Hebrews 9:4 Is there a reason for the discrepancy?
NASB - 6 You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you.
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I am not a Greek scholar, but my understanding is that the Greek word in Hebrews 9:4 that is translated as "altar of incense" is used only twice in the Septuagint (the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek)(in 2 Chronicles 26:19 and Ezekiel 8:11), and in both of those verses, the word indicated a censer (a utensil for holding incense), which the high priest would have used to take coals from the altar of incense with him when he went inside the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement each year, rather than referring to the altar of incense itself. The altar of incense would therefore have been on the outside of the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, as the text in Exodus indicates.
Hebrews 9:4 seems to raise a problem. According to the set-up of the tabernacle in Exodus 30:6, the gold altar of incense is in the Holy Place where the gold candlestick and gold table of shewbread are. Yet here it is said to be in the Holiest which was where the Ark of the Covenant was. Various explanations are given that there is a textual error, that the altar was actually always inside the Holy of Holies, the veil was temporarily moved or withdrawn on the Day of Atonement, or there were two altars of incense. Others say that the censer of burning coal taken off the altar and taken into the Holiest on the Day of Atonement solves this. Some understand I Kings 6:22 to say the altar belongs to the Most Holy Place. None of these are plausible. The reading of Hebrews 9:4 makes it sound like it was permanently in the Holiest and there is no indication this is talking about the Day of Atonement. Hebrews 9:2-5 speaks of the preparation or the outlay of the tabernacle and then verse 6 begins to tell what the Aaronic priests did daily as well as on the Day of Atonement. The set up in Hebrews is clear that this item was in the Most Holy Place or ‘the Holiest of All.’ In Hebrews 9:4, the Greek word for ‘censer’ is the word, ‘thumiaterion,’ found only once here in the New Testament. Many translations mistakenly translate ‘thumiaterion’ as ‘altar’ as the ‘altar of incense.’ However, in Greek, the word ‘altar’ is a different word, ‘thusiasterion.’ Johann Friedrich Meyer in ‘Bibeldeutungen’ (‘Bible Interpretations,’) 1812, proposed that there were two kinds of incense used in the tabernacle. The first, described in Exodus 30:7, 8, burning on coals, was the daily burning incense, which burned morning and night on the burnt altar. The second, was used cold, like smelling salts, diffusing its fragrance in an open gold dish or cup, within the Most Holy Place, Exodus 30:34-36. Nothing in the passage says it was burnt. The wording locates it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting. The ‘Testimony’ was another name for the two tablets of stone placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. That is why Exodus 25:16 calls the Ark of the Covenant the ‘ark of the Testimony.’ So, the second incense was the one described in Hebrews 9:3, 4. This incense was placed behind the second veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, right in the ‘Holiest of All.’ Unfortunately, many versions of the Bible have the words “the golden altar of incense” instead of “golden censer,” which is the reason for the confusion of where the golden altar of incense was. The confusion is cleared up by understanding the two separate items that had two different incenses. The golden altar of incense for burning incense was in the Holy Place, but the censer of gold using cold incense was in the Most Holy Place.
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