testament, supported by relevant facts and quotes from the Bible.

  1. Sacrifice: The altar was a place where sacrifices were offered to God, symbolizing the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity. In Hebrews 9:22, it states, ‘Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.’ This emphasizes the importance of sacrifices on the altar as a means of seeking forgiveness and redemption.

To further illustrate this point, let’s look at the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22. God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. As Abraham prepared to carry out this act of obedience, God provided a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute sacrifice. This story highlights the concept of sacrificial offerings and foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

  1. Worship: The altar served as a central focal point for worship, where believers offered prayers, praises, and thanksgiving to God. In Psalm 141:2, David says, ‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.’ Here, David expresses the connection between prayer and the offerings on the altar, acknowledging the significance of worship at the altar.

One notable example of worship at the altar is found in Luke 1:10, where Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense at the altar. This act of worship represented the prayers of the people and the anticipation of the coming Messiah.

  1. Communion: The altar was closely associated with the celebration of the Eucharist, where bread and wine were consecrated and shared as a representation of Christ’s body and blood. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul writes, ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?’ This verse highlights the spiritual significance of partaking in communion at the altar.

Furthermore, in Matthew 26:26-28, during the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, blessed it, and broke it, giving it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ He also took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ This powerful moment solidifies the connection between the altar, communion, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

  1. Sanctification: The altar represented the holy presence of God and the need for believers to approach Him with reverence and purity of heart. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says, ‘So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’ This verse emphasizes the importance of maintaining healthy relationships and reconciling with others before approaching the altar.

Additionally, the story of the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8 showcases the sanctification of the altar. When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, signifying God’s acceptance and presence. This event emphasizes the sanctity of the altar and the need for believers to approach it with reverence and purity.

Symbolism of the Altar in the Bible

The symbolism surrounding the altar in biblical texts is rich and profound, reflecting its spiritual significance and its role in religious rituals and practices. In the Old Testament, altars were used for sacrifices, symbolizing the offering of oneself to God and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. The blood of animals offered on the altar represented the atonement for sins, as stated in Leviticus 17:11. This sacrificial act symbolized the repentance and seeking of forgiveness from God.

Moreover, the altar also symbolized the place of worship and the dwelling of God. In the tabernacle, the altar of burnt offering was a central element where the priests offered sacrifices to God. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is seen as the ultimate altar. His sacrifice provided salvation and forgiveness for humanity.

How Many Times Is the Altar Mentioned in the Bible

The altar symbolizes the spiritual transformation and redemption brought by Christ’s sacrifice. Through His sacrifice, believers are reminded of their need for repentance, forgiveness, and communion with God. To further deepen our understanding of the symbolic meaning of the altar, let us explore the story of Abraham and Isaac.

In Genesis 22, God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. When they reached the top of the mountain, Abraham built an altar and bound his son Isaac, placing him on the wood. Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, an angel of the Lord called out to him. God provided a ram caught in a thicket nearby, and Abraham sacrificed it instead of his son.

This powerful story demonstrates the symbolism of the altar as a place of sacrifice and obedience to God’s commands. It foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, where God provided Himself as the sacrificial lamb for the redemption of humanity.

Different Types of Altars in the Bible

Various biblical texts describe different types of altars, each serving unique purposes and carrying distinct symbolic meanings. These altars played a significant role in the worship practices of ancient Israel and the surrounding cultures. Let us explore the four types of altars mentioned in the Bible, along with their significance and examples from the Scriptures.

  1. Altars of Sacrifice: These altars were used for offering animal sacrifices to God. In the book of Leviticus, it is written, ‘When any of you bring an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock’ (Leviticus 1:2). These sacrifices symbolized the people’s surrender and devotion to God, as well as their recognition of sin and need for forgiveness. One notable example is the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac, as an act of obedience and trust in God (Genesis 22:1-14).
  2. Altars of Incense: These altars were specifically designated for burning fragrant incense as an act of worship. In the book of Exodus, God commands Moses to construct an altar of incense, saying, ‘Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps’ (Exodus 30:7). The rising smoke represented the prayers of the people ascending to God. Furthermore, in the book of Revelation, it is written, ‘Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne’ (Revelation 8:3).
  3. Altars of Remembrance: These altars were built to commemorate significant events or encounters with God. In the book of Genesis, after God spared Noah and his family from the flood, Noah built an altar and offered burnt offerings to God in thanksgiving (Genesis 8:20). These altars served as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and the covenant relationship with His people. Another example is when Jacob built an altar at Bethel after encountering God in a dream, and he said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it’ (Genesis 28:16).
  4. Altars of Idolatry: These altars were erected to worship false gods, often in direct disobedience to God’s commandments. In the book of Exodus, after Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, he found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf that they had made. Moses was filled with righteous anger and destroyed the altar of idolatry (Exodus 32:19). These altars symbolized the spiritual unfaithfulness and idolatry of the people, which God strongly condemned.

Understanding the theological significance and historical context of these different types of altars helps us grasp the rich symbolism and practices of biblical worship. The stories and verses from the Bible provide depth of meaning and serve as a guide for our own worship practices today.

Significance of the Altar in Biblical Worship

The significance of the altar in biblical worship is deeply rooted in its central role in sacrificial rituals and the expression of devotion to God. Throughout the Bible, we see numerous examples of altars being used as a sacred space for offering sacrifices and seeking forgiveness, atonement, and communion with the Divine.

One such example is the story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22:1-14. God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac on an altar. Abraham, in unwavering obedience and trust, built an altar, placed the wood on it, and bound Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice. But just as Abraham raised his knife to slay his son, an angel of the Lord intervened, providing a ram caught in a nearby thicket as a substitute sacrifice. This powerful story showcases the profound significance of the altar as a place of surrender, trust, and divine intervention.

In the Old Testament, the altar was an integral part of religious practices, symbolizing the meeting place between humanity and God. Leviticus 1:3-4 states, ‘If anyone of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish.’ Here, we see that the altar was the designated place where individuals could bring their offerings to seek favor and forgiveness from God.

The altar also served as a tangible connection to the spiritual realm and a focal point for worship and prayer. In Exodus 30:1-10, God instructs Moses to build an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. This altar was placed in the Holy Place of the tabernacle, where the priests would burn incense daily as an act of worship. The sweet aroma of the incense rising from the altar was believed to symbolize the prayers of God’s people ascending to heaven.

Through the act of sacrifice on the altar, individuals demonstrated their commitment and dedication to God, expressing their faith and obedience. In Romans 12:1, the apostle Paul urges believers, ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.’ This verse emphasizes that our lives are to be offered as living sacrifices on the altar of devotion to God, reflecting our willingness to surrender and serve Him with our whole being.

The altar, therefore, holds great importance in biblical worship, serving as a powerful symbol of the bond between humanity and the divine. It represents a place of surrender, trust, and divine intervention, where individuals can seek forgiveness, atonement, and communion with God. Through stories like Abraham and Isaac, and verses from the Bible, we gain a deeper understanding of the profound significance of the altar in biblical worship.

Paul King

I post written versions of my powerful sermons exploring topics like prayer, praise, biblical truths, and more expressions of faith. My church has a deeply spiritual culture, which I try to convey through vivid storytelling and applications in our everyday life. I spread the Good Word with lots of conviction and passion.