Luke 20:9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. Luke 20:10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Luke 20:11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. Luke 20:12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Luke 20:13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ Luke 20:14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ Luke 20:15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? Luke 20:16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” Luke 20:17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Luke 20:18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” [English Standard Version]
In my article “Benjamin Netanyahu: Jewish People Not Occupiers in the West Bank” I referred to ‘Matthew’s’ version of this parable to show that Jesus Christ prophesied that the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jewish nation and given to another nation: that other great nation descending from Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael. In the comments section, an “e-friend” named Dan called me out (in a most friendly way) on my interpretation of “the stone which the builders rejected”. (If you’re coming from a somewhat open minded Evangelical Christian persuasion – open to questioning traditional beliefs – you might check out his very fine blog, Nailing it to the door).
I have been quite happy with the caliber of comments I get (on the few occasions when I get any). Those who respond to my articles have been very respectful even when they disagree with what I have to say. While I would probably just delete any comments that were angry or hateful and involved name calling and foul language, I’m quite pleased to say that I can’t recall having any such comments so far. Dan’s comments are a very fine example of how to “disagree agreeably”. I welcome any such disagreement.
Anyhow, if you care to read through the comments on that article, you’ll see the ‘argument’ I’m going to produce here. But I thought I would make a separate article for those who don’t want to go back and read through the comments.
The traditional Christian understanding of “the stone which the builders rejected” is that it refers to Jesus Christ himself. It’s the interpretation which I had always accepted until very recently. In fact, it seemed so ‘obvious’ to me that it never occurred to me that there might be any other possible understanding of the reference. It was therefore with some surprise that I found some Muslim interpreters insisting that the “stone” was in fact the Arab people descended from Ishmael, to whom the Message of the Qur’an was given through the Prophet Muhammad – and from whom a ‘mountain’ has arisen which fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35 in the ‘Old Testament’ of the Bible).
Because it was so ‘obvious’ to me that the “stone” was Jesus Christ himself, I naturally thought this Muslim interpretation was absurd – an evidence of Muslims trying too hard to find Islam and Muhammad in Biblical prophecy. I definitely did not just immediately exclaim: “That’s right! Why couldn’t I see that before?”
However, I did continue to give it consideration, and seek out Muslim writers who could give a clear explanation of why they understood the prophecy in this way. I don’t remember now where it was I found the explanation which finally ‘opened my eyes’; but the explanation now seems clear and simple to me.
The whole point of the parable, of course, was to reach the conclusion that the Jewish “tenants” of the “vineyard” (God’s kingdom) had failed so miserably in their duty, and had proven to be so treacherous toward God, that their honored position in the kingdom would be removed from them and another people would be given that position – another people who would produce the ‘fruit’ of the kingdom and render it up to God. That is the inevitable conclusion of the parable, and in Matthew’s account the listeners themselves were so taken in by the parable that they themselves rendered the verdict that the “tenants” would be destroyed by the owner of the vineyard and others would get the lease.
By the way, this is an example in the Gospels that clearly shows the Bible is not inerrantly ‘inspired’. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus asked the question “What will he do to those tenants”, it was the listeners who responded with the verdict that those “wretches” would be killed and the vineyard leased to others. In Mark and Luke, though, it was Jesus who answered his own question. In fact, in Luke, the listeners were so far from rendering the verdict themselves that they responded “surely not” when Jesus gave the verdict. (I love the way the King James Version renders the phrase: “God forbid!” However, “surely not” is actually a closer rendering of the phrase. “God” is not present in the Greek phrase. More literally, it would be “Let it not be”.) However, this is also a good example to show that while the details of the story may vary (and in fact are technically contradictory), the point of the story is not affected.
Notice, then, that it is in support of this verdict that the tenants are to be replaced with other more faithful people that Jesus refers to Psalm 118:22: “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?” The point of the parable was not that one of the emissaries of the owner would be restored in order to collect the rightful ‘fruit’ – not even the “son” who had been killed – but that the tenants themselves would be replaced. The point of Jesus’ quotation of the Psalm was that the Jewish Scriptures themselves declared this very thing.
In Matthew, this is clear in that immediately following the listeners’ verdict that the treacherous tenants would be killed and replaced, Jesus said “Have you never read in the Scriptures…?” In other words, it’s as if he had said “Isn’t that precisely what the Psalmist said?” Then Jesus followed up the quotation with his own conclusion: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” He did not say “Therefore I tell you, the son whom you will treacherously slay will be resurrected to inherit the kingdom.” Then, immediately after saying that another nation/people will be given the kingdom of God, he says “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” There is nothing in the statements of Jesus to indicate that the stone was a person rather than a “people/nation”, and everything to indicate that the “stone” and the “nation” were one and the same.
If possible, this conclusion is even clearer in Luke’s account of the parable. In his account, the listeners had exclaimed “surely not” when Jesus said that the tenants would be destroyed and the vineyard leased to others. Jesus responded by saying “What then is this that is written…?” Nothing could be clearer than that Jesus was asking how they could object to his conclusion, since the Psalmist had said the same thing: the Jewish nation which was currently the “cornerstone” in God’s kingdom – but which had failed miserably in its duty to bring the kingdom to all nations according to the promise to Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3) – would be replaced by another “stone” which the Jewish builders had rejected; and that “stone” would produce the intended “fruit”.
Who that other nation/stone was should have been obvious to those who were familiar with the Hebrew Torah and the promises made to Abraham. God not only promised to make a great nation or nations from the seed of Abraham’s second son Isaac, but he promised that he would produce a great nation from the seed of Ishmael (Genesis 17:20 and 21:13 and 18). The Jewish “builders” weren’t too pleased with that, though. Although they did not entirely delete God’s promise concerning Ishmael from their Scriptures, they tried to obscure and cover it up as much as possible. After the Genesis 17:20 promise that God would bless Ishmael and make him fruitful, making a great nation of him, He then proceeded to say in verse 21 “And [or also] I will establish my covenant with Isaac…” But the Jews (and Christians) have, without any logical reason at all, read that as “But I will establish my covenant with Isaac”; as if it were being said “but My blessing of Ishmael is really inconsequential; my real blessing and covenant will be with Isaac.” (See “To Whom Was the Land of Canaan Given?”)
Although Isaac was never at any time Abraham’s “only son”, they nevertheless inserted Isaac into the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his “only son” as if Ishmael didn’t exist (Genesis 22:2 ff) . When God promised to bless Ishmael and make him fruitful, He said (Genesis 16:12) “He shall be a fruitful man, his hand with every man and every man’s hand with him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his kinsmen.” However, to show their hatred of Ishmael, the Jews (and Christians following in their footsteps) distorted that by claiming “fruitful man” should be read “wild ass of a man”, and “with” should be read “against”. (“Was Ishmael a ‘Wild Ass’ Man?”)
When Sarah (in Genesis 21) became upset at Ishmael’s laughter, the Jews have interpreted that laughter to be laughing at (mocking) Isaac (although the text itself only says that Sarah saw Ishmael laughing – not laughing at anyone or anything). The Christian apostle Paul even interpreted this to mean that Ishmael was persecuting Isaac (Galatians 4:29) [“Why was Sarah so angry with Hagar and Ishmael?”] . The Ishmaelites don’t figure much in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures because the Jews figured they were at best unimportant. At worst, the Jews despised the Arab descendants of Ishmael.
Who else, then, could the nation/stone which the Jewish “builders” rejected be but that great nation descended from Abraham’s firstborn son Ishmael? The promise of God to Abraham had been that in him all nations would be blessed. When the descendants of Isaac were rejected by God, then the descendants of that other son replaced them. God raised up a prophet from the seed of Ishmael; his Arab brothers embraced his/His message; and instead of thinking that they should hoard God’s blessing to themselves (as the Jews did), they fulfilled the duty of God’s covenant by bringing the message of God to all the nations.
The Christian Church did indeed keep alive the name of Jesus Christ, and expanded greatly. But while doing so, it distorted the message so greatly that it can hardly be recognized for “the way” that Jesus proclaimed. When Christianity became allied with the Roman Empire, it was more a defeat for the “Christian” version of the kingdom of God than a triumph. Rome conquered Christianity rather than vice versa. Only the Message of God through Muhammad, originally delivered to the nation descended from Ishmael, has spread the message – in its purity – of God’s kingdom throughout the earth. This “nation” has indeed been a faithful and fruitful “cornerstone” in the kingdom of God.
I would like to say more about the intriguing nature of the use of the word “stone” for the Islamic “nation”, but I guess I’d better devote another article to that. I have a tendency to be “long winded” and this article has already been long enough.