Living Stones in God’s New Temple: The Ecclesial Metaphor of “Stone”

The New Testament often describes the church’s nature and function through metaphor: church members as sheep in a flock, siblings in a family, vines on a branch, or members of a body. John McVay proposes five major categories of metaphors for the church based on Paul’s letters: (1) corporal: the church as body; (2) architectural: the church as building/temple; (3) agricultural: the church as plant/field/vineyard/vine; (4) martial: the church as army; (5) familial and marital: the church as family and as bride. Within the architectural category of metaphors is the “stone” (λιθος) image, drawn from OT texts such as Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:14; 28:16, and Daniel 2:34–35, 44–45. NT authors use the stone metaphor to refer to Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 4:11–12; Rm 9:32–33; Eph 2:20). But unique to the apostle Peter is how he applies the stone image to believers through their union with Christ.

Peter likens Christians to “living stones” who “are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). The goal of this paper is to evaluate the underdeveloped ecclesiological implications of the stone metaphor. Like each ecclesial metaphor, the image of “living stones” gives instruction about the church’s identity, discipleship, and mission. This paper will explore how the stone image contributes to the church’s nature and function by situating the ecclesial stone theme within other biblical-theological themes such as temple and priesthood. This paper will argue that the stone metaphor corresponds to the temple metaphor, describes the church member’s office as priest-king, and illuminates the regenerate nature of the church.

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