21.19.1. Tribal Stones

The description of the foundations of the New Jerusalem mentions twelve different stones. Immediately, this brings to mind the twelve stones on the high priest’s breastplate. Each stone represented one of the twelve tribes:

On the outside of the breastplate and placed in gold settings were twelve precious stones in four rows of three stones each. On each of the stones was inscribed the name of one of the tribes of Israel, presumably in the order of their births, as was the case with the onyx stones on the shoulders (Ex. Ex. 28:10). The order and names of the stones are listed in Exodus Ex. 28:17-20.1

A survey of various Bible translations (ASV,2 DBY,3 ESV,4 KJV,5 MKJV,6 NASB95,7 NET,8 NIV,9 NKJV,10 NRSV,11 TNK,12 YLT13 ) indicates some uncertainty surrounding the identification of several of the stones associated with the twelve tribes as found in the high priest’s breastplate.

Stones of the Tribes of Israel
Birth OrderTribe Majority Stone14 Alternate Stones
1Reubensardiusruby (NASB95, NIV, NET), carnelian (NRSV, TNK)
2Simeontopazchrysolite (NRSV, TNK)
3Levicarbuncleemerald (DBY, NASB95, NKJV, NRSV, TNK), beryl (NET, NIV)
4Judahemeraldturquoise (NASB95, NET, NKJV, NRSV, TNK), carbuncle (DBY)
6Naphtalidiamondemerald (NET, NIV), moonstone (NRSV), amethyst (TNK)
7Gadjacinthopal (DBY, MKJV, YLT), ligure (KJV)
9Issacharamethystcrystal (TNK)
10Zebulunberylchrysolite (DBY, NET, NIV, MKJV)
11Josephonyxlapis lazuli (TNK)

Attempts to correlate the tribal stones with the stones on the foundations of the New Jerusalem meet with several difficulties:

  1. The correlation between the Hebrew names of the stones of the breastplate and the Greek names of the stones is uncertain.
  2. The foundations are named according to apostles and not tribes and therefore there may not be a precise correlation between the stones on the foundations and the stones of the tribes.

Thus, attempts to connect the foundation stones with the stones of the breastplate have generally been unproductive:

Eight of the stones are the same as in the breastplate, with the four remaining ones being words that are unused in the LXX: χαλκηδῶν [chalkēdōn] , χρυσόπρασος [chrysoprasos] , ὑάκινθος [huakinthos] , σαρδόνυξ [sardonyx] (Swete). The symbolism is rich in meaning. The old covenant confined the privilege of direct fellowship with God to the high priest, but in the new city the privilege will belong to all the people of God (cf. Rev. Rev. 21:22+) (Moffatt). A difference in the order of the stones’ listing in the two situations is not a serious problem for this view.15

There seems no way, however, of identifying the stone that corresponds to each apostle. Similarly, there is no apparent correlation with the order of the precious stones in the priestly breastplate (Exodus Ex. 28:17-20) or the stones in the heavenly garden (Ezekiel Eze. 28:13), although a number of the stones are the same in both instances. . . . No particular patterns or reasons for the particular sequence seem discernible at this time.16

What we can be sure of is that God will have chosen the foundation stones to achieve a visually stunning result! It may well be that the stones are chosen more for visual effect than any relationship to the stones on the breastplate of the high priest:

A close study of the colors of these precious stones will bring to mind the colors of the rainbow, and how God used the rainbow as a promise to Noah that he would never again destroy the earth by water (Gen. Gen. 9:12-17).17

Each foundation will be composed of different precious stones with its own dominant color. They can be delineated as follows: 1. Jasper—green; 2. Sapphire—blue; 3. Chalcedony—greenish; 4. Emerald—green; 5. Sardonyx—red and white; 6. Sardius—fiery red; 7. Chrysolite—golden yellow; 8. Beryl—aqua green; 9. Topaz—greenish yellow; 10. Chrysoprase—golden green; 11. Jacinth—violet; 12. Amethyst—purple.18


1 William Varner, Jacob’s Dozen: A Prophetic Look at the Tribes of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1987), s.v. “The Ephod and the Breastplate.”

2 American Standard Version.

3 Darby’s Translation.

4 English Standard Version.

5 King James Version.

6 Modern King James Version.

7 New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update.

8 New Electronic Translation : NET Bible, electronic edition (Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 1998).

9 New International Version.

10 New King James Version.

11 New Revised Standard Version.

12 Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1997, c1985).

13 Young’s Literal Translation.

14 Unless listed under the Alternate Stones column, each of the Bible translations listed above give the majority identification.

15 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 21:19.

16 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 21:18.

17 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 407.

18 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 537.