In 1 Peter 2:4-10 (NIV) we read a comparison between Jesus as a rejected living stones, and those Peter is writing to being likewise living stones. He says that though they were once not a people, now they are a people, just as that which was once rejected as a stone by the builders is now a cornerstone. He seems to be writing to Gentiles if this is the case.

During the Maccabean revolt, Judas the Maccabee is said to have remove "defiled stones" from the temple. So we read in 1 Maccabees 4:41-46 (NRSV):

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them.

What were the stones removed from the temple? And how likely is it that Peter is alluding to them?

  • 1
    My initial response is that this is temple imagery but that its not likely related to the revolt. The audience profile doesn't really fit and would have been lost on them.
    – swasheck
    Feb 1, 2013 at 22:23
  • Why do you think he is writing to gentiles? ISTM that Peter, the apostle to the circumcision is writing to Jewish believers. However, I do think I see the allusion to 2 Mac with stones being removed, cleansed and replaced.
    – user10231
    Apr 20, 2016 at 13:42
  • [1 Peter 1:1 HNV] (1) Rock, an apostle of Yeshua the Messiah, to the chosen ones who are living as strangers in the Diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
    – Ruminator
    May 11, 2021 at 23:53

2 Answers 2


There is a running contrast in the NT between the natural/'deadness' of the old (OT) economy, and the spiritual/'living' nature of the new (NT) Christian economy. This can be seen in such passages as 2 Cor. 3:2,3 ("tablets of stone" vs. "tablets of human hearts" [NASB]); in Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 (i.e, natural vs "living" [i.e., 'spiritual'] "water").

This contrast is also carried over into temple imagery. Under the old economy the stones of the temple (the dwelling place of God on earth) were natural (lifeless); in the new economy we, the church, are "living stones" being formed into a temple (a 'living' dwelling place) of God on earth (at least insomuch as regards his dwelling with His people here on earth at this time). This is clear from such passages as 1 Cor. 3:16,17; 6:19; Ephes. 2:19-22, where Paul speaks expressly along these lines. Rev 21:12 can possibly also be referenced in this sense (where, if so, the reference would be to OT 'spiritual' Israel).

It would seem to be to these concepts that Peter is alluding in 1 Pet. 2:4-8, whereat he declares his readers to be: v.5, "...living stones, ...being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." And in which he declares Jesus to be: v.6, "...a chosen and precious cornerstone" and, v.7, "...the capstone" (NIV). These ideas seem to have been stressed much more in the apostolic church than in most of our present day churches.

For further study along the lines of 'temple theology' one might consider G.K. Beale's: The Temple and the Church's Mission - A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God; and also John Walton's: The Lost World of Genesis One - Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (both available on Christianbook.com).

  • "living water" is an idiom and does not mean "spiritual" but rather "flowing". For example, water in a stream is "living water".
    – user10231
    Jul 12, 2016 at 13:07
  • @user10231 perhaps, but you're going to have to account for a bunch of translation issues to be confident in that
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 24, 2023 at 17:17

The living temple imagery is taken from Isaiah 8:14, 28:16, Psalm 118:22 and is used in both 1 Peter Chapter 2 and Ephesians Chapter 2. Although the Gentile audience of Ephesians might not be acutely aware of the ‘unclean’ stones defiled by Gentiles in the reference you provide to the Maccabean revolt, I do think the Jewish mind reading 1 Peter would possibly make the association.

When we look at how God spoke to Peter about accepting what was previously seen as 'unclean' in Acts Chapter 10, where God say’s, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”, we may find a similar contrast to what you have questioned, i.e., dirty stones now clean stones. Originally pork was unclean and filthy, so were the Gentiles, but now pork is clean and so are the Gentiles. Originally stones were defiled by the idolatry of the Gentiles. Before Gentiles were filthy and anything non-Jewish was as such to be cleansed from the temple. But now the Gentiles are clean and are part of the temple.

However, when joining up these parallel contrasts there is one flaw. The desecration of the temple was not just making stones unclean but it was in reality unclean. The idolatry that was inserted into the temple was not a neutral subject like pork or other ceremonial uncleanness acting as a wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. Therefore in the final analysis I do not think the imagery is congruent with the Maccabean revolt. In other words the temple imagery is not directly related to the revolt.

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