Bible Study: Understanding the Significance of Altars

In this comprehensive article, we explore the multifaceted topic of altars within the Bible, revisiting their instances, meanings, significance, and evolutions.

Last Updated:
April 28, 2024
8 Minutes

Table of Contents

How many times does the term 'altar' appear in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament?

As students and scholars of faith, we must delve into the scriptural references to deepen our understanding. The term 'altar' carries deep meaning and significance across both the Old and New Testaments. Drawing from the vast biblical corpus, 'altar' is mentioned 378 times in the scriptures, spanning the Old and New Testaments. This pervasive recurrence underscores the term's profound import within biblical narratives and theological tenets. The Old Testament, as the larger of the two sections, inevitably contains a wealth of references to 'altar.' The key uses portray it as a place of sacrifice and worship, covenants, and divine communication. This is where mankind extended their devotion towards God, sought forgiveness, and established pacts embodying divine-human relationships. In contrast, the New Testament, while shorter, does contain crucial instances of the term. Here, the altar primarily symbolizes Christ's sacrifice. The focus shifts from physical altars to the metaphorical 'altar' of Christ's body on the cross, representing the ultimate offering for humanity's sins. Thus, while each Testament utilizes the term 'altar' differently, both hold it as a poignant and powerful symbol of the relationship between God and His people. 


  • The term 'altar' appears 378 times in the Bible, maintaining a consistent thread throughout the Old and New Testaments.
  • In the Old Testament, the altar is portrayed as a venue for sacrificial offerings, worship, establishing covenants, and divine dialogue.
  • The New Testament reframes the concept into a metaphor, with Christ's body on the cross forming a spiritual 'altar' in lieu of a physical construct.
  • Despite the contrasting depictions, both Testaments maintain the 'altar' as a significant symbol of the divine-human relationship.

Who built the first altar in the Bible?

In the labyrinth of religious narration that comprises the Bible, the altar serves as a persistent and significant motif. Our narrative commences in the book of Genesis, with Abram, later known as Abraham, who stands as the pioneer in altar construction. 

Scriptures found in Genesis 12:7 declare, "Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him." It is of paramount importance to note that Abram constructed these altars as a gesture of worship and reverence, and to commemorate God's theophany, providing humanity with a model of faithful disposition during divine interactions.

The primary altar constructed by Abram, as reported in Genesis, heralded a new dawn of prayer and worship, but it was most certainly not the last from this faithful patriarch. Genesis 13:4 furthers our understanding, recounting, "to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai; to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the LORD." This again demonstrates the repeated building and use of religious altars and accents the critical role they played in varying forms of worship during this epoch. 

Here, we draw a conclusion that Abram was not only devoted to God but was also keen on establishing a path for future generations to connect with God. He indeed enshrined the principle of setting up altars, making it integral to the fabric of spiritual expression and prayerful communion with our heavenly Father


  • The first known altar in the Bible was crafted by Abram.
  • The book of Genesis, specifically Genesis 12:7, evidences Abram creating an altar following a direct encounter with God.
  • Abram didn’t stop at one but made multiple altars, reaffirming their importance in commemorating divine manifestations and fostering communication with God.
  • Abram's creation of the altar set a precedent, establishing this religious act as a vehicle for worship, prayer and divine engagement.

Why were altars important in the Bible?

Altars served as pivotal points of communion between humanity and the divine in Biblical times, acting as a conduit for worship, sacrifice, and intimate spiritual experiences. The altar transcended the realm of the physical and served as a symbol of the spiritual connection between mankind and God. Our ancestors used altars as vessels for tangible expressions of their faith, offering up sacrifices as a testament of their devotion and love for the Lord. 

God's word spoke life into the practices surrounding altars, instructing His people on the significance, construction, and use of these sacred spaces. In Exodus, God commands Moses to construct an altar of incense, symbolizing the perpetual nature of their worship and their continuous remembrance of the Divine. This exemplifies how altars were paramount in guiding the spiritual ceremonies of the people. 

Abram, later known as Abraham, is a prime example of the role altars played in worship and prayer. He constructed altars in response to God's call, marking significant moments of divine intervention and blessings in his life. These instances highlighted how an altar was not only a place of sacrifice but also a monument of praise and thanksgiving. 

Altars thus played a multifaceted role in the Bible, representing various aspects of spirituality: a place of sacrifice, a monument of thanksgiving, a focal point of divine encounters, and a constant reminder of God's presence. These interpretations underline the profound importance of altars in the life of the faithful, serving as a bridge between the mortal and the divine, between the seen and the unseen, and the heart of the worshipper and the heart of God. 


  • Altars were pivotal conduits for worship, allowing humans to connect intimately with God.
  • God provided specific instructions regarding the construction and use of altars, emphasising their spiritual significance.
  • The Bible presents altars as multifaceted spiritual symbols representing sacrifice, thanksgiving, divine encounters, and a perpetual reminder of God's presence.
  • Examples from biblical figures like Abram underline the important role altars played in expressing faith and marking significant divine interventions.

What is the significance of altars in the Bible?

Deeper examination of Scripture unfolds the profound symbolism of altars. Predominantly, altars in the Bible signified a place of interaction and communion between humanity and the Divine. Here dwellers approached God in reverence, acknowledging Him in manifold expressions – prayer, sacrifice, and worship. This approach was not merely a physical act but a spiritual engagement, a humbling surrender of oneself, acknowledging one's need for divine intervention. 

Altars also acted as visible symbols of God's presence among His people. Be it Abraham's act of constructing an altar in response to God’s promise (Genesis 12:1-7), or the grandeur of Solomon’s temple altar embodying the glory of God, we see the altar serving as a divine touchpoint, constantly reminding us of His promises and His omnipresence. 

Sacrifices made on these altars recount the redemptive work of Christ, with the Old Testament altars foreshadowing His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Every burnt offering made was indeed a potent predication of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, thus manifesting God's masterplan of salvation for mankind through the figure of the altar. 

Through these interpretations, we perceive how the physical structure of the altar was often layered with profound spiritual and symbolical significance. They were not mere mediums for ritual execution, but rather portals transpiring the divine-human interface, manifesting divine promises, portraying God’s salvation plan, and stimulating tangible connections with the celestial. 


  • Altars in the Bible symbolized a point of communion between God and humans.
  • These structures were reminders of God's omnipresence and His promises.
  • Through the act of sacrifice, altars foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ in the Old Testament.
  • Altars served layered spiritual and symbolic significance, and were not mere mediums for ritualistic execution.

What is the symbolism of an altar in the Bible?

In the Holy Scriptures, the altar holds profound symbolic meanings. It acts as the point of intersection between the earthly and the celestial, personifying the deep desire of humankind to connect with the Divine. Altars display both acknowledgment and appreciation of God through various forms of worship, serving as the very cradle of our spiritual communion with our Creator. 

The altar is a metaphor for the heart of worship itself, wherein sacrifices of praise, gratitude, and conviction are presented to God. Since the days of Abel onwards, altars have held pivotal roles in both tabernacles and temples, foretelling the sacrifice and life's work of Christ. One compelling example in our sacred text is the narrative of Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar, comprising a potent symbol of obedience, faith, and divine redemption. 

Abraham's altar in Genesis 12.1-7, called the Altar of Praise, enacts another meaningful emblem. It symbolizes the breadth and reach of divine blessing, demonstrating the transformative power of faithful response to God's call - an essential tenet of our belief. Therefore, understanding the symbolic essence of altars can inspire an enriched appreciation of our faith's central narratives, deepening our engagement with our spiritual journey. 

To summarize: 

  • The altar symbolically represents the desire and means to connect with God.
  • It plays a cardinal role in human expression of worship, with various forms of offerings.
  • Altars have historically been connected with significant Biblical events and figures, highlighting themes of obedience, faith, and divine redemption.
  • The Altar of Praise, particularly, brings to life the scope of divine blessing associated with answering God's call.
  • Altars enhance our understanding of key aspects of our faith and spiritual journey.

Is there a symbolic meaning to the materials used to build altars in the Bible?

Indeed, the materials used in the construction of altars in the Bible hold profound symbolic significance. From the types of woods to the various precious metals, each component is carefully chosen, not merely for its physical properties and durability, but for its metaphoric implications in relation to the divine. The spiritual and allegorical implications of these materials cast a new light on biblical texts, assisting us in a deeper understanding of our faith and its teachings. 

The reference to 'horned altars of burnt offering' in Exodus 27:1-8, for example, provides explicit instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle altar. It was to be made of 'acacia wood' and overlaid with 'bronze'. Acacia wood, known for its durability and resilience, serves as a symbol of the enduring faithfulness of God and His everlasting covenant with humanity. Bronze, in biblical times, was associated with judgement due to its production through fire, suggesting the purifying and judging nature of God. 

In examining altars like Solomon's Temple Altar or the many Patriarchal Altars mentioned throughout Genesis, we see a recurring use of specific materials, all rich in symbolism. To delve deeper into the significance of these materials, it is constructive to turn our attention to their origin and process, their physical properties, and their uses in other biblical contexts

Remember: the materials used for the construction of the altars were not arbitrary choices, but held deep spiritual and symbolic meanings that communicated various aspects of God's nature and aspects of our relationship with Him. Whether it is the enduring acacia wood symbolizing God's unwavering promise, or the purifying bronze representative of divine judgement, each material used in the construction of biblical altars adds an additional layer of meaning to our understanding of worship in the biblical context. 


  • The materials used in the construction of altars in the Bible hold deep spiritual and symbolic significance.
  • Acacia wood, used in the construction of the Tabernacle altar, symbolizes God's enduring faithfulness and His everlasting covenant with humanity.
  • Bronze, also used in the Tabernacle altar, is associated with divine judgement due to its production through fire.
  • The choice of materials for the construction of altars was not arbitrary, but was meant to communicate varying aspects of God's nature and aspects of our relationship with Him.

How have the interpretations of biblical altars evolved over time?

Over the centuries, the understanding and interpretation of altars in biblical texts have significantly shifted. In the earliest recordings of scripture, patriarchal and communal altars, often temporary in nature, primarily functioned as sites for making offerings to God. These offerings were understood as tokens of gratitude or ways to seek divine favor, a core aspect of early worship. Several Old Testament leaders, such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, are depicted constructing and using altars in this manner. 

Following the establishment of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem under King Solomon, altars became more regulated and institutionalized. The meaning expanded as the altar began to symbolize not just acknowledgment and worship of God, but also mankind's approach to and communion with the divine. Altars within these sacred structures held deeper theological significance, foreshadowing the sacrificial work of Christ. 

The altar in the Tabernacle, for instance, was seen to prefigure Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross. The sacrificial elements of the altar foreshadowed the shedding of Christ's own blood for the redemption of mankind. Similarly, the incense altar in the Holy Place stood as a symbol of the prayers of the saints, which Christ, our High Priest, presents before the Father in heaven. 

Under the New Covenant, brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, physical altars took on symbolic and spiritual meanings. The idea of the altar transitioned to the spiritual realm with believers themselves being seen as 'living altars' offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. This shift, where the altar became less of an architectural reality and more of a spiritual construct, signaled a significant evolution in the understanding of altars as per the biblical narrative. 


  • Altars in the Bible have evolved significantly over time, from places of offerings and sacrifices in patriarchal eras to sites of regulated worship during Tabernacle and Temple times.
  • The institutionalization of altars in the Tabernacle and the Temple expanded their representation to include communion with God and foreshadowing Christ's sacrifice.
  • Under the New Covenant, physical altars became symbolic, drawing a clear connection between believers and 'living altars,' thereby highlighting the spiritual shift in the understanding of biblical altars.

Are altars still relevant in modern Christian practices according to the Bible?

Is the relevance of altars relegated merely to the annals of ancient times, confined to the parchment and ink of the biblical world? Or do they bear importance in our contemporaneous Christian practices? Indeed, one might grasp the answer in the shifting paradigm of our understanding of altars. 

The Bible, particularly in the era of the Old Testament, presents the altar as a physical structure for sacrifice, a hinge between humanity and divinity. Yet, the advent of Christ, the ultimate sacrifice as depicted in the New Testament, transmutes this perception. Hebrews 13:10 avows, "We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat." This altar is not constructed from earthly materials, but is embodied in Christ. 

In the context of the New Testament and ongoing Christian tradition, the altar often speaks to a more existential reality than a tangible structure. It signifies a place of surrender, of inward offering and spiritual communion with God. 

A distinct exploration of this perspective can be found in Romans 12:1, which urges believers to "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship." Here, surely, the believer's body becomes the 'altar', the site of this living sacrifice. 

In essence, the relevance of altars in modern Christian practice is much more profound than their physical presence. It lies in the core spiritual dynamics of surrender, repentance, and communion with God. The altar, even in its absence, prompts us to question: Are we offering our lives as a living sacrifice pleasing to God? 


  • The relevance of biblical altars in contemporary Christian practices lies in their spiritual, rather than physical, embodiment.
  • According to the Bible's narrative, altars symbolize places of surrender, inward offering, and spiritual communion.
  • The New Testament emphasizes believers offering their bodies as living sacrifices, in essence, transforming the believer's body into an 'altar'.
  • The existential relevance of altars in today's Christianity moves beyond their physical presence, emphasizing the spiritual dynamics of surrender, repentance, and communion with God.

Facts and Stats

The term 'altar' is mentioned approximately 400 times in the Bible.

The first mention of an altar in the Bible is in Genesis 8:20 when Noah built an altar to the Lord after the flood.

Altars in the Bible were typically used for sacrifices, worship, and making covenants with God.

The Bible often describes altars as being made of earth or uncut stones.

In the Old Testament, altars were often erected in places where God had done something significant or appeared to someone.

In the New Testament, the concept of the altar is more spiritual, symbolizing the believer's heart, where sacrifices for sin are made and where God communicates with the believer.

The Bible warns against the misuse of altars for idol worship or for making insincere sacrifices.


Luke 1:11

Exodus 30:1–6

Frequently asked questions

Leave a comment
Christian Pure Team
Written By:
Christian Pure Team
Find Out More
Christian Pure Merch

Explore our Products

Handcrafted christian products to bless your home.

Back to top

Related Articles

Instagram @type_writer

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.