Matthew 21:44 And whoever falls on this stone shall be broken:

KJV Verse: 

Mat 21:44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

And what is falling on the stone has its togetherness broken. On what, however, it might fall, it it is going to scatter like chaff.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This verse is extremely interesting for two reason. First, it is impossible to translated completely because a key word does not appear anywhere else in Greek. Second, the standard translation seems to miss the point of the parts we can translated, which is a clever play on words. However, understanding this verse again depends on first on our understanding Matt 21:42 where Christ describes himself as the "head of the corner," the capstone (not the cornerstone or keystone), which most translations also miss.

Let us start with what can be translated accurately.

"Fall" is translated from a Greek word that means "to fall" and "to fall down." It is the root word for dozens of Greek terms involving moving from a higher state to a lower one. Like our word "to fall" it has a number of special meanings including "to fall into a given class", "to prostrate", "to fall from power", "to perish," and so on. Here, it is in the form of a noun "the one who falls."

The word translated as "on" means "on"against," and "before." The meaning that works best here is "before" meaning both "in front of" and "before" in time.

The play on words here uses the various meanings of "fall" and "on," and "before." The stone here is the "head of the corner," which has to meanings, the capstone, which tops and protects the wall and the head of community leaders (see Mat 21:42 for more on ths play on words."

"Fall" can mean "trip" (though Christ typically uses another word to means "stumble), but how does someone "trip" on a capstone, which sits on top of the wall? What normally falls on the capstone? Rain. The point of the capstone is to deflect rain, channeling it away from the inside of the house.

However, the stone that is the "head of the corner" has another meaning, referring to a leader ("head") of the pillars of the community, called "corners" in Greek. Here, the one who "falls before" that stone (which "crowns" the wall) are those who "prostrate themselves in front of" a leader. This means those who humble themselves to him.

Now we come to the part that we cannot understand perfect.

While Biblical translation sources define the verb translated as "shall be broken" as meaning "to crush together," there is no obvious way that we can establish that meaning from Greek. The word used doesn't appear elsewhere in Greek. It uses a prefix that means "together" but the root word is a mystery because that root word is not (thlao) used anywhere else in ancient Greek. The meaning we use may from the word used in the Latin Vulgate, confringetur, that means "to shatter," "to break friendship," and "to dissipate." It sense is to "break togetherness."

This idea, "breaking togetherness" does describe what happens to rain falling on a capstone. It is dissipated. It also describes what happens when one bows to a community leader. This breaks their friendship.

The Greek word translated as "but" joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always (except here) falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better. Here, it falls in the third position in the phase.

The word translated as "on" means "upon", "against", "before", "by" or "on."

The word translated as "whomsoever" is a demonstrative pronoun, but it often acts as a pronoun, especially a connective pronoun introducing a dependent clause.

There is an untranslated word here that indicate the possibility of something happening.

"It shall...fall" is translated from a Greek word that means "to fall" and "to fall down." The same word used in a noun form above. Here it is a verb. It is the root word for dozens of Greek terms involving moving from a higher state to a lower one. Like our word "to fall" it has a number of special meanings including "to fall into a given class", "to prostrate", "to fall from power", "to perish," and so on. Here, it is in the form which indicates someone acting on themselves, so "lower themselves down."

"Grind to powder" is from a verb that means "to winnow" that is, separate chaff from grain by throwing up up in the air. It also is used as a metaphor for "to scatter like chaff."

Greek Vocabulary: 

[Καὶ"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."

πεσὼν (part sg aor act masc nom) "Whoever shall...fall" is from the verb pipto, which means "to fall", "to fall down", "to be cast down," "fall upon", "intersect (geometry)", "meet", "pass through", "fall violently upon", "attack", "fall in battle", "sink{in water)", "fall short i.e. fail", " fall out of", "lose a thing", "escape from", "fall asleep", "to be accessible to perception", "to fall (between her feet, i.e. to be born)", "to let fall[dice)", "turn out," and "fall under (belong to a class)."

ἐπὶ "On" is from epi. which means "on", "upon", "at", "by", "before", "across," and "against."

τὸν 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.

τοῦτον (adj sg masc acc) "That" is from touto, which means "from here", "from there", "this [thing]," or "that [thing]."

συνθλασθήσεται: (verb 3rd sg fut pass, ind) "Shall be broken" is from synthlao, which means "to crush together."

ἐφ᾽ "On" is from epi. which means "on", "upon", "at", "by", "before", "across," and "against."

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

δ᾽ "But" is from de which means "but" and "on the other hand." It is the particle that joins sentences in an adversarial way but can also be a weak connective ("and") and explanation of cause ("so") and a condition ("if").

ἂν Untranslated is an, which is a particle used with verbs to indicate that the action is limited by circumstances or defined by conditions. There is no exact equivalent in English, but it is translated as "possibly," "would have", "might", "should," and "could."

πέσῃ (verb 3rd sg aor subj act) "It shall...fall" is from the verb pipto, which means "to fall", "to fall down", "to be cast down," "fall upon", "intersect (geometry)", "meet", "pass through", "fall violently upon", "attack", "fall in battle", "sink{in water)", "fall short i.e. fail", " fall out of", "lose a thing", "escape from", "fall asleep", "to be accessible to perception", "to fall (between her feet, i.e. to be born)", "to let fall[dice)", "turn out," and "fall under (belong to a class)."

λικμήσει (verb 3rd sg fut ind act) "Grind to powder" is from likmaô, which means "to winnow" that is, separate chaff from grain by throwing up up in the air. It also is used as a metaphor for "to scatter", "to crush," and "to destroy."\

αὐτόν.] (adj sg masc acc) "Him" is from 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."

Wordplay: 

The word "fall" here has many, many meanings. 

Related Verses: