In most Bibles, the prophecy calling Jesus a cornerstone at Psalm 118:22, reads like this:
‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.’ –New KJV
‘The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.’ –KJV
However, this appears to be a mistranslation. While the word used can mean ‘chief’ in Hebrew or Aramaic, it has a wide variety of definitions, and as we shall describe, the ones used above appear to be the wrong ones.
Also, when quoted in the Greek text of the New Testament (at Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7) the word only means ‘head’ in Greek as in a physical human head on someone’s shoulders, not as a chief who is in charge of others. While most Bible dictionaries do list that meaning, that’s a more modern use of the word. Lexicons show that no ancient writers used the word (kephalé) to mean ‘chief.’ That definition came much later.
In the Bible, the word used in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek usually means the physical head on their body, but can also mean the source or origin of something. This latter meaning seems to be the correct definition here. For an extensive description of the evidence for this, please see the translator note on the word origin.
So, these verses should actually describe the cornerstone as the original, starting, or initial cornerstone, and not as a head or chief. Why?
In ancient times, the first stone laid to build something was a cornerstone. Builders would then build out all other walls from there. In other words, it was the origin of the building.
So while it’s true that Jesus is indeed our ‘chief,’ our ‘head,’ and our King, this is not the point being made here.
Jesus founded the congregation, or Church, and all Christians came from him – just like the first stone from which one constructs the rest of a building comes from the first cornerstone.
After all, think it through logically. How could there be a ‘head/chief cornerstone’ that is somehow in charge of all the others? By the time the building is finished, there are usually at least four identical cornerstones. If Jesus is one, who are the other three that are equal to him? And when is a stone in charge of a building project? Surely the person in charge is the builder, not a stone? The parable starts to break down.
However, everything makes sense once you understand that there’s a first cornerstone, that is, a starting point from which the builders lay out the rest it. This special cornerstone is the source or origin of the rest of the building. That describes Jesus perfectly; he was the starting cornerstone and origin of the Christian ‘building.’ Without him, nothing else would have been built.
In normal American English, we would call this a foundation stone. So in this translation we use the phrase foundation cornerstone. But why say ‘corner’ at all? Why not just say ‘foundation stone?’ That would break Ephesians 2:20, which says:
‘You’ve been built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, whose cornerstone is the Anointed Jesus himself!’