Matthew 21:42 Did you never read in the scriptures...

KJV Verse: 

Mat 21:42 Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

Don't you at any time recognize in the writings:
This stone, the ones building the house rejected as unfitting.
this is changed into the capstone (the chief leader).
from the Lord
its true self comes into being.
It is wonderful
in our sight.

 

 

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

A very, very interesting verse. Many translations confuse "the head of a corner", that is, a "capstone," with a "cornerstone," which is in most ways its opposite, or a "keystone," which is also different. The KJV also doesn't translated a number of words here for the sake of simplicity, but this does change the meaning of the verse as well. In the original Greek, there is also an interesting play on words about capstones and leaders that is completely lost in English.
The verse starts with a common phrase Jesus uses to describe those who don't know Jewish writings. The end of this verse is a direct quote from the Psalms 118:23 and 118:23.

The first meaning of "head of the corner" comes from the technique of coping an exterior wall. The coping is the final, finishing layer of stone that protects the rest below. The coping layer in a brick or stone wall is slanted so that it sheds water, protecting the wall. Most of the stones in a wall have be level so each row doesn't tilt inward or outward. This is especially true of a cornerstone, which holds the weight of the wall and it the largest and squarest rock in the wall, both figuratively and physically. The capstone however is slanted. If it wasn't in wouldn't work. The top of a pyramid is the archetype capstone. A "keystone" is the stone that holds the center of a stone arch. It is also not square, but its role is different.

Why is this important? Christ is teaching something very important here about what works. Something that works in most situations, such as the square stones in a wall, does not work in special situations, that is, for the top, protecting layer of a wall. Builders reject stones that aren't square, but they save them for the coping layer on top. Christ is not describing something special or stupid in rejecting a slanted stone, but something that is normally done by people who know how to build.

This idea continues in the second meaning of "head of the corner." The alternative meaning of this phrase comes from alternative meaning in Greek for both "head" and "corner."

Another meaning of "head" in Greek is "the crown," in the sense of the top of someone's head, which came to mean the regal adornment of the head. This idea of "crown" originally was that of a "finish touch," like we might say "a crowning achievement." We use "head" somewhat negatively, as in "having a situation come to a head," that is, come to crisis, but in Greek, to put a "head" or "crown" on something was to finish it completely, like we might say, "put a cherry on top." Of course, from this idea came the idea of "crowning" a leader. (Note: Not to be confused with the circlet of metal or leaves that Greeks used as crowns, which were called stephanos.)

The original saying that Christ is quoting came from the Old Testament, specifically Psa 118:22. The rest of the Psalm is unremarkable, very like many others. This one line sticks out. As the son of a brick layer and house builder (mistranslated into English as a "carpenter"), Christ would have understood the meaning of this stanza. This line is prophetic, describing Christ's life as one that would have an odd angle on things, so much so that he made plays on words like this one.

Christ is making the specific point that a leader of the community is different from regular citizens, like the capstones are different from the rest of the stones in the wall including the foundation stones. The regular stones have to be square, consistent in size and shape. They have to "fit into" the wall just like regular citizens have to "fit into" society. Capstones cannot fit in in the same sense and retain their value. The must have an odd angle that doesn't fit in. In the same way, a leader must "stand out" from the crowd. Leaders are often initially rejected because they are different. Capstones are also initially rejected because they have this odd angle.

Also, thinking about this a little more deeply, Christ saw himself as the capstone of Jewish teaching, that is, the finishing touch on the wall. The foundation of that wall was the Patriarchs (see Isa 28:16). Christ, however, finished it, crowned it, and protected it.

KJV Analysis: 

Did -- This helping verb is added in English translation to make this clause into a question, However, the Greek is not necessarily a question. It could be a statement.

ye  -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the following verb.

never -- The word translated as "never" is the combination of the word for "never" and "at any time."

read  --  "Read" is a verb that means "know well", "recognize," and "know again." It is always translated as "read" in the Gospels, but that always comes from the fact that it is used in reference to the law or written law. However, Jesus is never talking about "reading". He is talking about "knowing well" and "recognizing", which may have been read or heard or memorized, all of which were common in a relationship to scripture. 

in -- The word translated as "in" also means "within", "with," or "among." With the accusative, it means "into," "on," and "for."

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those"). See this article for more. 

scriptures,  "Scriptures" is from a noun which means "drawing", "writing", "the art of writing", "that which is written", "a list", "a prescription," and "official records." Christ uses it to refer to the written books of the Jews that we call "Scripture."

The -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity.

stone -- The Greek word translated as "stone" means "a stone", "stone as a substance," and various specific types of stones, such as touchstones and altar stones. "Stone" is from the noun which means "a stone," but there is no article introducing it, so not "the stone."

which  -- The word translated as "which" is a demonstrative pronoun ("this" "that"), but it often acts as a pronoun ("the one that), especially a connective pronoun ("the one that") introducing a dependent clause

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." Here it precedes a verb in the form of an adjective. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those"). See this article for more. 

builders -- "Builders" is a verb that specifically means "build a house," generally, "build", "fashion," "found upon," and, metaphorically, "build up," and "edify." In English, we use "construct" to specifically describe house building.  The form in an adjective, "constructing." With the previous article, "the ones building."

rejected -- "Rejected" is a verb that means specifically "reject on scrutiny", "reject as unfit or unworthy," and "reject for want of qualifications."  Referring to a stone used to build a wall, we would say "reject as unfitting."

the  -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used.

same -- "The same" is translated from a Greek word that means "this", "that", "the nearer." It is used as a noun that acts as the subject of the sentence.

is -- This helping verb indicates that the following verb is passive. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translated the Greek verb forms into English.

become -- The word translated as "become" means "to become," "to be born," "to happen," "come into,"  that is, to enter into a new state. In Greek, especially as used by Christ, it is the opposite of "being," which is existence in the current state. It is in the passive form, but we usually use the word "become" like a passive verb. This Greek verb, however, works differently, as we will see later in the verse.

untranslated -- The untranslated word means "into" a place, "towards" as a direction, and "up to" limits in time and measure. With the previous verse, the sense is as we use the phrase "changes into."

the -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity.

head -- "Head" is from a noun that means "head of a man or beast", "an extremity", "the top", "the capital (top) of a pillar", "the coping of a wall", "the source of a rivalry," and, metaphorically the "crowning" or "completion" of a thing. It means "head" and "top" but also the completion of a thing (as we say, "bringing it to a head"). It is also a metaphor for life ("losing your head" in Greek doesn't mean an emotional outburst, but being killed). "Head" is from a noun that means "head of a man or beast", "an extremity", "the top", "the capital (top) of a pillar", "the coping of a wall", "the source of a rivalry," and, metaphorically the "crowning" or "completion" of a thing.

of  -- This word comes from the genitive case of the following word(s) that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession, but it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive nouns. 

the -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity.

corner: "Corner" is a noun that means "corner", "angle", "a quarter of a compass," and "a leader of people." In Greek, another meaning for "corner" is "a leader of a people." We don't use the word "corner" similarly, but the meaning is easier to understand if you think of the corners as supporting a structure, like a pillar does. We do say a "pillar of the community" to describe a leader. In Greek, they would say "the corner of a community" in the same sense.

This -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "this" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. The phrase "this becomes" appears in the previous verse, but not here.

was -- The verb translated as "be" means "to become," that is, to enter into a new state. In Greek, especially as used by Christ, it is the opposite of "being," which is existence in the current state.  This verb appears after the introductory phrase, "from a Lord. The form is third-person, singular so "it becomes" or "it comes into being." The verb is in the middle voice, a change from the passive above, where the subject acts on itself. This is emphasized with the pronoun that appears after it and is not translated.

untranslated -- The verse starts with an untranslated preposition here. The preposition means "from," "besides", "with," and "beyond." It also has a number of specialized meanings.

the -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "this" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. However, it is added to recognize that the Hebrew verse was the name of God, which is Yĕhovah.

Lord's -- The word translated as "Lord" means having power. It means "lord", "master of the house," and "head of the family." Most importantly, it is the word the the Greek Septuagint uses to refer to God's name, Yĕhovah, which is how it is used here, since this is a quote from the Greek OT. This is in the possessive form because of the preposition before it. It does NOT ownership of the "doing" which is not a noun. With the untranslated preposition above, the two words means "from the Lord." It most likely modifies the capstone phrase above.

doing, -- This is implied by the verb translated as "was" above, but there is no separate Greek word translated as "doing." The verb above means "to become," that is, to enter or change into a new state. This has no relation to the verb usually translated as "to do" in the NT.

untranslated -- This pronoun is in the same form as the subject of the clause. Since this information is already in the verb, this pronoun emphasizes that it "it becomes itself." This pronoun is important also because it shows the sex of the subject, something we don't get in the verb. The sex is female, so the pronoun refers to the "head" in the previous verse.

and  -- The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also")

it -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the following verb.

is -- The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics. It is the opposite of the "was...doing" above. When the verb "to be" appears early in the clause before the subject, the sense is more like "it is" or, in the plural, "there are." 

marvelous "Marvelous" is from a noun that which means "wonderful", "marvelous", "admirable", "excellent," and "to be worshipped." However, this is a noun, not an adjective.

in -- The word translated as "in" also means "within", "with," or "among." With the accusative, it means "into," "on," and "for."

our -- The "our" is the plural possessive first-person pronoun. 

eyes --The word translated as "eye," also means "sight", "the dearest and best", "light", "cheer", "comfort," and "the bud [of a plant]."

Greek Vocabulary: 

Οὐδέποτε "Never" is from oudepote, which means "and not ever", "nor ever", "not even ever," and "never." It is from two words, oude , which means "but not", "neither", "nor,"and "not even." And pote, which means "when", "at what time", "at some time or other", "at some unknown time, and "at some time in the future."

ἀνέγνωτε (verb 2nd pl aor ind act) "Have ye...read" is from anaginosko, which means "to recognize", "to know well", "to know certainly", "to know again", "to own," and "to acknowledge."

ἐν "In" is from en, which means "in", "on", "at", "by", "among", "within", "surrounded by", "in one's hands", "in one's power," and "with".

ταῖς  (article pl fem dat) "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

γραφαῖς (noun pl fem dat) "Scriptures" is from graphê, which means "drawing", "writing", "the art of writing", "that which is written", "a list", "a prescription," and "official records."

Λίθον (noun sg masc acc) "The stone" is from lithos, which means "a stone", "stone as a substance," and various specific types of stones, such as touchstones, and altar stones.

ὃν (pron sg masc acc) "This" is from hos, which means "this", "that", "he", "she", "which", "what", "who", "whosoever", "where", "for which reason," and many similar meanings.

ἀπεδοκίμασαν (verb 3rd pl aor ind act) "Rejected" is from apodokimazô, which means specifically "reject on scrutiny", "reject as unfit or unworthy," and "reject for want of qualifications."

οἱ (article pl masc nom) "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

οἰκοδομοῦντες (part pl pres act masc nom) "The builders" is from oikodomeo,which means to "build a house," generally, "build", "fashion," "found upon," and, metaphorically, "build up," and "edify."

οὗτος (adj sg masc nom) "The same" is from houtos, which means "this", "that", "the nearer." As an adverb, it means "in this way", "therefore", "so much", "to such an extent," and "that is why."

ἐγενήθη (verb 3rd sg aor ind pass) "Is become" is from ginomai, which means "to become", "to come into being", "to be produced," and "to be." It means changing into a new state of being. It is the complementary opposite of the verb "to be" (eimi)which indicates existence in the same state.

εἰς Untranslated is eis, which means "into (of place)," "up to (of time)", "until (of time)", "as much as (of measure or limit)", "as far as (of measure or limit)", "towards (to express relation)", "in regard to (to express relation)", "of an end or limit," and "for (of purpose or object)." -- The word translated as "unto" means "into" a place, "towards" as a direction, and "up to" limits in time and measure.

κεφαλὴν (noun sg fem acc) "Head" is from kephalê, which means "head of a man or beast", "an extremity", "the top", "the capital (top) of a pillar", "the coping of a wall", "the source of a rivalry," and, metaphorically the "crowning" or "completion" of a thing.

γωνίας: (noun sg fem gen) "Corner" is from gônia, which means "corner", "angle", "a quarter of a compass," and "a leader of people."

παρὰ (prep) Untranslated is para, which means "beside", "from the side of", "from beside,", "from", "issuing from", "near", "by", "with", "along", "past", "beyond", "parallel (geometry)", "like (metaphor)", "a parody of (metaphor)", "precisely at the moment of (time)," and "throughout (time)."

Κυρίου (noun sg masc gen) "The Lord's" is from kyrios (kurios), which means "having power", "being in authority" and "being in possession of." It also means "lord", "master of the house," and "head of the family."

ἐγένετο (verb 3rd sg aor ind mid) "Doing" is from ginomai, which means "to become", "to come into being", "to be produced," and "to be." It means changing into a new state of being. It is the complementary opposite of the verb "to be" (eimi)which indicates existence in the same state.

αὕτη, (adj sg fem nom) Untranslated is autos, which means "the same," and the reflexive pronouns, "myself", "yourself", "himself", "herself", "itself," or the oblique case of the pronouns, "him", "her," and "it." It also means "one's true self," that is, "the soul" as opposed to the body and "of one's own accord."

καὶ (conj/adv) "And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just." -- The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also") and, in a series, is best translated as "not only...but also."

ἔστιν (erb 3rd sg pres ind act) "Is" is from eimi, which means "to be", "to exist", "to be the case," and "is possible." (The future form is esomai. The 3rd person present indicative is "esti.")

θαυμαστὴ (adj sg fem nom) "Marvelous" is from thaumastos, which means "wonderful", "marvelous", "admirable", "excellent," and "to be worshipped."

ἐν (prep) "In" is from en, which means "in", "on", "at", "by", "among", "within", "surrounded by", "in one's hands", "in one's power," and "with".

ὀφθαλμοῖς (noun pl masc dat) "Eyes" is from ophthalmos, which means "eye", "sight", "the dearest and best", "light", "cheer", "comfort," and "the bud [of a plant]."

ἡμῶν; (pron 1st pl masc/fem gen) "Our" is from hemon, which is the plural possessive (genitive) form of the first personal pronoun.

Wordplay: 

The "head of the corner" means both a capstone, protecting a wall and a head of community leaders, which were called "corners" of the community like we call them "pillars" of a community. 

Related Verses: 

Mark 12:10 And have you not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected...

Luke 20:17 What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected,

Psalm 118:22  (LXX 117:22) λίθον ὃν ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας

Psa 118:23 (LXX 117:23) παρὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη καὶ ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῗς ἡμῶν