Veil Definition

veil definition
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

The veil between the holy and most holy places of the sanctuary has been interpreted in various ways. This study will attempt to sort that out.

Traditional Legal Model – The veil between the holy place and the most holy place represents the body of Christ. It was torn by the hands of the Father at the moment of Jesus’ death representing the payment for sins made by Jesus’ death on the cross. Even seen by some to represent the Father striking His Son.

Biblical Healing Model – The tearing of the veil represents the opening of a new and living way into the holiest (the presence of God) achieved by the revelation to us that the sacrifice of Christ was not for appeasement.

One well-known verse about a veil is very misunderstood:

“By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Heb 10:20)

We will look in detail at that verse but first we need to understand the meaning of a veil, its use and significance in different settings. Note that I will just be using the spelling “veil” in discussing the similar terms “vail” and “veil.”

Rebekah’s Veil

“For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.” (Gen 24:65)Rebekah's Veil

Why did Rebekah cover herself with a veil? This could have been because of modesty, custom, embarrassment or anxiety although notice that she was not covered in the presence of just the servant. It doesn’t seem that there was any intent to deceive.

Tamar’s Veil

 Judah, one of Jacob’s 12 sons had three sons. The oldest married Tamar but died. His next son married her and also died so Judah delayed giving his third son to her.

“And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.” (Gen 38:14-15)

In Tamar’s case, the veil was for purposes of deception.

Moses’ Veil

“And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.” (Exo 34:30-33)

Moses covered his face with a veil but for none of the same reasons. In his case, it was as an accommodation to the fears of the people. There was no deception involved.

The Ark’s Veil

The veil that separated the holy and most holy places of the sanctuary was used to cover the ark when it was to be moved.

“And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it:” (Num 4:5)

In that case, the veil was used as protection from the elements while travelling and, likely, to keep it from the gaze of those who would not have looked at it with respect (and perhaps even with covetous thoughts of all that gold).

The Old Testament’s Veil

 Now, we come to a veil used in a metaphorical (non-physical) sense.

“But their [the children of Israel] minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it [their hearts] shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” (2 Cor3:14-16)

The veil was over the “reading” or, really, the understanding of what was read.

“reading” = anagnosis

G320 ἀνάγνωσις anagnosis [an-ag’-no-sis]
from 314; n f;
AV-reading 3; 3
1) knowing
1a) a knowing again, owning
1b) reading

The Greek word is similar to the word “gnostic” which is related to having knowledge. Why did God put a veil over the understanding of the Old Testament? Of course, He didn’t. He wouldn’t. That would be totally inconsistent with :

“Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.” (Jer 9:23-24)

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

Other verses suggest that God wants us to know and understand Him: Jer 31:34, Heb 8:11, 1 John 5:20.

God would certainly not be responsible for preventing people from understanding His word. The veiling of the understanding must be coming from a different source. There are verses that can make it seem that God does this such as:

“And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Matt 13:14-15)

But, in those verses, Jesus was explaining the parable in which He had made it clear that some people would not be able to understand because they would not. They were those described as the “way side” in the parable:

“And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:” (Matt 13:4)

The responsibility for misunderstanding was also attributed to Satan:

“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Cor 4:4)

The Most Holy Place’s Veil

Veil of the holy place
This picture illustrates the holy place with the angel-adorned veil in the background covering the most holy place

 “Without the vail of the testimony, in the tabernacle of the congregation, shall Aaron order it [the lampstand] from the evening unto the morning before the LORD continually: it shall be a statute for ever in your generations.” (Lev 24:3)

The holiest or the most holy place contained the ark of the testimony:

“And thou shalt put the mercy seat upon the ark of the testimony in the most holy place.” (Exo 26:34)

This veil represents what?

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Heb 10:19-20)

The very-important question here is:

Is His flesh the veil or the new and living way?

Grammatically, it could be either. Spiritually, it makes a very significant difference.

The sentence structure in both the English and the Greek allow for “the veil” (or “body” in some versions) to refer to either “the veil” or the “new and living way.” One has to decide which it is and most interpretations favor equating the flesh with the veil. Let’s take a very careful look. Here is verse 20 which contains a subordinate clause:

By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;”

The “which he hath consecrated for us” is a subordinate clause. That clause is describing the “new and living way.” It can be removed without affecting the meaning of the rest of the sentence, leaving us with:

“By a new and living way through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;”

“That is to say his flesh” (or “in other words …”) is linking “his flesh” to something earlier in the sentence.

Now we have to decide if it is connected with:

the new and living way


the veil

The two choices are in opposition to each other. How could the veil represent “a new and living way” when it is torn in half from top to bottom? More about that later.

The verse could be rewritten in two ways:

His flesh = a new and living way … through the veil

His flesh = the veil … a new and living way

Jesus said “I am the way” NOT “I am the veil” or “the veil is the way.” A way through something makes sense. You can walk a way or a path past or through something such as a forest. A veil (a covering) does not seem to equate with a way to anything; indeed, the veil blocks the way.

What did Jesus say about “the way”?

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

What does that verse indicate is the destination of that way?

Jesus is trying to get us to the Father. Someone else is trying to keep us from the Father.

Here is a related verse and some commentary on it:

“So Solomon overlaid the house within with pure gold: and he made a partition by the chains of gold before the oracle [the holy of holies]; and he overlaid it with gold.” (1 Kings 6:21)

“Solomon made a chain-work decoration on the partition, or (perhaps more probably) that he made a golden chain to go across the entrance in the partition before the Oracle, in front of the veil, so as to be an additional guard against intrusion.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

“The chains of gold – Their object was to form a barrier between the holy place and the holy of holies.” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

Another section about Satan’s veil has been put on a separate page which you can see here. You can read that page and then return here.

The Veil Torn

veil tornGood News Productions International/College Press Publishing

“And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” (Mark 15:38)

No one but God could have done such a thing because that veil was, by many accounts, 60 feet tall and four inches thick. The direction of the tear meant God opened the barrier between himself and humanity, an act only God had the authority to do.

What was Satan trying to hide?

“But if our gospel be hid (veiled), it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Cor 4:3-4)

The Torn Veil Gives Access to the Most Holy

“Therefore, believers, since we have confidence and full freedom to enter the Holy Place the place where God dwells by means of the blood of Jesus,” (Heb 10:19, Amplified Bible)

It is the blood (life) of Jesus that gives us entrance, not that keeps us from entering. Christ takes away the veil – it is not Himself. In fact, the result is that in that action our understanding of Christ’s (and His Father’s) true character is restored.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood [and thus the life] that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Lev 17:11)

“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it [their heart] shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” (2 Cor 3:14-16)

“By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.” (Heb 10:20, New Living Translation)

The veil represents obscured vision or understanding. See a more-detailed look at 2 Corinthians 3

Our Veil

Our sins can have the effect of a veil:

“Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isa 59:2)

The veil in that verse is what makes a separation between us and God. His face is veiled, not because God puts up a veil to hide from us when we sin, but because our sins have the effect of hiding His face or character in our understanding due to the effect those sins have on us. We feel that God is upset with us and may even want to punish us.

This refers to the removal of the veil:

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)

The word “open” is from the Greek word “anakalupto” (G343) meaning to unveil or uncover.

We with an “open face,” refers to having no veil or covering obstructing our perception of the glory or character of God. Then our minds are enlightened as to His true character and we begin to take on the characteristics of what we admire in Him. Thus, we are gradually changed to become more like Him.

Key to that change is this process:

“But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart [mind or understanding]. Nevertheless when it [“their heart”] shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” (2 Cor 3:15-16)

When anyone shall turn with their whole heart/mind to the Lord, realizing that Jesus did portray a God of love, they will be able to read the Old Testament in a new light:

“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.” (2 Cor 3:14)

That verse clearly speaks of miscomprehension (minds blinded with misunderstanding) in reading the Old Testament. Misunderstanding that is removed with a correct understanding of the mission of Christ which was to reveal His Father’s true character. That, in turn, helps us to understand God’s role in many Old Testament stories. It gives us boldness to come into God’s presence because of what the life of Christ revealed to us about God.

God’s Unveiling

Does God have a veil or use a veil to hide anything? He does that only in an accommodating sense to protect us or as a teaching device. He also He hides His face in grief.

Adam and Eve were veiled with skins but as an accommodation to help cover their shame and as a teaching tool – certainly not to veil any truth.

“And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.” (Eze 39:29)

Not hiding His face, in that verse, would be the equivalent of Him bringing light to bear on the subject so that people can correctly understand His character (“see His face”). There are several verses speaking of the result of this.

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:9)

“And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. (Isa 25:7)

“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:34)

“But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.” (Rev 10:7)

Could “the mystery of God should be finished” be a way of saying God’s character is unveiled or understood? It would then essentially mean “the revealing of the mystery (what was previously hidden) of God.

Does God Tearing the Veil Indicate that He Struck His Son?

 The common view is that the veil represented the body of Christ and that its tearing pointed to Jesus being struck by the Father. But this grossly misrepresents God’s character. We need to consider verses like this:

“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” (Isa 53:10)

Jesus’ suffering and death pleased the Lord only in the sense that it accomplished what was needed to restore lost humanity into harmony with God.

Did Jesus say

“My God my God why have you struck me”


“Why have your forsaken me”?

God did not strike His Son and even the forsaking has been misunderstood.

We must understand that the cross was not about appeasement or payment to God to enable Him to forgive sin. See the glossary page on the meaning of appeasement and other pages on this site for a correct understanding. Jesus’ death was not required to satisfy Divine justice in the sense of retribution or payment of a penalty to God.

We can praise God for what the torn temple veil does represent – the opening of our understanding to the true character of God.

See a video of a group study on the meaning of the veil.

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