On Scandal & Offenses

“…but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way…  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.  Let not then your good be evil spoken of…  For meat destroy not the work of God.  All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.”

Rom. 14:13,15-16, 20-21

“Who is offended, and I burn not?”

2 Cor. 11:29

“Then came his disciples and said unto Him, ‘Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?’  But He answered and said, ‘Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.  Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind.'”

Mt. 15:12-14




Peace & Purity of the Church
What if Publicly Protesting to the Truth Scandalizes Some?



Order of Contents

Where to Start
Definitions  3
Articles  16+
Books  8+
Books of Discipline  2
Gillespie & Rutherford’s Propositions & Rules
Latin & French  12

What Scandal is Not

Simply Displeasing People
Taking Offense where None is Given is Sinful
Knowledge is Requisite to Properly Scandalize in Indifferent Things

When Occasioning Passive Scandal is Warranted

Under Moral Necessity
To Foresee Occasioning a Passive Scandal in an Indifferent Matter, & yet to
.       do it Makes One Guilty of Active Scandal; yet One may Not Omit
.       Necessary Duties for Foreseeing Passive Scandals or Knowing One
.       may Sin through Infirmity

What Scandal Includes

Forbearing to Scandalize the Ignorant & Erroneous may Sinfully Scandalize
.       the Righteous
Ill Example & Unspoken Pressure may Urge & Bind Others’ Consciences to
.      Ill
Complying with & de Facto Encouraging False Teaching Scandalizes
Refrain from Unnecessarily Scandalizing the Malicious
Authority’s Dictate Cannot Remove Scandal
In Relation to Angels

Duty to Reconcile

Degree of Obligations on Parties to Reconcile



Where to Start

Besides with the definitions immediately below, start with the first article of Gillespie listed below, which delineates 12 essential distinctions about scandal, and giving or receiving it.  Robert Sanderson’s article is also very good.

The classic book length treatment, very worthy of that status and essential for Church officers, is James Durham’s Treatise Concerning Scandal.  As this work is rather dense, consider first reading Matthew Vogan’s easier to read, contemporary four part abridgment of that work.

For an advanced treatment of many of the ethical issues surrounding scandal, and how they relate in the details, see Rutherford’s works below.




Definitions of Scandal

George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 8, p. 31

“Scandal or offence is not the grieving or displeasing of my brother; for peradventure when I grieve him or displease him, I do edify him; now edification and scandal are not compatible.  But scandal is a word or deed proceeding from me which is, or may be, the occasion of another man’s halting or falling into, or swerving from the straight way of righteousness.”


Walter Steuart of Pardovan

Collections & Observations Concerning the Worship, Discipline & Government of the Church of Scotland…  (1709), bk. 4, Title 1, ‘Of Scandals & Church-Discipline in General…’, p. 197

“We are not here to understand by scandal, a thing actually displeasing the party offended; nor is it always to be judged by the matter, seeing offense in lawful matter may be taken where it is not given, as in that eating and drinking mentioned, Rom. 14, or in taking wages for preaching the gospel, 1 Cor. 9.  Neither is it the pleasing of men that does always edify them, nor the displeasing of them that does stumble or scandalize them;

but scandal is something accompanying word or deed with such circumstances as makes that word or deed inductive to sin, or impeditive of the spiritual life, or comfort of others.”


Definition of Offense

William Prynne

A Brief, Pithy Discourse upon 1 Corinthians 14:40…  (London, 1661), pp. 13-14

“Now to build up or edify a brother to sin is proper­ly to offend a brother; for the proper definition of an offence is that which edifies a brother unto sin, as the ori­ginal word expresses it (1 Cor. 8:10), and so to sin against a brother is to wound his conscience; yea, and as much as in us lies, to cause him to perish for whom Christ died, which is no better than spiritual murder of his soul.”





Aquinas, Thomas – Summa, pt. 2, Question 43, ‘On Scandal’, 8 articles  See also commentators on Thomas on this question.



Zwingli, Ulrich – ‘Offence’  in Commentary on True & False Religion  eds. Jackson & Heller  (1525; Labyrinth Press, 1981), pp. 318-330

Calvin, John – Institutes  tr. Beveridge  (1559)

vol. 1, ‘To the King of France’, pp. 23-24
vol. 2, bk. 3, ch. 14, section 15
vol. 3, bk. 4

ch. 10, section 22
ch. 12, section 3-5



Bucanus, William – 34. ‘Of Offenses’  in Institutions of Christian Religion...  (London: Snowdon, 1606), pp. 392-401

What is the signification of the word?
What is the scandal?
How many are the kinds of scandals?
This external scandal, how many fold is it?
What is a scandal given?
How manifold is a scandal given?
What is the cause of offence given?
What are the joint causes, or by how many means is an offence given?
What punishment is appointed for the authors of this scandal?
What is an offence taken?
How manifold is an offence taken?
What are the causes of this offence taken?
Is this kind of scandal to be avoided?
What is the offence of the godly taken?
What remedy have the weak against this scandal?
What is that offence taken which comes from the Devil?
What is the third kind of offence?
What is the end of offences?
What is the use of this doctrine?
What things are contrary to an offence given?

Downame, John – ch. 8, ‘Of the Impediments of a Godly Life, which Arise from Scandals & Offences’  in A Guide to Godliness or a Treatise of a Christian Life…  (London, 1622), pp. 778-784

Downame (1571–1652) was an English puritan clergyman and theologian in London, who came to prominence in the 1640s, when he worked closely with the Westminster Assembly.  He is now remembered for his writings.

Ames, William – sections 47-63  of bk. 2, ch. 16, ‘Justice & Charity toward our Neighbor’  in The Marrow of Theology  ed. John Eusden  (Baker, 1997), pp. 305-7

Rutherford, Samuel – ‘Samuel Rutherford & Thomas Sydserff, Bishop of Galloway, ‘An Discussing of Some Arguments Against Canons & Ceremonies in God’s Worship’ 1636′  in Religious Controversy in Scotland, 1625-1639  ed. David G. Mullan  in Scottish History Society, Fifth Series, vol 11 (Edinburgh: Scottish Historical Society, 1998), pp. 82-99  A debate between the two men.

The debate first centers around whether ceremonies in worship, claimed to be indifferent, are legitimately scandals to the weak or not.  Then is more specifically discussed the episcopal practice of kneeling in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper.  At the end Rutherford gives a definition of worship.

Gillespie, George – English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2

ch. 8, ‘That the Inexpediency of the Ceremonies, in respect of the Scandal of the Weak, may be Plainly Perceived; 12 Propositions Touching Scandal are Premitted.’, pp. 30-34.

These 12 propositions are excellent and are very helpful.

“We learn from our Master that the scandal of one is to be cared for (Mt. 18:6)…” – p. 30

“Thus have I evinced a main point, namely, that when scandal is known to follow upon anything, if it be not necessary, there is no respect whatsoever which can justify it.” – p. 34

ch. 9, ‘All the Defences of the Ceremonies, Used to Justify Them Against the Scandal Imputed to Them, are Confuted’, pp. 34-54

The context was that five ceremonies about worship had been imposed on Scotland since the Perth Assembly in 1618.  The prelates that imposed them upon the will of the king claimed that the ceremonies were indifferent and hence lawful to be commanded.  Yet the ceremonies scandalized some believers in the Scottish Church.

The prelates justified imposing the ceremonies anyway.  Gillespie argues that such an imposition in such a context is immoral (and hence the ‘requirement’ is null and void).  In this chapter Gillespie applies the 12 general principles of the previous chapter to the specific context and issue to prove his conclusion.

Specifically, the prelates often argued that scandalizing the wicked (the Scottish puritans) was not wrong.  Gillespie shows from Scripture that it is wrong to scandalize the wicked with things indifferent.  They also argued that scandalizing weak persons, if it happened in this case, should not prevent the imposition.  That would only be the case if such things were necessary, but these ceremonies are at best indifferent; and to scandalize weak ones with things indifferent is wrong.  They also argued that the scandal given was passive, and therefore they were not at fault.  Yet Gillespie shows, if this were true, even passive scandals about things indifferent are to be removed.

Hammond, Henry – ‘Of Scandal’  (Oxford, 1646)  30 pp.

Hammond (1605-1660) was an Arminian, Anglican minister, but has some good things to say.

Leigh, Edward – p. 376  of ch. 22. ‘Of…  Scandal…’  in A System or Body of Divinity…  (London, A.M., 1654), bk. 4

Baxter, Richard

A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience  Buy  (1673), pt. 4, Christian Politics

Ch. 12, ‘Directions Against Scandal as Given’

“That to scandalize, is not merely to displease or grieve another: For many a man is displeased through his folly and vice, by that which tends to his good: and many a man is tempted (that is, scandalized) by that which pleases him…  The most censorious and humorous sort of men have got a notion, that what ever offends or displeases them is scandalous!  And they think that no man must do any thing which grieves or displeases them, lest he be guilty of scandal: And by this trick who ever can purchase impatiency and peevishness enough to be always displeased with the actions of others, shall rule the world.  But the truth is, the ordinary way of scandalizing these men is by pleasing them.

§. 4.  I will give you one instance of scandal in Scripture, which may help this sort of people better to understand it.  Gal. 2:10-16, Peter there gives true scandal to the Jews and Gentiles: He walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, but laid a stumbling block before the Jews and Gentiles: And this was not by displeasing the Jews, but by pleasing them…  Peter knew the contrary, but for fear of them of the circumcision, lest they should be offended at him as a sinner, he withdrew and separated himself.  This scandal tended to harden the Jews…  and to seduce the Gentiles into a conceit…  and Barnabas was carried away with the dissimulation…

We scandalize them [Baxter’s opponents] and others even by pleasing them, and by avoiding that which they falsely called scandalous.  And if we would not scandalize them, we must do that which is just, and not by our practice hide the sound doctrine which is contrary to their separating error.

And this [scandalizing] is done more seldom by committing open disgraceful sins and doing that which will make the doer evil spoken of: For by that means others are the more assisted against the temptation of imitating him:  But scandal is most commonly found in those actions, which are under least reproach among men, or which have the most plausible appearance of good in them, when they are evil! For these are apter to deceive and overthrow another.

§6.  3. And it is also apparent, that it is no sinful scandalizing to do a duty or necessary action which I have not power to forbear, though I know that another will be offended, or fall by it into sin.  If God have made it my duty, even at this time, I must not disobey Him and omit my duty because another will make it an occasion of his sin.  It must be either a sinful or an indifferent action that is scandal, or something that is in my own power to do or to forbear…

§ 7.  III.  …Those that are careless of the consequent of their actions, and contemn the souls of other men, and will go their own way, come of it what will, and say ‘Let other men look to themselves,’ are the commonest sort of scandalizers; and are as culpable as a servant that would leave hot water or fire when the children are like[ly] to fall into it; or that would leave straw or gunpowder near the fire, or would leave open the doors, though not of purpose to let in the thieves.

§8.  2. Scandal is that which tends to another’s fall, either directly or indirectly, immediately or remotely!  The former may easily be foreseen; but the latter requires a large foreseeing comparing understanding: Yet this kind of scandal also must be avoided; and wise-men that would not undo men’s souls while they think no harm, must look far before them and foresee what is like[ly] to be the consequent of their actions at the greatest distance and at many removes.

3.  Scandals also are Aptitudinal or Actual: Many things are apt to tempt and occasion the ruin of another which yet never attain so bad an end, because God disappoints them: But that is no thanks to them that give the scandal.” – p. 81

Ch. 13, ‘Directions Against Scandal-Taken, or an Aptness to Receive Hurt by the Words or Deeds of Others’

‘The Judgment of Non-Conformists of Things Sinful by Accident, & of Scandal’  in The Judgment of Non-Conformists About the Difference Between Grace & Morality  (London, 1676), pp. 45-79

Taylor, Jeremy – Discourse 17, ‘Of Scandal, or Giving & Taking Offence’  in Antiquitates Christianæ [Christian Antiquities]…  (London, 1675), pt. 3

Taylor (1613–1667) was an Arminian, Anglican clergyman and popular author and literary critic.  He is often insightul and helpful.

Sanderson, Robert – Case 4, ‘of Scandal’  in Nine Cases of Conscience Occasionally Determined  (London, 1678), pp. 75-81

Sanderson (1587-1663) was a reformed Anglican and casuist.

“In judging of cases of scandal, we are not so much to look at the event, what that is, or may be; as at the cause, [from] whence it comes; for sometimes there is given just cause of scandal, and yet no scandal follows, because it is not taken: sometimes scandal is taken, and yet no just cause given; and sometimes there is both cause of scandal given, and scandal thereat taken;

But no man is concerned in any scandal that happens to another by occasion of anything done by him, neither is [he] chargeable with it, farther than he is guilty of having given it.  If then we give scandal to others, and they take it not, we are to bear a share in the blame as well as they, and that a deeper share too (‘Vae homini’, ‘Woe to the man by whom the offence cometh,’ Mt. 8:7); but if they take offence when we give none, it is a thing we cannot help; therefore the whole blame must lie upon them.

4. The third way [in which a man may be guilty of giving scandal] is, when a man does something before another, which in itself is not evil, but indifferent, and so according to the Rule of Christian Liberty, lawful for him to do, or not to do, as he shall see cause (yea, and perhaps otherwise commodious and convenient for him to do), yet whereat he probably foresees the other will take scandal, and be occasioned thereby to do evil.

In such case, if the thing to be done, be not in some degree (at least prudentially) necessary for him to do, but that he might without great inconvenience and prejudice to himself and any third person, leave it undone, he is bound in charity and compassion to his brother’s soul (for whom Christ died) and for the avoiding of scandal to abridge himself in the exercise of his Christian Liberty for that time so far, as rather to suffer some inconvenience himself by the not doing of it than by doing of it to cause his brother to offend; the very case which is so often, and so largely, and so earnestly insisted upon by St. Paul, Rom. 14:13,21 and 15:1,3; 1 Cor. 8:7,13 and 9:12,22 and 10:23,33.  Here the rule is, Do nothing that may be reasonably forborne, whereat it is like[ly] scandal will be taken.

5.  The last way is, when a man does something before another which is not only lawful, but (according to the exigencies of present circumstances pro hic et nunc [for here and now]) very behoveful, and in some sort (prudentially) necessary for him to do, but foresees in the beholder a propension to make an ill use of it and to take encouragement thereby to commit sin; if there be not withal a great care had to prevent, as much as is possible, the scandal that might be taken thereat: for, Qui non prohibet peccare cum potest, jubet [He who does not prohibit sinning when able, enjoins it].

In such case the bare neglect of his brother, and not using his utmost endeavor to prevent the evil that might ensue, making him guilty, upon which consideration stands the equity of the [particular] judicial law given to the Jews, Ex. 21:33,34, which orders that in [the] case a man dig a pit or well for the use of his family, and (looking no farther than his own conveniency) put no cover on it, but leave it open, whereby it happens [that] his neighbor’s beast do fall therein and perish, the owner of the pit is to make it good, inasmuch as he was the occasioner of that loss unto his neighbor, which he might and ought to have prevented:

In this last case the thing is not (for the danger of the scandal) to be left undone, supposing it (as we now do) otherwise behoveful to be done; but the action is to be ordered and carried on by us, for the manner of doing, and in all respects and circumstances thereunto belonging, with so much clearness, tenderness, and moderation and wisdom, that so many as are willing to take notice of it may be satisfied that there was on our part a reason of just necessity that the thing should be done;” – p. 75, 78-80

Owen, John – Sermon 30, ‘The Evil & Danger of Offenses’  in Works, vol. 9, pp. 352-57  on Mt. 17:7

Beverley, Thomas – ‘Preface’ & The Woe of Scandal, or Scandal in its General Nature & Effects Discoursed, as One Strongest Argument Against Impositions in Religious Things Acknowledged to be Indifferent  (London, 1682)  95 pp.  in The Principles of Protestant Truth & Peace in Four Treatises...  (London, 1683)

Beverley was an Anglican clergyman.

Calamy, Benjamin – Some Considerations About the Case of Scandal, or Giving Offence to Weak Brethren  (London, 1683)  60 pp.

Calamy (1642-1686) was an Anglican clergyman.



Wishart, George – The Case of Offences Against Christianity Considered. A Sermon Preached…  (London, 1742)  64 pp.  on Mt. 18:7

Wishart was a minister in Edinburgh.

Chandler, Samuel – Sermon 18, ‘The Christian’s Duty Towards his Offending Brother’  on Lk. 17:3-4  in Sermons on the Following Subjects...  (London, 1768), vol. 2, pp. 366-398

Chandler (1693–1766) was an English, non-conformist minister and polemicist pamphleteer.  He has been called the ‘uncrowned patriarch of Dissent’ in the latter part of George II’s reign.



Denison, Edward – The Sin of Causing Offences: a Sermon on Lk. 17:1  (London, 1835)  24 pp.

Denison (1801-1854) was an Anglican bishop of Salisbury.





Bucer, Martin – The Mind & Exposition of that Excellent Learned Man Martin Bucer upon these Words of St. Mathew, ‘Woe be to the World Because of Offences’…  with Certain Objections [&] Answers to the Same [on the Apparel of Ministers, by the Translator]  (Emden, 1566)

Calvin, John – A Little Book of John Calvin’s Concerning Offences, whereby at this Day Diverse are Feared & Many [are] Also Quite Withdrawn from the Pure Doctrine of the Gospel, a Work Very Needeful & Profitable  (London, 1567)



Huit, Ephraim – The Anatomy of Conscience, or, The Sum of Paul’s Regeneracy, wherein are Handled the Places of Conscience, Worship & Scandal, with Diverse Rules of Christian Practice: Very Profitable for the Weak Christian  (London, 1626)  ToC

Huit (c. 1593-1644) was an Anglican clergyman at the time of writing this work, before he immigated to New England and became a minister there.

Henry, Jeanes – A Treatise Concerning a Christian’s Careful Abstinence from all Appearance of Evil, Gathered for the Most Part out of the Schoolmen & Casuists: wherein the Questions & Cases of Conscience Belonging unto the Difficult Matter of Scandal are Briefly Resolved  (Oxford, 1640)  151 pp.

Jeanes (1611-1662) was an English presbyterian.

Tombes, John – Christ’s Commination Against Scandalizers, or, A Treatise wherein the Necessity, Nature, Sorts & Evils of Scandalizing are Clearly & Fully Handled with Resolution of Many Questions, Especially Touching the Abuse of Christian Liberty, showing that Vengeance is Awarded Against such as use it to the Grievance of their Weak Brethren  (London, 1641)  ToC  438 pp.

Tombes (c.1603?–1676), at the time of writing this book, was an Anglican clergyman sympathetic to presbyterian views.  He had doubts about infant baptism at this time, but did not become a baptist minister till later.

Rutherford, Samuel – ‘An Introduction to Scandal’ & Appendix, ‘A Dispute Touching Scandal & Christian Liberty’  in The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), pp. 647-656 & Appendix, pp. 1-103

Durham, James

The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal, Divided into Four Parts…  (1659)  IA


Durham, James – The Scandal of Stumbling Blocks: Avoiding Spiritual Harm  ed. Vogan & Hyde  Buy  (RHB, 2020)

This has abridged the first part of Durham’s Dying Man’s Testament in order to make it more easily comprehensible for the modern reader.

Clarke, Samuel – Of Scandal, Together with a Consideration of the Nature of Christian Liberty & Things Indifferent.  Wherein these Weighty Questions are Fully Discussed: Whether things Indifferent become Necessary when Commanded by Authority?  Neg.  Whether Scandalous Things, being Enjoined, may Lawfully be Done?  Neg.  Whether a Restraint Laid upon things Indifferent, without a Reasonable Ground, be not an Infringement of Christian Liberty?  Aff.  Who is to be Judge whether there be a Reasonable Ground or No in such Cases?  How far Forth we are Bound in Conscience to Obey Human Laws?  (London, 1680)  123 & 35 pp.

Clarke (1626-1701) was an English puritan that was ejected at the Great Ejection of 1662.  After that he was a non-conformist and gathered a church which was originally presbyterian, though it later became Independent.  He was known for his annotations on the whole Bible.  His theology was of the Baxterian type.  Both his father and a son of his bore his same name.

Kingston, Richard – The Cause & Cure of Offences, in a Discourse on Mt. 18:7  (London, 1682)  144 pp.

Kingston (1635? – 1710?) was an English, chaplain to Charles II, a political pamphleteer and spy.  The legitmacy of his entrance into the Anglican ministry has been questioned, along with numerous other things in his life.



Books of Discipline


Church of Scotland – ‘The Form of Process’  in The Practice of the Free Church of Scotland in her Several Courts  8th ed.  (1995), being Appendix IV, pp. 180-205

Steuart of Pardovan, Walter – Collections & Observations Concerning the Worship, Discipline & Government of the Church of Scotland…  (1709), bk. 4

Title 1, ‘Of Scandals & Church-Discipline in General.  Of the Method of Proceeding with Scandals, & How Scandals are to be Tabled Before Church Judicatures’, pp. 197-204

Title 2, ‘Of the Transaction & Prescription of Scandals’, pp. 204-5



Gillespie’s 12 Propositions on Scandal

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 8, pp. 31-33

1st Proposition.  [Greek] Scandal or offence is not the grieving or displeasing of my brother, for peradventure when I grieve him or displease him, I do edify him.  Now edification and scandal are not compatible.  But scandal is a word or deed proceeding from me, which is or may be the occasion of another man’s halting, or falling into, or swerving from the straight way of righteousness…  Scandalum, says Almandus Polanus, est dictum vel factum, quo alius deterior redditur (System of Theology, bk. 6, ch. 3, col. 19).

2.  This occasion of halting, stumbling, or swerving, which we call scandal, is sometimes only given on the part of the offender, sometimes only taken on the part of the offended, sometimes both given on the one part and taken on the other.  The first sort is scandal given and not taken; the second is scandal taken and not given; the third is scandal both taken and given.

3.  All these three kinds of scandal are sinful.  The first is the sin of the offender, for it is a fault to give my brother occasion of stumbling though he stumble not.  The second is the sin of the offended, who should not take offence where he has no cause.  The third is a sin on both sides, for as it is a fault to lay an occasion of falling before another, so it is a fault in him to fall, though he have occasion.

4.  A scandal given or active is not only such a word or deed whereby we intend the fall of our brother, but also such a word or deed, quod de sui ratione habet, quod sit inductivum ad peccandum, puta cum aliquis publice facit peccatum, vel quod habet similitudinem peccati. Jn. 16:2.  Put the case: a man stay away from the Christian assemblies and public worship of God, intending to employ his studies all this time for the good of the Church by writing; such a man does not only not intend the fall of others, but by the contrary he intends edification; yet does he scandalize them, because ratio et conditio operis [the principle and nature of the work] is scandalous and inductive to sin.

5.  An active scandal is given (and so is faulty) many ways.  If it be in a thing lawful, then it makes our brother condemn our lawful deed, yea animates him by our example to that which in his conscience he condemns, both which are sin.  If it be in a thing unlawful, then is the scandal given and peccant, if either our brother be made to fall into the outward act of sin, or 2. If he be made to stumble in his conscience and to call in question the way of truth, or 3. If it do so much as to make him halt, or weaken his plerephory or full assurance, or 4. If it hinder his growth and going forward, and make him, though neither to fall, nor to stumble, nor to halt, yet to have a smaller progress.  Or 5. If none of these evils be produced in our brother, yet when either through our intention and the condition of the deed together, or through the condition of the deed alone, occasion is given him of sinning any one of these ways…

6.  A passive scandal, which is taken and not given, is not only faulty when it proceeds of malice, but also when it proceeds of ignorance and infirmity: and scandalum pusillorum, may be scandalum acceptum, on the part of the offended faulty, as well as scandalum Phariseorum.  When weak ones are offended at me for the use of a lawful thing, before I know of their weakness and their taking of offence, the scandal is only passive, and so we see that weak ones may take offence where none is given, as well as the malicious.  Now, their taking of offence, though it proceed of weakness, yet is sinful, for their weakness and ignorance is a fault and does not excuse them.

7.  A scandal may be at first only passive and yet afterward become active.  For example, Gideon’s ephod and the brasen serpent were monuments of God’s mercies, and were neither evil nor appearances of evil; so that when people were first scandalized by them, the scandal was merely passive, but the keeping and retaining of them, after that scandal rose out of them, made the scandal to become active also, because the reserving of them after that time was not without appearance of evil.

8.  The occasion of a scandal which is only passive should be removed, if it be not some necessary thing, and we are not only to shun that which gives scandal, but also that whereupon follows a scandal taken, whatsoever it be, if it be not necessary…

9.  Neither can the indifferency or lawfulness of the thing done, nor the ordinance of authority commanding the use of it, make the scandal following upon it to be only passive, which otherwise, i.e. in case the thing were neither lawful, nor ordained by authority, should be active.  Not the former, for our divines teach that scandalum datum [a scandal given] rises sometimes, ex facto in se adiaphoro [out of the thing done, in itself indifferent] when it is done intempessive [unseasonably] contra charitatis regulam [the rule of charity].  Not the latter; for no human authority can take away the condition of scandal from that which otherwise should be scandal…

10.  A scandal is passive and taken by the scandalized, without the fault of the doer, only in this case, cum factum unius est alteri occasio peccandi, prater intentionem facientis, et conditionem facti, so that to the making of the doer blameless is not only required that he intend not his brother’s fall, but also that the deed be neither evil in itself, nor yet done inordinately and with apperance of evil.

11.  The scandal not to be cared for is only in necessary things, such as the hearing of the Word, prayer, etc. from which we may not abstain, though all the world should be offended at us: In these I say, and these only, Scandalum quod oritur ex rebus per se bonis et necessariis, non licet evitare, etc. at rerum legittimarum sed non necessariarum disparest ratio, etc. says a great Formalist.

12.  We ought for the scandal of the malicious to abstain from all things from which we ought to abstain for the scandal of the weak; for we ought not to abstain from necessary things for the scandal of the weak, no more than for the scandal of the malicious, and from things that are not necessary, we ought to abstain for the scandal of the malicious as well as for the scandal of the weak.  So that weakness and malice in the offended non variant speciem scandali [does not vary the kind of scandal], but only gradum ejusdem speciei [the grade of its kind].  Both his fault who is offended through malice is greater than his fault who is offended through weakness, and likewise his fault who offends the weak in the Faith, is greater than his fault who offends those who are malicious against the Faith, because as we ought to do good to all men, so chiefly to those of the houshold of Faith.  Nevertheless, the kind of scandal remains the same, whether we have to do with the malicious or the weak.



Rutherford’s Propositions, Distinctions & Rules

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (London, 1646), Appendix, Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal

Question 1, ‘Whether or not ceremonies, & the use of things not necessary in God’s worship, when they scandalize, be unlawful?’, pp. 4-7

“1st Proposition.  The weak are not to be thralled in judgement or practice in thorny and intricate disputes in matters indifferent.  This is clear, Rom. 14:1.  Therefore, when people know not misty distinctions of relative and absolute adoration, of worship-essential or accidental, they are not to be here thralled by a law to practice ceremonies-human.

2.  If a weak one eat herbs, fearing the practice of things forbidden by God’s law, he is commended, and his abstinence praise-worthy, as Rom. 14:2-3; and he ought not to be judged, and so ought not to be a wed by a law.  Then abstinence and non-conformity is lawful in such a case.

3.  He that eats, he that eats not; he that practices, he that practices not indifferent things, is not to be judged: 1. God has received the eater.  2. You are not to judge another man’s servant.  It is against the Law of Nations.  3. If the weak fall, God is able to raise them.  Therefore, if he be not to be judged as a contemner of God’s law in things indifferent, far less should he be judged by the Church law.

4.  Observers of days, or non-observers of days, should have certainty of faith in these indifferent things; Therefore, the light of the Word should lead rulers and people here, v. 5, in things indifferent.

5.  The observer of indifferent things, as days in that case at Rome, and the non-observers of days, should not trouble one another, because both are to observe and not observe indifferent things for God’s glory:  1. Both give thanks.  2. Both live and die as Christ’s, for God’s glory, vv. 6-9.  Therefore God’s glory is the end that rules the use of ceremonies, as they are indifferent.

6.  vv. 10-12, a Christian should not condemn a Jew, nor one brother another, in things indifferent:  1. Because we are brethren.  2. Because it is Christ’s place to judge and condemn.  3. Because every man must give an account for himself.  Therefore, laws of rulers to condemn or punish are not to be made in such cases.

7. v. 13, When the use of things indifferent is a stumbling block and scandal to our brethren they are against charity and unlawful.

8. v. 14, There is a prolepsis.  Meats clean or not clean may be eaten, but all meats are clean; and Paul is persuaded of that by Jesus Christ.  Therefore the apostle answers by denying the major proposition in two cases and sets down a distinction:  All things are clean in themselves, but they become unclean in two cases:

1.  If one weak in the faith believe that the meat that he eats is against the Word of God, the meat to him is unclean.

2.  If he eat before one that believes it is forbidden in God’s Law to eat such meats, his eating is a stumbling block to the weak.  But one might say it is a taken scandal and not given: for it is lawful to eat; thy brother deems it unlawful out of ignorance of Christian liberty; so say Formalists: ceremonies be indifferent; if any offend at the use of them, it is a scandal taken, not given.  O but Paul forbids to scandalize, or to eat.

9.  The use of things indifferent, as ceremonies, before any law be made of them, by confession of Formalists, is indifferent and may be done and not done; but if they scandalize, Paul proves by eight arguments [that] they are unlawful:

1. It fights with charity, that for meat, so little a thing, for the knot of a straw, a ceremony, thou slay thy brother for whom Christ died, v. 15.  Where these reasons be: 1. It is uncharitable walking; 2. it is murder; slay not him.

3. It is contrary to Christ’s love, who died for thy brother.

4. It makes religion and Christian liberty to be evil spoken of, v. 16.

5. From the nature of these things which are indifferent, these in which the Kingdom of God consists not, as meats and surplice, crossing, kneeling, etc. when they scandalize, ought to be omitted, as being: [1.] against righteousness and being sins of murder.  2. against peace, sins of contention; 3. against joy of the Holy Ghost, making sad, and discouraging thy brother in his Christian race; and he that serves God in peace and righteousness and joy is acceptable, v. 18.

6.  The use of things indifferent, in case of scandal, conduce not to peace and edification, v. 19.

7.  It is a destroying of the work of God, v. 20, illustrated by a repeated prolepsis: But the meat is clean; yea, but (says Paul) it is evil, and so morally unclean to him that eats with offence, v. 20.

8.  Ab equo et bono [from equity and the good], we are to do good, but to eat and drink with the scandalizing of our brother, and to practice ceremonies is not good.

10.  The practicing of things indifferent, or ceremonies, for the very keeping of the faith, that we have Christian liberty to practice, or not practice in the case of scandal, is not lawful, v. 22, set down by a prolepsis: Keep the faith of thy Christian liberty (in case of scandal) to thyself and to God.

11.  In the use of things indifferent, we are to allow ourselves, that is to have the approbation of our conscience, that what we do is lawfully, v. 22.

12.  He that practices indifferent things with a doubting conscience, and not in faith, sins and is condemned, v. 23.

1 Cor. 6:12, ‘All things (indifferent) are lawful in themselves, but they are not expedient,’ if we be brought under the power or band of them by law.  Therefore, in the means of worship, not only must we see what is lawful, but also what is profitable and conducing to the end.  He reasons upon a given, but not granted hypothesis, that fornication is indifferent [v. 13], as the gentiles taught, as we do in the matter of ceremonies.

1 Cor. 7:6, ‘But this I speak by permission, not of commandment.’  Therefore in things in which God has granted us liberty, to do or not to do, permission has place, not obliging necessity or penal laws.

13.  There cannot be commanding laws in things that are politicly good or evil according to the individual complexion, temperature, or gifts of singular men; to marry or not to marry, cannot be commanded, for where God looses, no power on earth can bind, v. 33.

1 Cor. 8:7, Paul condemns them in the use of their liberty Christian, ‘Howbeit there be not in every man this knowledge;’ then that rulers may make laws in things indifferent, without scandal, they must remove ignorance.  2. If there be but one person weak in knowledge (there is not in every man that knowledge), a law obliging all in things indifferent cannot be made.

v 8, There is a definition of a thing indifferent.  It is a thing that commends us not to God, which neither helps, nor hinders piety, nor makes a man better or worse before God.  Then ceremonies pretended to be for order, decency, edification, to stir up the dull mind to spiritual duties, cannot be things indifferent.


Question 2, ‘Whether or no the ceremonies and things indifferent commanded by human authority be objects scandalous, and what rules are to be observed in eschewing scandals’, pp. 9-14


“…scandal is given two ways: 1. physically; 2. morally.

Physically, when the object has an influence merely physical in raising scandal, in this meaning, as there be no passion but it has an action; so there is no scandal taken, but it is some way given.  The Pharisees are scandalized at Christ’s preaching.  The preached Word had some influence on their corruption to scandalize it, but physical, not moral: but sinful and inordinate actions, scandalize morally by contributing a moral influence culpably to the scandalizing of others…

The objects in general from whence comes scandal be four: 1. things good; 2. things sinful and evil; 3. things indifferent, inordinately or unseasonably done; 4. things that have appearance of evil.

A thing good of itself is not scandalous, but there be two good things:

1. Some simply necessary as to love God, not to steal, not to forswear; these be never scandalous;

2. Some good duties positive of affirmative precepts, as not necessary, hic et nunc [here and now], may be omitted to eschew scandal…

In things indifferent, from whence arises a scandal there be two things: 1. the use of the thing itself; 2. the use of it, with the non-necessity of existence in it.”


5 Rules

“1st Rule.  Suppose all be strong in whose presence I practice a thing indifferent; yet if it have no necessity, no aptitude to edify, and have only all its goodness from the will of commanders in practicing, I scandalize:

1. Because the strong are apt to sin, and so apt to be scandalized; and the action is idle and not reasonable, having no other reason but the mere will of rulers.

2. If I probably know my practice shall come to the knowledge of these who shall be scandalized, I scandalize them in such an action.

2.  Though the practice of things indifferent, having some necessity, be lawful, as 1 Cor. 10:27, ‘Eat what is set before you, asking no question for conscience sake,’ yet the faith and conscience of things indifferent is never indifferent: we are never to judge a thing indifferent, [to be] necessary, nor a thing necessary, [to be] indifferent; and practice in that judgement, so erroneous, is sinful and not of faith, Rom. 14:22.

3.  A universal omission of good, of obeying affirmative precepts, for the eschewing of scandal, cannot be lawful, for it is: 1. necessary for my salvation to obey affirmative precepts, though not in all differences of time.  In this meaning Augustine said, We are not to abstain from good works (he means a total abstainence) for any scandal.  And Tertullian, good offends not, save a wicked mind.  But at some time an obedience to an affirmative precept, hic et nunc [here and now] may be omitted, when we see that from the doing thereof, the ignorant and weak will commit great sins…  for they do not oblige, but when and after such a manner as is convenient.

[sic] 5.  To do any good action, or lawful, or indifferent, when I probably foresee a scandal will follow, is an active scandal, for I prefer my owne will to my brother’s salvation…  And the reasons be these:

1. We are not to prefer our will to the salvation of our brother.

2. Things less necessary than our brother’s salvation, in that case become not necessary, and so fruitless and idle.

3. Charity interferes that we hinder so far as we can the ruin of our brother’s soul; scandal is spiritual homicide.

4. To contribute any moral help and influence to our brother’s fall, and soul-ruin, is to be accessary to his sin.

Yet I may add one caution here: to contribute help for the doing of that which of itself is necessarie, which I know another, in respect of human frailty, will abuse to sin, is no active scandal.  So to lay hands on a qualified pastor is not sin, though I foresee through human frailty he will abuse his power in some things to sin.  So for an artificer to make swords, though he know some shall abuse them to murdering the innocent, is no scandalous work.”






Bucer, Martin – On Mt. 18:7-11, ‘Of Scandal’  in Continual Expositions of the Four Holy Evangelists, in which are Interspersed Pure Theological Common Places  (Herwagen, 1527; 1553), pp. 142b-144a

Szegedin Pannonius, Stephan – ‘Of Scandal’  in Common Places of Pure Theology, of God & Man, Explained in Continuous Tables & the Dogma of the Schools Illustrated  (Basil, 1585/93), II. of Man, p. 451

Szegedin (1515-1572) also was known as Stephan Kis.

Piscator, Johannes – Locus 15, ‘Of Scandal’  in Theological Common Places, Exposited in Brief Thoughts, or Aphorisms of Christian Doctrine, the Greater Part of which are Excerpts from the Institutes of Calvin (Herborne, 1589; 1605), pp. 112-4

Piscator (1546-1625)

Aretius, Benedict – Locus 129, ‘Of Scandal’  in Sacred Problems of Theology: Common Places of the Christian Religion Methodically Explicated  (Geneva, 1589; Bern, 1604), pp. 388-90

Aretius (1505–1574)



Pareus, David – 31. ‘Christian Liberty, Human Traditions, Adiaphora & Scandal’  in Theological Collections of Universal Orthodox Theology, where also All of the Present Theological Controversies are Clearly and Variously Explained, vol. 1  (1611), Collection 2, pp. 272-77

Pareus (1548-1622)

Alsted, Johann Heinrich

‘On Scandal’  in A Lexicon of Theology, in which the Terms of Holy Theology are Clearly Explained in a series of Common Places  (Prostat, 1612), pp. 210-29

Alsted (1588-1638)

ch. 12, ‘Sin & Scandal’  in Distinctions through Universal Theology, taken out of the Canon of the Sacred Letters & Classical Theologians  (Frankfurt: 1626), pp. 56-59

Locus 15, ‘On Scandal’  in Theological Common Places Illustrated by Perpetual Similitudes  (Frankfurt, 1630), pp. 82-85

Scharp, John – ‘Of Scandal’  in A Course of Theology, in which All the Dogmas & Controversies of Faith Agitated in this Generation Between us & Papists are Handled One by One & the Arguments of Bellarmine are Responded to, vol. 1  (Geneva, 1620), pp. 1,265-69

Sharp (1572-1648) was Scottish but also was influential in France.

Voet, Gisbert

3. Of the Disorderly, those Lax in Discipline, of Scandalizers & those Scandalized  in Syllabus of Theological Problems  (Utrecht, 1643), pt. 1, section 2, tract 4   Abbr.

Select Theological Disputations, vol. 4  (Utrecht, 1648-1667)

10. Of a Good Example & its Imitation & Opposite: Scandal, pt. 1  124
11. pt. 2  132
12. pt. 3  141
13. pt. 4  147




Calvin, John – A Book on Scandals, by which Many Today are being Frightened Off, even being Alienated from Evangelic Doctrine  (Geneva, 1551)  157 pp.



Sibelius, Caspar – Seven Homilies on Mt. 18:5-9, on Taking Care to Avoid Scandals & to Restrain Crooked Affections  (Amsterdam: 1646)

Sibelius (1590-1658) was German reformed, was educated in the Netherlands, and wrote a five volume practical theology.





La Placette, Jean – 5th Tract, ‘On Scandal’  in Diverse Tracts on Matters of Conscience…  (Amsterdam, 1697)



Jurieu, Pierre – An Explanation of Scandals Unustly Taken, in a Work Entitled, The Opening of the Epistle to the Romans by an Explanation of ch. 3, verse 27  (a Londre, 1687)  192 pp.



What Scandal is Not


Simply Displeasing People is Not Scandal

See also the definitions of scandal above.


George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 9, p. 52-3

“4. I perceive he [Gillespie’s opponent] would say that the scandal of non-conformity is a greater scandal than the scandal of conformity; He is bold to object [that] where one is offended with our practise of kneeling, twenty, I may say ten thousand, are offended with your refusal. O adventurous arithmetique! O huge hyperbole! O desultorious declamation! O roving rhetoric! O prodigal paradox!

Yet I reply:  1. Though sundry (yet not ten thousand for one) are displeased by our refusal, who can show us that any are thereby scandalized, that is, made worse and induced to ruin?

5.  We know many are grieved and displeased with our non-conformity, yet that every one who is grieved is not by and by scandalized, the Bishop of Winchester [an opponent] teaches as well as we.  ‘Many times’ says he, ‘men are grieved with that which is for their good, and earnestly set on that which is not expedient for them.’

But in good earnest, what do they mean who say they are scandalized or made worse by our non-conformity?  For neither do we make them condemn our lawful deed as unlawful, nor yet do we animate them by our example to do that which in their consciences they judge unlawful.”


Richard Baxter

A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience  Buy  (1673), pt. 4, Christian Politics, Ch. 12, ‘Directions Against Scandal as Given’, pp. 80, 82-3

“2.  It [scandal] must be that which may occasion another’s fall: I say ‘occasion’.  For no man can forcibly cause another man to sin, but only occasion it, or tempt him to it, as a moral cause.

§ 3.  II. By this you may see: 1. That to scandalize is not merely to displease, or grieve another:  For many a man is displeased through his folly and vice by that which tends to his good: and many a man is tempted (that is, scandalized) by that which pleases him: When Christ says, ‘If thy right eye or hand offend (or scandalize thee) pluck it out,’ or ‘cut it off,’ etc., Mt. 5, He does not by ‘offending’ mean displeasing or grieving: For by so offending, it may profit us: But He plainly means, ‘if it draw thee to sin,’ or else He had never added that it is better to enter maimed into life than having two eyes or hands to be cast into Hell!  That is, in a word, ‘Thy damnation is a greater hurt than the loss of hand or eye, and therefore if there were no other way to avoid it, this would be a very cheap way.’  So pedem offendere in lapidem is to stumble upon a stone.

The most censorious and humorous sort of men, have got a notion, that what ever offends or displeases them is scandalous!  And they think that no man must do any thing which grieves or displeases them, lest he be guilty of scandal: And by this trick who ever can purchase impatiency and peevishness enough, to be always displeased with the actions of others, shall rule the world.  But the truth is, the ordinary way of scandalizing these men is by pleasing them.

§ 4.  I will give you one instance of scandal in Scripture which may help this sort of people better to understand it: Gal. 2:10-16; Peter there gives true scandal to the Jews and Gentiles: He walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, but laid a stumbling block before the Jews and Gentiles: And this was not by displeasing the Jews, but by pleasing them…

§ 19.  And that you may see that the scandal forbidden in the New Testament is always of this nature, let us take notice of the particular texts where the word is used: And first to scandalize is used actively in these following texts:  In Mt. 5, before cited, and in the other evangelists citing the same words, the sense is clear:  That the offending of a hand or eye, is not displeasing, nor seeking of ill report, but hindering our salvation by drawing us to sin.  So in Mt. 18:8 & Mk. 9:42-43, where the sense is the same.  In Mt. 17:27, ‘Lest we should offend them, etc.’ is not only, ‘Lest we displease them,’ but lest we give them occasion to dislike religion or think hardly of the Gospel, and so lay a stumbling block to the danger of their souls.  So Mt. 18:6 & Mk. 9, ‘Who so shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, etc.’ that is, not who shall displease them, but who so by threats, persecutions, cruelties, or any other means, shall go about to turn them from the faith of Christ or stop them in their way to Heaven, or hinder them in a holy life:

Though these two texts seem nearest to the denied sense, yet that is not indeed their meaning.  So in Jn. 6:6, ‘Does this offend you?’ that is, ‘Does this seem incredible to you, or hard to be believed or digested?  Does it stop your faith and make you distaste my doctrine?’  So 1 Cor. 8:13, ‘If meat scandalize my brother,’ our translators have turned it, ‘If meat make my brother to offend:’ So it was not displeasing him only, but tempting him to sin, which is the scandalizing here reproved.

§ 20.  View also the places where the word ‘scandal’ is used: Mt. 13:41, [in Greek,] ‘all scandals’, translated, ‘all things that offend,’ does not signify all that is displeasing, but all temptations to sin, and hindrances or stumbling blocks that would have stopped men in the way to Heaven.  So in Mt. 16:23 (a text as like as any to be near the denied sense, yet indeed), ‘Thou art a scandal to me,’ (translated an ‘offence’) does not only signify, ‘Thou displeasest me,’ but ‘Thou goest about to hinder me in my undertaken office, from suffering for the redemption of the world:’ It was an aptitudinal scandal, though not effectual [as Christ went through with his action].

So Mt. 18:7, ‘It must be that scandals come’ (translated ‘offences’), that is, that there be many stumbling blocks set before men in their way to Heaven: So Lk. 17:1 to the same sense, and Rom. 9:33, ‘I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of scandal (translated ‘of offence’): that is, such as will not only be displeasing, but an occasion of utter ruin to the unbelieving, persecuting Jews; according to that of Simeon, Lk. 2:34, ‘This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.’  Rom. 11:9, ‘Let their table be made a snare, a trap and a stumbling block:’  The Greek word [in Greek] does not signify a displeasure only, but an occasion of ruin.  So Rom. 14:13 expounds itself, ‘That no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way:’ The Greek word is ‘or a scandal.’  This is the just exposition of the word in its ordinary use in the New Testament.

So Rom. 16:17, ‘Mark them which cause divisions and scandals (translated ‘offences’); that is, which lay stumbling blocks in the way of Christians and would trouble them in it or turn them from it.  So 1 Cor. 1:23, ‘To the Jews a stumbling block, that is, ‘a scandal’, (as the Greek word is) as before expounded.  So Gal. 5:11, ‘The scandal of the cross,’ translated ‘the offence,’ does signify not the bare reproach, but the reproach as it is the trial and stumbling block of the world, that makes believing difficult.  So 1 Jn. 2:10, ‘There is no scandal in him,’ translated ‘no occasion of stumbling.’  These are all the places that I remember where the word is used.

§ 21.  The passive verb [in Greek], ‘to be scandalized’, is used often.  As Mt. 11:6, ‘Blessed is he that is not scandalized’ (translated ‘offended in Me’), that is, who is not distasted with my person and doctrine through carnal prejudices: and so kept in unbelief: There were many things in the person, life and doctrine of Christ which were unsuitable to carnal reason and expectation: These men thought to be hard and strange, and could not digest them, and so were hindered by them from believing: And this was beingoffended in Christ’. So in Mt. 13:57 & Mk. 6:3.  They were offended in or at Him: that is, took a dislike or distaste to Him for his words.  And Mt. 13:21, When persecution arises, by and by they are offended: that is, they stumble and fall away: And Mt. 15:12, ‘The Pharisees were offended’, or ‘scandalized’, that is, so offended as to be more in dislike of Christ.  And Mt. 24:10, ‘Then shall many be offended,’ or ‘scandalized’, that is, shall draw back and fall away from Christ.  And Mt. 26:31,33; Mk. 14:27,29, ‘All ye shall be offended because of Me, etc.  Though all men shall be offended (or ‘scandalized’), yet will I never be scandalized’, that is, brought to doubt of Christ or to forsake Him or deny Him, or be hindered from owning their relation to Him.

So Jn. 16:1, ‘These things have I spoken that ye should not be offended;’ that is, that when the time comes, the unexpected trouble may not so surprise you as to turn you from the faith or stagger you in your obedience or hope.  Rom. 14:21 does exactly expound it:  ‘It is good neither to eat flesh or drink wine, or anything whereby thy brother stumbles or is scandalized (or ‘offended’) or made weak:’  It is a making weak.  So 2 Cor. 11:29, ‘Who is offended,’ that is, ‘stumbled’, or ‘hindered’, or ‘ready to apostatize’: So much for the nature and sorts of scandal.



That Taking Offense where None is Given is Sinful

George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 8

p. 31

“III.  All these three kinds of scandal are sinfull…  The second is the sin of the offended, who should not take offence where he has no cause.”


p. 32

“VI.  A passive scandal, which is taken and not given, is not only faulty when it proceeds of malice, but also, when it proceeds of ignorance and infirmity: and scandalum pusillorum [a scandal of small things], may be scandalum acceptum, on the part of the offended faulty, as well as scandalum Pharisaeorum [the scandal of the Pharisees].

When weak ones are offended at me for the use of a lawful thing, before I know of their weakeness and their taking of offence, the scandal is only passive, and so we see that weak ones may take offence where none is given, as well as the malicious.  Now, their taking of offence, though it proceed of weakness, yet is sinful, for their weakness and ignorance is a fault, and does not excuse them.”



Knowledge that Something is Scandalizing Others is Requisite to Properly Give Scandal in Indifferent Things

“…whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.  But if any man say unto you, ‘This is offered in sacrifice unto idols,’ eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake…  Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other:”

1 Cor. 10:27-29


John Calvin

Commentary on 1 Cor. 10, verse 27

“…that if a believer has been warned, that what is set before him has been offered to an idol, and sees that there is a danger of offense being given, he sins against the brethren if he does not abstain.”


George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2

ch. 8, p. 32

“When weak ones are offended at me for the use of a lawful thing, before I know of their weakeness and their taking of offence, the scandal is only passive, and so we see that weak ones may take offence where none is given, as well as the malicious.”


ch. 9, pp. 35-36

“There is no scandall taken, but (if it be known to be taken, and the thing at which it is taken be not necessary) it is also given.

2. Giving and not granting that the scandal of them who were first offended at the ceremonies [c. 1618] was only passive, yet the using of them after scandal is known to rise out of them, must be an active scandal, because the keeping of a thing which is not necessary, after scandal rises out of it, is an active scandal, though the scandal which at first rose out of it, had been only passive…”



When Occasioning Passive Scandal is Warranted


Occasioning Passive Scandal may be Warranted & Justified by a Necessary or Higher Good

Qutoes, 1600’s

Henry Jeanes

The Want of Church-Government..  (London, 1650)  Jeanes was an English presbyterian.

p. 7

Bonum per se (says Suarez) praeferendum est ex genere suo bono per accidens. [Something good in itself, from its nature, is to be preferred to something that is good by accident]  Now to administer the Lord’s Supper is good per se and ex genere suo [from its nature] (I mean with a material, objective or external goodness); to omit the administration thereof is only good per accidens in a case of scandal.  And that which is only good by accident cannot always shut out that which is good per se.

Suppose then that the administration of the Lord’s Supper upon the emergency of scandal, may pro hic & nunc [for here and now], at some times and in some places be omitted, may for a while be forborne, until we have used all means that lay in our power for the removing of the scandal, yet it will not hereupon follow that after such use of our utmost endeavors (and the scandal continue still unremoved) the administration of the Lord’s Supper is wholly and altogether to be forborne for five, six or seven years, or for the whole remaining space of our lives.”


pp. 8-9

“Here I shall once for all clearly prove that a minister’s universal and total abstinence from administration of the Lord’s Supper unto that flock or Church over which God has made him an overseer is unlawful, though for the eschewing of scandal.

No sinful omission of that which is commanded by an affirmative precept is lawful for the eschewing of scandal: But a minister’s total and universal abstinence from the administration of the Lord’s Supper unto that flock over which God has made him overseer, is a sinful omission of that which is commanded by an affirmative precept; therefore it is not lawful for the eschewing of scandal.

The major is confirmed from that of the apostle, Rom. 3:8, ‘Their damnation is just, that say, Let us do evil that good may come:’ as also that of Aquinas [Summa] 2nd of the 2nd part, Question 43, Article 7, ‘Secundum ordinem charitatis plus debet homo suam salutem spiritualem diligere, quàm alterius.’  ‘A well-ordered charity begins ever at home, making a man chiefly to desire and endeavour the salvation of his own soul, and consequently to be more solicitous how to avoid sin in himself, than to prevent it in others;’  See Rutherford more largely touching Scandal, [Question 6,] p. 84.

The minor is proved, because it is necessary for my salvation to obey affirmative precepts, though not in all differences of time.  See Rutherford, [Question 2,] pp. 13-14.  Praecepta affirmativa obligant, though not ad semper, yet ad aliquando.  ‘Affirmative Precepts tie us to do the things they require, though not at all times, yet at some time or other.’  And therefore universally and totally to abstain from what they command, is sinfully to omit what is commanded by them.

I cannot but here call to mind a reply of the renowned [reformed, Daniel] Chamier to a shift of Cajetan [a Romanist], which he brings to elude our arguments against their Communion under one kind [which excludes the cup to the laity], that are drawn from the command of the Cup.  The command, says Cajetan, is but affirmative; and affirmativa praecepta, ut si obligent semper, non tamen ad semper. [Affirmative precepts, so if they oblige always, yet not unto all times.]  Unto which Chamier replies very solidly and sharply.  Esto (says He) sed quid tu appellas pro semper? nullumne apud te discrimen est inter non semper? & nunquam? [‘Eat’, says He, but why do you say ‘for all times’?  Is there not even with you a discrimination between not-always and never?]

The like reply will serve unto those who go about to evade the command of the Lord’s Supper, by telling us that it is an affirmative command, and does oblige semper, but not ad semper.  It does always bind, but not to always: for there is a wide difference between not always and never.

Now the upshot of these men’s tenets is that if the church be not presbyterated, the command of the Lord’s Supper does never bind during such its condition.  Suarez in the 3rd part of Thomas, tome 30, disputation 80, sect. 1, as also Becanus in his Summae Theol. Scholastic., part 3, Tract 2, ch. 25, part 2, question one, allege diverse reasons why all priests whatsoever are bound to say mass; if you please to make such a change in them as to put ‘ministers’ for ‘priests’, and ‘the Lord’s Supper’ for ‘mass’, you may make them orthodox, and so they will serve our turn.”



To Foresee Occasioning a Passive Scandal in an Indifferent Matter, & yet to do it, Makes One Guilty of Active Scandal; & yet One May Not Omit Necessary Duties on Account of Foreseeing Passive Scandals or Knowing that One may Sin through Remaining Corruption


Samuel Rutherford

pp. 13-14 of Question 2  in An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal  in The Divine Right of Church Government  (1646)

“5th Rule:  To do any good action, or lawful, or indifferent, when I probably foresee a scandal will follow, is an active scandal, for I prefer my own will to my brother’s salvation (says Antoninus, and Navarret), and therefore says Antoninus: ‘A virgin going abroad, without just necessity, where her beauty shall be a snare to young men, or to go out upon a necessary cause with a whorish attire, is an active scandal,’ her feet ‘abideth not in her house,’ says Solomon (Prov. 7).  And Navarre says, ‘It is to sin mortally’ and Silvester says:

If the Pope’s commandment do but smell of venial [light] sin, and if by giving audience thereunto it be presumed that the state of the Church shall be troubled, or a scandal shall arise, though the commandment go out under the pain of excommu∣nication, it is not to be obeyed.’

Vasques and Suarez say to sell, gift or dispose of any things indifferent, when we foresee they shall abuse them, is to commit the sin of active scandalizing.  Yea, the form of an idol, though he never adore it, does highly scandalize, and Antoninus, Silvester, Corduba, Metina [and] the Jesuit Zanches teach that to contribute to that which we see shall induce any to sin, is to be guilty of scandalizing.  And the reasons be these:

1. We are not to prefer our will to the salvation of our brother.  2. Things less necessary than our brother’s salvation, in that case, become not necessary, and so fruitless and idl.  3. Charity infers that we hinder, so far as we can, the ruin of our brother’s soul; scandal is spiritual homicide.  4. To contribute any moral help and influence to our brother’s fall and soul-ruin, is to be accessary to his sin.

Hence ceremonies and things not necessary to salvation may be omitted altogether in their specialities when the practicing of them does scandalize, and so though kneeling in God’s worship cannot well be universally omitted, yet kneeling appropriate to such an act of worship may be omitted, and ought to be omitted if it scandalize; and ceremo∣nies which scandalize universally, seeing they are not in their very kind necessary to salvation, are to be abolished.

Yet I may add one caution here.  To contribute help for the doing of that which of itself is necessary, which I know another, in respect of human frailty, will abuse to sin is no active scandal.  So to lay hands on a qualified pastor is not sin, though I foresee through human frailty [that] he will abuse his power in some things to sin.  So for an artificer to make swords, though he know some shall abuse them to murdering the innocent, is no scandalous work.  I take not on me to prescribe rules for eschewing scandal in all occurrences of providence.  The godly-learned can see more than I can do in this matter, where love should be wary to lay a straw in the way of any weak traveler.”


Richard Sibbes

The Bruised Reed & Smoking Flax…  (1620; Philadelphia; Presbyterian Board of Publication, n.d.)

ch. 11, p. 76

“Some infirmities discover more good than some seeming beautiful actions.  Excess of passion in opposing evil, though not to be justified, yet shows a better spirit than a calm temper when there is just cause of being moved.  It is better that the water should run somewhat muddily than not run at all.  Job had more grace in his ill temper than his friends in their seemingly wise demeanour.  Actions soiled with some weaknesses are more accetped than self-righteous performances.”


ch. 28, p. 203

“Let us then bring our hearts to holy resolutions, and set ourselves upon that which is good, and against that which is evil in ourselves or others, according to our callings, upon this encouragement, that Christ’s grace and power shall go along with us.  What had become of that great work of reformation of religion in the latter-spring of the gospel, if men had not been armed with invincible courage…  that the cause was Christ’s, and that He would not be wanting to his own cause.

Luther igenuously confessed that he carried matters often inconsiderately, and with mixture of passion.  But upon acknowledgement, God took not advantage of his errors, but the cause being God’s, and his aims being holy, to promote the truth, and being a man mighty in prayer, and strong in faith, God by him kindled that fire which all the world shall never be able to quench.”



What Scandal Includes


Forbearing to Passively Scandalize the Ignorant & Erroneous may be a Sinful Scandalizing of the Righteous


Henry Jeanes

The Want of Church-Government..  (London, 1650), p. 13  Jeanes was an English presbyterian.

“…Whereas it is said we may forbear the practice of things commanded by affirmative precepts, hic et nunc [here and now], in some places, and at some times; it must always be taken with this proviso, that there be not incurred a greater and more perilous scandal by forbearance, than would probably be occasioned by practice of the thing commanded…

…if we speak of the scandal tending unto sorrow and vexation, more are scandalized [in this case] at the forbearance [of it], than in likelihood would be at the practice.”



That an Ill Example or Unspoken Pressure may be an Urging & Binding of Others’ Consciences unto that Ill

For before that certain came from James, he [Peter] did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.  And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.  But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all…  Why compellest thou the Gentiles [by your silent example] to live as do the Jews?”

Gal. 2:12-14


George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637)

pt. 1, ch. 4, pp. 7-8

” What the binding of the conscience is…  ‘The binder’, says Perkins (Treatise of Conscience, ch. 2, sect 3), ‘is that thing whatsoever, which hath power and authority over conscience to order it.  To bind, is to urge, cause, and constrain it in every action, either to accuse for sin, or to excuse for well-doing, or to say, this may be done, or it may not be done.’…

Upon these descriptions which have more truth and reason in them [than Dr. Field’s], I infer that whatsoever urges, or forces conscience to assent to a thing as lawful, or a thing that ought to be done, or dis-assent from a thing as unlawful, or a thing which ought not to be done, that is a binder of conscience, though it did not bind the spirit of a man with the fear of such punishments as God alone inflicts.  For secluding all respect of punishment, and not considering what will follow the very obliging of the conscience for the time ad assensum [to assent] is a binding of it. (Ames, De Consc., bk. 1, ch. 3)”


pt. 2, ch. 9

pp. 39-40

“…it is further confirmed by that great scandal whereby Peter compelled the Gentiles to judaize, Gal. 2:14.  ‘He constrained them,’ says Perkins (Commentary on Gal. 2:14), ‘by the authority of his example, whereby he caused them to think that the observation of the Ceremonial Law was necessary.’  It was then the quality of his action which made the scandal active, because that which he did was inductive to sin; but we are not to think that Peter had an intention to draw the Gentiles to sin. (tome 1, an. 55, n. 39)”


p. 41

“…there is a twofold scandal which may be and has been given by things lawful in themselves…  viz. the giving of occasion to the weak to condemn our lawful deeds, and the animating of them to follow our example against their own consciences: both ways we make them to sin.

…Behold what scandal may arise, even out of things which are in themselves lawful, which also arises out of the ceremonies (let them be as lawful as can be):  …2. We are animated by the example of Formalists to practice conformity, which in our consciences we condemn, and by consequence do sin, because he that doubteth is damned, and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”



That Complying with & de Facto Encouraging False Teaching & Practices is to Scandalize Them


Gillespie, George – pp. 33-34  of 2nd Part, ch. 8  of English Popish Ceremonies  (1637)



George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 9, p. 36-7

“Now Papists confirm many of their superstitions by the English ceremonies…

It will be said that Papists have no ground nor reason to confirm any of their superstitions by the English ceremonies.  But I answer: 1. If it were so, yet forasmuch as Papists draw them to a confirmation of their superstitions, we should abstain from them as appearances of evil.  Eating (at a private banquet) of that which was sacrificed to idols, did confirm an idolater and infidel in his religion, as Pareus notes (Commentary on 1 Cor. 10:28): yet from this the idolater had no reason to confirm himself in his idolatry; but because the idolater seeing it, might draw it to a confirmation, the apostle will have it for that respect foreborn.

When the Arians abused trine [three-fold] immersion in baptism to signify three natures of the three persons, Pope Gregory and the Fourth Council of Toledo ordained that in Spain, thrice washing should no longer be used in baptism, but once only.  The Arians had no just reason to draw such a signification from the ceremony of trine-immersion: yet was it abolished when those heretics did so abuse it.

If any say that we are saved by the blood of the son of man, the phrase is orthodox, because of the communication or rather communion of properties, and the Nestorians cannot with good reason by it confirm their heresy, yet are we to abstain from this form of speech, in Zanchius his judgment, when it is drawn to the confirmation of that error.”



We Ought to Refrain from Unnecessarily Scandalizing the Malicious & Giving Them Occasion to Become Worse


George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 9, p. 45

“4. But if we were malicious in offending at the ceremonies as things unlawful, and in urging of non-conformity as necessary, should they [the prelates] therefore contemn our being scandalized?  Those that would have Titus circumcised, were they not malicious? [Gal. 2:3-5]  Did they not urge circumcision as necessary?  Held they it not unlawful, not to circumcise Titus?  Yet did the apostle abstain, because they were to be scandalized, that is, made worse and more wicked calumniators by the circumcising of Titus, as I have showed (above, ch. 8, section 6);

So that albeit we are not to care for the displeasing of men that malitiously and contumaciously urge (as necessary) abstaining from that which is lawful to be done, yet must we care for scandalizing them and making them worse: rather ere that be, we ought to abstain from the use of our liberty.”



Gillespie, George – pt. 2, ch. 8, section 6, pp. 33-34  of English Popish Ceremonies  (1637)

Rutherford, Samuel – Question 5, ‘Whether or Not in Every Indifferent Thing are we to Eschew the Scandal of All, even of the Malicious?’  in An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal, pp. 53-61  as appended to The Divine Right of Church Government  (1646)

The prelates imposing the English-Popish ceremonies on the Church of Scotland considered the Scottish puritans to be wicked and malicious, therefore they need not concern themselves with the scandal of them.  However, the prelates considered the ceremonies indifferent (as opposed to necessary), and Rutherford proves from Scripture that we are obliged to not scandalize the wicked and malicious in things indifferent.”



That the Dictate of Authority Cannot Remove the Scandal out of Something; Indifferent Things Commanded, Resulting in Scandal, Still Ought Not to be Done

 George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2

ch. 8, p. 32-33

“IX.  Neither can the indifferency or lawfulness of the thing done, nor the ordinance of authority commanding the use of it, make the scandal following upon it to be only passive [and hence the commanders would be innocent], which otherwise, i.e. in case the thing were neither lawful, nor ordained by authority, should be active.

Not the former; for our divines teach (Hemmings., Enchir. Theol., class 3, ch. 17; Magdeburg, Century 1, bk. 2, ch. 4, cols. 448-449) that scandalum datum [scandal given] rises sometimes, ex facto-in se adiaphoro [out of the fact in itself by the thing indifferent] when it is done intempessive, contra charitatis regulam [unseasonably contra the rule of charity].  Not the latter; for no human authority can take away the condition of scandal from that which otherwise should be scandal, because nullum homo potist vel charitati, vel conscientiis nostris imperare, vel periculum scandali d•…ti prestar•…, says a learned casuist (Ames, bk. 5, de Consc., ch. 11, q. 6).


ch. 9, p. 41

” If this be not taken well from us, let one of our opposites speak for us, who aknowledges that human power cannot make us do that which we cannot do without giving of scandal, and that in this case, the pretext of obedience to superiors shall not excuse us at the hands of the Supreme Judge. (Dr. [John] Forbes, Iren., bk. 2, ch. 20, num. 19)”



Scandal in Relation to Angels

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), Appendix, p. 91

“…for the truth is, even sins (if we speak accurately) are not scandalous actum secundo [in the following exercise of the act], in regard of our corruption: our sins may sad[den] the [righteous] angels, but they are not properly scandalous to [righteous] angels [because they do not tempt them to sin, though it may perhaps tempt devils to sin further]…”

[Note that Rutherford, by his very distinguishing, is allowing and teaching that the scandal is still a scandal in primo actu, in itself apart from the effects of it.]



On the Degrees of Obligation for the Offender & Offended to Reconcile

Bible Verses

Lev. 19:17  “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.”

Mt. 5:23-25  “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;  Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.”

Mt. 7:3, 5  “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?…  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Mt. 18:15-17  “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church:”

Lk. 19:8  “And Zacchaeus…  said…  ‘if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.'”

Rom. 5:8  “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Gal. 6:1  “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”



William Ames

The Marrow of Theology  ed. John Eusden  (Baker, 1997), bk. 2, ch. 16, ‘Justice & Charity toward our Neighbor,’ p. 307

“62. The duties of justice are prior and of more binding obligation than those of charity (or love).

63. Therefore, we have a greater obligation to pay our debts than to give away anything of our own.  And he who offends another has a greater obligation to seek reconciliation than he who is offended.”




“Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea…  thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for Me and thee.”

Mt. 17:27

These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.  They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”

Jn. 16:1-2

“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.  For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.  Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”

1 Cor. 8:9-13




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