Why was cut stone allowed to be used for the first and second temple, when God was quite adamant in not building His altar with any stone touched by metal tools?

Joshua 8:31 (NASB95)

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.

  • 4
    welcome. You should probably include biblical references so that people will understand the issue you are dealing with more easily. Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 15:21
  • See also Exodus 20:25. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it [KJV]
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 19:13

6 Answers 6


I see no contradiction.

Deuteronomy 27:5-6 says:

There, too, you shall build an altar to your God יהוה, an altar of stones. Do not wield an iron tool over them;

you must build the altar of your God יהוה of unhewn* stones. You shall offer on it burnt offerings to your God יהוה,

The altar is situated inside the Temple, but the Temple is not itself the altar. The altar must be made of uncut stones, but the Temple has no such restrictions.

1 Kings 6:7 says:

When the House was built, only finished stones cut at the quarry were used, so that no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in the House while it was being built.

I.e. the stones were finished in the quarry not because of any restriction on using finished stones but to prevent the sound of such work being heard in the Temple. The most obvious reason why such a sound might want to be avoided is that people hearing the noise of stones being finished within the temple might incorrectly assume that stones for the altar were being worked on, rather than stones for the Temple that contains the altar, and so believe the altar to be invalidated.

Compare the principle in Rabbinic Judaism of Marit Ayin where actions that are permitted, but might appear to others to be prohibited (for instance eating kosher food that appears non-kosher) are best avoided.

  • Good answer Tristan. Marit Ayin is also the principle that Paul uses to deal with the issue of food sacrificed to idols. Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 16:54

Well the glib answer is that it would be hard to build a temple with uncut stones.

The more serious answer is that you are right, the temple is a work of man and so must point to something else, namely that God dwells in man and the temples built by man are just shadows of this truth.

Acts 7:48–51 (KJV 1900)

48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, 49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? 50 Hath not my hand made all these things? 51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

So then why was the temple built, and why did God demand it?

Zechariah 8:9 (KJV 1900)

9 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.

All things that can be seen - all of creation - is God's speech. It's symbolic, as speech is a representation of something else and is an attempt at communication.

The spirit is real, the speech of the spirit is what we can see and touch. So when we talk about spiritual things, we are using words, but when God talks, worlds are created, nations come alive, etc. But it's still just a representation of something else and is meant primarily to communicate something more real rather to enjoy as an end in and of itself.

Exodus 25:40 (KJV 1900)

40 And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.

E.g. Moses designed the tabernacle according to a pattern of what he saw in the spirit, in his theophany. The temple itself is not the theophany, it is a pattern, a metaphor, of what he saw in the spirit. There was a pedagogical purpose behind it all.

Then you can ask, why didn't God build the temple by Himself? But God did, he made Adam's flesh before the fall, and Jesus' flesh as the replacement, - without human effort. But Israel also built two temples of stone with human effort as copies or imitations of God's temple, because the child copies what the father does.

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up...But he spake of the temple of his body. John 2.19-21 KJV

The need of creation to echo back the words of the creator is inevitable and healthy, but you get into problems when the copies are elevated above the originals, which would be when the child prefers the work of their own hands to that of the father.

To this end, the uncut stone in the altar is God teaching us that the place of sacrifice must not be polluted by human effort - we must come to him in utter weakness with no efforts of our own - but the service around the altar requires great effort (courses of priests, and vessels, and garments, etc) using many instruments made by man. So this is again another picture of man, who labors constantly but at the center where he meets God, man must always be at rest with no effort and perfect meekness, like wind circling a place of perfect stillness (Ps 46.10).

  • beautiful answer. +1 Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 12:55

The problem arises from Deuteronomy 27:5

And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones; you shall lift up no iron tool upon them.

1 Kings 6 deals the issue this way.

The temple was constructed using finished stones cut at the quarry, so that no hammer or chisel or any other iron tool was heard in the temple while it was being built.

One rather fanciful explanation is given in the Talmud. Solomon used a shamir apparently a type of worm to cut his stones

This however, leaves another scripture possibly unanswered:

as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, “an altar of unhewn stones, upon which no man has lifted an iron tool”; and they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings. -- Joshua 8:31

This issue can be answered by explaining that the altar itself did not use "hewn" stone, but the Temple edifices did.

There is also the possibility that the Temple builders did not strictly follow the teaching of Joshua 8, let alone Deuteronomy. One hermeneutical tool we can use to deal with this question is source criticism. A major theory in this discipline holds that the Temple was actually built and decorated prior to writing of Deuteronomy and Joshua, both of which were written in the time of King Josiah. If so, then it is understandable that the builders would not follow the rules set down in those books, because they had not yet been written.

For further reading on the theological agenda of Joshua and Deuteronomy see The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein


The two situations are totally different:

  1. Stone Altar at Mt Ebal

Deut 27:4-8 - And when you have crossed the Jordan, you are to set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I am commanding you today, and you are to coat them with plaster. Moreover, you are to build there an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones. You must not use any iron tool on them. You shall build the altar of the LORD your God with uncut stones and offer upon it burnt offerings to the LORD your God. There you are to sacrifice your peace offerings, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the LORD your God. And you shall write distinctly upon these stones all the words of this law.”

The incident in Josh 8:30-31 obeys this command

Josh 8:30-32 - At that time Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal to the LORD, the God of Israel, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of uncut stones on which no iron tool has been used.” And on it they offered burnt offerings to the LORD, and they sacrificed peace offerings. And there in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua inscribed on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written.

Thus, Moses' instruction in Deut 27 was implemented exactly as required on a single altar at Mt Ebal.

  1. Temple in Jerusalem

The instruction above applied to the altar at Mt Ebal and had no relevance to the temple in Jerusalem. Further, the temple had two altars:

  • The altar of burnt offerings, made of wood and bronze, Ex 27:1-8, 38:1-7. No stone was to be used.
  • The altar of incense, or the golden altar made of wood overlayed with gold, Ex 30:1-10, 37:25-29. No stone was to be used.

Identical materials were used in Solomon's temple, 2 Chron 4:12-16. The temple was made of cut stones and overlayed with wood and gold. This did not contradict the instruction in Deut 27 as the temple is not an altar.

Again, the instruction in Deut 27 applied to the single altar on Mt Ebal, nothing else.


I suggest that it has to do with permanence. As Israel entered the land they were told about the place that the LORD would choose to make his dwelling - which in David's time became Jerusalem. Mt Ebal was not that place, nor was Shiloh or any other place in which there were altars before the Tabernacle came to Jerusalem and then was replaced by the Temple. An altar made from cut stones requires a long time to make, and speaks of permanence. All of the early altars in the land (including those built by the patriarchs) were only temporary, in anticipation of the permanent Jerusalem Temple. Possibly that was the issue with the 'High Places' later in Israel's history - they were places that people went to to seek the LORD, yet they were not approved because they were obsolete once the Temple was in place. So it was 'evil' for latter king to not remove the high places, but it was OK when Solomon sought the LORD at a high place because he had not yet built the Temple. The discovery of what's thought to be Joshua's altar on Mt Ebal (and the more recent discovery of a curse tablet on the site) is evidence that Israel continued to use these high places, even after they had become obsolete and should have been destroyed. Then, in the fullness of time, God destroyed the Temple made from cut stones, because that now has become obsolete since Christ and the Temple he is building out of living stones has come.


Alchemy would allow for the cutting of stone without hands.... Consider that in the new Testament, Yeshua clearly did not scold the Mystiks who followed the starres to find Him. Nowhere in Scripture are these Mystiks scolded. The "occult" Perspective of the Nativity scene is actually quite empowering. The use of infusing starr virtues into people and things would appear to be the Worke of Astrology, yet this would not be acceptable due to the fallen. So another Way, would be in the transfer of Light from Spirit to Matter. This would in fact bypass the "iron toole", if one is inclined to question down this road of thinking.

Hopefully I have added some dimension to the question at hand.


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.