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‘The stones would cry out’ (Luke 19:40): a Lukan contribution to a hermeneutics of creation's praise

  • David G. Horrell (a1) and Dominic Coad (a1)


Beginning from Richard Bauckham's proposal that the biblical theme of creation's praise is of considerable importance for an ecological spirituality, this article takes a close look at Luke 19:40, a text largely ignored in ecological readings of the Bible. An examination of Luke's distinctive account of the entry into Jerusalem and a consideration of the relevant Jewish parallels to the motif of the crying stone leads to a view of the stones’ cry as one of both praise and protest. The ecotheological potential of this text is then discussed and, in contrast to Bauckham's view of creation's praise as something creation always and already does simply by being itself, an eschatological view of creation's praise – and the combined expression of praise and protest – is presented as important, not least for its ecotheological and ethical potential.



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1 Bauckham, Richard, ‘Joining Creation's Praise of God’, Ecotheology 7 (2002), pp. 4559.

2 Ibid., p. 47; cf. also p. 59.

3 Ibid., p. 47.

4 Ibid. Cf. also Bauckham, Richard, God and the Crisis of Freedom: Biblical and Contemporary Perspectives (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox, 2002), pp. 176–7; Hardy, Daniel W. and Ford, David F., Praising God and Knowing God (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1985), pp. 7782.

5 Bauckham, ‘Joining Creation's Praise’, p. 51; see pp. 49–51.

6 Ibid., p. 52.

8 Ibid., p. 47; cf. also p. 53.

9 See Fretheim, Terence E., ‘Nature's Praise of God in the Psalms’, Ex Auditu 3 (1987), pp. 1630.

10 Bauckham, ‘Joining Creation's Praise’, p. 50.

11 Cooper, Tim, Green Christianity. Caring for the Whole Creation (London: Spire/Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), p. 218; Nash, James A., Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991), p. 143; Northcott, Michael S., The Environment and Christian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 224–5; Echlin, Edward p., The Cosmic Circle: Jesus and Ecology (Blackrock: Columba, 2004), pp. 94–6.

12 See Matt 6:26–9, Mark 4:1–20, 26–32, John 15:1–8, as treated for example in McDonagh, Sean, The Greening of the Church (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990), p. 159; Cooper, Green Christianity, p. 172. See also Bradley, Ian, God is Green: Christianity and the Environment (London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1990), p. 78.

13 On the general topic of the articulation of such an ecological hermeneutic, see Conradie, Ernst, ‘The Road towards an Ecological Biblical and Theological Hermeneutics’, Scriptura 93 (2006), pp. 305–14; idem, ‘Towards an Ecological Biblical Hermeneutics: A Review Essay on the Earth Bible Project’, Scriptura 85 (2004), pp. 123–35; Horrell, David G., Hunt, Cherryl and Southgate, Christopher, ‘Appeals to the Bible in Ecotheology and Environmental Ethics: A Typology of Hermeneutical Stances’, Studies in Christian Ethics 21.2 (2008), pp. 219–38.

14 Luke also introduces a number of references to Jesus praying: e.g. 9:18, 28; 11:1. On the theme of prayer and praise in Luke, see Morris, Leon, Luke (TNTC; Grand Rapids, MI, and Leicester: Eerdmans and IVP, 1988), p. 50; Green, Joel B., The Theology of the Gospel of Luke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 109–12.

15 Cf. Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Gospel According to Luke (X–XXIV) (AB 28A; New York: Doubleday, 1985), p. 1251; Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 687.

16 Though comparable material is found in Mark 13:1–2, 14// Matt 24:1–2, 15// Luke 21:5–6, 20, also Matt 23:37–9//Luke 13:34–5.

17 Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 1252.

18 Korpel, M.C.A., ‘Stone’, in van der Toorn, Karel, Becking, Bob, and van der Horst, Pieter (eds), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd edn; Leiden and Grand Rapids, MI: Brill and Eerdmans, 1999), p. 818, who also draws attention to the wider evidence for the veneration and oracular function of stones in the ANE. Habbakuk also represents a prophetic critique of the veneration of stones and wood as ‘idols’ (םילילא 2:18–20; cf. also Isa 37:19; Jer 2:27; 3:9), though this does not negate the possibility – as in 2:11 – that they might convey YHWH's message. Our thanks to Francesca Stavrakopoulou for alerting us to this important aspect of the ancient cultural context.

19 Evans, C. F., Saint Luke (London: SCM, 1990), p. 682.

20 ET quoted from Charlesworth, OTP 2, p. 393.

21 See Adams, Edward, The Stars will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and its World (LNTS; London: T & T Clark, 2007), for a recent assessment of the cosmic catastrophe language in the New Testament, and in Jewish and Graeco-Roman sources. Against N. T. Wright in particular, Adams argues that this language is used to depict what is conceived – within the terms of first-century cosmologies – as a truly cosmic destruction and/or transformation, not merely as vivid metaphor for radical historical and political change.

22 Evans, Saint Luke, p. 682. Evans also notes rabbinic references to the ‘accusing stone’ based on Hab 2:11. Similarly, Eduard Schweizer comments that ‘[t]he “crying out” of the stones may be understood as an indictment, as in Habbakuk 2:11’ (The Good News According to Luke [London: SPCK, 1984], p. 300).

23 Evans, Saint Luke, p. 682. Similarly, Ernst, Josef, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (RNT; Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1976), p. 528: ‘Wenn die Jünger jetzt nicht reden und bekennen dürfen, dann werden die Steine der zerstörten Stadt Jerusalem sprechen.’

24 Cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 1246, 1252, 1259.

25 Cf. Ellis, E. Earle, The Gospel of Luke (NCBC; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1974), p. 226, who notes that ‘the Qumran commentary on Habbakuk takes the passage (Hab. 2:8) as a prophecy of the capitulation of Jerusalem (and her wicked priests) to the army of the Kittim (=Romans?)’.

26 Cf. Nolland, John, Luke 18:35–24:53 (WBC 35C; Dallas, TX: Word, 1993), p. 927: ‘the stony terrain around them . . .’

27 Green, Luke, p. 688, with n. 27. In a similar way, Nolland (Luke 18:35–24:53, p. 927) notes the verbal parallel with Hab 2:11 but sees the stones’ cry in Luke as very different in character. ‘In the biblical tradition’, he writes, ‘there is a strong sense that nature participates in the witness and celebration of what God is doing . . . The disciples are marking a moment of high destiny; if their marking of it were to be silenced, then the stony terrain around them would need to take their place.’

28 Green, Luke, p. 688.

30 However, the (somewhat different) idea that stones could act as progenitors is found in the ANE, and possibly alluded to in Isa 51:1–2. See Korpel, M.C.A., ‘Rock’, in van der Toorn, Karel, Becking, Bob, and van der Horst, Pieter (eds), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd edn; Leiden and Grand Rapids, MI: Brill and Eerdmans, 1999), p. 710. Our thanks to Francesca Stavrakopoulou for this point. Cf. also Jer 2:26–7, and 3:9, where Judah is said to have committed adultery with stone () and tree (). Here in Luke, unsurprisingly, given the character of prophetic critique of such ‘idolatrous’ veneration of stones, the motif does not imply some progenerative ability on the part of the stones but rather the conviction that God could make children – or bring forth shouts of praise – from stones.

31 See e.g. Luke 1:46–55; 4:18–19; 6:20–6. On the rhetoric of reversal in Luke, see York, John O., The Last shall be First: The Rhetoric of Reversal in Luke (JSNT Sup 46; Sheffield: SAP, 1991); Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke (SP 3; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), p. 22.

32 The combination of praise and critique is evident elsewhere in Luke, not least in Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55).

33 It is interesting here to note a feature of Matthew's account, which does not, of course, include Luke's stones text. Once Jesus arrives in the temple after his descent from the Mount of Olives (Matt 21:12ff.) the blind and the lame come to him, and he heals them (21:14). The chief priests and the scribes react with indignation, and Matthew reports this in a way which recalls the shouting of the crowds along the journey: ‘But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”’ (21:15–16, ESV). Jesus replies with a quotation from Ps 8:3: ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise”?’ (21:16, ESV). In the Psalm itself this is hardly a rebuke, but here it seems to convey something of that force, just as does Luke's use of the stones: you have failed to recognise the arrival of God's anointed, and to offer fitting praise, but these little people (or these stones) do! Again, the politically charged theme of reversal is apparent.

34 See Seymour, John and Girardet, Herbert, Far from Paradise: The Story of Human Impact on the Environment (London: Green Planet, 1990), pp. 45, 53.

35 As is done e.g. by Rudolf Bultmann and by Dennis Nineham: see Bultmann, Rudolf, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings, ed. Ogden, Schubert M. (London: SCM, 1985); Nineham, Dennis, The Use and Abuse of the Bible (London: SPCK, 1976).

36 Cf. further Conradie, ‘The Road’; Horrell et al., ‘Appeals to the Bible’.

37 This comment should not be taken to imply that we regard any form of anthropocentrism as inimical to an ecological theology. For further discussion, specifically in relation to Rom 8:19–23, see Hunt, Cherryl, Horrell, David G., and Southgate, Christopher, ‘An Environmental Mantra? Ecological Interest in Romans 8.19–23 and a Modest Proposal for its Narrative Interpretation’, Journal of Theological Studies 59/2 (2008), pp. 546–79. Cf. also the comments of Byrne, Brendan, ‘Creation Groaning: An Earth Bible Reading of Romans 8:18–22’, in Habel, Norman C. (ed.), Readings from the Perspective of Earth (Earth Bible, 1; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), pp. 193203, 198.

38 Bauckham, Richard, ‘Jesus and the Wild Animals (Mark 1:13): A Christological Image for an Ecological Age’, in Green, Joel B. and Turner, Max (eds), Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ. Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology (Grand Rapids, MI, and Carlisle: Eerdmans and Paternoster, 1994), pp. 321.

39 Hardy and Ford, Praising and Knowing God, p. 82 (our emphasis).

40 Bauckham, ‘Joining Creation's Praise’, p. 47.

41 Bauckham, God, p. 177.

42 As our colleague Mark Wynn has pointed out, this would connect well with Aquinas’ focus on the telos of humanity and creation. See now Coad, Dominic, ‘Creation's Praise of God: A Proposal for a Theology of the Non-Human Creation’, Theology 112 (2009), pp. 181–9; Wynn, Mark, ‘Thomas Aquinas: Reading the Idea of Dominion in the Light of the Doctrine of Creation’, in Horrell, David G., Hunt, Cherryl, Southgate, Christopher, and Stavrakopoulou, Francesca (eds), Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical, Historical and Theological Perspectives (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2010), pp. 154–65.

43 See Bauckham, Richard, ‘Stewardship and Relationship’, in Berry, R. J. (ed.), The Care of Creation (Leicester: IVP, 2000), pp. 99106, esp. pp. 102–3; Bauckham, God, p. 172.

44 Some of the limitations of such an approach are explored by Southgate, Christopher, ‘Stewardship and its Competitors: A Spectrum of Relationships between Humans and the Non-Human Creation’, in Berry, R. J. (ed.), Environmental Stewardship: Critical Perspectives, Past and Present (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2006), pp. 185–95.

45 See further Southgate, Christopher, ‘Creation as “Very Good” and “Groaning in Travail”: An Exploration in Evolutionary Theodicy’, in Bennett, Gaymon, Hewlett, Martinez J., Peters, Ted and Russell, Robert John (eds), The Evolution of Evil (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), pp. 5385.

46 For reflections on this theme, see Southgate, Christopher, ‘God and Evolutionary Evil: Theodicy in the Light of Darwinism’, Zygon 37 (2002), pp. 803–24; idem, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008).

47 Bauckham, God, p. 173.

48 On this, see also Southgate, Christopher, ‘Protological and Eschatological Vegetarianism’, in Muers, Rachel and Grumett, David (eds), Eating and Believing: Perspectives on Vegetarianism and Theology (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2008), pp. 247–65.

49 This might enable a theological reworking of the Earth Bible Team's ‘principle of resistance’ – ‘Earth and its components not only suffer from injustices at the hands of humans, but actively resist them in the struggle for justice’ – which, as one of the set of ecojustice principles, is deliberately formulated without using biblical or theological terms, so as ‘to facilitate dialogue with biologists, ecologists, other religions traditions . . . and scientists’. See Habel, Norman C. (ed.), Readings from the Perspective of Earth (Earth Bible 1; Sheffield: SAP, 2000). The principles are listed on p. 24. For discussion, see, in the same volume, Earth Bible Team, ‘Guiding Ecojustice Principles’, pp. 38–53, with the quotation above from p. 38. For theological and hermeneutical engagement with the Earth Bible Team's influential and important work, see Conradie, ‘The Road’; idem, ‘Towards’; Horrell et al., ‘Appeals to the Bible’.

50 Karl Barth, CD, II/1, p. 648.

51 A phrase we owe to Mike Higton, in discussion.

52 Milbank, John, Theology and Social Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), e.g. p. 330.

53 This article is an output from a collaborative project at the University of Exeter on ‘Uses of the Bible in Environmental Ethics’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (Grant No. AH D001188/1). See We would like to express our thanks for the AHRC's support.

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‘The stones would cry out’ (Luke 19:40): a Lukan contribution to a hermeneutics of creation's praise

  • David G. Horrell (a1) and Dominic Coad (a1)


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