What is the meaning of Hebrews 13:10?

Hebrews 13:10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.

  1. Who are the We ?
  2. Which is the altar ?
  3. Who are those who serve?
  4. What is there to eat?
  5. Why have they no right to eat?

2 Answers 2


Heb 13:10 should not be separated from v9:

It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. (NIV)

it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. (NASB)

Thus, the author of Hebrews is making a distinction between grace and ritual eating of special foods; that the emphasis here is the contrast between grace and legalism and between the hose who accept free grace and those who try to earn salvation by works of ceremonial eating.

In v10 the author then turns this into a metaphor by an allusion to the temple/tabernacle altars which had food dedicated for certain people such as the priests and Levites (Lev 6:16-18, 7:15, 16, 31-34, Num 18:8-10, Deut 18:1, 2, see also 1 Cor 9:13). The author does this by saying, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat."

That is, because we "eat" at the altar of grace, those legalists who cling to he old Mosaic system cannot eat at our altar of grace because they insist on eating at the altar of legalism. Or, in other words, while those who cling to the old ceremonial system and maintain their legalism, they will never understand Christ' grace. see also Eph 2:8-10.

Now specifically, to answer the questions:

  1. "We" is the people who understand and accept Christ' grace
  2. The "altar" is the altar of grace (here a metaphor)
  3. "Those who serve" are those that cling to the old ceremonial system of eating ceremonial foods in order to demonstrate their righteousness, which is legalism
  4. I do not quite understand Q4
  5. "no right to eat" translates the word, "exousia", here meaning that one can only participate in Christ's free grace when any idea of earning salvation and righteousness is abandoned. And since those who serve have not abandoned their legalism, they cannot participate in Christ's free grace.

First, “We” is the people who follow and believe in Jesus.

In Hebrews 13:9-13, the people are reminded to persevere in the faith they have received. They’re told that they believe in Jesus, in the difficult times He had to deal with, and now they need to do the same.

The value of their lives derives from the “altar” of the cross, that is, from the sacrifice of Christ that is renewed in the Eucharist (v. 10). Each person strongly believed that Jesus died for them. Each person therefore had an “altar” in a “tent” (i.e. within himself/herself).

Jesus had lived through some very difficult times, often dealing with people outside tents like theirs (i.e. most high priests, pharisees, etc. who disliked, possibly hated Jesus). Now the latter might approach the believers, who would have to be careful and persevere.

Hebrews 13:9-10 (ESV)

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[a] have no right to eat.

Most high priests and pharisees had never seen the altar and tent the people had; they’d always been “outside” the tent. Thus, people unlike the followers are “those who serve”; they’ll offer things such as “foods, diverse and strange teachings”.

In Hebrews 13:11-12, blood is mentioned, first from the bodies of animals based on what the high priests did, but, more importantly, what Jesus’ did in giving up His blood when He died for us.

This all ties into the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. This explains "there to eat" and "no right to eat".

Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”

In summary, at the Last Supper, Jesus said He would offer up His body and His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We needed to strongly believe that, trying not to be misled. Furthermore, at the Last Supper, Jesus showed us we could take bread and wine and offer them up to God for consecration. We’d have Jesus’ body and blood to eat and drink when we believed that, just as the disciples did.

What’s “there to eat”? Jesus. Obtaining Jesus in the form of bread and wine.

Why have "they" “no right to eat”? “They” are the ones who didn't treat Jesus correctly. Since they'll not grasp Him psychologically, they won't in His other form, consecrated bread and wine.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.