σκανδαλ?ζω, v (to put a snare or stumbling block in the way)
σκ?νδαλον, n (stumbling-block/offence)
σκ?πτω, v (to dig)
Almost everyday throughout the world, newspapers report one scandal or another. In fact, one could justifiably argue that many newspapers only sell because of the extent of the scandals they report. Plus ça change?1 But although the English word ‘scandal’ can ultimately be traced back to the Greek word skandalon, in its biblical context the word had nothing to do with something that was salacious, but rather encompassed the idea of a snare or a trap or a stumbling block that caused an individual to deviate from a set course of action. It is a word that is imbued with religious overtones in the sense that in its use in Middle English it refers to the reprehensible behaviour of a religious person, and in ecclesiastical Latin, it meant to be the cause of offence.2 Hence, in the New Testament, the preaching of Christ crucified is stated by Paul to be a stumbling block [literally an offence] to the Jews,
1 Cor. 1. 23.
In the Septuagint (LXX) the word is used in Leviticus chapter 19 verse 14 of prohibiting anyone from taking advantage of a blind person by literally placing a stumbling block in their way. Its use in Proverbs reminds us that the transgressions of evil individuals acts to ensnare or entrap them, whereas those who instruct others in the wisdom of God save lives by steering individuals away from deadly snares or temptations, Prov. 29. 6; 13. 14.
When Isaiah reflected upon the positive aspect of his ministry, offering many the opportunity to change the direction of their lives, he was also mindful of the fact that to others he was ‘a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem’, Isa. 8. 14 ESV. This contradiction is often observed when the word skandalon is used. For example, in Isaiah chapter 28 verse 16, Christ is prophetically referred to as ‘a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste’, or ‘He who trusts need not fear’ Tanakh. But when this text is quoted later by Paul in Romans chapter 9 verse 33, this precious corner stone now becomes ‘a stumbling stone, and rock of offence [skandalon]’, cp. 1 Pet. 2. 7, 8. At first, one might think that Paul has misquoted Isaiah, but what he does is to conflate two texts from Isaiah that refer to Christ as a ‘stone’ to make his point, 8. 14; 28. 16.
What we observe, therefore, in the Old Testament, is that skandalon presents two distinct pictures. The first is derived from the idea of setting traps or snares that close on their victims. The second conveys the idea of someone slipping or stumbling into sin because of an obstacle they have encountered. This distinction is also evident in the New Testament. In Matthew chapter 13 verse 41, we read that when Christ establishes His kingdom, everything that offends, or is an enticement to sin, will be removed. Christ warns us of the great danger in putting obstacles in the way of those who are young and the serious consequences of such action, 18. 6. This is illustrated in chapter 16 verse 23, by Peter, who is being used by Satan as a stumbling block to Christ Himself. As Plummer states, ‘In Peter the banished Satan had once more returned’.3 In Romans, Paul warns those who are strong in the faith not to act in such a way that their actions might become an impediment or stumbling block to those who are weaker in the faith, 14. 13. The danger of doctrinal error is highlighted in Galatians chapter 5 verse 7, where the Galatians are criticized for deviating from the Christian race, cp. Rev. 2. 14. The false teachers in Galatia had tripped them up.4 Later in the chapter, Paul uses skandalon to argue that the cross would cease to be an offence if he still insisted on the rite of circumcision, i.e., to the Jew, the cross was offensive because it glorified someone who was cursed.5
In terms, then, the word is applied figuratively of Christ as being a stumbling block and an offence to those who reject the message of the gospel, Matt. 26. 31. We too can be a stumbling block to others, especially believers, but as John reminds us, if we truly love other believers then we will never cause those believers to stumble or induce them to commit sin, 1 John 2. 10. May we continue to walk in the light so that we never induce others to fall or deviate from running the race.
Rom. 3. 9-18.
‘For example, ‘stumbling block,’ the contribution of William Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible (1526), is an image shaped from an expression current in his day, ‘to stumble at a block’; that is, to stumble over a tree stump’; Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: Gen. Eds Leyland Ryken et al at pg. 823.
In A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 1, pg. 136.
The Greek word used in this context for ‘hinder’ is egkopto, and whilst it also has to do with the idea of impeding someone, the imagery is taken from an athlete ‘cutting in’ in front of another runner so as to hinder their progress in a race.
Cp. Gal. 5. 11; 3. 13; Deut. 21. 23.
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