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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Sacrilege

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(ἱεροσολέω, to rob a temple, Romans 2:22; so the noun ἱερόσυλος, "robber of churches, "Acts 19:37), the violation or profanation of holy places, persons, or things. Though the word sacrilege is not used elsewhere than as above in our version of the canonical Scriptures, yet we find the crime itself often alluded to; e.g. "profaning the sanctuary" (Leviticus 21:22), "profaning hallowed things" (Leviticus 19:8), "profaning the covenant" (Malachi 2:10). The first sacrilegious act we read of is that of Esau selling his birthright (Genesis 25:33), for which he is called "profane" by Paul (Hebrews 12:16). Instances of this under the Mosaic economy (which sternly forbade it [Exodus 25:14]) were the cases of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10), the men of Bethshemesh (1 Samuel 5), Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:67), Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26). The Jews at a later period of their history were eminently guilty in this particular, inasmuch as they withheld the tithes and offerings which God required of them (Malachi 3:8-10), and converted his holy temple into a market (Matthew 21:12-13). This profanation is forbidden in the Talmud (Lightfoot, ad loc.). (See TEMPLE).

Yet they pretended to be punctiliously scrupulous in their reverence for the interior building (Matthew 26:61). So the grand accusation against Stephen was that he spoke disrespectfully of the Temple (Acts 6:13). An uproar was excited against Paul in Jerusalem on the charge that he brought Greeks into the Temple and polluted the holy place (Acts 21:28-29), though daily profanations were committed by the affected zealots with impunity. At length, in the closing scenes of Jerusalem, such were the multitude and the magnitude of the sacrileges that Josephus says if the Romans had not taken the city of Jerusalem he would have expected it to have been swallowed up like Sodom, or have had some other dreadful judgment. The jealousy of the Almighty respecting things dedicated to him, and his punishment of the profanation of them, are alluded to by Paul (1 Corinthians 3:17): "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." We read but little else in the N.T. pertaining to sacrilege except Paul's rebuke of the Corinthians for their profane conduct at the celebration of the Lord's supper (1 Corinthians 11:29). In that early period of the Christian Church, it had not been able as yet regularly to establish sacred places and things; but as soon as circumstances permitted, we shall find in the Church history of every nation a due respect for consecrated things, and laws for their preservation. Even the heathens, particularly the Greeks and Romans, were not without their rules concerning sacrilege, the penalty of which was usually death. Thus it was held sacrilege for the polluted to pass beyond the porch of the temple, to spit or wipe the nose in a temple, to cut down consecrated trees, to build upon or till any spot of ground where a thunderbolt had fallen, to suffer a man to witness the ceremonies of the Bona Dea, or Good Goddess, or to suffer a woman to enter the temple of Diana in the Vicus Patricius in Rome, to suffer a birth or death to occur in the holy isle of Delos, to steal anything belonging to a temple, to approach a sacrifice without being sprinkled by the priest with the lustral water, to consecrate a blemished man to the priesthood (compare with the Jewish law, Leviticus 21:21), and many other instances which will occur to the classical reader.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sacrilege'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/s/sacrilege.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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