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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Corner-Stone ( רֹאשׁפִּנָה, κεφαλὴ γωνίας).—The quotation from  Psalms 118:22 occurs at the close of the parable of the Wicked Vinedressers ( Matthew 21:42,  Mark 12:10,  Luke 20:17). A question was asked about the punishment of such unfaithful servants and the transferring of the vineyard to the charge of others; and the quotation afforded Scripture proof that the necessity for such a transference, however surprising to those rejected, may actually arise in God’s administration of His kingdom.

1. Literal meaning of corner-stone .—The term ‘stone of the corner’ is applied in Palestine net only to the stones at the extreme corners of a building, but to the stone inserted in any part of the outer wall to form the beginning of an interior room-wall at right angles to it. It applies especially, however, to the stone that is ἁκρογωνιαῖος, belonging to an extreme corner of the building. In the construction of a large edifice, the foundations are generally laid and brought up to the surface of the ground, and are then left for several months exposed to the rain, so that the surrounding earth may settle down as close as possible to the wall. When the first row of stones above the ground line is to be laid, the masons place a long, well-squared block of stone at the corner to be a sure rest for the terminus of the two walls. It is the most important corner-stone ( Ephesians 2:20).

2. Selection and treatment of the corner-stone .—It is always carefully chosen, and is specially treated in view of the service expected of it. ( a ) It must he sound, in the case of sandstone being free from weakening cavities, and in the case of limestone being without any white streaks of spar that under pressure and strain might lead to cleavage.—( b ) It must be carefully dressed so as to be quite a rectangular block, whereas the ordinary stones usually slope away at the back, and the empty spaces are filled in with stone chips and plaster. It is expected to be in close and solid contact with whatever is under it and above it.—( c ) In preparing a place for it, the mason gives it a more liberal allowance of mortar so as to increase the power of adhesion. These qualifications are summarized in  Isaiah 28:16. Thus the corner-stone is expected to be strong and sound in itself, and able to control the tier that belongs to it, and check any tendency to bulge either outwards or inwards.

The thought of  Matthew 21:44 and  Luke 20:18 passes beyond the idea of a corner-stone, which is required to remain in its place, and neither falls on any one nor is fallen upon. The transition is so abrupt that some have been inclined to attach importance to the fact that the addition is omitted in  Mark 12:1-12, and that certain ancient authorities ( e.g. D [Note: Deuteronomist.] 33) omit it even in St. Matthew. It is a similar conception that appears in  1 Corinthians 1:23;  1 Peter 2:6-7, namely, that of a stumbling-block on the public highway. The ‘way of life’ was a familiar religious term, ‘the Way’ being a descriptive epithet which Christ applied to Himself ( John 14:6), and one of the first designations of the Christian Church ( Acts 9:2). The same situation of conflict is presented in  Isaiah 8:14, where the fear of the Lord would be to some a sanctuary, a place of safety and rest by the way, but to others a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. Those who marked out to their own liking the moral highway of the nation had obscured the truth that Israel existed for God, not God for Israel, and left no space for the sufferings of Christ. It was an error of blindness like that of the house-builders concerning the rejected corner-stone. They should have made allowance for the immovable object of bed-rock truth that had the right of priority. In the Syrian town of Beyront one of the carriage roads has at one point a third of its width occupied by an ancient saint-shrine, with its small rough room and dome. It is a useless and inconvenient obstacle to the traffic, but any petition to have it removed would be frowned down as an act of irreverence and infidelity. The shrine was there before the road.

3. Oriental respect for the builders .—In connexion with the rejection of a particular stone, it has to he remembered that the ancients had no explosive by means of which to lighten their labours. The work had to be done by hammer, chisel, and saw, though they knew how to insert wooden wedges in prepared sockets in the line of desired cleavage, and make them expand by soaking with water. They would naturally pass by a stone that required a great deal of work and yielded only ordinary results. They carried this principle to the length of often taking prepared stones from one building for the erection of another at a considerable distance, as when the carved stones of the Ephesian temple of Diana were taken to build the church of St. Sofia in Constantinople, and the ruined edifices of Roman Caesarea supplied the material for the city wall of Acre. It would, however, sometimes happen that a stone discarded by certain builders would be recognized by a wiser master as that which he needed for an important place in his building, and this gave rise to the proverbial saying quoted in  Psalms 118:22, which is familiarly repeated and applied to-day in Syria.

The epigrammatic value of the saying is enhanced by the fact that in the East the master-knowledge of the different trades has always been carefully guarded, and a sharp distinction is drawn between the man who thinks and plans and the man who by his elementary manual labour merely carries out the orders of another. In the art of building, a familiar proverb says, ‘One stroke from the master, even though it be behind his back, is better than the hammering of a thousand others.’ In explanation of this the story is told of a Lebanon prince who engaged a master-mason to build a large bridge of one arch over the river Adônis, and agreed to defray all costs and give the master a certain sum when the work was done. When the bridge was constructed, and nothing remained but to remove the scaffolding, the master claimed his remuneration; and as the prince argued for a reduction of the sum, the master declined to remove the scaffolding. Other men were engaged to do this, but they found it to be such a complicated and dangerous task that they abandoned it, and ‘the original builder had to be called in on his own terms. He stepped forward, and, standing with his back to the network of supporting beams, gave a single tap with his hammer to a particular wedge. Its removal liberated the supports, and as he hurriedly sprang back, the scaffolding collapsed, and left the empty arch of the completed bridge. He alone knew how to do it. Similar proverbs are current with regard to the baker, tailor, carpenter, blacksmith, teacher, doctor, and almost every form of technical industry and specialized profession. The master in his trade occupies a position of respect similar to that of the father in the family and the sheikh in the tribe. In no department is this submission more thoroughgoing than in the deference shown to the Rabbis and priests as the trained masters of religious observance and ecclesiastical duty. In consequence of this the people of the country find a keen though guarded enjoyment in any situation that seems to discredit the wisdom of the wise.

4. Figurative applications of the corner-stone .—In  Judges 20:2 and  1 Samuel 14:38 the word pinnôth (‘corner-stones’) is translated ‘the chiefs’ of the people, as being those whose opinions and actions gave stability and direction to others. In  Isaiah 19:13 it is stated that the error of Egypt was through her trust in the princes of Zoan and Noph, who were I the corner-stones of her tribes. In the East, the mason in laying a row of stones begins with the corner-stone, and some twelve feet farther down, or at the other terminus of the wall, if it be short, another stone of the same height is laid with lime, and then the mason’s measuring-line is stretched tightly over the outer top-corner of each. This gives the line of frontage and elevation to all the stones that fill in the space between them. Zoan and Noph, the corner-stones, being themselves in a false position, affected all between that took measure from them. In  Zephaniah 1:16;  Zephaniah 3:6 the same word is translated ‘towers,’ as the corners of the wall were especially fortified; and in  2 Chronicles 26:15 ‘bulwarks’ ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 in all three passages ‘battlements’). In  Job 38:6 the act of laying the foundation corner-stone of a house is made to describe that of the creation of the world. In  Jeremiah 51:26 the inability of Babylon to furnish any more a corner-stone is made to figure its perpetual desolation. In  Zechariah 10:4, in the prophecy of the pre-eminence of Judah, the corner-stone is a conspicuous emblem, along with the tent-peg and the bow, as signifying that that tribe was to excel in the peaceful industries of the city and the field, and in the art of war.

Such were the meanings of the rejected corner-stone that in their Messianic application were hidden from those who crucified the Lord of glory ( 1 Corinthians 2:8), but were revealed to the Gentiles, the ‘other husbandmen,’ when the word of acceptance and service came to them ( Ephesians 2:19-22).

It is a tragical error to suppose that the message of the rejected corner-stone was exhausted in the forfeiture and fate of Israel. The city of God is still being built, and blindness with regard to the corner-stone, the mystical presence and the missionary command of Christ, may again expose the builders to scorn, and necessitate another transference of the service.

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Corner-stone’; Expositor , 5th ser. ix. [1899] p. 35 ff.; Expos. Times , vii. 372, xiv. 384; Jonathan Edwards, Works [1840], ii. p. 61 ff.; Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester , 1st ser. p. 1 ff.

G. M. Mackie.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]

Corner-Stone. A quoin or cornerstone, of great importance in binding together the sides of a building. The phrase "corner-stone" is sometimes used to denote any principal person, as the princes of Egypt,  Isaiah 19:13, and is thus, applied to our Lord.  Isaiah 28:16;  Matthew 21:42;  1 Peter 2:6-7.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [3]

kôr´nẽr stōn ( פנּה , pinnāh , זוית , zāwı̄th  ; ἀκρογωνιαῖος , akrogōniaı́os ): Part of the public or imposing buildings, to which importance has been attached in all ages and in many nations, both on account of its actual service and its figurative meaning. Ordinarily its use in the Bible is figurative , or symbolical. No doubt the original meaning was some important stone, which was laid at the foundation of a building.

(1) With the Canaanites, who preceded Israel in the possession of Palestine, corner-stone laying seems to have been a most sacred and impressive ceremonial. Under this important stone of temples, or other great structures, bodies of children or older persons would be laid, consecrating the building by such human sacrifice (see Fortification , II, 1). This was one of many hideous rites and practices which Israel was to extirpate. It may throw light on the curse pronounced upon the rebuilding of Jericho ( Joshua 6:26; see PEFS , January, 1904, July, 1908). See Canaan .

(2) Old Testament references . - T he Hebrew word pinnāh , "corner," is found or implied in every occurrence of this idea. Derived from a root signifying "to turn," it means "turning," and therefore "edge" or "corner." Ordinarily it is used with 'ebhen , "stone" ( Psalm 118:22 ); or it may occur alone, having acquired for itself through frequent use the whole technical phrase-idea ( Zechariah 10:4 the King James Version).

Figurative Uses

While all the passages indicate the stone at the corner, there appear to be two conceptions: ( a ) The foundation-stone upon which the structure rested ( Job 38:6;  Isaiah 28:16;  Jeremiah 51:26 ); or ( b ) The topmost or cap-stone, which linked the last tier together ( Psalm 118:22;  Zechariah 4:7 ); in both cases it is an important or key-stone, and figurative of the Messiah, who is "the First and the Last." In  Job 38:6 it beautifully expresses in figures the stability of the earth, which Yahweh created. In   Zechariah 10:4 the leader or ruler in the Messianic age is represented by the corner-stone. The ancient tradition of the one missing stone, when the temple was in building, is reflected in or has been suggested by   Psalm 118:22 (Midrash quoted by Pusey under   Zechariah 4:7 ). It is probable that we should read in  Psalm 144:12 not "corner-stones," but "corner-pillars," or supports (compare Greek Caryatides) from a different Hebrew word, zāwı̄th , Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament , under the word

(3) New Testament passages . -  Psalm 118:22 is quoted and interpreted as fulfilled in Jesus Christ in a number of passages:   Matthew 21:42;  Mark 12:10;  Luke 20:17;  Acts 4:11 and   1 Peter 2:7; it is also the evident basis for  Ephesians 2:20 .  Isaiah 28:16 is quoted twice in the New Testament:   Romans 9:33 , from Septuagint combined with the words of  Isaiah 8:14 , and in  1 Peter 2:6 , which is quoted with some variation from Septuagint. The Old Testament passages were understood by the rabbis to be Messianic, and were properly so applied by the New Testament writers. See also House .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [4]

The symbolic title of 'chief corner stone' is applied to Christ in , and; , which last passage is a quotation from . There seems no valid reason for distinguishing this from the stone called 'the head of the corner' , although some contend that the latter is the top-stone or coping. The 'corner-stone' was a large and massive stone so formed as, when placed at a corner, to bind together two outer walls of an edifice. This properly makes no part of the foundation, from which it is distinguished in; though, as the edifice rests thereon, it may be so called. Sometimes it denotes those massive slabs which, being placed towards the bottom of any wall, serve to bind the work together, as in . Of these there were often two layers, without cement or mortar. This explanation will sufficiently indicate the sense in which the title of 'chief corner-stone' is applied to Christ.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [5]

is the first stone of a church, properly laid on the north-east side, as determined by the orientation of the sun on the day of the feast, or patron saint. At Beaulieu only one stone was found on the ground, and it was in this position; that of Avranches, the solitary relic of a cathedral, is still pointed out. In modern churches then most prominent or convenient corner is selected, and the corner-stone is a square block of suitable size, laid at the angle of the topmost course of the foundation. It is customary to hollow it out in a box-like manner, and to deposit within it memorial papers, etc.