How Long is The Temple Cubic?
It seems that almost no one really knows the correct length of the temple cubit. This most important problem must now be solved. All the measurements of the temple are directly related to this unit of measurement.
Some of the authorities have said that the exact length is not known now. Others have various theories or ideas and have come to conclusions which are unproved. Most scholars have come to accept the 18 inch cubit as being the one which is correct. However, there are still others who insist on cubits ranging in length from 10.8 inches to 25.2 inches. Which, if any, of these are correct? Just how long is this temple cubit?
This is a question we must solve and prove without doubt, or it will be impossible to view this magnificent building in its true perspective and grandeur.
One scholar in his work on the temple, insists that there were actually three different cubits relating to the temple. “There was one cubit which was used for interior furnishings of 10.8” (inches), “another for building measurements of 14.4”, “and a third cubit of 18.0” for land measurements.
Using this particular author’s conclusions we are left with some difficult problems. Here is one. The side chambers are 5 cubits high (I Kings 6:10). “And he built the stories of the side-structure against all the house, each five cubits high; and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.”
These chambers are for various offices and were referred to by Christ (John 14:2). They were a physical type of the spiritual offices or positions of the saints during the time of the millennium. These rooms would only be six feet in height according to this authority. Such a conclusion is immediately seen as unsatisfactory.
Another such problem would concern the stairways leading to the second and third floors of the side chambers. The place left for these stairways are five cubits square (Ezk. 41:11). They are also stated to be winding stairs (I Kings 6:8).With exactly six feet only, you would have a difficult job to construct a circular stairway that would be in any sense of the word adequate. The conclusion therefore of a 14:4” cubit is obviously impractical.
From these scriptures it becomes plain that there was at one time a change in the length of the cubit. The book of Kings was compiled before the captivity. Ezekiel was written during the captivity. Chronicles was compiled after the captivity. From these facts it becomes plain that there was a cubit, which was standard and well known before the captivity, which was different than the Babylonian cubit, or the one in common use during and after the captivity by the Jews. But that is getting a little ahead of the story.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition) has an extensive article on the subject of the cubit. It is found under the article regarding “weights and measures.” At least eleven different basic cubit lengths are given, with many variations of these particular basic lengths.
From this article it is apparent that the cubit has varied with different ancient nations and times. That does not solve our problem but instead complicates it. We need to know the length of the cubit used for the temple, and not the length of the other cubits.
Even when it comes to Israel, the Encyclopedia lists at least four different lengths. Which of these is the correct one? One cubit that is discussed by this authority is the cubit of 18.23”. Here in part is information on this particular cubit.
“This cubit or one nearly equal, was used in Judea in the times of the Kings, as the Siloam inscription names a distance of 1728” as roundly 1200 cubits, showing a cubit of about 17.6” (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 28. P. 483).
In the Siloam conduit it is difficult to be exact in length. Other authorities mention the fact that this particular tunnel is crooked, and therefore it is difficult to get an exact measurement to use as a basis. Even then it does not prove one way or another the length of the temple cubit.
There is another general cubit length that is referred to by the Jews frequently. It is 21.6” in length.
“This cubit was also much used by the Jews, and is so often referred to that it has eclipsed the 25.1” cubit in most writings. The Gemara names three Jewish cubits of 5, 6, 7 palms, and as Oppert shows that 25.2” was reckoned 7 palms, 21.6 being 6 palms, we may reasonably apply this scale to the Gemara list, and read it as 18, 21.6 and 25.2 inches. There is also a great amount of medieval and other data showing this cubit of 21.6 to have been familiar to the Jews after their captivity; but there is no evidence for its earlier date” (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 28, p. 484).
Here at last is a clue to our problem. The Jews had more than one length in their method of calculating the cubit. These three different cubits used by the Jews were all based on the palm or handbreadth and not the forearm! We have already seen something about the two shorter lengths of approximately 18” and 21.6”, but what about the longer length 25.1”.
“It appears that Josephus, using the Greek or Roman Cubit, gives half as many more to each dimension of the Temple than does the Talmud; this shows the cubit used in the Talmud for the temple measures to be certainly not under 25 inches. Evidence of the early period is given, moreover, by the statement in I Kings (vii. 26) that the brazen sea held 2000 baths; the bath being about 2300 cub. In., this would show a cubit of 25 inch. If a lesser cubit of 21.6” be taken, the result for the size of the bath would be impossibly small” (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 28, p. 483).
Certainly these two important points demand a longer cubit of some 25 inches to be the one used in the time of Solomon, in the building of the temple. We need to go back now and continue a previous quotation taken from this same work regarding the 21.6” cubit. To make the sense clear it is necessary to quote a portion over again.
“There is also a great amount of medieval and other data showing this cubit of 21.6 to have been familiar to the Jews after their captivity; but there is no evidence for its earlier date, as there is for the 25 in. cubit (from the brazen sea)” (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 28, p. 483).
Here again is evidence of a change. A change from a longer cubit to a shorter one. This same point is brought out by another source.
“The cubit in very early times is said to have been 25.19 inches and after the Exile the legal cubits of the Talmudist were 21.85 in.” (Peloubet, Bible Dictionary, p. 788, footnote).
As stated earlier, Ezekiel said that the cubit he had reference to was one handbreadth longer. With the comments quoted previously it will now become clear why he referred to the handbreadth. It was the basis for the cubit, and not the arm. The Babylonian cubit, and the one to which the Jews changed during and after the captivity was obviously one handbreadth shorter than the original one.
Now it is clear why there was no problem regarding the cubit in the Book of Kings. It was compiled before the captivity, and the cubit was of established length. Ezekiel wrote during the captivity and he had to clarify that the cubit for the temple was not the Babylonian cubit, or one to which the Jews had changed. It was one handbreadth longer than the new cubit. Chronicles was compiled after the captivity so it was necessary to state that the cubit was according to the ancient measure, the one used prior to the captivity.
This fact is further acknowledged by Adam Clark in his Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 638 (on II Chron. 3:3).
“First measure of Moses (ancient measure, Jewish) contrary to Babylonian cubit of 1 palm less.” The palm and handbreadth are the same thing, just different terminology.
To have an exact figure of this long cubit, since 25.1”, 25.19” and 25.2” are mentioned, the round figure of 25.2” will be used as the basis from here on. The small distance of .01” is so negligible that it need not be of great concern in such measures.
Now we have seen that the basis of the Bible cubit is the palm or handbreadth and not the forearm. With that in mind, notice that the original cubit was seven palms. That is the number of completeness!
Judah went into captivity and adopted the Babylonian cubit of six (the number of a man) palms! That is a natural thing to do. Man has always spurned the ways that God has given and turned to the ways of man instead.
A shorter cubit such as one of five or six palms was apparently used in reference to Og, King of Bashan. “For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; it is not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? Nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man” (Deut. 3:11).
Notice that this cubit was “after the cubit of a man,” and not after or according to the Bible cubit God uses.
In examining the various length cubits mentioned, notice that they all fit closely into the basis of a palm or handbreadth of 3.6”. Three palms or 10.8”. Four palms or 14.4”. Five palms or 18.0”. Six palms or 21.6” Seven palms or 25.2”. This should make it evident that the Bible cubit and the former Jewish cubits were based on the palm instead of the forearm. Think what the length of this cubit means. It means that the temple of God will be 252 feet high! That is about the height of a modern 25 story building.
It means that the so-called “little side chambers” are not so little after all. These offices are about 10 feet from floor to ceiling. The five cubits left for the circular stairway is about 10 feet, which is ample for such a stairway. Using this cubit we now can see that Noah’s Ark was over 600 feet long and 100 feet wide. It was over 60 feet high, the height of a modern six story building.
Now we can have a better perspective of the lofty height and impressiveness of God’s Temple. Be watching for Part IV of this article, A Vision of the New World To Come.