I’ve been loving my Bible study time as I work my way through the Bible in a year. The term “altar” appears many times. I am learning that altars are sacred locations where human beings go to meet with God. However, I have been struggling with answers to questions like; “how many times is altar mentioned in the bible?”
The number of times the word “altar” appears in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, varies depending on the Bible translation. According to one school of thought, the word appears 374 times in the King James version. Scholars at Connect Us disagree, claiming that the word “altar” appears 455 times in the Bible.
In this post, we will go over what an altar is, what the Bible says about altars, who built the first altar, and much more, so keep reading to find out more.
What is an altar in the Bible?
An altar is a structure created to meet with God and perform certain religious rituals. As stated in Genesis 8:20, numerous people erected altars as places of worship, offering, and sacrificial giving throughout the Old Testament. The name derives from the Latin word “altare,” which simply means “high place.” Altars were sacred structures created at specific sites where people devoted themselves and connected with God. Altars were made of earth or stone and featured a flat surface on which to place an offering or burned sacrifice.
Got Questions defines the word altar as a designated site where a person consecrates himself to someone or something. Many churches in modern Christianity feature altars, places of worship positioned at the very front of the church. These are known as pulpits, and they are where the pastor stands when giving a sermon, calling people to prayer, performing dedications, and joining couples who marry in the church. The altar is thought to be a meeting place for God and his people.
What does the Bible say about altars?
The Bible says a lot about altars because they were sacred locations where God met with His people. God specifies how the altars should be built, their duties, and even who can and cannot approach the altars.
The function of the altars
God explicitly designates altars for distinct ceremonies and duties in the Bible. One of the purposes of altars was to atone for sins by shedding the blood of a pure animal. Leviticus 17:11. Furthermore, according to Leviticus 1:1–9, altars were places where people gave burned sacrifices, peace offerings, and grain offerings as a form of consecration and devotion.
Instructions on erecting altars
God is said to be highly particular about how places of worship should be designed. He explicitly instructs in the Old Testament on how and when altars should be built, as well as how they should be dedicated. This is captured in Deuteronomy 27:5–6 and Exodus 20:24–26.
Warning against false altars
In Exodus 34:12–14, God warns the Israelites against entertaining other nations that build altars to their gods. He told the Israelites to destroy the altars so that they would not be swayed by a different teaching about the true God, as is written in Deuteronomy 12:1-4.
How many altars are mentioned in the Bible?
The Bible has thousands of altars mentioned, and there would not be enough space to capture them all here. However, a few examples of altars raised in the Bible are the altar of Abraham (Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 22:9), the altar of Noah (Genesis 8:20), and the altar of Moses (Exodus 17:15; Exodus 24:4), to mention a few.
The two most significant altars throughout the Bible are believed to be Following the theophany on biblical Mount Sinai, only two altars are described in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple: the Altar of Incense and the Altar of Burnt Offering. These two altars are the main altars that tie together the salvation thread throughout the Bible, as they carry the essence of all the other altars already raised by different individuals in scripture.
Who built the first altar in the Bible?
Noah constructed the first altar. The word “altar” appears in the Bible for the first time in Genesis 8:20, when Noah steps out of the Ark and constructs an altar as a sign of appreciation and praise to God for rescuing his family. However, some theologians suggest that the idea of altars was first brought to life by Cain and Abel when they presented their offerings to God in Genesis 4:3–4, but we cannot confirm this because the Bible does not mention the two brothers building altars to God.
10 instances where the altar appears in the Bible
Genesis 8:20: In this verse, Noah builds an altar to thank the Lord for rescuing his family.
Exodus 24:4: Moses built an altar to commemorate how God had revealed himself to his people during a tough time.
2 Samuel 24:25: David built an altar for peace, and God honored this by saving his people from an impending plague.
Hosea 8:11—God sent a warning through the prophet Hosea as he was angered by the false altars that people had erected to worship idols.
Romans 12:1: Christians are urged to present their bodies and hearts as temples of worship for God.
Genesis 13:18: Abram, before he was Abraham, builds an altar in praise of God.
Genesis 22:9: Abraham adheres to and obeys God’s instruction by building an altar to sacrifice his only child.
Genesis 33:20: Jacob raised an altar and recognized God as his defender.
Joshua 8:30–35: Joshua builds an altar according to the laws of Moses with pure stone that iron tools have never touched.
Judges 6:24:35: “Gideon erected an altar and called the place; the Lord is peace in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”
What does an altar represent in the Bible?
The altar represents various things in the Bible, which include:
Covenants and dedication: Altars were used to negotiate agreements and seal vows in God’s presence; people also came to consecrate and dedicate their families, work, or even communities to God.
Sacrifice and worship: Altars were sites where people honored, adored, and worshiped God by sacrificing and offering sacrifices and offerings.
Sacred meeting places: The altars represented hallowed locations where people would go to seek wisdom, forgiveness, and fellowship from God.
Christ’s sacrifice: The altar takes on a new meaning in the New Testament to represent Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Reconciliation and penance: Blood was shed during sacrifices, and it was through this blood that people sought God for the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation, both between God and man and between individuals.
How many people built altars to God in the Old Testament?
The exact number of people who built altars in the Bible during the Old Testament may be difficult to determine. All prominent figures in the Old Testament, however, constructed altars. It is estimated that 17 people built altars in the Old Testament; however, this number could be lower or higher. To name a few, altars were built by Solomon, David, Jacob, Abraham, Noah, Joshua, Gideon, and Samuel. Altars were regarded as meeting points with God, and they played a significant role in the lives of the Israelites. Some of the altars erected were;
After Joshua crossed the Jordan River, he built an altar to remember how God had rescued the Israelites.
Noah Built an altar to thank God for saving his family from the deadly perils of the great flood.
Elijah erected an altar before the Lord when he was challenging the prophets of Baal.
Abraham built several altars in his walk of faith with a God that was new to him.
Were there altars in the New Testament?
Yes, there were altars, but unlike the physical altars referenced in the Old Testament, the altar mentioned in the New Testament is spiritual. Because Christ’s death on the cross was the final sacrifice, Christians are not obliged to physically sacrifice animals and spill blood for atonement; this was covered by Christ’s death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 13:10.
According to Matthew 23:18–20, the altar represents Christ’s sacrifice for humanity as well as a sacred site for forming covenants and offering sacrifices. Christians also think that their hearts can be used as altars to God by allowing God to reside within them and living lives that please and respect God.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.