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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. The writer of Hebrews mentions the ‘golden θυμιατήριον’ first among the pieces of furniture which belonged to the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:4). He had in view Exodus 30:1-10, which is generally regarded as one of the latest strata of P. His words raise a question as to the meaning of the word θυμιατήριον, and another as to the position of the article so named, both of which questions have been the subject of much controversy. (1) Authorized Version and Revised Version , following the Vulgate-‘aureum habens thuribulum’-render θυμιατήριον by ‘censer’; but Revised Version margin and American Revised Version , like Clement Alex., Calvin, and most modern scholars, translate it as ‘altar of incense.’ Etymologically the word-a neut. adj.-may mean anything employed in the burning of incense, whether a censer in which, or an altar upon which, the act is performed. When θυμιατήριον occurs in the Septuagint -2 Chronicles 26:19, Ezekiel 8:11, 4 Maccabees 7:11 -it no doubt means ‘censer,’ being a translation of מִקִטֶרָת, while the altar of incense is τὸ θυσιαστήριον θυμιάματος (or -των) in Exodus 30:1; Exodus 30:27, Leviticus 4:7, 1 Chronicles 6:49, etc. But it is also certain that θυμιατήριον became the usual Hellenistic name for the altar of incense, and Philo (Quis rer. div. haer. 46, Vit. Mos. iii. 7), Josephus (Ant. iii. vi. 8, viii. 2, 3, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) v. v. 5), and the versions of Symmachus and Theodotion use the word with this meaning in Exodus 30:1. Unless the writer of Hebrews follows the same usage, he entirely ignores the altar of incense in his description of the furniture of the tabernacle, which is scarcely credible. (2) Prima facie, the author of Hebrews has fallen into error in naming this altar among the furnishings of the most holy place. He may be supposed to have been misled (a) by the ambiguous instructions regarding it given in Exodus 30:6 : ‘thou shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy-scat that is over the testimony’; (b) by its designation as ἅγιον τῶν ἁγίων in Exodus 30:10; and (c) especially by the fact that in Exodus 25:23-40; Exodus 26:35, only the candlestick and the table are mentioned as standing in the holy place. Such a mistake on the part of the writer, whose acquaintance with the ritual practice of Judaism was second-hand, would not prove him the Monstrum von Unwissenheit that Delitzsch suggests. Still, it is not certain that he was really wrong. He does not say that the Holy of Holies contained the θυμιατήριον (contrast ἐν ᾗ in Hebrews 9:3), but that it had (ἔχουσα) such an altar. Evidently he was thinking, not of the local position of the altar, but of its intimate relation to the ministry of the inner sanctuary on the Day of Atonement.

2. In Revelation 8:3; Revelation 8:5, λινβανωτός, which is strictly ‘frankincense,’ the gum exuding from the λίβανος, is used instead of λιβανωτίς (or -τρίς) for ‘censer,’ corresponding to the πυρεῖον (πύριον) or θυίσκη (‘fire pan’) of the Septuagint . In the prophetic symbolism this censer holds (1) the lire which burns the incense that is added to the prayers of the saints, and (2) the fire, or hot ashes, of God’s vengeance, which are cast upon a hostile and impenitent world. See Incense.

Literature.-Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer , s.v. θυμιατήριον; Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] ii. i. 295; T. Zahn, Introd. to NT, Eng. translation , 1909, ii. 363; H. B. Swete, Apocalypse of St. John2, 1907, p. 108; Expository Times i. [1889-90] 74, ii. [1890-91] 18; see also article ‘Censer’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Literature there cited.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Censer'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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