"Cornerstone" or "Keystone/Capstone"

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DAL | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Feb 25 2014 4:06 PM

Ok, I have always understood "cornerstone" as the stone that goes at the corner of a foundation and it helps support 2 of the main walls that are built upon it.  Remove the Cornerstone and the whole building collapses.  Right?

Well, last Sunday I heard the Sunday "school" teacher, say that the Cornerstone was not what I had always heard, but that it was a "keystone" that locked into place the stones of an arch.

I was reading every commentary I have and to my surprise WBC says that, "It may be a foundation stone binding two walls at the corner of a building, or it may be a keystone locking into place the stones of an arch or some similarly constructed feature of a building. There are other suggestions as well. The difference of imagery does not affect the final sense."

Nolland, J. (1998). Luke 18:35–24:53 (Vol. 35C, p. 953). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

Now, WBC says it may be one of the two (or some similarly constructed feature of a building), but BECNT says that it, "refers to a foundation stone, not a capstone (McKelvey 1969: 195–204 refutes Jeremias’s view, TDNT 1:793, that it refers to a capstone; Eph. 2:20 favors foundation stone; BAGD 168, 430 §2b; BAA 336 §1, 875 §2b). In the ancient world this stone bore the weight of two intersecting walls (Fitzmyer 1985: 1282) and was crucial to the building’s stability."

Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2, p. 1603). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

My question is: Which one is right? I'm leaning towards BECNT because Jesus is the foundation and you take him out the whole building collapses.  I do not go with the Sunday school teacher's explanation because the whole building would not collapse by taking away the "keystone" or "capstone" only the arch would collapse.

What do you guys say about this? Should I pull him aside and let him know that his explanation is not really quite correct or should I just let him think his explanation is ok.  I'm sure he got it from some commentary that only holds that view, because that's the only view he shared, he did not mention other options.

Any input will be greatly appreciated.



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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Feb 25 2014 4:30 PM

My question is: Which one is right?

Isn't it better to assume that if scholars are still having fun debating the issue, there is no definitive answer? If you see people having fun, join them ... as you pointed out, the WBC points out:

The difference of imagery does not affect the final sense.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Rich DeRuiter | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Feb 25 2014 6:03 PM

My question is: Which one is right?

It's probably impossible to settle this in the way the BECNT suggests. Construction terms (like this one) can vary from place to place, even across the English language world. Just talk to a construction worker who used to work somewhere else even within the US.

From a logical/sequential standpoint capstone makes more sense, if the builders rejected it at first. A cornerstone, as all foundation stones in stone construction should be large and square on all sides. A capstone looks different. Also the capstone was the last stone put in the arch and it supported all the lateral pressure of the arch as it leaned into itself. Shape, and strength of the stone are all significant.

Also pulling a cornerstone out, won't topple a building. That's not what a cornerstone is for. The cornerstone(s) needed to be set square, level and plumb. The rest of the building was constructed from that starting point. It is architecturally possible to remove that stone once the others are in place, provided the building is constructed in a way that not too much weight rests on that stone -- good construction would definitely want to distribute the weight on multiple stones. 

Since in both examples the stones are critically important, it's very possible to see that the terms could have even been used interchangeably, or used differently in different parts of the Roman empire, or used differently by those who spoke Greek as a second language in one region than in another. If you've ever learned to speak a second language, you know that technical terms can sometimes vary greatly even from one part of a country to another -- especially if they are parts constructed in another country (at least that's what I found out).

 Help links: WIKI;  Logos 6 FAQ. (Phil. 2:14, NIV)

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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Feb 25 2014 6:23 PM

Thanks MJ and Richard, I guess both stones would be important and as WBC (which MJ pointed out) states, the imagery does not affect the final sense.  Even as UBS Handbook on Luke suggests, "Some renderings make use of cultural equivalents, e.g. ‘principal stone’ (South Toradja, employing the name of the big stones on which the main poles of a house are erected), ‘stone which combines the house’ (Kipsigis in 1 Peter 2:6, in analogy to the term for the centre pole of the hut), ‘the root of the house at the corner’ (Kekchi), ‘stone heavy pole’ (East Toradja, qualifying ‘stone’ by the term that refers to the four big corner-poles of a house), ‘the main pole’ (Aguaruna, without any reference to a stone, since stones are never used in the region for the building of a house)."

Reiling, J., & Swellengrebel, J. L. (1993). A handbook on the Gospel of Luke (p. 645). New York: United Bible Societies.

I'll discuss the topic with this brother and offer these options for his consideration or food for thought.


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Rich DeRuiter | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Feb 26 2014 8:07 AM

Even as UBS Handbook on Luke suggests

You do understand that the UBS notes are to help guide people who are translating the Bible into languages that don't yet have a Bible, right? They're not giving suggestions for English translations, I hope you already understand that.

The notes are helpful in the sense that they concern themselves with conveying meaning. This is especially obvious when terms in Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic don't have direct correspondence in a target language. A culture that doesn't build with stone (and never has) may not have a word to for that piece of stone architecture, e.g. 

As an aside, I had the pleasure of visiting Israel in 2012 and learned (among other things) that stone was the primary material for building there until modern times. There just aren't enough trees for wood construction, but stone, especially limestone (which is relatively easy to shape and good for building) is plentiful, as is basalt in some areas. When stone wasn't available people were more likely to make mud/straw bricks than cut trees. In fact, stone is so plentiful and wood so scarce, it's likely that the manger Jesus was laid in was made of stone, not wood (we saw stone mangers there, presumably dating back to the time of Solomon). 

 Help links: WIKI;  Logos 6 FAQ. (Phil. 2:14, NIV)

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Harold Edwin LaMarche | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Nov 8 2015 5:31 PM

I like your answer, to expound on this I would add that usage of a word reflects the contemporary definition of it.

Nobody in their right mind would like to be called a nice guy or girl if the meaning of the word was the original definition and very few people today express their happiness alone by telling the guy next to him on the bus that "I feel gay today".

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Erwin Stull, Sr. | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Nov 8 2015 6:28 PM

Well, this is an old post, but concerning the cornerstone, I never gave much critical thought to it. When I was very young, I asked my grandfather "what is that block on the corner of the church with a year on it?", and he told me it was called a cornerstone, and it contained building papers (I guess he meant architectural diagrams and such). Smile

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P A | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 9 2015 9:16 AM

This is fascinating thread!



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Jamie Sink | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Aug 14 2018 12:47 PM

The context gives the information to determine what the difference is between the corner stone and the keystone (capstone). Jesus came to be the keystone to the nation Israel and when rejected by the "builders" (religious leaders) He became the foundation for the church. I think Dr. Thomas Constable does a good job of explaining the difference. Here is the link to Dr. Constable's Commentary; it's a free resource - and a good one.


Pastor jes  

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Tim Klahn | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jan 4 2020 8:19 AM

Hi Rich:

You may want to think of it this way in the terms of Solomon's temple.  When is was destroyed by the Babylonians, the foundation was left intact...but the capstone was gone with the rest of the building.  Jump ahead 600 years and on the same foundation, Herod the Great had the temple rebuilt on its original foundation.  The cornerstone was there...it got a new capstone.  In 70 AD, the Romans tore down the temple walls again.  The capstone was once again removed...but to this day, the foundation is still there.

Let's apply this to Jesus.  As the old hymn says, "the church's one foundation is Jesus Christ our lord".  He is the cheif cornerstone.  In spite of being through multiple wars and earthquakes, the chief cornertstone is still there.  Jesus is also, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, Jesus is the "head" of the church as well.  Peter wrote that we are the living stones the church is built of.  Without Jesus we have no foundation.  Witthout Jesus we have no "head" or leadership.

What happened to the temple Herod built?  The same as what happened to Solomon's temple. When God was not the head (chief capstone), the temple fell down.  When Jerusalem rejected Jesus it was just a matter of time before the temple was torn down...but the corner stone remained.

From what I know, ancient cornerstones are not like the ones we use today.  The cornerstone of Solomon's temple is supposedly cut so that the weight and pressure of every other stone falls against it is held in place.  But the capstone was the first stone cut and delivered.  That's the lasts tone to be placed like keystone at the top of the arch.  It too bears the weight and presure of the other stones such that if it is removed the building falls.

So, the answer to your questions, short story long, is that Jesus is both.  Remember what He calls Himself in the Revelation: the Alpha (first) and Omega (last).  Would it not then be appropriate for Him to be both the foundation and keystone?  Without Jesus, the church has no foundation nor head.  Always be very careful not to pidgeonhole God into meaning just one thing.  His mind is very complex and He often means more than one thing at the same time.  

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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jan 6 2020 1:16 PM

Thanks Tim! That’s a good way to look at it 👍😁👌 Wow 6 years have passed since I opened this thread.  Time flies!


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