The Epistle to the Hebrews spends a lot of time interpreting various aspects of Israel's worship at the tabernacle or temple. All kinds of furniture and practices are mentioned that would have been associated with the priesthood and the temple - the brazen altar (7:13), the daily sacrifice (10:11), the altar of incense (9:4), the ark of the covenant (9:4), the lamp stand (9:2), cleansing by the sprinkling with blood (12:24), etc...

And yet, while the tabernacle is mentioned, the word temple (ναός) never appears in the letter - neither in references to Solomon's temple nor Herod's. This strikes me as unusual if not deliberate (but to what effect?). Why doesn't Hebrews mention the temple anywhere?

  • There are numerous threads to chase in the Temple vs Tabernacle discussion-I chose the one that made the most sense to me(IMHO).
    – Tau
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 6:52
  • A connection has been made between the perception of Temple criticism in Stephen's speech (Acts 7) and this feature of Hebrews: see Simon, "St Stephen..." JEH 1951, or Larsson, "Temple Criticism" NTS 1993. Possibly the "bullseye" treatment is S. Motyer, "The Temple in Hebrews: Is it There?", in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, ed. by D. Alexander and S. Gathercole (Paternoster, 2004), not accessible to me.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 9:27
  • 1
    I think the basic answer is that the Hebrews author is comparing the foundational meaning of the covenant established with Moses as a mediator and the new covenant established with Jesus as the mediator. It is all about the founding of the different covenants, how they are similar, how different and how the second is argued from the first, under its first principles. There is no real benefit then to focus on things at a period after Moses, i.e. at the time of David and Solomon as this was just a continuation of the principles established during the time of the tabernacle.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 6:21
  • A Correction: This question might be wrongfully presupposing that "ναός" is the only word for "Temple" in Greek, but this isn't true; (see Matthew 4:5 - ἐπὶ τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ). ἱερόν, Kata Biblon Lexicon. So, it is necessary to see why/if other terms are not used, (σκηνή, Hebrews 8:5). I hope someone can explain this question in terms of the spiritual metaphors used throughout; I wonder if it is relevant that the writer rejects that an earthly temple or law, can reflect the heavenly version. Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 21:52

3 Answers 3


In the Greek New Testament, there seems to be the distinction between the Tabernacle and the Temple, which "houses" the Tabernacle.

For the example, both the Greek word for "temple" (ναός) and "tabernacle" (σκηνή) occur together in the following verse.

Revelation 15:5
Καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα εἶδον, καὶ ἠνοίγη ὁ ναὸς τῆς σκηνῆς τοῦ μαρτυρίου ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ...
[After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened...]

The idea of the temple "housing" the tabernacle is evident, because the word σκηνή is in the genitive singular form. Thus the tabernacle is part of the temple. To put it another way, there would be no Jewish temple were there no Jewish tabernacle inside the temple. So the word "tabernacle" can be what in hermeneutics we call metonymy for the word "temple."

Another excellent example of understanding some more nuances between temple and tabernacle is the comparison of Revelation 21:3 and Revelation 21:22. In the former verse, the tabernacle of the Godhead (σκηνή) will reside among His people, who are stated to be the "heavenly Jerusalem" (Rev 21:3), which is also mentioned in the Book of Hebrews (Heb 12:22). In other words, the tabernacle in heaven is "housed" within the heavenly Jerusalem, which is "the general assembly of the church of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb 12:23). Thus there is a temple in this heavenly Jerusalem which "houses" the tabernacle today (Rev 11:19).

Finally, we see the merging of the tabernacle and temple at the end of the Revelation. That is, when the profane is eliminated from existence (for example, the curse on the ground is lifted in Rev 22:3), then what is holy is no longer required to be "housed" in a temple, because there is nothing for the temple to separate from what is profane.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NASB)
22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The imagery of gold being transparent (Rev 21:18), and of angelic measurements being the same as human measurements (Rev 21:17) suggests that the visible and invisible will be merge. That is, the "material" (visible) and the "spiritual" (invisible) will be one, and therefore no temple will "house" the tabernacle. The tabernacle of the Godhead resides within the heavenly Jerusalem (now descended to the new earth), but there is no longer any temple to "house" the tabernacle.

Finally, and in conclusion, Herod's temple had contained the tabernacle, and the wording of the following verse seems to indicate that the Book of Hebrews was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Hebrews 9:8-9 (NASB)
8 The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9 which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience.

Thus the writer of Hebrews had in mind the actual temple, because when he states "at the present time" the tabernacle at that time was in fact "housed" in the Temple of Herod. So the word "tabernacle" (σκηνή) can be metonymy for the word "temple" (ναός) in the Book of Hebrews.


To be in God's "Resting Place" is to be in His tabernacle (mshknuth). This is the place of rest; this is also the place where the brazen altar, the altar of incense, lampstand, and the Holy of Holies are found. Until Solomon's Temple (approx. 1000 BC), the tabernacle was where God dwelt, all the laws concerning worship, sacrifices, rituals were prescribed for the tabernacle. In Psalm 132, David says:

LORD, remember David, and all his afflictions:

2 How he sware unto the LORD, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob;

3 Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed;

4 I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids,

5 Until I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob

The word "habitation" in Hebrew is translated "tabernacles", giving us the idea that it is not "just a place of worship" [Temple] but "resting place of God" [Tabernacle].

The author of Hebrews makes numerous references to tabernacle, describing in detail the different aspects which would have been familiar to his audience, and the lessons drawn from the various objects contained within.

This is in contrast to the Temple; which most have concluded existed during the writing of Hebrews, yet a place of struggle for those Hebrew Christians undergoing persecution for their beliefs by the Sanhedrin and other Jewish authorities.

One cannot make a conclusion for or against the disregarding of the word "Temple", yet everyone can agree that the "tabernacle of God" is what makes the Temple the Temple-it's holiness is derived from the Presence of the One Who Makes It Holy-God Himself.


My answer to the question is fuond in my recent monograph, Hebrews and the Temple: Attitudes to the Temple in Second Temple Judaism and in Hebrews (Brill, 2017) (+ Google Books limited preview).

I follow and develop the ideas of Motyer, "The Temple in Hebrews: Is it There?", in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, ed. by D. Alexander and S. Gathercole (Paternoster, 2004) and Peter W. L. Walker, "Jerusalem in Hebrews 13:9-14 and the Dating of the Epistle." TynBul 45 (1994): 39-71.

  • 3
    Thanks for pointing us to your book on this, and welcome to Hermeneutics.SE. The intention of these Q&As on the "answer" side is to function adequately without reference to external links/sources. So could edit your answer to summarize your argument briefly here (add the abstract, perhaps)? I have edited in a link to the Walker article as well (the Motyer article is linked in a comment to the question itself). Thanks!
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 21:36

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