In the Old Testament, the term for a “stumbling block” is mikshol which was rendered as skandalon in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. In addition to skandalon, the Greek language also had another word, proskomma, for “stumbling.” Both these words are found in the Greek New Testament: for example in 1 Peter 2:8 where Peter speaks of both a “stone of stumbling” (using a form of the word proskomma) and also a “rock of offense” (using a form of skandalon).
The English King James Version translated both these word as “offense,” but almost all modern translations use “stumbling” or “stumbling block,” which are more accurate renditions in modern English. We can see the underlying literal meaning of the Hebrew word mikshol in Leviticus 19:14 which tells us not to place a stumbling block before the blind, and in the use of the Greek word skandalon in Romans 11:9 which quotes one of the psalms speaking of “a snare and a trap, a stumbling block.” But both the Hebrew mikshol and Greek skandalon were also used figuratively of things that cause us to be ensnared or to stumble spiritually.
For example, skandalon can refer to God causing the wicked to stumble, to things that the ungodly do that cause believers to stumble, and even to things that believers themselves do that may cause others to trip and fall spiritually. It is vital that every Christian understand this last usage of skandalon, and we will consider four ways in which it can be applied:
Most obviously, our behavior can be “scandalous” by consciously or inadvertently enticing others to sin (Luke 17:1), but we can also become a stumbling block by offending a brother or sister through doing something we feel is fine, but of which they are unsure. Paul speaks specifically of this in saying: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). Yet again, we can become a stumbling block to others by encouraging them not to do something positive they know they should do. This was the situation when Christ told Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23). Finally, we can even be a stumbling block through our disapproval and rejection of others who do not understand a spiritual situation fully, or who feel they are doing the right thing when we feel they are not: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:13).
All of these ways in which we might cause a brother or sister in the faith to stumble deserve our thought and meditation. Is there any way in which we might inadvertently be doing one of these things? It is to the degree we think these possibilities through, with God’s help, that we can help rather than hinder our fellow believers with behavior that truly is not scandalous.