Architectural term used twice in the New Testament ( Eph 2:20 ; 1 Peter 2:6 ) to speak of the exalted Jesus as the chief foundation stone of the church, the cornerstone on which all the building depends. The New Testament draws on two Old Testament passages about the coming Messiah ( Isa 28:16 ; Zech 10:4 ). In Isaiah 28:16 the prophet speaks God's words directly to the rulers in Jerusalem who boasted that they were immune to the scourges of life because they were secure in themselves. God said their security was false because he would lay a stone in Zion, a precious cornerstone, which really was secureand it was not those present rulers. Zechariah expands this promise by saying that the cornerstone will come from the tribe of Judah (10:4). Paul builds on this concept in Ephesians 2:20 by saying that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, the apostles and prophets are foundation stones, and the whole building (the church) is a holy temple in the Lord. Peter's use of the idea is more complex, stringing three prophetic verses together ( Psalm 118:22 ; Isa 8:4 ; 28:16 ). The stone laid in Zion ( Isa 28:16 ) is precious to the believer, but as the stone placed at the "head of the corner" (eis kephalen gonias), that is, exalted ( Psalm 118:22 ), he is a stone of offense and stumbling ( Isa 8:4 ) to those who refuse to believe. The metaphor seems obvious: the cornerstone is either a source of blessing or judgment, depending on a person's attitude toward it. Some modern interpreters, beginning with J. Jeremias in 1925, take a different tack, separating the two stones and making the cornerstone one thing and the stone at the "head of the corner" another, that is, a capstone or keystone. It is hard to visualize one stumbling over a capstone, but metaphors can be stretched. In any case, the point is that the very foundation of the church is Jesus Christ. This was prophesied by the prophets of old and fulfilled through the incarnation. Those who believe are blessed and those who stumble over that rock chosen by God are condemned.
Walter A. Elwell
Bibliography. J. Jeremias, TDNT, 1:791-93; H. Kramer, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, pp. 267-69; R. J. McKelvey, NTS 8 (1961-62): 352-59.
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