Altar - Trench's New Testament Synonyms
Altarbomos (G1041) Altar
In dealing with propheteuo (G4395) and manteuomai (G3132) in chapter 6, I noted several instances where the accuracy of the distinction between the sacred and the profane, between true and false religion, was preserved in the group of words that may be used with one of these terms but not with the group of words that may be used with the other term. This same precision is demonstrated in the New Testament use of thysiasterion to refer to the altar of the true God and of bomos to refer to a heathen altar.
The New Testament usage of bomos and thysiasterion is patterned after the good example of the Septuagint and maintains the distinction drawn there. Indeed, the Septuagint translators were so determined to distinguish the altars of the true God from those where abominable things were offered that they probably invented the word thysiasterion for this purpose. In fact, the translators of the Septuagint were more careful to maintain a linguistic distinction between true and false altars than were the Old Testament writers themselves, who used bamah(G1116; Isa. 15:2; Amos 7:9) only to refer to heathen altars and mizbeha(G4196) sometimes to refer to the altar of the true God (Lev. 1:9) and sometimes to heathen altars (Isa. 17:8). Because thysiasterion never occurs in classical Greek, Philo must have had the Septuagintal use of the word in mind when he implied that Moses invented it. Nevertheless, the Septuagint does not invariably observe the distinction between bomos and thysiasterion that is observed in the New Testament. There are three occasions, one in 2 Maccabees (13:8) and two in Ecclesiasticus (50:12, 14), where bomos refers to an altar of the true God and several occasions where thy-siasterion is used to designate an idol altar (Judg. 2:2; 6:25; 2 Kings 16:10). These instances are rare exceptions, and sometimes the antagonism between the words is brought out with marked emphasis. This is the case in 2 Maccabees 10:2-3, but even more remarkably in 1 Maccabees 1:59, where the historian recounted how the servants of Antiochus offered sacrifices to Olympian Jupiter on an altar that had been built over the altar of the God of Israel. Here the authorized translators, by force of expediency, translated bomos as "idolaltar" and thysiasterion as "altar." Concerning these same events, Josephus noted: "Having built a bomon on the thysiasterio, he sacrificed swine on it." Even more notable (and marking the strength of their feeling) was the refusal by the Septuagint translators to call the altar of the Transjordanic tribes (Josh. 23) a thysiasterion, since it was erected for their own purposes, without the express command of God. Throughout Joshua 23, this altar is referred to as a bomos (vv. 10-11, 16, 19, 23, 26, 34), and the legitimate, divinely ordained altar is called a thysiasterion (vv. 19, 28-29). The Hebrew text makes no such distinction but indiscriminately employs mizbehato refer to both altars.
I just mentioned one occasion that proved problematic for the authorized translators. There was no such difficulty in Latin, for at an early date the church adopted altare to designate her altar and reserved ara exclusively for heathen ones. Cyprian also expressed his surprise at the profane boldness of one of the turificati, who afterwards dared, without first obtaining the church's absolution, to continue his ministry "as though it were right, after approaching the aras of the devil, to approach the altare of God."In secular Latin, ara is the genus, and altare is the specific kind of altar on which the victims were offered. The distinction between bomos and thysiasterion, which first was established in the Septuagint and later was recognized in the New Testament, was maintained in ecclesiastical Greek. In the thysia (G2378)aineseos (sacrifice of praise, Heb. 13:15), the thysia anamneseos (sacrifice of remembrance), and the anamnesis (G364) thysias (remembrance of sacrifice), the church has the equivalent of a thysiasterion. There is dear testimony to this in the following passage of Chrysostom, where Christ is supposed to be speaking: "So if you desire blood, do not make red the bomon of idols with the slaughter of senseless creatures, but my thysiasterion with my blood."