We need to carefully examine this misunderstood question. We will start with statements about Christ and His conduct; show what giving offense really means; and we will examine what Paul wanted to convey when talking about not offending our weak conscience or that of another person.
Let us first notice that Jesus Christ was called a stumbling stone and a rock of offense.
Isaiah 8:14 states this about Christ:
“He will be as a sanctuary, But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense To both the houses of Israel, As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
Romans 9:30-33 adds:
“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone [Greek: proskommatos]. As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone [Greek: proskommatos] and rock of offense [Greek: skandalon; literally, stumbling block], And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’”
1 Peter 2:6-8 confirms:
“Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’ Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling [Greek: proskomma] And a rock of offense [Greek: skandalon; i.e., stumbling block].’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”
Finally, let us notice 1 Corinthians 1:21-24:
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block [Greek: skandalon] and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
These Scriptures tell us that people would be offended by Christ and His actions and they would accuse Him of being a stumbling block to them.
Let us focus on some of Christ’s actions, His teachings and His entire purpose for His First Coming which were offensive to people. Christ was perceived as one who was guilty of causing offense to people and of causing them to stumble, but Christ never sinned.
Galatians 5:11 reads:
“And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense [Greek scandalon] of the cross has ceased.”
People were offended by the fact that the Messiah should die on the cross. But Christ did not alter God’s plan by refusing to die that way in order not to offend people and to avoid the “stumbling block of the cross.”
Matthew 11:2-6 states:
“And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended [Greek: skandalizo; lit., to cause to stumble] because of Me’” (compare also Luke 7:23).
Even John the Baptist had doubts as to whether Christ was the Messiah because He did not act in the way that he had expected. But Christ did not change His behavior, even if that offended people.
Matthew 13:54-57 emphasizes that Christ offended people simply by who He was. They thought that God would have worked it out differently, if Christ were really the Messiah:
“And when He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?’ So they were offended [Greek: skandalizo] at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’ Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (compare Mark 6:3).
They thought He should have stopped preaching, given who they thought He was. As a consequence, they were offended when He did not do what they wanted Him to do, and so He could not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief and refusal to accept Him as the Messiah.
John 6:41-62 continues this theme by pointing out that people were offended by what Christ taught, whom they thought they knew, and they left Him because of that:
“The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day…
“‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.’ The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven–not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.’
“These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’ When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend [Greek: skandalizo] you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?…’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”
Jesus spoke figuratively by referring to the partaking of bread and wine at the Passover. He then made reference to His death, resurrection and ascension to heaven. He could have said it differently and less “provocatively,” but He did so on purpose, thereby dividing the wheat from the tares, knowing that many of His disciples would be offended by His words.
Matthew 15:1-12 gives another example to show how little Jesus cared about offending the scribes and the Pharisees.
“Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash [ceremonially] their hands when they eat bread.’ He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.” But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God’– then he need not honor his father or mother.” Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.
“‘Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”’…
“Then His disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended [Greek: skandalizo] when they heard this saying?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.’”
Rather than saying that from now on, He and His disciples would ceremonially wash their hands, He told the Pharisees and scribes that they were guilty of breaking God’s commandments by their traditions. He knew of course that they would be offended by His words… that He would be for them a stumbling block and a rock of offense.
Let us note additional examples where Christ’s actions were opposed to the expectation and ideas of others, which offended people.
He talked to the Samaritan woman at the well, which was against the custom of His time, and so His own disciples were astonished when He talked in public to a woman.
He told the parable about the merciful Samaritan which angered the Jews who looked at Samaritans as “dogs.”
He ate with harlots and tax collectors, which upset the self-righteous Pharisees.
He allowed His disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath, which offended the merciless Pharisees so that they condemned the innocent.
He healed on the Sabbath, which offended the Pharisees and others who taught that healing should not take place on the Sabbath.
He allowed children and babes to praise Him when He entered Jerusalem, which offended the Pharisees.
He allowed several women to anoint Him with oil, which offended all of His disciples, who followed the lead of Judas Iscariot in that matter (John 12:1-8; Matthew 26:1-13). He did not tell the woman who followed the example of Mary not to anoint Him, after Mary had been condemned by His disciples. He did not say: Please do not do this as you are offending My disciples. And of course, His disciples complained again. But Christ’s reaction was one of praise for both women.
We should also take note of the fact that people will become so offended that they will leave the Church, but it does not say that other members were at fault.
Matthew 13:20-21 quotes Christ’s words when telling the parable of the sower:
“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (compare Mark 4:17).
The Authorized Version translates: “he is offended.” The Greek word is skandalizo, which means, as we have seen, “to cause to stumble.”
There are many warnings of Christ to the effect that we must not become offended at a given situation or even at Him when we are victims of persecution.
In John 16:1-4, Christ states the following:
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them…”
The Authorized Version reads: “…that you should not be offended.” The Greek word is skandalizo.
Matthew 24:8-10 adds this warning for the end time:
“All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended [Greek skandalizo], will betray one another, and will hate one another.”
Sometimes, we may not realize how easily we can become offended.
Matthew 26:31-34 reports that Peter did not think it was possible that he would ever be offended by Christ, but he was. We read:
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (compare Mark 14:27-29).
The Authorized Version reads: “all ye shall be offended because of me… though all be offended… I will never be offended.” The Greek word is skandalizo throughout.
They were all offended because of Christ, including Peter, and they all had denied that it could happen. This shows that we must be very careful not to become offended by what Jesus Christ is doing today in His spiritual body—the Church.
Rather than becoming offended, we must be careful that we don’t cause God to place a stumbling block before us because of our conduct. David prayed that those who reject God should be given a stumbling block—that is, they will even stumble more over the Word of God, by upholding their own traditions and opinions.
We read in Romans 11:7-9:
“What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block [Greek skandalon] and a recompense to them.’”
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link