Revelation 21:19 Commentary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
19. garnished ] The same word that is rendered “adorned” in Rev 21:2. From the next sentence we are to understand that they are adorned by being constructed of these stones, not that stones are fastened on merely for ornament.
precious stones ] See Isa 54:11-12; where however there is less detail than here, and what there is is not quite the same: a warning against expecting too minute a symbolism in the details. It is true that contemporary superstition ascribed mystical meanings and magical virtues to the various stones, and it is possible that the revelation made to St John was given in terms of these beliefs, which he and his readers may have known of or even have held. But though not a priori incredible, this is hardly likely: these superstitions had, it seems, much less hold on the popular mind in St John’s day than some centuries later: and at all times they were too vague and too variable to give us a key to the interpretation. There may be a definite meaning in each of the stones named, but the general meaning of the whole is all that we can be sure of. As St Hildebert says,
Quis chalcedon, quis jacinthus,
Norunt illi qui sunt intus.
The first foundation ] The enumeration probably begins from one of the angles, and goes round the wall in order. It is useless to guess which Apostle’s name was on which stone, but it may be presumed that St Peter’s would be on the first. But in no two of the canonical lists of the Apostles are their names given in the same order; and, so far as there is any order among them, they are arranged in three groups of four, not, as is here required, in four groups of three.
jasper ] Like the superstructure of the wall, Rev 21:18. But it can hardly be meant, that the Church is built more solidly on to St Peter than to any other of the Twelve.
sapphire ] The Greek and Hebrew words are (as with “jasper”) the same as the English. Yet it is almost certain that the stone so called in St John’s day was not our sapphire, but the far less precious lapis lazuli.
chalcedony ] Apparently not the stone now so called, but one closely resembling the emerald.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".