Explanation of the difference between Exodus 30:6 and Hebrews 9:3&4

I have puzzled over this for a while and it is only today that i really narrowed down on the fact that we are left with only 3 options…either

  1. Paul had no idea what he was talking about and made an elementary historical mistake or
  2. Paul had a specific theological reason for differing in his description of the two compartments of the earthly and heavenly Tabernacles
  3. Its a translational/scribal error

  1. Paul made a historical mistake

We know that Paul, formerly Saul, was a Jewish Zealot who was trained by the Pharisees and Sadducees in the law of Moses…its simply not possible that such an individual would not recall exactly what the Mosaic Tabernacle layout should look like and thus make such a stupid mistake…especially given his obvious knowledge demonstrated by the vast number of writings attributed to him in the New Testament.

  1. Paul had a specific Theological reason

I think this is the more likely interpretation and i have the beginnings of a theory on why i believe this might be the case.

When we study the Old Testament Sanctuary Service, we note that the only day in which the High Priest carried the Censor into the Most Holy Place was the Day of Atonement. What is unique about this day is that is specifically represented the future day of Christ’s death on the cross…it was different from the usual daily sacrifices. When Christ died on the cross (which the O/T Day of Atonement represents), he became our High Priest, the veil in the temple was torn in two signifying a change in the Sanctuary Service and this is the key to my theory.

I believe that When Christ died and the veil was torn in two, the need for the alter of incense carrying the prayors of sinners up and over the veil became redundant, the need of sacrifice as atonement for sins was now gone. Christ our High Priest at this point carried the censor into the Most Holy place and presents it before the Ark of the Covenant!

Some may ask, what about the description of the candlestick and table of showbread in Hebrews? These are still included because they represent Gods eternal power and sustaining of life…these do not change after the cleasing of sin from the universe…they remain, but the alter of incense is no longer required because there is no new sin after this point.

As further evidence of my theory on this, i note that some bible translations use different descriptors in Hebrews 9:3&4 (two different examples shown below)

NIV 3Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

KJV 3And after the second veil, the Tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 4Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

It is my belief that this may be an avenue of study on why Paul seemingly got his history wrong in Hebrews 9:3&4.

  1. Scribal error

This is a possibility, but again, given the overwhelming historical knowledge passed down for centuries…indeed more than a millennia about the Old Testament Tabernacle and, given that some translations describe the golden censor instead of the altar of incense, i think this explanation is unlikely. Some excellent translations use Alter of Incense (NLT, ESV, NAS) however, I note that both Codex Sinaticus and Vaticanus use the “golden censor” descriptor and they date more than 2 centuries after Christ.

And let us not forget, despite the description of the “censor” in some translations, it still does not explain why there is no alter of incense in any part of the tabernacle in these translations that use censor instead of alter.

I thought that perhaps it might be interesting to have some ideas and discussion about this with the forum.

Some may ask why its even important? I believe it’s important because it is an example of potential biblical error and i think given Paul’s importance in the New Testament theology and the extensive writings attributed to his, this issue appears to discredit Paul’s knowledge…I mean if he was a murderer and was present at the stoning of Stephen, if Paul cant describe the Jewish tabernacle properly, how can he possibly be an authoritative figure on anything else?

It depends on how you view inspiration of scripture. Paul spoke from his experience and education, and was making his point using the commonly held views of his day, He was not trying to be a historian but rather teaching theological truths. Just as the writer of Genesis was not trying to be a scientist.

  • The OP reveals a difficulty in treating the whole Bible as “a divinely produced text”.
    • Problem 1:
      • Exodus 30:6, (NASB) “You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the atoning cover that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you.”
        • In the Hebrew text, this verse clearly places the location of the altar for burning incense on the side of a curtain that separates that altar and the ark of testimony covered by “the Mercy Seat”.
        • In the Greek text of the same verse [as written in the Septuagint], however, where the altar of burning incense is placed is not so clear.
        • Consequently, the Greek-literate author of the book of Hebrews, relied on the Septuagint’s Greek version of Exodus 30:6 which resulted in locating the altar for burning incense on the side of the curtain nearest the ark not on the side of that same curtain furthest from the ark.
          • And apparently the debate over where the altar of burning incense continues in the Seven Dad Adventist Church to this day. :confused: THE ALTAR OF INCENSE IN HEBREWS 9:3-4
          • Ergo: the OP’s “three possible solutions”.
          • None of which, IMO, is correct because, I say, Paul did not write the book of Hebrews or he was not literate in pre-Masoretic Hebrew.

Wait! Did Terry just write that either Paul did not write the book of Hebrews or that Paul was illiterate in pre-Masoretic Hebrew?

Answer: Yes, that’s what Terry wrote.

Guess what? That’s not the only problematic verse in the book of Hebrews. There’s another, even more “exciting” verse, which has given more than one Orthodox Jew cause to laugh to this day.


I’ve always heard that the writer of Hebrews is “unknown.” I had a pastor who believed it was Apollos. But I don’t see a reason to assume it’s Paul, especially if it helps clear up a discrepancy in your mind.

This is a little bit off where the question above wished to go, but i guess its important enough to discuss. Below are my concern, some evidence in support, and my conclusion:

What those who have decided to focus on in terms of whether or not Paul wrote Hebrews fail to appreciate is, the question is more about the canonicity of Hebrews than just its author. Christians all claim that the Bible is the inspired word of God. If God cannot get his authors to record his statements accurately, then the entire bible becomes a mythical fairytale and that plays directly into the hands of atheism. Personally, i think this is something that most TEists simply do not understand hence their doctrines are obtained from theological buckets full of holes leaking copious amounts of water.

There are references both ways on the topic of authorship…however, despite scholarly debate, you will find that most of the available references for the book of Hebrews associate it with Paul. His name more than any other is front and center with it. I am comfortable with Paul as its author (either directly or as a recording of his theology and written by an understudy or colleague).

Jerome and Augustine believed Paul wrote Hebrews and it was their view that eventually convinced the Eastern Church of this at the Sixth Synod of Carthage in 419 A.D

The Council of Trent 1546 - Paul

The 1611 King James bible has the following heading: “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.”

google - The Apostle Paul

Wikipedia - traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle

Encyclopedia Brittanica - Paul most likely is the author, although it notes that it’s possible one of Paul’s understudies/disciples may have written it (which means that Paul is still the major influence in the books theology)

Catholic Church - Paul is the “indirect author” of Hebrews

biblegateway - possibly Luke, however, they cite Origen’s statement that it may have been dictated by Paul and written by another but “only God knows”

Martin Luther thought perhaps Apollos was its author

There is an academic paper on this by By Prof. Félix H. Cortez Andrews University in the US

Prof Cortez concludes that “I believe it is likely that Paul wrote Hebrews. We should, however, recognize the complexity and difficulty of the issue and respect and welcome those who assess the evidence differently.”

For those who like to read a supporting argument in its entirety, A link to his article is included

On the Authorship of Hebrews: The case for Paul

For those who like to simply skim over the main points of the supporting side, some quotes from the article supporting Pauline authorship are included below

Furthermore, Hebrews is anonymous to us, but it was not to the original audience. The audience knew who the author was. He requests them to pray for him so that he may be restored to them sooner (Heb 13:18–19).11 The author refers to a Timothy, who must have been known both by the author and the audience (13:23).

Clement, the oldest extant work of early Christian literature composed around AD 96, alludes clearly to Hebrews (1 Clem 36:1–5) and to other writings of Paul (e.g., 35:5–6) showing he held them in high esteem, though, with one exception, he does not identify the author in any of those references.

The Shepherd of Hermas, produced in Rome during the second century AD and the most popular noncanonical writing of the first centuries of Christianity, was written in part to explain that repentance was possible for sins committed after baptism. The best explanation is that it was trying to answer questions raised by Hebrews 6:4–8 and 10:26–31. The evidence suggests that views of a wholesale rejection of Hebrews in the west are overstated.

By the end of the 4th century, Ambrose, Pelagius, and Rufinus in the west had attributed Hebrews to Paul

Closer scrutiny shows that rejection of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews is less significant than it seems at the beginning. Marcion, who rejected Hebrews, also rejected the God of the Old Testament and all the writings of the Old Testament. He probably rejected Hebrews because of its abundant use of the Old Testament. He also rejected most of the New Testament.

The view that Irenaeus and Hippolytus rejected the Pauline authorship of Hebrews came from a comment made by Gobarus more than three hundred years later (ca. AD 600), according to the report made by Photius in AD 800! How much weight can we place on this report?

Tertullian says that Barnabas wrote Hebrews, but thinks Barnabas was communicating the ideas of Paul

The Arians probably rejected the Pauline authorship of Hebrews because of its high Christology [for those unfamiliar with the significance of this point by the professor, Arians do not believe in the trinity and Christ is not considered God. Hebrews is problematic for that view]

I will sum up in the same way the article does…why is the authorship of Hebrews even important? If we discredit its authorship because supposedly Paul didnt write it, given Christ wrote nothing down…where does that leave the credibility of the Gospel? I will finish with a quote from the Paper by Prof Cortez…

Since Jesus did not leave any writings himself, the Christian church recognized the canonical authority of those writings that came from the apostles, those to whom Jesus entrusted the gospel (Matt 28:18–20).27 The apostolic criterion did not require that the apostles themselves wrote the books, but only that the books were produced under the authority of the apostles or by their associates.

I like your point here Jim and I agree with it entirely.

Having said that, its the theology that is problematic given that Paul [or the author of Hebrews if not Paul] has the wrong imagery of what the inside of the Mosaic Tabernacle looked like. For example, I am an Australian, for an Aussie stuffing up the layout of the tabernacle would be like me not knowing where the stumps are on a cricket field, or for a more universal example, where the goals are on a soccer field!

When it comes to significant cultural Jewish traditions, there are some things that anyone who is educated in that culture simply must know and cannot possibly be considered an authority on if they can’t accurately describe the layout of such a significant cultural building as the Israelite tabernacle!

Now TEists may simply use the argument, the writer is wrong. However, the problem with that claim is that those who decided 1500 years ago to include Hebrews in the biblical canon did not have science or modern theological resources and methods in order to determine such things. One would have to conclude that the apparent stuffing up of the tabernacle layout by the author of Hebrews, was an obvious and elementary mistake that requires none of the mod cons we use for our research. Despite this, the early church fathers who decided on biblical canon, overlooked the apparent glaring error and the book was made canonical anyway. If it contains historical errors, how can its principles be considered authoritative and or even useful?

My current thoughts are focusing on the idea of the unique events of the Day of Atonement service.

  1. It is the only day during the year when the Censor is carried by the High Priest into the Most Holy Place!

  2. When Christ died on the cross (which the Old Testament Day of Atonement Service pointed towards), the temple veil was torn in two (Matthew 27:50-51)

  3. The book of Hebrews in Chapter 8 talks about the heavenly tabernacle…and given there are no chapter or verse markers in the original writings, chapter 9 is an extension of chapter 8…the author is explaining the heavenly ministry of Christ after his ascension into heaven…christ, our High Priest is carrying the censor into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle in heaven as part of his ongoing ministry after the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension!

Caveat…I am still at a loss to explain why, in Hebrews 9, if we are to use the term Censor, what happened to the original Alter of Incense from the Mosaic model (which was the earthly copy of the heavenly)?

In order to resolve this, i think i need to dive into a deep understanding of the Altar of Incense and its function in the Old Testament Sanctuary. I think its related to the carrying of prayers (in its smoke) over the veil and into the most holy place during the daily services throughout the rest of the year. After Christs death, this becomes redundant as Christ, our High Priest, is carrying the censor and making intercession in the Most Holy Place.

Trouble is, why the inclusion of the lampstand and table of showbread? hmm i have ideas on this dilemma…

The oil, light of the world, and bread of life come to mind and the inclusion of these things despite Christs sacrifice suggest that these are ongoing absolutes that are not stopped after the crucifixion because they represent Gods power in giving and sustaining life!

  • Problem #2
    • Hebrews 11:21
      ^ [New American Standard Bible, 1995] “By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”

* Genesis 47:31 [Septuagint]: "εἶπεν δέ Ὄμοσόν μοι. καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῷ· καὶ προσεκύνησεν Ἰσραὴλ ἐπὶ τὸ ἄκρον τῆς ῥάβδου αὐτοῦ.
* Genesis 47:31 [English translation of the Septuagint version:] “And he said, Swear to me; and he swore to him. And Israel did reverence, leaning on the top of his staff.”
* Genesis 47:31 [English translation of the Hebrew version:] “And he said, “Swear to me.” So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.”

  • So, who did the swearing and bowing, and where? And to whom was the swearing and bowing done?
  • If the author of the book of Hebrews is unimportant, why is the author of Genesis important?
  • Who gets to decide what the correct answers to each of those questions is?
  • What effect does any of those things have on the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus?
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And it depends on what one thinks the purpose of scripture is…which way is it “authoritative”? I think the function of scripture is to point us to Jesus (Jesus himself said as much), and in this task it operates without rival sources and infallibly. But Jesus is the perfect, inerrant Word of God who I follow. Not words on a page written by people. As a Jesus-follower, I must trust that Paul and the other eyewitnesses of Jesus report the facts of his life accurately enough so I know who I am placing my faith in. Beyond that, if Paul makes errors in details of ancient history (or of science) to which he was not an eyewitness, it honestly doesn’t bother me very much at all because it doesn’t affect the reliability of the bible for the reason it was intended…


terry is this in the right place? It has nothing to do with the the alter of incense in the book of Hebrews and how that differs from Exodus 30!

  • Seriously? Fine! I’ll give the “offending post” it’s own thread, let your OP and let you have the stage all to yourself.

This is a reasonable conclusion klw, however, it ignores the problem that almost all atheists have with religion…the standard claim is that the bible is a mythical fairytale that copied other religions and cultures ideas and proof of this is found in mistakes like that of Hebrews 9 v Exodus 30!

If we cannot agree among ourselves on why some of these significant theological issues exist (such as this problem between Exodus 30 and Hebrews 9) then we only feed the atheism hunger for biblical errancy!

In any case, i have edited my original post to include my up to date conclusions about the difference between the two accounts of the sanctuary… the missing part in my original post is below (just to make it easier to find)

When Christ died on the cross (which the O/T Day of Atonement represents), he became our High Priest, the veil in the temple was torn in two signifying a change in the Sanctuary Service and this is the key to my theory.

I believe that When Christ died and the veil was torn in two, the need for the alter of incense carrying the prayors of sinners up and over the veil became redundant, the need of sacrifice as atonement for sins was now gone. Christ our High Priest at this point carried the censor into the Most Holy place and presents it before the Ark of the Covenant!

Some may ask, what about the description of the candlestick and table of showbread in Hebrews? These are still included because they represent Gods eternal power and sustaining of life…these do not change after the cleasing of sin from the universe…they remain, but the alter of incense is no longer required because there is no new sin after this point.

omg Terry, a dummt spit like that isnt necessary…i just dont follow the relationship between your post and the dilemma in Hebrews 9?

Surely Christians must wonder why the error? Has that glaring issue not stuck you in your reading of the book of Hebrews? I have just presented a really simple and logical solution to it and you would rather have a dummy spit over posting something about Jacob which has nothing to do with the author of Hebrews description of the Heavenly Sanctuary?

  • You don’t want my post in “your thread” and you grouse about me giving my post it’s own thread?
    LOL! I know what: “Let’s do a Gideon Fleece Test”. If the fleece is wet and the ground is dry, my post stays where it is; if it;s dry and the ground around it is wet, you and you post leave the forum.
  • So, in your universe, the author of Hebrews 9:3-4 is not the author of Hebrews 11:21? Hmmm, :laughing:
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  • Where’s Liam when we need him?
  • Oy! @moderators, @adamjedgar is unhappy. He doesn’t want my post in his thread and he doesn’t want me to start a new thread with my post. What do you say?

Terry i havent a clue what on earth you are talking about here? my apparent rejection of your post is a construct of your mind…i have simply asked the question what is the relationship of your post to the topic of the O.P?

In your post you have made the following claim…

" If the author of the book of Hebrews is unimportant, why is the author of Genesis important?"

I did not in my post make the claim that the author of Hebrews is unimportant…i think you have completely missed the point on that issue…i was talking about biblical inerrancy!

I recognize that there is heated debate among worldwide scholars about authorship of Hebrews. I have explained why i believe it is either directly or indirectly of Pauline heritage…but that makes no difference to the problem of biblical inerrancy. I accept that it [authorship of “Epistle to The Hebrews” as named by the 1611 KJV bible] will come up and be discussed, however, that is largely irrelevant to the question here.

The O.P is specifically about the difference in description of tabernacle furniture (if we may call it that) in Exodus 30 vs Hebrews 9.

now since you are enchanted with an apparent issue in Genesis 47 vs Hebrews 11 and your passion for it has now sparked my own interest…may i answer that with the following quote from the same resource where you got your interlinear information from (like you i use the biblehub interlinear extensively).

I scrolled down to the commentary section of that verse in the interlinear and found the following…

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

(21) Both the sons.–Rather, each of the sons. The separate character of the two blessings is thus brought out (Genesis 48:14-19). (See the last Note.) In the case of the two events mentioned in this verse the order of time is reversed, probably that the blessing of Jacob may immediately follow the similar record of Hebrews 11:20.

And worshipped.–The incident referred to will be found in Genesis 47:31. After receiving from Joseph a promise, confirmed by oath, that he shall be buried with his fathers, "Israel bowed himself upon" (or, worshipped towards) “the bed’s head.” In the LXX. and in the Targums the words are understood as denoting an act of worship. The Greek translators have taken the last word of the Hebrew verse to denote “staff” (Genesis 32:10), not “bed,” the words which bear these different meanings differing very slightly in form. The whole clause is given here as it stands in the LXX., the difference between the renderings being immaterial for the purpose which the writer had in view. The quotation of the familiar words serves to recall the scene, and brings before us Israel’s thankful and devout satisfaction when assured that he should rest with his fathers in the land of Canaan; by this, at the point of death, he expressed his faith in the promise by which Abraham and his seed received Canaan as their inheritance

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This is the best explanation, and it’s of course hardly new.

Many, many scholars down the centuries have said the same thing. Just last week I’d been reading a chunk of Romans in the Greek, and then due to a comment someone made (here, maybe?) I settled in to read a few chapters of Hebrews, and I wasn’t even two verses in when I caught myself silently exclaiming, “There is no way that Paul wrote this!”
Various candidates have been put forth. Barnabas is an interesting suggestion but not convincing since there is a better candidate: my first guess when we reached the book in Greek Readings class was that Apollos was the author since it reads like Alexandrian material, uses excellent earlier Greek, and those two fit Apollos who was from Alexandria and reported to be eloquent.

As for Paul, given who he trained under he was almost certainly literate; fluent would be another matter. I’ve written essays in other languages, but they never flow as well as when I write in English, and that’s how I see Paul: being from Antioch, he would have absorbed a heavy dose of Hellenistic culture and most likely spoke Greek as his primary language growing up and used one of the versions of what we call the Septuagint as his ‘bible’. OTOH, there are places where he quotes the Old Testament and unless some new manuscripts have been found that I haven’t heard about and his Greek doesn’t match any known version, and what he wrote seems to have Hebrew/Aramaic roots, so the thought for a long time has been that he translated from the Hebrew himself at times.

I’ve known that to disturb some people, but we have to remember that their understanding of inspiration does not match ours, and even though Paul – like most of the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora – regarded both the Hebrew and its Greek translation as inspired, he would have had no problem making his own at times.

Anyway, the thought in Hebrews is somewhat Pauline but has a Levitical flavor to it as well, so it fits well with what Paul actually wrote.


The author of Hebrews is correct if what he is describing is the temple on the Day of Atonement.

It makes sense, to me at least, that if the author is comparing the Day of atonement to Christ’s sacrifice then the placement of the altar of incense is correct. Easy peasy, lemon squeezie.

I have been told, by someone who should know, that using an interlinear when you don’t know the original language can get you into trouble.


Paul didn’t write Hebrews. We don’t know who did, but I am not aware of modern biblical scholars arguing it was Paul.

I don’t think the identity of the author or redactor of Genesis is important: God’s people of the Old Covenant regarded it as scripture and thus authoritative, and the church ratified that. We don’t need to know the author in order to know it’s authoritative.

As for the answers, I can almost hear the old rabbi I knew at St. Louis University chuckling and asking what good would scripture be if we had all the answers? It is how it is to make us think!

Bingo. If we’re worried about errors, we’ll end up as Bart Ehrman did, deciding to abandon the faith because of all the variant readings.

That’s the sort of thing I prefer not to dignify by responding, I just sigh and ask how much ancient literature they’ve read in the original languages. Why? Because the claim is idiotic and comes from ignorance. And discrepancies like this aren’t evidence for any broad claim about anything.

The “atheism hunger for biblical errancy” feeds on the same misunderstanding that YEC rests on: reading ancient literature from a modern worldview! It’s the height of ignorance, picking up a translation of something over two millennia old and thinking one can read it without any education about the original language or culture at all!

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No, but I played one in a version of Dungeons and Dragons. :crazy_face: