|Volume 23 Number 6 June 2021
The Head of the Corner
T. Pierce Brown
In Psalm 118:22, there was a prophecy made, “The stone which the builders rejected shall become the head of the corner.” Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6 leave no doubt that the prophetic reference was to Christ. We want to examine in a little more detail what was meant by “the head of the corner.” There are at least two theories about it. First, it referred to the keystone of an arch that holds the arch together. Second, it is the chief stone at the angle or corner of the building that joins the two walls and is a part of the foundation.
The reference in Psalm 118:22 is presumed by some to refer to a historical event in the building of the Temple, at which time those who built it found a stone that they did not recognize as fitting at any particular place. They cast it to one side, for all the stones had been previously cut before they were brought there (1 Kings 6:7). When they came to the place in the building where it was needed, they eventually found it. I find no reference in any biblical literature to uphold that assumption. I find some tradition of a few Rabbis that suggest it. It seems probable that David is merely using a figure of speech in a Messianic prophecy, not referring to some actual historical event where the builders rejected the chief stone. However, whether it was an actual historical event or a literary allusion, we may get the same lessons.
Also, it does not matter whether he referred to the keystone of the arch or the chief stone at the corner of the building, for in both figures of speech, we can gain important truths that are taught elsewhere in the Bible. Yet, the weight of the evidence leads me to the conclusion that he refers to the latter.
The evidence is both negative and positive. The negative is that I find no scholar who assumes that it means the keystone giving any clear Scripture or historical reference in any other literature that so indicates. It is true that there was a V-shaped keystone or copestone that was placed at the top of the arch of some buildings as a finishing touch and was necessary to hold up the arch. However, I find no clear instance where the term “corner stone” or “head of the corner” is used to describe it, either in the Bible or any contemporary literature. Nor do I remember reading anything about the Temple that even indicates that it had such an arch or a keystone. It is true that the word, “roshe,” translated “head” may refer to something that is on the top, but it may simply mean “chief,” as a person who is “head” of a company, at the “top” of the corporate ladder. It is also true that the word “pinna,” translated “corner” could be a corner at the top of a building, as well as a corner anywhere else in the building. Yet, I find nothing in the Bible that indicates the Temple had anything like that somewhere on its top.
Furthermore, there is nothing in or out of the Bible of which I am aware that indicates the expression “head of the corner” in these Scripture references refers to something at the top of some arch. In fact, although every building does not necessarily have such an arch, every building does necessarily have a foundation and a corner.
It does no damage to the truth to consider Christ as the keystone of the arch, for He does cap the climax in every respect. Since the reference in Isaiah 28:16 speaks of Him as the foundation and a precious corner stone, and since He is repeatedly spoken of as being the corner stone and the foundation, I consider it the most logical meaning. Note Isaiah’s statement, “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” The five New Testament references to this prophecy in Psalm 118:22 do not throw much more light on that question, although all of them make abundantly clear that the statement was a prophecy relating to Christ.
In the case of the foundation corner stone, He is the One upon whom the building rests. He is the One who determines the direction the building faces. He is the One who joins together two walls (such as Jew and Gentile) who were going in different directions.
Because I can find no compelling reason to conclude that David was talking about a keystone or capstone, and because there are so many clear references to Jesus being a sure foundation stone, a precious corner stone in that foundation, and because there are so many lessons to be gained when we consider the implications of Jesus being either the foundation or chief corner stone in the foundation, I conclude this is probably the best interpretation of the “head of the corner.” If each of us will make sure that what we do is built upon Him as the foundation and that our lives are joined to others on the basis of the direction He has authorized us to take, He will be for us “the chief corner stone.”
With What Measure Ye Mete
Marvin Killian was a six-year-old English lad whose parents lived in an impoverished section of London, England. During a bleak, chilly winter, both of his parents died of pneumonia, and the young boy was left alone. His only relative was an aunt who lived in the far away city of Liverpool. Kind people of the neighborhood purchased a railway ticket and packed all of his earthly belongings in one small bag, before placing him on the train.
Arriving in Liverpool just before dark, the lad was hungry, tired and very apprehensive. He expected his aunt to meet him, but a servant named Caesar came riding upon a great black horse. Caesar helped him up on the horse, and they started off. Anxiously, the lad asked Caesar if his aunt would already be gone to bed when they arrived at her house. “Oh! No, Sir!” Caesar answered. “In a little way you’ll see her candles in the distance, burning for you.” Surely enough, there it was!
When they reached the house, Marvin saw his lovely aunt standing beside the gate, waiting for him. When Caesar helped him to the ground, she ran to him, embraced him and smothered him with her kisses. Taking him inside, she washed his face and hands, and sat him down to a warm supper of beef stew and bread pudding. She drew him a warm bath and helped him get into his pajamas. She knelt with him as he said his prayers, and sitting beside his bed, she held his hand until he fell asleep. She loved and cared for him through his adolescent years and guided his spiritual growth with daily Bible readings and regular attendance at church services. Later, she sent him to a prestigious college, where he graduated with honors. Later, Marvin moved to a distant city to begin a prosperous job. He and his aunt were in constant contact throughout all the ensuing years, and their love for each other grew with every passing day.
One fateful evening, a red cap brought him a telegram, which simply said, “Your aunt is gravely ill! Come quickly!” His return telegram read, “Will be there ASAP. Meantime, do not be afraid. I know God loves you, and He will be just as kind and loving to you as you were to me so long ago, and throughout the years that followed. Much love and best wishes. Marvin.” The following passages from the Bible seem appropriate and applicable. “…and with what measure ye mete, it shall he measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2). “…whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, …he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). What greater epitaph could be etched in our tombstone than what was said of righteous Abel? “…he being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).
Dr. E.M. Poteat, one time President of Furman University (in Greenville, South Carolina), spoke this to a class one day. “Carve your name high o’er shifting sand, Where the steadfast rocks defy decay: All you can hold in your cold, dead hand, Is what you have given away.” Do you have aught that you can hold onto, like Marvin Killian, above? What about “Hope” after life?