Rock and stone

Given the stony terrain of the Middle East, it is not surprising that rock and stone feature frequently in the Bible, both literally and as metaphors.

The Rock in the desert

When Moses is leading the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, they soon complain of thirst. God tells Moses to strike a rock near Mount Sinai, ‘and water will come out of it for the people to drink' (Exodus 17:6).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians) Paul puts a symbolic interpretation on this story, saying that the people ‘drank from the spiritual rock that went with them; and that rock was Christ himself' (1 Corinthians 10:4). This can be related to Christ's own invitation to the Jews in the temple at Jerusalem, ‘Whoever is thirsty should come to me and drink' (John 7:37). See Big ideas: Water; Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners.

Stones for building

Jesus: the cornerstone

Jesus refers to himself as a key building stone, the cornerstone. Quoting from Psalms 118:22, he states that he is ‘the stone which the builders rejected as worthless', which ‘turned out to be the most important of all' (Luke 20:17). He is referring figuratively to his rejection and crucifixion by the Jews, and the way that he will be vindicated through the resurrection. The writer of (1 Peter quotes from Isaiah 28:16, in which God says,

‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.'

Like Jesus, Peter links this idea with a warning for those who oppose Christ, ‘This is the stone that will make people stumble, the rock that will make them fall. They stumble because they disobey the message' (1 Peter 2:8). See Big ideas: Cross, crucifixion; Messiah, Christ, Jesus; Judgement.

Peter: the rock

Jesus famously told Peter (whose name, in Greek, means a rock or stone), ‘on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it' (Matthew 16:18). The Roman Catholic Church interprets this passage to mean that Peter himself is the rock, and teaches that the Pope is the successor of Peter.

Christian believers

In the New Testament, Peter extends this image to all Christians, ‘Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple … to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ' (1 Peter 2:4-5). The idea of community is integral to Christianity and Peter uses this image to show how the church is made up of people, rather than stones and mortar. See Big ideas: Temple, tabernacle; Community, the Church, the Body of Christ; Atonement and sacrifice.


Stones and bread

Jesus tempted to turn stones to breadWhen Jesus was fasting in the desert, he resisted the temptation to use his power to command stones to become bread (Matthew 4:3). Later, the image of a ‘stone' is used to mean something quite different, when Jesus uses it in a parable about the fatherly care God extends to his people and points out that no earthly father would give his son a stone when he asks for bread (Matthew 7:9). See Big ideas: Temptation.

Hearts of stone

The expression ‘stony-hearted' comes from the prophecy of Ezekiel, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh' (Ezekiel 36:26). Also, the book of Exodus describes the Pharaoh, who refuses to let the Israelites leave Egypt, as ‘hardening' his heart (Exodus 8:15). See Big ideas: Moses.

Stones and praise

When the Jews tell Jesus to hush the disciples who are praising God as he enters Jerusalem, Jesus says, ‘I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out' (Luke 19:40). See Big ideas: Donkey, ass.

Execution by stoning

Stoning was a form of capital punishment in Bible times. In Old Testament law, it was a punishment for adultery, but when Jesus was asked to pass judgement on a woman caught in the act of adultery, he replied by saying, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her'. As the accusers all left, one by one, he said to the woman, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin' (John 8:7-11). See Big ideas: Forgiveness, mercy and grace; Judgement; Sin.

The Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus when he claimed to be God, but he quietly evaded their attack (John 8:58-59).

Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, was stoned (Acts 7:54-60) because he declared that he could see Jesus at God's right-hand side (which would have been understood to mean that Jesus is the Son of God). He died praying for those who stoned him to be forgiven, and the young man who witnessed this as he held their coats later became Paul, the great missionary of the Early Church. See Big ideas: Trinity, Holy Spirit; Messiah, Christ, Jesus.

Related topics

Big ideas: Water; Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners; Cross, crucifixion; Messiah, Christ, Jesus; Judgement; Temple, tabernacle; Community, the Church, the Body of Christ; Atonement and sacrifice; Temptation; Moses; Donkey, ass; Forgiveness, mercy and grace; Sin; Trinity, Holy Spirit

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