The author of 1st Peter creates such word pictures for us in spades. Chapter 2 is a rich example as the writer employs a stone metaphor to explain three different functions for Christ.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When we come to a passage that seems to so obviously cluster ideas into a single image, it’s a great time to pause and ask the simple question, ‘why’.
Having recently visited Israel and one of the country’s richest archaeological sites, Bet She’an (ancient Scythopholis), I was struck by the enormous building project in the early 1st century the archaeologists are finding. Located just 23 miles from Nazareth where Jesus spent his boyhood, it’s easy to imagine that Jesus might have had some familiarity with it. As the capital of the Decapolis cities, this area included in the region called ‘Syria’, was one of many places where word of Jesus’ healing work spread. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick…(Matt. 4:24).
Back to those stones. The Romans were nothing if not builders. Cornerstones and keystones would have been part of everyday life, with people walking under a keystone, for instance, each time they went into an agora or marketplace — such as the center stone of the arch in the photo (from Bet She’an).
With building materials for houses made from mud-brick, the Romans would differentiate their architectural claim for imperial solidity and permanence with stone instead. Yet it wouldn’t be a leap of the imagination to see how an evangelist would declare that Christ is the only true stability, perhaps providing the basis of I Peter’s metaphor of stones.
The first reference using stones (in I Pet. 2:6) declares Christ is the cornerstone, the critical feature of a building on which everything else rests. Paraphrasing Isa. 28:16, the author explains that without Christ, there is no building. What a reminder that we build our faith on the spiritual facts that Jesus’ life so astoundingly illustrated.
The second stone reference comes immediately in I Pet. 2:7, only this time the author quotes Ps. 118:22, telling how this stone might have been initially rejected but it has since transformed into the cornerstone –a not very subtle reference to the way the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah yet so many others now build their lives on Christ Jesus’ teachings, including Gentiles.
The third and final reference is based on another quote from Isaiah, this time Isa. 8:14. Here Christ is the stone on which the disobedient stub their toes or stumble altogether for their lack of obedience.
These passages deserve greater thought and contemplation than this blog can provide, but we hope it teases you into seeing how rich Biblical language is to this amazing epistle of I Peter. Dig in and enjoy!