(English Index)

(Original Index)




According to the Bible, the 'mercy seat' (Hebrew כפורת, Kaporet, meaning "atonement seat") was an object which rested upon the Ark of the Covenant, and was connected with the rituals of Yom Kippur; the term also appears in the Pauline epistles (Romans 3:25 and Hebrew 9:5), and has a significance in Christian theology. The phrase 'mercy seat' is not a translation of the Hebrew term kapporet, which appears in its place in the Masoretic text, but instead is the translation by William Tyndale (English scholar and translator who became a leading figure in Protestant reform) of the German term gnadenstuhl, from the same narrative position in Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German; gnadenstuhl literally means 'seat of grace', in the sense of 'location of grace'.

Though kapporet is probably derived from kaphar, which is often considered to mean cover, the literal meaning of kaphar is wipe out, implying that kapporet means thing of wiping out / thing of cleansing.

According to Exodus 25:17-22, the 'mercy seat' was manufactured from pure gold, and was the same width and breadth as the Ark beneath it; the Ark and 'mercy seat' were kept inside the Holy of Holies – the Temple's innermost sanctuary, which was separated from the remainder of the temple by a thick curtain [parochet], because the Ark and 'mercy seat' were associated with the presence of Yahweh. According to the Book of Samuel, these cherubim together formed a seat for Yahweh (2 Samuel 6:2).

According to the Biblical directions, the Holy of Holies could only be entered at Yom Kippur, and even then could only be entered by the Jewish High Priest, who was covenanted to do so in order to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial bull onto the mercy seat, as an atonement for himself and his family, the other priests, the tabernacle, and the people of Israel (Leviticus 16:14-17).

Though the term mercy seat usually appears as the English translation for the Greek term hilasterion in the Epistle to the Hebrews, most translations are usually inconsistent as they instead generally translate hilasterion as propitiation where it occurs in the Epistle to the Romans. The Epistle to the Hebrews recounts the description of the Ark, Holy of Holies, and 'mercy seat', and then goes on to portray the role of the 'mercy seat' during Yom Kippur as a prefiguration of the Passion of Christ, which it argues was a greater atonement (Hebrew 9:12), and formed a New Covenant; the text continues by stating that the Yom Kippur ritual was merely a shadow of things to come (Hebrew 8:5), which in Christian theology is taken as meaning that the ritual became obsolete once Jesus had died. Jesus was sent by God as a propitiation (Romans 3:25), and He had become a sin offering (2 Corinthians 5:21).