It would be convenient if the words translated “offend” or “offense” could be neatly sorted into categories, as so many others can. In this case, unfortunately, only the context can give us a clue as to whether a particular verb reference is to causing offense, taking offense, or committing some sort of offense; or whether the noun form refers to actual deliberate transgression, ignorant error, or merely a petulant complaint. Consequently, pontificating on this subject is even less acceptable than usual!
The lexicons do not offer a lot of help. Please refer to studies #7 and #141 for the distinction between the two words usually ambiguously rendered “sin”, hamartia and paraptoma, which are both (rarely) translated “offense”.
As for the rest, proskomma (L/S: “offense, obstacle, hindrance; the result of stumbling – bruise or hurt”, to which Bauer and Thayer add “”the opportunity to take offense” and “causing someone to act against his conscience”) appears only six times in the New Testament: Romans 14:20 regarding one’s choice of diet, Rom.9:32-33 and I Pet.2:8 “a stumbling stone”, and warnings in Rom.14:13 and I Cor.8:9 about placing a “stumbling block” in the path of a brother.
Proskope (L/S – “offense taken, antipathy, cause of offense”, to which both other lexicographers agree) occurs only once – II Cor.6:3 – an admonition to “give no offense in anything.”
Aproskopos, a similar noun with a negative prefix, is not listed in any of the three lexicons. It is translated with some variant of “without offense” in its only three appearances: Ac.24:16, I Cor.10:32, and Phil.1:10.
Skandalon, appearing 13 times, is the most interesting etymologically. It is derived from a related word describing “a stick in a trap to which bait is attached, which acts as a trigger.” (L/S – a trap or snare laid for an enemy or a hunted animal; hence, metaphorically, a stumbling block, offense, or scandal.” Bauer picks up the same theme, offering “trap, temptation, enticement; that which gives offense, causes revulsion, arouses opposition or disapproval.” Thayer adds “any person or thing by which someone is entrapped or drawn into error.” Jesus (Mt.16:23,18:7; Lk.17:1), Paul (Rom.9:33, 14:13, 16:17), and John (I Jn.2:10, Rv.2:14) all warn against causing “offenses”. However, we also find recognition that some people will find truth itself, or actual facts, to be offensive (Rom.9:33, 11:9, I Cor.1:23, Gal.5:11).
The verbs are somewhat more easily sorted.
Ptaio – L/S – “to cause to stumble or fall, to trip, to make a false step or blunder”; Bauer – “to be ruined or lost” – only appears five times in the New Testament, used three times by James (2:10 and twice in 3:2) regarding struggles to keep the law, and twice by Paul (Rom.11:11) regarding the failures of Israel. Interestingly, in the LXX, 12 of its 13 uses refer to defeat in battle. The other warns against idolatry.
Proskopto – L/S – “to strike one thing against another, to encounter friction, to offend or take offense” – occurs seven times: in the temptation account, as the devil quotes Psalm 91 (Mt.4:6 and Lk.4:11), twice (Jn.11:9-10) in a purely physical sense (you don’t stumble if you can see where you are going!), and three times (Rom.9:32, 14:21; I Pet.2:8) metaphorically. The Rom.14 reference is to the causing of harm to a brother, but the other two describe the result of disobedience. In the LXX, it primarily describes the chaos of ungodly society.
Skandalizo dominates the verbs as its equivalent does the nouns, used 29x. L/S offers simply “to cause to stumble, to give offense”; Bauer – “to cause to be caught or to fall, to give offense, anger, or shock”; Thayer – to place an impediment, to cause one to judge unfavorably of another, to make indignant.” The verb does not appear in the LXX, where the noun is usually connected with idolatry. It appears in widely varying New Testament contexts, in which it also precipitates very different responses. For example, when the disciples asked Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended?” (Mt.15:12) at his pronouncement that one’s dietary choices could not render a person “unclean”, he seems rather unconcerned, replying “Let them go! They are blind guides of the blind!”. But a short time later, (17:27), when questioned about the payment of a tax, he instructed Peter to pay it, “in order that we not offend them.” Clearly, the choice of response to “offense” requires careful discernment.
Jesus also warned against “offending [causing the fall] of one of these little ones who trust me” (Mt.1:6, Mk.9:42, Lk.17:2), but recognized that many would be offended [turned away] in the face of danger or persecution (Mt.13:21, Mk.4:17; Mt.24:10, 26:31-33; Mk.14:27-29). This latter group appears to reference a departure from faithfulness, rather than just “being upset”. I assume that this is also the case with the rather startling (and drastic) instructions in Mt.5:29-30, 18:8-9, and Mk.4:43-47, although there is no way to establish that impression unequivocally. The concept of a trap or snare (noted above) however, tends toward the likelihood of such an implication.
Here, as well as in the epistles (Rom.14:21, I Cor.8:13, II Cor.11:29), it is not always clear whether the warning is against setting a trap or being caught in one. This may be deliberate. The danger of a trap is not dependent upon whether it is intentionally or unintentionally set. Likewise, “giving” or “taking” offense are not always distinguished. In either case, both are to be avoided. We will give more careful attention to this dilemma in the next study.
In his directives to the culturally diverse churches in Rome and Corinth, Paul employs most of these terms, sometimes seemingly at random, so perhaps those letters provide the best summary.
In Rom.5:15-20, he uses paraptoma, and does not appear to distinguish between ignorance and deliberate transgression. He insists that the Law revealed, but did not create transgressions. Rom.11, on the other hand, may be a response to Gentile brethren who were getting a bit cocky about their perception of having replaced unbelieving Jews, with the assertion that the latter group’s “fall” was not necessarily permanent “IF they do not continue in unfaithfulness” (v.23). Do note, however, the conditional nature of that statement! Rom.14, dealing with brethren who have differing convictions about appropriate behavior, focuses on those who “have knowledge”. These are reminded neither to pass judgment on folks who have more scruples, nor to cause harm to their sensitive consciences. Notice, he does NOT say “Anything goes.” Similar advice is given in I Cor.8 and 10, which we will also examine in greater detail in the next study.
A necessary observation here, however, is that while in the LXX, the preponderance of references to any of the “offense” words concern behavior deemed offensive to God (proskomma), idolatry and dishonor (skandalon), deliberate offenses (paraptoma ), and defeats in battle ( ptaio), the New Testament, regardless of the word chosen, is primarily concerned with people’s relationship to each other in the Kingdom, and their response to the uniqueness of Jesus and the life he advocated and exemplified. Which “testament” or “covenant” is the present church living in?
Brother Paul suggests the most relevant principle (I Cor.10:32):
“Do not become a hindrance for either Jews or Greeks, or for God’s church!”
That’s enough to keep us all busy!