The Meaning of the "Veil"

To appreciate the meaning of the veil, one must bear in mind that sin separates the sinner from God.

By W. E. HOWELL, Secretary to the President, General Conference

One of the most touching and significant terms in the vocabulary of the sanc­tuary service is the word "veil," when it is rightly understood. To appreciate its meaning, one must bear in mind that sin separates the sinner from God. Like the prodigal son, he has wandered so far into the wilderness of sin that he is lost and helpless and ready to die. Should he find his way back to the Father, he would be unfit to appear in His presence, for sin and sinners cannot en­dure the holy glory of the infinite God. Some way of approach must be found if the trans­gressor is to return to the Father.

In the case of Moses, he had so far found grace in the sight of God that the Lord con­versed with him "face to face, as a man speak­eth unto his friend." Yet the record is that the Lord was clothed with a cloud, so that Moses might be in His presence and live. After Moses had thus conversed with the Lord in the mount, his own face so reflected the glory of God when he came down to speak with the people, that even Aaron and the rulers "were afraid to come nigh him," so fearful to the sinner did that glory appear. Moses, therefore, put a veil over his face, and called them to him, that he might talk with them face to face.

It is very clear in this instance that the purpose of the veil was to enable the people to come near to their leader, not to keep them away. Herein is the very essence of the meaning of the veil in the sanctuary service. God desired to dwell with His people; but in order to make it possible for even the high priest to approach His presence, a veil was suspended between them in the daily service, and on the Day of Atonement, when the priest went beyond the veil into the most holy place, a cloud of incense served as a veil to enable him to approach so near to the holy Shekinah in his ministry for sinners.

How unspeakable is the love of God! Not willing that any should perish because of sin, He provides a way by which the sinner may return to the bosom of the Father. Lest he be destroyed in his very return, he is veiled with the incense of grace as he draws nigh to his Deliverer.

In the symbolism of the sanctuary service, no item is mere interesting and impressive than the veil, unless it be the blood. It was within the inner veil that the presence of God was manifest in such glory that it sometimes filled the sanctuary. It was before the veil that the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled. Upon the veil, angelic figures were wrought in gorgeous colors, symbolizing the part which these heavenly messengers take in the glorious work of saving the sinner. It was before the veil that the golden altar stood on which the sweet increase of prayer was burnt.

Amazing Mystery of Godliness

But none of this could fully represent the reality in the true service of the heavenly plan for the salvation of men. When the fullness of time was come for the Lamb of God to be revealed to men, He was "made of a woman," made "manifest in the flesh," "made flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us." How amazing is the "mystery of godliness" ! Man lost in the wilderness of sin, and the Son of God coming down from the vaulted heights of heaven to become one of us, to lift us up to sit in heavenly places with Him ! Yet even thus it was.

And how was this great condescension of being born of flesh symbolized in the earthly sanctuary ?—By the veil! How could that be ? Though it is an infinite mystery, the Scriptures attest the truth of it—this "new and living way" that He made for us was "through the veil, that is to say, His flesh." Heb. to :20. Wondrous thought ! We could not come to Him, and so He came to us! He came to us by becoming one of us, of our very flesh and bone.

Why did He take our flesh? One of the glorious reasons is that He could come closer to us in that way than in any other. In order to come so close to us, He must veil His divinity in our humanity. Our flesh that He took was His veil ! The veil of the sanctuary represented His flesh—the flesh in which He came to die for us, that we might live and be "fashioned like unto His glorious body." What wonder, then, that that veil of gorgeous scarlet and purple and fine-twined linen was curiously wrought in golden figures of cheru­bim and seraphim. What wonder that it occu­pied so central and conspicuous a place in the sanctuary. What wonder that the veil came to be used by metonymy* for the entire sanctuary, as we will show hereafter.

In harmony with the plan of these articles, the reader will want to see this wonder word "veil" in the Hebrew in which it was first written. It is paroketh. Its root is defined to mean separation; that is, standing between the sinner and God. Marvelous provision for bridging the breach—the veil, "that is to say, His flesh"—Christ manifest in the flesh, that He might unite the family of earth again to the family of heaven. It was in the flesh that He did His wonderful works and His more wonderful teaching. It was in the flesh that He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. It was in the flesh that He "offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears." It was in the flesh that He 'was in all points tempted like as we are," that He might become a high priest "touched with the feelings of our infirmities." Again I say, Marvelous paroketh (veil)—standing in the breach, healing the breach that inexorable sin hath made !

Christ's Life Symbolized by the Veil

Behold also the veil in Greekkatapetasma, with the root idea of a spreading, a covering. Most fittingly it touches the root meaning of the Hebrew hap/tar, to cover—the central idea in atonement, as brought out in article one of this series. In fact, it is definitely called "the veil of the covering" in Exodus 35:12; 39:34; and 40:21, and "the covering veil" in Numbers 4:5. In the dismantling of the tabernacle for the journey, the veil was taken down and most fittingly used to cover the ark and the mercy seat. How blessed is the man whose sin is covered. How blessed is the covering of our sin by Him who was manifest in the flesh, whose life and death were symbolized in the gorgeous covering veil of the sanctuary.

With this understanding of what the veil stands for, I turn to the use of this word in the Scriptures. Its Hebrew equivalent, paro­keth, is found twenty-three times in the Le­vitical books and once in Chronicles. In twenty-two of these instances it denotes specifically the inner veil, the one between the holy place and the most holy place. In two instances it is put by metonymy for the entire sanctuary. The prominence and importance of the inner veil are obvious from the numerous references

A figure of speech naming a part for a whole, or naming the whole by a principal or prominent part. For example, we say "fifty head" for "fifty cattle." Metonymy and synechdoche alike involve the substitution of one idea for another closely allied to it. The technical distinction between the two is now little noted, and the tendency is to allow metonymy to do duty for both. 

made to it in locating objects or service in the sanctuary, such as "before the veil," "without the veil," "within the veil." The last of these three is most often used, but before determining what it refers to, we must bear in mind that there were two veils in the sanc­tuary, one between the holy and the most holy places, and one at the door, or entrance, of the tabernacle, in the holy place. The writer of Hebrews calls the former "the second veil," and we may call the latter the first, or outer, veil. The first veil served as the door into the tabernacle, and screened the inside of the sanc­tuary from the gaze of the people in the court.

Before examining the two exceptional in­stances in what paroketh denotes, as mentioned above, we must note first the means of desig­nating the entire sanctuary when that is de­sired. Not all the furniture and service were within the tabernacle, for a very important part was the altar of burnt offering, which was entirely outside the main structure of the taber­nacle. Hence, when an all-inclusive term was needed, the Scripture uses such expressions as "the tabernacle and the altar," "the sanctuary and the altar," "the temple of God, and the altar." Sometimes these are mentioned in reverse order. This kind of expression oc­curs at least twenty-three times, and may be thought of as the standard way of designating the entire structure or service.

Now we come to the two instances in which paroketh does not denote specifically the sec­ond veil, but is used in a general sense to designate the tabernacle along with the altar in the usual way. In the first of these in­stances, the designation is in reverse order, but has the same meaning. It is found in Numbers 18 :7. The reader will observe that the first seven verses of this chapter are de­scribing the service of the priests in a general way. In verse 3 occurs the comprehensive expression, "the sanctuary and the altar." In verse 5, again, "the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar." In verse 7 the phrase is in reverse order, but with the same obvious meaning: "everything of the altar, and within the veil." Here "within the veil" is unquestionably used to designate the entire tabernacle along with the altar, both because of the series in which it occurs, and because the service which "thou and thy sons" were charged to keep included the entire service of the tabernacle as well as the altar.

Another text in which the veil is used to designate the entire tabernacle along with the altar is Leviticus 21:23. From verse 16 to the end of this chapter, the Lord is warning Aaron through Moses that none of his sons who have a blemish shall minister in the priest's office. Such a son would have rights in eating what was allotted to the priests, "only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar." This was obviously intended to include the entire service, with -the veil" designating the tabernacle as a whole, along with the altar.*

With these two instances in mind, we pass to the one instance in the New Testament in which the same phrase used in Numbers 18 :7, "within the veil," is employed—Hebrews 6:19. "The hope set before us," is declared to be "as an anchor to the soul, . . which entereth into that within the veil, whither the fore­runner is for us entered, even Jesus." Some take the phrase "within the veil" to mean here the most holy place. But we have shown clearly that in two instances in the Old Testa­ment—one reading "within the veil" and the other "in unto the veil"—the word "veil" is used to denote the entire tabernacle. Why not the same in this one passage in the New Testament? The setting strongly favors it. The writer is unfolding the work of the anti-typical priesthood in the book of Hebrews. In this passage he is dealing with "the hope set before us." This hope is surely anchored in the entire service of the sanctuary, not in some specific phase of it.

Again, Jesus is particularly set forth in this passage as a priest after the order of Mel­chizedek who has entered upon the work of His priesthood after shedding His own blood on the cross. Surely His work as priest in­cludes all the service of the sanctuary in the tabernacle not made with hands, of which He gave a true pattern in the earthly service. He has done His work at the altar of sacrifice on the cross, and now He passes "within the veil," the tabernacle in heaven, to minister the merits of that sacrifice; and there our hope is centered. "Within the veil" here, as it does in Numbers, must therefore include the entire tabernacle service.

In thus interpreting this notable passage, no violence at all is done to the fact that in entering upon His heavenly ministry Jesus began His actual work where Aaron, His type, began his—in the holy place, at the entrance to the entire tabernacle—and there the work of Jesus as our high priest began. The word "enter" is used twice in this passage, and one must enter at the place of entrance, and begin his work where the work begins.

It is pertinent to remark in this connection that there are only two texts in the Scriptures in which the distinction between the holy and the most holy place is definitely made as such. One is in Exodus 26:33, and the other is in Hebrews 9:2, 3. In all other cases, the iden­tity of each of the two apartments must be determined by the phrasing and the context. That is how twenty-two of the places in the Old Testament in which the veil is mentioned are identified as referring to the most holy place. It is just as true that the two other places where the veil is mentioned are equally identified by the context to refer to the entire tabernacle. It does no violence to the laws of speech to let a vital part of the whole stand for the whole—the veil for the tabernacle. The passage in Hebrews 6:19, 20 lends itself to equally clear identity from the phrasing and context as referring to the entire tabernacle—with the priestly work, of course, beginning in the holy place, true to pattern.

Only one more passage need be considered here—the notable one in Matthew, repeated in substance by Mark and Luke: "The veil of the temple was rent in twain." The phrase "the veil of the temple" undoubtedly refers to the second veil, but just as undoubtedly the rending of that veil stood for discontinuance of the entire service of the temple, thus re­vealing again the importance of the veil in the sanctuary service.

The great lesson from the veil is the coming of Jesus in the flesh, that He might come closer to humanity, and that the sinner might have a way to come near to God. As we live our life in the flesh, may you and I be able to say, with Paul, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me [enough to dwell in my flesh], and gave Himself for me," that I might live in Him.

* A fuller treatment of this phrasing will be found in the next article, "The Meaning of the Altar."—Editor.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By W. E. HOWELL, Secretary to the President, General Conference

November 1940

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Maintain Poise in Times of Crisis

What do coming days hold in store for us? Are there brighter days ahead as far as this old world is concerned?

A Week of Sacrifice in a Year of War

The Week of Sacrifice plan, which was adopted in 1922, has been an untold help to our foreign missions. For the first time in our history, we now have such a week after a year of war.

Study of the Prophecies

Vital "Testimony" Counsels

Concerning the Annual Church Election

How ought church officers be chosen and elected by the church?

Establishing New Converts

Establishing new converts in the car­dinal doctrines of the third angel's message is of supreme importance, a great objective of our work. How do we do this?

Enriching the Baptismal Service

Ways to dignify and solemnize the baptismal service.

Editorial Keynotes

The Ministerial Call and Calling—No. 1

Illustrative Devices for Teaching Truth

The use of illustrative devices constitutes an essential element in preaching and teaching God's message in an effective manner.

Faithfulness in Reporting

The title of this article may suggest to some that I am planning to admonish our workers in general, and our missionaries in particular, to be more cooperative in provid­ing for a constant flow of reports of progress for use in promotion work in the homeland. believe there is need for such admonition, but that is not my purpose at present.

Congregational Singing—No. 1

The congregational hymn is an effective worship channel for the individual only as he takes a definite part in it by singing

Advancing Under Difficulty in Europe

Will normal times return soon?

Student Medical Evangelism

We are truly thankful for the evidences of God's leading as we view the progress being made in medical evangelistic work in the city division of the College of Medical Evangelists.

Ancient Medical Missionary Commission

Teaching and heal­ing will be combined in the true church, as they were in the days of Christ and the apos­tles, when the church went forth conquering and to conquer, and when in a brief period the gospel was preached to all the world.

Medical Work in the Far Eastern Division

In the Far Eastern Division, which is com­posed of five large unions—Chosen, Japan, Philippines, Netherlands East Indies, and Malaya—we have a thriving medical work.

Home-Nursing Class in New Orleans

In the class in home nursing and health A. preservation recently conducted for the New Orleans church, we found a blessing in giving special emphasis to soul winning as the main objective.

A Course in Christian Evidences Needed--2

Part two of our theological seminary lectures on the need for Christian evidences.

Reliving Our Pioneer Days

Why you need the reading course.

Editorial Postscripts

From the Ministry back page.

Mobilize, the Spirit of the Hour

All the world is mobilizing. To mobilize is the spirit of the hour.

A Plea for Diversified Preaching

How may a preacher achieve diversity in his preaching?

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated


Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)