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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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Two Greek words are translated "offense": scandalon [ σκάνδαλον ] and proskomma [ πρόσκομμα ]. Both carry the connotation of "sinfulness" or "stumbling block."

The key Old Testament verse that is quoted several times in the New Testament and formulates the significant function of Christ as the "rock of offense" is Isaiah 8:14 : "He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (NRSV). Paul applies the concept to coming to Christ by faith in Romans 9:32 . Christ, as the cornerstone of the analogical temple, is stumbled over by those who approach him by works. The offense of the cross is the idea that equality of Jews and Gentiles is established through faith.

Isaiah 28:16 is used in conjunction with the concept of stumbling over Christ in 1 Peter 2:5-8 . The emphasis of 1Peter is holiness of one's life before God and the subsequent rejection of the pagan nations. It is interesting that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, applies the notion of stumbling to the Jews as those who stumbled; in 1Peter, the "apostle to the Jews" applies the concept to disobedient ones who were "destined" for stumbling. The reference may be to Gentiles.

In 1 Peter 2:12 the admonition is to "conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles"a reference to Jews living holy and separate in terms of moral purity, which was always the design for Jews. Therefore, the "scandal" of the cross was that both Jews and Gentiles stumbled over the rock because they did not approach him by faith. Some Jews were prideful in their nationalistic heritage, which Paul addresses in Romans 9-11 , and some Gentiles were disobedient as they had always been, which may be what is addressed in 1 Peter 2 . Because faith equalized both Jews and Gentiles, the offense of the cross was that one could not approach Christ pridefully or in terms of nationalistic superiority.

Paul points out by asking a rhetorical question in Galatians 5:11 that the Jewish nationalistic requirement of circumcision has been removed for Gentiles, which is the "offense of the cross." In other words, the offense to the Jews is that there is no favoritism of Jews over Gentiles; they are equal. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23 : "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (scandalon [ σκάνδαλον ]) to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (NRSV).

The concept of "offense" is used elsewhere in the New Testament as well. In general, the idea is used to donate a person who seeks to trip up the innocent. In Matthew 16:23 Jesus calls Peter a "stumbling block" because he had his mind on human things and was unable to see the divine design of the cross.

Eric W. Adams

See also Sin

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Offense'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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