Why does the Catholic Church disobey God by making altars of hewn stones? Exodus 20:25


How do you reconcile current practice around the world with this verse from Exodus 20 (NABRE)?

25 But if you make an altar of stone for me, do not build it of cut stone, for by putting a chisel to it you profane it.

Should we change how we build churches?

The Haydock Commentary on Exodus 20 quotes Calmet:

Ver. 25. Defiled; because done in opposition to God’s order, who required, on this occasion, the utmost simplicity, to prevent any undue veneration. Iron was not used about the tabernacle or temple, as brass was more common. Altars raised in haste, like that, Deuteronomy xxvii. and Josue viii. 30, and that which was designed for the ratification of the covenant, (chap. xxiv. 4,) were required to be of this construction, unpolished and simple, as was the altar erected, 1 Machabees iv. 47. But other altars were not built after this model. (Calmet)

I suppose with the phrase, “if you make me an altar of stone,” might be referring to the ‘in the wilderness’ practice as Calmet seems to describe (e.g. like those made by Abraham or Israel by piling rocks and pouring oil on them), but literally there is no restriction on this commandment: Literally, it applies to every altar we decide to build.

I am alarmed because it does seem to me churches would be more special – and yes, more expensive, but perhaps more special for this reason – if we abided by this commandment, rather than always having smooth rectangular altars as seen in western churches. Likewise regarding candles instead of electricity and natural acoustics rather than electric amplification, physical sight rather than large televisions. It seems to me one reason people stop going is because it does not appear special in these ways. Do you agree?

Do you think we should return to building altars of natural rock? Would God look more favorably on our prayers if we used such an altar?


No on both counts. The commandment was intended for and binding on the Israelites. Just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean that every commandment written thereon is still applicable for Christians in the 21st century. Otherwise, why do we not keep kosher or celebrate the Sabbath? :shrug:

I mean, even from a historical point of view this interpretation doesn’t really make sense. Our Christian altar was a table - the kind you eat a meal on. It’s unlike the Israelite/Jewish altar, which was essentially a sort of hearth or fireplace for the sacrificial animals to be roasted on. Our altars are not directly descended from the Israelite type of altar.


As patrick457 cited, we are not bound by the OT precepts, only the moral law since all the precepts, ordinances, offerings, etc. of the OT were fulfilled in Christ.

The reason our altars are usually rectangular and made of stone is because our first altars were the sarcophagus of the martyrs in the catacombs of Rome, which were literally used as altars for the sacrifice of the Mass.


My friend we OWE to God the very BEST that we are able to offer Him.

That includes making Good use of the talents HE has given us to share with Him and others.:thumbsup:

1] Thou shalt make also an altar of setim wood, which shall be five cubits long and as many broad, that is, foursquare, and three cubits high. [2] And there shall be horns at the four corners of the same: and thou shalt cover it with brass. [3] And thou shalt make for the uses thereof pans to receive the ashes, and tongs and fleshhooks, and firepans: all its vessels thou shalt make of brass. [4] And a grate of brass in manner of a net: at the four corners of which shall be four rings of brass, [5] Which thou shalt put under the hearth of the altar: and the grate shall be even to the midst of the altar.

[6] Thou shalt make also two bars for the altar of setim wood, which thou shalt cover with plates of brass: [7] And thou shalt draw them through rings, and they shall be on both sides of the altar to carry it. [8] Thou shalt not make it solid, but empty and hollow in the inside, as it was shewn thee in the mount. [9] Thou shalt make also the court of the tabernacle, in the south side whereof southward there shall be hangings of fine twisted linen of a hundred cubits long for one side. [10] And twenty pillars with as many sockets of brass, the heads of which with their engraving of silver. END QUOTE

What we are dealing with here are Church Practices, which ARE Changable:thumbsup:

These are NOT matters of Doctrine or Dogma:)

Mt 16:18-19
[18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven**. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth**, it shall be bound also in heaven: and** whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth**, **it shall be loosed also in heaven. **:thumbsup:


I wonder if the original passage may have been reflective on the egyptians using hewn stone for their religious system? Kind of a don’t make the same mistakes they did…

Just a thought.


If you are going to take the OT as literally and as binding today as it was then, you have to take the WHOLE thing, not just pick and choose. At which point you would be denying that Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and we are no longer bound by it, which of course, is heresy.

We are bound by the moral code, which is pretty much a universal code written in the hearts of men by God (Ten Commandments). We are not bound by the laws of Moses. Do not take either the OT or the NT out of the contexts in which they were written–this will only lead to confusion. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant, it is no longer binding on us.



Otherwise, we might as well ask in the same breath why we disobey God and not offer animal sacrifices as he commanded.


This is very insightful.


Not sure if I’m repeating what somebody else said: The Jewish commentaries I’ve read say the injunction was aimed at preventing them from worshiping the items they carved, like the idols they used to carry with them.

Today, there’s more politics about the altar and churches in general. some claim that instead of the very ornate gothic churches of 100 years ago, new churches are deliberately made minimalistic, like Protestant churches, to attract Protestants and to not have to answer so many questions about why the churches are so fancy (e.g. money issues).

Recall during the reformation, Catholic Church were raided by Protestants and statues were demolished and communion rails were outlawed by the British parliament (part of its anti-catholic bias).

There’s lots of rationalizations about this modern trend. You’re supposed to forget what they told you back then and listen to what they tell you now. Organs have been replaced by pianos (which I can’t stand). Oh, sure, a piano is a “stringed instrument” but so what? The organs are much more beautiful sounding and the music was better.

Tabernacles have been moved around into closets instead of being visible for worship. Kneelers are gone, of course – forget that. Those were the “old” days – so what?

At the other extreme of vanity, in my opinion, is the “temple” that Mother Angelica built in Hanceville, AL. OK, so it’s got an 8 foot high monstrance. that seems to draw attention away from the Blessed Sacrament IN the monstrance. The confessionals are sculpted of wood from South America. So what? And MA wanted everything “gold” so she got her way – that’s the ticket. all these extreme variations are about power and getting things somebody’s way, whether it’s pianos or exotic confessionals or 8 ft monstrances. it’s all way beyond the point – of worship – depends what you’re worshiping.

If I had the money, I would have bought a 9 foot monstrance, just to make her mad. There’s just madness in the church today. In chicago, at blessed sacrament cathedral, i think, their monstrance has a host that is something like 4 feet across. No goose bumps here.


I’m not a historian about the Jerusalem Temple, by any means, but I think you can see something interesting at the modern “wailing wall.” These are obviously hewn stones for the foundation of the temple mount, probably what we’re looking at is Herod’s enlargement of the second temple.

You tell me – are the Jews worshiping these stones? Probably not in the slightest. they are acting out the memory of the Temple which was located there. The Jewish scriptures have so much to say about worshiping God at the Temple, and wanting to be there.

Fortunately, we know that Christ is our new Temple, He is the focus of our worship. I don’t think we have to worry about stones anymore.

In Royal Oak Michigan is the national shrine of St. Therese of the Little Flower, and when it was built and perhaps even today, the altar is a massive 15 ton hewn or cut stone, or on that order. Obviously the Church has considered the matter and that part of the Temple cult is not a concern for us.


We are not under the “Torah” the Law…


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