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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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The English word ‘offence’ is derived from the Lat. offendere, ‘to strike against’ or ‘to injure’ (O.Fr. offens, Fr. offense), and is employed to translate various Heb. and Gr. nouns, in the sense of an injury, a trespass or a fall, or as an occasion of unbelief, doubt, or apostasy. The chief Heb. words in the OT are the verb אָשַׁם, which has the meaning of ‘to trespass’ or ‘to be guilty,’ and the noun מִכְשׁוֹל, in the well-known passages Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 57:14, translated as ‘a stone of stumbling,’ ‘a stumbling-block.’ The other terms are generally synonyms of error and sin.

The most important NT words are παράπτωμα and σκάνδαλον. The former is used with respect to a moral fall, ‘a falling beside,’ and thus completes the conception of sin (ἁμαρτία, ‘missing the mark’) by that of falling short or falling aside. The one is a loss of aim, the other the perversion of aim or culpable error. As transgression, it is found in Romans 4:25; Romans 5:15 bis. Romans 5:16-18; Romans 5:20, where ‘offence’ in the Authorized Version is rendered ‘trespass’ in the Revised Version . πρόσκομμα is found only in Romans 14:20, signifying ‘something to strike against’: a man runs, as it were, against an obstacle, and does wrong when he eats contrary to the dictates of his conscience. In 2 Corinthians 6:3 προσκοπή is that which causes stumbling, and the Christians are enjoined to place no stumbling-block in the way of others. As an adjective, ἀπρόσκοπος is used in Acts 24:16 with respect to the conscience, also in 1 Corinthians 10:32 and in Philippians 1:10 as giving no occasion of stumbling.

The word σκάνδαλον (verb, σκανδαλίζω) is frequently brought into use especially in Matthew. It signifies a bait or stick in a trap and generally anything which causes a person to be entrapped or to fall. It is a modified form of the classic σκανδάληθρον. Sometimes it is used in reference to persons, who may become stumbling-blocks to others. When Christ called St. Peter a stumbling-block, He evidently recognized in His disciple’s remonstrance the agency of the arch-enemy (Σατανᾶς) who was tempting Him to do what was contrary to the will of God (Matthew 16:23). Isaiah’s description of ‘the stone of stumbling’ and ‘the rock of offence’ (Isaiah 8:14) is applied by St. Paul to Christ (Romans 9:33) because the lowliness of His origin and of His earthly surroundings as well as the deeply spiritual character of His ministry offended the religious leaders of His day (Matthew 13:57). The rejection of His claims by the Pharisees was attended by some irritation and the spirit of opposition (Matthew 15:12); thus they were offended or caused to stumble. This was later accentuated by the ‘scandal of the Cross,’ which, when not accepted in faith as the symbol of the Divine redemption, became a stumbling-block. Its disgrace and ignominy made it difficult for the Jews to accept Christ as their Messiah, and it also roused their animosity to the preachers of the gospel (Galatians 5:11). They expected a Messiah who should restore their political freedom and re-establish the kingdom in material success and splendour, and our Lord’s ministry being essentially spiritual made Him to be a stumbling-block to them. The fault was in their lack of faith and spiritual insight; but, on the other hand, Christ’s followers are to be on their guard against giving occasion to others to stumble through their own selfishness or folly. Thus the term σκάνδαλον is employed in reference to actions or habits which might prove to be a stumbling-block to those who are weak or inexperienced. To cause Christ’s little ones to stumble or to fall is severely condemned (Matthew 18:6). The casuistry concerning meats offered to idols should involve the consideration of the hyper-sensitive consciences of the weaker brethren, who are not to be offended or made to stumble by those who are less scrupulous (Romans 14; Romans 15:1-3). In all such cases the exhilarating and newly-found consciousness of liberty is to be controlled by love.

Clement of Rome uses the word παραπτῶσις in combination with danger, in the sense of a fault incurred through disobedience to the counsels of the Fathers (Cor. 59). Ignatius, whilst not employing the word ‘offence,’ warns the believers against the snares of the devil and against giving occasion to the heathen to triumph, and thus bringing discredit upon the whole body of believers through the folly of the few (Ep. ad Trall. 8). If love be the ruling principle of Christian morals, there is no σκάνδαλον, for love removes rather than creates difficulties.

Literature.-articles ‘Offence’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ; Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans,’ 5 1902, p. 390; F. J. A. Hort, The First Epistle of St. Peter, I. 1-II. 17, 1898, p. 121; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, new ed., 1876, 3rd ser., xvi.; J. Moffatt, ‘Jesus upon “Stumbling-blocks,” ’ in Expository Times xxvi. [1914-15] 407 ff.

J. G. James.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Offence'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​o/offence.html. 1906-1918.