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OFFENSE (ŏ-fĕns', Heb. ’āsham, hātā’, Gr. skandalon). The word is used in a variety of ways in Scripture, as it is in English: injury, hurt, damage, occasion of sin, a stumbling block, an infraction of law, sin, transgression, state of being offended. In the NT it is often used in the sense of stumbling block (Matt.5.30; Matt.11.6; Matt.18.6; 1Cor.8.13). Throughout the NT there is warning by Christ and the apostles against doing anything that would turn anyone away from the faith.

OFFENSE (Heb. אָשַׁם, H870, חֵטְא, H2628, מִכְשׁוֹל, H4842, Gr. σκάνδαλον, G4998). The Gr. term is tr. “stumbling block” or “occasion of stumbling” in the ASV.

The key word is σκάνδαλον, G4998. This was used first for the bait stick on a snare or trap, which would cause it to spring shut. Then it came to be used for the trap or snare itself. The cognate verb, σκανδαλίζω, G4997, (cf. “scandalize”) is tr. twenty-eight of the thirty times it occurs as “offend” (KJV), and the other two times as “make to offend.” The ASV prefers “cause to stumble.”

Both these words occur most frequently in the gospels—the noun six times, the verb twenty-six times. The Master warned His disciples solemnly: “If your right eye causes you to sin [KJV ‘offend thee’], pluck it out and throw it away” (Matt 5:29). Similar instructions were given concerning an offending hand or foot (Mark 9:43-47). Obviously these startling commands were intended to be taken metaphorically: if that person or thing that is nearest and dearest to you is proving to be a temptation to sin, remove it at once. In such cases drastic action is necessary to save one’s soul.

Jesus used the term in another way. He said: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [KJV ‘But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe]...’” (Matt 18:6). One should not only eliminate whatever would cause him to stumble, but should avoid being a stumbling block to others (cf. Rom 14:13; 1 Cor 8:13).

Another important passage is Galatians 5:11. Here the cross is referred to as a “stumbling block.”


R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (1943), 227-229; W. Barclay, New Testament Wordbook (1955), 111-114.