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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Tabernacle

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(σκηνή, tabernaculum)

Tabernacle is the name given in the English Bible, since the time of Wyclif, to the moving sanctuary which, according to the OT priestly writers, was prepared by Moses as the place of worship of the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness. This tabernacle, which is described with elaborate detail in Exodus 25-31, and which supplies the writer of Hebrews with the premisses of his great argument, is now almost universally regarded as a post-Exilic product of the Hebrew religious imagination, working upon a foundation of historical fact. Suggested by the Divine promise to Israel, ‘My dwelling shall be with them’ (Ezekiel 37:27)-where ‘dwelling’ (מִשְׁכֶּן) gives the literal sense of the word usually rendered by ‘tabernacle’-it was an attempt to give ideal expression, by outward and visible symbols, to a people’s faith in the real presence of God. Realizing the double truth of the Divine nearness and mysterious unapproachableness, the priests in a manner materialized the conditions under which the right relation between God and His people could be renewed and maintained. Their sanctuary was evidently a development of the sketch of Ezekiel (40-48); but, whereas his ideal was a hope to be realized in the Messianic age, theirs was represented as a reminiscence of the Mosaic time. In some respects following, but in others widely diverging from, the arrangements of the first Temple, its ritual was in all essentials actualized in the second and third Temples. Various allusions to the tabernacle are found in the apostolic writings.

1. The writer of Hebrews delights, like Philo, in the typical and allegorical interpretation of the OT Scriptures, which seem to him pregnant with hidden spiritual meanings. His aim is to prove that the Christian has passed ‘ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem.’ Never referring to the Temple, always to the tabernacle, he lingers over the description of ‘the vessels of the ministry’ (Hebrews 9:21), entering into details which would have been superfluous had he been writing merely to Jewish readers. While he recognizes the splendour of the old order, and reverently unfolds the significance of its ritual, he regards all the Levitical institutions as prophetic types which, having at length been fulfilled by Christ, may now be set aside without compunction or regret. His philosophical presupposition, or view of the world, is the Platonic and Philonic one, that heaven is the place of realities, while earth is the place of shadows; and his central doctrine is that Christ, having, as a ‘minister of the true tabernacle (ἡ σκηνὴ ἡ ἀληθινή), which the Lord pitched, not man’ (Hebrews 8:2), entered within the veil, has won for every Christian the right of personal access to God. Holding, like the most enlightened Israelites before him, that the Mosaic ordinances were no more than Divinely appointed ceremonial forms, and asserting the spiritual ineffectiveness of the whole ritual, even of the supreme sacrifice of the Day of Atonement, he declares ‘the first tabernacle’ (Hebrews 9:6; Hebrews 9:8), though made in all things according to a heavenly pattern (τύπον, Hebrews 8:5), to be superseded by ‘a greater and more perfect tabernacle’ (Hebrews 9:11), and the Levitical priesthood by ‘a more excellent ministry’ (διαφορωτέρα λειτουργία, Hebrews 8:6).

2. The writer of the Fourth Gospel illustrates the Incarnation by saying that the Logos tabernacled (ἐσκήνωσεν) among us (John 1:14). As God once dwelt, in visible cloud and flame, among His people, so Christ has sojourned among men, who have beheld His glory, which in this instance is the spiritual glory of a perfect manhood.

3. The author of the Revelation depicts the final state of Messianic happiness in the words: ‘Behold, the tabernacle (σκηνή) of God is with men, and he shall dwell (σκηνώσει) with them’ (John 21:3). ‘So closely does Shekinah resemble σκηνή, that the former has even been thought of as a transliteration of the latter’ (C. Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers2, Cambridge, 1897, p. 44). That was no more than a linguistic fancy, Shekinah being really derived from the same verb as mishkan, ‘tabernacle.’ But the Messianic promise is partially fulfilled in an intenser realization of the Divine Immanence in the world, where ‘earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God’ (E. B. Browning, Aurora Leigh, bk. vii. line 844 f.), and a modern mystic declares that ‘there is but one Temple in the world, and that is the Body of Man. Nothing is holier than this high form. Bending before men is a reverence done to this Revelation in the Flesh. We touch Heaven, when we lay our hand on a human body’ (Novalis, Carlyle’s Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, London, 1872, ii. 216). Cf. St. Paul’s words, ‘ye are a temple (ναός, from ναίειν, ‘to dwell’) of God … the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are’ (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). But when a promise is to be fulfilled by Christ, the best is yet to be.

Literature.-W. Nowack, Lehrbuch der hebräischen Archäologie, Freiburg i. B., 1894; I. Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, do., 1894; R. L. Ottley, Aspects of the OT (BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] ), London, 1897, pp. 226ff., 261ff.; A. R. S. Kennedy, articles ‘Tabernacle’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia Britannica 11.

James Strahan.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tabernacle'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/tabernacle.html. 1906-1918.

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