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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. The Greek terms.—Apart from the vb. ‘to stone’ (for wh. see Stoning), there are 5 Gr. words translation ‘stone’ in the NT which call for notice in the present article. (1) λίθος (LXX Septuagint for אָבֶןִ) is the general term. It occurs very frequently in the Gospels, and is the word with which in this art we are chiefly concerned. λίθος is distinguished from πέτρα as in English ‘stone’ is distinguished from ‘rock.’ (2) λίθινος (fr. λίθος), ‘made of stone’; found in the Gospels only in John 2:6 λίθιναι ὑδρίαι, ‘waterpots of stone.’ (3) πέτρος is rendered ‘stone’ only in Authorized Version of John 1:42 ‘Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a stone.’ AVm [Note: Vm Authorized Version margin.] gives ‘Peter,’ while Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 has ‘Peter’ in the text and ‘rock or stone’ in the margin. ‘Rock’ is certainly more adequate than ‘stone,’ for πέτρος properly denotes a mass of detached rock, as πέτρα does a living or solid rock. (So πετρώδης in the parable of the Sower [Matthew 13:5; Matthew 13:20, Mark 4:5; Mark 4:16] does not mean ‘stony’ [Authorized Version ] but ‘rocky’ [Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ]—not ground full of loose stones, but a thin soil with shelves of rock lying underneath). Probably, however, the sense is best conveyed by the proper name ‘Peter’—the meaning of ‘Peter’ being, of course, understood (cf. Matthew 16:18). (4) λαξευτός, ‘hewn in stone (fr. λᾶς ‘stone’ and ξἑω ‘scrape’ or ‘carve’), applied in Luke 23:53 to the tomb in which Jesus was laid. Mt. (Matthew 27:60) and Mk. (mrak 15:46), however, describe it as hewn out of rock (πέτρα). (5) ψῆφος, ‘pebble,’ represents ‘stone’ in the ‘white stone’ which in the Ep. to the Church in Pergamum Christ promises to him that overcometh (Revelation 2:17).

2. Stones crying out.—The stones of Christ and the Gospels form a suggestive subject. There are sermons in these stones, we might say, for they have lessons to impart to us regarding Christ’s history, His teaching, and His Person as the Messiah.

(1) His history.—(a) Whether or not we accept the ancient tradition that Jesus was born in one of the limestone caves of Bethlehem, it is very likely that His manger would be a manger of stone—built with stones and mortar if not hollowed out of the solid rock (see Thomson, LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] [ed. 1878] p. 413). If so, the first bed on which the Lord was laid, like the last one to which He was carried by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea (John 19:38 ff.), was a bed of stone.

(b) In Christ’s spiritual struggles on the very threshold of His public life, He had to do with the stones. It is a curious fact that they play a part in two out of the three acts that make up the drama of the Temptation in the Wilderness. In the one case, Jesus is tempted to use His miraculous powers to turn the stones that lie about Him on the rough mountain-side into loaves of bread wherewith to satisfy His hunger (Matthew 4:2-4, Luke 4:2-4). In the other, He is tempted to leap from a pinnacle of the Temple by the reminder that it is written (Psalms 91:11-12) that God’s child shall be upheld by angels, and so preserved from dashing his foot against a stone (Matthew 4:5-7, Luke 4:9; Luke 4:12). In the one case, the stones were to nourish His life; but contrary to God’s law of sowing and reaping. In the other, they were to refuse to dash Him to death; but contrary to the Divinely fixed law of gravitation. Satan meant the stones to be stones of stumbling to Jesus, on that difficult path of obedience and self-renunciation to which in His baptism He had just consecrated Himself. But Jesus by His faith and patience turned them into stepping-stones to higher things.

(c) At Cana of Galilee Jesus ‘manifested his glory’; and there, we might say, He was again beholden to the stones; for the six waterpots by whose aid He wrought His first miracle were waterpots of stone (John 2:6).

(d) But not always were the stones His servants and ministers. Twice in Jn.’s Gospel (John 8:59; John 10:31, cf. John 11:8) we read how the enemies of Jesus took up stones to cast them at Him, because He claimed that He was the Son of God.

(e) Against the cave which was Lazarus’ tomb there lay a stone (John 11:38)—rolled there to shut in the dead during the awful process of decay (John 11:39), as well as to shut out the ravening wild beasts. ‘Take ye away the stone,’ Jesus said (John 11:39); and when they had done so, another word of command turned that gravestone at Bethany into a parable to all the ages of the rolling away from human hearts of the crushing bondage of death (Hebrews 2:14 f.) by Him who is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25).

(f) It was not long after, when the Lord’s own body was carried to another tomb ‘hewn in stone’ (Luke 23:53), and laid on one of the stone shelves prepared for such a purpose. Against the door of His sepulchre also ‘a great stone’ was rolled (Matthew 27:60 ||), and a seal was set upon the guardian stone. And that great stone, which the Jewish rulers would fain have made the incontrovertible proof that the world had seen the last of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 27:62 ff.), has become the shining and perennial monument of His victory over death—proclaiming, in St. Peter’s words, that ‘it was not possible that he should be holden of it’ (Acts 2:24). For whenever Christian men think of the Lord’s sepulchre, they always see that great stone rolled back from the door, and the angel of the Resurrection sitting upon it (Matthew 28:2 ||).

(2) His teaching.—One of the most self-evident proofs that Jesus ever gave of the Heavenly Father’s love and the reality of prayer, lay in the question, ‘What man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?’ (Matthew 7:9). One of the most memorable examples of His heart-searching irony was when He said to the accusers of a sinful woman, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’ (John 8 :[7]). One of the most striking assertions of His claim to Messianic dignity lay in His answer to the Pharisees when they appealed to Him to rebuke the enthusiastic shouts of His disciples: ‘I tell you that if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40). One of His clearest and most emphatic predictions of the coming fate of Jerusalem was when He said of the Temple, adorned with goodly stones, ‘There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down’ (Mark 13:2 ||).

In the Ep. to the Church in Pergamum the author of the Apocalypse represents Jesus Christ as promising a ‘white stone’ to the victor in the good fight of faith (Revelation 2:17). Numerous explanations of this white stone have been suggested, but the one that seems best to satisfy all the requirements is that which takes it to be the tessara gladiatoria, bestowed on the victorious young gladiator when he exchanged the name of tiro for that of spectatus (see ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] i. [1889] p. 2, viii. [1897] p. 291; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. 618b).

The 5th of the Oxyrhynchus (1897) ‘Sayings of Jesus’ contains the striking words, ‘Jesus saith … Raise the stone and there shalt thou find me; cleave the wood and there am I.’ The words have lent themselves to various ingenious explanations; but the most probable interpretation is the one which also most readily suggests itself—that we have here an affirmation of the immanence of Christ in natural things. The saying may be understood in a sense that is perfectly in keeping with teaching that is found in the NT (e.g. John 1:3, Colossians 1:16 f.), but was more probably written with a leaning to a kind of Gnostic Pantheism. It is generally agreed that, in their present form at least, these ‘Sayings of Jesus’ were not spoken by the Lord Himself, and do not even belong to the earliest age (see Lock and Sanday, Two Lectures on the ‘Sayings of Jesus’ (1897); cf. ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] ix. [1898] p. 194 ff.).

(3) His Person.—On one occasion (Luke 20:17 = Matthew 21:42) Jesus took a stone (λίθος; cf. His symbolic use of ‘rock’ (πέτρα) in Matthew 7:24 f., ||, Matthew 16:18, and St. Paul’s ‘spiritual rock,’ ‘that rock was Christ,’ 1 Corinthians 10:4) as a symbol of His own Person. He had just spoken the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, and after announcing their doom, He quoted epexegetically Psalms 118:22 ‘The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.’ Thus He identified the rejected ‘Son’ of the parable with the rejected stone of the Psalm, and the wicked husbandmen with the scribes and Pharisees as the ‘builders’ of Israel’s theocratic edifice; but at the same time intimated to the latter that they must not think that by rejecting Him and putting Him to death they would be done with Him for ever. So far from that, He went on to say, ‘Every one that falleth on that stone shall be broken to pieces; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust’ (Luke 20:18 = Matthew 21:44).

In Acts 4:11 we find St. Peter taking up Christ’s symbol, and boldly declaring to the Sanhedrin that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was the stone set at naught by them the builders, but made by God the head of the corner. And in his Epistle he returns to this parable of the stone as a symbol of Christ’s Person, and dwells upon it with much greater fulness (1 Peter 2:4-8). He describes the Lord now, with evident reference to His Resurrection (cf. Acts 4:10 with Acts 4:11), as a ‘living stone,’ rejected indeed by men, but to God chosen and precious, upon whom His people are built up into a spiritual house. The allusion to the verse in Psalms 118 is unmistakable; but in what he proceeds to say the Apostle makes use further of two passages in Isaiah. First he quotes Isaiah 28:16 ‘Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner stone,’ etc., and next the words of Isaiah 8:14 about the ‘stone of stumbling and the rock of offence.’ And it seems clear that his reminiscence of the latter passage has been inspired by his recollection of the Lord’s own words as to those who fall upon the Stone which is Himself, and those upon whom that Stone shall fall (cf. Isaiah 8:7-8 with Luke 20:17-18 = Matthew 21:42; Matthew 21:44). See, further, art. Rock.

Literature.—The Lexx. on the various Gr. words, and the Comm. on the passages quoted.

J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Stone'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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