Stumbling block

A stumbling block or scandal in the Bible, or in politics (including history), is a metaphor for a behaviour or attitude that leads another to sin or to destructive behaviour.

Bible useEdit

Hebrew BibleEdit

The origin of the metaphor is the prohibition of putting a stumbling block before the blind (Leviticus 19:14). Geoffrey W. Bromiley calls the image "especially appropriate to a rocky land like Palestine".[1] In the Hebrew Bible, the term for "stumbling block" is Biblical Hebrew miḵšōl (מִכְשׁוֹל‎). In the Septuagint, miḵšōl is translated into Koine Greek skandalon (σκανδαλον), a word which occurs only in Hellenistic literature, in the sense "snare for an enemy; cause of moral stumbling".[2] In the Septuagint Psalms 140:9 a stumbling block means anything that leads to sin.[3]

New TestamentEdit

The New Testament usages of skandalon, such as Matthew 13:41, resemble Septuagint usage.[3] It appears 15 times in the New Testament in 12 unique verses according to Strong's Concordance. These passages are:[4] Matthew 13:41, Matthew 16:23 , Matthew 18:7 (3 times), Luke 17:1 , Romans 9:33, Romans 11:9, Romans 14:13, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 1:23, Galatians 5:11, 1 Peter 2:8, 1 John 2:10, and Revelation 2:14.

The noun skandalon has a derived verb, skandalizo (formed with the -iz suffix as English "scandalize"), meaning literally "to trip somebody up" or, idiomatically, "to cause someone to sin."[5] This verb appears 29 times in 27 New Testament verses.[6]

Apart from skandalon the idiom of "stumbling block" has a second synonym in the Greek term proskomma "stumbling."[7][8][9] Both words are used together in 1 Peter 2:8; this is a "stone of stumbling" (lithos proskommatos λίθος προσκόμματος) and a "rock of offense" (petra skandalou πέτρα σκανδάλου).[7] The antonymous adjective aproskopos (ἀπρόσκοπος), "without causing anyone to stumble," also occurs three times in the New Testament.[10]

Later useEdit


The Leviticus warning is developed in rabbinical Judaism as lifnei iver "before the blind."



"Scandal" is discussed by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica.[11][12] In the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is discussed under the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill) section "Respect for the Dignity of Persons".[13]

Active scandal is performed by a person; passive scandal is the reaction of a person to active scandal ("scandal given" or in Latin scandalum datum), or to acts which, because of the viewer's ignorance, weakness, or malice, are regarded as scandalous ("scandal received" or in Latin scandalum acceptum).[14]

In order to qualify as scandalous, the behavior must, in itself, be evil or give the appearance of evil.[15] To do a good act or an indifferent act, even knowing that it will inspire others to sin — as when a student studies diligently to do well, knowing it will cause envy — is not scandalous.[15] For example, to ask someone to commit perjury is scandalous, but for a judge to require witnesses to give an oath even when he knows the witness is likely to commit perjury is not scandalous.[15] It does not require that the other person actually commit sin; to be scandalous, it suffices that the act is of a nature to lead someone to sin.[15] Scandal is performed with the intention of inducing someone to sin.[15] Urging someone to commit a sin is therefore active scandal.[15] In the case where the person urging the sin is aware of its nature and the person he is urging is ignorant, the sins committed are the fault of the person who urged them.[15] Scandal is also performed when someone performs an evil act, or an act that appears to be evil, knowing that it will lead others into sin.[15] (In case of an apparently evil act, a sufficient reason for the act despite the faults it will cause negates the scandal.[15]) Scandal may also be incurred when an innocent act may be an occasion of sin to the weak, but such acts should not be foregone if the goods at stake are of importance.[16]


The term "stumbling block" is common in Protestant writings. An early use was Martin Luther's consideration that the common belief that the Mass was a sacrifice was a "stumbling block."[17]

Modern "scandal"Edit

The Greek word skandalon was borrowed from Greek to Latin to French, and finally to English as "scandal".[2] The modern English meaning of scandal is a development from the religious meaning, via the intermediate sense of "damage to reputation".[18]



  • Vander Heeren, Achille (1912). "Scandal". Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • Bradley, Henry (ed.). "Scandal". Oxford English Dictionary. 10: S–SH (1 ed.). pp. 173–4.


  1. ^ The international standard Bible encyclopedia. 1995. p. 641. The concept of a stumbling block was especially appropriate to a rocky land like Palestine, where stones and pebbles are plentiful on all the unpaved roads (in contrast to countries with alluvial soil, like Egypt or Mesopotamia). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b OED "scandal", etymology.
  3. ^ a b Khatry, Ramesh (July 15, 2000) [1991]. The Authenticity of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and Its Interpretation (Thesis). Westminster College, Oxford in collaboration with Wycliffe Hall. p. 137. ISBN 158112094X. Thematically, the usage in Mt 13:41 resembles that of Jewish tradition where to skandalon merely means anything that leads to sin. For example, Mt 13:41b is very similar to LXX Ps 140:9. LXX Ps 140:9 – apo skandalōn tōn ergazomenōn tēn
  4. ^ "G4625 - skandalon - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV)". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  5. ^ France, R. T. (1985). The Gospel according to Matthew: an introduction and commentary. p. 271. (ii) On stumbling-blocks (18:6–9) These sayings are linked together by the words skandalizo ('cause to sin', w. 6,8,9) and skandalon ('temptation (to sin)' 3 times in v. 7), a 'stumbling-block', something which trips someone up.
  6. ^ "G4624 - skandalizō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV)". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  7. ^ a b Hovey, George Rice (1939). "Stumbling-block; Stumbling-stone". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  8. ^ Heil, John Paul (2005). The rhetorical role of Scripture in 1 Corinthians. p. 141. ... then Paul will never eat any meat whatsoever in order not to "cause to sin" (skandali&sw) a fellow believer (8:13)... become a "stumbling block" (proskomma) to those in the audience who do not possess the knowledge that idols are....
  9. ^ "G4348 - proskomma - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV)". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  10. ^ "G677 - aproskopos - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV)". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  11. ^ Vander Heeren 1912, "Notion of scandal"
  12. ^ Aquinas, Thomas (1920). "Scandal". SUMMA THEOLOGICA. pp. Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 43. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  13. ^ "Part three: Life in Christ / Section two: The Ten Commandments / Chapter two: You shall love your neighbor as yourself / Article 5: The fifth commandment / ii. Respect for the dignity of persons". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Holy See. 1992. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  14. ^ Vander Heeren 1912, "Divisions"
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Vander Heeren 1912, "Cases in which the sin of scandal occurs (1)"
  16. ^ Vander Heeren 1912, "Cases in which the sin of scandal occurs (3)"
  17. ^ Croken, Robert C. (1990). Luther's first front: the Eucharist as sacrifice. p. 26. A second stumbling block (and it is significant that Luther considers it a "second" stumbling block) to the true doctrine of the Mass is the common belief that the Mass is a sacrifice. According to this belief, Christ is offered to God ...
  18. ^ OED "scandal", senses 1–4.