In an earlier post I considered Matthew 18:6. That verse includes a reference to a large millstone. It is interesting to ask what Jesus had in mind when referring to the millstone.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble,
it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck
and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6 NIV
In studying the reference to millstone itself, and use of a millstone in punishment, I have found:
The millstone (“large millstone”)
- Millstones were turned by labour of beast or man: water or wind based mills came later,
- That a large millstone was probably distinguished from a small millstone in that the former required the effort of a beast – probably an ass – to turn it, whereas the latter was probably worked by human labour,
- In the original language; “large millsone” is literally “the ass millstone”,
- Jesus is using a literary technique – metaphor - with both “stumble” and “large millstone”. A person stumbles if a rock was put in their path. A millstone is a rock. To this extent Jesus is effectively saying: “anyone who puts a rock in the path of another deserves a bigger rock hung around their neck and to be…..”. The metaphor is found within hyperbole.
The punishment (“…hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”)
- Being drowned in the sea deprives the victim of all courtesies usually afforded through burial rites,
- There is no evidence that Jewish punishment involved millstone drownings,
- Jewish people dreaded the depths of the sea,
- There is a suggestion that Greek and Roman punishment included millstone drownings,
- It is plausible that millstone drowning was used by the Romans as punishment for Jewish nationalists (insurrectionists) in the time before Christ,
- As the salinity of the Dead Sea is great so is its buoyancy. The large millstone was probably a necessity to ensure success of punishment,
- In context with other messages from Jesus, the punishment – whilst terrible – is still not as bad as that which awaits in hell. Jesus is in effect offering Matthew 18:6 as a forewarning of a much worse fate.
In stating Matthew 18:6 Christ had his own form of death in mind. Jesus was to be humiliated in his death. It is therefore plausible that Jesus proposed similar humiliation to anyone who would cause one of his followers to stumble.
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