Why Such Confusion?
Many religious scholars don’t really know what God’s temple was like. They are divided in their conclusions. Each man has his own opinion. Even in major points they sometimes disagree completely.
By comparing the usual drawings and models of Solomon’s temple, it is immediately noted that no two of them are alike. Some of them are so different in appearance that you would not have any idea that they apparently came from the same description. These differences are sometimes so great that they are opposite extremes in design.
If you described to one architect a house you wanted built, giving the basic dimensions, and then presented the same information to another architect, you would expect both of them to make similar plans and drawings. When it comes to the scholars’ and architects’ drawings for the temple described in the Bible, this is not so.
With such a wide variation as now exists, the interested person is completely confused. Which author is correct, or is any one correct? What is the basis used in making these drawings and models? Before we answer the question of why so many differences, it is necessary to understand certain basic problems about this subject.
In researching this subject, you would naturally look to the Bible for most of your information. Then you might check a Bible Commentary or Bible Dictionary, or possibly an Encyclopedia. In checking these obvious sources, you would also notice what their sources of information were.
Many of their sources will be certain authorities who have made extensive studies on the subject. Some of these have spent most of their lives on this one subject. One famed authority spent 35 years to draw and describe Solomon’s temple. Yet, his particular drawings, very beautifully and skillfully done, appear in no point like any of the other authorities. The style of architecture is entirely different from all the others; in fact, it is probably one which is furthest from the truth.
But where did these authorities get their information? The surprising answer is that there are only three original sources that all of this information has come from!
When it gets down to the basis of it all, there are only these three main sources for information, the Bible, Josephus, and the Mishnah. On reading these basic sources it is immediately apparent that neither Josephus nor the Mishnah gives very much information. They are very brief, giving only certain points. The Bible gives essential information only, and appears purposefully brief.
To start with, we must approach this from the point of view that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Tim. 3:16). Since there have been translations of the original Hebrew into various languages, we must refer to the Hebrew if there is any question.
God has preserved His oracles (Old Testament scriptures) through the Jews (Rom. 3:2), and not through the Greeks or Romans. Therefore, in the case of a question, the Scriptures as preserved by the Jews for the Old Testament will be the final authority.
There are certain variations and discrepancies between these three sources regarding particular points. We need to understand right now what some of these differences are, so that we will have a right perspective regarding the sources and basis for information. The next most important source next to the Bible is that of Josephus. All of the scholars seem agreed on this point.
Josephus was a Jewish priest and ruler who was born near the time of Christ. He was a leader among the Jews and wrote his work some years after the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D. His work is very thorough and detailed, giving the history of Israel and Judah from Old Testament times to his own time.
His work is the most exhaustive and complete on this subject that is available today, and is by far the most reliable. In spite of his reliability in many points, he still has some points that do not agree with scripture. We must keep certain factors in mind when we refer to Josephus regarding the temple. He wrote about 600 years after the destruction of Solomon’s temple. So, he did not see Solomon’s temple personally. All he had for his sources of information were the Holy Scriptures and tradition.
He did see Herod’s temple but wrote about it several years after it had been destroyed. We should expect him to have more reliable information about Herod’s temple than that of Solomon. We might also guess that he would confuse certain aspects of Herod’s temple and ascribe them to Solomon. Therefore, we must be very wary lest we fall into any such error.
Even though Josephus is reliable in many of the points concerning Solomon’s temple, there are certain points which are in error, and it is needful that we understand some of them now. Only the points of disagreement will be mentioned. We are not now concerned with the points of agreement. There are many more points of agreement than of disagreement.
Here are some of the points of disagreement as found in Antiquities XIII, III, etc. Josephus states that there were thirty side chambers for each floor, or ninety in all. The Bible states that there were thirty-three in each floor, a total of ninety-nine.
He gives the height of these side chambers as 20 cubits while the Bible states that they were five cubits (I Kings 6:10). He states that the porch was 12 cubits in breadth, however, the Bible states that it was 10 cubits (I Kings 6:3).
The doors of the house were said to be of cedar, while the Bible account states that the entrance doors to the holy place was of Cypress wood (I Kings 6:34) and the entrance to the holy of holies was olive wood (I Kings 6:31-32). He gives the height of the Cherubim as 5 cubits, while the Bible states that they were 10 cubits high (I Kings 6:23, 25-26). Since there are these differences, it is apparent that we can’t take Josephus before the Bible account. The Bible, since it is inspired by God, is our primary source of information.
The next possible source of information is the Mishnah. This is a part of the collection of Jewish traditions known as the Talmud which were handed down by the elders and were later put in writing for preservation. The particular part which refers to the temple is said to have been written about a hundred years after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Several rabbis visited and examined the spot of the former temple and talked with various people in the area. From this information they compiled the particular section referring to Herod’s temple.
In the first place it should be pointed out that this reference is to Herod’s temple and not Solomon’s. By reading the comments in the Mishnah if they are correct, it becomes plain that Herod did not follow the same plan that Solomon did. The two main rooms of the temple, the holy place and the holy of holies, were of the same form and dimension; however, the rest of the building, especially the porch was entirely different. The courts were not the same either, even though there may have been certain similarities.
Since the Mishnah refers to Herod’s temple instead of Solomon’s, there is little help that we can receive from it. We are therefore left with the previous conclusion that basically the Bible is the main source of information.
One other source should be mentioned at this time. It is the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.
This particular translation is reported to have been made at Alexandria Egypt by 70 Jewish scholars about 284-247 B.C. It was a translation from the Hebrew into Greek. It departs from the Hebrew or Masoretic Text in many points. The translators were prone to follow “reason” rather than to produce a careful and literal translation. In many points regarding the temple, there are great differences. Each time the Hebrew text is hard to understand, they translated incorrectly so that the difficulties seem to “disappear.” Because of this many very important points are either left out entirely, or incorrectly rendered. Some very important dimensions are altered because they do not fit with the understanding that these translators had. Certain of these points will be dealt with in their proper places.
An English translation of the Hebrew text, since God has preserved His oracles through the Jewish elders, who were formerly in “Moses seat” at Jerusalem, instead of the Grecianized Jews from Egypt (Matt. 23:2).
The first main reason why there are differences between the scholars is because of the variation in the source material. This is a reason for variation in the design as drawn by various scholars. These scholars have been unable to rightly divide the word of truth. They often reject the Bible statement and accept the other sources. When there is a difference, there must be a basis as to which is right and which is wrong.
Here is the second important reason why some “authorities” come up with different conclusions. They have used “human reason” to decide what is right. Here is an example. A particularly famed scholar, who spent his whole life on the subject, discussed various dimensions as given by these sources. He stated that one particular height given was a “false height.” On a width measurement given, he quotes certain measurements and states that they are “false widths.” But what is the correct width, or the correct height of a certain measurement? What is his basis to determine what is right? The Bible, Josephus, or the Mishnah? In this case it is none of these, but the “reasonable judgment,” or “guess” of the author. With such a basis for decision, one man’s guess is as bad as the next! No wonder there are such differences.
A third reason for differences is that many have concluded that the text has many corruptions. With this basis, you can never be sure of what is correct and what is “corrupt.” Whatever “seems” contradictory, or cannot be quickly understood is classed as being “corrupt” and is in need of beging “restored.” The trouble is that each authority “restores” the text differently! Because of this concept, many of the authorities have come up with very different opinions, again based on what they thought was right.
Here is a prime example of how many have erred on just one point. This particular point is one that is very important, as it alone changes entirely the exterior appearance of the temple drastically.
The temple “porch” is the prominent front part of the temple and it is the part that is seen most easily from all four directions. The Bible states that it is 120 cubits high (I Chron. 3:4). The authorities have almost completely rejected this important point. Here is a typical example of how simple Bible statements are rejected. This is a measure which is “so entirely out of proportion to the other dimensions of the porch and the general height of the building, that it is commonly supposed there is some error in the text.” (Imperial Bible Dictionary, Article, Temple.)
As will be proved later this is a correct rendering. There is no corruption in the text at this point! There is no variation in reliable texts. Even Josephus repeats several times, not just once, this very same dimension.
From these comments it becomes plain why there has been such a variation in the scholar’s description and models of the temple. These men have not known what to use as a basis for their work, since there are some variations between the three basic sources of information. They have followed each other “into the ditch” in many cases, and copied a particular point which seemed reasonable or right but which was wrong. They have also used human reasoning to decide points contrary to either or all of these basic sources. They have rejected the Biblical accounts, if or where this account differed with their own judgment.
The roads that these men have trod in trying to learn what the temple was really like has only led to confusion. Nothing is certain; there is only variation and uncertainty. We must not follow their error!
To start with we must lay a strong and firm foundation for this present work. What will be the basis? What will decide, if there is a difference between these various basic sources? What will the approach be when certain points appear unlikely, incorrect, or wrong? Is reason to be the deciding factor? Are the authorities to be the deciding factor? Is the Bible, Josephus, or the Mishnah?
The Bible states that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Tim. 3:16). If this fact is so, then we have here the words of Almighty God, the One who created all things, who personally designed this temple (I Chron. 28:12), and who has recorded the details for us to understand. Jesus Christ is our “foundation” (I Cor. 3:11), He is the Author of scripture. He has been able to preserve this record for us. We are to hold His word in reverence and awe; in fact to “tremble” before it (Isa. 66:2).God has preserved this information for us so that we can know! There need not be doubt on this subject.
Nowhere does Josephus claim his writings to be “scripture” or inspired of God. His writings are used as a secondary source only! He will be used only to supplement, and not to replace the Bible.
The Mishnah is from the writings of the Jewish Rabbis. It has been preserved by them, and considered of great authority by them but is not inspired scripture.
The Mishnah is completely unreasonable in certain points regarding the temple, it contradicts itself and the Bible on certain points, and therefore will only be used in this work to add to certain points where the Bible does not give complete details, and where those details are (1) in accord with the Bible account (2) supplying information needed, (3) rational and reasonable.
There are no known remains now of any part of the temple buildings that have been built in the past. All has been destroyed or taken away. There is nothing left to measure or use as a basis for information.
An important point which must be mentioned next concerns the various verses in the Bible referring to the subject of the temple. We are primarily concerned with what is commonly called “Ezekiel’s temple, or by some, the “Millennial Temple.” Those who have studied the account in Ezekiel have soon learned that it is not complete! There are major and important parts that are completely left out of the description by Ezekiel.
In summarizing Ezekiel we find that there is a description of the gates and the two courts including many buildings in the courts. We also find that a floor plan is given of the main temple building. However, there are no vertical dimensions given for the main temple building.
When we study Solomon’s temple, as recorded in Kings and Chronicles a similar problem is presented. The verses concerning this particular temple do not tell us the thickness of the walls; nothing is said about the courts except for one brief sentence. An important dimension of the side chambers is left out completely. Many other points are completely lacking.
Even in comparing Kings and Chronicles we find that there are only certain aspects mentioned in each book that may or may not be even referred to in the other book. For example: The many side chambers to the temple are mentioned in Kings, but are not even referred to in Chronicles.
If we take the account in Kings, we are left completely in the dark regarding other important aspects. If we take the account in Chronicles, we are still lacking totally in many points. Alone they are incomplete. Even put together these two sources are still lacking.
God has inspired His word to be written in a way that makes it necessary to search through the whole Bible on a subject before it can be correctly understood. He has not put all of the information concerning a particular subject in one place only.
God is the One who designed and planned this temple. He designed Solomon’s, and He designed Ezekiel’s. Since He designed both, and since they are for much the same purpose, it is only reasonable that he would use the same basic plan for both. That is what God has done!
You can’t understand Ezekiel’s temple unless you understand Solomon’s. You can’t understand Solomon’s temple unless you understand Ezekiel’s. How simple and plain this will become as we start through this subject and start comparing the various sections in the Bible which refer to both of these temples.
Now it is time to start our study on the actual temple. But before we can even begin to understand the temple there is one more important point which must be settled. The measurement used for the temple is the cubit. We cannot have any idea how large any part of the temple is unless we first understand in modern terminology the correct length of the cubit in inches. The scholars are mostly divided on this subject. There are many different cubits known, ranging in size from about 11 inches to over 25 inches. Which of these cubits did God use? Since the inch and the foot as units of measurements were unknown in Bible times, we must first determine this important aspect.
The next article will cover this very important and basic question. It is exciting to learn that God has preserved the necessary keys in the Bible so that we can know without doubt.