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Stumbling block

STUMBLING BLOCK (Heb. mikshôl, Gr. skandalon). Anything that causes a person to trip or fall or, figuratively, causes material or spiritual ruin. Israel’s iniquity and idolatry were a stumbling block to her (Jer.18.15; Ezek.14.3-Ezek.14.4). Paul forbade putting a stumbling block in a Christian’s way (Rom.14.13; 1Cor.8.9). Jesus, as preached by Paul (Rom.9.32), was a stumbling block to the Jews (1Cor.1.23).

STUMBLING BLOCK (מִכְשׁוֹל, H4842, cause of stumbling; מַכְשֵׁלָה, H4843, cause of stumbling; πρόσκομμα, G4682, a striking against; σκάνδαλον, G4998, a trap-stick).

In the NT the idea of “striking against” an object so as to stumble speaks fig. of a weaker brother who stumbles in his Christian walk (Rom 14:13; 1 Cor 8:9). The cause of stumbling lies in the action of the stronger Christian who in taking advantage of his superior understanding of Christian liberty fails to show consideration for one whose conscience is more easily offended. Paul’s life was an outstanding example of the proper exercise of such love and consideration (1 Cor 9).

The stronger reference to a stumbling block in the NT is built on the figure of a trap that is baited for the unsuspecting prey. This term is used in connection with the failure of Israel to recognize her suffering Messiah (Rom 11:9; 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11). In this case the cross is not viewed as a trap. Rather the preconceived ideas of Israel regarding the person and work of Messiah were the cause of their downfall, since these ideas excluded the possibility of His suffering.

In Revelation 2:14 the trap is linked with the action of Balaam and Balak in luring Israel to eat food sacrificed to idols and to practice idolatry.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

stum’-bling-blok, (mikhshol, makhshelah; proskomma, skandalon): These are the most important of the varied renderings of either of two cognate Hebrew words, or of two different Greek words. Sometimes the Greek word for "stone" (lithos) accompanies the principal word. There is no important difference in the meaning of the words or of their renderings. the Revised Version (British and American) generally substitutes "stumbling" for "offence" of the King James Version.

The literal meaning of the Hebrew words--an object which causes one to stumble or fall--appears in such passages as Le 19:14: "Thou shalt not .... put a stumblingblock (mikhshol) before the blind" (compare Jer 6:21). But the expression is ordinarily figurative, referring to that which causes material ruin or spiritual downfall, which were closely connected in Old Testament thought (Ps 119:165; Eze 21:15). The things that lead astray are silver and gold (Eze 7:19); idols (Eze 14:3; Ze 1:3, etc.).

One of the New Testament words, skandalon, literally means the stick of a trap to which the bait is attached, and which when touched springs the trap. Figuratively either word refers to a thing or a person that leads one to fall into error, into sin or into destruction: the cross of Christ (Ga 5:11; Ro 11:9); another’s liberty (1Co 8:9); Peter in Mt 16:23; Christ, whose life and character were so different from Jewish expectation (Ro 9:33).

See also OFFENCE.

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