The Greek Altar in the New Testament and Inter-Testamental Periods -- By: W. Harold Mare

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 10:1 (Winter 1969)
Article: The Greek Altar in the New Testament and Inter-Testamental Periods
Author: W. Harold Mare


The Greek Altar in the New Testament and Inter-Testamental Periods

W. Harold Mare

Professor of New Testament Language and Literature
Covenant Theological Seminary

In Acts 17:23 is to be found the only use in the New Testament of the word, bōmos, that common Greek term used in the religious world of the New Testament and earlier times for the high built altar of burnt offering upon which heathen sacrifices were performed. The bōmos in Acts 17 is an altar of the Greeks at Athens.

In the discussion of Acts 17:23, commentaries on Acts generally have little or nothing to say about the scarce use of bōmos in the New Testament, although sometimes1 they give information about the existence of pagan altars dedicated to unknown gods. In connection with the concept of altar in general, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Kittel discusses thusiastērion at length but has little to say about bōmos.2

What is the background of, and evidence for, the usage of bōmos in relationship to thusiastērion? An analysis of the single occurrence of the word, bōmos, in the New Testament in comparison with the usage of the word in earlier Greek literature of the Old Testament and in the Apocryphal books of I and II Maccabees and Sirach,3 as well as in selective, contemporary Greek literature of the Jewish writers, Philo and Josephus, and in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers in the period subsequent to the New Testament, is the subject of this study.

Bōmos in the Septuagint Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament

It is to be observed that there are many references in the New Testament to two kinds of Jewish altars, the altar of burnt offering located outside the tabernacle or temple and the incense altar situated inside the sacred sanctuary, both of which are exclusively designated by thusiastērion, never by bōmos. What is the reason for this selectivity? An historical glance back into the inter-testamental period will give light as to the viewpoint and resultant usage of the New Testament in regard to this important religious concept of altar.

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