Symbolism In Biblical Worship

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

Symbols are tokens or signs (Hebrew 'ot, Greek smeion) that point beyond themselves to another, often abstract, reality that is difficult or impossible to represent any other way. As described in the next four entries, symbols can be a person, object, place, or act-anything that conveys meaning about the concept it represents. The ability of human beings to communicate symbolically is one characteristic that sets humankind apart from all other creatures.

Introduction to Symbolism In Biblical Worship

All worship is symbolic, even those intuitive encounters with the holy that seem to bypass the rational process, directly impacting the worshiper's consciousness. Symbolism must enter in once the worshiper begins to think about such an experience or to share it with others, for language and thought are symbolic processes.

Symbolic Acts and Gestures In Biblical Worship

Biblical men and women experienced the Lord as a dynamic God known through his interaction with them in the course of history. It is fitting, therefore, that much of the symbolism of biblical worship consists of physical actions that direct people beyond themselves to spiritual realities.

Symbolic Structures In Biblical Worship

In the Bible, the primary aspect of God's character is that he is "holy," not only in the sense of being good and righteous, but in the sense of being "sacred, sacrosanct," set apart from the ordinary. The Lord's people, because they belong to him, participate in his holiness (Lev. 20:26). But not only are the Lord and his people holy; physical objects, including structures and the space they represent or enclose, can be separated to God for his exclusive use and thus serve a symbolic function as windows into sacred reality. This is true of the altar, the tent (tabernacle), and the temple.

Symbolic Objects In Biblical Worship, Part 1

Together with symbolic actions and structures, biblical worship incorporates symbolic objects. Sometimes these are real objects, physically present in the place of worship. Sometimes they are verbal symbols of things not physically present. And sometimes they are both, either at the same time or at different times. Such objects include the ark of the covenant, books and scrolls, anointing oil, the lamp, incense, blood, the bread and cup, and the cross.

Symbolic Objects In Biblical Worship, Part 2

Symbolic objects in biblical worship continues with blood, the bread and cup, and the cross.