STUMBLING BLOCK

In the figurative language of the Bible, a stumbling block is some kind of obstacle that either causes people to fall or hinders them in doing what they should. (In some older English versions the word is sometimes translated ‘offence’.) The crucifixion of Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews, because they would not believe that a person who died on a cross could be the Messiah sent by God. They expected the Messiah to be a mighty saviour who would rescue the nation Israel from its enemies and bring in an era of peace, joy and prosperity.

A person who died on a cross, by contrast, was under the curse of God (Deut 21:23). What the Jews did not understand was that when Jesus died on the cross, he bore God’s curse in the place of those who had broken God’s law. He did not die because of any wrong that he himself had committed (Gal 3:13). The Jews refused to trust in Jesus’ death on the cross for their forgiveness, but tried instead to win God’s favour by their good deeds. As a result the cross of Christ was to them a stumbling block (Rom 9:32-33; 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11; 1 Peter 2:8). Jesus was always a stumbling block (offence) to those who had a wrong idea of his mission (Matt 11:6; 15:12; 16:23; Mark 6:3; John 6:61).

Something that causes a person to sin may also be called a stumbling block (Mark 9:42-43; Luke 17:1). Idolatry, for example, was a stumbling block to Jews of Old Testament times (Exod 23:33; Ezek 7:19-20; 14:3-4), and to some Christians of New Testament times. Through joining in idol feasts, these Christians were tempted to fall into idolatry and immorality (Rev 2:14). Even if those who joined in idol feasts did not engage in idolatrous practices, others who followed them to the feasts may not have been able to resist the temptations to idolatry. Christians are therefore warned to be careful of their behaviour in everything they do. A bad example can be a stumbling block to those of weaker faith (Matt 17:27; 18:6-8; Rom 14:13; 1 Cor 8:7-12; 2 Cor 6:3).

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