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Is Matthew 21:44 a parallelism or are the people who fall on the stone and the people on whom it falls are contrasted? Some believe that the second part of the verse is a reference to Daniel 2:44, but it seems to me that these fragments concern different things.

Matt 21:44 (BLB) - And the one having fallen on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."

Dan 2:44 (NASB) - And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.

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2 Answers 2

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First, let me make a technical distinction between:

  1. Parallelism = the same idea expressed in different words in the same passage
  2. Verbal/literary allusion = the same or very similar phrase in one part of the Bible is repeated in a different part of the Bible that refers back to the earlier text.

In the OP's question, Matt 21:44 is a verbal allusion to Dan 2:34, 35 and 44, 45 - this has been recognized by many authors including:

  • The editors of UBS5/NA28 (the standard Greek text for the NT in their appendix which provides a comprehensive such list of verbal allusions and quotations)
  • Ellicott
  • Benson
  • Meyer
  • Bengel
  • The Pulpit Commentary
  • and many more.

Such verbal quotes and parallels are essential to exegesis because when the NT quotes the OT and interprets the text, we are essentially given an inspired commentary on the OT text!

Thus, we learn that the stone in Daniel is the fifth and final empire that is founded by Jesus as the "The Rock".

Now, this idea that Jesus is the Rock/Stone upon which the kingdom of heaven is based is understood from these passages in two ways:

  1. that Jesus founded the kingdom of heaven while here on earth and that all his followers ("Christians") are citizens of that kingdom that will last forever and ultimately triumph over all earthly kingdoms
  2. that Jesus, as founder of the kingdom of heaven that will be finally established and triumphant when Jesus returns a second time.

I am firmly of the first group because we are specifically told in Dan 2:34, 35 that the stone that struck the statue grew to become a great mountain and in doing so, swept the earthly kingdoms away and was finally triumphant over them all. This is exactly what is predicted in Rev 11:15 -

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.”

In either case, the stone is Christ who is the center of history and the foundation of the kingdom of heaven.

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Concerning this verse, Carson writes:

There is probably an allusion to both Isaiah 8:14–15 and Daniel 2:35. This despised stone (v. 42) is not only chosen by God and promoted to the premier place; it is also dangerous.

<D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Matthew & Mark, vol. 9 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition. ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 512.>

There is linguistically (and grammatically) a link between Matt. 21:44 and Isaiah 8:14–15. Especially when one considers Peter's commentary on the verse in 1Pet. 2:8, the intertextuality is undeniable.

Grammatically, there is a greater step of distance between Matt. 21:44 and Dan. 2. But contextually, as Carson notes, there is a stone that crushes(וּמְחָת) the other parts of the statue. That is a strong linking in ideas (if not direct grammar)

As to your first question: Is this parallelism? Answer: Clearly, yes it is:

  • The one falling on/over (ὁ πεσὼν) --> will be crushed (συνθλασθήσεται)
  • The on whom the rock falls --> [that rock] will crush him (λικμήσει)

The challenging question is not as much whether there is parallelism. It's what kind of parallelism this is. For there are three kinds of parallelism:

  • Thetical: + --> + (or - --> -). (the second = the first)
  • Antithetical: + --> - (or - --> +) (the second = the opposite of the first)
  • Synthetic: a --> A. (the second builds on the first by either getting better or worse)

Obviously the antithetical use is out as an option. The thetic vs. synthetic is a live question though. It boils down to what the force of the two verbs are. The meaning of the first verb isn't too hard to figure out. BDAG gives us this listing:

to crush in such a way that an object is put in pieces, crush (together), dash to pieces, pass., abs. (Aristot., Probl. 1, 38, 863b, 13) Mt 21:44

<BDAG, s.v. “συνθλάω,” 972.>

The question though is what to do with λικμάω. It could just be a synonym of συνθλάω. However, BDAG clues us in, letting us know it might not be that easy. The versions strengthen the verb:

  • The Syriac versions (Sinaitic, Curetonian, Peshitta) have ”ܘܟܽܠ ܡܰܢ ܕܗܺܝ ܬܶܦܶܠ ܥܠܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܬܶܕܪܶܝܘܗ݈ܝ“ (Matthew 21:44 PESHNT-T) ("and every person [on] whom it falls onto them will be blown away [like dust]")
  • Likewise, in the Vulgate, it reads: “quem vero ceciderit conteret eum” (Matthew 21:44 VULG-T) ("on whom it truly falls will pulverize him.")

BDAG lets us know that, if the second verb is strengthened, then the better option is the synthetic use. So, first they stumble over the rock. Then the rock follows after and pulverizes them.

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