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A building or place symbolizing the presence of a deity or deities, intended for the purpose of worship. In the Bible, “temple” usually refers to the Temple erected by Solomon or the Temple of Zerubbabel that was enlarged and refurbished by Herod.


Hebrew hêkāl comes from Akkadian ekallu, which in turn is derived from Sumerian É.GAL, “great house.” The term is generic, and can apply to the house of a god (a temple) or to the house of a king (a palace). It is used of Ahab's palace (1 Kings 21.1) and that of the king of Babylon (2 Kings 20.18). As Israel's king, Yahweh dwelt in a palace, seated on a throne (Isa. 6.1). The word is also used of the house of Yahweh at Shiloh (1 Sam. 1.9; 3.3); of Solomon's Temple (2 Chron. 3.17); of the Second Temple, built by Zerubbabel (Zech. 8.9); of the Temple of Ezekiel's vision (Ezek. 40–48); and of God's heavenly dwelling place (Ps. 11.4).

Hebrew bayit, “house,” by itself, is used very often of the Temple, or in combination, “house of God” (1 Chron. 9.11), and especially “house of Yahweh” (1 Kings 6–8). This word was also used of the tent of worship (Judg. 18.31), of a local shrine (1 Chron. 9.23), and of temples of other gods (Judg. 9.4; 1 Sam. 5.5). The term “house,” referring to the Temple at Jerusalem, is a broader term, including the nave (strictly speaking, the hêkāl) and the inner sanctuary (the holy of holies). The Temple mount is known as “the mountain of the Lord's house” (Isa. 2.2) or even “the mountain of the house” (Jer. 26.18; Mic. 3.12).

Greek hieron, “sanctuary, temple,” in the New Testament is used once of the temple of Artemis (Acts 19.27), but otherwise of the Temple at Jerusalem. The term includes the whole Temple complex. Unfortunately, both this and the next term (naos) are translated “temple,” which leads to confusion. Jesus, who was not a priest, could not enter the “temple” (naos), nor could the money changers (Matt. 21.12), nor could Paul (Acts 21.26). The word used in each instance is hieron, which might be more accurately translated “temple mount.”

Greek naos, “temple,” is used in the New Testament of Herod's Temple, that is, the sanctuary itself and not the entire Temple area (Matt. 27.51; Luke 1.21; John 2.20), and of the heavenly sanctuary (Rev. 11.19; 14.17; but there is no temple in the New Jerusalem, for the Lord God himself is the temple, Rev. 21.22). The word is also used of sanctuaries of other gods (Acts 17.24; 19.24, translated “shrines”; hieron is used in 19.27). Used figuratively, naos refers to the human body (John 2.21; 1 Cor. 3.16–17; 6.19) and to the church (Eph. 2.21).

Greek oikos, “house” (referring to the Temple), except for Luke 11.51 and Hebrews 10.21, occurs only in quotations in the New Testament of passages in the Hebrew Bible where bayit is used.

Solomon's Temple.

The tabernacle had served as the center of worship from the time of Moses to David (2 Sam. 6.17; 7.6). David wanted to build a more permanent structure, but the Lord forbade it (1 Chron. 22.7–8). David set about collecting materials and making plans for the building to be built by his son, Solomon (2 Sam. 7.13; 1 Chron. 22.2–5; 28.11–19).

The Temple was located on the eastern hill, north of the city of David, where the Dome of the Rock is located today. (See Jerusalem; Map 9.) At that time the Temple mount was considerably smaller, Solomon having enlarged it somewhat (Josephus, War, 5.5.185) and Herod having enlarged it still more to the present size of the platform known as Haram esh‐Sharif. This is “the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Sam. 24.18), “Mount Moriah” (2 Chron. 3.1), and probably the Zion of the Psalms and the prophets (Pss. 110.2; 128.5; 134.3; Isa. 2.3; Joel 3.16 [MT 4.16]; Amos 1.2; Zech. 8.3) although the term belonged to the city of David (1 Kings 8.1).

The general plan of the Temple was similar to that given for the tabernacle: rectangular, with a porch or vestibule (ʾûlām, 1 Kings 6.3) facing east, a nave (hêkāl), and an inner sanctuary (dĕbîr, 6.5) or holy of holies (8.6). The dimensions were double those of the tabernacle: 60 cubits by 20 (1 cubit = 0.5 m [19.7 in]), but triple its height (30 cubits). The building was of hewn stone, dressed at the quarry (1 Kings 6.7). The porch was 10 cubits deep (1 Kings 6.3) and 120 cubits high (2 Chron. 3.4)—a numeral that may have suffered textual corruption. Two columns, Jachin and Boaz, made of hollow bronze, 35 or 40 cubits high, stood at each side of the entrance (2 Chron. 3.15–17). The inner walls of the hêkāl were lined with cedar brought from Lebanon (1 Kings 5.6–10; 6.15–16), and the entire structure was lined with gold (v. 22). The holy of holies was overlaid with “pure” gold (v. 20). The skilled work was done by Tyrian artisans supplied by King Hiram (5.1) and under the supervision of a person also named Hiram (7.13) or Huram‐Abi (2 Chron. 2.13).

The holiest place contained the ark of the covenant (1 Kings 6.19) and two winged figures (cherubim) of olive wood overlaid with gold (v. 23) that stretched from wall to wall. Doors of olive wood, covered with gold, separated the holy of holies from the nave (v. 31), and similar doors separated the nave from the porch (v. 33). The nave contained the golden altar (7.48, to distinguish it from the bronze altar in the courtyard) made of cedar (6.20) or the “altar of incense” (1 Chron. 28.18), which stood before the holy of holies; the golden table for the bread of the Presence (“showbread”); the golden lampstands and other items (1 Kings 6.48–50).

The building was surrounded by two courts, the inner one constructed of three courses of stone and one of cedar beams (v. 36; also called the court of the priests, 2 Chron. 4.9), and the great court (1 Kings 7.9), which probably also enclosed the royal buildings. The size of the inner court is not given, but if it was double the size of the court of the tabernacle, it would have been 200 by 100 cubits. The inner court contained the bronze altar (2 Chron. 4.1) where sacrifices were offered, the ten bronze basins on ten stands, five on each side of the house, and the great sea (the molten or bronze sea) on the southeast corner of the house. The bronze work was cast in the Jordan valley (1 Kings 7.46), the most impressive being the great sea, 10 cubits in diameter and 5 cubits high, with a capacity of 2,000 baths (approximately 40,000 liters [10,000 gal]). The water was used for supplying the lavers for washing the parts of the sacrificial victims and for the priests' ablutions (2 Chron. 4.6).

The First Temple, having been plundered several times, was finally destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar in 587/586 BCE (2 Kings 25.8–17; Jer. 52.12–23).

Ezekiel's Temple.

The Temple in Ezekiel 40–48 is presented as a vision, and so the details may be assumed to be symbolic rather than material. The plan in general follows closely that of Solomon's Temple, although it is markedly symmetrical. Some of the description is more detailed than that given in Kings or Chronicles, and such details as the plan and dimensions of the gates (Ezek. 40.6–16) have been indirectly confirmed by archaeological discoveries at Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo.

Zerubbabel's Temple.

When the Jews returned from exile (538 BCE) there was an effort to rebuild the Temple (2 Chron. 36.23; Ezra 1.1–4). The work was begun (Ezra 3) but languished until 520, when as a result of the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah, it was resumed and the Temple was finished on the third day of Adar in the sixth year of Darius (12 March 515; Ezra 6.15). It was comparable in size to Solomon's Temple (6.3) and probably also in its ground plan, with the holy of holies and the sanctuary with the golden altar, table lampstand, and other furnishings (1 Macc. 1.22; 4.48–51). It was surrounded by an inner court with the altar of burnt offering and an outer court. According to Josephus, reporting Hecateus, the outer court was approximately 150 by 45 m (500 by 150 ft), and the altar of unhewn stones was 20 cubits square and 10 cubits in height (Ag. Ap. 1.198). According to the Talmud (Yoma 21b), five things were missing from the Second Temple: the ark, the sacred fire, the shekinah, the holy spirit, and the Urim and Thummim.

Herod's Temple.

Herod did not tear down the Second Temple—that would surely have instigated a revolt, as Herod recognized (Josephus, Ant. 187). He rebuilt and refurbished it by preparing materials for parts, using priests as carpenters and masons in the sacred areas, and doing the work by sections. The building was made new without ever destroying the old and without interrupting the sacred offerings and sacrifices. Begun in Herod's twentieth year (20 BCE), it was finished in a year and a half (Ant. 15.11.420).

Work on the Temple platform may have begun in Herod's fifteenth year (Josephus, War 1.21.401), and it continued until ca. 64 CE (Ant. 20.9.219). The Kidron valley was partially filled, shifting its bed eastward; likewise the central (Tyropoeon) valley was partially filled, shifting it several hundred feet to the west. Using huge ashlars (“Herodian” stones, ca. 1 m [40 in] high, 1–3 m [3 to 10 ft] long [one measures 12 m (39 ft) in length]!, and 4 m [13 ft] wide), the western, southern, and eastern walls were built, and the Temple mount was extended to a width of 280 m (915 ft) across the southern end, 310 m (1,017 ft) across the northern, and approximately 450 m (1,500 ft) north to south. At the southeastern corner, the wall rose 48 m (158 ft) above the Kidron valley. A stoa or portico was built along all four sides, with marble columns 25 cubits high, and ceiled with cedar panels; the royal stoa at the south had four rows of columns, the others had double rows of columns. The stoa along the eastern side was attributed by Josephus (Ant. 20.9.221) to Solomon (see John 10.23; Acts 3.11; 5.12).

The Temple itself (Map 9) was surrounded by a wall or balustrade, 3 cubits high, separating the holy place from the court of the gentiles. It was 322 cubits east to west by 135 cubits north to south, raised by 14 and 5 steps (all steps were 1/2 cubit). The holy place was not in the center of the Temple mount, but more to the north and west. On the surrounding wall were warnings, some in Greek, others in Latin, forbidding the entry of any gentile under penalty of death; two of these have been found. Ten cubits inside the balustrade a wall of 25 cubits high surrounded the sacred area, with seven gates: three each on the north and south sides, one on the east (Mid. 1.4).

Within this holy place, there were increasingly sacred areas: the court of the women at the east, the court of the Israelites (i.e., males only), the court of the priests, then the Temple (naos). This area was separated from the Women's Court, being 15 steps higher, and could be entered through the Nicanor Gate. The Temple was still higher by another 12 steps; it consisted of the porch (100 by 100 cubits, 11 cubits wide), the nave (40 by 20 cubits) containing the table of the Presence, the lampstand or menorah (taken to Rome by Titus and portrayed on the Arch of Titus), and the altar of incense, and behind that the holy of holies (20 by 20 cubits), which was empty except for a sacred stone. Built into the wall around the Temple were rooms or chambers, increasing the size of the Temple by 70 to 100 cubits. To the east and south of the Temple was the altar, 32 cubits square, and north of the altar the place of slaughtering.

Only the priests could enter the Temple, and only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, and that only on the Day of Atonement (m. Kelim 1.9; cf. Heb. 9.25). The priests were divided into twenty‐four “courses,” each course serving twice a year for a week (see Luke 1.8). A veil of Babylonian tapestry hung in the opening to the nave (War 5.5.212); a second veil separated the nave from the holy of holies (219). It would seem that it was the outer veil that was torn at the time of the death of Jesus (Mark 15.38), since the inner veil would not be seen by bystanders.

There were eight gates leading into the Temple mount: one on the north, four on the west, two on the south, and one on the east (Ant. 15.11.410); the Mishnah says five [Mid. 1.3], naming only one on the west). Along the western wall was the deep central valley, with a paved walk that continued around the southern end of the Temple. A great staircase led up to the triple Huldah gate, and next to the stairs was a structure containing a large number of immersion pools for ceremonial cleansing (Hebr. miqwāʾôt). The worshiper, after his or her purification, entered the right of the two double gates and passed through a tunnel leading upward into the Temple area. A second entrance could be made by a large staircase that led to the royal stoa (“Robinson's Arch” marks this entrance), but no purification was available here. Leading from the western hill to the Temple mount was a bridge (“Wilson's Arch” marks this). Details of the other entrances are not clear; they were possibly located where Barclay's and Warren's Gates are now. The Tadi Gate was in the northern wall; possibly the sacrificial animals were brought in by this entrance, since it was near the Sheep Pool and Market. The Susa gate in the eastern wall was used only by the high priest and priests in connection with the ceremony of burning the red cow at a location on the Mount of Olives from which the high priest could look directly into the entrance of the sanctuary.

Destruction of the Temple.

There is a full account of the capture of Jerusalem in War 5–6, according to which Titus commissioned Josephus to urge the Jews to surrender in order to spare the Temple, but to no avail. The Antonia was razed to the ground in August 70 CE, and the continual sacrifice ceased to be offered. Josephus made a second appeal. Titus then decided to destroy the Temple. This occurred on the tenth day of the fifth month (Ab; according to Jewish tradition, the ninth of Ab), the same day on which the First Temple had been burned by the king of Babylon. Josephus portrays the Romans as trying to extinguish the fire that had been started by the insurgents. Widespread plundering, murder, and finally the burning of all structures on the Temple mount ended the history of the Temple.

William Sanford LaSor

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