Stumbling block

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In an idiomatic usage in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, a stumbling block is a behavior or attitude that leads another to sin.[1]


In the Hebrew Bible, the term for "stumbling block" is mikshowl (מכשול), rendered in the Septuagint as skandalon (σκανδαλον). The English term "scandal" derives from this Septuagint Greek term skandalon, which in turn stands for the Hebrew mikshowl. The Greek term skandalon has little relation to the modern meaning of "scandal".

The Greek noun skandalon also has an associated verb, skandalizo (formed with the -iz suffix as English "scandalize"), meaning literally "to trip somebody up" or, idiomatically, " to cause someone to sin."[2]

The idiom may relate to the state of roads in Ancient Palestine.[3]

Apart from skandalon the idiom of "stumbling block" has a second synonym in the Greek term proskomma "stumbling."[4] 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).

In the Hebrew Bible

The Biblical basis of scandal (from the Latin term) is the prohibition of putting a stumbling block before the blind (Leviticus 19:14) "stumbling block" is the literal meaning of skandalon in Greek.

In rabbinical Judaism

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


New Testament

The New Testament usages, such as Matthew 13:41, resemble Septuagint usage, such as Psalm 140:9 where a stumbling block means anything that leads to sin.[5] A related adjective aposkopos, "without causing anyone to stumble," also occurs 3 times in the New Testament.[6]


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). See also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2284–2287.


The term is common in Protestant writings. An early use was Martin Luther's consideration that the common belief that the Mass is a sacrifice was a "stumbling block." [7]


In order to qualify as scandalous, the behavior must, in itself, be evil or give the appearance of evil. 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. Again, 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. 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. Scandal is performed with the intention of inducing someone to sin. Urging someone to commit a sin is therefore active scandal. 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. 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. (In case of an apparently evil act, a sufficient reason for the act despite the faults it will cause negates the scandal.) 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.


  1. Diderot, Denis (1765). Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Paris. pp. Vol. 14, p. 741. 
  2. The Gospel according to Matthew: an introduction and commentary – Page 271 R. T. France – 1985 "(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. "
  3. Geoffrey W. Bromiley The international standard Bible encyclopedia – page 6411995 "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)."
  4. The rhetorical role of Scripture in 1 Corinthians – page 141 John Paul Heil – 2005 "... 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...."
  5. Ramesh Khatry The Authenticity of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and Its ... 2000 Page 137 – "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"
  6. Thayer Greek Lexicon aposkopos entry
  7. Robert C. Croken Luther's first front: the Eucharist as sacrifice page 26 – 1990 "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 ..."

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