What is the significance of mountains in the bible?

First of all, mountains are mentioned frequently in the Bible because mountains dotted the landscape of biblical regions. In other words, while mountains have a significant symbolic value in the Bible, they first and foremost are part of the physical reality of the Bible. As a result, mountains and hills are mentioned over 500 times in the Bible. Mountains have a logical religious symbolism for biblical cultures since they are “closer to God” who was believed to dwell in the heavens (as in the sky). As a result, God often reveals himself on the mountaintop.

In the Old Testament, the mountains of Sinai and Zion are most significant. Mount Sinai, of course, is associated with Moses and is the place where Moses received the gift of the Law, the Ten Commandments. Thus, Mount Sinai is a symbol of God’s Covenant with Israel. Zion, to the south, is the location of the Jerusalem Temple. In the New Testament (Mark and Luke to be precise), Jesus appoints the Twelve on a mountain. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus delivers the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount, conjuring an image of Moses who received the Commandments on Mount Sinai. Matthew’s mostly-Jewish audience would immediately pick up on the comparison between Moses and Jesus. Matthew, in particular, has 6 significant mountain “scenes” in his gospel: Jesus’ temptation (4:8); the Sermon on the Mount (5:1); a number of healings (15:29); the Transfiguration (17:1); Jesus’ final discourse (24:1); and the commissioning of the Apostles (28:16). Perhaps the most significant mountain scene in the Gospels, however, is the Transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus is accompanied by Moses and Elijah, who themselves encountered God on the mountaintop in the Old Testament. Now, they encounter God through Jesus and Jesus, in turn, is seen as the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).

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Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).


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