The Stone the Builders Rejected

I started to write a reply to a post on another blog, but it got too big, so I decided to make it into a post of its own.  A friend of mine over at First Century Sage has been going through the six chapters of the Hallel (Psalm 113-118) and looking for Messianic connections and prophecies.  It’s an interesting study, and he’s uncovered a few gems I had never seen before.  Definitely well worth checking out.

I was going to reply to his post on Psalm 118, specifically about Psalm 118:22 where it says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”.  Here’s what my reply turned into.

How could the stone the builders rejected become the capstone? Jesus tells a parable to illustrate it:

He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.  At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed.  He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do?  I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’

But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over.  ‘This is the heir,’ they said.  ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”

Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’?”

–Luke 20:9-17

Jesus uses this story to say, “Well if this isn’t the meaning of Psalm 118:22, then what is?”  At first this seems like a problem because this parable Jesus tells doesn’t seem to explain Psalm 118:22.  In Jesus’ parable, the ‘stone the builders rejected’ is the son who gets killed.  But I don’t see the ‘rejected stone’ coming back to glory in this parable (being made the capstone).  So what’s going on here?

There is an old rabbinic parable used to explain Psalm 118:22, which I think sheds some light on this parable of Jesus’:

When Solomon’s temple was being built, it was forbidden for the sound of hammers to be heard at the job site because it was a holy place of worship.  You can’t have worship with construction going on in the background!  So it had to be quiet.  What this meant for the construction was that each and every 20 ton stone had to have a ‘shop drawing’ and was made several miles away in the quarry.  Several miles away each stone was carefully cut for its exact spot in the temple.  From the very start, there was a plan for each stone.  The very first stone to be delivered was the capstone, but that’s the last stone needed in construction.  So the builders said, “What is this?  This doesn’t look like any of the first stones we need.  Put it over there for now.”  Well, years went by and the grass grew over the capstone and everyone generally forgot about it.  Finally the construction was done and the builders said “send us the capstone” and the word came back from the quarry “we already did”.  They were confused.  Then someone remembered what they had done with the very first stone sent to them.  It was taken from its lowly position among the overgrown weeds where it had been forgotten, and it was honored in the final ceremony to complete the temple.  Thus the scripture says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” [1]

Just like Jesus’ parable, this rabbinic parallel is a picture of Jesus.  When he came the first time, he didn’t fit the blueprint the builders thought they needed, so they tossed him aside as wrong and rejected him.  They didn’t recognize him.  And later, much later, they will realize their mistake and give him his rightful place as the capstone.  I think there’s a reasonable chance that when Jesus said (paraphrase) “Well then what’s the meaning of Psalm 118:22?” he was calling to mind the familiar folk tale about the construction of the temple.  This can be supported by how one of his closest disciples interpreted the passage.  Listen to Peter as he explains Psalm 118:22:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,”

–1 Peter 2:4-7, NIV

I find it interesting that Peter uses these words “as you come to him” and that you are being built into a “spiritual house”.  “As you come to him” seems to invoke that image from the rabbinic parable about how stones came to the builders one at a time from the quarry where they had been carefully cut to the exact specifications of the blueprints.  Then Peter uses the image of being built into a “spiritual house”.  The word for “house” in Hebrew is “bet” which is the same word used many times for the temple.  Many times in the Tanakh, when you see the words “the temple”, the Hebrew there could be more literally translated “the house”, since the temple was God’s house.  Thus, Peter tells us that God has a blueprint for each of us, is shaping us, and is placing us in his spiritual temple as we come to him from the quarry (see Isaiah 51:1-2 for more on the quarry where we come from).  He goes on to use more temple imagery: a holy priesthood and sacrifices that are acceptable to God.  Peter then uses this temple imagery in connection with Psalm 118:22, imagery which is not found in Jesus’ parable explaining Psalm 118:22.  It seems there is a clear connection between Peter’s understanding of how his rabbi taught about Psalm 118:22 and the rabbinic parable I quoted above. [2]

So what does it mean that Jesus, after telling the parable of the vineyard, evoked imagery of a common parable about the temple’s construction?  To answer that question, we must look at another.  The Jews at the time of Jesus did not know who the Messiah would be, and there were many competing theories as to his identify.  Would he be called by God from a farm, a common peasant?  Would he be a famous rabbi before being called by God?  Some even thought there would be two messiahs, a priest messiah and a king messiah.  Jesus here identifies the Messiah for us.  He identifies the Messiah as the son of the owner of the vineyard.  In the Tanakh, the vineyard is Israel, and the owner is God (e.g. Jer 12:10).  In other words, by linking the ‘capstone’ (Messiah) to the son of the owner of the vineyard, Jesus declared his Messiahship and Sonship (deity) in one breath.

Peace to you,



1. This is my own summary of a rabbinic parable that I heard Ray Vander Laan quote, but I have not been able to find the source. If you can find it, please let me know.

2. Amazingly, the Greek word the New Testament uses for Jesus’ occupation is “tekton”, which literally translates “builder”.  In Israel, buildings were not built with wood but stone because you don’t have a large source of wood in the desert.  So it’s more than likely that Jesus was a stone mason rather than a carpenter.  Peter calls you living stones and says that you, as living stones, have the master mason (Jesus) shaping you into the perfect fit for his spiritual temple.  What an incredible blessing!


27 thoughts on “The Stone the Builders Rejected

  1. Hello James, I appreciate this study you published online. I am in an inductive study group through my church, we are in the book of Acts. This week we chose to investigate the chief cornerstone in Acts 4:11, I found many wonderful scriptures as Matt. 7 inluding the parable of the evil vinedressers who kill the masters son, then as Jesus himself quotes Psalm 118:22. I had a wow moment thinking these same priests& scribes were the same people whom Peter and John addressed in Acts 4:11-12. I also remember hearing at sometime the same rabbinical parable that you shared in your article, I was browsing online to try and find it and the Lord led me to your study. I am very happy to find this, I’m truely in love with God’s people and the rich and beautiful heritage all through the Bible that shed more beautiful light on our Lord Jesus. I just thought of a question for your reflection upon. In the portion of our study that is personal and practical application, there was a thought of creating our own personal masonry for our life in Christ and an example how cornerstones often had inscriptions, construction date etc…. Well the firs t thing I thought of was Revelation 21:12-14 and how the names of the 12 tribes are written on the 12 pearl gates and the names of the 12 apostles are written on the 12 foundations of the New Jerusalem. Also these gates and foundations remind me of Ruth and Naomi…how the Israelite mother showed the way for naomi-gentile to find Boaz kinsman redeemer all a beautiful picture of Christ Jesus our redeemer and the nation Israel and the church. Beautiful,beautiful Love! Can’t wait to see Him face to face and be in that beautiful Holy city where we will ever be with our Lord! God Bless and any thoughts you have on inscribed cornerstones welcome to bless the ladies at our study group. Andmay we all study to show ourselves approved and pray for boldness to share God’s Word and be filled overflowing with the Holy Spirit,wow before our Lord’s soon return. Grace and peace be with you. Sincerely,Jennifer

    • look at the promises made to “him who overcomes”…we will be given a stone with a new name written on it. Intimate and personal and unique to each one of us “living stones”!

    • Hi Jennifer. I want to challenge you to do a study on who Israel is. I understand from your comment this is the Jews of today. Also do a bit of research on the word caucasion. Read Mat 15:24. Its mind boggiling when you understand this. Read 1 Kings 11 & 12 . Also consider this when a man marries he doesn’t marry his own body but rather the girl of his dreams. Now we understand that Jesus is the head of the church and the church is the body so how come we call the church the body and the bride. So now we have to start looking who is this bride not the church because they are the body of believers not the current day Jews who are actually Esau/Edom. Read the book of Hosea. See what God says there to Israel ( 10 tribes) back at 1 kings 12. Also. Read Ez 37:16-28. This prophecy is still outstanding. The 2 houses are not united yet and the 10 tribes are still unaware of her true Identity. This is an amazing discovery read again now the scripture in Revelation. Blessings Rina

  2. Hi James,

    I am writing a book on my valued friendship with Israel and the Jewish people.

    In my chapter on the Western Wall Plaza complex I focus on my first impression of the larger stones used by Herod.

    I hope to conclude that chapter by quoting your comments from “The Stone the Builders Rejected.”

    Of course I would direct readers to your blog.

    Is that Okay?

  3. greetings
    i’m so happy that i saw this website. that comment was so nice. thanks again i added the rss on this article.
    are you planning to write similar posts?

  4. Have ever considered that Golgotha/Calvary place of the skull is an abandoned quarry. The builders stopped taking stone from as it was not suitable for building. The savior or chief capstone of christianity was also rejected or crucified at the place the builders rejected. Ian.

  5. Great story but the capstone is referring to the missing capstone on top of the great pyrmad in Egypt.The builders were the Watchers and they rejected Almighty God who created even them! I AM THAT I AM.

    • Very interesting…I’ve been researching and thinking along these lines as well. Do you have any good sources for me to check out?? When you start to look into freemasonry, and how many leaders throughout history have been members of the higher degrees, and how they (and those like them before them) have been arranging buildings for thousands of years in certain ways that seem to be dedicated to ancient pagan Egyptian religions, it gets really intriguing and interesting. I think it’s likely that this all ties in deeper than what we think on the surface…perhaps in the vein of what Grace Gragg has said.

  6. Hello James,
    This is a very interesting posting. I want to read the rest of your blog, but I find it very tiring on my old eyes. Do you have a way of letting people read it whose vision isn’t so strong?

  7. psalms 118 is by David and before the Temple construction by Solomon,so how can it represent the familiar folklore of forgotten cornerstne?or was that prophetic by Psalmist before the temple was built and fulfilled in later years as temple foundation stone was sought?

  8. The “builders” in Psalms 118 refers to the people who are building a structure that is not based on Christ because the correct capstone (Christ Himself) is not used. Instead, in 1st Peter, God Himself who had chosen the precious capstone of Christ, use those who are His, who, like living stones are BEING built into The One True Spiritual Temple. Apart from Christ, we are nothing.

  9. Thank you for your findings. They have provoked thought. Interesting to note the capstone is made first and then put aside. Due to the time-frame for of the build, what else would one do with it (until it is needed)? Is it the case of the (precious) stone being cast aside till needed instead of being carefully put away as a very/most important part of the build? The analogy/prophecy exposes the condition of the heart, for the building would surely need the capstone in end (however long it took for the end to come) and this precious stone was not held in remembrance during the build. As for these living stones, The Builder finds us precious and not one of us will be lost/unused. As I’ve said, you have provoked – that which was last shall be first. Amen

  10. Hi James. I find this facinating. When we see Our Lord and Saviour as a stone Mason so many things fall into place. Jesus says look at the rock you were hewn from reffering to Abraham and Sarah. Moses hits the rock and the water comes forth. That rock is symbolic of Jesus Christ. Also amazing when the Lord was laid to rest it was in a tomb and He came out of that rock again. It might not be important to some and we might say so what. I believe these are things that will be opened to our spiritual understanding to have a full understanding of God and His plans for humanity and more spisifically Isarael(12 tribes) as the Bride of Christ. . Blessings

  11. Too bad when David quoted the verse about the stone that the builders rejected – there was no temple! It wasnt built until Solomon! Hmmm What other building in the general area would be built, and then the “corner stone” or “head of the corner” be added… Its in Egypt…. havent figured it out? The PYRAMID! This is the same stone that “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” How foolish of us to miss this for so many years.

    • I wouldn’t jump too far down this train of thought. We aren’t certain that David wrote any of the Psalms. It’s possible that he did, but we’re not certain. The Psalms that people think were written by David all begin with the Hebrew (transliterated) L’David. That lamed at the beginning of the word can mean any of the following: to, for, by, in memory of, and a few more. Many scholars think that a large portion of the Psalms that begin this way are dedicated to David, the poet king. Now, even if you don’t agree with me, please note that Psalm 118 has no attribution before it starts. I would therefore hesitate to attribute this Psalm to David.

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  13. In reference to the fact that Israel was/is a desert, and Jesus would have been a carpenter of stone rather than wood, please do some research on the climate of Israel. It is a land flowing with milk and honey, agriculture, figs, citrus and much more. Israel is a beautiful country. It didn’t take me very long to find this information. I believe your assumption of Jesus being a carpenter of stone is a wrong assumption.

    • Carla,
      If you are looking at pictures of modern Israel, you are looking at a land that benefits from modern irrigation techniques that use electricity and complex plumbing that was simply not present in Jesus’ day. As to the “land of milk and honey”, it is not at all what you might think. That euphemism means that it is a land where farmers (land of honey) can live next to herders (land of milk). But since Israel is mostly in the desert, and there was such a dearth of arable land, there is no way that the herders were aloud anywhere near the farmland. And so sheep and goat herders mainly lived in the desert. Watch this clip to get a good feel for what it’s like (even today):

      I hope this helps. Peace,

  14. Hello James,
    I read some of your info after a comment sparked by a sermon… on ACTS… on the radio taught by Dr. David Jeremiah… goaded me into action. In his sermon Dr. Jeremiah was speaking about the Apostle Peter’s sermon to the people in the book of Acts and…..mentioned the story of the capstone being sent from the quarry to the site of Solomon’s temple along with all the other stones, and finally… after no one could figure out what it was for, that stone was thrown down the side of the hill because it did not look like the other stones. Later (as you pointed out some 7 years ? elapsed while Solomon’s temple was being built) a request was sent to the quarry “wheres the capstone? We sent it, you did get it didn’t you?…. eventually an old worker remembered…that’s the stone we cast over the side of the hill, so the Jewish legend went. They scrambled down the hill and found it among the rubbish, rocks and debris, cleaned it up, hauled it back up the hill, and ta-DA it fit perfectly.

    So after hearing that story on the Radio, I emailed Turning Point Radio to furnish me with the source. They emailed back, it is originally from the commentary by H.A. Ironside.
    Source: Acts: An Ironside Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI Kregel Publications, 2007), 59 . I hope that helps trace the origin.
    So my take on this story: It was accepted Jewish legend having been passed down from the time of Solomon, which the hearers of Jesus Christ would have known very well when Jesus made his comment.
    Michael Steenwyk of Hudsonville MI

  15. This is so good! I was just reading the quote from the Gospel of Matthew, where it is translated as “cornerstone”, and I thought it would make more sense if he meant “keystone.” It looks like I’m not the only person that noticed this. Not being able to read Greek or Hebrew, I’m curious where the mixup is. Do you know?

  16. Im still curious to know what stone it was they rejected.It is a metaphor but also truth. So there is a stone they rejected and did not build with literally. What stone that is I do not know and am curious to find out.

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